Musical Crossroads: Stories Behind the Objects of African American Music

Musical Crossroads: Stories Behind the Objects of African American Music

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This major new title builds out of Musical Crossroads, one of the 12 permanent exhibitions at the National Museum of African American History and Culture, to present a vibrantly illustrated exploration of 400 years of African American musical culture.

Music is the great equalizer around the world. No matter where it originates or what form it takes, it has had a profound role in shaping the human experience and preserving the history of that experience for centuries. African American music originated out of a heritage shaped by the Transatlantic Slave Trade and forced enslavement. The music born out of this shared identity was a means of survival, a treatise on the struggle for freedom, and an agent of social change, and generated a vast array of musical styles and performance traditions that have defined American music. Musical Crossroads explores how objects can expand our understanding of the ways African American music-making continues to shape and influence society.

Five thematic chapters are introduced with an essay by Dwandalyn R. Reece, and accompanied by shorter features written by museum staff. Striking images include Johnny Mathis on stage; Bo Diddley’s Gretsch Guitar; Nina Simone recording "Don't Let Me Be Misunderstood" to name just a few. Featured objects include Radio Raheem’s original boombox used in Spike Lee’s 1989 film, Do the Right Thing; the original Public Enemy logo necklace alongside a story from rapper Chuck D about where the group’s name comes from; and photos of Queen Latifah taken by Hip-hop photographer Al Pereira while she was filming the music video for “Fly Girl”. Numerous illustrated profiles and stories relating to a host of DJs, producers, Black-owned record labels, Black music press, and artists, include magazines like Defender, Blacks Stars, and Vibe; record labels like Vee-Jay, Stax, Motown and Sussex Records; promoters and producers including Berry Gordy Jr, Isaac Hayes, and Ernie Freeman; as well as artists Otis Redding, Nina Simone, Luther Vandross, Little Richard, Bill Withers, Billie Holiday, Whitney Houston, and Janet Jackson, to name a few – they’re all here.

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