The National Association for Music Education (NAfME) is pleased to announce the introduction of a bicameral resolution that celebrates the musical contributions of African Americans to U.S. culture and history. This resolution highlights the importance of increasing African American students’ broad participation in music education, as well as recognizing June as African American Music Appreciation Month.
Senator Cory Booker (D-NJ) introduced S.Res.693 with the support of seven cosponsors in the U.S. Senate. Congressman Gregory Meeks (D-NY-5) has sponsored its companion resolution, H.Res.1215, in the U.S. House of Representatives.
While first decreed in the Carter administration as Black Music Month, it was not until 2000 that the first congressional resolution to officially commemorate African American music formally established African American Music Appreciation Month. This month provides an opportunity to reflect on how African Americans have shaped our musical heritage and contributed to music in human lives throughout the nation’s history.
Unfolding as a series of acknowledgments, this resolution provides a brief overview of the historical development of Black musicianship and specifically recognizes how African Americans have used their music as both survival apparatuses and vehicles for political expression against hardship and injustice. African American spirituals, in particular, not only disclose the hardships of slavery, but also reveal a spirit of hope and the communal function of sharing music which is universal to all musical genres.
Vestiges of such music surface today in mainstream genres including, but not limited to, rap, hip-hop, and jazz, opening entryways for Black and other marginalized youth to exercise their creative freedom and narrate their own stories of struggle. Nonetheless, socioeconomic and cultural factors continue to bar many African American students from receiving a quality and equitable music education.
Researchers Kenneth Elpus, Associate Professor of Music Education at the University of Maryland, and Carlos R. Abril, Professor of Music Education and Director of Undergraduate Music Education at the University of Miami, have found that school music ensembles are primarily white, with only 15% of students participating in school music ensembles identifying as African American. Consequently, the lack of music-making opportunities among African Americans is reflected in a study conducted by the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) that found lower scores in the nationwide music assessment among African American students than peers of other ethnicities. The same study also reveals the largest differences in musical self-image among African American students than compared to any other ethnicity surveyed.
We believe one factor contributing to the disparity is due to a lack of diversity within and among the music education profession and the curriculum that is taught. Research finds that students perform better in the classroom when they have teachers who come from similar backgrounds and with whom they can identify. A U.S. Department of Education (2016) comprehensive study affirms that “Teachers of color are positive role models for all students in breaking down negative stereotypes and preparing students to live and work in a multiracial society.” NAfME believes that having music teachers who both represent and are prepared to respond to students’ diverse creative interests will ensure that African American youth have a space in the classroom and the optimal conditions to confidently pursue music.
The Elementary and Secondary Education Act of 1965 (ESEA), as amended by the Every Student Succeeds Act of 2015 (ESSA), currently enumerates music as a subject contributing to a well-rounded education. As a result, ESSA has provided elementary and secondary schools a greater opportunity to use federal funding streams in order to expand and enhance their music programs. However, while ESSA has made great headway in increasing music education accessibility, much remains to be improved for the circumstances of African American music students and teacher recruitment.
Senator Booker and Representative Meeks’s resolution acknowledges that music education policy must reconcile the demand for increased accessibility, participation, and success among African American students. NAfME will continue to pursue this effort through advocating for adequate well-rounded funding in ESSA, as well as changes to the Higher Education Act during reauthorization, which aim to help diversify both how music is taught and the teaching profession.
NAfME greatly appreciates the work of House and Senate leaders in introducing this resolution and applaud them for increasing awareness around the barriers that African American students face in music and music education. Read the full text of the House and Senate resolutions.
NAfME Public Policy Staff, July 20, 2022. © National Association for Music Education (NAfME.org)