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Rock Is the New Black

Friday, June 13, 2008

20 years ago, a young black man might be alienated for loving rock more than hip-hop. Today, modern rock acts from Gnarls Barkley to TV on the Radio are populated by African Americans. Joining us to investigate the factors are Vernon Reid, founding member of the The Black Rock Coalition and guitarist for the Grammy-winning band Living Colour, Jim Farber, music critic of the New York Daily News and young rocker Danielia Cotton.

Our blog: John Schaefer on the color line in rock


Danielia Cotton, Jim Farber and Vernon Reid

Comments [31]


Re: "The next step to Black Music Liberation is when I see a young black population turning it's attention to blues...."

Max, have you heard of The Homemade Jamz Blues Band? (The three siblings range in age from 9-13! But, they have a very mature sound.) If not, check out their Myspace page at I only found out about them a couple of days ago, and ordered their CD within minutes.

Jun. 14 2008 07:56 PM
Max from Noo Yawk

@ al oof: "why weren't we seeing these bands so much? capitalism. racism. the same reason you aren't seeing the teems of asian and latino people playing rock music."

Ah, sweet victimhood. Will it ever die? Or do some people cling to it out of fear they'll lose their identity?

Rock has ALWAYS been a part of the Black music experience, starting with Louis Jordan, in the opinion of many. But many blacks denied their own heritage in the genre thanks to their own identity politics. Just like the first poster perri, who never got into Jimi Hendrix, the greatest innovator of the guitar in human history. I pity him for the decades of enjoyment he missed that he can only savor now.

The next step to Black Music Liberation is when I see a young black population turning it's attention to blues, i.e., Robert Johnson, Son House, Muddy Waters, Willie McTell, etc. The Robert Johnson album went platinum several times over- and it was a white audience that put it there.

But please- let's keep racism alive. Where would be without it?

Jun. 14 2008 07:30 PM
BKT from Brooklyn, NY

"Oh, so you are a musician? What kind of music do you play? Jazz or R & B?" This is the question that I am constantly asked as a struggling Black Singer-Songwriter. If I were White, I am sure that I would simply be asked "What kind of music do you play?" By the way, I happen to write and sing Pop/ Folk, so music stereotyping does not only apply to Rock musicians.

Jun. 13 2008 08:01 PM
Vic Offray from N.J.

(More blacks coming into the spot light on the rock stage once dominated by whites...)
A change in one feels on the inside expressing oneself through music...
Years ago Duke Ellington used to say, "one never snaps one's fingers on the beat, it's considered aggressive...You just let it fall on the after"
I guess today people are more aggressive.

Jun. 13 2008 06:25 PM
Nicholas from nyc

Hendrix?? BO DIDDLEY FELLAS !! I still rock that first album..Hendrix is lovely, but no one is talking about Doo Wop..thats REAL rock n roll. Street corner dont need loud guitars and drums for rock n roll. Also, rock n roll is the black term for "gettin it ON." This is what you learn when you pops spins early 50's...

Jun. 13 2008 02:38 PM
Amber from Brooklyn

Speaking of black women in rock, there are newer bands and artists such as Suffrajett, The Noisettes and Imani Coppola, plus older ones including Meshell Ndegeocello and Lenny Kravitz's drummer.

Also, black musicians' contributions to rock and roll also stemmed a lot from ska...

Jun. 13 2008 02:37 PM
Jeffrey Slott from East Elmhurst

When I was growing up to AM radio in the '60s, the stations played everything from The Beatles to The Temptations to Frank Sinatra to Dionne Warwick.
When FM Progressive came in the late '60s the playlist went really all over the place.
Then starting in the '70s, FM radio became much more segregated. When complaints were made of why Stevie Wonder's "Superstitious" was not being played, it was claimed that it wasn't "rock" (!), that it was R&B or some such nonsense. Yet they had no problem playing anything by The Rolling Stones who did plenty of R&B-flavored tracks (not very well,in my opinion). So I blame the ensuing problems facing Black rock-and-rollers on the radio and the politics therein.

Jun. 13 2008 02:36 PM
Albert from Greenwich, CT

After I saw a Living Color show at the University of Miami back at the end of the 80’s, I kept hearing something like “…they were pretty good, but it was kinda weird seeing a bunch of black guys rocking out…” I am black, and it really bumbed me out after such an incredible sonic experience.

Jun. 13 2008 02:33 PM
Nicholas from nyc

Everyone should know by now that Rock N Roll is AKA as doo wop or Rythm and Blues. It was socially converted during the fifties by the Dick Clarks of the world. Its really the white term for R&B. The rock n roll term was a new (fresh)term or label. Doo Wop is rock n roll and essentially created by the african americans. Then somewhere, the Who came in.

Jun. 13 2008 02:32 PM

I grew up listening to U2, Run-DMC, Living Color, Fishbone, and a station called WLIR.

All I can say is, it's good to see the rest of the world catch up to me...

Jun. 13 2008 02:32 PM
Christopher from NYC

As a long time fan of rock music, my father gave me a Hendrix album, Sgt Peppers, and Tommy all when I was a child. Later it was bands such as Bad Brains and in Living Color. I've been hooked ever since.

As one of the few African-American production managers in this biz, it's a question that I always get asked and have been asked for over 20 years, why would you like this style of music.

Simple answer, I love all styles of music. Rock is a product of the blues. Its something that has always has been close to me, it's part of our African-American heritage, so to me it's foolish to even ask the question.

Hats of to Vernon, he is keeping it real!

Jun. 13 2008 02:29 PM
kd from Brooklyn

I did not grow up in the U.S., but the reach of American music as with all things American found me. Thus, I as a person of color enjoyed "rock" music and never thought of it as as anything other than American music. I continue to enjoy it along all spectrums--Springsteen to you name it. When looked at strangely by black Americans I would have to educate them on what they should have heard--echoes of gospel, blues, etc.

Jun. 13 2008 02:29 PM
Billy from Boston, MA

Janelle Monae is a black singer from Atlanta and her sound is really fresh. I think she appeals to both black and white

Jun. 13 2008 02:28 PM
Mike from 11238

sorry came into this segment late, but has anyone plugged the documentary "afro-punk"?

Jun. 13 2008 02:28 PM
AM from Brooklyn

Could you talk about this shift in relation to the explosion of the band Black Kids in 2007 and the interesting juxtaposition between Living Color's experience where they were encouraged to hide their identity and the Black Kids who wear their identity on their sleeves.

Jun. 13 2008 02:27 PM
T Dub

I am 44, when I was young in the 60's we listened to AM, and that was a mix of music so my taste is towards music , rock, r&b , chinese opera,,,,you name it it't music, I'm in.

Jun. 13 2008 02:27 PM
Dan from NYC

Wjhy does it matter? Why is there a comstant need to have a black everything? I bought the Living Color album back then. It was great. I didn't care they were black. I think I bought a second album, not so great. I didn't care they were black. Get over it Vernon, you're a great guitarist who didn't have lightning strike twice like lots of others.

Jun. 13 2008 02:26 PM
eligit from astoria could i not mention Bad Brains? another astounding all black rock band.

the big takeover!!

also the album "the quickness"....awesome.

Jun. 13 2008 02:25 PM
Billy from Boston, MA

Even though there have black people in rock for a long time, I'm only recently noticing more young black kids listening.
I think some of this has to do with more suburban and middle class black kids. Some of it also has to do with with hip hop acts incorporating rock in to their sound. Jay-Z's 99 problems comes to mind as a HUGE hit with young black people in Brooklyn. My opinion is Hip-hop is struggling for new sounds right now too.

Now if you go to Jamaica Queens you'll see some black kids in tight jeans and skateboards. 15 years ago I very rarely saw that.

Jun. 13 2008 02:25 PM

Bad Brains, The Dears

Jun. 13 2008 02:23 PM
eligit from astoria

just a clarification.

it is blatantly obvious that rock was essentially started by black musicians....robert johnson, bo diddly, chuck jimi hendrix THE definitive rock guitarist.

elvis was a follower....not an originator. same with eric clapton in the 60s.

so the comments i am making are about recent history and current events...not origin.

Jun. 13 2008 02:23 PM
SK from Midtown Manhattan

Kenneth, I was gonna say the same...Hendrix is THE rocker..!

Jun. 13 2008 02:19 PM
bas from brooklyn

and the best moments of Prince- don't forget him

Jun. 13 2008 02:18 PM
eligit from astoria


specifically "give a monkey a brain"...what a great album mixing heavy rock/metal with ska and even some tasteful R+B.

Jun. 13 2008 02:17 PM
bas from brooklyn

Thin Lizzy
Jimi Hendrix
Bo Diddley

On and on. All Rock has Black Roots-
all good rock at least to my ears.

Jun. 13 2008 02:16 PM
eligit from astoria

thanks for dealing with this topic.

in the popular imagination black pop musician = slick R+B and ugly anti musical hip hop.....and unfortunately this stereotype is based partially in the state of the industry.

99% of rock bands are all white. this seems to be the case.

go vernon reid!! you kick ass.

another crucial link in the black rock chain is/was FISHBONE!!!

Jun. 13 2008 02:15 PM

Don't forget Sevendust. The lead singer is black. They have rocking it hard for a number of years now.

Jun. 13 2008 02:13 PM

two words: Jimi Hendrix. How is rock the new black?

Jun. 13 2008 02:11 PM

Gnarls Barkley is a rock band???

Jun. 13 2008 02:11 PM
al oof from brooklyn

folks, black people have been making rock music nonstop for the past 50 years. even during mtv. why weren't we seeing these bands so much? capitalism. racism. the same reason you aren't seeing the teems of asian and latino people playing rock music.

do you really think sxsw is in any sense representative of people playing rock music in general?

Jun. 13 2008 02:10 PM

Recently, after reading a blog post that mentioned Jimi Hendrix, I got an epiphany.

I grew up listening to R&B and Soul music, but NEVER Hendrix. Currently, I enjoy listening to various musical genres including world music, exotica, oriental bellydance.... So why not squeeze in a little Hendrix?

Well! In the past two weeks I've watched two documentaries on Hendrix and purchased two CDs. I've also purchased music with a "funk-rock" feel e.g., early Parliament and Funkadelic, Eddie Hazel, The Isley Brothers, Buddy Miles, etc. I look at the P-Funk sign and wonder was it co-opted by white rock fans or vice versa? But, basically, I listen and wonder, how did some of us (black folks) turn our backs on the roots of Rock music?

I'm definitely going to check out this Soundcheck episode!


Jun. 13 2008 08:28 AM

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