This course focuses on the musical creativity of African-Americans during the slavery era. Arriving from Africa with strong musical and dance traditions, oppression meant recreating themselves. Early African-American games, dances, and work songs evolved into beloved forms of American music and dance associated with blues, ragtime, jazz, rock, and rap. These American art forms have now spread beyond the United States, affecting cultures worldwide. The songs and dances here reveal the importance of art as a means of expression during times of severe oppression.


Song and body rhythm demonstrates the creative method of using your body as a percussion instrument when hand drums and other instruments were not permitted.


A song of protest whose meaning was disguised from the slave owners–includes lesson in body rhythm–shows how music can be a release and offer hope for a better future.

Little Johnny Brown

A ring game for young people to get acquainted. Usually forbidden to go to school, enslaved children sometimes made up dances as a method of sharing new knowledge with peers. This dance has a built-in improvisation element of making up a dance move while facing another dancer.

Pay Me My Money Down

This is a song of protest. When slavery ended, African-American seaport workers didn’t feel they had any recourse when they were cheated by the bosses, once again demonstrating how a song can be a useful expression during times of social upheaval.