Saturday, March 20, 2010

The Ragged Edge of Prejudice

A significant portion of the third part of Folk in America deals with the close links between the folk music scene and the civil rights movement during the 1960s.

Among other artists, Bob Dylan performed at rallies for Martin Luther King Jr in support of racial integration.

The film also highlights the role of the famed New Port folk festival in helping to facilitate the process by bringing many black folk musicians out of retirement to perform live for the first time in years.

The power of music to challenge racial prejudices has been recognized for decades. Elvis Presley brought black rythm and blues and gospel music to an audience that had long been insulated from such stylings. Before long, black culture didn't seem nearly as alien and threatening to many people as they once did.

But Folk in America also reminds us that there are limits to the tolerance of any group, even those purported to be the most enlightened.

It was at the very same New Port festival where so many black folk artists were brought out of retirement, Bob Dylan committed what was regarded by so many folk enthusiasts as a cardinal sin -- he went electric.

Musical purists who were the most eager to accept racial integration -- and rightly so -- were among those least eager to accept musical integration between folk music and rock n' roll. Just as those who resisted racial integration were doomed by history, so were those who resisted musical integration. By the time the Beatles arrived in the United States, the matter was a fait accompli -- much like racial integration was largely inevitable by the time of JFK's arrival.

The march toward musical integration continues today in some ways that would have previously been deemed unthinkable. The combination of folk and country music with rap and hip hop still finds intense resistance, yet such musical stylings continue to find larger and larger audiences continually in search of something new and fresh.

But there are purists among each musical style who fervently resist such integration. While it may be en vogue to dismiss such critics as racially intolerant, this fallacy is largely supported by the notions that few musical genres have ever been as black as rap, and have never been as white as country.

Yet artists like Charley Pride or Eminem (say nothing about Vanilla Ice -- period) would beg to differ. Artists like Kid Rock or Buck 65 even more so.

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