Originally coined Black Music Month, the commemoration was conceived by black music moguls Kenny Gamble, Dyana Williams and Ed Wright in the 1970s and initiated by President Jimmy Carter on June 7, 1979. The holiday was later renamed African American Music Appreciation Month by President Barack Obama in 2009.
This month, we celebrate African American musicians, their songs and their lasting cultural and historical impacts. Join the Robinson-Spangler Carolina Room as we celebrate this month – our music archive is a treasure trove of music produced by notable African American artists from North Carolina.
Music created by African Americans has played a significant role in the Long Civil Rights Movement, serving as the rallying cries of protests and the beat to which activists march. Songs used during the Civil Rights Movement in the 1960s were often pre-existing songs that were modified to reflect the aims of the movement, such as We Shall Overcome and This Little Light of Mine, but there were also many new songs written specifically as protest songs, such as You’d Better Leave Segregation Alone and Dog, Dog by James Bevel and Bernard Lafayette. Some of the most popular tunes were captured in Sing for Freedom: The Story of the Civil Rights Movement Through its Songs, compiled by Guy Carawan in 1990. In addition to providing the lyrics and sheet music for songs used in the Civil Rights Movement, Carawan provides historical context, including events in North Carolina and the city of Charlotte, and includes interviews from the movement’s participants detailing the significance of music to their activities.
Charlotte has been home to notable rappers, jazz musicians and R&B artists. Some of these Charlotteans include Fantasia, Arsena Schroeder, DaBaby, Deniro Farrar, K-Ci & Jojo, Bettie Grind, Ruga, Anthony Hamilton, Elevator Jay, Lute, Harvey Cummings, Jason Jet, D’Yenna Dukes and Jodeci.
The city has celebrated the month in several ways – the Harvey B. Gantt Center has held free events in honor of the month, and Charlotte radio station Power 98 FM has dedicated the month of June to honoring African American musicians. The #BeONE Music Experience was also created to observe African American Music Appreciation Month in the Charlotte, bringing together live music, comedians, food and black culture in several celebrations throughout the city during the month of June.
The Robinson-Spangler Carolina Room’s music archive features a multitude of albums produced by black North Carolinian artists of all genres such as John Coltrane, the Badgett Sisters, Clyde McPhatter, the Jordan River Boys and many others. Also available are albums featuring various artists, such as Big Mamas: Independent Women’s Blues (Ida Cox, Billie Holiday, Martha Copeland) and A Cappella Gospel Singing (Georgia Peach, Dixie Hummingbirds, The Spirit of Memphis Quartet).
Want to listen to hits by prominent black artists? Check out this compilation of playlists from Freegal:
Charlotte’s Southland Jubilee Singers, performing for WSOC Radio in the 1940s. Photo donated by Virginia E. Keogh to the Robinson-Spangler Carolina Room of the Charlotte Mecklenburg Library.
A live performance in Charlotte’s Excelsior Club, broadcast on WGIV radio in the mid-1940s. Photo donated by Carolyn Wyche to the Robinson-Spangler Carolina Room of the Charlotte Mecklenburg Library.