African American Music Appreciation Month was established on June 7, 1979, by President Jimmy Carter after vigorous campaigning from three activists – Kenny Gamble, Ed Wright, and Dyana Williams. It was then known as Black Music Month and was renamed in 2009 by President Obama. This month is dedicated to acknowledging the contributions of African Americans in various music genres. Music directors can celebrate this month with their ensemble members in a variety of ways.
Teach about the contributions of African Americans across different genres of music
African Americans have contributed to music since its inception! There have been African American composers of classical music, of jazz, rock, contemporary, rap, blues, R&B, soul, gospel, and more. Directors can assign different genres or artists to ensemble members and have them do a report or play a piece by them.
Perform music by African American artists
What better way to appreciate an artist than to learn and perform their music? Directors can design a program of music written by African American composers and ask ensemble members for suggestions/their favorite African American musicians, composers, or performers. Your musicians may notice common threads even amongst different eras and styles of music.
Shine a spotlight on African American music history
Directors and musicians can create a historical timeline of different genres of African American music. From the Harlem Renaissance to the current rappers of today, African Americans have always been involved in music, and the time periods are just as important as the people! Each era has a definitive style.
Create a listening library
There’s nothing better than discovering new music and putting together a playlist to share with others. Provide time and resources for ensemble members to create diverse lists of songs, dances, and other art forms created and inspired by African Americans. The wide variety of styles, sounds, and movements may surprise them.
Form a literal library
Everyone has a story, and musicians are no exception. In fact, the lives and stories of many African American musicians as well as books about various times and genres in African American music have been created. Check out these lists of books:
- ‘18 Books to Celebrate Black Music Month’
- ’15 Great Children’s Books About African-American Musicians and Dancers’
- ’19 Books for African American Music Appreciation Month’
- ‘Popular African American Music Books’
Directors can create a project for ensemble members, assigning or allowing them to choose a book about African American music or a biography of an African American musician. Learning about the lives that individual African American musicians lived and how their experiences shaped their music, sound, and message can lead to a greater understanding of social issues and hardships faced by African American musicians in the past and today, as well as the innovative music created that has forever shaped our cultural landscape.
There are a multitude of ways that directors and ensemble members can come together to acknowledge and honor this month-long celebration of the contribution of African American musicians, composers, and artists! And this list is by no means exhaustive. Both directors and ensemble members should feel free to brainstorm the way(s) they can engage with and celebrate African American Music Appreciation Month!
This blog post is part of a series linked to our Music Celebrations Around the World calendar. Download the calendar for access to information about musical celebrations and holidays with strong musical components to share in your music classroom or with your ensemble members!
Thumbnail image credit: Herbert Behrens / Anefo (Nationaal Archief) [CC BY-SA 3.0], via Wikimedia Commons