This is my least favorite time of the year. That said, I love Christmas music, particularly Christmas blues. Before I wallow in the blues, I want to share one of my favorite gospel albums, “Handel’s Messiah: A Soulful Celebration.”
The Ferguson grand jury is still deliberating on whether to charge Police Officer Darren Wilson in shooting death of Michael Brown or send him on his merry way.
When the verdict is announced, groups will hit the street with all deliberate speed. The Ferguson National Response Network is curating after-the-verdict events nationwide. The FBI, National Guard and police departments across the country are getting ready. So are social justice activists.
It’s no secret that I love music. So I celebrate black music every month. However, the official designation of June as Black Music Month came about through the efforts of Grammy award-winning songwriter and producer -- and Rock and Roll Hall of Fame inductee -- Kenny Gamble.
In a 2013 interview, Mr. Gamble told The Root about the catalyst for the celebration:
The Black Music Association was a trade association at the time, and it was an educational forum for young producers and writers -- African Americans in particular -- where they could discuss the benefits of the music industry. History says that most African Americans in the industry were robbed of their songs and their property. The Black Music Association spoke to the marketing of black music. The whole theme was “Black Music Is Green,” and it dealt with the economics of African-American music. It was very helpful not only to us but also the industry at large.
Then the Black Music Association created Black Music Month, which was another original, because October was Country Music Month. What happens when you have a music month? You get additional marketing dollars, and it helps to market and promote the artists.
There was a guy named Clarence Avant who was pretty close to Democratic politicians like [President Jimmy] Carter. The administration had a country music night at the White House, so I called and asked, “Hey, Clarence, can you get us a black music night at the White House?” Thank God he was successful, and it was a beautiful night on the White House lawn.
Chuck Berry was there, so he did “Lucille,” playing his guitar. Little Richard was there, and Evelyn “Champagne” King was a young artist then, so she sang her first or second record. Billy Eckstine, who’s a legend, he sang, too. The whole atmosphere of the evening reflected an idea whose time had come, and it was good to see the whole music industry there and celebrating this original American music. When you talk about jazz, the blues and rhythm and blues, this is what America produced, and it has influenced many other types of music.
Our country is home to a proud legacy of African-American musicians whose songs transcend genre. They make us move, make us think, and make us feel the full range of emotion -- from the pain of isolation to the power of human connection. During African-American Music Appreciation Month, we celebrate artists whose works both tell and shape our Nation’s story.
For centuries, African-American music has lifted the voices of those whose poetry is born from struggle. As generations of slaves toiled in the most brutal of conditions, they joined their voices in faithful chords that both captured the depths of their sorrow and wove visions of a brighter day. At a time when dance floors were divided, rhythm and blues and rock and roll helped bring us together. And as activists marched for their civil rights, they faced hatred with song. Theirs was a movement with a soundtrack -- spirituals that fed their souls and protest songs that sharpened their desire to right the great wrongs of their time.
The influence of African-American artists resounds each day through symphony halls, church sanctuaries, music studios, and vast arenas. It fills us with inspiration and calls us to action. This month, as we honor the history of African-American music, let it continue to give us hope and carry us forward -- as one people and one Nation.
NOW, THEREFORE, I, BARACK OBAMA, President of the United States of America, by virtue of the authority vested in me by the Constitution and the laws of the United States, do hereby proclaim June 2014 as African-American Music Appreciation Month. I call upon public officials, educators, and all the people of the United States to observe this month with appropriate activities and programs that raise awareness and foster appreciation of music that is composed, arranged, or performed by African Americans.
For more information on the origins of Black Music Month, check out Dyana Williams.
Today, Michelle and I join millions around the world in remembering one of the brightest lights of our time – a brilliant writer, a fierce friend, and a truly phenomenal woman. Over the course of her remarkable life, Maya was many things – an author, poet, civil rights activist, playwright, actress, director, composer, singer and dancer. But above all, she was a storyteller – and her greatest stories were true. A childhood of suffering and abuse actually drove her to stop speaking – but the voice she found helped generations of Americans find their rainbow amidst the clouds, and inspired the rest of us to be our best selves. In fact, she inspired my own mother to name my sister Maya.
Like so many others, Michelle and I will always cherish the time we were privileged to spend with Maya. With a kind word and a strong embrace, she had the ability to remind us that we are all God’s children; that we all have something to offer. And while Maya’s day may be done, we take comfort in knowing that her song will continue, “flung up to heaven” – and we celebrate the dawn that Maya Angelou helped bring.
Dr. Angelou’s legacy and light will live on in the men and women who were inspired, motivated and comforted by her words – and voice.