Black Women in Music
Music is a reflection of the community from which it came. African American women
have been reflecting the social, economic, and political experiences of the African American
community through thier music past and present. Each era of change in the African American
community has brought about a African American female revoluntionary. Examples of this can
be seen through the blues and jazz singers of the Harlem Renaissance, soul singers of the civil
rights movement, and the Ryhem and Blues, Hip Hop vocalist of the present day.
In the early 1900’s, America was a place of racial division and inequality. The early
1900’s was a time when African American men and women, although by law were free, were not
even considered to be human beings in the eyes of European Americans. African Americans in
the south were engaged in agricultural occupations. Most African Americans of the south
worked under a system called sharecropping, where landowners provided land for workes,
whose responsibility it was to raise crops and at harvest time, the workers were to give a share of
their profits to the landowner. Under the sharecropping system, African Americans workers
were often mistreated by European Americans, which kept them in a state of poverty. The
Sourthern states began to pass Jim Crow laws that segregated African Americans from schools,
neighborhoods, jobs, and public facillities.
Many African Americans sought to escape the racism of the south by moving to more
industrialized cities in the North. With the movement of African Americans to the North came
the Harlem Renaissance, an African American movement in New York in which African
Americans began to more freely express themselves and their ideas through art, literature, and
music. However, in the north African Americans had not fully escaped racism. In the north,
African Americans often were not able to find good jobs and good pay. African Americans were
forced to become domestics or factory workers with little chance for advancement in the north.
African Americans in the 1900’s were plagued with racism.
Known as the “Empress of the Blues.” Bessie Smith was the female muscial
revoluntionary singer of the early twentith century. Smith was touring professinally with a troupe
by the age of nineteen and by the time she was twenty-nine sold over 780,000 copies of her first
recording “Downhearted Blues.” Smith was a blues singer popular with both black and white
audiences. For African Americans though, Smith was more thatn just a popular entertainer. To
African Americans, Smith was a strong, independant African American woman with tremendous
talent and determination. Despite Smith’s popularity with withe audiences, she was
noncompromising. Smith’s singing style was direct, confrontational, truthful, and passionate.
An example of the aspects of Smith’s music can be found in her lyrics to “Poor Man’s Blues.”
which she worote.