National Jukebox proves "race music" saved our country from chronic wussitude

If you’re like me, you have a nostalgic soft spot for recordings of old-timey music. Wellsir, the Library of Congress has a site for us. It’s called the National Jukebox. They offer thousands of searchable, playlistable streams (but no downloads) of early 20th century recordings, some over 100 years old. 

But there’s also nothing past the mid-to-late 1920s. No Louis Armstrong, no Duke Ellington, no Billie Holliday, no Coleman Hawkins. There’s gussied up, tootlin’ brass blues, but no Southern guitar blues. There are white performers tamely aping black styles for rascist comic or novelty effect, and black performers (but not many) trying to sound as white as possible. 

To put it bluntly, the music on the National Jukebox is ultra lame. When black performers started making records for black audiences, whites started buying them, too, and this influenced white artists to try to sound more like authentic black artists, i.e. less lame. After “race music” hit the market, ALL recorded pop music changed for the better. But these records started becoming more prominent in the late ’20s, and that’s where the NJ leaves off. 

If I were a musicologist, I could give you concrete examples of how music changed and what specific elements caused it to change. But just listen to the song below and sample some other tunes on the National Jukebox and you’ll get a sense for it. A lot of what we take for granted as part of virtually all pop music—swinging rhythms and attempts at authentic emotion in particular—just ain’t there.