Rhythm & Views: Is Black Music Month still necessary?

Levon Williams

Well, that is a pretty disingenuous question considering my job and the institution for which I work, right? True.  Theoretically, The National Museum of African American Museum’s mission could be summed up as “to celebrate Black Music Month year round”.  So, undoubtedly NMAAM feels Black Music Month is still necessary, but why?  Well, that speaks to the more robust idea of how we are approaching the putting the NMAAM together.  Beyond the music, there are countless stories that give context to how and why the music that all Americans now celebrate in the month of June was created and continues to influence American culture.  We are an institution whose main objective is sharing those stories with a diverse audience.  And at large that is what Black Music Month’s creators, Kenny Gamble, Ed Wright and Dyana Williams, had in mind when the idea began circulating around 1978.

However, Black Music Month was created not only to celebrate the stories of African Americans through their shared musical traditions, but to also celebrate the very significant economic impact that Black music had on the country.  Black music has helped to create income for countless Americans (ironically enough Black’s benefited proportionately less given their contribution) and the music industry as a whole has benefited greatly as a result.  A phrase that went along with the first month back in 1979 was “Black Is Green”.

NMAAM has made a commitment to supporting the economic contributions of African Americans in the music arena as well.  We will be primarily doing so through a program we are tentatively calling our Preservation & Advocacy initiative.  The original Black Music Month that arose out of the waning of the National Association of Television & Radio Announcers (NATRA) which was primarily DJ focused and became more inclusive to other players in the Black Music game through the creation of the Black Music Association (BMA).  NMAAM’s  Preservation & Advocacy initiative hopes to bring together many of the African American music based trade & industry groups and associations to continue to advocate for the collective concerns of the culture and industry of Black music as a whole.  We are very excited to continue the legacy of NATRA & BMA in this capacity.

So, to answer the rhetorical question I posed in title of this blog, emphatically YES, NMAAM feels Black Music Month is still necessary.  Furthermore, we assert that it is necessary for largely the same reasons it was necessary to create in the first place.  The contributions of African Americans in both a cultural and economic capacity simply cannot be understated.  With that in mind, settling for one month a year seems like we might be short changing ourselves, huh?….See you in 2018.

 

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Levon Williams plays a vital role in a multi-year-project defining curatorial needs, evaluation and collection along with interpretation and execution of traditional and non-traditional methods. Williams recently served as interpretive specialist and curator at The Stax Museum of American Soul Music where he led core initiatives to define institutional direction.  Prior experience includes progressive leadership roles at both the Archives of African American Music & Culture and The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.