The power of arts in general and music in particular in shaping society cannot be overstated. Culture can be influenced either positively or negatively by music and art. As William and Junius (2014, p.198) note, the role of music in shaping societal nuances can be traced back to centuries ago when musical instruments served to dispense knowledge, to create awareness on vices and values to be upheld within the society, to provide encouragement, and to instigate reform processes within the political environment. In this paper the history and development of art and Music in Newark, New Jersey is discussed, and their influence on black art in the 1950 and 1960s are highlighted.
Art and music originating from New Jersey have had a significant impact on the history of the world and influenced global music. There are records of ancient music, believed to have been composed and performed in New Jersey, being popular and influential across the globe. Francis Hopkins is believed to be one of the earliest American songwriters. One of his essential pieces is "My Days Have Been So Wondrous Free," a song composed decades ago (Bateman, 2018). He later wrote Forte-Piano, an equally impactful book. Hopkins hailed from New Jersey, and so are a host of many other artists. America's first professional opera is attributed to William Dunlap, another New Jersian. Another first in the American music industry by a New Jersian was by Lowell Mason who became the first American to graduate with a degree in music. As William and Junius (2014, p.56) note, Mason would go on to lead the push for the inclusion of music into the U.S. school curriculum. Newark has been a hub for American jazz artists since the early 1950s. Such artists could visit the place to hone their skills or perform at top clubs like the Piccadilly enroot to New York and other cities.
New Jersey's retains its popularity as a cradle for American art and music. From its small treasured shops and galleries to large museums, New Jersey maintains its allure ad musical history. In Newark, there sit perhaps the leading arts and music centres which have influenced the teaching and performance. Newark still promotes art forms such as music, drama, paintings, pictures, and poetry. This popularity has been sustainable as a result of established centres such as the Mayo Performing Arts Center, the Count Basie, the Bergen Performing Arts Center, and the Theatre New Jersey.
A group of New Jersey poets, musicians and dramatists came together to establish the black art movement. According to Woods and Benjamin (2008, p.32), this movement was politically motivated and advocated for the power of black people during slavery, and race discrimination within a white-dominated America. The black art movement addressed multiple areas of black lives including humanities, sports, religion, and work. It intended to revitalize the self-belief of the black population which had been significantly dented by the white supremacists. The movement established three strategies to realize its goals. Foremost, it considered pushing for an independent black state. It also intended to rally through a vote, the disbandment of capitalism. Lastly, it aimed to initiate the process of self-defense and the protection of the rights of black people against oppression. It is noteworthy that the movement intended that the radical changes would not only impact the lives of black people in America but all over the world.
The membership of the black art movement assigned their operations to four key areas. Haki Madhubuti's appeal for a wall of respect was one example of a push for art to be intended for the well being of the people. As Woods and Benjamin (2008, p.15) note, the poem acknowledged the importance of the wall of respect. Based on such push, the artists and activists established institutions, walls of honor, wall paintings, and walls of heritage and pride. Additional support was provided through community theaters and poetry houses which offered black Americans the opportunity to experience art as a form of entertainment. Unlike previously, blacks were confident that the art arising from these settings reflected their experiences and cultures. Over time, art performances became more meaningful and relevant in the liberation movement, and black people realized back their self-worth.
There was a focus on the creation of awareness on the aesthetic value of black content among the race's intellectual groups. Consequently, creative intellects and writers evaluated artistic expressions originating from the black art environments and considered their informed reflection of the experiences, characters, and history of the black race (Hunter & Robinson, 2018). With their contribution, such content was then publicized and popularized. This process gradually withdrew their attention from artistic expressions emanating from the whites and was intended to restore the cultural significance of the black race. As woods and Benjamin (2008, p.15) observed, this process aimed to restore among the blacks their historical memories.
The activities around the art and music performed within the confines of the movement aimed to bring back to memory the history and struggles of the black race. Years of slavery, oppression, and dominance had played an essential role in interfering with black history and prevented the passage of that history and traditions to the later generations. However, the continuous collective exposure of such culture through creative arts and music enabled blacks to hold on to their culture and values and shun the popular culture forced on them by the whites.
Woods and Benjamin (2008, p.34) also note that the activities of the black art movement aimed to reignite the confidence of the black people in their abilities. As a result of years of oppression and segregation, blacks had lost their self-worth and their spirit to mount a significant resistance had waned. Continuously, the black race lived by comparing themselves with the white race. Considering that American culture was dominant globally, it was tempting for young blacks to want to adopt white culture. Art and music ensured that this was not the case by securing and upholding the culture and history of the black race, reflecting on the causes of its disappearance and calling for its advancement. Consequently, young blacks were able to appreciate their identity. The movement also enabled blacks to organize themselves into communities which provided them with collective potential to agitate for political, economic and social reforms. Music and art were thus critical in starting the liberation movement, particularly in Newark, New Jersey.
Music and art are powerful tools which can influence generations of a community or race and challenge them to face their challenges. In the American context, music and art have helped initiate and sustain the push for equality and reforms in the political and economic space. Music has been used extensively to confront authority and discourage evil engaged in by the political class. It is a tool that is also used to recognize and applaud successes and exemplary leadership. In the social sphere, music and art play central roles in dispensing values, challenging vices, honoring heroism, spreading awareness on what the community needs to focus on, and transferring cultural information from one generation to the next. Their music and art have equally addressed the spiritual aspect of the black population. These tools play central roles in reminding the black race of the existence of a supernatural being as well as to entertain.
There is an undoubted direct correlation between art and music and the history of blacks in America. William and Junius (2014, p.43) note that the black American race initially valued the music genre, blues because it uplifted their souls amid the oppression and enslavement. Based on this view, it is evident how the power of music overcame oppression. Gradually, the blacks were redeemed by the constant interaction with music which enabled them to overcome pain and suffering. Influential artists like James Brown and Michael Jackson, for instance, composed music which were prominent in the civil rights movement of the 1960s and beyond.
The subject of the role of music and art on black American history is of interest because though considered entertainment forms with subtle cultural information, the impact that they have on the population is vast. As such, research can focus on how music, as well as other forms of art, can play a leading role in the advancement of the rights and civil liberties of people. What one learns from the case of black American history is that music and art can influence, inspire, and cultivate societal values as well as instil in a people the need to overcome difficulties and fight for space. Music uplifts the souls of the heartbroken, cheers up the oppressed, and reminds a race and community of its past achievements and the need to emulate past effective leadership.
In conclusion, music and arts hold the keys to the preservation of the history, struggles and achievements of a race or a community.
In the American case, the history of music and art established in the 50s and 60s in Newark, New Jersey began a movement that blossomed to address critical areas that the black race found itself marginalized. Music influenced the political activities that preceded the civil rights movement (Hoffman, 2013). The social and cultural aspects of the black population were elevated and given meaning by the music and art. Knowledge and awareness of the cultural experiences of the black race were passed on from one generation to the next through music and art. The black art movement addressed multiple areas of black lives including humanities, sports, religion, and work. It intended to revitalize the self-belief of the black population which had been significantly dented by the white supremacists. Unlike previously, blacks were confident that the art arising from these settings reflected their experiences and cultures. Over time, art performances became more meaningful and relevant in the liberation movement, and black people realized back their self-worth. Over time, art performances became more useful and appropriate in the liberation movement, and black people realized back their self-esteem.
Bateman, R. G. (2018). Improvising Resistance: Jazz, Poetry, and the Black Arts Movement, 1960-1969 (Doctoral dissertation, University of Cambridge).
Hoffman, D. (2013). The Dawn of Black Power [Video]. Retrieved from https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XdpFKMbUv30&t=3s
Hunter, M. A., & Robinson, Z. (2018). Chocolate cities: The Black map of American life. Univ of California Press.
Williams, J. (2014). Unfinished Agenda: Urban Politics in the Era of Black Power. North Atlantic Books.
Woods, B. (2008). The Relationship of Black Power and Black Arts/Consciousness Movements to The Black Studies Movement. Cornell.
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