African-American Lit: The Vernacular Tradition Continued

The Vernacular Tradition remains an influential part of Black Literature. The Norton Anthology takes an extensive look at the Spoken word in the Black community prior to delving into the written history. This is a point of interest that both students and casual visitors to the blog have to consider.

*Why is the Vernacular given such a complete overview this early in the text?

In this continuation we analyzed Jazz and its influence on the literary tradition of America and African Americans. We were able to discuss “What Did I Do?” as performed by Louis Armstrong. In this discussion I detailed that this song is a direct and important influence on the most important American novel ever written: Invisible Man. We won’t analyze its importance to that novel until later, but definitely keep this fact in your mental ‘rolodex’. In the process of listening to jazz, I introduced the students to Stormy Weather in particular Cab Calloway’s introduction of the Nicholas Brothers. In doing so I mentioned that scat music is in a long line of musical forms generated by Blacks in America that cater to their African tradition; in particular Call & response. This foundation of interaction can be seen today in Hip-Hop. Very often there are people who want to dismiss the merits of Hip-Hop, but to do so would be removing the element of the spoken tradition in literature. While mainstream Hip-Hop does create a paradox, it is a vital and relevant artform and we scratched the surface during this class.

First, however, we climbed from Jazz to R&B. This was not a discussion on your Trey Songz, knocking boots, do nothing R& B however. From this discussion the question that I find important is:

*Music sparks movements and in African American culture it is very hard to decipher whether the music came first, or the movements. Consider the Harlem Renaissance (which we have not discussed yet), was Jazz first or were the writings of the era first? Did Field songs generate slave revolutions or was it the organizing of events that created both the songs and movements?

When looking at R&B, rock and roll and the music forms that popped up after Jazz there are some pretty interesting questions that can be raised.

Real quick though: I introduced the students to one of the preeminent “free” Jazz artists and explained that this guy influenced Jackson Pollack’s splash styled art, which continues a theme in American culture of Whites being influenced by Black artists. Who was the artist we listened to in class? You can answer in the comment area even if you aren’t in the class.

*R&B is a term, like rock and roll, pop and other music categories, that was created to give music a marketable label. That’s not what I’m interested in though. What I want to know is Why Has R&B changed? Consider Sam Cooke’s “A Change is Gonna Come” and Marvin Gaye’s “What’s Going On?” (We listened to both of these in class and read the lyrics) What has happened now that Black Artists seem to be losing the drive to discuss relative issues? We also listened to Stevie Wonder’s “Living Just Enough For the City”. Why are these songs important enough to be included in a book of Black Literature? What does it mean to live just enough for the city?

Towards the end of class we began running out of time when we got to the Hip-Hop section. My goal was to show a video of The Last Poets. We will do this on Tuesday. I was able to draw a small connection to Minnie the Moocher by Cab Calloway (Jazz) to the call and response style of Hip-Hop but more important we listened to and read Gil Scott Heron’s “The Revolution Will Not Be Televised”.

*What does this poem mean? Show examples and expound… Also tell me where Gil Scott was born? Finally tell me why he can be considered the Godfather of Rap music.

There was a lot analyzed and discussed but we are only beginning this intro to African American Lit. So far what has stood out to you? Sorry if it feels that we are rushing, but I have so much I want you to be introduced to.

Prof. B