antebellum musical era painting
The Old Plantation attributed to to John Rose. Circa 1785.

Pre-Civil War

1619 – Civil War

The Origins of Black Music

The African American influence on American music cannot be overstated. It is no exaggeration to state that without Black people American music in its current form would not exist.

People of African descent have been in this land long before it was a country, and, although they were stolen from their homelands, they brought with them their rich musical traditions. From work songs to spirituals to dance music, the syncopated rhythms of Africa would become interwoven into the American tapestry from its inception.

This is not to imply that African American music was no different from the music found on the African continent at the time. Black music in America was strongly influenced by indigenous, European, and Caribbean cultures. An example of this is the development of the banjo, which, although not usually associated with Black music, was derived from the African lute. It evolved to adapt to European musical tuning standards and thus a new uniquely American instrument was born. This sort of hybridization is typical of Black American music.

Genres from the era

Call & Response

Call & Response

The African American influence on American music cannot be overstated. It is no exaggeration to state that without Black people there would be no American music.

Notable Events

Slave Trade Begins In America

Slave Trade Begins In America

August 1619

The slave trade starts in the 13 colonies when the ship the White Lion arrives in Virginia carrying 20 to 30 enslaved Africans.

The Cotton Gin Is Patented

The Cotton Gin Is Patented

1794

Eli Whitney's invention revolutionizes the cotton industry in the United States and leads a growth in chattel slavery in the South.

Hidden Messages

Hidden Messages

c. 1820

Composed by Choctaw Freedman Wallace Wallis, spirituals like "Steal Away To Jesus," contained hidden messages to incite enslaved people to escape to freedom.

Lincoln Elected President

Lincoln Elected President

November 6, 1860

The election of Abraham Lincoln, who won a popular majority in the North where the enslavement of Blacks had been abolished, was the final trigger of the Civil War.

Genre Map

Map of music genre events in antebellum era