America’s defining music forms — from Jazz to Blues, Rock and Roll to R&B — were pioneered by Midwest African Americans.
African Americans Midwesterners profoundly impacted — and even helped invent — four of America’s greatest musical forms: jazz, rock and roll, blues and rhythm & blues.
Ragtime, jazz’s forerunner, exploded onto the musical scene first in Missouri, home of Scott Joplin, the form’s popularizer. Kansas City gave us jazz pioneer Benny Molten as well as Charlie Parker, the father of bebop jazz. Jazz legend Miles Davis’s artistry was born of his Alton, Illinois roots, and the 1920s Chicago jazz scene featured Jelly Roll Morton and Louis Armstrong.
During the Great Migration, the Blues was transported from the South to the Midwest, with legends Muddy Waters, B.B. King and Elmore James achieving fame in Chicago.
St. Louis’s Chuck Berry is credited by many as the popularizer and even inventor of rock and roll. In the 1980s, Minnesota’s Prince Nelson Rogers — better known as Prince — infused synth-rock with a multiethnic, non-binary ethos, creating a radically new funk scene dubbed the “Minneapolis Sound.”
Rhythm and Blues, perhaps more than any other musical genre, was transformed in the Midwest, particularly by Detroit’s Motown. Producer Berry Gordy applied Detroit carmakers’ “assembly line” processes to music production at the famous “Hitsville, USA” recording studio. In the 1960s alone, 79 Motown songs hit the Billboard Top 10, by legendary artists Stevie Wonder, Marvin Gaye, the Temptations, The Supremes, and later the Jackson 5.