The National Museum of African American Music celebrates Black music 365 days a year, but during the month of June Black music holds a particularly special place in our hearts and minds. Today marks the first day of Black Music Month 2020, the annual celebration of African Americans’ musical contributions to not just the American soundtrack, but the soundtrack of the world. It’s only fitting on this, the 41st anniversary of Black Music Month, to take a moment to talk about the origins of this national cultural observance, and its significance in an historical context. As much as June is about celebrating the music of the Black American experience and the artists who create it, the reason for the season, as we say, are the architects of the celebration.
Black Music Month plays a pivotal role in programming across a multitude of major and independent Black media outlets. From mainstream radio to Black-owned media platforms and those whose audiences are predominantly African American, this yearly event drives content and brings a rush of Black music scholars, journalists, and aficionados to the surface with opportunity after opportunity to join in the conversation about African Americans’ contribution to global pop culture. From Naima’s Music Sermon on Twitter, to the Grown Folks Music podcasts, to articles, listicles, and photo galleries in venerable publications (print and digital) like Essence, there is no shortage of thumb-stopping content during Black Music Month. And for that, we have a very special group of people to thank.
Created in 1979 by Grammy Award-winning songwriter, producer, and pioneering architect of the “Philadelphia sound,” Kenny Gamble (Gamble and Huff), Cleveland radio DJ Ed Wright, and broadcaster, celebrity strategist, and NMAAM Board Member Dyana Williams, Black Music Month was officially recognized that year by then-president Jimmy Carter. However, no actual presidential proclamation recognizing Black Music Month existed until 2000, when Williams went to Democratic congressman Chaka Fattah of Philadelphia and Republican senator Arlen Spector to petition for an official bill citing June as Black Music Month. The bill was passed in Congress in 2000, and in 2009, President Obama changed the name to African American Music Appreciation Month.
Williams has been dubbed the “Mother of Black Music Month” and continues to be one of the observance’s most vocal advocates, not just during the month of June but throughout the entire year. Hear what the dynamic co-founder of Black Music Month had to say about its origins and significance when she spoke to NMAAM in 2016.
Each year, Black Music Month serves as a reminder of African American musicians’ and music creators’ generations-long legacies, and sets the stage for evolving conversations about the songs, stories, and artists that laid the foundation for American music. NMAAM’s contribution to these conversations places the music in historical context, illuminating the threads that connect each genre to the one(s) that came before it as well as the social, political, economic, and cultural conditions from which the genres emerged. When the museum opens later this year, guests will experience a first-of-its-kind opportunity to explore Black music history in-depth, in-person, and interactively. As we observe Black Music Month 2020, during a time when our normal late spring and summer activities are suspended and the outdoor concerts, panels, conferences, and other music and entertainment-related events that would usually fill our schedules this time of year remain on hold, it’s especially meaningful for NMAAM to use our platform to uphold Black music’s role in global culture.
This Black Music Month, we’re especially aware of Black music’s connection to and African American artists’ influence within critical social movements that shape American and global history. As demonstrations against racism and police brutality spring up across the nation and across the world, we reflect on the songs that came to personify the movements of the past, and make space for the music and creative expressions that will become the anthems of the present and the future.
Understand the journey, learn about the past, and apply it to your future. Show your love for Black music and become a NMAAM member today.