Pete's Blog

Three weeks

It's been almost three weeks since the last post and I need to take myself firmly in hand. I expect this happens a lot - somebody starts a blog, eventually runs out of things to say, and is humble enough to think that nobody is really interested in the minutiae of their daily life, which is all they have left to talk about. I expect by now most of the people who signed on to read the blog have gotten tired of seeing the same entries week in and week out and have moved on to the sites of chattier people. Okay, here's a topic. Afriican-American music was the most profound cultural development of the 20th Century, it says here. And one of the most interestiing things about African-American music is that it can't be reduced to one figure (Elizabethan drama? Shakespeare. Singer-songwriters? Bob Dylan.) but was the cumulative effort of a series of geniuses inspiring each other in sequence: Louis Armstrong to Billie Holiday to Duke Ellington to John Coltrane to Ray Charles to Aretha Franklin to Stevie Wonder, etc. Now. Of all the geniuses who drove the development of that music none (by my count) got their start in show business after President Johnson signed the Civil Rights Act of 1965. There have been a couple of artists recently whom people call "geniuses," but none of these (if you ask me) deserve to be in the pantheon mentioned above. And even if you grant these "genius" status you have to admit that there have been far, far fewer of them lately than at mid-century. Why? Is it that before the Act there were so fewer opportunities for Blacks that the kinds of people who are good at anything they try were forced to gravitate to music, the only field at the time where Blacks were allowed to prosper? Is it that the new technologies of recording and broadcasting allowed the Black community its first chance to show the world that it could produce important art and that they quite self-consciously used them to spur political and social reforms? That now that the gains have been won Black entertainers have turned their focus away from the wider world and returned to the same old kooch-dance? Is it that African-American culture, historically stressing communality over individualism, has no place in it for European notions of the towering "genius" figure dominating all thought and action in his/her field? I'd like to hear what people think. Let's use the "Discussion" page as a bulletin board.

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