Michigan has a rich history of black music that predates the widely known Motown hits. While Detroit may be home to some incredible musicians including Aretha Franklin, Jackie Wilson, and Stevie Wonder, in Kalamazoo we get to celebrate The Velvelettes, among many others. Today, we not only celebrate Juneteenth, a holiday to commemorate the emancipation of enslaved people dating back to 1865, all month long we get to celebrate African American Music Appreciation Month. Initiated in 1979 as Black Music Month by President Jimmy Carter and updated to its current name in 2009 by President Barack Obama who explained the importance of the celebration for him is based on the fact that black musicians have helped the country “to dance, to express our faith through song, to march against injustice, and to defend our country’s enduring promise of freedom and opportunity for all.”
In celebration of Juneteenth, organizations throughout the community have curated programs to highlight African American music, art, history, and black Kalamazoo leaders and creatives. Executive Director of Kalamazoo’s Black Arts and Cultural Center Sydney Davis said “As part of black culture and black heritage, art usually comes from a place of truth, from story and testimony. I think that by listening and providing platforms for artists it will allow the community to better understand black culture and where people are coming from, what they’ve been through,” said Sydney. “It’s important for the community and people in positions of influence and power to create more opportunities and platforms and back the people who are creating art.” Find out how you can celebrate Juneteenth and African American Music Appreciation Month with these local events:
- A collaboration between the Kalamazoo Valley Museum and Soul Artistry LLC presents a virtual experience to lift up Black culture and amplify important contributions and accomplishments.
- Three social activists, Maya James, Willie Riddle Jr., and TC Custard have coordinated a Juneteenth Block Party at the Vine Neighborhood Association during which Maya’s new mural will be debuted.
- Downtown Kalamazoo is collaborating to create its very own #BlackLivesMatter mural on South Rose Street. This family friendly event will include music, sidewalk chalk, and more.