June marks the start of Black Music Month: a month of celebration, a time to remember, dance, sing, and give our flowers to the undeniable influence and impact Black music and artists have imprinted on mainstream culture since, well, the beginning.
But if this is your first time ever hearing the words “Black Music Month,” or you don’t know that much about it, that wouldn’t be a surprise since the dedicated month has its fans—and its critics.
To understand why the national recognition of this month was so critical or to really comprehend the weight of the grand opening of institutions like the new National Museum of African American Music in Nashville, TN, you need a little backstory. Black Music Month and its meaning have evolved since its initial creation in the seventies, so keep reading to get our take on what this month means to us now and for the future of music.
What is ‘Black music’?
At its roots, the purpose of Black Music Month, even before president Jimmy Carter technically unofficially recognized the occasion in 1979, was to promote the recognition of Black music. But what exactly is Black music?
Understanding the importance of this designated month starts with defining what Black music is and isn’t. No thanks to issues like the lack of representation and stereotypes, when many people hear the words “Black music,” their minds might immediately think of hip hop or rap music. But these styles of music aren’t exclusively Black music, even if what we see many times are Black artists in these genres.
Black music is not a genre. Tons of Black artists thrive in genres all the time that seem “untraditional,” like Mickey Guyton, a Black woman who was recently nominated for a Grammy in country music, and even Idris Elba, the beloved Black British actor who, to many people’s surprise, dominates the world of house music as a DJ. The list goes on, but the point is, Black music is anything created by a Black artist, no matter the style of music.
The history behind Black Music Month
Usually, when the origin story of is told, it starts with president Jimmy Carter “creating” the month of celebration in 1979, but this is only partly true. The real creation story of Black Music Month actually began in 1978, after hit soul producer Kenny Gamble visited Nashville, TN, from Philadelphia and found himself inspired by the Country Music Association (CMA).
He was impressed by the CMA’s work to spearhead Country Music Month and wondered what the impact could be if the same were done to celebrate Black music artists. After all, Black music had played a role in shaping the most lucrative music genres in the world, like rock n’ roll and country music. So he started the Black Music Association in 1978, and together with media strategist Dyana Williams and DJ Ed Wright, Black Music Month was established. It was the following year, in 1979, when president Jimmy Carter kicked off the month of June with a celebration of Black music on the White House lawn.
Twenty-one years later, Dyana Williams returned to the same lawn when president Bill Clinton made the month an official government-recognized celebration and occasion. The official proclamation states the purpose of the month is “recognizing the importance of African-American music to global culture and calling on the people of the United States to study, reflect on, and celebrate African-American music.”
As of 2023, the Black Music Association no longer exists, but Dyana Williams still plays a prominent role in helping the National Music of African American Music promote the month and its importance annually. Every year it seems more people learn the history behind this event and what it means today, and every year, knowing this piece of backstory becomes more and more crucial to preserving Black music and its cultural impact.
Are there other names for Black Music Month?
President Obama gave Black Music Month its more “politically correct” or modern name of African American Music Appreciation Month, during his term in 2009. However, many within the music industry and beyond still refer to it by its original name.
No matter what you call it, it’s not the name that’s most important. This celebration is so critical and necessary because the Black creativity and innovation that exists as the foundation for the most popular music genres are constantly overlooked, and the month of June is our opportunity to remember and remind others of the power of Black music and artists.
How to celebrate Black Music Month
June is the month to remember and celebrate the cultural impact of Black music and artists, so with it fast approaching, here are a few ways you can commemorate the month and make the most of the time of celebration:
1. Go to a local concert or music event that supports Black artists.
You don’t always have to think big when it comes to supporting Black musicians, especially when there are so many smaller artists who you’ve probably never seen or heard before. Check out your community’s Facebook event pages, websites like Eventbrite, or Google to see what Black music events are happening in your area.
2. Visit a museum about Black music history.
The National Museum of African American Music just opened in 2021, and the Smithsonian National Music of African American History and Culture has been popular for years now. But if you aren’t close to either city, some hometowns of Black artists are known to have small museums or cultural centers that tell their story, so do your research and discover what famous Black artists used to live near you.
3. Tell someone about your favorite Black artist.
At its core, Black Music Month is about sharing the joy and impact that Black music has had and continues to have on us all. So this June, if you do one thing at all, tell someone about your favorite Black artist!