Since President Jimmy Carter's1979 declaration of June as Black Music Month, fans
have applauded recognition for artists who made undisputable impressions on the music
Writers, producers, singers, musicians and a host of other people working behind the
scenes held a magnitude of talent that characterized generations. The airwaves marked
the starting point for their unique blend of melodies and harmonies. Our memory banks
were the final destinations, bookmarking thousands of images and sounds from our favorite
From the speckled, feathered, pinstriped and skin-tight costumes of some singers to
the dazzling evening gowns of female groups, the performers influenced the nation's
fashion and social trends. Their progress was at times blemished by politics, war
and social upheaval. As technology advanced video productions, fans lost less time
waiting to see these trend setters. With the signing of a congressional bill in 2000
slating June as Black Music Month, fans could finally claim this date as a national
observance. For many, June is only the beginning of a series of summer picnics and
family gatherings where adults can share this history with youths.
Tracking stars' rise to fame has been an interesting task for historians, scholars,
movie makers and everyday fans. According to ECSU music professor Roosevelt Newson,
their contributions to the American music scene are undeniable. Newson has over 25
years of experience as an administrator and over 20 years as a concert pianist. Two
of his most recent lecture series at ECSU were "The Invention of the Negro and the
Evolution of His Music" and "The Era of Ragtime."
"America's music is, indeed, unique. It is a language different from that of any
other nation, ethnic group, and/or race. It has drawn musical elements from diverse
cultures, but has maintained a distinct and quite identifiable sound," Newson said.
"The contributions of African slaves must be noted to the creation of America's unique
sound. It is a sound and attitude that evolved over a period of 150 years and gave
life to what is now known as American music."
Newson argues that that Black performers/composers walked an ever winding trail that
allowed them to express a slew of emotions in the form of Negro spirituals, blues,
jazz, gospel, ragtime and Dixieland. Some like Mahalia Jackson, Albertina Walker,
and John P. Kee were uniquely linked to the faith community. Ray Charles, Nat King
Cole, George Duke among others were fortunate enough to form fan bases in two or more
musical genres. George Benson's ambition and talent earned him chart topping awards
that recognized his skills as a composer/ musician and singer.
The dual skills of some artists propelled them to careers that spanned decades. Lionel
Richie, Barry White, Ashford and Simpson, Oleta Adams, Stevie Wonder, Smokey Robinson
and Babyface had skills that allowed them to excel as singers, musicians, composers
and or producers. Those talented enough to write award-winning songs for themselves
and for other recording artists collected caseloads of awards. In addition, it brought
recognition by some of the most powerful organizations/associations in the American
Whether the music of African American artists stirs personal memories from concerts
or televised awards shows, take time to celebrate the tunes of our lives. For a more
thorough evaluation of this historical rise of performing artists, enroll in "African
Americans in Music," a course offered in the ECSU Department of Visual and Performing
Arts. While the course includes students majoring in music and those participating
in the department's ensembles and bands, anyone is welcome to enroll.