Black Music Month

Black Music Appreciation Month is an annual celebration of African-American music in the United States. It was initiated as Black Music Month by President Jimmy Carter who, on June 7, 1979, decreed that June would be the month of Black music.

Formerly called National Black Music Month, this celebration of African American musical contributions is re-established annually by presidential proclamation. Though by no means exhaustive, we’ve prepared a primer that will guide you through some of the different genres that African Americans have created, inspired and fostered.

Sacred Music

Sacred music, which includes spirituals and gospel music, illustrates the central role that music plays in African American spiritual and religious life. The earliest form of black musical expression in America, spirituals were based on Christian psalms and hymns and merged with African music styles and secular American music forms. Spirituals were originally an oral tradition and imparted Christian values while also defining the hardships of slavery. Gospel music originated in the black church and has become a globally recognized genre of popular music. In its earliest manifestations, gospel music functioned as an integral religious and ceremonial practice during worship services. Now, gospel music is also marketed commercially and draws on contemporary, secular sounds while still conveying spiritual and religious ideas.

(L-R, top row) James Herndon, Albertina Walker Inez Andrews, Johnnie Erin “Johneron” Davis and (L-R, bottom row) Cassietta George and Shirley Caesar of the gospel group “The Caravans” pose for a portrait in New York, 1960.
Michael Ochs Archives via Getty Images

Folk Music

African American folk music links back to African cultural traditions. Stemming from field hollers, work chants and game songs, folk music bursts with social commentary. Popular folk protest music spread in the 1960s, and its influence is still found within hip-hop today.

Ritchie Havens, circa 1970
Michael Ochs Archives via Getty Images

The Blues

The blues form the foundation of contemporary American music. As did sacred and folk music, the blues also greatly influenced the cultural and social lives of African Americans. Geographically diverse incarnations of the blues arose in various regions, including the Mississippi Delta, Memphis, Chicago, Southern Texas. Each regional manifestation of the blues features a uniquely identifiable sound and message. For example, Mississippi Delta blues illustrated the poverty of the region while celebrating its natural and cultural richness.


Jazz evolved from ragtime, an American style of syncopated instrumental music. Jazz first materialized in New Orleans and is often distinguished by African American musical innovation. Multiple forms of the genre exist today, from the dance-oriented music of the 1920s big-band era to the experimental flair of modern avant-garde jazz.

Rhythm and Blues

The predecessor to soul music, R&B is another stylistically-diverse genre with roots in jazz, the blues and gospel music. R&B helped spread African American culture and popularized the idea of racial integration on the airwaves and in white society. Today’s iteration of the genre has assimilated soul and funk characteristics.

Hip-Hop and Rap

Hip-Hop and rap are musical traditions firmly embedded in African American culture. Like jazz, hip-hop has become a global phenomenon and has exerted a driving force on the development of mass media. Hip-hop music spawned an entire cultural form, while rap remains a means for artists to voice opinions and share experiences regarding social and political issues.

This list of musical styles merely scratches the surface. In addition to the genres previously detailed, African American musicians and artists have also developed and influenced classical music traditions, country and western music, pop music, and dance music such as disco, techno and house, among other genres and styles. Millions of people around the globe listen to and are touched by music that carries elements of African American musical traditions.

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