The racial diversity of Rock musicians is a subject of interest. Over the years, it has been subject to change, while the change made one thing very clear – rock music was being whitewashed, literally! A steep increase in the number of white musicians almost made us wonder where everyone else went. Rock ‘n’ Roll had seemingly split up into white rock, and black soul; segregation that still haunts the music industry today. But let’s take a look at when this means of dividing the population – so musically inclined – began to happen.
Rock ‘n’ Roll- Birth and New-found Segregation
While the genre found primary inspiration in the originally-African American music – the blues – it soon began drawing inspiration from various other genres as well: RnB, jazz, boogie-woogie, country, and swing being a few that encouraged the upbeat new style. A style that evolved in late 1940’s and the early 1950’s, Rock ‘n’ Roll was a language that many musicians spoke, regardless of their particular racial inclinations. But much like all things good, this too was short lived. A decline in the number of African-American artists began becoming evident. Hendrix was the last of the big names in the genre. It was then seen that the decline in coloured artists was followed by a segregation of the whole genre of music. Rock ‘n’ Roll found itself splitting into two; as mentioned earlier, white “Rock “ and black “Soul.” By the time the seventies were in full swing, so was the divide; did musicians recognise the genre of music they played based on ethnographic factors?
While the musicians themselves never bothered asking questions about this divide, mostly because it was something they didn’t care about, they seemed to be sticking to its code; was it going to remain this way? For the coloured to don a tuxedo and play for an audience that prefer fine dining? Is it only the Caucasians that can emulate the rocker’s signature carefree attitude? These are questions that seem quite futile, but, for those trying to understand the phenomenon, they remain fundamental. But the acknowledgement of the issue, and its acceptance came with the Beatles, according to a cover story by Time. To quote the story, all the way from 1965, “The Beatles made it all right to be white.”
While Rock by itself has split into several subsidiaries, the question still remains: is the music we listen to racially segregated? Certain events stand as clear examples that it is not as it was when the divide initially broke out – such as Beyonce performing with the Dixie Chicks and N.W.A finding a place in the Rock ‘n’ Roll hall of fame – but reminiscent traces of the events still remain. The small yet significant majority still seems to fall into the designated lines for racial stereotypes in the music business. It is not that good music isn’t being made even with the segregation, the issue is that musicians’ roles and their particular genres are almost predetermined, and this is something that must change.