Listen Up: African American Music Appreciation Month

Listen Up: African American Music Appreciation Month

Ed. Note: Memphis Music Hub specialist Jayne Ellen White put together playlists focused on Black music in Memphis, with some context for each. I've also embedded some posts from the Rock 'n' Soul Museum's Instagram coverage of Memphis music legacy moments.

Black women and men invented rock 'n' roll, authored the blues, and gave the world the soul music that put Memphis on the map. They defined American Jazz, created hip- hop, rap, funk, and R&B. Black men and women created American music, and without question created Memphis music.

The Soulsville USA festival is traditionally held in October each year. Photos by Malik Tha Martian, courtesy of Soulsville USA and used with permission.

Here are Memphis music playlists to listen to this month, or anytime.

June marks African American Music Appreciation Month in the United States, initiated by President Jimmy Carter in 1977 as Black Music Month, 114 years after the Emancipation Proclamation theoretically ended the institution of slavery in the country and only 13 years after the Civil Rights Act of 1964. By then, Black Americans had long shaped the musical identity of the U.S. and had already given Memphis music its place in the world. 

In 2009, President Barack Obama re-dedicated June as African American Music Appreciation Month. Today the current Memphis music scene flourishes with continuous contributions to the new Memphis sound. Explore Black music in Memphis past and present with these playlists:

Current Memphis Music For Black Music Month

Track Facts: Black music in Memphis is currently defining the new Memphis Sound. Every genre from gospel to contemporary to classical is being recorded and performed by Black musicians in Memphis in 2020. This is not an exhaustive list of Black musicians in Memphis to listen to, but rather a compilation of current releases to be excited about. Turn up to 11!

Memphis Deep Cuts For Black Music Month

Track Facts: Blackrock was an underground Black rock 'n' roll band formed by two Stax musicians and two Hi Records musicians. The song “Yeah, Yeah” has been sampled by major artists across genres including The Roots. Also on this playlist is a vocal duet appearance by the late Bill Withers’ daughter, Kori Withers, on a modern Booker T. Jones release. 

Memphis artist Talibah Safiya. Photo by Wesley Paraham. Read more about Talibah and check out her 2020 releases on Spotify.

Memphis Women of Soul For Black Music Month

Track Facts: Shirley Brown had the last number one hit for Stax Records in 1974 with “Woman to Woman”, in which she tells a woman named Barbara that she will fight for her man. 

Memphis Songs for Black Music Month

Track Facts: Mononeon, a.k.a. Dwayne Thomas Jr., a Memphis based five string bass virtuoso, released “Breathing While Black” this year. It is Memphis’s latest addition to the artistic expression of Black revolution, and has been touted in national media as continuing the strong tradition of protest music made in Memphis. 

Memphis Gospel Songs for Black Music Month

Track Facts: Memphian and Church of God and Christ Elder, Lonnie McIntorsh, recorded in Memphis for Victor before RCA acquired the company. McIntorsh’s recordings were made popular largely because of the inclusion of an Elders McIntorsh & Edwards' Sanctified Singers track on the 1950’s Anthology of American Folk Music compilation.


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More Playlists

The National Civil Rights Museum released a curated playlist this month of Black music from around the world, stating: "Our playlist this week reflects the various definitions of freedom within the Black community, and the continued struggle to live in a free space."

I Wish I Knew How It Would Feel to Be Free: Freedom & Liberation

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