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'Roots Music:' First Use of Phrase?

Michael S 25 Feb 03 - 06:17 PM
McGrath of Harlow 25 Feb 03 - 07:36 PM
GUEST,Q 25 Feb 03 - 09:51 PM
Malcolm Douglas 25 Feb 03 - 10:44 PM
GUEST,Claymore 26 Feb 03 - 11:20 AM
Michael S 26 Feb 03 - 01:11 PM
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Subject: 'Roots Music:' First Use of Phrase?
From: Michael S
Date: 25 Feb 03 - 06:17 PM

Been wonderin' on this for awhile. Hope you folks don't find this inquiry too silly.

Who first used the phrase "roots music" to refer to the music formerly known as "folk." Where/when did it first appear in print?

I know what it means (at least as well as anyone does). I'm aware that certain music has long been called "rootsy" or "from the roots" or some such thing.

But what scribe, deep thinker or novice wordsmith put the two words together, in that order, to coin the descriptive phrase now so widely used.

In his fine book, Romancing the Folk, Ben Filene works with the term. He says it's from rock criticism, but never explores its origin with precision. Any thoughts?

Peace,
Michael


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Subject: RE: 'Roots Music:' First Use of Phrase?
From: McGrath of Harlow
Date: 25 Feb 03 - 07:36 PM

I suspect it has its roots in the TV serial and book of the same name, back in the Seventies.

I can't remember it ever being used prior to that. Than in England a few years later the magazine Southern Rag re-launched itself as Folk Roots (mow "fRoots"), and I think that's what helped get the term take hold in this country anyway.

In some ways it's a better term. One trouble with "Folk" is that, for many people, it only refers to a very narrow range of folk music traditions, and their offshoots - plus a lot of other stuff that, whatever they may be, aren't roots music. So it's too narrow and maybe too wide at the same time.

We haven't yet had a thread "What is Roots Music?" so far as I know. I suppose this one verges on that, and will very likely drift into being that.


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Subject: RE: 'Roots Music:' First Use of Phrase?
From: GUEST,Q
Date: 25 Feb 03 - 09:51 PM

People have referred to the "roots" of something for a long time, but I think McGrath is right about when it came into the usage brought up here.
Chaucer in the 14th century spoke of the root of something, meaning the base.
Used as the source or origin of something, it goes back even farther, to 1200; see the OED. To spring from something dates back to 1300 in print.

As slang usage, however, "roots music"- reversing the words to make music the noun- well may have resulted from the sources McGrath suggests. To me, it is ambiguous at best.


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Subject: RE: 'Roots Music:' First Use of Phrase?
From: Malcolm Douglas
Date: 25 Feb 03 - 10:44 PM

In 1964 (about ten years before the Haley book was published), Shirley Collins and Davy Graham released an album called Folk Roots, New Routes. The term "folk roots music" was in fairly common use in the UK during the '70s; at least, I remember using it myself, years before Southern Rag changed its name. Probably the popularity of the book and tv series reinforced the abbreviation to "roots music".


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Subject: RE: 'Roots Music:' First Use of Phrase?
From: GUEST,Claymore
Date: 26 Feb 03 - 11:20 AM

While I have only my memory to back this up, when Rock and Roll was first starting out, they were refering to "Roots Music" as a code word for Black music, when they were discussing just such an influence on Elvis Presly. I think if you researched the term in conjunction with Elvis and the beginnings of Rock and Roll, you might have your answer (understanding that Elvis predated the Folk Revival by about ten years). I will be interested if my memories are correct.


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Subject: RE: 'Roots Music:' First Use of Phrase?
From: Michael S
Date: 26 Feb 03 - 01:11 PM

Thanks for the comments thus far. Claymore wrote:

>I have only my memory to back this up, when Rock and Roll was first starting out, they were refering to "Roots Music" as >a code word for Black music, . . .

I was born in '54, so I can't share this memory. However, I've never heard this, despite a fair amount of reading about pop music history. Claymore--could you be recalling the term "race music," which was an explicit, and commercially used, euphemism for black music, dating back to the '20s? A quick glance at the sometimes less than comprehensive indices to some rock and roll histories, does not reveal early use of the term roots music.

Anyone else?

Peace,
Michael


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