The term African American music is given to the range of music and musical genres that evolved from or were influenced by African American culture. The polyrhythmic songs of enslaved Africans merged with multiple cultural traditions, including polka, waltzes, classical music, and religious works. The influence of African American music began in the 19th century. During the 1830s Second Great Awakening, the slaves began to develop Spirituals and other Christian music, often serving to conceal messages of subversion or signals to escape. After the Civil War, the migration of freed slaves and African Americans spread the evolving African American music across the nation.
By the 20th century, the United States had established several symphony orchestras and major opera companies. American composers had developed a new style that separated them from their European counterparts, and the field of music education started taking shape. Although barred from participating in the newly established orchestras and companies, black musicians could attend music schools and conservatories, some created in the 1910s to cater to aspiring black musicians. Major cities witnessed the formation of black symphony orchestras, opera and musical companies. The four decades following the turn of the century gave rise to ragtime, blues, and jazz as popular musical styles, led by masters such as Jelly Roll Morton, Louis Armstrong, Count Basie, and Duke Ellington. The decades following World War II would move these musical styles into mainstream culture.
Southern, Eileen. The Music of Black Americans: A History, 3rd edition. New York: W.W. Norton & Company, Inc., 1997.
From the guide to the African American Sheet Music Collection 2002-063, 2002-264., 1879-1940, (Dolph Briscoe Center for American History, The University of Texas at Austin)