Every year since 1979, the music of African Americans has been celebrated during June in what is known as African-American Music Appreciation Month or Black Music Month.
Some of the most popular African American musicians are recognized on magazine covers, in exhibits, on television shows and in documentaries. While it is totally cool to acknowledge the achievements of singers and musicians, we must not forget to also pay tribute to the composers, teachers, archivists, and educators who have kept this music alive and have continued to preserve its legacy so that everyone has the opportunity to learn more about and be inspired by Black music’s power and impact.
A good example of African American music appreciation is the E. Azalia Hackley Collection of African Americans in the Performing Arts. The Hackley Collection is an archive located inside the Detroit Public Library that houses materials such as books, manuscripts, and concert sheet music of African American performing artists and many of the items date back to the mid-19th century. The collection was named after Emma Azalia Smith Hackley, an African American singer, political activist and teacher from Detroit. Hackley was an extremely gifted musician who trained some of the most prominent African American classical music artists such as Marion Anderson, tenor Roland Hayes and composer Nathaniel Dett.
The collection was established in 1943 and named after Hackley in honor of her contributions to music both in Detroit and nationally. This collection was the first archive dedicated solely to African American music in the world.
This collection has been often been called a well-kept gem in Detroit and has not gotten the world-wide recognition it deserves. It is easy to just pick up a book or watch a documentary about a well-known artist. But nothing compares to truly visualizing materials that have such historical significance and have helped to trace the legacy of legendary artists.
I encourage everyone, if they have not already done so, to visit an archive like The Hackley Collection and learn more about the history of African American music.
Here are a few places where archives of African American music can be found.
The Hackley collection also has an organization called The Friends of the E. Azalia Hackley Collection (FAH) and they are committed to increasing awareness and financial resources for the Hackley Collection. To learn more about this organization, click here.