The Philosophy of Black Music: QU Gains a deeper look at music, race and society

Phil Akre

Lewis Gordon, a philosophy professor at the University of Connecticut, began his lecture on Monday (Sept. 23) night with a simple, yet timely reminder for the students in the jam-packed Mount Carmel Auditorium. 

“A professor is someone who fell in love with learning, and continued to learn,” the University of Connecticut professor said with a slight smile. 

It was a fitting introduction for the lecture that would follow, one that would cover topics ranging from enslavement, freedom and black music. As a respected scholar, Gordon’s introduction was an anticipated one among Quinnipiac faculty and students alike. 

He echoed the value of truth and accountability throughout the discussion, as the Mount Carmel Auditorium echoed with the sounds of beats he played by hand. Gordon, during his lecture, focused on deconstructing the barriers between black music’s origins and present significance. Also offered were new ways to apply musical metaphors to our own lives. 

“Just because something is out of tune doesn’t mean it can’t make music,” Gordon said to the crowd. 

Gordon was clear in his purpose, stressing the idea that as humans, we create barriers against things we are not used to. Music, as he put it, is a universal way of understanding one another and human behavior. Sounds, beats and melodies are primal to human evolution, as well as human bonding and spiritual exploration. Simple beats, according to Gordon, tell the story of colonialism, where things are put into a specific category.

“Blacks developed a way to bond together through music in a world where they were told they were nothing,” Gordon continued. 

Gordon seamlessly transitioned from subject to subject, later focusing on the real meaning of freedom and black entertainment in a modern sense. Broken down, Gordon reminded the audience that black music isn’t just entertainment, but it is everything that is critical about music. It’s what makes up the roots of what many people love

The audience was questioned, asked if really wanted to live in a world where there’s no music, or no paintings. They were asked how they would feel if they were labeled as “property.” The questions were asked in order to discuss the challenges raised by slavery in general, as well as justification and how one pieces music to their lives.

“What makes music black?,” Gordon asked the audience of students at his feet. 

Perhaps most impressive was his Q&A session, where he took six different and complex questions at once. He responded thoughtfully to each one, essentially condensing his answer into a verbal essay. 

Just as he had began the lecture, Gordon ended by offering a simple way of understanding human interaction. He reminded the audience one last time that music can always be broken down to a human level. 

“What if our society was like a jazz performance?”