June is known for cook-outs, weddings, and… Black Music Month! Be honest, did you know that? Many people don’t know that June is dedicated to honoring African Americans’ contributions to this country’s musical history and culture. You also may not be aware of the long struggle that took place in order to get formal recognition of musical heritage through the U.S. Government. Three music industry executives, Kenny Gamble, Ed Wright, and Dyana Williams, began lobbying for a formal celebration of black music in 1979. In response, President Jimmy Carter hosted a White House reception to commemorate the efforts of black artists throughout America’s history. While there were annual celebrations hosted throughout the country—even at the White House—for decades, there would not be official recognition of the monthly theme until US-Representative Chaka Fattah sponsored House Resolution 509 in year 2000. In 2011, President Barack Obama proclaimed:
“The music of our Nation has always spoken to the condition of our people and reflected the diversity of our Union. African-American musicians, composers, singers, and songwriters have made enormous contributions to our culture by capturing the hardships and aspirations of a community and reminding us of our shared values. During African-American Music Appreciation Month, we honor the rich musical traditions of African-American musicians and their gifts to our country and our world.”
From a biblical standpoint, some may wonder why a secular holiday is so important to Christianity. In America, “black music” is rooted in gospel and spiritual tradition. President Obama further asserts:
“From the cadenced hums of spirituals to the melodies of rhythm and blues, African-American music has been used to communicate, to challenge, to praise, and to uplift in times of both despair and triumph. The rhythmic chords embedded in spirituals have long expressed a deep faith in the power of prayer, and brought hope to slaves toiling in fields. The soulfulness of jazz and storytelling in the blues inspired a cultural renaissance, while the potent words of gospel gave strength to a generation that rose above the din of hatred to move our country toward justice and equality for all.”
Gospel music has stirred the soul of listeners, spurring much-needed reflection and unification, through this country’s history. Intended for communicating a a divine message to seemingly abject slaves, gospel music provided freedom to those who had none. It convinced the hopeless that there would be better days. And, Today, it continues to provide solace —which may not be so easily found in other Christian genres—for all people.
For Christians, specifically, God expects us to sing his praises. Throughout the bible, there are hundreds of scriptures even full chapters dedicated to the importance of singing the exaltation of God. Psalm 100:1-2 states, 1 Make a joyful noise to the Lord, all the earth! 2 Serve the Lord with gladness! Come into his presence with singing! Spiritual principle compels Christians to spread the good news of God’s grace and mercy, joyfully. In I Corinthian 14, Paul is explaining the importance of true worship to the congregation in Corinth, a church which was plagued by sin and inequity. His letter states, 15 So what shall I do? I will pray with my spirit, but I will also pray with my understanding; I will sing with my spirit, but I will also sing with my understanding. Singing to the Lord is just as important as praying to him and requires equal conviction.
Similar to our world today, the city-state of Corinth was a bustling metropolis filled with people of all different backgrounds and belief systems. Paul makes it clear to Christians that it order to spread God’s word and combat negative influences they must confront secular society with unwavering faith, joyfully proclaiming the true word of God, untainted by colloquial interpretations. Celebrating black music is an opportunity for Christian believers to exalt the highest praises to our Lord and remind the world how the gospel genre remains one of this nation’s most influential styles of music.
“Sing to the Lord a new song; sing to the Lord, all the earth. Sing to the Lord, praise his name; proclaim his salvation day after day. Declare his glory among the nations, his marvelous deeds among all peoples” (Psalm 96: 1-3).