Black Music Month

Black Music Month

Date Observed: June
Location: Communities nationwide

Black Music Month is observed each June to celebrate African-American influences on American music. Since its creation in the late 1970s, radio, television, electronic media, music publishing and recording industries, schools, libraries, and other institutions have marked the month with gospel, jazz, rhythm and blues, soul, rap, hip hop, reggae, and many other musical genres that have their roots in African and African-American cultures.

Historical Background

Enslaved Africans brought their music and dance traditions with them to the Americas and West Indies during the 1600s and 1700s. They incorporated these traditions into such early festivals as Pinkster celebrations and Negro Election Days and Coronation Festivals in New England.

Slaves also created work songs in call-and-response form that had roots in tribal chants and were related to religious beliefs. Early on, however, they generally were not allowed to follow their religious rituals, chant in their own languages, or use drums. Many plantation owners feared these practices would help slaves plan and carry out rebellions. Thus, the work songs became a way to share stories of their lives and preserve their history.

When white colonists decided that black slaves should become Christians, slaves learned Protestant hymns, which they adapted and which evolved into spirituals and, eventually, gospel music. During the American Revolutionary War period, black drummers, fifers, and trumpet players were part of military units, and black performers played the fiddle and other instruments at society dances.

In 1865 the 13th Amendment to the Constitution abolished slavery, but many whites continued to obstruct African Americans' new rights (see National Freedom Day). The trials and tribulations of the late 1800s led many blacks to develop the musical genre known as the blues, which expressed their frustration, sadness, and despair.

From the early 1900s on, the blues influenced ragtime and jazz, and, later, rhythm and blues, rock and roll, hip hop, rap, and other genres. In short, black music is the origin of much of today's popular music.

Creation of the Observance

In 1978 producer and composer Kenny Gamble and broadcast executive Ed Wright created Black Music Month. Previously, Gamble had founded the Black Music Association, which established Black Music Month to support and advance black music worldwide. On June 7, 1979, as a result of their efforts, President Jimmy Carter declared the first Black Music Month, and the month has been proclaimed in succeeding years by later presidents.

In the late 1980s, Philadelphia disc jockey Dyana Williams (Gamble's ex-wife) and music executive Sheila Eldridge founded the International Association of African American Music Foundation, which became a powerful advocate for the national observance of Black Music Month. In 2000, they succeeded in persuading Pennsylvania Representative Chaka Fattah to introduce a resolution to the House of Representatives to officially recognize Black Music Month.


A great variety of events mark Black Music Month across the United States. In Washington, D.C. the president of the United States usually hosts a reception and concert at the White House, as well as issues a proclamation calling for Americans to observe the month by recognizing the contributions of black musical artists.

In Harlem, New York, there are conferences and performances in honor of Black Music Month. Awards ceremonies salute jazz, rhythm and blues, and hip hop.

The Jefferson Street United Merchants Partnership in Nashville, Tennessee, has produced the Jefferson Street Jazz and Blues Festival to mark the month since 2000. During the mid-20th century Jefferson Street's music clubs, and other businesses, flourished, hosting artists such as Ray Charles, Fats Domino, Memphis Slim, and Jimi Hendrix.

At Downtown Disney Pleasure Island at the Disney World Resort in Buena Vista, Florida, a Black Music Month Concert is held. The Charles H. Wright Museum of African American History in Detroit, Michigan, celebrates Black Music Month with musical performances, workshops, and films.

Media observances include radio and TV programs devoted to all types of black music and African-American musicians, singers, lyricists, and composers. Film and sound departments of libraries nationwide promote videocassettes and DVDs to celebrate Black Music Month, and museums of African-American history present programs that honor black music from the past and the present.

Contacts and Web Sites

Charles H. Wright Museum of African American History 315 E. Warren Detroit, MI 48201 313-494-5800

Downtown Disney Pleasure Island 1590 Buena Vista Dr. P.O. Box 10000 Lake Buena Vista, FL 32830 407-828-3025

Greater Harlem Chamber of Commerce 200A W. 136th St. New York, NY 10030-7200 212-862-7200; fax: 212-862-8745

International Association of African American Music P.O. Box 382 Gladwyne, PA 19035 610-664-8292; fax: 610-664-5940

Jefferson Street United Merchants Partnership, Inc. 1215 9th Ave. N., Ste. 201 Nashville, TN 37208 615-726-5867; fax: 615-726-2078

Further Reading

Floyd, Samuel A., Jr. The Power of Black Music: Interpreting Its History from Africa to the United States. New York: Oxford University Press, 1995. "Music." In Encyclopedia of Black America, edited by W. Augustus Low and Virgil A. Clift. New York: McGraw-Hill Book Company, 1981. Ramsey, Guthrie P., Jr. Race Music: Black Cultures from Bebop to Hip-Hop. Berkeley: University of California Press, 2003. Southern, Eileen. The Music of Black Americans: A History. 3rd ed. New York: W. W. Norton and Company, 1997.

Black Music Month

Black Music Month is observed in June each year in the United States. Created by music industry executives Kenny Gable and Ed Wright as a way to celebrate and promote black music, the special designation has been proclaimed each year since 1979 by the incumbent U.S. president.
Black Music Month concerts and activities are typically planned and sponsored on a local level by such organizations as arts councils, chambers of commerce, music associations, museums, charitable foundations, radio stations, and theme parks. At the White House in Washington, D.C., a concert and reception is held each year that features various genres of African-American music, including R&B, jazz, blues, and hip hop. In addition television networks present programming showcasing black performers in concert as well as documentary and feature films about the development and influence of African-American musical forms.
Throughout the country during Black Music Month public and private organizations host numerous educational programs and cultural festivals recognizing the achievements of black musicians. In Detroit, Mich., the Charles H. Wright Museum of African American History focuses on a different musical genre each week in a month-long series of concerts, workshops, films, and lectures. Similarly, in the Harlem neighborhood of New York City, an area that was a center of black music and the arts during the Harlem Renaissance of the 1920s, a series of concerts, forums, and ceremonies commemorate the development of jazz, hip hop, and R&B.
Charles H. Wright Museum of African American History
315 East Warren
Detroit, MI 48201
313-494-5800; fax: 313-494-5855
Greater Harlem chamber of commerce
200A W. 136th St.
New York, NY 10030-7200
212-862-7200; fax: 212-862-8745
International Association African American Music
P.O. Box 382
Gladwyne, PA 19035
610-664-8292; fax: 610-664-5940
AAH-2007, p. 68
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