June 27, 2012

Milwaukee Courier

Music Appreciation Day

By Senator Lena C. Taylor

Every year since his inauguration, President Obama has made an announcement proclaiming June as African American Music Appreciation Month.  The proclamation intends that we celebrate African Americans’ contribution to the United States’ rich musical tradition. 

The drums of our ancestors echo in every corner of American music.  Our music spoke to the human spirit, uniting instead of dividing.  A black man taught country star Hank Williams how to play his guitar, while white session musicians helped Aretha Franklin and Wilson Pickett record some of their biggest hits.  The list is endless, and the collaborations inspiring.  We aspire to one American people in music just as we aspire to be one American people in public life.

I read once that music predates language as a form of communication, and I am not surprised.  Music speaks to something universal and deep in our common humanity.  It is the medicine of the soul.  Too often, African American musicians and listeners have used music as a spiritual balm.  But even the deepest blues become triumphant when sung out loud. 

African Americans helped develop American music.  African Americans innovate, pushing boundaries.  Black musicians helped create ever next step in American music.  Without African Americans, there would be no blues, jazz, rock and roll, soul, or hip-hop.  We have been the underappreciated innovators and leaders, and it makes sense when you remember that music is at the heart of creativity. 

Black people in the United States may have had less political influence, but we have overcome our humble beginnings.  African Americans have refused limitations.  Despite whatever disadvantages may have been faced, African American have climbed height after height, whether they were the King of Pop or the President of the United States.

But success in music is unlike success in business or politics.  When it comes to music we do not rely on petty distinctions, we listen to what sounds good.  Hip-hop and R&B happen to be the most popular genres amongst young people simply that happens to be the type of music that young people want to hear. 

Still, it is interesting to think that musicians do not typically create their own success.  After all, most people know a talented musician who has simply not been given a chance to shine before a large audience.  In others words, Chuck Berry and Michael Jackson and Jay-Z belong to everyone, in part because businessmen at music labels knew thought they would be successful and took a chance on them. 

The African American community is full of proud, talented, ambitious, and incredibly creative men and women.  It is unfortunate that in business, as in music, so much talent goes underappreciated simply due to unlucky circumstances.  We can do so much more to ensure that everyone willing to work hard has a fair shot at economic prosperity.  In the meantime, we have so much to be proud of and to appreciate.  We can put on a song to celebrate.