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Black History Month: Saluting Black Musicians and Music Educators

Black History Month: Saluting Black Musicians and Music Educators

This month Education Through Music honors great musicians and music educators as part of Black History Month.

One of the first master’s degrees awarded to a black student was a music degree, awarded to Nora Douglas Holt at Chicago Musical College in 1918. The following year, Holt co-founded the National Association of Negro Musicians, which, among other causes, championed the institution of black music programming in schools.

It was at a black public school, Chicago’s DuSable High School, where music teacher and black union leader Captain Walter Dyett included jazz in his curriculum and helped others to see jazz as worthy of study in school alongside the traditional areas of focus of European-based orchestral and band music.

Musician and activist Harry Belafonte originally devised the idea for “We Are the World,” a single that he hoped would help raise money for famine relief in Africa. The song was a huge success, going multi-platinum and bringing in millions of dollars.

Music educators may be surprised to learn that one person included in that list is the King of Ragtime, Scott Joplin (1867-1917). In total, Joplin wrote 44 original ragtime pieces, including the “Maple Leaf Rag,” which is considered a standard for ragtime music.

Thomas Andrew Dorsey, considered the “Father of Gospel Music,” was known for his fusion of sacred words and secular rhythms. His most famous composition, “Take My Hand, Precious Lord,” was recorded by the likes of Elvis Presley and Mahalia Jackson.

Rapper Jay-Z reportedly developed his stage name as a reference to New York’s J/Z subway lines, which have a stop in his Bed-Stuy, Brooklyn, neighborhood.

ETM salutes these artists who paved the way to ensure that great music and music education continues to be valued and important for all students.