African American Music Appreciation Month :: The Songs of Protest


June is African American Music Appreciation Month! On June 7, 1979, former President Jimmy Carter created what was formerly called National Black Music Month as a celebration of the African American musical influences and contributions that are an essential piece to the United States’ cultural heritage. By presidential proclamation, the month of June is the designated celebration each year.

This year, CMC is taking a look back at the protest music by Black artists through the decades who have used music to speak out about the injustices, mainly racial injustices, in America. There is a really cool website that provides exercises to learn more in depth about the history of Black protest songs.  This is definitely not appropriate in its entirety for most young children, but you may be able to find a lot of engaging ways to learn more yourself and share what you’d like with your kids.

It is important to note that Black Americans were not able to protest with impunity, so they turned to stories and songs to sublimate their anger and have their voices heard. 

Here is just a sampling of how Black music has helped shape history in this nation surrounding important issues in our society –

  • Walk with Me, Lord by Fannie Lou Hamer, 1963
  • A Change is Gonna Come by Sam Cooke, 1964
  • Say it Loud – I’m Black and I’m Proud by James Brown, 1968
  • Why? (The King of Love is Dead) by Nina Simone, 1968
  • Inner City Blues (Make Me Wanna Holla) by Marvin Gaye, 1971
  • The Revolution will not be Televised by Gil Scott-Heron, 1971
  • Lift Every Voice and Sing by Jimmy McGriff & Hank Crawford, 1987
  • Straight Outta Compton by N.W.A., 1988
  • Fight the Power by Public Enemy, 1989
  • Greatest Weapon of All Time by Lorenzo (Zo!) Ferguson featuring Sy Smith, 2010
  • Black Rage by Lauryn Hill, 2014
  • Hands Up by Daye Jack, 2015
  • Freedom by Beyonce featuring Kendrick Lamar, 2016
  • Spiritual by Jay-Z, 2016
  • We the People…. by A Tribe Called Quest, 2016
  • We Were Never Free by Sy Smith, 2018 

With the pandemic this year, so many artists, especially indie artists, are struggling. Help support as many of them as you can by listening to their music, getting tickets to their virtual concerts, buying their albums, or purchasing their merch. Even the smallest showing of support means so much to these musicians. I’d like to personally give a shout out to two of our favorite Black indie artists, Sy Smith and Lorenzo (Zo!) Ferguson

Sy Smith

They both care so deeply about each and every one of their fans, and they find ways to get to Cincinnati and give us some of the most amazing performances ever (just not right now during COVID!).  When it is finally safe for them to tour again, I hope you’ll grab your SO and join us for incredible date nights when they get back to the Cin City.

History of Black Music in Cincinnati

Cincinnati experienced its own race riots in 2001. Music, art, and writing have emerged over the past 20 years as a result.  Long before that, our city has some famous links to Black music in this country. King Records started in 1943 in Cincinnati and was home to Charlie Feathers, James Brown, and Nina Simone. Mamie Smith, “Queen of the Blues”, is actually right from our very own Queen City. I think we have a good claim at being the “Birthplace of the Blues”. 😉 The blues genre itself originated as the songs of injustice. 

What have you learned this month about the history of Black music in America?


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