In February, the world celebrates Black History Month. What was once "only" intended to be a week-long honoring of African American history in the 1920s, has turned into a globally embraced tradition within less than a hundred years. This month, music is her passion is highlighting the works of black womxn who made musical history and will make space for melanated voices in a series of essays by black female writers. To kick off the black girl magic, we take a look at the history of Black History Month, as well as the current equality status of the music industry in regard to black womxn.
From a week-long celebration to a global movement
The early beginnings of today's Black History Month were first conceived in 1929 when historian Carter G. Woodson announced the second week of February to be an educational event to commemorate African American history. This specific time was chosen because it coincided with the birthday of Abraham Lincoln on February 12 and of Frederick Douglass on February 20 - two well-known historical figures in the liberation of African Americans. Up until the late 1960s, when it was extended to a month's length, the celebration mainly served the purpose of educating society on the history of black Americans, the African diaspora, and its most important historical figures. For decades, it was primarily taken into account by educational institutes. In the 2010s however, as cultural movements began to pick up more pace through globalization and social media, Black History Month slowly turned into a globally recognized cultural event, honoring black artists, musicians, creators, and historic trailblazers worldwide. In 2021, after last year's #BlackLivesMatter protests caused an increased awareness of racial injustice, systems of white supremacy, and unequal treatment of BIPOC communities, Black History Month has become an even more important event than ever before.
"Music can have different roles in fighting inequality, injustice and racism. Those artists that may not fit in the European beauty standards but do make great music and have great ideals. Make their voices heard." - Irine, 23
While we - not just as an equality-empowering initiative, but as humans in general - should aim to amplify the voices of minorities and oppressed majorities any time of the year, music is her passion wants to use this February as an opportunity to shine a light on the contributions of black womxn to the world of music. Despite being one of the most oppressed demographic group in the world, black women have paved the way for many of our favorite musical trends and genres. Be it Merry Clayton's contribution to the iconic "Gimme Shelter" by the Rolling Stones, or The Beatles gaining their first success through performances of songs by the 1960s girl group Shirelles - the contributions of black female musicians paved the way for many success stories of the music we love. Unfortunately, the music industry and many audiences often fail to give proper credit to them.
Black Womxn in the Music Industry
From cultural appropriation to the gender pay gap, music and pop culture industries profit from exploiting black womxn on many levels. For instance, Black women in the U.S. are paid an average of 38% less than white men and 21% less than white womxn. This also applies to the music industry, of course. In 2018, only three of the "Power 100", an annual list of the music industries' most impactful players, were womxn of color, none of which taking top 20 positions. This might come as a surprise to many, as popular front-women and solo artists like Diana Ross, Chaka Khan, Whitney Houston, Beyoncé, Cardi B, Nicki Minaj, Megan Thee Stallion, and many more have celebrated major chart successes in the public eye for decades. However, behind the scenes of the music industry, womxn of color remain extremely underrepresented. To this day, no woman of color has ever been nominated for a GRAMMY Award in the category of Best Producer - but then again, no non-male-presenting person has ever won a GRAMMY in this category.
"My working environment is a male-dominated industry, you have to fight all the time, draw boundaries, you have to claim your space constantly otherwise you will be buried." - Busiswa
We could probably go on and on about the many layers of oppression and exploitation, sexualization and fetishization black womxn suffer from, within and outside of the music industry. Instead, however, we choose to tell uplifting stories this month. We want to use the occasion of Black History Month to honor and celebrate the beauty that black womxn bring to the table, and to educate fellow music enthusiasts on their musical legacy. As demonstrated in the moving series of interviews we conducted with young black womxn last summer, music serves as a powerful tool to inspire and uplift black females especially. Representation in the media, and witnessing the success of people of their gender, complexion, and ethnic background inspire black womxn and girls worldwide.
To summarize, in order to live up to our intersectional feminist ideals, music is her passion will use its platform to highlight black womxn and black female voices this month. Stay tuned for some historical highlights of black artists - and some personal essays from black activists, writers, and musicians. Let the black girl magic begin!