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Black Firsts 3e
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Which two songs by Black Americans were the first to reach outer space?

  • One is a rock and roll song from the 1950s.
  • The other is a gospel song recorded in the 1920s.
  • They were among the songs on an album NASA included on Voyager I.
  • The songs, as well as other musical selections and greetings in a hundred languages, were meant for aliens.


1977

"Johnny B. Goode" and "Dark Was the Night, Cold Was the Ground"

"Johnny B. Goode" and "Dark Was the Night, Cold Was the Ground" were the first songs by blacks to be sent out of the solar system. When Voyager I was sent into outer space, it carried a copper phonograph record containing the songs, as well as other musical selections and greetings in a hundred languages, on the chance that aliens might find it. Chuck [Charles Edward Anderson] Berry (1926-) was the first black to receive four Special Commendation awards from Broadcast Music, Inc. (BMI) in 1981. His first song, "Mabelline," received wide attention, and "Roll Over Beethoven" became one of his best-known songs. Blind Willie Johnson (1902?-1950?), gospel singer and guitarist, was born in Marlin, Texas, and blinded at age seven. He sang at Baptist Association meetings and rural churches near Hearne, Texas, accompanying himself on the guitar. He made several recordings of exceptionally high quality between 1927 and 1930 and strongly influenced other gospel singers. After the depression, Johnson returned to street singing.

Sources: Cohn, et al, Nothing But the Blues, pp. 119-26; Current Biography, 1977, pp. 57-60; Essence 24 (May 1993): 40; Jet 60 (21 May 1981): 62; Southern, Biographical Dictionary of Afro-American Alberta Hunter (1895-1985) and African Musicians, p. 33.

From Black Firsts: 4,000 Ground-Breaking and Pioneering Events by Jessie Carney Smith, © 2013 Visible Ink Press®. A celebration of achievement, accomplishments and pride.

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