First slaves are introduced to Jamestown Virginia by the Dutch settlers. (Wiki) “Prior to enslavement in America, Africans lived in societies developed around a worldview that was predicated on highly sophisticated religious systems and an impressive oral communication style. The Africans believed Nommo, which means the generative power of the spoken word” (Hamlet 27). The problem was that their white captors did not want them communicating with each other in a language that only they could understand. The oral tradition was the only link to their Nommo heritage.
The use of slave Ebonics has many links to it and the reasoning for the language itself. “However, it can also be posited that compulsory ‘ignorance laws,’ passed in several southern states to exert control over African Americans contributed to heritage language maintenance among enslave Africans. Ebonics would not be in the same shape and form had its earlier speakers been given the opportunity to read and write Standard English” (Ndemanu 30). As with in the transportation of slaves they were not allowed to communicate with one another.
Churches and religion were a right that was oppressed along with many other basic human rights. “One of the First known Black churches in America was created before the American Revolution, around 1758” (McMickle web) “The musical expressions of the African Americans and the Black church have been the most significant forces in maintaining and nurturing the surviving African/African American language and cultural traditions” (Hamlet 28). The sermons and the music that led to spirituals becoming a unique form of Black cultural music.
The great migration of African Americans from the deep south to the industrialized north and Midwest. Bringing with it there music, culture, and linguistics uniqueness. “Direct address, tonal semantics, directness, sinifyin, and narrative sequencing create distinct genres of music and code meshing in writing. Blues form, stories of tricksters, in-yo-face interactions with an audience, and African Americanized notions of freedom and struggle are just a few examples” (Kynard 367). With the migration of African Americans came their language and culture came change. The language was frowned upon and the conditions were not that much better, but there was plenty of words and phrases that stuck along with the popularity of the music.
The unofficial start of the civil rights movement with Brown v Board of Education, reversing the separate but equal doctrine of Plessy v. Ferguson. (Wiki) Music historically played a huge part in the civil rights movement and its vernacular. "In the Souls of Black Folk Du Bois maintained hat the 'sorrow songs' provided on of the most useful documentations of the long history of oppression and struggle against that oppression. Thus, this form of music became a bearer of historical memory, similar to the role of griots in many West African societies" (Stewart 197) With a simple medium such as radio and actual albums, music was a form of education in the language of large swath of people that brought it all mainstream.
While spiritual hymns had existed for centuries, black spirituals used a unique timing signature and became the base for blues music. “A spiritual that talked of a fellow slave ‘a-gwine to Glory’ was actually making a reference to one who had successfully boarded a repatriation ship bound for Africa. Nat Turner, a slave preacher, inspired by a vision of Blacks and Whites in battle, made the greatest use of hymns as covert propaganda. When his famous revolt in 1831 was crushed and he was jailed in Courland, Virginia, the place became known among Blacks as Jerusalem” (Cran, McCrum, MacNeil 235). This is the beginning of the journey of African American music and its influence on all of American language and culture.
While there were no recordings until the early 1900's, the origins of blues music were have said to originate around 1870. (Wiki) There is a constant evolution of music as a whole and blues with its web that extends to the music of today and the effects on language. “Much can be learned about the history of African Americans through the music of spirituals, blues, gospel, jazz, and hip-hop. In the music are emotional stories of hardship, hope, and determination of a people who have been downtrodden and oppressed. The message sent through music reflect the different social and cultural values of any given time period” (Hamlet 28). The chain that is music from the spirituals through today is the connecting theme of communication and language, by virtue of musical direction.
Robert Johnson, though born in 1910 and dying in 1938, was the one of the most influential blues singers ever. His only recordings were done in 1936 and 1937 (Wiki). His direct influence to Muddy Waters and Muddy Waters subsequent influence of the Rolling Stones choosing their name, connects a musical and lyrical link to this day. Carmen Kynard talks a great deal about the connection with blues and language. “Thus, the history of the blues represents communities, audiences, and performers and has implication for how we understand language and literacies—and, thereby, classrooms” (Kynard 360). Just like church and their sermons, music has and always will have influence on patois in each geographical area.
This is hotly debated to give a specific date, one such milestone was the release of Jackie Brenston's Rocket 88, (1951), but one thing is for sure rock and roll came from the roots of blues music. The trail that is blues music and language/communication started with the first slaves being stolen from their West African roots and Nommo tradition. A condensed synopsis is written by Donald L. Kaufmann; “With their African litanies and chant, and their call-and-response patter (a chorus echoing the leader), spiced with percussive effects and subtle rhythms, the work songs of slaves were the forerunner of the blues, which would take root as native American expression, eventually becoming popular enough to shape much of the Woodstock Nation” (Kaufmann 33). McKinley Morganfield, known professionally as Muddy Waters, said it best from a song off his album “Hard Again” The Blues Had a Baby and They Named It Rock and Roll.
Music took its place in the civil rights movement and with the influence of the music came the sway on the language being used. “Some early commentaries continued discussion of issues addressed previously in Blues lyrics. For example, Sam Cooke’s ‘Chain Gang’ (1962) is a start reminder of how the criminal justice system operates as a vehicle of social control” (Stewart 206). The 1960’s were a decade of social anthem songs that took its roots from the blues and continue to this day.