Celebrate Black Music Month this June!

By NEA Chair Maria Rosario Jackson, PhD
Dr. Maria Rosario Jackson

Photo by Aaron Jay Young

June is Black Music Month! During this month, we celebrate the enduring impact and legacy of Black musicians and their creativity on American music, culture and history. From their heads, hearts, hands, and voices emerged distinctly American artforms, never before heard or felt.

Tracing the arc of the Black experience in America from slavery to segregation to civil rights and up to the present, Black music has always been an inseparable part of our American experience. From spirituals and gospel songs through the blues, jazz and ragtime; from doo-wop and the beginnings of rock and roll, and country, through funk, and hip hop, Black music is American music.

Rooted in African rhythms and the lived experiences of African Americans, music has played a central role in self-expression, cultural preservation, and resilience in African American communities. Reflecting on the power of music, 1999 National Medal of Arts recipient Aretha Franklin said, “It’s uplifting, it’s encouraging, it’s strengthening.” As one of the most powerful forces in the world, music has been an instrument to preserve and express humanity, tell stories, fuel movements for justice, sustain hope, and nourish the soul. 

The rich depth and soul of Black music expresses our highest aspirations as a nation. Duke Ellington called jazz “a good barometer of freedom … the music is so free that many people say it is the only unhampered, unhindered expression of complete freedom yet produced in this country.” This spirit continues to move the country forward with Black artists who have helped and continue to shape our culture.  

For over 40 years, the NEA has honored legendary musicians through the NEA Jazz Masters and National Heritage Fellows Fellowships, the nation’s highest honors in jazz and folk and traditional arts, respectively. Past Jazz Master Fellowship recipients include Sun Ra (1982), Herbie Hancock (2004), and Dianne Reeves (2018), and past National Heritage Fellowship recipients include R&B artist Barbara Lynn (2018), soul singer and songwriter William Bell (2020), and Hill Country Blues guitarist and singer-songwriter Cedric Burnside (2021).  

Exemplified by the harmonies of Beyonce, the soul of B.B. King, the melodies of Motown, and so many others, at its best, Black music represents transcendent joy, thriving, and artistic expression. The NEA encourages you to learn about and pay tribute to Black music and the musicians that have added so much to our musical legacy this month and throughout the year.