By: Manuele Mizzi
As Black History comes to a close I look back on the journey that I was able to take with my students this past month. As 2011 rolled around, I was left with the dilemma of how to get my students at school more engaged in the musical aspect of February’s Black History. In my own research I was left with many genres, years of change and a plethora of artists and music which made my head spin. I posed it to the class, asking what they thought would be the most interesting journey for them while still thinking about learning as much about this history as possible.
All I have to say is thank God for them. Thus began, what I would call a crazy party of musicians collaborating to create one, if you pardon my french, ‘kick ass’ presentation. The idea of slaves using music to tell stories, preserve their heritage and in all of that use code for the Underground Railroad spurred the children on. They found information about how the spirituals changed into blues and gospel. They listened to such singers as Mahalia Jackson and commented on how positive, sincere and raw her message was. Knowing these kids would find their journey ending in rock and roll and leading to the present day rap, urban and r and b music burned a fire in me.
When we got to singers like Aretha Franklin, James Brown and watched as singers like Usher were directly and indirectly influenced by the paths that were forged by the forefathers of black music; the children were excited beyond anything. Watching a 7 year old get excited about music talking about a fictitious railroad and at the same moment clap their hands to a great rap piece is something which is almost magical. This is what music does. The music which has been created and recreated by those in the brotherhood of black americans, and quite frankly from African’s has taught us many things about what our ears actually like to listen to. It has taught us words which have changed a world for the better and taught our children what beauty actually is. When a group of 7 year olds can stand up on stage, singing a song like, “We Shall Overcome” with heads held high, waving flags with their hopes for the future and the things they think their world needs to overcome, then clearly music is doing it’s job. Sometimes you want to stand back and just let music use you as the medium to teach, to love, and to grow. A black history month of learn well spent for all involved and all touched by the music which speaks to our hearts.