Black Music Month has evolved since the 1970s. Here's what you need to know

LOS ANGELES — Every June since the 1970s, musicians, fans and industry professionals in the United States have celebrated Black Music Month. It is an opportunity to highlight the contributions of Black artists and position Black art at the center of American culture popular music and further.

Black Music Month The company's origins date back to 1979. In that year, ten years into the civil rights era, President Jimmy Carter declared June a time to celebrate the cultural and historical significance of Black musicianship and held the first-ever Black Music Month celebration on the White House lawn. That makes 2024 the 45th annual commemoration.

But what inspired Black Music Month in the first place, and how has it evolved?

Black Music Month was originally founded in 1979, but not by President Carter. The honor goes to soul pioneer Kenny Gamble of Philadelphia's Gamble and Huff and a few other collaborators, said Naima Cochrane of the Black Music Action Coalition, an advocacy group founded in June 2020 after a blackout in the music industry in response to the murder of George Floyd.

“Black Music Month was founded from an organization called the Black Music Association,” she says.

Gamble based his organization, founded in 1978, on the Country Music Association because he saw the power and influence they had in the country music business, Cochrane explained. He wanted to do the same with black stakeholders in the music industry. They included promoters, retailers, bookers, venue owners, executives, artists and household names like Rev. Jesse Jackson and Motown Records founder Berry Gordy.

Black Music Month was coincidentally spawned by Gamble, Cleveland radio DJ Ed Wright and media strategist Dyana Williams.

“Black Music Month was originally created to promote, protect and perpetuate the trade of black music, not just to celebrate black music,” Cochrane said. “The tagline was originally 'Black music is green' and was intended as a way to boost retail sales to increase awareness of the artists, but honestly to increase sales of black music, not just to celebrate the history of celebrate black music.

“It has evolved over the years into something else…The original intent has been lost,” she says. “The original purpose of the month was to prove that the black music business was profitable.”

Every June, Black Music Month is recognized with a presidential proclamation.

“During Black Music Month, we celebrate the Black artists and creatives whose work has so often been a tidal wave of change – not only by defining the American songbook and culture, but also by capturing our greatest hopes for the future and our to push forward. together,” President Joe Biden's 2024 proclamation read. “Black music is a staple of American art and a powerhouse of our culture – that's why we must continue to open doors for the next generation of Black artists.”

This year, Biden is once again celebrating Black Music Month with a Juneteenth concert with Patti LaBelle, Gladys Knight, Charlie Wilson, Kirk Franklin, Anthony Hamilton, Brittney SpencerTrombone Shorty and more.

Under the Obama administration, Black Music Month was renamed African-American Music Appreciation Month, but it has since returned to its roots.

Black Music Month “is a recognition that black music is an original American art form and influences almost every other American art form. But it was intended to direct the trade of black music to black stakeholders,” Cochrane added.

In the years since its inception, Black Music Month has often been used to celebrate Black music excellence: 30 days to celebrate Black musicianship across media platforms, museums, streaming platforms and beyond. But some fear that concentrating compliance could have restrictive effects.

“I always felt conflicted: happy to see the elevation of black artists, but disappointed that Black Music Month only benefited superstars (and ostensibly devoted the remaining eleven months to white musicians),” 4AD records label manager Nabil Ayers wrote about Black Music Month in 2021.

“Musically, the Black Music Month I knew in the 90s and 2000s focused on the artists who could potentially sell the most records,” he continued. “But the reality is that it costs money to make music, and financial support for artists. is now more important than ever.”

Of course there are different opinions. In 2016, Philadelphia resident Branford Jones started They Have the Range, a popular Instagram account with a million followers dedicated to spotlighting black singers.

“When I created it, black music programming didn't really exist,” he says, noting a few other performance pages that “didn't post regular black people,” and a modern lack of shows like “Soul Train” or BET's “106th and Park.”

“For They Have the Range, every month is Black Music Month,” Jones says with a laugh. “But it's important to have a Black Music Month, especially at a time when so many people are trying to erase historical context. … We know how much black people have contributed to the world when it comes to music.

He quotes the Hulu series “The 1619 Project” as an influence: “One of the things they said about black music is that it's intangible. Every decade, (black music) has been able to shift, change and lead the masses.

For him, Black Music Month is an opportunity for celebration that can last all year long – and it feels particularly poignant that in the month that also includes Juneteenth.

“As time goes on, more brands will get involved, more people will get involved,” he says. “And so it's important to recognize it.”

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