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8000- 7000 BCE



C. 1810-1860

C. 1840-1910

C. 1860  



C. 1890

    Egyptian Harps and flutes are some of the first known musical instruments.

    Early European travelers to Africa note the key role and integration of religion, poetry, music and dance in African society. The oral tradition supplants written history in most of Africa- History and customs are passed down through storytelling, song and ritual. Also noted is the status of the drum as a royal or sacred instrument. Other instruments found in pre-colonial Africa include xylophones, thumb pianos, lutes, banjos, fiddles, harps, zithers, flutes, whistles, panpipes, instruments similar to bagpipes, and trumpets made of ox and ibex horns or elephant tusks. Clapping hands and the human voice are of critical importance as instruments as well. Call and response, chant, conversational rhythmic recitation, punctuating shouts or sigh- all are aspects of African song. Songs could be filled with praise or ridicule for neighbors, family members or guests. The song’s form and content are sometimes stonily set in centuries of tradition or extemporaneous- improvised on the spot and directed at specific members of the audience or other performers all qualities found in every genre of African-derived music from blues, to jazz, to hip-hop.

    The protestant church in the New World establishes “lining out” of psalms and hymns, with the leader chanting one or two lines of the hymn or psalm, and the congregation singing back the same line, generally with some elaboration of the tune. This practice, similar to African call and response, later becomes a characteristic of hymn singing in Black churches and still lingers on in many places. In Africa, religion is a crucial part of existence, as intrinsic and essential as breathing. Forcibly removed from their homeland and denied their rituals of worship, African-Americans adapt to the imposed Christian religious teachings of their captors. European psalms and hymns are supplanted and melded with the songs, rituals and deities of Africa.

    Laws enacted in the South that expressly prohibit slaves from “using and keeping drums, horns or other loud instruments which may call together or give sign or notice to one another.” Drums are replaced by hand clapping, foot stomping, or “patin’ juba”- beating hands on thighs and chest and stomping heels as accompaniment to trading tall tales and doling out humorous verbal abuse in rhymes-a direct ancestor of hip=hop’s rapping and human beat box sound effects. Music is a primary form of communication for slaves, just as it had been for their African forebears. Slaves begin widespread use of spirituals like “Wade in the Water” and “Steal Away” as code communication in escape or revolt plans.

    Minstrel shows dominate popular culture in America. These shows feature performances by black faced white actors that caricature the singing and demeanor of slaves. Minstrelsy is the source of many popular songs and dances of theera. Minstrel shows also employ Black entertainers, and create opportunities for early jazz and blues artists such as Ma Rainey, Bessie Smith, W.C. Handy and Jelly Roll Morton to travel, perform and gain exposure to diverse audiences.


    A body of folk music unique to African-Americans that has been evolving since 1619 is formally identified. While influenced by European traditions, this music is primarily African in form. Two main traditions of this music are work songs, such as water calls or cornfield hollers, and spirituals, which are derived from European psalms and hymns melded with the chord structures, rituals and folklore of Africa.

    The Fisk Jubilee Singers, a chorus formed at the newly chartered Fisk University in Nashville, tours the U.S. and Europe. The chorus members are often the first Black performers allowed to access the concert stage in American and European cities.

    African-American minstrel performer George Washington Johnson becomes one of the first people, and the first Black person, to make sound recordings.

    The term “ragtime” becomes associated with African-American dance music originating in New Orleans and St. Louis. Ragtime is a lively, syncopated, “raggedy” style, wildly popular in both Black and white communities, and in whorehouses and saloons as well as Sunday parlors.


“Juke Joints” begin to spring up on plantations in the Mississippi delta. These are usually tar-papered, tin-roofed shacks where plantation workers can relax after long hours of work, aided by alcohol, music and dancing. The music is often provided by itinerant men “the travelin’ men” who travel from town to town with a guitar, learning and teaching bits and pieces of what will become the blues repertoire.