I’m a musician, so when I think about Black History month, I am especially awed by and grateful for the contributions of Black Americans musicians. It was Black American musicians who created the genre of jazz in the late 19th century and early 20th century in New Orleans, blending African rhythms and European harmony, and who have continued to develop the form through the ensuing decades, changing the landscape of music globally. Since its origin in New Orleans, jazz has evolved into many different styles and influenced musicians way beyond the shores of the US.
Certainly, Black Americans have contributed much to musical genres other than jazz, as composers and performers, as well as to the other art forms. Further, who can deny how Black Americans, as civil and military leaders, educators, artists, and other professionals and community leaders, often overcoming overwhelming obstacles, have exerted a significant and constructive influence on our nation? However, here I highlight jazz as it is an extraordinary American gift to the world. And, it is a contribution of Black Americans who, through their alchemy of pain, suffering, strength, intelligence, creativity, and joy, created this unique musical genre, understood throughout the world as a distinctively American genre.
What would our world be like without Billie Holiday, Herbie Hancock, Wynton Marsalis, Dizzy Gillespie, Miles Davis, John Coltrane, Louis Armstrong, Ella Fitzgerald, Thelonious Monk, Duke Ellington, and many, many other remarkable artists, a list much too long to attempt to tally? These artists and their performances and compositions are an integral part of our lives, culture, and legacy as Americans, whether we are jazz enthusiasts or followers or not. Black History is American History and we have much to celebrate, honor, and enjoy in the musical contributions of Black Americans!