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Film / TVMusic

afropunk & apollo theater are taking ‘race music’ back

February 18, 2019

Why would AFROPUNK and Harlem’s world famous Apollo Theater team up on a program of music, film and politics, and call it Race Music? Because there is power in reclaiming our words, and Race Music is a phrase whose reclamation begins now.

Because before there was rhythm and blues — or soul, or rock and roll, or hip-hop, or house, or any other 20th century musical “genre” developed by African-Americans that went on to change the world — there was “Race Music.” That vile little phrase was developed by the “well-meaning” racists who ran the American recording industry in the early 1920s, after Mamie Smith’s “Crazy Blues” unexpectedly sold a ton of copies, and was used to describe any music made by Black Americans for Black Americans, and marketed exclusively to Black Americans.

Yet, as these things often go, the community also adapted it as a term of cultural pride. The sister term, “race records,” first appeared in 1922 in the great Black newspaper, Chicago Defender, and soon became a marketing strategy for jazz and blues artists, from Bessie Smith and Blind Lemon Jefferson, to Fletcher Henderson and Jelly Roll Morton. As the century and the desegregation of music progressed, with more and more caucasian and European musicians playing music previously described in Black and white terms, the phrase fell out of favor, disappearing by the late ‘40s.

Still, its history remains, and it is that we’re accessing for a weekend at the intersection of music, film and political conversation.

A full schedule and ticket information for AFROPUNK x Apollo’s Race Music weekend can be found on the Apollo Theater’s website. Thank you to our partner AT&T #itsa212thing for the assist.

‘Race Music’ was forced upon us. Well, now AFROPUNK and the Apollo Theater is taking ‘Race Music’ back by choice.