Benjamin Franklin famously said, “In this world, nothing is certain except death and taxes.” When I leave this world, I want to go to “Soul Heaven” where every month is Black Music Appreciation Month.
President Jimmy Carter designated June as Black Music Appreciation Month in 1979.
In a proclamation, President Joe Biden said:
For generations, Black music has conveyed the hopes and struggles of a resilient people — spirituals mourning the original sin of slavery and later heralding freedom from bondage, hard truths told through jazz and the sounds of Motown during the Civil Rights movement, and hip-hop and rhythm and blues that remind us of the work that still lies ahead. The music created by Black artists continues to influence musicians of all persuasions, entertain people of all backgrounds, and shape the story of our Nation.
As noted in the 1971 documentary “Black Music in America: From Then Till Now,” Black music is “one of the great artistic contributions to American culture. Black music in America began as the African drum beat and plantation song ignored and then suppressed by white culture.”
To explore the history of Black American music, check out the Black Music Project.
Originally called Decoration Day, Memorial Day was first observed on May 1, 1865 in Charleston, South Carolina. Thousands of African Americans, including the formerly enslaved, the 54th Massachusetts Infantry Regiment, and the 34th and 104th United States Colored Troops, were led by children as they gathered to honor 257 Union soldiers who were buried in a mass grave behind the grandstand of the city’s Washington Race Course.
The ancestors paid tribute to those who gave their lives by decorating their graves, hence Declaration Day.
The Cheeko Club opened on January 19, 1955 in a space formerly occupied by Philadelphia ShoBar. Billie Holiday was the headliner.
The Philadelphia Tribune reported:
Harry Cherry, owner of the Mermaid Bar on Germantown Ave., is presenting Billie Holiday, better known as “Lady Day” in the opening show.
“Lady Day,” who has long been a favorite in Philadelphia, has for years been top female vocalist in polls across the country.
She will share the bill with Jimmy Mosley, young, new, exciting mimic; Saxey Williams, versatile emcee; Faye Richmond; Carlos and his dancers; Vinnie Tano and his all-star orchestra.
Sam and Harry Kessler opened Parisian Tailoring Company on South Street, the-then heart of the Black community, in 1923. Better known as Parisian Tailors, the company made uniforms – sports jackets and slacks – for Black orchestras. Chief cutter Eddie Lieberman promoted musical acts on the side. Business was booming so as a way to give back to the Black community, Lieberman proposed a children’s radio show to compete with predominantly white The Horn and Hardart Children’s Hour.
The weekly radio show, Parisian Tailors’ Colored Kiddies of the Air, was broadcast from the stage of the Lincoln Theater. Colored Kiddies of the Air debuted on Sunday, March 27, 1932 on WPEN. The live broadcasts featured young Black musicians backed by all-star big bands.
Regular child performers included future jazz legends and National Endowment for the Arts Jazz Masters Percy Heath Jr. (bassist) and Joe Wilder (trumpeter). Wilder went on to become the first African American to play a principal chair in a Broadway pit orchestra. He also integrated broadcast radio and television network orchestras.
In Softly, With Feeling: Joe Wilder and the Breaking of Barriers in American Music, biographer Edgar Berger wrote:
The Colored Kiddies radio show emanated from the stage of the Lincoln Theatre, on Broad and Lombard Streets, Philadelphia’s main venue for leading black performers. Duke Ellington, Jimmie Lunceford, Louis Armstrong, Fletcher Henderson, and Fats Waller were just some of regular headliners at the Lincoln in the mid-1930s. What was most extraordinary about the radio show is that the children were backed by members of these legendary orchestras. Because of Pennsylvania’s blue laws, there could be no regular performances in clubs or theaters on Sunday. As Joe put it, “We could go out and shoot each other on Sunday, but we weren’t allowed to play jazz!” So as part of their contracts with the theater, the visiting bands were obligated to play behind the youngsters during the one-hour broadcasts on Sunday mornings. “We had the joy of having every name band—Duke Ellington, Cab Calloway, Fletcher Henderson, Earl Hines, Count Basie, the Mills Blue Rhythm Band— play for us on their day off,” Joe said. “They would improvise backgrounds for whatever we played, and they encouraged us. It was unbelievable!” Although the bandleaders themselves didn’t usually play, they did come to the rehearsals to make sure that their musicians fulfilled the terms of their contracts.
In November 2011, the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) designated April 30 as International Jazz Day “in order to highlight jazz and its diplomatic role of uniting people in all corners of the globe”:
International Jazz Day brings together communities, schools, artists, historians, academics and jazz enthusiasts all over the world to celebrate and learn about jazz and its roots, future and impact; raise awareness of the need for intercultural dialogue and mutual understanding; and reinforce international cooperation and communication. Every year on April 30, this international art form is recognized for fostering gender equality and for promoting individual expression, peace, dialogue among cultures, diversity, respect for human dignity, and the eradication of discrimination.
Director-General of UNESCO Audrey Azoulay said:
Jazz carries a universal message with the power to strengthen dialogue, our understanding of each other, and our mutual respect. As the world is affected by multiple crises and conflicts, this international day highlights how much music and culture can contribute to peace.
All That Philly Jazz director Faye Anderson is one of 19 American community partners.
The signature event, an All-Star Global Concert, will be back where it all began – the United Nations General Assembly Hall in New York. The lineup includes Marcus Miller, Gregory Porter, David Sanborn, Ravi Coltrane, Randy Brecker, José James, Terri Lyne Carrington, Linda Oh, Shemekia Copeland and Lizz Wright.
Host and artistic director Herbie Hancock said:
With conflict and division in many parts of the world, it is my hope that, through the universal language of jazz, our celebration this year can inspire people of all nations to heal, to hope and to work together to foster peace.
The Library of Congress has announced the 2022 National Recording Registry, an annual list of audio recordings that are “culturally, historically, or aesthetically important.” Librarian of Congress Carla Hayden said:
The National Recording Registry reflects the diverse music and voices that have shaped our nation’s history and culture through recorded sound. The national library is proud to help preserve these recordings, and we welcome the public’s input. We received about 1,000 public nominations this year for recordings to add to the registry.
The list includes “We Insist! Max Roach’s Freedom Now Suite,” the legendary drummer’s still resonant 1960 social protest album.
Duke Ellington’s 1956 album “Ellington at Newport” is on the list.
Soul music and R&B recordings include The Four Tops’ “Reach Out, I’ll Be There” and Alicia Keys’ debut album “Songs in A Minor.”
For the complete list of recordings, go here.
April is Jazz Appreciation Month. America’s classical music is appreciated around the world but in New Orleans, the city where jazz was born, there was a 100-year-old ban on jazz in the public schools. While the ban was honored in the breach, it was only officially lifted last month. The prohibition was white supremacists’ tacit acknowledgement that jazz is Black music.
In an interview with the Associated Press, four-time Grammy winner Robert Glasper said that African Americans are reclaiming jazz:
Absolutely, because it’s African-American music… our ancestors are the ones who birthed this music. Blood, sweat and tears. And we, as a people, have gotten away from it and other people have taken it and been able to capitalize off of it.
We’re just living our truth, and that’s what it is. And we are jazz (musicians) — because some people say, “What they’re doing is not jazz.” Yes, it is — it literally is. It’s just jazz with a heartbeat. It’s still alive. What you like is dead. What we’re doing is alive. And that’s the difference.
To borrow a phrase from Grammy-winning producer Swizz Beatz: Long live jazz!