Educational resources for:

Musical Roots and Branches


ABJ interviews, field productions, and historic performances explore the social and cultural roots of Detroit's eclectic and highly influential contributions to American music. These ABJ shows feature an intermixture of conventional themes in urban pop culture (youth, political protest, romance, defiance of social conventions) with themes in black history and culture (blues, Christian spirituality, liberation).

Featured Show Clips & Comprehension Questions

Related Videos

James Brown discusses his philosophy of life and his desire to look beyond race to just people

James Brown talks about his lack of formal education and the need for artistic control over the work he does

Sun Ra discusses his philosophy and the connection between ethnicity and music

Sun Ra on spirituality and myth

Two songs by the Brothers of Soul

Wynton Marsalis discusses the history of jazz and the central human quality of art

Wynton Marsalis's approach to music

Thematic Questions

What do you make of the different styles of African American music you see and hear in these programs?
Both Wynton Marsalis and Sun Ra discuss the significance of myth in their music. What similarities and differences do you see in what they say?
How would you compare what James Brown says about his role as a musical performer with what Wynton Marsalis has to say on the same subject?


Columbia University Libraries' Music and Dance of Africa
A resource guide of links to numerous websites on the subject of Music and Dance of Africa. The annotated guide references both historic and current movements, performers and styles.

NPR's All Things Considered "A History of Gospel Music"
A December 2004 interview with author Robert Darden, author of People Get Ready!: A New History of Gospel Music on the history of the genre. This site contains audio clips of traditional gospel songs by well-known artists. It also contains links to other NPR features on gospel music.

Companion site to the 1973 documentary by Mel Stuart. In August 1972 the Southern soul Stax record label hosted what came to be called the "Black Woodstock." This event was hosted in Los Angeles, seven years after the Watts riots. The film intersperses interviews with Watts residents with live footage from the concert. See

Related Films

DVD. 103 minutes.
Directed by Mel Stuart. Los Angeles: Warner Home Video, 2004. See also
Concert film of the August 1972 concert of the same name, held in Los Angeles seven years after the Watts riots. Mixes live performances with interviews of Watts residents.

Jubilee Singers: Sacrifice and Glory.
VHS. 60 minutes.
Directed by Llewellyn Smith. Boston: WGBH Educational Foundation, 2000.
An American Experience documentary about the experiences of a group of ex-slaves from Nashville, Tennessee who seek to save their school from financial ruin by giving concerts in the North and across Europe.

Big City Blues.
VHS. 28 minutes.
Directed by St. Clair Bourne. New York: Rhapsody Films,1986.
A documentary set in Chicago, “the capital of urban blues culture.” It draws together interviews with blues musicians and performances. Topics discussed include the relationship between traditional blues and contemporary jazz; cross-over sounds; blues and cultural politics; and an emerging “female consciousness.”


Darden, Robert. People Get Ready!: A New History of Black Gospel Music. New York: The Continuum International Publishing Group, 2004.
Darden chronicles the history and styles of gospel music beginning with its African roots and carrying through the recent past. It also includes a discography of referenced artists.

Hausman, Gerals. African-American Alphabet: A Celebration of African-American and West Indian Culture, Custom, Myth, and Symbol. New York: St. Martin’s Press, 1996.
An alphabetical collection of “traditions, languages, legends and symbols” weaving together African, African-American and Caribbean cultures.

Kebede, Ashenafi. Roots of Black Music: The Vocal, Instrumental, and Dance Heritage of Africa and Black America. Trenton, N.J.: Africa World Press, 1995.
Based on African fieldwork and research in the United States, this book explores African vocal music and instruments, the role of music in urban African society as well as the western hemisphere. The author examines the development of dance, as well as instrumental music including blues and jazz.

Perkins, William Eric. Droppin’ Science: Critical Essays on Rap Music and Hip Hop Culture. Philadelphia: Temple University Press, 1996.
A collection of essays which critically trace the history of rap and hip hop music from its beginnings as a urban African American cultural expression through contemporary controversy surround the form.

Stearns, Marshall Winslow. The Story of Jazz. Reprint. New York: Oxford University Press, 1970.
Foundational text on the history of jazz music. Discusses the New World blending of African music with European forms. Follows the birth of jazz in New Orleans and its movement through the urban cities of the north and Midwest. Traces the genres’ development from swing through its influences on 1950s rock music.

Additional Show Clips & Comprehension Questions

Related Videos

Katherine Blackwell talks with students and the host about her work

Baba Ishangi discusses African culture

Lena Horne reflects on the strength of black women and gives advice for younger generations

Berry Gordy explains why he decided to write his autobiography

Berry Gordy discusses how he got Motown started with financial support from his family

Berry Gordy describes persisting in the pursuit of his dream

Lena Horne describes getting started in show business

The group Witness sings a number and then discusses how the group got together

Keith Staten sings with Witness as backup vocalists, then discusses his own career