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June 29, 2023

Former Pres. Bill Clinton appears on Questlove's podcast to salute Black Music Month

The 42nd U.S. president signed the first proclamation for the month-long celebration — which has roots in Philly — in 2000

Black Music Month is observed each year in the United States as a way to highlight Black artists and acknowledge the importance and economic impact of music made by Black people. 

Each June, music enthusiasts and record executives across the country celebrate the contributions of past and present musicians, often with a focus on genres that were inspired, created and popularized by Black Americans, including spirituals, gospel, folk, blues, jazz, R&B, rock and roll, hip-hop, rap and military music, according to the National Museum of African American History and Culture.

Ahmir "Questlove" Thompson saluted Black Music Month and celebrated the influence of jazz music on American culture alongside former President Bill Clinton on the latest episode of the "Questlove Supreme" podcast, which was released Wednesday. The Roots drummer spoke with Clinton, a music lover and saxophonist, about his friendship with Ray Charles, his childhood musical aspirations and his decision to sign the country's first proclamation for Black Music Month. 

"First, I wanted to do it," Clinton said of the proclamation, which was celebrated with performances from artists like the Isley Brothers and Jimmy Jam and Terry Lewis. "Second, it was another excuse to get these people to come and see me. I mean, I was a huge fan of the Isley Brothers, I loved 'This Old Heart of Mine,' I still take it out every so often and play it again." 

Black Music Month began in the late 1970s when music producer Kenny Gamble, the hitmaker who cofounded the Philly soul label Philadelphia International Records, visited Nashville and saw the impact of the Country Music Association's celebration of Country Music Month each October. When he returned home to Philly, he banded together with other community leaders in the hopes of gaining similar recognition for Black musicians throughout the country, iHeartMedia reported. 

He established the Black Music Association in 1978 with supporters including Stevie Wonder, Berry Gordy and Rev. Jesse Jackson. As momentum continued to grow, Gamble teamed up with journalist Dyana Williams and radio DJ Ed Wright to push for Black Music Month. 

"Black music represents a multibillion-dollar business and cultural asset that informs human beings globally," Gamble told Billboard. "Black is more than just a color; it's a frame of mind. All genres of music created by Black folks in America are our heart and soul gifts — as well as a universal language widely felt and embraced worldwide." 

In 1979, former President Jimmy Carter backed the movement, hosting the first Black Music Month celebration on the White House lawn with performances from Chuck Berry and Billy Eckstine. While Carter did not issue a formal proclamation for Black Music Month at the time, he helped propel its organizers for more than a decade. 

The Clinton administration urged Williams and other organizers to lobby Congress for formal recognition of Black Music Month in 1999. In 2000, former U.S. Rep. Chaka Fattah introduced the measure in Congress, earning unanimous support in the House of Representatives before Clinton made the proclamation later that year. 

Former President Barack Obama changed its name to African-American Music Appreciation Month in 2009, which was echoed by former President Donald Trump in 2020. When President Joe Biden entered office in 2021, he changed the name back to Black Music Month. 

Last month, Biden issued his latest proclamation for Black Music Month, calling on educators, public officials and all Americans to honor Black musicians and raise awareness about Black music during June. 

"During Black Music Month, we pay homage to legends of American music, who have composed the soundtrack of human life," Biden wrote. "Their creativity has given rise to distinctly American art forms that influence contemporary music worldwide and sing to the soul of the American experience."

To celebrate Black Music Month, NPR released several Tiny Desk concerts featuring Black artists like Tank and the Bangas, Amaarae, Gerald Clayton, Babyface and Charlie Wilson. Earlier this month, Trenton-native Adam Blackstone, who began his career in Philly, performed a Tiny Desk concert with appearances from DJ Jazzy Jeff, DJ Aktive and Musiq Soulchild. Check out the genre-bending performance below.