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The soundtrack of history: How Black music has shaped American culture through time

"Every genre that is born from America has Black roots," says music journalist and podcast host Sidney Madden.
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Music and the performing arts have not only entertained the masses; they have also served to document history ― from early American music like ragtime and jazz to R&B and hip-hop and several genres in between.

Time and time again, Black musicians mirror what's going on in the world through their music and through providing music for others to perform. Sidney Madden is a co-host of NPR's podcast "Louder Than a Riot," which focuses on the intersections of music and culture. Her expertise as a music journalist gives a glance into how Black culture has influenced the music and entertainment industry as whole.

"Every genre that is born from America has Black roots associated with it, from rock 'n' roll to blues to disco," Madden said. "The fingerprints of Black creators are all over what makes American music so unique."

This interview was lightly edited for length and clarity.

What impact has the Black community had on American music?

Sidney Madden: There would be no American history without Black people in it. The fabric of what American society is socially, economically, industrially ― it wouldn't be what it is without Black people. And you can see that especially when it comes to music.

What's one fact about the American music industry that often flies under the radar?

Madden: Theft of Black creativity is something that is in the bedrock of American society. And if you go back to people like Sister Rosetta Tharpe, who is considered one of the godmothers of rock 'n' roll, many people didn't know who she was. You could think of Elvis and where he took a lot of his stage presence from, where he took a lot of his bravado and conviction and his lines from, even some of the storytelling in his music ― it was stolen directly from Black descendants like Chuck Berry. Even if you look on the pop charts right now, so many artists who are considered titans of the game right now wouldn't be anything and they wouldn't have a song to string together if it wasn't for their Black writers. I'm thinking specifically of Ariana Grande, this latest album, "Positions," which was co-written by one of her best friends, and somebody who I think has one of the best pens in the game right now is Victoria Monet.

How have social movements coincided with Black music?

Madden: As we say on our podcast, "Louder Than a Riot," all hip-hop is protest music, right? That's the bedrock of what hip-hop has always been about. What's happening in hip-hop is a microcosm for what's happening in Black America, because it is a Black-born art form. And I think with the watershed moment we had last year that's continuing to permeate with the Black Lives Matter movement in America and globally, more people are seeing that there would be nothing, there would be no soundtrack to the protest, without Black music. And that's not only hip-hop. It's happening in pop music. It's happening in R&B. It's happening in jazz.

Where do you see the future of Black music going?

Madden: I see the future of Black music going where Black people are going, and that's limitless. The more we use our voice to talk about things that matter, things that need to be changed ― and not in a far-off dreamscape utopian way, but in a concrete, logistical, step-by-step way — these are the things that need to be improved in our community, because if it's going to be improved in our community, it's going to be improved in America as a whole. That's where we're going. We're going to more positions of power, influence and applicable change.

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