Did you ever wonder where and how it all began, and most importantly, who initiated the concept of celebrating Black music? Frequency News went straight to the source by talking to the visionaries of Black Music Month. Listen in as the legendary Kenny Gamble talks about Black Music Month with our own Dyana Williams.
Williams: What inspired you and Ed Wright to establish June as Black Music Month?
Gamble: NATRA (National Association of Television & Radio Announcers) was basically an organization of disc jockeys. At one of its annual conventions, there were discussions on how it could evolve into something different, as NATRA had fallen on some hard economic times. It was time for something new and more inclusive of other industry professionals in the business. I suggested that I could help and Wright, Rodney Jones and others were supportive. Wright was the link to the DJs, as he was a prominent DJ in Cleveland. Under the Black Music Association (BMA), we then created four divisions: Marketing/Merchandising, Record Company Executives, Communications (DJs, TV executives/personalities and journalists) and Entertainers/Artists. The independent industry was collapsing into the major companies and they (Columbia, Warner, RCA) and others saw the viability of Black music. We were able to get a lot of support from them. They started Black music divisions and the sales of Black music increased. Initially, Black Music Month started as an economic program more than anything else. Also, the Country Music Association (CMA) was a model that we looked at. The CMA has worked to establish October as Country Music Month, so we picked June as a time where we could con- centrate on recognizing and celebrating the economic and cultural power of Black music and those who made and promoted it. The slogan we came up with was, “Black Music Is Green” – it was about economics. So in an effort to galvanize, as well as create an advocacy entity, Black Music Month was born.
Williams: How did the BMA get President Jimmy Carter to hold the first Black Music Month event, June 7, 1979, at the White House?
Gamble: We had a lot of wonderful people involved. We had noticed that the CMA had been to the White House several times, so we were like, “Why can’t we go?” I called Clarence Avant… he knows everybody. He called Joe Smith and others. Plenty of calls were made. From my point of view, Clarence is the one who made it all happen. Andre Crouch and Chuck Berry performed and a lot of people were there that day. It was a great celebration and uplifting moment for African-American music people. For so long, Black folks had been pushed into a hole, like we didn’t count. The BMA made a difference by working together. It was a great moment and beautiful day that I won’t forget.
Williams: Why is Black Music Month still relevant?
Gamble: I think it is more important today than ever before. It is a reminder of what a great art form Black music is. Our legacy and present contributions still encourages those of future generations. It is a cultural expression of multiple American genres. We need to keep it going.
Williams: How do you suggest consumers and the industry celebrate BMM in June and throughout the year?
Gamble: I think radio stations are the anchor. Most of them, especially in Philly, get the word out about creating awareness and they help stimulate retail sales by playing the music and announcing that June is Black Music Month. This contributes to generating jobs and a healthy bottom line in the industry. Black music is the basis for most other forms of music. Like I said earlier, “Black Music Is Green.” The quality of the music speaks for itself. There is nothing that I know of, no music that is more important, than Black music. As a community, we need to support Black music, teach it in schools and every place you can think of. There is a learning process that goes along with Black music that articulates the times we have lived in.
Williams: What do you see as your legacy in connection with Black Music Month?
Gamble: It was a collective of people with the same agenda, and that was to promote our industry with this tremendous cultural currency. I will keep working on the promotion and preservation of our music until I can’t work on it anymore!
Article originally appeared in Frequency News