“Every genre that is born from America has Black roots.” – Sidney Madden, Louder Than a Riot 

I heard this quote for the first time a few weeks ago, while listening to a clip from the podcast, Louder Than a Riot. While at the time I was specifically researching the history of Black and Latinx ballroom music for my last blog post, this quote was really about much more than just one genre. It was about how, from Disco to Country to Rock n’ Roll, most if not all American music has been heavily shaped and influenced by Black culture, artists, songwriters, and more. And while some genres are well known for coming from Black creators, like Rap or Jazz, many others have roots that are less well known. In order to kick off Black History Month, today I want to share some of the Black history behind genres you might not associate with Black artists.


Early country music has many influences, including Appalachian working-class folk music, Southern gospel music, and early blues. Much of early country music, and even the more pop focused country music of today, carries connections to music that was often sung by enslaved people living on plantations. People who were forced into slavery in the US from Africa brought with them traditional call and response songs, spiritual hymns, and traditional instruments. The banjo, still used regularly in country music today, was brought over from West Africa and fine-tuned by enslaved communities in the Southwestern US. Similarly, early gospel music that heavily influenced Christian Country music came out of songs of worship that were created by Africans forced to give up their religions and spirituality and practice Christianity. Furthermore, some of the biggest names in country music learned their iconic style from Black performers. This includes household names like Hank Williams, one of the most influential country artists of the 20th century, who learned how to play the guitar from a Louisiana street performer named Tee Tot Payne, as well as Chet Atkins and Merle Travis, who learned their distinctive “Nashville” fingerpicking style from Black ragtime country music popular in Kentucky. Whether tracing the origin of the genre as a whole or the influences of the most well-known musicians, Black artists and culture clearly had a large impact.  


If you’re a fan of ska music at all, you’ve probably heard of the first, second, and third waves of ska music. While third wave ska rose to popularity in the late 1980s to early 2000s in the US and is likely the most popular today, the origin of first wave ska actually comes from 1960s Jamaica. During WWII and shortly after, US military bases in Jamaica brought in radios playing American blues music, which Jamaicans combined with local drum and horn influences, as well as political activist messaging, to create the original ska genre. While relatively short-lived before the rise of Reggae in Jamaica in the late 1960s, ska went on to gain significant popularity elsewhere. Beginning in the late 1970s and early 1980s, second wave ska was popularized in the UK as a backlash against social conservatism and racial tension under Margaret Thatcher, and featured a mix of traditional ska with then rising popularity of punk music. Second wave ska, also called 2 Tone ska after the most popular record label at the time, focused on lyrical messaging of racial unity and bands largely featured ensembles of multiple races. And while third wave ska, most popular in the United States, does not generally share the same Black representation within its most recognizable bands, it was still created and heavily influenced as a result of Black instruments, culture, and artists. 

House, Techno, and EDM as a whole 

EDM is often thought of as a white rave music genre, but it gets its roots at least partially from funk, disco, and other early dance genres. And while it’s relatively well documented that Disco was a Black and Latinx inspired genre, it’s less commonly known how this was a huge factor that led to the explosion of House, Techno, and Electronic Dance Music (EDM) as a whole. After Disco began to fade in popularity, it was used as an inspiration for new sounds, most notably House, named after the predominantly Black dance club The Warehouse in New York, and Techno, which came from Detroit dance clubs and underground parties. Both of these very rhythmic focused genres were intent on recreating disco-like, danceable tunes, intermixed with new synthesized sounds, as well as some of the first vocals from DJs. And when they were brought over to predominantly Black dance clubs in the UK, the mixed with already popular UK beats to create Dubstep, Jungle, and Garage, all subgenres of EDM that are still thriving today.  

As with many of our blog posts, there’s far more I could say but do not have the space for. From genres with decades or century old roots to newly emerging genres, both in the United States and around the world, there are countless communities, instruments, and iconic sounds that have Black communities and artists to thank for where they are today. To learn more about these genres and the many more that there isn’t room to expand on today, check out this list