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. For starters: Rays at Orioles, facing another old friend in Jeremy Hellickson

    Blogs

    The Rays take on the Orioles again tonight and will face another old friend for the first time, as RHP Jeremy Hellickson will take the mound for the home team.

    Hellickson was drafted by the Rays in 2005 and pitched for them from 2010-14, then was traded to Arizona. He has since bounced to the Phillies and …

  2. Pinellas construction licensing board needs to be fixed. But how?

    Local Government

    LARGO –– Everyone agrees that the Pinellas County Construction Licensing Board needs to be reformed. But no one agrees on how to do it.

    Rodney Fischer, former executive director of the Pinellas County Construction Licensing Board Rodney, at a February meeting. His management of the agency was criticized by an inspector general's report. [SCOTT KEELER   |   Times]

  3. Charles Bradley, acclaimed Florida soul singer, dies at 68

    Blogs

    Acclaimed Florida R&B powerhouse Charles Bradley, whose raw, pained voice earned him the nickname the Screaming Eagle of Soul, has died of cancer at 68, his representatives announced Saturday.

    Charles Bradley performed at the 2016 Gasparilla Music Festival.
  4. Kriseman and Baker cash race continues as campaigns officially reset

    Blogs

    The mayoral campaign, mostly operating in stealth mode during the two weeks of Hurricane Irma's build-up, arrival and recovery, has entered its stretch run, a compressed schedule of ten days before ballots are mailed to tens of thousands of voters in the Sunshine City.

    Mayor Rick Kriseman and former mayor Rick Baker are emerging from Hurricane Irma mode and getting back into campaign form
  5. Bucs have chance to beat Vikings in their third stadium

    Bucs

    Here's a cool sign that the Bucs are getting up there as an NFL franchise: If Tampa Bay can win Sunday at U.S. Bank Stadium, it will mark the first time the Bucs have posted road wins against the same NFL opponent in three different stadiums.

    TIMES ARCHIVES (2012) | Bucs RB Doug Martin runs during Tampa Bay's 36-17 win at the Vikings in 2012, in what was then called Mall of America Field. If Tampa Bay wins Sunday, it will mark the first time they have road wins against the same NFL opponent in three different stadiums.