During Black History Month in February Explore Music’s Rich Role  

Black History

The precursor to Black History Month was created in 1926 in the United States, when historian Carter G. Woodson and the Association for the Study of Negro Life and History announced the second week of February to be “Negro History Week.” This week was chosen because it coincided with the birthday of Abraham Lincoln on February 12 and of Frederick Douglass on February 14, both of which dates Black communities had celebrated together since the late 19th century.

From the event’s initial phase, primary emphasis was placed on encouraging the coordinated teaching of the history of Black Americans in public schools in the United States. In 1976 as part of the United States Bicentennial, the informal expansion of Negro History Week to Black History Month was officially recognized by the U.S. government.

Music plays a large role in black history. Here are some resources music educators can share with their students. The National Association for Music Education (NAfME) offers a variety of lesson plans, and here are few from other sources. Look for  additional resources in an upcoming Orchestrating Success Newsletter. The NAfME lesson plans in My Music Class  are only available through to members who log into nafme.org with their  membership number.


From Barbershop Quartets to Jazz

Barbershop singing actually comes from more culturally and racially diverse roots than what you might assume from the painting. By 1890, many African American quartets had been established and were traveling performers. Many leading black quartets such as The Golden Gate Quartet and the Twilight Quartet were associated with the Colored Professionals Club and helped achieve better treatment and pay for black performers. 

Read more in this NAfME lesson plan.


Get On Board this Train

Students will sing accurate pitches and rhythms for the NAfME lesson plan, “Get On Board This Train.”

Students will familiarize themselves with the music terms displayed in the assigned repertoire such as time signature and rhythm. Students will learn the term “genre” and its association with the assigned piece, and will discuss spirituals as a musical style.


 VH1 Storytellers

VH1 Storytellers: Jay-Z, Life of an American Gangster, Lesson 2 – Fallin’ Students will be better able to understand the life and personal journey of Shawn Corey ‘Jay-Z’ Carter and in turn, make connections within their own lives.

In this plan students will be able to analyze the poetry of ‘Jay-Z’ and compare it to that of Shakespeare and Langston Hughes.



The John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts Kennedy Center created ARTSEDGE in 1996 as its educational media arm, reaching out to schools, communities, individuals and families with printed materials, classroom support and Internet technologies.

 Here are two Black History Month resources:

 Musical Harlem: How Jazz Music is Reflective of the Harlem Renaissance

Students will learn to identify musical styles and musicians associated with Harlem, focusing on jazz. They will learn about the special role of music in Harlem as a unifier of a community and of a culture. Students can listen to audio samples and analyze elements of jazz and its musicians, participate in a group dance activity, and partake in language arts and visual arts extensions to reinforce key concepts learned.

ArtsEdge also provides an audio lesson about gospel quartets. Kip Lornell of George Washington University in Washington, DC, makes the case that “most of today’s rap, hip-hop and pop music of all kinds have their roots in the gospel quartets of the South.”

In addition to the gospel quartets, the audio series “Gulf Coast Highway” also explores the Delta Blues, Zydeco music, the Brass Bands of New Orleans and a variety of choral traditions.


 Roz Fehr, NAfME Communications Content Developer, January 15, 2015 © National Association for Music Education (NAfME.org)