Credit: Ariam Alula

I can’t remember the exact moment I fell in love with hip-hop. Growing up in the Bronx in the ‘90s and early 2000s, it seemed the culture was woven into daily life. From the graffiti I saw while waiting on train tracks to watching the Soul Train on Saturday mornings, and banging out the beat to Clipse’s groundbreaking track “Grindin’” on my classroom desk, I can’t recall a time when Black music and culture wasn’t front and center. 

Ironically, it has taken me three decades to learn about Black Music Month, a month initiated by President Jimmy Carter in 1979 to honor, celebrate and communicate the breadth of Black artistry in the U.S. Why is that? Unfortunately, like many Black history lessons, this too was overlooked in my education.

Fall in 🤎 with: “Grindin’

Even though Jimmy Carter was the first American president to host a major concert celebrating Black Music Month at the White House in 1979, he never signed the presidential proclamation. It wasn’t until 2000 that June was designated Black Music Month, due to the persistence of Philadelphia activist and broadcast veteran Dyana Williams who spent nearly a decade lobbying Congress to recognize the month officially. In a 2015 interview with NBCBLK, Williams known as “The Godmother of Black Music Month” said, “Black music remains one of America’s greatest cultural and economic exports to the world to the tune of billions of dollars and immeasurable joy to the human population.”

I couldn’t agree more. 

It was through the songs of Black musicians, particularly in hip-hop, that exposed me to profound storytelling and universal themes about love, pain and nostalgia that I, as a young girl, felt too green to fully comprehend, but so desperately needed. Songs like Tupac’s “Keep Your Head Up,” Nas’ “Memory Lane” and Talib Kweli’s “The Blast” also helped me connect with the Black American experience as an Eritrean-American from the Black diaspora.

Fall in 🤎 with: The Blast

I also admired Black music for its ability to tell the stories about the plight of Black Americans and empower marginalized communities to claim their narratives. 

In this two-minute social video from URL Media partner PushBlack, listeners get a taste of Black protest music throughout the decades. It highlights that in 1964, singer and pianist Nina Simone released “Mississippi Goddam” following the 16th Street Baptist Church bombing in Birmingham, Alabama, a horrific attack committed by white supremacists that killed four little Black girls. The song became a battle cry for the civil rights movement.

Fall in 🤎 with: “Mississippi Goddam

Similarly, Black musicians have historically used their art to respond to significant events impacting their communities. Take the Great Mississippi Flood of 1927 as an example. In this story published by URL Media partner Scalawag, the flood, which proved to be one of the most devastating in U.S. history, compelled Black musicians from the Delta to document the devastation in several Blues songs. The flood led to widespread levee failures and inundated approximately 27,000 square miles from Indiana to the Gulf of Mexico. It also resulted in the deaths of hundreds of people and displaced around 700,000 individuals. 

Fall in 🤎 with: Marvin Gaye’s 1971’s “Inner City Blues

Black music is also incredibly diverse. 

I was reminded of this during a recent trip to The National Museum of African American History and Culture, which offers this primer on the genres that Black musicians have created, inspired and revolutionized. These genres include but are not limited to, gospel, folk, jazz, military music, R&B, Rock ‘n’ Roll and techno, which was formed in the 1980s by Black people from Detroit, an important fact highlighted in this story about the evolution of the futuristic genre from URL Media partner Outlier Media

During my visit, I uncovered more truths about Black music in the museum’s current exhibit “Musical Crossroads.” As I walked around, I saw people of all ages and races and felt astonished, overwhelmed and in complete awe of the contributions made by legendary musicians like Little Richard and Paul Robeson; distinct instruments like the banjo, which links Black music to its African origins; iconic outfits worn by performers and racks of makeshift vinyl records in the exhibit’s “SiriusXM Neighborhood Record Store.” I was also proud to see a special section dedicated to Black music originating from the Washington D.C. area, a place I’ve called home for the past three years: Go-go. 

Fall in 🤎 with: “Waterdance Music

Here are three things you can do to honor Black music 365 days a year.

Educate yourself on the history of Black music and some of its most prominent innovators. You can watch the following films currently available on Netflix: “Biggie: I Got a Story To Tell”; “Hip-Hop Evolution”; “What Happened, Miss Simone?” and the “ReMastered Collection.” Second, support Black artists by attending their concerts and streaming their music on Spotify — bonus points if you start curating your own playlists (here’s one from WURD Radio). Lastly, challenge yourself to question stereotypes and misconceptions about Black music, as some genres still get a bad rap

Uplift. Respect. Love.

Ariam Alula

Ariam Alula (how to say it) is URL Media’s first audience manager. She works closely with URL Media’s Editorial Director and leads the network’s social and newsletter content while further developing and executing the brand’s strategic audience goals. Alula who was born and raised in The Bronx had this to say about her work upon joining the network in the fall of 2022.

“I'm committed to helping our audience understand how issues in their own backyard impact other BIPOC communities. Also, I believe that our network's content amplification and original reporting should fully reflect and affirm the customs and cultural norms of our multicultural, multidisciplinary, and geographically diverse audiences. As BIPOC communities have and continue to be grossly misrepresented by the mainstream media, this part of the work can’t be overstated. Also growing up as a child of immigrants, community is an integral part of my identity, and it's something I bring to URL Media every day.”

Before joining the network, Alula sharpened her range of skills and interests in newsletter curation and editing, audience strategy and research, and measuring and tracking impact. In recent years Alula has worked for many organizations in the journalism support space, such as Coda Story while based in the Republic of Georgia and U.S.-based organizations like the Institute for Nonprofit News, the Public Square Team at Democracy Fund, Online News Association and Women Do News. She has also written for the American Press Institute’s Need to Know newsletter.

Alula is also a proud graduate of the engagement journalism program at the Craig Newmark Journalism School at the City University of New York, where she spent 16 long, insightful and experimental months working with family caregivers of people with autism in New York City.