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WUWM's Teran Powell reports on race and ethnicity in southeastern Wisconsin.

Black Music Month Celebrates 45 years. 'Black music is uncatchable:' Noelle Taylor

Black Music Month was born June 7, 1979.
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Black Music Month was born June 7, 1979.

On June 7, 1979, Black Music Month was officially recognized in the U.S., and President Jimmy Carter hosted the first celebration on the White House lawn.

The month commemorates Black music's impact in this country and around the world, from musical genres to instruments and lyrics.

The people who pushed to make Black Music Month a reality include Philadelphia musician Kenny Gamble, journalist Dyana Williams and radio DJ Ed Wright. They formed the Black Music Association in the 1970s.

WUWM’s Teran Powell spoke with Noelle Taylor, the director of Education & Exhibitions at the National Museum of African American Music in Nashville, Tennessee, to learn more about how the month came to be recognized.

"Dyana Williams, Kenny Gamble and Ed Wright really started what is the Black Music Association based on what they saw in Nashville with the Country Music Association and seeing like we need this. We need this type of support and recognition for Black artists in terms of musicianship, in terms of publishing, in terms of all of the things that are being created for other country artists. We want to bring that forward for Black artists," Taylor says.

Williams is credited as the "mother of Black Music Month" thanks to her lobbying efforts in the 1990s, which led to the month being recognized by presidential proclamations annually.

Taylor says the tagline for the inaugural Black Music Month was “Black Music Is Green.”

"It was about the capabilities of Black music and Black artists to really pour into the economy, to really pour into the culture," Taylor says. "So this month is just dedicated to honoring and celebrating what is done 365 days a year, but really highlighting like this is the month that we want to celebrate and bring attention, and draw in make people aware of Black music. So yeah, it's 45 years strong, and it's just a really beautiful expression of artistry and being able to honor so many current, past, and future musicians who are paving the way and making Black music and culture what it is.

Taylor says Black artists have their hands in every musical genre that exists. "I would be remiss if I did not point out that in some way every genre that has developed through music stands on the shoulders of Black instruments, Black musicianship, Black lyrics," she says.

Taylor adds that the stories of Black music must be told, especially when there are powers that don't want to acknowledge the presence and influence of Black people.

"One of the things I tell people when they come in the museum is we don't generally do guided tours, and we don't do that specifically because every person who comes through the museum has a completely different experience," Taylor says. "And the story that we are telling and the purpose of Black Music Month pointing us back to why we even have a museum is that we Black people, Black artists, Black musicians, we are a part of this American soundtrack. We started it."

"We have to be able to acknowledge, recognize and celebrate that — and we hope and very much want people to understand — that we are a fabric of the American soundtrack like we are helping to weave it together, and you just can't have music without having us as part of the story."

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Teran is WUWM's race & ethnicity reporter.
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