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Musicians are some of the most influential people on earth. Since time immemorial they have used songs to entertain and deliver messages to the public. Music has been used in the past to promote peace, promote gender equality and provide awareness on matters such as the environment and certain illnesses. Music and social issues are heavily intertwined. Music has been known to affect various social issues in the society while social issues can affect the music that is been produced.
Music has also been scientifically proven to lower stress and depression and improve one’s health.1 It is also scientifically proven that children who engage in music become more intelligent since music improves one’s memory and learning abilities. There are also times where music has been used to promote violence and immorality among other vices in the society. This is clearly evident in the case where some musicians use their music to instigate violence and influenced the youth to join gangs. Some of these artists also promote the use of illegal drugs and sexual immorality bringing about many problems in the society. 
Otis Blackwell was a songwriter, pianist and singer. He is most famously known for his songwriting having written hit songs such as “Don’t Be Cruel”, “All Shook Up” and “Breathless” among many others. Some of the songs he wrote were performed by Elvis Presley
(one of the most successful musicians of all time). Other famous artists such as Jerry Lee Lewis and Peggy Lee also recorded songs he had written.
Otis Blackwell was born in Brooklyn, New York. He was an African American. Otis was brought up in New York and showed early interest in music when he started to play the piano as a child. He listened to rhythm and blues and country music. Otis became a very crucial part of combining these two genres of music to form rock and roll. After working as a floor sweeper and a clothes presser for a while he ventured into music and won a local contest at The Apollo Theatre. From this, he secured a contract with Jay-Dee label. Davis the owner of the label company suggested that Otis should start writing his own songs and from then on he would go on to write over 1000 songs in his lifetime. He was also one of the recipients of the Ahmet Ertegun in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2010.
He practiced his art when racism and segregation were at their all-time high in America. During this time there were schools for the white and schools for the black. The segregation was so bad that a section of congressmen signed a manifesto to confirm that they would do all they could to support segregation.2
The blacks were even discriminated in the buses. Rosa Parks was famously arrested for refusing to give up her seat for a white person.
It was tough for black artists such as Otis Blackwell to find a market for their craft. Elvis Presley’s music integrated black blues, rhythm- and- blues and gospel genres of music. This music was mostly associated with the black people. They had been performing the type of music but since they were black they did not get the recognition that Elvis Presley got. Elvis himself also said that the blacks had been performing the music for years and he had just copied what they did. The black people music could not get their music into the mainstream because of their skin color. Many of the black songwriters, such as Otis, wrote songs which would earn millions but would get little or no money for their efforts.
Otis Blackwell wrote world class songs throughout his life. Elvis Presley and Jerry Lee Lewis copied his demos and his mannerisms in singing. No wonder Elvis and Jerry sounded similar to a certain extent. But when Otis himself sang the songs they did not get as much recognition as they did when recorded by white people. The practice of performers copying the demos of songwriters was common at the time.
Racists did not like the fact that blacks and whites bonded over rock and roll music. The relationship between Otis and Presley has raised eyebrows from all corners of the earth long after their death. Some people accuse Elvis Presley of stealing Otis’ work. On the records, the two were written as co-writers but was evident Elvis’ efforts in the writing were negligible.
The songs that Otis wrote for Elvis opened the door for black musicians. This music integrated different cultures. At the time most radio stations, in the South especially, either playing music from black or white musicians.3 There were even different charts for African American and white performers. This partnership enabled black music to have a wider audience, especially among the white teenagers. There was resistance from both parties as some black people accused Elvis of ‘stealing’ their music while some white people accused Elvis of singing ‘jungle’ music. This partnership between Otis and Elvis paved way for the emergence of a biracial market for the rock and roll music and the emergence of performers like Nat King Cole and Chuck Berry.7
This was a very conducive time for black musicians to gain popularity as it coincided with the post-world war II economic boom. This rock and roll music was more popular with teenagers. With the economic boom parents were able to provide more allowances to the teenagers hence resulting in the exponential rise in sales of records for both the white and black musicians. It is clearly evident that Otis Blackwell was instrumental in spreading rock and roll music.
During this period of 1950s and 1960s, there was a lot of enmity between the blacks and whites. Tensions were high between the two races in America. There were boycotts such as the boycott of the Montgomery bus system. The March on Washington movement of 1963, which is famous for the ‘I have a dream speech’ by Martin Luther King, was also around this time.4 There was extensive friction in the country between the two races. Rock and roll music provided a unique source of entertainment which both the black and white people enjoyed.
One of Otis greatest compositions is “All Shook Up”. Blackwell wrote the song in 1956 at Shalimar Music. One of the owners of Shalimar Music named Al Stanton shook a bottle of Pepsi and suggested that Blackwell should compose a song from the words all shook up hence the title of the song. The song was recorded by Elvis Presley and it became a huge success. It topped the Billboard Hot 100 for the majority of April and May. The song was also included in the 500 Greatest Songs of All Time on Rolling Stone’s list. It was ranked position 352.
4. Hernton, Calvin C. Sex and racism in America. Garden City, NY: Doubleday, 1965
The song is about a man who is drunk in love. “All shook up” has a dance rhythm. It has a prominent backbeat provided by the side drum. It has a 12 bar structure that is common with blues music. It generates high emotion from the audience. Some of these qualities were clearly derived from blues music which was common with the African Americans. The method of combining drums, guitars and vocals were common in the blues genre of music. Blues music was designed to create raw emotion to its audience.5 This characteristic is also clearly seen in “All shook up”. The song generates feelings of romantic love in the audience.
The song also has a similar rhythm to blues songs. Rhythm and blues music is the music that Otis Blackwell listened to as a child and through composing “All Shook Up” for Elvis Presley he managed to bring the attention of white people to the music.
The song has simple duple rhythms. It also has little syncopation. These traits have their roots in country music (one of the constituent genres in the formulation of rock and roll). The song is about romantic love. This trait of the song is from rhythm and blues since country music usually tends to narrate a story inside the song.
Otis Blackwell recorded R&B songs in his later years. Though he was a good singer, his singing career did not soar to the heights of his songwriting career. His songwriting skills combined with Elvis singing skills combined to provide a biracial form of music which had a significant impact at the time from a cultural perspective. Otis died at age 71 due to a heart attack in Nashville and will be forever remembered for being an instrumental figure in rock and roll.
Music is a special art form that has been used to mark special occasions in our lives at a global level, national level and even at community and individual levels. It is often used as a source of entertainment but music holds very great power. Psychologists also say that the music a person listens to can greatly influence his or her personality6. Such a powerful tool should be used with great care and anyone trying to uphold music through vices should be stopped. Otis was able to surpass the troubles of racism and segregation and he wrote music that played a part in unifying the black Americans and the whites. We should follow this great emulate this example and use music to break social barriers in the society.
Clair, Alicia Ann, and Jenny Memmott. Therapeutic uses of music with older adults. American Music Therapy Association. 8455 Colesville Road Suite 1000, Silver Spring, MD 20910, 2008.
Črnčec, Rudi, Sarah J. Wilson, and Margot Prior. "The cognitive and academic benefits of music to children: Facts and fiction." Educational Psychology 26, no. 4 (2006): 579-594.
Hernton, Calvin C. Sex and racism in America. Garden City, NY: Doubleday, 1965.
“Otis Blackwell (1931-2002)”.Spectropop
1. Clair, Alicia Ann, and Jenny Memmott. Therapeutic uses of music with older adults. American Music Therapy Association. 8455 Colesville Road Suite 1000, Silver Spring, MD 20910, 2008.
2. Hernton, Calvin C. Sex and racism in America. Garden City, NY: Doubleday, 1965.
3. Hernton, Calvin C. Sex and racism in America. Garden City, NY: Doubleday, 1965.
5. Clair, Alicia Ann, and Jenny Memmott. Therapeutic uses of music with older adults. American Music Therapy Association. 8455 Colesville Road Suite 1000, Silver Spring, MD 20910, 2008.
6. Črnčec, Rudi, Sarah J. Wilson, and Margot Prior. "The cognitive and academic benefits of music to children: Facts and fiction." Educational Psychology 26, no. 4 (2006): 579-594.
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