The power and force of Black Music Month

(NNPA)—Music has been an important piece of my life. As a political activist I have used music to motivate myself and inspire others. I have seen the power of the lyrics move people to great heights. Melodies backed by instruments have been a source of continuous encouragement and a vehicle which crystallizes ideas. Apart from humming to myself to a favorite tune or tapping on desk to a wonderful melody, music has also given me food for thought. This is why I join people all over the country in celebration of June as African American Music Appreciation Month a.k.a. Black Music Month.


Music has inspired African-Americans for centuries. From the daily drums on the African continent to James Brown shouting, “Say it loud, I’m Black and I’m proud.” Over 30 years ago Stevie Wonder emphasized to us what was in our hearts that songs are “in the key of life.” His masterpiece album gave us a history lesson, inspired us to treat each other with love and challenged us to liberate our minds.

Wonder commences his musical journey by stating that “Love’s In Need of Love Today.” Although this was in 1976 he could be talking about today as we deal various forms of intolerance: from racist immigration policies to worldwide policies that discriminate against people based on their sexual orientation. The song “Black Man” is a history lesson of the contributions of various peoples that make up the United States. Wonder recounts the contributions of people such as Crispus Attucks, Benjamin Banneker, Caesar Chavez and Thomas Edison. Stevie Wonder challenges us as he says in “Pastime Paradise:”

Let’s start living our lives

Living for the future paradise

Praise to our lives? Living for the future paradise

Shame to anyone’s lives

Living in a pastime paradise

African-American musicians have consistently used music to challenge us to confront the truth. This was clearly evident in Billie Holiday’s rendition of “Strange Fruit,” with vivid lyrics and pain in her voice she laments the horrors of lynching without using the word but you knew all too well she means:

Southern trees bear strange fruit,

Blood on the leaves and blood at the root,

Black body swinging in the Southern breeze,

Strange fruit hanging from the poplar trees.

Pastoral scene of the gallant South,

The bulging eyes and the twisted mouth,

Scent of magnolia sweet and fresh,

Then the sudden smell of burning flesh!

Here is fruit for the crows to pluck,

For the rain to gather, for the wind to suck,

For the sun to rot, for the trees to drop,

Here is a strange and bitter crop.

The heritage of challenging the status quo is conveyed in Marvin Gaye’s “What’s Going On.” At the height of the Vietnam War Gaye eloquently provides us a peace song as he says:

Mother, mother

There’s too many of you crying

Brother, brother, brother

There’s far too many of you dying.

You know we’ve got to find a way

To bring some lovin’ here today—ya

Father, father, father we don’t to escalate

You see war is not the answer

Music played an important educational and mobilizing tool to support the liberation movement in South Africa. During the movement against apartheid in his song “Johannesburg,” Gil Scott-Heron asked us:

What’s the word?

Tell me brother, have you heard from Johannesburg?

What’s the word? Sister/woman have you heard from Johannesburg?

They tell me that our brothers over there are defyin’ the Man

We don’t know for sure because the news we get is unreliable, man

Well I hate it when the blood starts flowin’

but I’m glad to see resistance growin’

Somebody tell me what’s the word?

Tell me brother, have you heard from Johannesburg?

As we celebrate African American Music Month let’s embrace the total power of this cultural instrument. Through music we are taught history and challenged to make a better world.

(Nicole C. Lee is president of TransAfrica Forum.)


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