Black Music Month 101: How It All Started

Back in 1979, President Jimmy Carter christened June as Black Music Month, an observance celebrating the long-standing musical contributions of African Americans, and alas, the month of appreciation has arrived. In case you weren't aware of its origins, iHeartRadio is celebrating the honorary marking with the backstory on how the 40-year-plus celebration came about.

Black Music Month was born off after hitmaking Philadelphia soul producer Kenny Gamble took to Nashville in the 1970s and saw the impact of the Country Music Association's Country Music Month every October. Inspired by the influence of the annual recognition, Gamble went back to Philly and banded with other Black music community leaders for one common goal: acknowledgment. With no organization existing, Gamble conceptualized the Black Music Association in 1978, recruiting supporters like Stevie Wonder, Motown Records founder Berry Gordy and Rev. Jesse Jackson. With the growing hype, Gamble, alongside media strategist Dyana Williams and radio DJ Ed Wright, pushed forward and birthed Black Music Month. And once the support came in, things took off quickly. In less than a year, more specifically on June 7, 1979, President Carter backed the movement, hosting the first-ever Black Music Month celebration on the White House lawn. Festivities included performances from the likes of Chuck Berry, Billy Eckstine and more.

Fast forward to 2000, President Bill Clinton hosted a reception at the White House and recognized Black Music Month in an official proclamation that year, with President Barack Obama renaming it African-American Music Appreciation Month during his first term in 2009. In his 2016 proclamation, Obama noted that African-American music and musicians have helped the country "to dance, to express our faith through song, to march against injustice, and to defend our country's enduring promise of freedom and opportunity for all." Even though the Black Music Association collapsed in the 1980s, Williams still currently runs Nashville’s National Museum of African American Music and is more than proud of helping recognize the importance of Black creators.

In 2019, President Donald Trump chimed in on the observance, writing, "Throughout American history, African American music has reflected our Nation's challenges and triumphs and has always enriched our Nation's culture. During African American Music Appreciation Month, we pay tribute to the talented and inspiring African American artists who have given sound and voice to the full range of human emotions through the blues, jazz, gospel, rock and roll, rap, hip hop, and other genres," a proclamation read.

In President Joe Biden's 2021 proclamation, which was released at the top of the month, he emphasized the way Black music has pioneered our landscape's culture. "Black music has always stood on its own — a beacon of resilience and resistance — while at the same time helping to shape countless other musical and cultural traditions. From the syncopated rhythms of jazz to the soulful expressions of R&B, Black music spans an extraordinarily broad spectrum of genres and styles," he wrote. "The distinct voices and instruments of Black artists have filled the halls of the Apollo Theater in New York City, Preservation Hall in New Orleans, the Fillmore in San Francisco, and other iconic venues throughout the United States and around the world, energizing audiences and inspiring millions. The music created and expressed by Black communities has paved the way for generations of musicians across all races, creeds, colors, religions, sexual orientations, and identities. The creativity and spirit of Black music is everywhere, and our Nation and the world are richer for it."

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