Make us your home page
Instagram

Today’s top headlines delivered to you daily.

(View our Privacy Policy)

How black music shapes history

NEW PORT RICHEY — Cultural critic and author Mark Anthony Neal spoke to students and community members Thursday about the impact that popular music has on social change.

"It's impossible to think about the life of Martin Luther King without the role that music played in that movement," said Neal, 44, whose presentation was part of Pasco-Hernando Community College's 25th annual Martin Luther King Jr. Commemorative Lecture Series.

Songs like We Shall Overcome played an important role in mobilizing and inspiring individuals to act during the Civil Rights movement, he said.

Neal, a professor of black popular culture in the Department of African and African-American studies at Duke University, interspersed his lecture with music clips to take the audience through a century of music and its connections between culture and social change.

The spirit will not descend without a song, Neal said, quoting an African proverb.

Music often includes hidden transcripts for how oppressed people deal with the world, said Neal. Songs were used as a way to code messages for slaves to think about planning a revolt.

"You say one thing but you mean a host of other things," Neal said. "It means one thing when one group of people hears it, but it means something totally different when another group of people hears it."

Neal played a song by Ray Charles called Night Time is the Right Time.

"What is this song coding politically?" Neil asked. "When you talk about working class cultures, folks working 6 to 6 shifts, 12-hour days, nighttime is the only time you can pursue any kind of leisure or any kind of pleasure."

At one point in the lecture, he queried the audience.

"Anybody," he said. "What do you know about Billie Holiday?"

Someone offered that she had been a drug addict.

"Rarely do we think of her as an intellectual or a musical genius," said Neal.

In 1939, Holiday recorded a song that caused the FBI to add her to its watch lists.

She had become too political, he said.

Neal played the beginning of the song, Strange Fruit.

Southern trees bears strange fruit,

Blood on the leaves and blood at the root.

Black bodies swinging in the southern breeze,

Strange fruit hanging from the poplar trees.

"She's talking about lynching ... ," Neal said. "Pound per pound, in the 20th century, the most important song was Strange Fruit."

Booking agents no longer wanted to book her shows, he said. She just wanted to tell a simple story about the lives of terror.

Neal played a version of the song Young, Gifted, and Black.

"I'm 3 years old in the fall of 1969 when Sesame Street came on," he said.

"Literally, our teachers, our parents would put us in a room and put this song on. If we don't do anything right, you're going to listen to this song so that by the time you're an adult, you have no choice but to know that you're young, gifted and black."

Shary Lyssy Marshall can be reached at slmarshall.sptimes@gmail.com.

How black music shapes history 01/14/10 [Last modified: Thursday, January 14, 2010 9:07pm]
Photo reprints | Article reprints

© 2017 Tampa Bay Times

    

Join the discussion: Click to view comments, add yours

Loading...
  1. Following Trump's trip, Merkel says Europe can't rely on U.S. anymore

    Politics

    LONDON — German Chancellor Angela Merkel on Sunday declared a new chapter in U.S.-European relations after contentious meetings with President Donald Trump last week, saying that Europe "really must take our fate into our own hands."

    G7 leaders, from left, President of the European Commission Jean-Claude Junker, Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, German Chancellor Angela Merkel, President Donald Trump, and Italian Prime Minister Paolo Gentiloni, pose for a family photo at the Ancient Greek Theater of Taormina, Friday, May 26, 2017, in Taormina, Italy. (AP Photo/Evan Vucci) ITAV149
  2. Seven children, 1 to 10, seriously injured when driver loses control on I-4

    Accidents

    TAMPA — Seven young passengers 1 to 10 years old were seriously injured when the driver of a Chevrolet Suburban lost control, causing the vehicle to flip and hit a fence on Interstate 4 just east of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard, the Florida Highway Patrol said.

  3. Top things to do in Tampa Bay for the week of May 29-June 4

    Events

    Memorial Day: Among the free events paying tribute to fallen soldiers today is the Bay Pines VA Memorial Day Ceremony in St. Petersburg, with speakers including Sen. Bill Nelson and Rep. Charlie Christ, musical performances, a rifle salute and taps. (727) 319-6479 . The Florida National Cemetery …

    Young blonde boy carrying an American Flag over a wooden Bridge.
  4. Sheriff's Office: Drug dispute preceded fatal Largo motel shooting

    Crime

    LARGO — A fight over drugs preceded the shooting death of a 47-year-old man Thursday night at a Largo motel, the Pinellas County Sheriff's Office said Sunday.

    Angel E. Martinez, 24, is accused in the shooting death of Ricky Garland, 47, according to the Pinellas County Sheriff’s Office. [Pinellas County Jail]
  5. Nearly 40 hospitalized on first day of Sunset Music Festival, on pace to exceed last year

    News

    To reduce the number of medical emergencies this year, sponsors of the Sunset Music Festival promised heightened security and safety measures during this weekend's event at Raymond James Stadium.

    Thousands of people crowd the main stage at the Sunset Music Festival on Saturday in the north Raymond James Stadium parking area. The temperature at the time of the photo was 92 degrees. [LUIS SANTANA   |   Times]