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Amiri Baraka (1934–2014)

Author of Blues People: Negro Music in White America

107+ Works 3,431 Members 33 Reviews 9 Favorited

About the Author

Image credit: Library of Congress

Series

Works by Amiri Baraka

Black Music (1968) 204 copies
The System of Dante's Hell (1963) 132 copies
Tales (1967) 116 copies
Home: Social Essays (1966) 116 copies
The Dead Lecturer: Poems (1964) 108 copies
S O S: Poems 1961-2013 (2015) 100 copies
Tales of the Out & the Gone (2006) 69 copies
The Baptism and the Toilet (1966) 66 copies
Eulogies (1996) 36 copies
Dutchman (1965) 30 copies
'Beat' Poets (1961) — Contributor — 24 copies
Three Negro Plays (1969) — Contributor — 11 copies
The Essence of Reparations (1656) 10 copies
In Our Terribleness (1970) 8 copies
It's Nation Time (1970) 6 copies
Jello (1970) 4 copies
The Sidney Poet Heroical (1979) 3 copies
Un Poco Low Coup (2004) 3 copies
Spirit Reach (1972) 3 copies
Black art 3 copies
5 ☥ Boptrees 2 copies
Am/Trak (1979) 2 copies
Yugen #7 2 copies
Yugen #6 2 copies
Yugen #4 2 copies
A Black Value System (1970) 2 copies
Yugen #8 (1962) 2 copies
Jello 1 copy
Black Music (2012) 1 copy
The Toilet 1 copy
Yugen #2 1 copy
Yugen #3 1 copy
Yugen 1 copy
Obscene 1 copy
Cuentos 1 copy
cuba libre 1 copy
Bloodrites 1 copy
Sisyphus Syndrome (2010) 1 copy

Associated Works

The Portable Beat Reader (Viking Portable Library) (1992) — Contributor — 1,461 copies
The Outlaw Bible of American Poetry (1999) — Contributor — 594 copies
The Big Sea: An Autobiography (1963) — Introduction, some editions — 434 copies
The Rag and Bone Shop of the Heart: A Poetry Anthology (1992) — Contributor — 389 copies
The Black Poets (1983) — Contributor — 356 copies
Baseball: A Literary Anthology (2002) — Contributor — 337 copies
Against Forgetting: Twentieth-Century Poetry of Witness (1993) — Contributor — 334 copies
The Portable Sixties Reader (2002) — Contributor — 327 copies
The New American Poetry 1945-1960 (1960) — Contributor — 319 copies
Writing New York: A Literary Anthology (1998) — Contributor — 278 copies
The Treasury of American Short Stories (1981) — Contributor — 269 copies
The Best American Poetry 2002 (2002) — Contributor — 182 copies
African American Poetry: 250 Years of Struggle and Song (2020) — Contributor — 174 copies
Let Nobody Turn Us Around: An African American Anthology (1999) — Contributor — 150 copies
The Vintage Book of African American Poetry (2000) — Contributor — 144 copies
Black on White: Black Writers on What It Means to Be White (1998) — Contributor — 118 copies
Invaders: 22 Tales from the Outer Limits of Literature (2016) — Contributor — 110 copies
The 100 Best African American Poems (2010) — Contributor — 97 copies
Brotherman: The Odyssey of Black Men in America (1995) — Contributor — 91 copies
The Cool School: Writing from America's Hip Underground (2013) — Contributor — 80 copies
The Black Power Revolt (1968) — Contributor — 71 copies
Hokum: An Anthology of African-American Humor (2006) — Contributor — 66 copies
American Negro Short Stories (1966) — Contributor — 61 copies
Trouble the Water: 250 Years of African American Poetry (1997) — Contributor — 56 copies
Of Poetry and Protest: From Emmett Till to Trayvon Martin (2016) — Contributor — 55 copies
New American Story (1962) — Contributor — 48 copies
Modern and Contemporary Drama (1958) — Contributor — 43 copies
Soulscript: Afro-American Poetry (1970) — Contributor — 40 copies
Hot and Cool: Jazz Short Stories (1990) — Contributor — 30 copies
Catch the Fire!!! (1998) — Contributor — 29 copies
Story to Anti-Story (1979) — Contributor — 13 copies
Omniverse Sun Ra (2015) — Contributor — 13 copies
Harlem: Voices from the Soul of Black America (1970) — Contributor — 10 copies
360: A Revolution of Black Poets (1998) — Contributor — 9 copies
Cutting Edges: Young American Fiction for the 70's (1973) — Contributor — 8 copies
Locus Solus III-IV, New Poetry, A Special Double Issue (1962) — Contributor — 2 copies
The Analog Sea Review: Number Four (2022) — Contributor — 2 copies
Life is a killer [sound recording] — Contributor — 2 copies
Intrepid No. 5, 1st Anniversary Issue — Contributor — 1 copy
Niagara Frontier Review, Summer 1964 — Contributor — 1 copy
Juvenile Delinquency in Literature (1980) — Contributor — 1 copy

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Reviews

Memory: discovering from an inscription in a chapbook that your sister once met Amiri Baraka.
 
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Kiramke | Jun 27, 2023 |
Excellent book on blues AND jazz by a brilliant writer. It wasn't quite the book I was expecting -- since I've read other books by Jones (Baraka) I was expecting more fiery rhetoric than is here. That said, this is a book that is as much about how the music(s) is/are based in African-American *experience* as it is about the music itself. You might find yourself puzzled (I was, initially) by the fact that many of your favorite artists -- if you are a blues fan -- are not here: there's no mention of Robert Johnson, or Charley Patton, or Skip James. I am guessing this may be because the book somewhat (though not entirely) predated the real explosion of interest in country blues that occupied the rest of the 1960s (Baraka cites books by Sam Charters and Paul Oliver that *do* mention some of these people, however).

The subtitle, "Negro Music in White America" really should give you a good idea of what this book focuses on -- music as an expression of, and outgrowth of, black experience. I look forward to reading *Black Music* which is a followup or companion to this volume.
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tungsten_peerts | 3 other reviews | Apr 3, 2023 |
To understand that you are black in a society where black is an extreme liability is one thing, but to understand that it is the society that is lacking and is impossibly deformed because of this lack, and not yourself, isolates you even more from that society. Fools or crazy men are easier to walk away from than people who are merely mistaken.

Blues People was published in 1963, when Jones (aka Amiri Baraka) was early in his career as a literary provocateur, the modern civil rights movement was soon to come to a head, and the New Thing in jazz was growing horns and wings in NYC. From an historical/sociological perspective, Jones argues that the music of African-Americans reflected the changes in the nature of their relationship with America. The phrase “blues people” comes from Ralph Ellison, who defined it as “those who accepted and lived close to their folk experience.” The phrase obtains a sharper critical thrust in Jones’ hands.

In Jones’ telling, black people in the U.S. have passed through a series of conditions—captive, slave, freeman, citizen—and their experience at each stage shaped the music that they made. Captured Africans were forced into an alien world where none of the familiar cultural references were available; their contact with Western slavery was strange and unnatural. The African came to realize that all the things he thought important were thought by the white man to be primitive nonsense, including his music, which contrasted with Western music in function and rhythm. Western musical concepts of ‘beauty’ and ‘regularity’ did not pertain to African music, which instead emphasizes rhythmic syncopation, polyphony & creative paraphrasing. ‘African culture was suppressed by constant contact with Euro-American culture and obscured by rapid (forced) acculturation,’ though the nonmaterial aspects of African culture were difficult to eradicate. Field hollers and work songs retained key elements of African music, even as the function of the music shifted. The spread of Christianity among slaves moved them further from Africa and traditional religious beliefs and practices, writes Jones, though their African heritage provided much of the emotional content to black Christianity.

Nothing too contentious so far. But Jones argues that the increasing prominence of the black church led to the development of a new theocracy and social mores which in turn enforced a new hierarchy. Blacks highest in the social and economic hierarchy (church elders and officers) emulated whites, and social stations among blacks began to mirror the structure of white society. The disdain that ‘high station’ blacks had for the lower class effectively signaled their acceptance of white superiority, writes Jones, and the new distinctions among blacks was reflected in black music: church spirituals (imitations of white hymns) were more melodic and musical than the field hollers, and the fiddle music and jig tunes of ‘the folk’ were judged as sinful. The legal end of slavery presented to the ‘negro masses’ a chance at a fuller life outside the church, though, with more opportunities for backsliding and indulging in ‘the devil’s music.’

Freemen entered a complicated situation of self-reliance and thus faced a multitude of social and cultural problems that they never had to deal with as slaves, and the music of blacks in the U.S. began to change to reflect these social and cultural complexities. Blues music developed because of the freeman’s adaptation to and adoption of America, says Jones, but was also a music that developed because of the freeman’s peculiar position in this county. Jones contrasts ‘primitive’ blues—developed as a music to be sung for pleasure, a casual music, folkloric—and ‘classical’ blues—which contained all the diverse and conflicting elements of black music plus the smoother emotional appeal of the performance. Classic blues became concerned with situations and ideas that were less precise, less obscure to white America, and the professionalism and broader meaning of classical blues made it a kind of stylized response, moving it in a way out of the lives of ‘the folk.’

The movement toward performance turned some of the emotional climate of the freeman’s life into artifact and entertainment.

When we get to the 20th c., with the advent of jazz, the Great Migration and the broadening experience of American blacks, Blues People becomes a critical tour de force. Jazz, as instrumental blues music with European instruments, illustrated another of the shifts in blacks’ relationship to America. The isolation that had nurtured the African-American musical tradition before the coming of jazz had largely disappeared by the mid-1920s, and many ‘foreign’ elements drifted into this broader instrumental music. A generation of educated black musicians in the 1920s and 30s (“for whom the blues was less direct,” says Jones) showed that jazz could absorb new elements and evolve without losing its identity. Sounds from the ‘hot’ brass bands of Louis Armstrong to the blues and stomp arranged for large bands (with Fletcher Henderson as the crucial figure) made black dance bands into a national phenomenon by the 1930s. Big dance-band jazz was played by black ‘citizens’, educated professionals who thought of themselves as performers (Duke Ellington, who “perfected big-band jazz and replaced a spontaneous collective music by a worked-out orchestral language,” earns only a kind of grudging respect from Jones). With jazz, writes Jones, black music became less secret and separate: acknowledgement by serious white musicians like Bix Beiderbecke and Nick LaRocca served to place black culture and society in a position of intelligent regard it had never enjoyed before. The emergence of the white jazz player meant that African-American culture had already become the reflection of a particular kind of American experience, and this experience was available intellectually; it could be learned. Black music did not become a completely American expression, then, until the white man could play it.

The migration of blacks out of the American South in the early 20th c. ‘erased one essential uniformity, the provinciality of place, the geographical and social constant,’ and henceforth there were to be such concepts as the ‘Northern Negro’ and ‘Southern Negro,’ country and city black, and a range of possible psychological and sociological reactions to life in the U.S. This movement into America stimulated the growth of a black middle class, writes Jones—a class ‘distinguished not only by an economic condition but by a way of looking at the society in which it exists.’ The black middle class formed around the proposition that it is better not to be black in a country where being black is a liability. (Jones sees a harbinger of middle-class black attitudes among the house servants and church officials of an earlier period and the ‘uptown’ Creoles of fin de siècle New Orleans). The black middle class believed that the best way to survive would be ‘to deny that there had ever been an Africa or a slavery or even a black man,’ and that the only way to be a citizen was ‘to disavow that he or his part of the culture had ever been anything but American.’

Again, black music came to reflect the conflicted relationship of blacks to life in America. City life revitalized the blues ‘with a kind of frenzy and extra-local vulgarity’ that had not been present before (ref. Kansas City as a regional center of the ‘shouting blues,’ Count Basie, Jay McShann, et. al.). Writes Jones, ‘it was almost as if the blues people were reacting against the softness and legitimacy that had crept into black instrumental music’ after whites got their hands on it. The black cultural consciousness stimulated by the war years and the emergence of rhythm & blues music were anathema to the black middle class—R&B because ‘it was contemporary and existed as a legitimate expression of a great many blacks, and as a gaudy reminder of the real origins of Negro music.’

The most original and interesting part of Blues People is Jones’ interpretation of the emergence of bebop in light of the discussion hitherto. He presents the music as a kind of deliberate project by young musicians to develop a form of individual expression that could not be diluted (or even necessarily understood) by the mainstream of American culture. According to Jones, Charlie Parker, Thelonious Monk and Dizzy Gillespie all said at one time or another that they did not care if anyone listened to their music. (It’s easy to imagine them in 1942, afterhours at Minton’s, playing for themselves). The music derived from an attitude that distanced itself from ‘the protective and parochial atmosphere of the folk expression’ but also ‘put on a more intellectually and psychologically satisfying level the traditional separation and isolation of the black man from America.’

Ultimately, the form and content of Negro music in the 40s re-created, or reinforced, the social and historical alienation of the Negro in America, but in the Negro’s terms.

A bold polemic, necessary for its time, Blues People is one of the great American books.
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JazzBookJournal | 3 other reviews | Feb 8, 2021 |
This volume contains four essays making the case for reparations. Although written with the United States in mind, the topic is broadly applicable in the Caribbean as well. Published by St. Martin's House of Nehesi Publishers, with an introduction by Fabian Badejo.
 
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soualibra | Oct 16, 2020 |

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Associated Authors

Amina Baraka Editor, Contributor
Jack Kerouac Contributor
Paul Carroll Contributor
Ron Loewinsohn Contributor
Edward Dorn Contributor
Philip Whalen Contributor
Gary Snyder Contributor
John Wieners Contributor
Jonathan Williams Contributor
Gregory Corso Contributor
Allen Ginsberg Contributor
Michael McClure Contributor
Lorraine Hansberry Contributor
June Jordan Contributor
Gregory Tate Foreword
Rashidah Ismaili Contributor
Esther Louise Contributor
Mae Jackson Contributor
Anasa Jordan Contributor
Nzadi Zimele-Keita Contributor
YW Easton Contributor
Regina Williams Contributor
Fatimah Afif Contributor
Fayola Kamaria Ama Contributor
Johari M Amini Contributor
Adrienne Ingrum Contributor
Safiya Henderson Contributor
Brenda Connor-Bey Contributor
Toni Morrison Contributor
Sandra Rogers Contributor
Alice Walker Contributor
Maya Angelou Contributor
Audre Lorde Contributor
Paule Marshall Contributor
Gwendolyn Brooks Contributor
Lucille Clifton Contributor
Nikki Grimes Contributor
Faith Ringgold Contributor
Toni Cade Bambara Contributor
Gayl Jones Contributor
Sonia Sanchez Contributor
Margaret Walker Contributor
Michele Wallace Contributor
Louise Meriwether Contributor
Eleanor W Traylor Contributor
Akua Lezli Hope Contributor
Malkia M'buzi Contributor
Rosemari Mealy Contributor
Carolyn M. Rodgers Contributor
Margaret Porter Contributor
Abbey Lincoln Contributor
Aishah Rahman Contributor
Mari Evans Contributor
Alexis De Veaux Contributor
Janus Adams Contributor
Jayne Cortez Contributor
Henning Boehlke Cover designer
Basil King Cover artist

Statistics

Works
107
Also by
62
Members
3,431
Popularity
#7,417
Rating
4.0
Reviews
33
ISBNs
126
Languages
9
Favorited
9

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