The Billboard charts and GRAMMY Awards reflect the ongoing issue of racial oppression that shapes the flow of capital within the United States. In the 1840s, the most desired commodity in the music industry was not physical records but the false, laughable representation of Black folks. The mockery of the Black race was in high demand as the need for an “authentic” white race emerged after an economic disaster. The primary driving force for the commercialization of music in the U.S. was blackface minstrelsy. Using Matthew Morrison’s concept of Blacksound, the prominence of blackface performance heavily contributed to the formation of whiteness as it juxtaposed Black folks as “other.” And as publishers became increasingly vital to the industry and physical recordings materialized, this concept of racial divisions would purposely reinforce the necessary segregation of white and Black audiences. The creation of musical genres for catalogs would be highly racialized, rock and country for whites, and r&b for Blacks. Through the Billboard 2010s Decade-end charts and GRAMMY 2012-2021 nominations and awards, it is evident that these categorizations are not separate but equal, as they demonstrate the blatant erasure of Black aesthetics within genres deemed to be authentically white, while also allowing white artists the disproportionate infiltration into genres formally acknowledged as Black-deriving. In this paper, I examine how blackface minstrelsy in the 1840s enabled the censorship of Black musical techniques within “white” genres and the reverberations of Jim Crow laws leading up to the 1960s in the contemporary music industry.
“For Coloreds Only: Blackface and Segregation in the Billboard Charts and the GRAMMY Awards”