The arts have always been a place for diversity.
From Chuck Berry to Queen and Bob Marley to Hamilton, music is steeped in the tradition of creating a culture rooted in the merits of art.
Furthermore, because music is fundamentally emotional, it can often temporarily bypass the prejudices of the listener.
Here are just a few ways music has encouraged cultural diversity in the United States.
Jazz and Louis Armstrong
Jazz is often seen as America’s greatest art form, and for good reason.
Its combination of classical seriousness and light-hearted improvisation has created an art form all at once fun and refined. Ignoring the classism associated with music, jazz refuses to treat “pedestrian” as an insult.
Louis Armstrong, also known as Satchmo, became a symbol of music’s power to bring reconciliation to society.
Unusual for a black man of his era, he played for presidents and European royalty. He also achieved long-term success, becoming the oldest musician to reach #1 on the charts at the age of 62.
By the time of Armstrong’s death in 1971, he had become a legend and incredible cultural force.
Reggae and Reggaeton
Bob Marley became known as the “third world’s first rock star” when he was introduced to the United States.
But the influence of reggae on American musical diversity goes far past Marley. Reggae has had an influence on the genre of Hip Hop along with “Afropunk” groups like Bad Brains.
Reggae’s influence on rock didn’t just involve the DC hardcore scene. The genre of ska punk, symbolized by groups like Less Than Jake, Reel Big Fish, and The Mighty Mighty Bosstones, owes its existence to reggae music.
Popular reggaeton songs, meanwhile, combine dance music, hip hop, latin music, and reggae into a refreshing, exciting musical blend.
Hip Hop and Broadway
Hip Hop itself has become a cultural tour de force.
Started at parties by DJ Kool Herc, it has transformed from an underground cultural scene to one of the most acclaimed genres out there.
Artists like Kendrick Lamar and Chance The Rapper have leveraged the DIY attitude of the genre to begin crafting their own musical styles from their teenage years.
The influence of hip-hop has found an unlikely avenue on Broadway, where composer Lin-Manuel Miranda has become one of the most acclaimed musicians and playwrights of our time through his hit musicals In the Heights and Hamilton.
Along with themselves having diverse casts and stories, these shows can also focus on a political message encouraging diversity and condemning racism and classism.
In the Heights, for instance, focuses on the struggles of a small New York City Latino community and the impact money has on those struggles.
Hamilton reinterprets the narrative on America’s founding fathers to create a pro-black and pro-immigrant message, leveraging Alexander Hamilton’s own immigration story and providing a counterbalance to overly reverent portrayals of notorious slave owner Thomas Jefferson.
By becoming one of the most in-demand Broadway shows of all time, Hamilton illustrated just how important diversity in Hollywood has become.
Across genres, music is a diverse marketplace of art and ideas. Regardless of race, religion, national origin, or sexual orientation, musicians continue to work toward building an industry where talent is the most important currency.
Perhaps that’s because of the way music hits us: at sound, not sight. Perhaps it’s the mystique of the performer, the feeling we get seeing a great musician hit the stage. But regardless of what it is, our ears have benefitted from the great diversity of the music industry.