By Claude Johnson

Like the phonograph, the blog is leading to a new Black Renaissance that is redefining who we think we are in music, fashion, literature, the arts, and of course, in sports.


History repeats itself.


Phonograph ad, circa 1910.

There was a time when the only work for musicians and entertainers of African descent was as minstrels in black face performing denigrating acts according to what white “coon show” promoters thought was funny.

Hey, that’s where the money was, so it’s hard to look back and blame a man for rubbing burnt cork on his face to feed his family.

When the phonograph and the radio first became commercially available on a wide scale basis around 1910, it allowed black music — blues, ragtime, and jazz — to be heard far and wide.

Before that, only sheet music was available, for those few who could afford a piano.

Many people never realized their sheet music was written by black musicians and composers.

These compositions were catchy, infectious, and dance-able. A dancing craze soon swept America.


Smart Set Athletic Club advertisement.

But you couldn’t put an orchestra in your parlor, so folks who couldn’t afford a phonograph either had to go looking for a place to dance. But there weren’t any. This led to a boom in ballroom construction, and in the retro-fitting of any other available spaces.

Suddenly, there were dance halls everywhere.

And for the first time, musicians and entertainers of African descent were in demand for who they truly were.

But guess what?! These ballrooms were empty on off nights. Extra space on off nights meant opportunity for savvy managers of black basketball teams. Due to segregation, they otherwise had no place to play.

Advertisement, basketball games and dance, featuring the Alpha Physical Culture Club vs. the Monticello Athletic Association, 1912.

Advertisement, basketball games and dance, featuring the Alpha Physical Culture Club vs. the Monticello Athletic Association, 1912.

Savvy black basketball managers linked up with newly-in-demand black musicians.

Next thing you know, every Black Fives basketball game was followed by a dance.

That’s why every early vintage ad read “Basket Ball Game and Dance.”

Black people combined basketball and music as a matter of necessity in order to create income while staging meaningful social events. This is now commonplace at N.B.A. games but this innovation was brought to you by African Americans.

And it helped cause the blossoming of African American self-determinant thought and self-definition, independent of manipulative outside approval, that led to the period now known as the Harlem Renaissance.

So, the phonograph led to a black cultural Renaissance. (It also changed the Black Fives Era.) A small thing led to a big thing.


Bert Williams, the most successful black entertainer of his era, was highly respected and popular among African Americans at the time.

Fast forward.

Today’s blog allows the same self-determination and self-definition independent of economic manipulation or necessity.

Think “hip hop industry,” for example. Now think minstrelsy. Think “black face.” Think “rap face.” Are they the same?

Who are we, really? Who says so, really? Who is buying the music, really? Who is selling the music, really? Who is making the big money, really?


If you follow the blog rolls of the blogs that lead to more blogs … they’re all brilliant. You may not agree with every point of view but you’ll agree they’re brilliant.

Through traffic and advertising, these venues and bloggers are able to generate income — feed their families if you will — which means they’re expressing their views passionately and freely (i.e., independent from the influences of what Chris Rock would call “the media”).

This in turn is leading to a clearer cultural voice and a more accurate, wide-ranging representation of our cultural identity. Clarity leads to success. In any endeavor. It’s one of the laws of the universe.

A small thing leads to a big thing. A blog leads to a Renaissance.

So I have a new equation for you to consider.


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