What happened to Our Tunes

“Lift Every Voice and sing till earth and heaven ring, ring with the harmonies of liberty.” These lyrics were written by James W. Johnson in the early 1900s as poem, and were later made into a song when Johnson’s brother added music to the poem. This song quickly became known as; “The Negro National Anthem.” Lyrics and music once meant something in our community and had a significant meaning to it, but that was a long time ago, before we met artist like Khia, Lil Wayne, Trina, etc.

During the 17th century when blacks were slaves and weren’t able to get an education, they relied on doing everything orally. They would make-up folktales/songs to make the time go by, and these were passed down from generation to generation, they were very popular within the African American community. These songs would be about life, religion, becoming free etc. our genre of music has changed dramatically since that time, now whenever I  turn my radio on, the lyrics I hear are about sex, disrespect to women, curse words, and several other things that would cause our ancestors to roll over in  their graves. Several people in our communities don’t know anything about the genre of music that was once called; “Negro Spirituals.” Negro Spirituals were religious songs sung by slaves. When exactly did music stop being about life and start being about sex?

Rhythm and Blues (R&B) originated in the 1940s. There were bands such as Tympany Five and Wynonie Harris, there lyrics were backed up with different instruments; trumpet, tenor saxophone, piano, bass, etc. Some of their popular songs were Beans & Cornbread which wasn’t about food, but the food identifies friends, saying the friends are like a good meal; “they go hand in hand.” Harris’ song; Good Rocking Tonight (remake), which was about having a good time with a loved one, but also enjoying the rhythm and blues. These songs still had a connection with Negro Spirituals.

In 1979 the first popular Rap/Hip-Hop song was born. Sugarhill Gang amazed the world with Rapper’s Delight. The song was fourteen minutes long and like the Negro Spiritual genre, this song was also about every day life and experiences, but instead of working in the fields, and living as slave this was a song about of living in the ghetto; and situations one must face while living in the ghetto and experiences with friends and family members. By the lyrics that are being rapped, it’s easy to tell that life for African Americans wasn’t the same as the 1900s because the artist didn’t sound lonely and depressed and they were no longer rapping about being free, because they are free.

As time change so does the music, lyrics and musical artist we hear. Today both R&B and Rap music has explicit lyrics, on these songs we hear men disrespect women and women disrespecting themselves. These songs are about being criminals and whores. It’s quite obvious that the artist has an influence over society; whether that influence is negative or positive is solely up to the artist themselves. Today’s music also talks about life, but it’s not always the life of the artist we’re hearing, it’s the life which sale singles and makes money.

One may think that modern day artist don’t know what real music is, it seems as if anyone can talk or yell can be a singer or rapper. Although I have so much negativity to say about this music, and today’s artist I too listen to these artist and their music quite frequently, I’m just open-minded enough to not have the music influence me in any way.

I am a fan of the old timer’s music, and as sit and listen to one of my old school songs and then I’ll listen to a current day and age song. I can’t help wonder where did our good music artist go? I sometimes also wonder if we can ever get some of that old soul back, although I know we won’t. I don’t’ worry about the future of our music, in all honesty, I don’t think it can get any worse.


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