Happy African-American Music Appreciation Month!

African-American Music Appreciation Month Header

June is an exciting month for music enthusiasts and cultural appreciators alike, as it is recognized as African-American Music Appreciation Month in the United States. This annual observance provides an opportunity to celebrate and honor the immense contributions of African-Americans to the vibrant tapestry of American music. From soul-stirring spirituals to foot-tapping jazz, and from timeless R&B songs to infectious hip-hop beats, African-American music has had arguably the most potent influence on the modern music industry.

Here at JamPlay, we are especially celebratory of guitar music. And, there are a lot of legendary African-American guitar players to celebrate throughout U.S. history! In this blog, we’ll cover just some of the most notable guitar players and musicians who you can celebrate this month. We’ll even give you some free guitar lessons to help you get in the spirit! Let’s dive right in.

Origins of African American Music Appreciation Month

African-American Music Appreciation Month, also known as Black Music Month, traces its roots back to 1979. It was proposed by President Jimmy Carter, who proclaimed June as “Black Music Month” to recognize the rich and diverse musical traditions of African-Americans. Through the present day, this cultural celebration is honored with concerts and performances, educational programs, museum exhibitions, and even radio tributes. But today, we’re focusing on some of the world’s greatest performers – the people who helped write chapters in the history of black music.

Notable Figures in African-American Music

African-American music boasts a plethora of incredibly talented artists who have inspired generations of musicians. Here, we’ll highlight just a handful of the most notable figures. These are the authors of some of the greatest chapters of African-American music history. And, if you came here to play guitar, we’ll also include lessons for songs and guitar licks made famous by black musicians:

1. Aretha Franklin

Now, I know what you’re thinking… Aretha didn’t play guitar! But, she was a black female icon whose contributions to R&B are undeniable (and we happen to have a guitar lesson featuring one of her greatest hits)! Aretha Franklin, known as the “Queen of Soul,” possessed an unmatched vocal prowess and an ability to convey deep emotions through her music. With hits like “Respect” and “Natural Woman,” Franklin became an epochal figure in music. Let’s look at how to play another great hit of hers.

One of Aretha’s greatest hits was her rendition of “I Say A Little Prayer,” the original writers of which were Burt Bacharach and Hal David. It was also originally recorded by R&B singer, Dionne Warwick and released in 1967. This originally release was hugely successful, and the track peaked at No. 4 on Billboard’s Hot 100. However, it was Aretha’s reinvention of the track that solidified the song as a timeless hit. Her version was eventually listed as No. 117 on Rolling Stone Magazine’s list ofTop 500 Greatest Songs of All Time. Follow along with Callum Bair as he demonstrates a fingerstyle arrangement of “I Say A Little Prayer” on guitar. Get the tab, notation, and lesson breakdown on JamPlay!

2. BB King

One of the Three Kings of the Blues, B.B. King was a force to be reckoned with. A young Riley B. King learned how to play his first three chords from a reverend at his local church. He would then take his skill to the next level under the mentorship of legendary Delta Blues guitarist, Bukka White. Over the course of his playing career, B.B. King developed a distinctive and expressive playing style that became the inspiration for generations of blues guitarists to come. He was nominated for 30 GRAMMY Awards, and won a staggering 15 of them. He was also one of the most prolific guitar players to ever live, usually performing at over 200 concerts per year.

Looking for a taste of B.B. King’s style in your own playing? Adding these two B.B. King guitar licks to your repertoire is a great way to celebrate African-American Music Appreciation Month! Follow along with D.J. Phillips as he breaks down the lick step-by-step. Check out D.J.’s other courses and lessons on JamPlay.

3. Michael Jackson

Michael Jackson, originally part of the Jackson 5, was dubbed the “King of Pop” for a good reason. He captivated the world with his electrifying performances and mesmerizing dance moves. Not to mention, Michael won 13 GRAMMY Awards with chart-topping hits like “We Are The World,” “Beat It, and “Billie Jean.” His influence extended far beyond music, making him a global cultural icon.

Speaking of iconic hits, this video features a clip from Callum Bair’s lesson on his solo guitar arrangement for “Human Nature” by Michael Jackson. Originally written by founding Toto member, Steve Porcaro, the whole song was performed and recorded by Michael Jackson and Toto. The track was produced by Quincy Jones, and was released as the fifth single from Michael’s Thriller album. “Human Nature” would go on to appear in charts globally, and peaked at No. 89 on Billboard’s Hot 100. The song was also certified Platinum in the United States. Learn the whole arrangement with tab & notation on JamPlay!

4. Albert King

Technically the first born of the Three Kings of the Blues (none of whom are related), Albert King made an immeasurable impact on guitar history. What truly set Albert King apart was his innovative use of the electric guitar. He employed thick, heavy strings, often tuned to an open E or open F sharp, and played with a distinctive vibrato and bending style. King’s emotive and soulful playing, combined with his powerful voice, allowed him to convey a depth of emotion that resonated with audiences. Albert was nominated for two GRAMMY Awards during his lifetime. Naturally, he was also inducted into both the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame and the Blues Hall of Fame.

Looking to add some expressive pizzaz to your guitar soloing? Celebrate African-American Music Appreciation Month by taking a page from Albert King’s book. Dive into this Albert King guitar lick lesson, where D.J. Phillips breaks down a famous lick you can use in all kinds of soloing scenarios. For more D.J. Phillips guitar lessons, click here!

5. Jimi Hendrix

Here to finish off this brief list of African-American music legends is a true guitar pioneer. Jimi Hendrix will never be overrated because of the sheer breadth of his influence on guitar players to this day. Jimi was well-known for his masterful use of amplifier feedback, effects pedals, and his unique playing style (an honorable mention goes to Jimi restringing a right-handed guitar upside-down to suit his left-handed playing)! Hendrix pushed the instrument to its limits and beyond, and is rightfully revered because of it.

In this lesson from Brendan Burns, you learn not one… not two… but five Jimi Hendrix guitar licks. These licks ultimately become tools you can use when jamming, writing, or even just practicing. Not to mention, they can always be altered or combined with other licks like those from B.B. or Albert King. For the full course on how to play like Jimi Hendrix, click here!

Embracing the Melodies of African-American Music

As we wrap this article up, what did you learn? African American Music Appreciation Month stands as a testament to the immeasurable contributions of African-Americans to the world of music. This is something all of us could learn more about.

It encourages people from all walks of life to explore, appreciate, and celebrate the incredible cultural heritage and artistic achievements of black musicians. So, this June, let’s immerse ourselves in the melodies, rhythms, and narratives woven by African American artists and recognize the profound impact they have had on the global music scene. Together, let us honor and appreciate their enduring musical legacy.

For more guitar lessons and an ever-growing library of Song Lessons, check out JamPlay.com! JamPlay has over 450 guitar courses from 120+ instructors, and online guitar lessons tailored to every skill level, music genre, and playing style. Click here to learn more.

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