Did you know that it’s Black Music Appreciation Month?
Since its establishment by President Jimmy Carter in 1979, the month of June has been annually dedicated to the celebration of Black music, its origins and its growth in American society throughout the decades. Genres like Jazz, Blues, R&B and Hip Hop all were born through African American soul, struggle and success. Rock N Roll and Folk music also have origins from Black culture— bands like Led Zeppelin and Black Sabbath all have roots leading back to African American influence.
Black Music Month honors those who turned their oppression into an evolutionary expression– all the way from slavery, segration and inequality to our radios and stages.
We aren’t fully taught about the creation of American music, yet it is such a big part of our lives. In fact, in 2020, 345 million Americans streamed music monthly on just Spotify alone. In the same year, Hip Hop and R&B were the number one streamed genres in the United States, taking up 31.1% of the nation’s streams, followed by Rock at 15.6%. These two Black created genres make up nearly half of the US’ streams, and that’s not accounting for the other genres created by African Americans. With such large popularity, you’d think we as American citizens would know more about the founders of our music.
Ironically, not even many Black musicians are aware of June’s dedication to their work. Of the four local musicians interviewed by Shades of Long Island, only one of them was aware of Black Music Month.
Bebe Palmer, a.k.a Hood Baby Oprah, is a music curator and producer based on Long Island. Growing up in North Babylon surrounded by music, Palmer loves to say she was raised by a record player.
As a curator, Palmer’s job is to always know what’s hot, and what’s not. Who and what is trending is always changing in the music world– Palmer keeps you connected and on track, and even helps you find something new along the way.
“I basically discover new music and I bring it to people that wouldn’t look for it,” Palmer explained. “Nowadays people listen to the radio, and the radio is redundant. The radio only plays 15 songs in different rotations. So I find music that people are listening to and basically say, ‘If you like this, you’ll love this.’ I bring different songs and different artists to the people.”
Despite not being in the spotlight like most roles in the music industry, Palmer loves being the star behind the scenes. Backstage she’s interviewing artists and promoting their music and off camera she’s creating playlists and even hosting events. Palmer’s reputation and work ethic has dubbed her to be one of the most respectable music consumers on the island.
“I’m not an artist.” expressed Palmer. “I am a lover of music and I create platforms. A lot of the time you will see these rappers rapping for rappers. Singers singing for singers. I am a consumer, I am just appreciating art. I don’t have to be up on the stage, I can sit back and bask in the ambiance. And a lot of artists appreciate me for that.”
When asked about Black Music Appreciation Month, Palmer was happy to admit that she was aware.
“Not going to lie, I heard about it on VH1,” admitted Palmer. “I was like, ‘Oh…I didn’t know that.’ And since I’m so involved in the music industry, I like to make sure I’m well informed on all things music, so I did my research.”
Brentwood native and freelance musician Clerida feels a similar love and passion for her work as a cellist and vocalist. When it comes to her trade, Clerida has done anything and everything. Whether it’s writing and producing her own music, travelling internationally to record, showcasing at venues or even teaching students, Clerida’s commitment to her craft proves to be a unique and colorful lifestyle.
“I’ve always been super off the cuff,” Clerida stated. “I am out of the box, I don’t like to follow the rules or do the norm. I feel like my music definitely reflects that. I’m taking a classical instrument that’s used in super traditional and Classical music and instead I’m playing Jazz on it. I’m playing chords that guitarists would use, I’m doing finger picking styles that guitarists use. And then also singing on top of it. Using a traditional instrument in a non-traditional way is just an extension of who I am.”
Once learning about Black Music Month, Clerida was shocked to hear about white dominated genres that have African American origins such as Rock N Roll and Folk.
“It’s crazy,” Clerida expressed. “It’s our stuff that comes out of these ghettos and these slums and these supposed undeserving places. And they take these gems and run with it.”
There are over 1,000 genres known in modern music. If it weren’t for musicians breaking a few traditional rules throughout its history, music as we know it today may have had a completely different definition.
“Every artist has their signature, their identity, their thumb print of who they are and what they bring to the craft of music,” stated Clerida. “All these genres wouldn’t have different offshoots and ideas if people didn’t get creative. It would all be one line, we’d be playing Classical music to this day.”
A man of many genres himself, musician, writer, singer and rapper Dudley Music from Brentwood is notorious for his talents stretching across all categories. Dudley plays about four instruments at any given time– specializing in saxophone, he also plays flute, piano and guitar. As a multi-instrumentalist and singer, Dudley utilizes his abilities to represent his hometown and the experiences he’s had growing up.
“I cling to my friends and my family,” expressed Dudley. “I’ve always liked the idea of community so I always try to represent where I’m from. Whether it’s Long Island or Brentwood or New York. I also have this sense of duty to tell stories for people who don’t have the loudest voices– especially for the underserved or marginalized communities. I wanna make something that connects to people but I want it to come from something that’s real.”
“The things that you are growing through as an individual, someone else has experienced, just in a different way,” said Dudley. “So when you speak about your own story it can really connect to other people because the feeling throughout all of our experiences are the same. Individuality is the most effective way to create music.”
Dudley wasn’t too aware of Black Music Appreciation Month, but does recall being a part of a performance celebrating the month. When asked why he thinks many Black artists don’t know about Black Music Month, he discussed how cultures need to be practiced in order to make tradition.
“I think we’ve also been misled,” stated Dudley. “People don’t want to talk about it and say who contributed to what because they feel like it would divide us more than unify us. But I think the truth is what unifies us.”
Another musician big on putting his personal experiences into his lyrics is East Setauket based rapper, singer and producer Angel Delcastillo. As a prospective audio engineer student at New York Audio Academy, Delcastillo is focusing on creating beats that will not only match his flow, but will enhance his message.
“A lot of the stuff I write about is more emotional,” described Delcastillo. “If I’m not feeling it, I’m not going to write it. I’m writing about real problems that I’m facing that a lot of people can’t understand. And that’s the majority of songwriters, they’ll write from the heart. But a lot of the music nowadays is the same stuff over and over again. I try to stay within my style, write what I’m genuinely feeling in the moment.”
As a newer and younger face in the industry, Delcastillo is determined to strengthen his skills and create a solid foundation in order to compete in this wildly competitive field.
“I make my own beats,” said Delcastillo. “And I want to continue to improve my skills in beat making. I’m in an audio engineering program where I’ll be working with professional equipment which is a big advantage I have compared to other musicians who are starting up on their own as well.”
Upon learning about Black Music Month, Delcastillo made connections from African American culture to prominent artists in history and his unhappiness with the lack of awareness.
“Elvis Presley was the biggest white rock star ever,” Delcastillo expressed. “And he literally just snagged a whole bunch of Black culture and claimed it as his own. People should be able to learn about who he got his ideas from and who came before him. What good is it to have a whole month dedicated to honoring Black music if people are trying to hide it from us.”
Black Music Appreciation Month is a month of celebration and recognition to those who gave us one of the greatest gifts of life. To learn more, check out Pitchfork’s What Black Music Month Means Now for more in depth history.