Black History Month - Part II
February 8, 2011
One Vision ... Many Struggles
This week we continue with our month-long celebration for Black History Month. It is a month in which we hope to continue the celebration of African-American history, virtue and music.
One thing that is becoming apparent lately is how black musical history continues to be made. We continue to be impressed with how hip-hop and R&B are changing trends, which are starting to tear away a lot of the barriers used to categorize our music.
This time we want to take a brief look at some of those trends and the reasons they are changing. To better understand today's audiences, we need to remember that we're the only group in history raised during an era of continuous technological and social change. We never really got a chance to catch our breath, so we became a generation that figured the only way to get through this entire quagmire was to continue to experiment, to try new things, to find new music. The reason behind all this is if we don't try new ways of doing things, we're going to get stale and stall.
Today, in 2011, Urban music and radio are still experimenting, still looking for that newest thing. Urban music in all its forms is enjoying a popularity surge. It's probably at the peak of visibility, enjoying an unprecedented presence not just in radio airplay and sales, but also in movies and commercials. It continues to overshadow other popular music forms.
As we go forward, America must continue to allow all the music in. This includes the blues that spawned R&B, jazz, gospel and all the other forms which we now see imploding, including neo-soul and smooth jazz.
Listening On The Down Low
Despite the growth and influence of our music, the facts show that demographics are aging and changing; we're probably still not getting enough 25-39-year-olds to reinvigorate the format. Research shows that close to 18% of today's Urban radio listeners may be listening â€œon the down lowâ€ or have become "closet Urban listeners." They simply will not admit they listen to our music or our radio stations.
Itâ€™s much like what Arbitron said was the basis for "phantom cume." Phantom cume is the difference between real listening and reported listening. Phantom cume has been eliminated with Arbitronâ€™s PPM. Except for those markets still measured by the diary, it still exists.
Why is this closet listening still going on? For some it's because they want to present an image that they've outgrown the music their children or younger brothers and sisters listen to. To get them back, we've got to make them proud of our music and its history. Then, when they finally realize our music and stations are happening, and it's what most of their friends listen to, they'll be less reluctant to say they listen. We'll get them back.
But wait, maybe it isn't just that black music is happening; perhaps some folks just got tired of some of the mindless meandering that was going down in Pop, Rock and Country. Maybe it was the experimentation and substitution that attracted them to black music.
Many will say that Urban music is in a cycle, but the situation isn't really cyclical. It's spiral. You've got a high experimental demographic with new listeners willing to give it a try. The musical movement is one ultimately driven by optimism.
Historical Movement Outside The Music
There's another non-musical movement surfacing. This one is a demand for America to rise up and defeat the twin evils of bigotry and segregation. However, it is also a demand fueled by faith in God and a devotion to the principles of equality and liberty upon which this nation was founded. It is a demand made with the certainty that America will honor its promise and live up to the "true meaning of her creed."
Stripping away all of the pre-analysis, post-analysis, overlong speeches filled with applause lines, empty promises, disinterested Congressmen and perfunctory nods in the direction of bipartisanship that have come to symbolize so much of our annual state, the vision recently offered by President Barack Obama was one filled with similar symbols in America's founding principles -- belief in American strength and demand for American leadership.
We are indeed living in historic times. Our nation is in a time of testing. We are engaged in a very real battle of blood and ideology with an enemy that embraces a different culture. Islamic fascists are intent on imposing a totalitarian government on the people of Egypt, the Middle East and the rest of the world and determined to bring weapons of mass murder to bear on the people of America in order to achieve their ends.
We are engaged in an economic contest with China and India that demands we improve the education of our children and train American workers for the technology jobs that will drive the world economy. Domestically, we are challenged with balancing entitlement spending with our commitment to the poor and elderly, expanding opportunities for ownership to all citizens while nurturing the American entrepreneurial spirit. Ultimately our success hinges on national unity, resolve and, most of all, American leadership.
Socioeconomic factors put African-Americans at greater risk for failure, but weâ€™re gaining some ground. Statistics show that, in spite of the poor economy, African-Americans have made some progress on many fronts: in education, health and government. But they also indicate that blacks still lag behind white Americans in other important ways.
I am certain that many who have committed their lives to the uplift of all people came to "a point of choosing." There is little doubt that in quiet moments they asked themselves, "Should I go on?" And "Can I lay this burden down?" As we are constantly reminded, we must march forward because we have been called to leadership in a time of consequence.
The consequences will shape our thinking and the era through which we are passing. It will remain special. It will continue to be special because of our music and our history. And they will both be special because since early slave times, we have learned that music combined with faith and determination, dignity and grace can help us to shape history instead of being shaped by it.