Cause and Effect: Music Censorship

Last Updated: 11 Sep 2020
Essay type: Cause And Effect
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This cause and effect essay analyzes the lyrical content of popular music recordings, cited as censored. Out of 60 articles from the music trade magazines, "Billboard" and "Rolling Stone," 77 instances of censorship were recorded and analyzed. The categories for evaluation were the year of citation, music style, and reason for censorship. Nineteen ninety was the year with the highest number of journal articles (21) covering music censorship.

Rap (48%) and rock (44. 2%) music accounted for a large portion of the total censored recordings and the majority of recordings were censored because of lyrics seen as explicit, profane, obscene or vulgar. In addition, five-rock recordings were censored because of objectionable artwork on or inside the covers. Recordings were also censored because of opposition to a view the artist expressed. Two tables depict the years of citation and the reasons for censorship, each according to music styles. (Anthony K. S 1995)

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Music has historically been and continues to be, censored in an attempt to enforce morality. It’s not a coincidence that music censorship in America began to accelerate during the 1950s when traditional and conservative values began to unravel. At the time, order, strict obedience to authority, and conservative values were part of the accepted mindset. (Lambordi, Victor 1991) With the advent of rock ‘n’ roll, however, young America began to loosen attitudes on issues relating to morality. Technology also played an important part in shaping the moral power struggle in the 1950s. Lambordi, Victor 1991) For example, the 1920s era saw similar complaints against flappers and jazz musicians; however, radio wasn’t as dominant at that time.

In the 1950s, radio provided access to new types of music that challenged traditional morality and created the dynamics for music censorship. (Lambordi, Victor 1991) In 1956, Elvis may have been known as “the king of rock and roll,” but he was very controversial in his performances and mannerisms in the 1950s. Ray Charles would also have a very controversial history when it comes to releasing music. Being one of the first artists to urn gospel music to R&B made him his music censored and many of the southern states back in December of 1954. A lot of the artists of the 1950s paved the way in the starting of music censorship. Moral authorities aim to determine what behavior is “acceptable” for individuals and for society.

Drugs, violence, and especially sex are topics moral authorities attempt to regulate. The end of the 1950s witnessed many members of society, particularly young adults and teens begin expressing new attitudes about these topics: Sex and drugs were no longer hidden and secretive acts, but something to be exposed and celebrated.

This shift in outlook began breaking down the traditional moral order in many aspects of society especially music. Race may seem a strange factor in music censorship, but it has played a significant role. In particular, the 1950s and early 1960s saw a new genre of music -- rhythm and blues -- emerge onto the national music landscape. (Nuzum, Eric 1989) R&B music included freely expressed sexual desires, clear drug references, and other features that were not as prevalent in other forms of popular music.

R&B was – and still is—dominated by black musicians and traditionally was enjoyed mainly by black audiences. Nuzum, Eric 1989) When its audience expanded to include mainstream white youths and young adults, this was a problem for many older whites who considered R&B music as a threat that corrupted young people and promoted immoral behavior. (Nuzum, Eric 1989) This phenomenon prompted moral authorities to take action. In 1955, for example, Houston’s Juvenile Delinquency and Crime Commission banned more than 30 songs – many by black artists. A Chicago radio station promised to censor “any controversial music, especially R&B,” after receiving letters from angry listeners. Sparrow, Kelly 2009) Racially motivated music censorship is not a practice limited to the past. More recent cases involve MTV refusing to air videos from many black artists in the infancy of the network. In 1983, during a live interview, David Bowie suddenly asked, “Why are there practically no black artists on the network? ” (“Why it Took MTV So Long”2006) Michael Jackson’s “Billie Jean” from the album Thriller, released in 1983, is credited with being the first black video aired on MTV in heavy rotation. “Why it Took MTV So Long” 2006)

The year with the highest number of cited recordings was 1990, and the majority of these recordings were rock music. In the following years, almost all of the censored recordings were rap music. (Anthony K. S. 1995) “The largest number of recordings, mostly rap music, were censored either because they were labeled "explicit" or because they were profane, obscene, or vulgar in language. (Anthony K. S. 1995) The argument can be made that racial motivations also played a large role in the FBI’s 1989 letter to the rap group N. W. A. (Nuzum, Eric 1989)

The F. B. I. s intent was to notify the rap group that their song “F*** Tha Police” wasn’t appreciated by the government. N. W. A. supporters argue the group was only expressing the frustrations of inner-city blacks and holding a mirror to their everyday reality. While no legal action took place, the example helps give context to the pressures behind government and music censorship. It is my personal believe that music censorship to some may go against their freedom of speech but to me, I believe it is necessary for those individual artists who do feel that they have limits and have to be politically correct.

A lot of kids look up to those rappers and rock stars as role models and music censorship helps the artist become that good role model. In conclusion, I believe music censorship is a very important part in our community and should always remain. Music censorship may stem from race, fear, and morality just to name a few sources of censorship. I believe even though music censorship didn’t always start off by just means in the past doesn’t mean it isn’t just in the present.


  1. Retrieved from AIU virtual library Anthony, K. S. (1995, July 1). Censorship of Popular Music: An Analysis of Lyrical Content.
  2. Inglis, Ian. (2006). The Ed Sullivan Show and the (Censored) Sounds of the Sixties. Vol. 39 Issue 4
  3. Edward J. Volz, "You Can't Play That: A Selective Chronology of Banned Music:1850-1991," School Library Journal 37(July 1990)
  4. Lombardi, Victor. "Music and Censorship. " Noise Between Stations. 1 Dec. 1991. 22 Sep. 2009 ‹http://www. noisebetweenstations. com/personal/essays/music_censorship. html›.
  5. Nuzum, Eric. "A Brief History of Banned Music in the United States by Eric Nuzum. Parental Advisory Music Censorship in America. 22 Sep. 1986 ‹www. ericnuzum. com/banned/›.
  6. Sparrow, Kelly. "Music censorship (part 1) : A brief history. " Examiner: Inside Source For Everything Local. 22 Sep. 2009 ‹http://www. examiner. com/x-16046-Lexington-Live-Music-Examiner~y2009m8d26-Music-censorship-part-1--A-brief-history›.
  7. "Why It Took MTV So Long To Play Black Music Videos . " Find Articles at BNET. 9 Oct. 2006. 22 Sep. 2009 ‹http://findarticles. com/p/articles/mi_m1355/is_14_110/ai_n16807343/›.

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Cause and Effect: Music Censorship. (2017, Mar 05). Retrieved from

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