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Songs to help you celebrate Black Music Month

Black Music Month 2022 takes place through June celebrating the influence of black figures in the industry

June is the month in which America celebrates Black Music Month, and has done so since 1979 when President Jimmy Carter issued a decree to honour the contributions made to America's music scene.

Despite the month focusing on African American contribution, the reach and impact these musicians have made is worldwide and so everyone should still be appreciating the impact these singers, composers and song-writers have made.

In Joe Biden's presidential proclamation he said that "for generations, Black music has conveyed the hopes and struggles of a resilient people,”.

From R&B and hip-hop to gospel and jazz, the music created has influenced social and political stances across America and the world whilst also providing raw artforms that have educated and inspired.

Music has immortalised the story of black Americans, and so below is a list of songs that reflect and inspire but hold significant contribution in Black Music Month 2022.

1. Bob Marley - Could you be loved (1980)

Bob Marley needs no introduction and 'could you be loved' arguably epitomises what the story of black people and Americans have wanted and fought for in the west world for decades, peace and love. The bouncy reggae feel to the song has meant it has lived on into people's music rotation and playlists today.

2. Sam Cooke - A change is gonna come (1964)

"A long time comin', but I know a change gon' come." Released during the middle of the civil rights movement in America, Cooke used this song to display his hopes for equality. However the singer never released the song himself, as he was shot a few months prior by a motel owner who alleged he was raping a young girl in one of the rooms. The complete truth of that incident may never be uncovered but his music will live on with power and popularity as his voice was regarded the most important in the history of soul music.

3. J Cole - Be free (2014)

'Hands up, don't shoot' was the phrase that was used in mass protests after Michael Brown Jr., an 18-year-old black man, was fatally shot by white police officer Darren Wilson. Witnesses to Brown Jr's death said he was asking the police not to shoot and it caused outrage with J Cole expressing his views on 'Be Free'. There are a plethora of examples of songs against police brutality and injustices, but this hard hitting hip/hop track with an eerie piano melody and raw raspy vocals is one of the more hard hitting.

4. Michael Jackson - Earth song (1995)

Michael Jackson's earth song highlights environmental damage and animal suffering as a consequence. The song is a magnificent example of a global artist using their platform to ignite change and education and in turn leading to a Grammy nomination in 1997 and recognition from environmental firms. In 2022 when environmental problems and discussions on climate change is growing, the song will be relatable for decades to come.

5. Lil Baby - The bigger picture (2020)

Similar to J Cole, rapper and hip-hop artist Lil Baby used his platform to speak about police brutality and his own experiences against the police but also encourages listeners to stand up and fight for equality after George Floyd was killed. The powerful song openly mentions how the rapper has power so he has to say something, and others should to. Lil baby also brings balance and understanding to the track saying that he would be lying if he said all the police were the same, something young black Americans may feel in deprived areas in the country where altercations with the police are mostly negative. As he repeats in the chorus, the problem is "bigger than black and white."

6. Curtis Mayfield - Move on Up (1970)

More younger fans of music will recognise this song sampled on Kanye West's 'touch the sky', but the original is a classic uplifting R&B tune that really is a classic. The song encourages people to be proud of where they come from, and to not let anyone set standards for what they can achieve. A message that resonates to people from all backgrounds. "Remember your dream is your only scheme, So keep on pushin'"

7. Aretha Franklin - Respect (1968)

A giant of soul music and a hugely popular figure in American music. Franklin's 'Respect' sounds ahead of it's time, like plenty of her other songs and led to Rolling Stone ranking the song as 5th on the best 500 songs of all time. It combines a conversation of gender equality with undertones of the civil rights movement whilst also being a delightful and catchy song to listen to. The song sat at #1 on Billboard’s pop chart for two weeks in the summer of 1967 and led to popular phrases being used including 'sock it to me' which Richard Nixon used in his run up to election in 1968.

8. Lauryn Hill - 'Doo Wop (That Thing) (1998)

This single hit #1 on the Billboard charts and netted Hill two Grammys for Best R&B Song and Best Female R&B Vocal Performance. An addictive beat that you can't help but bop your head too, speaks about the exchanges men and women go through to get 'that thing' that can lead to exploitation and long term problems. The artist explains how flaunting money and inanimate things can work in the short term for 'that thing' but once issues come from building a family, bills, property and work, things fall apart leading to broken homes.

9. Kendrick Lamar - DNA (2017)

With Kendrick Lamar there are so many songs to choose from that have had such a great impact socially as well as on the industry, with hip-hop in particular. DNA features a clip from Fox News commentator Geraldo Rivera saying that "hip-hop has done more damage to young African Americans than racism in recent years" before Lamar explodes on a beat switch and states that "I'd rather die than listen to you." The message is likely representative to white conservatives who will lack a complete understanding of the world of Hip-hop and so can not be judgemental of its impact on black communities. He backs this up on his next line saying "Your DNA is an abomination", referring to the white atrocities of slavery, police brutality, segregation and superiority, highlighting how the media and Rivera in particular are twisting the message of hip-hop to it's audience when Lamar really just wants to provide hope to his listeners and communities.

10. Tupac - Changes (1998)

A fitting song to end the list on. A timeless classic that will live on due to the conversation on race, politics and class it allows for. The lyrics by Tupac in this song are drawn from famous lines, quotes and experiences of African American's over the century with one of the most powerful being "learn to see me as a brother instead of two distant strangers, And that's how it's supposed to be, How can the Devil take a brother if he's close to me?" Drawing on how organisations like the Nation of Islam and The Black Panthers referred to racist whites as 'white devils' and how racism is taught and embedded into the mind, the song should serve as a reminder for the need for peace as that is how it is supposed to be.


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