African American Music Appreciation Month: The Soundtrack of Our Lives

African Americans have used music in so many different ways, from celebration to resistance; from work to worship. And today, all those styles can be found in all the different genres we now listen to and appreciate.

The greatest thing about African American music is that almost all popular genres have African American artists at their origin. Because of that, there are African American titans in all genres.


Gospel derives from African spirituals, which slaves used as songs for hope. Singers like Mahalia Jackson were renowned for singing gospel on stage for the world to see, including at Martin Luther King’s funeral. R&B, which has roots in many different styles (much like one of its pioneers, Beyonce) relies heavily on the gospel genre.


Pop music is just what it sounds like, popular music that can be appreciated widely. And if there’s ever a conversation about pop music and artists like Whitney Houston, Prince, Michael Jackson, Tina Turner, and Beyonce aren’t mentioned, they shouldn’t count. Their musical talents can never be overlooked.


Pop music was significantly influenced by Rock, where artists like Jimi Hendrix, Little Richard, and Sister Rosetta Tharpe let their lights shine. Rock also heavily influenced many other genres with its lead vocalists and instrumentation.

Hip Hop/Rap

          There’s also hip-hop/rap that originated through African oral traditions. It includes cool beats and fresh word plays. Big name rappers like Kendrick Lamar are a great example of ways that songs and words can have deeper meanings in different contexts. He even won the Pulitzer Prize for his music in 2018. 


          Even Country music has its roots in the African American culture. Its origins have footholds in African American jazz and blues. While modern Country has been dominated by mostly white artists, there is starting to be a positive shift towards diversity. After Beyonce’s new album, Cowboy Carter, many of the Black country artists she featured have gained notoriety through different streaming services.

Jazz & Blues

          Music like jazz and blues has a little bit of everything in it. There’s not only military marches, but also ragtime and spiritual songs, which circles back to gospel. Nat King Cole, Miles Davis, and Louis Armstrong helped to make this jazz and ragtime era an exceptional time in the music scene.  

       The artistry of Black musicians can be found in every genre, and it’s worth it to understand how your favorite genre may have been influenced by African American musicianship. For the rest of this month, I challenge you to pick a genre you’ve never listened to and choose an African American artist you’ve never listened to, starting with the attached playlist from Freegal! You may surprise yourself and find a new favorite!

Did you know that June was African American Music Appreciation Month? Use these fictional books to jam out with the main characters!

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Jazz and Blues. Smithsonian

Timeline of African American Music- Secular Rock,

Country Music Has a Problem: It’s Not Beyoncé. The Harvard Crimson

 Jackson, Mahalia.