Nina. Richard. Ella. Whitney. Aretha. Luther. Marvin. Michael. Stevie. Patti. Prince. Mahalia. Choose a music genre and I can promise you with a little research I can point you to a legendary Black artist who influenced or revolutionized it. June is regarded as Black Music Month (I refuse to call it "African American Music Appreciation Month", sorry Pres. Obama) because of the irrefutable influence of Black music and its artists. We SHOULD spend the entire month honoring our artists past and present, but many cannot fathom why something like Black Music Month, or the BET Awards or a music program at an HBCU even exist. Allow me to educate you.
Let's start with a history lesson, shall we? Black Music Month started in 1979 when a group of people successfully convinced then-President Jimmy Carter to hold a celebration of Black music. Ever since then subsequent presidents and many groups have continued to celebrate the achievements of Black artists in music every June (this is the main reason why besides a slip up in 2012, the BET Awards have always been held in June). But why you may ask. What is so special about Black music? Why separate ourselves from the mainstream by honoring only Black music for a month? Isn't that segregation? Simple answer: we wouldn't have music without Black people, so they deserve props. Longer answer: long before the Trans-Atlantic Slave trade music and dance (more on that later) were a huge part of African culture. Music was emotional, spiritual, transformative, and passionate. During slavery, one of the most common ways for the enslaved people to let out their anguish was through song. It was also used to communicate messages through metaphor and lyricism, and this practice helped to create Gospel music. The joy and pain of freed Black people helped to create other forms of music (Jazz, Blues, etc.) and today we have all of our musical genres now mostly because of their roots with Black struggle, so we owe it to Black artists past and present to honor them for creating and/or continuing the tradition of Black music.
And that always starts the debates. No one in their right mind would argue that the above 12 artists aren't majorly important to music history, but when you start talking about the people who come after them everybody turns to a music elitist. Folks love to say that Black music now is all trash, and that today's artists can't hold a candle to the old ones mostly because they don't wanna admit they're getting old. As much as people don't wanna admit it, music back in the day wasn't all perfect, "conscious", and wholesome either. Go listen to "Too Close" and tell me music wasn't nasty back in the day. Or take it even further back and listen to "My Ding-A-Ling". The point here being that so many people discredit the music, performance, and appearances of today's artists, especially the Black ones, because they swear that the music industry is just so horrible now. Let's not forget that Prince wore ass-less chaps, Chaka Khan was EXTREMELY sexualized for her time, Mama Patti sang a song literally asking if people wanted to sleep with her, and just...everything about Little Richard. Yes, there are DEFINITELY some artists and songs today that aren't good. We can't discredit today's music as a whole because it doesn't fit whatever respectable standards we have set for what is music, because let's be honest, there is a reason why the Chitlin Circuit (Google it) existed back in the day, and it was because white folks thought our music as a whole was filthy and "not real music". So why in the world are we doing the same thing to Black artists today? It's fine to say that you don't like some artists (I personally don't care for Drake and Desiigner scares me), but to say that ALL of today's music is trash? Yea...your anti-blackness is showing.
I get so irritated when people discredit music of today, especially Black music, because in many ways it is doing exactly what we want, continuing the traditions that the legendary musicians have started or popularized. There are amazing performers, soul singers, and artists using their platforms for social change today, and we cannot let those artists fall by the wayside. No, they're not gonna be carbon copies of folks like Smokey Robinson and Gladys Knight, but in their own ways they are making sure that the legacy of Black musicianship continues. Constantly degrading Black artists does nothing but push people into searching other places for the music that we originated, and I hope none of you want that. (Especially after everybody's favorite singing white boy Justin Timberlake fucked up royally) Like with pretty much everything else, it does no good to complain or try to "destroy the bad" without giving constructive critique or "creating the good", so for all of you who hate today's music why don't you spend some of that time to support an indie artist's music or give some money to a school's music program.
Those last two are REALLY important. There are young people all over Youtube, Soundcloud, iTunes, and the like just looking to create music and put it out into the world. They have heard the Al Green's and the Erykah's AND the Nicki's and the Kanye's and want to add their own names to the lists of artists making revolutionary, empowering, artistic, and yes, even club and dance music. The legacy of older artists and current ones rests in the minds and talents of people growing up right now. We know how influential music is, how it is part of every political movement, and how artistry and creativity helps children, so it is doubly important to continue to support Black music. There must be music that reflects our various moods, from the political to partying, and music that continues to show us that the innovations that have always been present in Black music continue. So don't let your prejudices against music destroy centuries old traditions. There are artists on social media creating works of art, and artists who need our support to show them that like books and Black lives, Black music does matter.
Who are some of you favorite Black artists? Who do you think is carrying on the tradition of Black music today? Leave your questions, comments, and concerns below, and don't forget to like, share, and subscribe!