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Cultural Theft of African American Music

Don Santana writing in Counter Punch  calls for “Reparation for the Blues –

Bessie Smith

In 1964 the Beatles took America by storm on the basis of some catchy original songs and a scattering of ’50’s rock’n roll retreads like “Matchbox.”    In quick succession they were followed by bands like the Rolling Stones, the Who, the Animals, Them, the Yardbirds, Led Zeppelin, Pink Floyd.  What would become known as the “British Invasion”       changed the face of American-and world–pop music forever……………..  What got lost between the lines  was that the white British Invasion was fueled by black American blues.

The British however were just the latest in a “long-time American tradition of white musicians and white-owned recording and publishing companies appropriating African American blues” from which they made very large sums of money.

The Blues were unique in two ways.  First it was a music borne out of the “wretchedness of slavery and raised in the cauldron of segregation”.  A music which is the heart and soul of Blackness  –  a music of “honesty, dignity and defiance, and it’s ultimate 12 bar truth”.  The second uniqueness of the Blues is that none of the musicians benefited from the huge amounts of money that it generated.   This continues today with sales and royalties, t-shirts, posters, blues festivals, documentaries and instruction videos on “How to play guitar like Blind Blake”.

So what happened to the many Blues musicians

Blind Lemon died on a street  in a snow storm in segregated Chicago.  It was regarded as such
an inconsequential event that no death certificate was issued.  Bessie Smith, the “Empress of the Blues,” was buried  in an unmarked grave.  Her recording contract had a “no royalties” clause.   Many other blues geniuses died in Jim  Crow poverty and illness. Leroy Carr was barely 30 when he died of alcoholism.  As late as 1960 Jesse Belvin, a young Rhythm and Blues artist, was killed in a suspicious car crash after performing the first integrated concert in Little Rock, Arkansas. Earlier in the evening, white supremacists had repeatedly disrupted  the show.

Some white musicians were also exploited but not because of their skin colour.  The blues was stolen from the Black community because of racism – the white power structure was able and free to do so and this continues today.  Santana comments that in the case of music, reparations would be easy because the recording industry maintains the financial data on sales and royalties.   He suggests the creation of a national foundation to “develop strategic, legal and political actions to pursue royalties owed to the Black community” and “the filing of class actions suits for the descendants of blues artists whose works were stolen.”  Also many white musicians have acknowledged the origins of their music and they could be part of the campaign to recover stolen royalties.   The monies could be then distributed “urban schools where
students have no instruments or music programs” this should not be too hard to decide.

“Justice Demands The 12-bar Debt be Paid”.

Blind_lemon

 

 

 

 

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2 Comments

  1. Trekz

    Our antagonist will continue to reap the rewards of their ill-gotten gains as long as they continue their devious path.

    It is up to us to break down the walls of our fragmented society and come together in one voice, but there lies the problem.

  2. Quite acting like a victim. The music is for all of us. I love Bessie Smith and all the rest. I can find the original tunes when I want to. No revolution necessary.