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Future of Music

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From folk-blues singers like Huddie Ledbetter (a.k.a. Leadbelly) to modern day hip hop artists like Common, Talib Kweli and the Roots, the folk music of the African-American communities has embodied the struggle of the marginalized worker in America.

Probably the most influential figure from this time was folk-blues musician Huddie Ledbetter (a.k.a. Leadbelly). Leadbelly (1888-1949) integrated old gospel tunes, blues, folk, and country music into a sound that was entirely his own. Born onto a Louisiana plantation, Leadbelly moved with his family to Texas when he was just five years old. There, he learned how to play the guitar, which he would use as his tool for telling the hard truth and, twice, save himself from a long prison sentence.

The first time, he wrote a song for the Governor of Texas, which won his pardon. The second time, he was discovered by producer Alan Lomax, who was touring the southern prisons looking for blues songs, spirituals, and work songs to record. Leadbelly told them how he got pardoned previously, and he wrote another song called “Goodnight Irene.” Lomax took this song to the Governor of Louisiana. Once again, it worked, and Leadbelly was pardoned and released. From there, he was taken north by Lomax, who helped make him somewhat of a household name. To this day, artists in blues, folk, rock, and hip-hop look to Leadbelly as an influence.

The most obvious, and often the most discussed, influence from the African-American community is in the area of blues and, ultimately, rock & roll. Blues vocalists like Bessie Smith, Ma Rainey, and Memphis Minnie helped to popularize the blues across the racial divides of the time. Other great blues legends like Muddy Waters, Robert Johnson, and BB King managed to take that work even further to directly influence the burgeoning sounds of what would become rock & roll, an American institution.

These days, blues players like Keb Mo' and Taj Mahal blur the lines between blues, rock, and folk with their raw, gorgeous, infectious tunes that even occasionally flirt with the roots of country-western. But the influences don't stop with blues, by any stretch of the imagination.

By the 1970s, a new brand of folk music started to solidify in the African-American communities of major cities like Chicago, New York City, Los Angeles, and Detroit. Hip-hop borrowed rhythms from across the musical spectrum вЂ"



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