June is Black Music Appreciation Month and it is a time to reflect on and celebrate the contributions made by Black musicians. While former President Jimmy Carter is credited for introducing Black Music Month in 1979, (President Biden signed a recent proclamation recognizing June as Black Music Appreciation Month) what many people may not know is that it was co-created by veteran radio and TV personality Dyana Williams, Kenny Gamble from the legendary songwriting and production duo Gamble & Huff and DJ Ed Wright.
All three were involved in the Black Music Association and launched a campaign called “Black Music is Green” which is where Black Music Month sprouted from. Dyana opened up about that monumental time for Tidal.
“The Black Music Association petitioned President Jimmy Carter to host a reception at the White House acknowledging the contributions of the Black music business,” she said. “That took place on June 7, 1979, on the South Lawn of the White House, where Gamble and I sat with President Carter and his wife, Rosalynn. Dexter Wansel was the musical director, with MFSB providing the music for Sara Jordan Powell, Billy Eckstine, Evelyn “Champagne” King, Andraé Crouch, and Chuck Berry. That was the first official Black Music Month celebration at the White House.”
Black music has come a long way since the 1970s. While Black artists have continued to be innovators in music, their accomplishments are often overlooked especially if it doesn’t fit a specific genre. However, there are Black artists who refuse to be boxed in and are using their music as a form of expression, individualism, freedom, and resistance in spaces that have historically been reserved for non-Blacks.
From country star Mickey Guyton to electric pop singer Dawn, these artists are pushing the boundaries on how Black music is represented and doing a damn good job.
Mickey Guyton has made a name for herself as one of the few Black artists in country music and with that comes some hardships. With the country music industry being historically white, the “Lay It On Me” singer has faced racism from the genre’s fans and has even addressed it such as the time she responded to someone saying they didn’t want her kind in country music.
“Started off 2022 with a good ole batch of racism. I show you this so you guys continue the fight for equality and love and acceptance,” she wrote.
However, the mother of one hasn’t let racism and discrimination rain on her parade. Her single “Black Like Me” which came out during the wake of George Floyd’s death earned Mickey a Grammy nomination in 2020 which made her the first Black female solo artist to receive a nod for a country category. She was also the first Black country artist to perform at the prestigious award show.
Most people may be familiar with Dawn Richard from the groups Danity Kane and Dirty Money but since the singer went solo, she has been making music on her own terms. The “Frequency” artist has been making waves in the electronic music space as one of the few Black artists in the genre. In an interview with Kyle Meredith, Dawn opened up about how her skin color initially kept her in a box.
“As a solo artist when I did my albums, they kept calling me alternative R&B as a Black girl because I kept doing music that wasn’t traditionally R&B,” she said. “But because of the skin color that I had, I couldn’t get out of that genre. They put experimental R&B; they had to put that next to it. And what I found was though I didn’t care what I looked like, I wanted to do the music that I did, my color was limiting me and society was limiting me for that. So my entire trajectory has been to choose to say no. We belong here.”
She also shed light on the history of electronic and dance music and how it derived from Black culture although now it is mostly white men in that space. The New Orleans beauty has released six solo albums so far with her last project titled Second Line being a nod to her New Orleans roots.
The Nova Twins are taking over the punk rock scene in the UK and eventually the world. The duo, which is composed of Amy Love and Georgia South, come from multicultural backgrounds that influence their music. Amy is half Iranian and half Nigerian, and Georgia is half Jamaican and English and they have made it their mission to change the way Black women are viewed through their music.
The “Antagonist” artists spoke with NME about speaking up in spaces where they typically aren’t celebrated. “Being black women doing punk music is political, so yes. ‘Devil’s Face’ touches on Brexit, ‘Bullet’ speaks about sexism, but ‘Athena’ is completely fictional and mythological,” Amy said. “We called it ‘Who Are The Girls?’ because we didn’t always feel heard or accepted making the type of music we do, looking the way that we do. It’s definitely challenging and there is a stigma attached to it.”
The group is gearing up to release their second studio album Supernova in June 2022.
Willow Smith’s music trajectory has been an interesting one that finally saw the 21-year-old find her voice. She released “Whip My Hair” at just nine-years-old and it became an instant hit. However, the success became too demanding for the daughter of Will Smith and Jada Pinkett Smith which caused her to rebel and step away from music at that time. As she got older, she began following in her mother’s footsteps and found herself creating punk music. The “emo girl” singer released her pop-punk album lately I feel EVERYTHING in 2021.
In an interview with NPR, Willow explained why Black artists should enter other genres and be empowered by that decision. “Black youth get taught that we belong in R&B and rap spaces, and we don't do the research,” she said. “We're not given the truth. There's no way that we would be able to follow that example, because we don't even know it exists.”
“I want to tell all the Black and brown, young girls that they can scream, they can growl, they can cut their hair, scoop it to the side, dye it. They can do whatever they want. They can make any kind of music and do it better than anyone they've seen. I want to give girls like me that confidence and that feeling of power and beauty. That's the only reason why I do anything.”
Let’s make things inbox official! Sign up for the xoNecole newsletter for daily love, wellness, career, and exclusive content delivered straight to your inbox.
Featured image by Jason Kempin/Getty Images for CMT