Voices of Change: Three Case Studies Connecting Black Music Through Pop, Hip Hop, and Jazz
This thesis contrasts African American music of different genres - pop, hip hop, and jazz - centering on three prominent artists of the late 20th and early 21st centuries: Beyoncé, Kendrick Lamar, and Wynton Marsalis. While there have been studies that have focused individually on the political expressions in pop, hip hop, and jazz, this thesis focuses on the interconnections between and among these three genres. For example, on pop music as a political expression, see Christina Baade and Kristin McGhee and their collection of essays in Beyoncé in the World: Making Meaning with Queen Bey in Troubled Times (2021). Bonnette’s Pulse of the People: Political Rap Music and Black Politics addresses the origins of political rap in addition to examining several examples from rap’s inception with particular attention toward these performers’ attitudes expressed through their music. Regarding jazz as a political expression, see Ed Sarath, Black Music Matters: Jazz and the Transformation of Music Studies (2018) and Richard Brent Turner’s book Jazz Religion, the Second Line, and Black New Orleans, After Hurricane Katrina New Edition (2017). My thesis, centering on the interconnections between pop, hip hop, and jazz, specifically among Beyoncé, Lamar, and Marsalis, draws on the work of Guthrie P. Ramsey, Jr., the writers in the collected essays of Fernando Orejuala and Stephanie Shonekan, and James Gordan Williams. Ramsey’s book Race Music: Black Culture from Bebop to Hip Hop (2003) interrogates the discourse on the interpretation and appraisal of the history of black music from a chronological perspective, centering on the poetics of “race music.” It is of interest to me because of his discussion of artists such as Stevie Wonder who “crossed over” into political songs to express cultural nationalism through his Songs in the Key of Life (1976). This book furthermore aids in connecting trends of my case studies from the 21st century with the historical significance of similar rifts in black musical expression from the 1990s black cultural explosion. The collected essays of Orejuela and Shonekan titled Black Lives Matter and Music: Protest, Intervention, Reflection (2018) stemmed from the session of conference presentations at the 2015 annual meeting of the Society of Ethnomusicology entitled “Black Music Matters: Taking Stock.” The focus of this session was to evaluate the perils and complications of black music while offering a lens into black culture. I am using this book on the strength of where it begins by culminating black student life at the University of Missouri one year after the killing of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri, August 9, 2014, amid Black Lives Matter. Williams, in his book Crossing Bar Lines: The Politics and Practices of Black Musical Space (2021), also written during a specific historical time marked by vigilante murders of Blacks, identifies three generations of black musicians for his case studies on what he calls “Black musical space,” encompassing such dualities as joy/sorrow, hope/despair, and life/death. Williams seeks to understand how five musicians use their improvisation as a manifesto to culturally respond to issues of social inequalities which are in line with my efforts to connect why black artist today are taking performance platforms to respond similarly. My thesis highlights three case studies of notable performances by Beyoncé, her 2016 performance at the Super Bowl that addressed black identity, female empowerment, and police injustice, with a strong connection to Black Lives Matter, Kendrick Lamar’s 2016 performance at the Grammy Music Awards that included a medley, referencing racial inequality, the prison system, and black congruence; and, in 2020, Wynton Marsalis’s performance of “Amazing Grace” after his invited speech on what democracy and jazz have in common, kicking off the series, “Reflections on Democracy” at the Federal Hall Grand Rotunda, New York. Each of these case studies focuses on Grammy winners who had selected such high-profile performance contexts as the Super Bowl, Grammy Awards, and the 2020 national election respectively, and each of their performances echoes issues of the times in their respective ways: the killing of unarmed Black men and women, racial profiling, and voting rights. Not only do I demonstrate similarities between each of the case studies’ musical performances, how each relates to the prevalent issues of the Black communities, more specifically Black Lives Matter, and how each is significant in the music of the 21st century, I also investigate the extent to which these artists have influenced others who have become a beacon of change through their music. My case studies include lyric and music analyses, considerations of performance contexts, and supporting my interpretation with relevant secondary literature referenced above among others. Even though there have been studies on race, music, and politics, this thesis identifies specific musical expressions of advocacy that arguably provide a conversational bridge between pop, hip hop, and jazz in the 21st century.
Super Bowl, Black Lives Matter, social justice, 2020 election, Grammy's, Music
Washington, C. (2023). Voices of change: Three case studies connecting Black music through pop, hip hop, and jazz (Unpublished thesis). Texas State University, San Marcos, Texas.