Shining The Spotlight On African-American Music Appreciation Month

Elly Zulaikha
June 17, 2020
3 minutes

With the recent murder of George Floyd at the hands of white policemen, we can't help but reflect on the current situation the music industry knows all too well; systemic racism. We're here to give you a quick summary and comparison to modern-day music in conjunction with the African-American Music Appreciation Month.

*This article briefly reflects on the history of American music, especially concerning black culture music, and any political points come purely from historical standpoints. 

In the music world where arts are celebrated and transcends into many generations, we should start talking about how a majority of music that we know today, has been riding on black culture for far too long without properly acknowledging or giving credits to. 

Indeed, the fight in whether "white" or "black" people have been making musical and cultural breakthroughs is a tale as old as time. 

History of black music in America

Image via vibe

The Black Music Month that began back in 1979 existed not only to celebrate black music's contributions but as part of a bigger effort to mobilize the black economic power as well as amplifying their voices in America.

Going back to the 60s and the 70s, black music— blues, jazz, rock, country, and pop— thrived due to its relevance in a time when social and political unrest were running high. During this period, we've seen the unique sounds and styles pioneered by black musicians, which were then appropriated by their white counterparts, and then the latter ended up making more money. 

The black music community was nothing short of talents, but the major labels had no idea how to amp up the music market. It wasn't until Harvard Business School's report in May 1972, commissioned by Columbia Records' President Clive Davis, that Columbia received outlined steps to catch up in the market share.

Soon, a black music department was created and the black joint venture model was established. After Columbia started the move, other major labels followed; bringing black acts under their umbrella. To further appeal to advertisers and non-black consumers, black music was termed as "urban". But the newly created system had so many challenges. 

Black artists that were "too black" weren't getting airplay, quantity shortages occurred as a result of tough competition from bigger retailers as opposed to local pop retailers that are mostly small. Additionally, smaller black musicians couldn't get larger venues and tours, whereas bigger and successful ones were signed in to established (white) agencies. 

Black music was so profitable and yet, they weren't the ones controlling it. 

Eventually, in the mid-80s, the Black Music Association (BMA) dissolved due to leadership splits. Radio felt like their needs weren't properly prioritized and as the organization's direction was all over the place, BMA met its demise. Thus, even today, black music fell back to square one. 

Check out the evolution of black music further right here

A matter of appropriation

Image via npr

It is saddening to see the advances of musical breakthroughs made by black musicians were often overlooked and instead glorified when white musicians appropriate it. Black music and culture continued and suffered, the negative stereotypes like gang rivalry or "the hood", drugs and sex when it isn't like that. 

In fact, many of the famous pop stars conveniently followed the cultural appropriation formula. Yes, you've guessed it; by white artists. 

Richey Collazo, a Twitter user pointed out the trend of white pop stars who, at the start of their career, went through a "coming of age" phase, in which they started collaborating with black artists/producers and eventually incorporating black music aspects into theirs.

*Original tweets from Richey Collazo cannot be found, but here's an article that managed to post Collazo's tweets

Their coming-of-age phase was also their "bad girl/guy" phase, showing their audience into the journey of pushing boundaries in an "edgy" way. Conveniently, as each of these white artists garnered huge successes, they slowly steered away from the very collaborators and black music genre, portraying their new path on creating a "new" and "positive" image of their music. 

Since then, the cultural appropriation for black music has become rampant that we, as outside consumers of America, have grown blurry and have a lack of understanding/awareness of black music's contributions. 

Consider reading this other article about black music and cultural appropriation here

Here are some powerful songs that embody black empowerment for you to listen to:

Marvin Gaye, "What's Going On"

Donny Hathaway, "Someday We'll All Be Free"

Stevie Wonder, "Living for the City"

Prince, "Sign o' the Times"

Janet Jackson, "Rhythm Nation"

Beyoncé, "Freedom"

Kendrick Lamar, "Alright"