Did you know that June is national African American Music Appreciation Month? According to the National Museum of African American History & Culture, “created by President Jimmy Carter in 1979, this month celebrates the African American musical influences that comprise an essential part of our nation’s treasured cultural heritage.”
African Americans have made an indelible mark in the world of music—from early spirituals, gospel, and folk music, all the way up to rhythm and blues, rock and roll and rap. The very foundation of music in the U.S. has been influenced largely by African Americans who have shared their lived experiences—sadness and struggle, triumph and joy—through various types of musical expression.
Artists like Louis Armstrong, Nina Simone, Jimi Hendrix, Ray Charles, Chuck Berry, and Whitney Houston are just a few inspiring examples of African American artists who have changed the cultural landscape in America through their musical talents.
As part of a Presidential Proclamation made on May 31, 2016, President Barack Obama described the significance of honoring African American Music Appreciation Month. He said, “African American music exemplifies the creative spirit at the heart of American identity and is among the most innovative and powerful art the world has ever known. It accompanies us in our daily lives, and it has rung out at turning points in our history and demonstrated how our achievements as a culture go hand-in-hand with our progress as a Nation. During African American Music Appreciation Month, we honor the artists who, through this music, bring us together, show us a true reflection of ourselves, and inspire us to reach for the harmony that lies beyond our toughest struggles.
Songs by African American musicians span the breadth of the human experience and resonate in every corner of our Nation—animating our bodies, stimulating our imaginations, and nourishing our souls. In the ways they transform real stories about real people into art, these artists speak to universal human emotion and the restlessness that stirs within us all. African American music helps us imagine a better world, and it offers hope that we will get there together.”
During the month of June, we are called to celebrate the music and musicians who tell powerful stories and bring people together. This art is at the very the core of America’s history and culture.
While June marks the month that African American music is formally recognized, the celebration of African American music is not limited to one month; it’s something we can always appreciate it its many forms.
Would you like to learn more about the history of African American music in the United States? Check out the resources listed below to further explore the topic.
- Black Music, Black Poetry: Blue and Jazz’s Impact on African American Versification (Edited by Gordon E. Thompson)
- The Power of Black Music: Interpreting Its History From Africa to the United States (Samuel A Floyd)
- Music of the Common Tongue: Survival and Celebration in African American Music (Christopher Small)
- Lift Every Voice: The History of African American Music (Burton W. Peretti)
- The Creation of Jazz: Music, Race, and Culture in Urban America (Burton W. Peretti)
- In Their Own Words: Slave Life and the Power of Spirituals (Eileen Morris Guenther)
- From Jubilee to Hip Hop: Readings in African American Music (Kip Lornell)
- The Hip Hop Movement from R&B and the Civil Rights Movement to Rap and the Hip Hop Generation (Rabaka Reiland)
- Black Lives Matter and Music: Protest, Intervention, Reflection (Edited by Fernando Orejuela and Stephanie Shonekan)
- Slave Songs of the United States (William Francis Allen, Charles Pickard Ware, and Lucy McKim Garrison)
- Singing in My Soul: Black Gospel Music in a Secular Age (Jerma A. Jackson)
- Souled American: How Black Music Transformed White Culture (Kevin Phinney)
- Soul Music Tracking the Spiritual Roots of Pop from Plato to Motown (Joel Rudinow)
- Rip It Up: The Black Experience in Rock ‘n’ Roll (Kandia Crazy Horse)
- Black Diamond Queens: African American Women and Rock and Roll (Maureen Mahon)
- 40 Inspiring Icons: Black Music Greats (Oliver Cachin)
- Black Women and Music: More Than the Blues (Eileen M. Hayes)
- National Museum of African American Music
Regina Duffy is Communication and Marketing Program Manager at Falvey Memorial Library.