It's Only Rock 'n' Roll

june 13, 2003  11:30 am
I couldn't help noting that of the 30 articles that were presented to our judging committee, only three were about African-American musicians. Beyond that, there was not one article about jazz, none about bluegrass, none about Latino music of any type, nothing about classical music. There was exactly one piece on a country musician (Johnny Cash) and one on a folk singer, the wonderful and under recognized Rosalie Sorrels.

I have to admit that I was kind of shocked by this imbalance. I don't know if the problem lay in the selection process by the weeklies' editors, or the screening process on the AAN end, or if the problem is in what it occurs to writers to write or editors to assign. So forgive me if I state the obvious: American music is the most richly varied musical landscape in the world. The alternative newsweeklies probably have the best chance, in the print media at least, of stimulating readers' awareness of that variety. But in general, a Martian visitor reading these entries would think that the landscape was populated overwhelmingly by white men playing rock 'n' roll.

Many of these articles were terrific; that isn't the problem. It's just, in the words of Chuck Berry, that I found myself needing a shot of rhythm and blues. Or Tex-Mex conjunto music. Or Appalachian fiddling, or jazz or, bluegrass: Some mix of elements that reflects the musical culture we are actually lucky enough to inhabit.

Tom Piazza
Final-round judge in Music Criticism