Describing the African-American influence on American music in all of its glory an d variety is an intimidating—if not impossible—task. African American influences are so fundamental to American music that there would be no American music without them. People of African descent were among the earliest non-indigenous settlers of what would become the United States, and the rich African musical heritage that they carried with them was part of the foundation of a new American musical culture that mixed African traditions with those of Europe and the Americas. Their work songs, dance tunes, and religious music—and the syncopated, swung, remixed, rocked, and rapped music of their descendants—would become the lingua franca of American music, eventually influencing Americans of all racial and ethnic backgrounds. The music of African Americans is one of the most poetic and inescapable examples of the importance of the African American experience to the cultural heritage of all Americans, regardless of race or origin.
Explore a selection of the Smithsonian's wide range of collections preserving the material history of African American musical history.