Jazz - Then and Now (Chapter 1, page 2 of 11)


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Chapter 1

In the colonies they were sold at auction by slave traders, like so many heads of cattle. In town squares all over America, farmers, businessmen and plantation owners bid as little as fifteen dollars "per unit" for individual slaves. Families, if still intact after the long sea voyage, were seldom auctioned together.

So if it hadn't been for their music, most slaves would never have had the will to survive. It elevated their mood and it gave them something to cling to.

And when it came to their music, the slaves could be very enterprising. Blacks had the natural ability to conjure up any object capable of producing sound and beat on it with their own primitive form of rhythm. When they got together to play their makeshift drums, they created many different rhythms. Those who didn't play anything would sing, clap their hands and stomp their feet. The result was a beat so primitive, so emotional; it penetrated the hearts of white and black audiences alike.

In 1626, eleven more slaves arrived in Massachusetts. Gradually, more man-of-war slave ships landed in New England. By 1638, the slave trade in this country had begun officially. In 1641, the New England legislators finally passed the "body of liberties" law, making it legal to sell slaves. So profitable was the slave trade that by the early 1700s, some 75,000 slaves had been auctioned to white settlers. By the 1800s, the total of black people "owned" by whites had grown to more than one million.

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