Nearly every form of contemporary music in America can be traced to African slaves, who transplanted the rhythms and harmonies from their native land. Through the decades, Black music has evolved from its gospel and blues roots into jazz, rhythm & blues, rock, pop, soul, rap and hip-hop. As VOA's Bernie Bernard tells us, June has been designated as Black Music Month.
Bessie Smith was one of the greatest and most influential blues singers of the 1920s, and became a cultural symbol for African-Americans. She is one of the many pioneering artists being recognized during Black Music Month.
Last year, President Bush signed a formal proclamation declaring June as Black Music Month in the U.S. His statement acknowledges the "enduring legacy of African-American musicians, singers and composers" and has urged individuals and organizations to "appreciate and enjoy the fabulous achievements of this highly creative community." The work chants of African slaves became the basis for several genres of American music. As African-Americans embraced Christianity, their tribal music evolved into gospel. Gaining their freedom after the Civil War in the 1860s, Black workers in the South began a huge migration. Some went to New Orleans, which became a hotbed of early jazz, while others traveled up the Mississippi River to Memphis, Saint Louis and Chicago, cities noted for their rich jazz and blues history. Ragtime and "race" music helped pave the way for rhythm & blues, and eventually, rock & roll. The Civil Rights movement of the 1960s ushered in an era of "Black Pride," and music that became known as soul. The "Godfather of Soul," James Brown, often included social and political issues in his lyrics.
Artists such as Dizzy Gillespie, Charlie Parker and Miles Davis injected traditional jazz with a new sound called be-bop. In the 1960s, Berry Gordy, Jr. built an R&B empire in Detroit with his influential Motown Records label. Pop and R&B experienced a disco explosion in the 1970s, and saw the rise of rap and hip-hop in the 1980s and '90s. Kenny Gamble, producer, songwriter and founder of Philly International Records, came up with the idea for Black Music Month in 1978. Along with partner Leon Huff, Gamble was one of the architects of the "Philadelphia Sound" of the 1970s, exemplified by artists such as The O'Jays, The Intruders, MFSB, The Three Degrees, and Harold Melvin and The Blue Notes.
Through the efforts of music business legend Kenny Gamble and his Philadelphia Music Foundation, The Black Music Association has been established to honor, support, preserve and advance Black music on a global scale. During Black Music Month, many cities across the U.S. are hosting concerts and events that highlight everything from gospel to hip hop. Several websites, such as the Archives of African-American Music and Culture and The Blue Flame Café, offer interactive biographies and encyclopedia entries for influential African-American artists. Rap and hip hop artist Nas received the Heroes Award at Detroit's recent Hip Hop Summit meeting. His song, I Can, was honored for its uplifting content, and he was recognized for encouraging young African-American people to learn about their heritage and become better citizens.