On Nov. 10 at 4:30 p.m., Dr. Scot Brown, professor in African American studies at UCLA, will present his work in a discussion titled “The Rise and Decline of Black Bands in Popular Music in the 1970s.”
This event will be held in partnership with the Department of Music, Institute for African Development, Department of History, the Cornell Hip Hop Collection and the African Studies and Research Center.
Taking place in the Africana Research and Studies Center, Brown will be discussing his research on the confounding factors that contributed to the decline of the popularity of Black music throughout the 1980s.
“African American bands’ experiences in popular music were not driven solely by shifting consumer tastes,” Brown said. “But also by underlying contextual and structural issues such as the Black entrepreneurial and professional activism and cultural politics of race.”
This specific niche of historiography is not new: studying history through the lens of music of particular demographics has been researched by the Smithsonian, especially on the period of the civil rights movement.
Brown believes that although social progress can be measured through other metrics, music specifically elucidates the culture behind social changes.
“This history speaks to the dynamic relationships between those who create ‘culture’ at the local level and the institutions that disseminate and mold culture into a consumptive production,” Brown said. “Local socio-economic conditions have distinctive impacts on cultural production and creativity.”
As the event approaches, Brown is looking forward to a large student turnout and hopes that attendees will open their minds to a new understanding of history through the widely accepted and practiced means of music as communication.
“Black music has been, and remains, an indispensable cultural resource,” Brown said. “There is a rich history of Black activism around the question of control and the distribution of power behind-the-scenes, in the music industry.”
Student Brice Roundtree ’24, is also looking forward to the event, and thinks that he still has more to learn about the impact of African American music in the context of social progress.
“Music has always been a tool of liberation, whether it’s being used to convey messages of resistance or pride and joy,” Roundtree said. “I think all attendees will be informed of such history and its everlasting impact.”
Roundtree wants to learn more about how the spread of Black music politically impacted social struggles during the 20th century.
“Under oppression, all cultural expressions are political whether it is done deliberately or not,” Roundtree said. “Thus, I ultimately want to see how Black bands impacted our struggle for liberation, and how the state responded to them.”
The ultimate goal of Brown’s talk is to learn how to engage the Cornell community in thought regarding the balance between the arts and community empowerment.
“As a speaker, I hope to learn more about effective ways to dialogue with audiences about the relationship between the arts (popular music) and community empowerment,” Brown said.
Brown hopes that students are able to take from this event the historical struggles of Black social movements that impacted and altered the growth of Black bands in the 20th century.
“Students will hopefully leave the event thinking differently about the evolution of artistic form and style in popular music,” Brown said. “The rise and fall of Black bands was not a ‘natural’ occurrence or the result of a cultural meritocracy — but rather, a trajectory shaped by and connected to Black social movements and struggles over institutional power.”