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Mamie Smith with the Jazz Hounds

Today, the U.S. popular music industry is worth billions of dollars. And some of its deepest roots are in blackface minstrelsy and other racist genres. You may not have heard their names, but Black musicians like George Johnson, Ernest Hogan, and Mamie Smith were some of the country’s first viral sensations, working within and pushing back against racist systems and tropes. Their work made a lasting imprint on American music — including some of the songs you might have on repeat right now.


Matthew D. Morrison, Associate Professor in the Clive Davis Institute of Recorded Music at New York University’s Tisch School of the Arts, and author of Blacksound: Making Race and Popular Music in the United States

Daphne A. Brooks, Professor of African American Studies, American Studies, Women’s Gender and Sexuality Studies, and music at Yale University, and author of Liner Notes for the Revolution: The Intellectual Life of Black Feminist Sound

Larry Wayte, Senior Instructor at the University of Oregon and author of Pay for Play: How the Music Industry Works, Where the Money Goes, and Why

Leonard DeGraaf, archivist at Thomas Edison National Historical Park and author of Edison and the Rise of Innovation

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Correction June 28, 2024

A previous version of this episode incorrectly stated that Jim Crow was a real-life enslaved person. In fact, Jim Crow was a racist caricature of African Americans.

A previous version of this episode incorrectly stated that Thomas Rice, also known as T.D. Rice or Daddy Rice, was the first person to bring blackface characterization to the American stage. In fact, he was one of several performers of this era who popularized and spread the use of blackface.

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A previous version of this episode incorrectly stated that African American minstrel troupes didn’t start to perform until after the U.S. Civil War. In fact, an African American artist named William Henry Lane was performing in the 1840s.

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Felecia Phillips Ollie DD (h.c.) is the inspiring leader and founder of The Equality Network LLC (TEN). With a background in coaching, travel, and a career in news, Felecia brings a unique perspective to promoting diversity and inclusion. Holding a Bachelor's Degree in English/Communications, she is passionate about creating a more inclusive future. From graduating from Mississippi Valley State University to leading initiatives like the Washington State Department of Ecology’s Equal Employment Opportunity Program, Felecia is dedicated to making a positive impact. Join her journey on our blog as she shares insights and leads the charge for equity through The Equality Network.

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