Where would Black culture be without music? From the vibrant beat of the Motherland through the serene yet inspirational strands of Negro spirituals that helped us overcome slavery (and still minister to us in rough times) to the invigorating jazz tunes that remind us of our creativity and talent to the funky feeling of R&B, hip hop and rap, Black people have produced some notable and memorable music with various instruments, including our voices. So, it’s quite natural to celebrate our music all year long—and especially in June, designated as African American Music Appreciation Month.
Originally starting in 1979 as Black Music Month, there is a rich history and legacy that leads us to the month of June being recognized as African-American Music Appreciation Month. What started as a movement to expand the aims of The Black Music Association (BMA), Broadcasters Ed Wright, Dyana Williams, and music industry executive Kenny Gamble of the famed Gamble and Huff, lobbied for over a year to convince then President Jimmy Carter to officially proclaim June as Black Music Month.
The importance of having a month to recognize the efforts of African American contribution to music was to enhance the efforts of the BMA, which at the time was a trade association working to educate young producers and writers in the music industry about protecting their intellectual property and to teach artists how to market their music. This educational effort was vital to help artists, producers and writers fight the history and tradition of not being properly compensated for their work. Additionally, the month was created in an effort to gain more financial marketing support. The first official meeting for the founders of Black Music Month was held in Philadelphia on June 8, 1979.
On June 7, 1979 at the White House on the South Lawn, President Jimmy Carter hosted an event which included performances by Chuck Berry, Little Richard, Andre Crouch, Evelyn “Champagne” King and others. In his remarks that evening Carter joked, “I’ve learned on thing about Black Music, and that is that people who talk before the performance are not appreciated nearly as much as the performance itself.” He then concluded his speech to join the audience and enjoy the show.
In 2000, House Resolution 509 was sponsored by then U. S. Representative Chaka Fatah of Pennsylvania, which formally recognized the importance of Black Music on culture and the economy. In 2009, President Barak Obama issued a proclamation on June 2, recognizing June as African-American Music Appreciation Month. His proclamation called for “more activities and programs to raise awareness and foster appreciation of music which is composed, arranged, and performed by African Americans.”
On Friday June 1, 2018, Donald Trump issued a proclamation in recognition of African-American Music Appreciation Month. Trump states, “Our Nation is indebted to all the African American artists whose music fills our airways and homes, lifts our spirits and compels us to think, dance, and sing.” Trump further noted that it was the music of artists such as Duke Ellington, Nat King Cole, Whitney Houston and others that brought people together.
African American music has a steep and deeply rooted history. In many cases the cities that are most mentioned when it comes to African American music are Detroit (Motown) and Philadelphia (The Philadelphia Sound) and of course Los Angeles; however, Chicago has and continues to be a musical Mecca for African American musicians. Musical legends such as Gene Chandler, Curtis Mayfield, Lou Rawls, Minnie Ripperton, Donny Hathaway, Herbie Hancock, Ramsey Lewis and Chaka Khan were all born and raised in Chicago.
Chicago was the home of the famous Chess records, located at 4858 S. Cottage Grove from 1951-1954. Though the label was started by Polish immigrants and brothers Leonard and Phil Chess, it was the African American musicians who came to Chicago to live and record music that made the label the historical institution it is today. Many musicians made their way from the South to the Southside of Chicago to record on the Chess label. Music legends such as Buddy Guy, Little Richard and Etta James all recorded on the Chess label.
Chicago also has a rich gospel music legacy, with the Bronzeville neighborhood being credited as the birthplace of gospel music. More specifically Pilgrim Baptist Church on 33rd and Indiana was credited as the place where gospel began. This was due mostly to the influence of gospel great Thomas Dorsey. Dorsey’s unique style of combining blues piano and R&B rhythms, contributes to making gospel music what it is today. The Reverend James Cleveland, known as the King of Gospel, and gospel great Albertina Walker were both born in the city. Gospel music legend Mahalia Jackson also made her home in Chicago.
Additionally, Chicago is also noted as the birthplace of several legendary groups such as The Five Stairsteps, The Emotions, The Chi-Lites, The Impressions and the Staples Singers, who are all Chicago natives. And even though their members were not born in Chicago, Chicago was the birthplace of Earth, Wind and Fire.
Chicago’s musical legacy and contributions to music continues with artists such as Da Brat, Common, Jennifer Hudson, Twista, Vic Mensa and Chance the Rapper all hailing from Chicago You can hear the Blues played nightly at Buddy Guy’s Legends. Chicago also has many Jazz and other live music venues and festivals that keep the musical legacy and history pulsating throughout the city.
Celebrations during this historic month can be found throughout Chicagoland as music is a part of every outdoor festival—from last week’s Gospel Fest and Hyde Park’s Brew Fest to the Blues Festival (June 8-10). Take some time to raise your voice and celebrate the beauty of the music created by the sons and daughters of African Americans. And stay tuned throughout this month (and always) for more features on those sharing their gifts and talents around the Chicagoland area.