Culture Wars and Civil Rights: How Another King Left the South and the Nation Feeling All Shook Up: Part 2

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Sam Phillips, the man who discovered a truck driver from Memphis, Tennessee named Elvis Presley, began the independent Sun Records in 1950. Phillips allowed black and white amateur musicians to perform. One of the notable African American musicians included B.B. King, the electric Blues guitarist who recently passed away at the age of 89.

Presley first auditioned for Phillips in 1954. But it was not until he sang a song, That’s Alright, Mama, when Phillips became impressed enough to consider this truck driver as one with musical potential. The song itself was written by a black musician named Arthur “Big Boy” Curdup. However when Elvis’ rendition of it was heard on the radio, listeners could not tell if the singer was black or white.

Presley himself grew up in a poor family in Mississippi. The neighborhood his family was living in was  largely African American. Elvis’ first instance of an interest in music came at the age of 18, in 1953, after a successful singing performance in a talent show. He then joined a gospel singing group, where many of these white gospel groups that performed reflected the influence of black spiritual music. Presley listened to regional radio stations that played what was then called rhythm and blues music. B.B. King, mentioned earlier in this post, knew Presley at this time, since they both frequented the venues in Memphis where blues music was played. Elvis would always credit the long tradition of blues in the African American music community had on him.

Rock and Roll music itself is a blend of several genres. It is most directly made up of blues, a musical genre first sung by African slaves, and later developed by Black American musicians as rhythm and blues. Another piece of rock and roll is Gospel, another African American genre that came out of the religious experience of life in the United States.

The white contributed genres to Rock and Roll include Country and Western, and Folk. Country and Western originated in the southern United States. Folk is considered to have been originated in Europe, as well as the United States. Elvis himself was labeled in the Rockabilly category, which was a blend of country music and rhythm and blues.

However it was the rhythm and blues piece of Elvis’ style that created a backlash against him by older generations of southern whites. As Michael Bertrand put it in his book, Race, Rock and Elvis, “much of the southern opposition to rock and roll that would emerge during the mid-1950’s targeted the music as a threat to white southern civilization. Citizens’ Council (a white supremacist organization) spokesman Asa Carter accused the NAACP of infiltrating southern white teenagers with rock and roll music.” A pastor for one congregation in Memphis, after learning that Elvis’ singing style was learned in a white church that drew heavily from it’s black counterpart responded, “the inference that the white Assembly of God congregations borrowed heavily from the negro sects is not only a slur, but it is too stupid for words.”

However this did not stop large numbers of teenage fans from attending his concerts held in southern cities. During one of these shows in Lubblock, Texas, a teenage gang firebombed Elvis’ car. As a result, at the two concerts he performed at the Mississippi-Alabama Fair Dairy Show in 1956, one hundred National Guard troops were on hand to prevent crowd trouble.

Two songs that Elvis sang later during the 1960’s demonstrate how he and his generation of white southerners were starting to change the face of the traditionally segregated South. One of them, entitled, If I Can Dream, included the following lyrics, If I can dream of a better land, where all my brothers and sisters walk hand in hand, tell me why, oh why, oh why, can’t my dream come true. The other song, In the Ghetto, included in a video at the end of this post, is about empathy for the largely black inner-city poor.

As Michael Bertrand, an author cited earlier put it, “struggling with transition, the postwar South represented a place in time where novel possibilities for cultural exchange were unfolding. Transplanted to urban surroundings in larger numbers than ever before, a generation of young southerners found itself disconnected from a rural past and its traditions. Set apart from their parents and elders by the experience of a modern and urban existence, they sought new role models and entertainment vehicles”

Beyond Elvis Presley and his southern agents of change, popular music nationwide created its own change. Widespread acceptance of integration occurred when black and white teenagers started dancing together on the TV show, American Bandstand. Civil Rights leaders cited the role of music in their struggle for equality. According to Julian Bond, “the history of the music is also the history of cultures joining together.” In a 2004 article in Rolling Stone magazine, Bono, the singer for the band U2, described a meeting he had with Civil Rights leaders Coretta Scott King and John Lewis about Elvis’s impact on the nation. As he wrote, “I think the hill they climbed would have been much steeper were it not for the racial inroads black music was making on white pop culture. Elvis was already doing what the civil rights movement was demanding, breaking down barriers.”

The videos below include the uproar and influence Elvis had on white southerners and African American musicians, as well his song In the Ghetto, followed by another rendition by a Black rap musician.

Cultural Wars and Civil Rights: How Another King Left the South and the Nation Feeling All Shook Up: Part I

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Besides Martin Luther King, Elvis Presley, popularly referred to as the King of Rock and Roll music, also had a big impact on the state of the nation after World War II. Presley and his generation of white southern teenagers discovered a common passion for rhythm and blues music with their black counterparts. This produced a huge backlash among older generations of white southerners who perceived it as a threat to their traditional, segregated social structure.

The culture war between the generations of old Dixie and new marked the beginning of a long-term trend that changed the state of race relations south of the Mason-Dixon line. The Civil Rights movement as we know it today had not yet begun.

Elvis and Rock and Roll need to be understood within the context of American culture in the 1950’s. These years following World War II were a time when the new Cold War and threat of communism produced social norms of conformity. Economic growth at the time created a new affluent middle class, a majority of which was white. The music that was listened to on most radio stations was that of white performers.

However there was another America that was either invisible, or deviated from the above-mentioned norms. A black middle class did not yet exist. Poverty rates among black americans were twice those of their white counterparts.

One author who deviated from the norm of 1950’s America was Jack Kerouac. Kerouac wrote a book entitled, On the Road. Published in 1957, it was based on the travels of the author and his friends across the nation. They visited many places that were part of that other America, areas frequented by black americans affected by poverty and drug use. This focus on that other America was that of the Beat Generation, a group of authors of which Kerouac was a member. Their philosophy included a rejection of materialism, exploration of cultures in the Eastern part of the world, experimented with psychedelic drugs, and sexual liberation. The Beatnicks were the predecessors of the Hippies of the 1960’s.

The trend that directly impacted Rock and Roll music was the role of radio. Portable radios began to replace the larger ones  that were in family living rooms. So individuals could now listen to radio stations any time they desired. At the same time, since national broadcasting companies had abandoned radio for larger profits available in television, regional radio stations took advantage of the void to localize their playlists. Since there was a migration of blacks from rural areas to cities after World War II, radio stations had more black listeners, making black programming desirable. As Michael Bertrand, described in his book, Race, Rock and Elvis, “after World War II, radio changed under pressure from television to low budget music and news programs. The pop record business eagerly took over the AM air waves. City and country blues and hillbilly music was available on the air alongside the Broadway show tunes and popular ballads. For the first time young people had a truly free choice to what they wanted to listen to on the air.”

Lastly, alongside regional radio stations was the rise of independent recording companies that sought to meet the demands of a fast growing urban black population that wanted to hear and purchase more of its own music. In Part II, we will be introduced to the founder of one of these independents, who was also the person who introduced Elvis Presley to the nation.

Below you will find two video links that will supplement the content here. The first is a PBS TV special about the History of Rock and Roll. The other is about Alan Freed, the disc jockey who coined the term rock and roll in the 1950’s, and was instrumental in disseminating the sound to the nation. 

http://www.rhythmandbluesuniversity.net/id117.html

Culture Wars and Civil Rights: How Another King Left the South and the Nation Feeling All Shook Up: Introduction

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When it comes to culture, particularly popular culture, there is more than meets the eye. Most of us tend to think of politicians as the movers and shakers of change. These next two posts will demonstrate that the role of pop culture, specifically music in the 1950’s, preceded what the leaders of political and social change would later advocate.

The 1950’s culture in America was dominated by tastes advocated primarily by the white middle class. In the post World War II age of conformity, deviations from this norm were looked upon in a condescending manner.

Even beyond the 1950’s, historians have tended to dismiss the role of pop culture as an agent of change. As one historian, Michael Bertrand, assistant professor of history at Tennessee State University puts it, “without doubt, an intellectual community negatively predisposed to popular culture denied legitimacy to music that was southern and working-class derived. By attacking it in terms couched in the language of taste, cultural guardians sought to discredit any larger significance the music may have had. By characterizing it with disapproval (passing fad, musical noise, etc.), the cultural elite fostered the impression that rock and roll’s popularity epitomized a temporary suspension of taste.”

In Part I, we will get an overview of the cultural and social background that gave birth to rock and roll music. In Part II, we will get into the substance and detail of the central figure in this form of cultural dissent.

 

Hip Hopping Around the Globe: Getting in Tune to a New Cultural Revolution: Part 4

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Tunisia is the location where the Arab Spring began in 2011. However a passive form of protest began in November, 2010, when a young rap musician calling himself El General posted a song on his Facebook page and YouTube. The song, Rais Leblel, was a mocking of Tunisian President Zine al-Abidine Ali for the problems of poverty, unemployment, hunger and injustice. The YouTube video showed El General walking through a darkened, sewage-strewn alley, with graffiti spray-painted on the wall.

The video instantly became popular among young Tunisians. Al Jazeera picked it up, and it spread quickly across the Internet. As Robin Wright put it in her book, Rock the Casbah: Rage and Rebellion Across the Islamic World, “It broke through the climate of fear in a country where no politician had dared to criticize a president in power for almost a quarter century.”

A few weeks later, a government inspector general demanded a bribe from a street vendor named Mohammed Bouazizi. The vendor’s produce was confiscated, and his livelihood was put in jeopardy. When Bouazizi found no recourse, he committed suicide by setting himself on fire.

As protests over the street vendor’s death spread across the country, El General’s rap lyrics became the rallying cry. After he wrote another protest song, the Tunisian police arrested and imprisoned  El General was released after three days when the government attempted to appease the demonstrators.

El General’s influence later spread to Egypt and Bahrain. His impact gained him the honor of being named one of Time Magzine’s 2011 Most Influential People.

Below is a YouTube video of El General’s video that had such a powerful impact on the Arab Spring.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=IeGlJ7OouR0&feature=player_detailpage

Hip Hopping Around the Globe: Getting in Tune to a New Cultural Revolution: Part 3

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Hip Hop in Iran has strong working class roots. Most Iranian musicians have chosen it because of rap’s history of political and social criticism. They also like the connection rap has to worldwide trends.

The history of Hip Hop in Iran began in the 1980’s. Souresh Lashkari, popularly known by the name Hichkas, founded a band named 021, which is the area code for Tehran. 021 uses elements of traditional Persian music, poetry, along with hip hop.

Hichkas was one of the musicians featured in a film entitled, No One Knows About Persian Cats. Although the film was inspired by Iran’s ban on taking cats and dogs out in public, it also covered the regime’s prohibition on secular music. Hichkas and 021 performed a song in it that has lyrics and video images of the extreme poverty in Tehran.

Another notable Iranian rap musician is also the country’s first female rapper, Salome MC. Salome began her hip hop career in 2002, recording her first song with Hichkas.

Her first album, a collaboration with a German rap musician Shirali, was entitled, Delirium. Two of the songs on that album are The War Within, and My Path, My Fight. “War, it’s war again, from the very moment of birth to the exact time of death.” But the closing lyrics are “because the voice of justice has conquered the war within me again.” Lyrics from My Path, My Fight include “I separated from the herd of the sheep from the beginning. Banished from grassland, without any homeland. Intellectuality, technology, movements, ideologies, politics, principals, side-tracks, religion obstacles, I pass them all with my invisible chainmail.”

In 2013, by this time having moved to Japan, she released an album  entitled, Salome’s Tale. Salome’s Tale featured her first English language song, I Officially Exist. In the song, Salome tries to reconcile her place in a world that is defined by politics and conflicting stories about right vs. wrong. As she puts it in the lyrics, “neither my hell nor my heaven is defined, my destiny is unknown and out of my hands, out of my brain.”

Below you will find YouTube videos for Hichkas in No One Knows About Persian Cats, and two for Salome. One of the Salome videos is about the Iran she left behind.

NO ONE KNOWS ABOUT PERSIAN CATS on DVD now. The acclaimed fifth feature film from Bahman Ghobadi, the director of Half Moon and Turtles Can Fly opened the Certain Regard strand of the 2009 Cannes Film…
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Hip Hopping Around the Globe: Getting in Tune to a New Cultural Revolution: Part 2

2013_0205_anim_concert_m[1]Palestinian hip hop began in the late 1990’s with a band named DAM. DAM has two meanings, blood in Hebrew, and eternity in Arabic.

They are a three member band comprised of lead singer Tamer Nafar, brother Suheil Nafar, and friend Mahmoud Jreri. DAM’s music blends Arabic melodies with hip hop beats. Borrowing from traditional rap music that was discussed in Part I, young Palestinian rap musicians have tailored their style to express their own grievances with the social and political climate in which they live and work.

Tamar and Suheil grew up in the slums of Lod, a mixed Arab and Israeli town near Tel-Aviv. As Robin Wright put it in Rock the Casbah: Rage and Rebellion Across the Islamic World, “just as rap initially provided an alternative to gang violence to young Blacks in the Bronx, hip hop has offered an alternative to suicide bombs and Molotov cocktails among Palestinians.” Or as Tamar describes it “hip hop is our CNN.”

Prior to the violence or intifada that erupted in 2000, DAM had collaborated with an Israeli hip hop musician, Subliminal, at many performances. However the two stopped after DAM released a controversial song in 2001 “Who’s the Terrorist.” The Palestinian trio was angry that the world did not understand the desperation felt by Palestinians because many more of their own people were killed by the Israeli military during the previous year of the Intifada.

However for all of their fury, DAM’s songs do not threaten violence. As Tamar put it, “I have a lot of rage, but I express it with a microphone, not a weapon.” He made this statement to an Israeli audience in 2007. In an album released that same year entitled Dedication, the band stated that “our album is the new intifada, and the lyrics are the stones.’

After the last Intifada ended, DAM collaborated with an Israeli band Shotei Hanuvah on a track entitled, Generations Demand Peace. This song was performed at peace rallies attended by young Palestinians and Israelis.

Below you will find YouTube videos of an interview with DAM, as well as one of a song for peace.

 

 

Hip Hopping Around the Globe: Getting in Tune to a New Cultural Revolution, Part 1

2013_0205_anim_concert_m[1]Hip Hop, or Rap music began in the early 1970’s in the South Bronx of New York City. It was intended to be an alternative to the violent gang culture that existed there.

Clive Campbell, or popularly known as DJ Kool Herc, is regarded as the creator of rap music. Campbell was an immigrant from Jamaica, where he heard sound systems of neighborhood parties called dancehalls, and the accompanying speeches of their disc jockeys, known as toasting. Combining a powerful sound system with music from artists such as James Brown, Campbell modified the sound of it, so that the percussive part that dancers liked the best came through. He also developed the rhyming style for rap lyrics by punctuating the recorded music with slanged phrases.

Soon after Herc began to hold street and neighborhood parties where he would be the disc jockey host. By the mid-1970’s, hip hop culture in the South Bronx began to replace a lot of the street gangs that terrorized their neighborhoods. While the violence did not end, rap music released an enormous amount of creative energy from the bottom of American society.

Hip Hop began to gain popularity in white America during the 1980’s, when the punk rock group The Beastie Boys changed their sound to rap. License to Ill was the album that marked this transition with its release in 1986. The band became interested in hip hop when rap disc jockeys began coming into punk rock venues in New York, where the Beastie Boys originated. Topics they rapped about were ones that middle class whites could understand. They had the support of some black hip hop musicians, since the band was honest about themselves. In time they were performing in front of black audiences.

The other white rap musician who popularized hip hop among white audiences more than any other was Eminem. Eminem, whose real name is Marshall Mathers, grew up in a largely black lower middle class neighborhood in Detroit. He became interested in storytelling at a young age, and discovered hip hop after hearing a rap song by a musician named Ice-T.

At age 14, Eminem and a high school friend began as a rap duo. In time, Mathers began to become noticed by the local rap music community, He was signed to a record label FBT Productions in 1996. Eminem’s debut album Infinite covered subjects such as his struggles raising a newborn daughter on a limited budget. However it was not until the release of the recording Slim Shady LP in 1999 that began his rise to stardom. It was this album that for the first time showed how a white rap musician can join his black counterparts. As Jason Tanz put it in Other People’s Property: A Shadow History of Hip Hop in White America, Eminem’s “white skin appealed to even the most sheltered of teeny-bopper mallrats, kids who may never have picked up a rap CD before in their lives.”

As far as the popularity of black originated hip hop into white America is concerned, Eminem became accepted by fellow black rap musicians as genuine. Lyrics in songs make references to white pop culture such as the Spice Girls, Pamela Anderson Lee, and Nine Inch Nails. According to Tanz, “what Eminem demonstrates clearly is that race now is not just about the color of your skin, it’s also about your psychology. It’s about your positioning yourself. It is a mix of conscious and unconscious factors that situate you in a demographic which your skin color might even deny. It’s a fact today and it took hip hop to make this fact manifest.”

Below you will find YouTube videos for an historical background for Rap and Hip Hop, as well as a well known song by Eminem, ’97 Bonnie and Clyde

Hip Hopping Around the Globe: Getting in Tune to a New Cultural Revolution, Introduction

2013_0205_anim_concert_m[1]As someone who grew up as part of the Baby Boomer generation identifying with Rock and Roll music, I have attempted to write a four part series of blog posts about another genre of music that has defined a younger generation, Hip Hop and Rap. Even though I cannot relate to Hip Hop and Rap, I understand that what Hip Hop and Rock and Roll have in common is an expression of rebellion, as well as a way to channel emotions, yearnings, etc. from each generation.

For the purpose of the posts that follow, the terms hip hop and rap will be used interchangeably. Generally speaking, Rap is the music itself, meaning the sound, lyrics/rhymes/poems, etc. sung by the singer. Hip Hop is the broader culture in which Rap is a part of.

The history of Rap really began after World War I, but only as a linguistic art form. According to Henry Louis Gates, an African American professor at Harvard University, it was called at the time a “long oral poem”, specific to the Black American community. It was kind of a language game, similar to a preacher’s call and response to an audience. This kind of communication addressed varying concerns, such as social and political issues, love, loneliness, and heartbreak.

The music element was added in the 1970’s, when Hip Hip and Rap as we now know it began. As Adam Bradley and Andrew DuBois, editors of The Anthology of Rap put it “Hip Hop’s pioneers fashioned in rap an art form that draws not only from the folk idioms of the African diaspora, but from the legacy of Western verse and the musical traditions of jazz, blues, funk, gospel and reggae.”

This four part series consists of Part I, its beginnings in the United States, Part II, its influence abroad in Palestine/Israel, Part III, its influence abroad in Iran, and Part IV, its influence abroad in adding a spark to the start of the Arab Spring in Tunisia.

Stand and Face the Unknown: A Soundtrack for the Rest of My Life

2013_0205_anim_concert_m[1]Those of us who are fans of the rock band Evanescence will be familiar with the first part of the post title, Stand and Face the Unknown. These are lyrics that are an important part of their song, What you Want. It is the spirit of the song, but particularly the video for it, that gives me my own swagger as an attitude toward life.

Do what you, what you want

Your world’s closing in in you now (it isn’t over)

Stand and face the unknown (got to remember who you really are).

As I get older, the expression that life is too short now holds meaning. As someone who leads a busy life, time also seems too short.

There’s still time

Close your eyes

Only love will guide you home

Tear down the wall, and free your soul

This song’s sense of determination fits my own swagger  Below is a video for the Evanescence song, What you Want:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wVWazHTunSI&feature=player_detailpage

Can You See the Real Me?: The Soundtrack of my Life

2013_0205_anim_concert_m[1]The title of this post is also the title of a song by the one band that has formed the soundtrack of my own life: The Who. Four of their songs, I’m Free, Love Reign O’er Me, Baba O’Reilly, and Pure and Easy, each have elements of how I have grown, and what I value as I continue  living my life.

I’m Free, from the rock opera Tommy, is the song that I can identify with the most. As someone who experienced misfortune during my own early childhood, but found myself later in life, this is the real me.  Love Reign O’er Me, from their other rock opera, Quadrophenia, is about finding a higher power with all-consuming love, and trying to turn some of that spiritual love into a romantic one. Baba O’Reilly, or popularly known as the Teenage Wasteland song, is about feeling mentally young, and starting life over again, which I find as I get older. Pure and Easy is about the power of music, and how it can make a difference in the world. I definitely know that music makes a difference in my own life.

Below you can find YouTube videos which have  lyrics to  each of these songs.