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Celebrating Black History Month with Education Through Music

In celebration of Black History Month, Education Through Music is sharing classroom lessons and activities, as well as stories of influential black artists, songs, and moments that have impacted our teachers and their classrooms.

We’re also providing resources for students, parents, teachers, and music lovers who want to celebrate Black History Month in their own classrooms, homes, and communities.

Celebrate with ETM during Black History Month! Subscribe to our Newsletter

From the Classroom

Click here or scroll down to see different ways we are celebrating Black History Month in the classroom.

Artists in History

Click here or scroll down to learn more about Black musicians who inspire our teachers.

Additional Resources

Click here or scroll down to access resources you can use to celebrate Black History Month.

Celebrating Black History Month In the Classroom

Lesson: Celebrating Martin Luther King, Jr.

To honor Dr. King’s commitment to pursuing equity and providing access, ETM Instructional Supervisor Naomi Fernandez created this special music lesson (designed for students in 4th-6th grade), allowing students and their families to take a closer look at Dr. King’s famous “I Have a Dream” speech. You can see her lesson here.

 

 

P.S. 87 Orchestra learn “We Shall Overcome”

Last year, ETM music teacher Marissa Steele introduced her Orchestra students to the well-known anthem “We Shall Overcome.” Through group discussions and performance, students have the ability to explore and incorporate the rich history of the Civil Rights Movement in their music class. Read more about her orchestra’s journey.

“Blind Tom” by Guest Teacher John Davis

Special guest teacher​ and pianist​ John Davis tells us about one of the most prolific–and under-recognized–musical​ prodigies​ in American music history​: Tom Wiggins, better known as “Blind Tom​.” Watch the video lesson.

Music & Artists That Inspire Us

Inspiring ETM music teacher Antoine Dolberry: “Lift Every Voice and Sing”

“Lift Every Voice and Sing,” otherwise known as the Black National Anthem, was first performed in 1900, at a segregated school in Jacksonville, Fla., by a group of 500 children celebrating the anniversary of the birth of President Lincoln. The first verse opens with a command to optimism, praise, and freedom. “Lift Every Voice and Sing” was written at a crucial time in American history, when Jim Crow was replacing slavery and African-Americans were searching for an identity of their own. Author and activist James Weldon Johnson wrote the words as a poem, which his brother John Rosamond Johnson then set to music. Read more.

Inspiring ETM Instructional Supervisor Kevin Johnson: Sister Rosetta Tharpe

“Can’t no man play like me. I play better than a man” – Sister Rosetta Tharpe

Sister Rosetta Tharpe is a progenitor of Rock ’n Roll, born in Arkansas in 1915. She mastered gospel and blues at a young age, developing her own unique style of playing to pioneer the genre of Rock ’n Roll before its explosion in popularity in the mid-Twentieth Century. She toured heavily throughout the US before moving the latter part of her career to Europe. She broke through boundaries through the mastery of secular and sacred music; gender, playing on the electric guitar, which was considered a ‘male’ instrument; and sexuality, touring with her then-partner, Marie Knight.

Rosetta never disconnected herself from her roots, maintaining the term ‘Sister’ to connect her to the C.O.G.I.C. church where she married her first husband. She passed in 1973, was inducted posthumously to the Blues Hall of Fame in 2007 and the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2017. She is credited as the mother of Gospel and Rock ’n Roll. Her influence is heard when we listen to the likes of Elvis Presley and Chuck Berry. Sister Rosetta Tharpe created the blueprint for the spread of American music across the globe. 

Inspiring ETM Music Teacher Brian Wright: Jessye Norman

Jessye Norman was an African-American opera singer and recitalist. She was able to perform dramatic soprano roles but refused to be limited to that voice type. She was a commanding presence on operatic, concert, and recital stages, associated with roles including Beethoven’s Leonore, Wagner’s Sieglinde and Kundry, Cassandre and Didon by Berlioz and Bartók’s Judith.

The New York Times music critic Edward Rothstein described her voice as a “grand mansion of sound” and wrote that “it has enormous dimensions, reaching backward and upward. It opens onto unexpected vistas. It contains sunlit rooms, narrow passageways, and cavernous halls.”

Inspiring ETM Instructional Supervisor Kevin Johnson: Moses Hogan

“All good music has soul,” – Moses Hogan

He is known worldwide for his unique arrangements of Spirituals, having gained the attention of every major choral ensemble during the 1980s and 1990s. Born in 1957, Moses Hogan was a Louisiana native who studied music at Oberlin Conservatory, The Juilliard School of Music, and Louisiana State.

Though he passed in 2003, his compositions’ impact is still felt today and exists today as standards in American Music. Arrangements such as “Joshua Fit De Battle of Jericho” and “Elijah Rock” highlight the stark difference between Hogan’s choral arrangements and the traditional settings of Spirituals that existed by the late twentieth century. Besides his various arrangements and compositions, he is known for his performances and virtuosity as a concert pianist, his contributions as an editor to The Oxford Book of Spirituals, and forming The Moses Hogan Singers, which set the standard by which his arrangements should be performed.

Inspiring ETM Instructional Supervisor Kevin Johnson: Mahalia Jackson

“The mind and the voice by themselves are not sufficient.” -Mahalia Jackson

“She put her career and faith on the line, and both of them prevailed.” – Rev. Jesse Jackson

Mahalia Jackson is known as the “Queen of Gospel.” Her influence on the genre is understood from the moment you hear a recording of her singing.

Soulful and reflective, Mahalia is regarded as one of the most influential voices in U.S. music history. She was born in 1911 in Louisiana and began singing at a very young age for her church. She went to Chicago, IL, at the age of 20 to study nursing. While there, she sang in church and was eventually introduced to Thomas Dorsey.

Mahalia remained steadfast in her faith and dedication to never stray from performing sacred works. Many people, including her then-husband, pressured her to perform secular works as well. Mahalia never lost sight of her talent or dedication to gospel music. She has recorded over two dozen albums, won 5 Grammys, and been inducted into the Rock and Roll, Louisiana Music, and Gospel Hall of Fames.

Inspiring ETM Music Teacher Antoine Dolberry: The Detroit Youth Choir

“Our mission is to offer youth in the Metropolitan Detroit area a world-class performing arts experience that develops their creative skills and talents through music education, dance, and theatrical arts.”

That is the mission statement of the Detroit Youth Choir. Under Mr. Anthony White’s direction, The Detroit Youth Choir teaches and develops students through the arts. Their program is designed for youth between the ages of 8-18.

The Detroit Youth Choir has performed at various events around Detroit, nationally, and internationally. The Detroit Youth Choir entered the national competition America’s Got Talent, where the choir traveled to Los Angeles, CA, and reached 2nd place.

Inspiring ETM Music Teacher Brian Wright: Aretha Franklin

“We all require and want respect, man or woman, black or white. It’s our basic human right.” Aretha Franklin

“I want to sing like Aretha Franklin.” -Lena Horne

A gifted singer and pianist, Aretha Franklin, toured with her father’s traveling revival show and later visited New York, where she signed with Columbia Records. Franklin went on to release several popular singles, many of which are now considered classics.

In 1987 she became the first female artist to be inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, and in 2008 she won her 18th Grammy Award, making her one of the most honored artists in Grammy history.

Inspiring ETM Instructional Supervisor Kevin Johnson: Edmund Dédé

Born in New Orleans in 1827, Edmund Dédé was a free Black Creole who pursued the violin fervently throughout his life under the influence of his father, who was the bandmaster for a militia unit. Edmund worked in a cigar factory during the day and played in the orchestra at night. Eventually, he saved enough money to pay for his passage to Europe, where he gained admission to the Paris Conservatoire de Musique.

After completing his studies, Edmund settled in Bordeaux, enjoying a career of orchestral conducting and robust compositions for about four decades. He is credited with the composition of the earliest known full-length opera, “Margarine,” in 1888. He returned to America, briefly, post segregation where his ship wrecked, and he lost his longtime violin off Texas’s coast. The concert that followed was met with critical acclaim by Black and White audiences alike.

Edmund passed in 1901, having left his mark in the Romantic era in every conceivable classical genre. 

Inspiring ETM Music Teacher Antoine Dolberry: Leontyne Price

If you are going to think black, think positive about it. Don’t think down on it, or think it is something in your way. And this way, when you really do want to stretch out and express how beautiful black is, everybody will hear you.” – Leontyne Price

Throughout her life, Leontyne Price has always lived by her own words. Born February 10th, 1927, in Laurel, Mississippi, Leontyne Price is an African American Opera Singer like none other. Price is considered in most circles as one of the finest opera singers of the twentieth century.

Educated in public schools in Laurel, Price then attended Central State College in Wilberforce, Ohio, where she received her bachelor of arts degree in 1948. Price entered New York’s Juilliard School of Music, where she studied until 1952. Ms. Price was the first African American singer to gain international stardom in opera, an art form previously reserved for the upper-class white society. Her success signified opened doors for her own generation and those that came before and after her.

Inspiring ETM Music Teacher Brian Wright: Grace Bumbry

Grace Melzia Bumbry (born January 4, 1937), an American opera singer, is considered one of the leading mezzo-sopranos of her generation and a major soprano earlier in her career. She is a member of a pioneering generation of African-American opera and classical singers who followed Marian Anderson in the world of opera and classical music, paving the way for future African-American opera and concert singers.

Bumbry’s voice was rich and dynamic, possessing a wide range and producing a distinctive, plangent tone.

Inspiring ETM Music Teacher Brian Wright: Florence Price

Florence Beatrice (Smith) Price became the first black female composer to have a symphony performed by a major American orchestra when Music Director Frederick Stock and the Chicago Symphony Orchestra played the world premiere of her “Symphony No. 1” in E minor on June 15, 1933. This was one of four concerts presented at The Auditorium Theatre from June 14 through June 17 during Chicago’s Century of Progress Exposition.

The historic June 15th concert entitled, “The Negro in Music,” also included works by Harry T. Burleigh, Roland Hayes, Samuel Coleridge-Taylor, and John Alden Carpenter performed by Margaret A. Bonds, pianist and tenor Roland Hayes with the orchestra. Florence Price’s symphony had come to Stock’s attention when it won first prize in the prestigious Wanamaker Competition held the previous year.

Inspiring ETM music teacher Leah Thakur: Audra McDonald

“I want to thank all the shoulders of the strong and brave and courageous women that I am standing on.” – Audra McDonald

Audra McDonald is most known for her Broadway roles, but her gorgeous classical soprano voice has also graced opera and drama stages. She has also portrayed numerous roles in television and film.

By age 28, Audra McDonald was a three-time Tony Award winner for her performances in “Carousel,” “Master Class,” and “Ragtime.” She received Tony Awards for her performances in “Raisin in the Sun,” “Porgy and Bess,” and her role as Billie Holliday in “Lady Day at Emerson’s Bar and Grill.”

She became the first person to win in all four acting categories and currently holds the most Tony Awards of any individual with her six wins. She was also inducted into the American Theater Hall of Fame in 2017. 

Inspiring ETM music teacher Leah Thakur: Margaret Bonds

Margaret Bonds was a brilliant composer, pianist, arranger, and teacher born in Chicago. By the age of eight, she began studying at the Coleridge-Taylor Music School and eventually studied composition with Florence Price.

In 1929, at age 16, she attended Northwestern University, where she received her Bachelor’s and her Master’s in 1934. That same year, she became the first African American person to perform with the Chicago Symphony Orchestra as the featured pianist for the Woman’s Symphony Orchestra of Chicago’s performance of Price’s “Piano Concerto in D Minor.”

In 1939, she moved to New York City, attended Julliard, and started touring as a pianist. The 1950s saw her begin composing music with the words of a friend, Langston Hughes, and in December of 1960, her Christmas cantata, “Ballad of the Brown King,” was historically televised by CBS. 

Inspiring ETM Music Teacher Brian Wright: Paul Robeson

“As an artist I come to sing, but as a citizen, I will always speak for peace, and no one can silence me in this.” – Paul Robeson

Paul Leroy Robeson was an African-American bass-baritone concert artist and stage and film actor who became famous for his cultural accomplishments and political activism.

Educated at Rutgers College and Columbia University, he was a star athlete in his youth. He also studied Swahili and phonetics at the School of Oriental and African Studies in London in 1934. 

His political activities began with his involvement with unemployed workers and anti-imperialist students he met in Britain and continued with support for the Republican cause in the Spanish Civil War and his opposition to fascism. In the United States, he became active in the Civil Rights Movement and other social justice campaigns.

Inspiring ETM Music Teacher Antoine Dolberry: Chuck Berry

“If you want to release your aggression, get up and dance. That’s what rock and roll is all about.”  – Chuck Berry

Chuck Berry was one of the most influential rock ‘n’ roll performers in music history. He’s known for songs including “Maybellene” and “Johnny B. Goode.” Considered by many as the “father of Rock ‘n Roll,” Chuck Berry had early exposure to music at school and church.

Chuck Berry was born Charles Edward Anderson Berry on October 18, 1926, in the segregated city of St. Louis, Missouri. Berry remains one of the genre’s most influential musicians. In 1985, he received the Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award. A year later, in 1986, he became the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame’s first inductee. Perhaps Berry’s biggest influence is the fact that other popular artists have copied his work.

The Rolling Stones and the Beatles have all covered various Chuck Berry songs. Berry died on March 18, 2017, at the age of 90. He is remembered as a founding father of Rock ‘n Roll, whose pioneering career influenced generations of musicians. 

Inspiring ETM Music Teacher Antoine Dolberry: DJ Grandmaster Flash

“If you think about the history of Hip Hop we’ve had artists who can talk about anything from socially significant ideas to something as cool as sneakers.” – DJ Grandmaster Flash

DJ Grandmaster Flash and his group the Furious Five were hip-hop’s greatest innovators, transcending the genre’s party-music origins to explore the full scope of its lyrical horizons.

Flash was born Joseph Saddler in Barbados on January 1, 1958, and he began spinning records as a teen growing up in the Bronx, performing live at area dances and block parties. Flash did not begin collaborating with rappers until around 1977, first teaming with the legendary Kurtis Blow. He then began working with the Furious Five. He and the Furious Five were inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2007. 

Inspiring ETM music teacher Leah Thakur: Lauryn Hill

The only way to know is to live, learn, and grow. – Lauryn Hill

Lauryn Hill is considered one of the greatest rappers of all time and a driving force behind the Neo-soul genre. She broke onto the scene while still in high school in “Sister Act 2: Back in the Habit.”

Shortly after, her group, The Fugees, was formed, and their second album, “The Score,” won the Grammy in 1996 for Best Rap Album. Ms. Hill became the first female artist to win in this category. In 1998, she released her only solo album, “The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill.” The record sold over 400,000 copies in the first week, which, at the time, broke the record for the highest first-week sales by a female artist.

At the 1999 Grammy Awards, she became the first woman to be nominated in ten different categories. At the ceremony, she broke another record by becoming the first woman to win five different categories in one night. 

Inspiring ETM music teacher Leah Thakur: Lizzo

“Every time I rap about being a big girl in a small world, it’s doing a couple things: it’s empowering my self-awareness, my body image, and it’s also making the statement that we are all bigger than this; we’re a part of something bigger than this, and we should live in each moment knowing that.” – Lizzo

Lizzo, singer, rapper, songwriter, and flutist, rose to fame in 2019 with her album “Cuz I Love You.” She has used her platform to be a role model for the body positivity movement and the fight against racial injustice. Her backup dancers, The Big Grrrls are all plus-size dancers.

She became the first artist to be nominated in both the R&B/pop and hip-hop artist categories in the same year at the 2020 BET awards.

Inspiring ETM music teacher Leah Thakur: Ella Fitzgerald

“The only thing better than singing is more singing.” – Ella Fitzgerald

“I remember Ella Fitzgerald sort of coming into my life like a bolt of lightning – like, what is that? It was one of the purest examples of God in art that I’d ever seen.” – Leslie Odom, Jr.

Ella Fitzgerald, the First Lady of Song, the Queen of Jazz, and Lady Ella, is one of the most influential and noteworthy jazz musicians of all time.

Born in Virginia but raised in Yonkers, NY, there still stands a bronze statue in her honor. The church provided her with her earliest experience in music, and she made her big debut at the Apollo Theater in Harlem in 1934.

In 1939, Chick Webb’s orchestra was renamed Ella and Her Famous Orchestra, and she went on to make nearly 150 recordings with the band. As jazz evolved and bebop formed, Ella’s renowned “horn-like” scat developed. Her recordings of “Flying Home” and “Oh, Lady Be Good!” solidified her legacy as one of the leading jazz vocalists of all time. Ella won thirteen Grammy Awards and received the Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award in 1967. 

INSPIRING ETM BOARD MEMBER HEIDI STAMAS: RAY CHARLES

Ray Charles was an American singer, songwriter, pianist, and composer, and a pioneer of the soul music genre during the 1950s. He is known for breaking many American music barriers, including becoming one of the first Black musicians to be granted artistic control by a mainstream record company.

One Ray Charles song is especially meaningful to me: his rendition of “America the Beautiful,” which was arranged by another Black legend, Quincy Jones. The lyrics of the song are taken from a poem written in 1893 by Katharine Lee Bates. When Charles sings in it, I really hear the story of the country she envisioned. His version is a powerful expression of unity, compassion, and love. In my opinion, it’s the best version of this anthem that there could ever be—I never tire of it.

In April and May of 2020, in the early part of this terrible pandemic, at 7 pm each night in New York City, people paid tribute to our health care workers by clapping, yelling, and banging on pots out of their open windows. My 25-year old son was with me then, and he had the idea to put a speaker in the window facing west 90th street. Many nights we played Ray Charles’ “America the Beautiful.” The soulfulness and rasp of his voice are so moving it makes me feel hopeful even in dark times, and my son and I wanted to share that hopefulness. People would look up at our second-floor window, smiling behind their masks, and clapping in appreciation.