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US Celebrates Black Music Month

On June 1, President George W. Bush signed an official proclamation designating June as Black Music Month.

"I encourage all Americans to learn more about the history of black music and enjoy the great contributions of African-American musicians," he said.

Among those recognized in President Bush's proclamation are the cream of the crop from gospel, jazz and blues, including Louis Armstrong, Ella Fitzgerald, Billie Holiday, Robert Johnson and Ray Charles.

Ray Charles left a universal legacy that knew no musical boundaries. His words and music sprung from his deep spiritual roots in the black church. Others like blues singer Bessie Smith can trace their roots to inspirational music.

Various genres of American music are grounded in the work chants of African slaves. When slaves gained their freedom after the Civil War, black workers in the South migrated to America's growing urban centers: New Orleans, Memphis, St. Louis, Chicago and New York, cities noted for their rich jazz and blues history. Ragtime and "race" music helped pave the way for rhythm & blues, soul and eventually, rock & roll. The "Godfather of Soul" James Brown and the "Queen of Soul" Aretha Franklin are two of America's most beloved soul artists.

As Aretha Franklin, James Brown and Otis Redding reached millions with their raw soul, Motown Records founder Berry Gordy, Jr. produced a pop and dance inflected beat that swept the nation. Motown dominated the music scene with some of the century's top performers: Stevie Wonder, Smokey Robinson, The Supremes, Marvin Gaye and The Jackson Five.

The Motown sound gave way to disco in the 1970s, followed by hip-hop and rap music, two of today's most popular musical genres that also have roots in blues.

Black musicians have performed at the White House for years: The Fisk Jubilee Singers in 1882; Marian Andersen in 1939; Dizzy Gillespie in 1964; and in 2005, renowned gospel artists Smokee Norful, the Reverend Donnie McClurkin and Mary Mary.

During a Black Music Month reception in the East Room of the White House on June 6, President Bush urged everyone to honor the great contributions that black musicians have made to America and to the world. President Bush remarked, "The incredible talents of black musicians keep lifting their art, and lifting the souls of America."