Black Music Month Is Worth The Effort
June 2, 2015
As the years pass, some things become tradition and it is human nature to overlook the reason for it in the first place. I want to make sure this does not happen with Black Music Month.
Yes, it is sort like Black History Month, but it specifically targets the contributions of African-Americans to the culture of all things musically related -- artists, the record industry, and Black radio. There is always some confusion of how Black Music Month began; hopefully this column will shed some light on the subject.
The Black Music Month Creation Story
In 1979 the Black Music Night at the White House gave birth to a Black Music Month celebrated each June. The guest listed that night included Little Richard, Chuck Berry, Andre Couch, Evelyn Champaign King and Billy Eckstine. The BMA selected June as the month to celebrate the economic and cultural power of Black music. President Carter gave it his stamp of approval with that first night of celebration at the White House. The names credited for the creation of Black Music Month include Kenny Gamble, Ed Wright and Dyana Williams.
So What Happened?
Over the years, the independent record stores went out of business and along with them the model for celebrating and selling the music for Black Music Month in June. Therefore the record companies' financial support has lessened, to a huge extent because the companies have had to restructure their own marketing plans to keep up with society's changing ways of getting music. After all these years, the only things left for Black Music Month are a few syndicated radio programs; a few cable TV specials, and some well-produced NPR programs.
The growth of digital and online delivery of music, portable and wireless devices capable of delivering media on demand in any location has spread Black music around the world. African-American music is an art worthy of study and appreciation alongside any other tradition. I know there are many who wonder about the culture and history of Black music which has become lost in commercial radio.
It has never been the job of the record companies or commercial radio to be the cultural time capsule of Black music; it includes Jazz, Blues and Reggae. The purpose of any commercial radio format is to bring in advertising dollars. As time has marched on, some music such as Blues and Jazz has fallen by the wayside because it is no longer a way to bring in considerable ad dollars. Please do not romanticize an idea that record companies and Black-formatted radio stations have ever had the intention of expanding the minds of the listeners. The end result of enrichment over the years has been a welcomed side effect to the original intentions of profiting. It is called the music and radio business!
The Evolution of Black Music
It has always made me laugh when I hear people ask what has happened to Black Music. I recently overheard one gentleman refer to today's Hip-Hop as "D**ks and Diamonds." In reality music is in a constant state of change. In fact during its day, many Blues, Jazz, and Soul artists were considered controversial. The same thing was said, "What's happening to music?"
I am always impressed with music producers and artists with an appreciation of the past musical genius of so many. Those are the people who study the past to bring their craft forward. Mick Jagger has never been shy about is love for the Blues and how many artists from BB King to Muddy Waters influenced the Rolling Stones.
Once thought to be primarily an African-American genre, Black music has emerged as a powerful brand that reaches across traditional ethnic and economic backgrounds. It's both urban and suburban. It cuts across a rich cultural spectrum, encompassing African-Americans, Whites, Hispanics and Asians. Black music even crosses international borders, finding a global audience which may not even speak English. Our music has become a global language in an increasingly multicultural world. Black music is less defined by race but by a shared lifestyle that transcends, race, age and gender. Urban music is what I call mainstream green. Even when Black Music is relegated to one particular format, it is already mainstreamed to the followers of social media.
Black music, including Hip-Hop, has inspired an entire youth and the 40-something group to embrace its language, fashion and lifestyle. Hence, today's clothing, sneakers, electronics and entertainment have all been heavily influenced by it.
It has been estimated the "urban mindset" market represents over 100 million consumers. Those numbers reflect consumers who grew up with Black music, gained additional economic clout and have entered the workforce.
Black music has gained a mainstream appeal that reinforces its ability to sell all sorts of products ranging from automobiles to snacks to movies and smart phones. Its use is a sure-fire method to connect with young and middle aged consumers. Take a look at the use of Black music in TV advertising.
Black Music Month is not supported the same way it once was by the music industry, but regardless it has become a way to keep the spotlight on the on-going significance of Black music in America and the world.
Regardless of its intended purpose, Black Music Month is still an excellent way of paying tribute to all the entertainers and musicians of past and present. Maybe there is a way to get the millennial generation to find a new way to pour dollars into the art form and continue the growth and message of Black Music Month.