Celebrating Black Music at the Barnes

On Friday, June 21, NAMICPhiladelphia collaborated with Radio One, Inc. to celebrate Black Music Month at the Barnes Museum. After gathering in the atrium to enjoy live jazz music and connect with other members, participants headed downstairs to the museum’s Comcast Auditorium to attend a panel discussion about the cultural impact of black music. Panelists Dyana Williams, Carol Riddick, Jerry Wells, and Elroy Smith shared their unique experiences in Philadelphia’s black music industry. The discussion was moderated by E. Steven Collins, Director of Urban Marketing and External Relations, Radio One, Inc. and Host of Radio One’s Philly Speaks program. The Judge Group and 1847Financial were the NAMIC Philadelphia event sponsors.

To kick off the discussion, panelist Dyana Williams provided the audience with an overview of Black Music Month’s origins. In addition to her roles as celebrity strategist, media coach, and the producer and cohost of Radio One’s Soulful Sunday program, Williams is the president and cofounder of the International Association of AfricanAmerican Music Foundation. Through her work with the IAAAM Foundation, Williams helped to establish June as Black Music Month by lobbying congress and working with Pennsylvanian politicians, such as U.S. Representative Chaka Fattah and former U.S. Senator Arlen Specter, to persuade President Clinton to recognize the observance. Williams proudly declared that every president since has acknowledged Black Music Month.

Elroy Smith, Operations Manager and Program Director of Radio One, Inc., then discussed black music’s global impact. He explored the jazz roots of popular music and the emotive power of the spirituals that vividly expressed slaves’ angst, joy, and hope. Carol Riddick, singer/songwriter and South Philly native, explained that the strong emotions conveyed in the spirituals can still be found in contemporary black music, adding that artists still “have a great deal of passion that we express.”

Philadelphia broadcaster and radio personality Jerry Wells also described the accessible nature of black music, as in its nascence it “was not art hung on a wall, it was made from our everyday lives.” Wells also commented on the current state of black music and shared his vision of its future. Wells expressed fears that music has become “a commodity instead of an art,” but confidently added that “real art will always shine through.” The panel closed with a question and answer session. Attendees were then encouraged to explore the museum’s collection spread over 24 galleries to the relaxing tunes of the jazz quartet and take advantage of the outdoor space of the Barnes while dancing to DJ Jay Ski’s selections.