BET Music Awards and the end of black music

Luther Vandross was outed as gay after his death.

“At each juncture, twist, and turn, as Black people were transformed, so was their characteristic music.”

—Amiri Baraka

Baraka wrote this profound pronouncement in the introduction of the 1999 edition of his now classic 1963 text Blues People: Negro Music in White America, which has been hailed by NYU professor and cultural critic Clyde Taylor as “probably the one most indispensable thing said about Black music.”

It is because of what I believe to be the truth of Baraka’s words that I watched the Black Entertainment Television (BET) Music Awards with such abject horror.

Mind you, had it not been for the much-anticipated “tribute” to our newly and dearly departed ancestor, Michael Jackson, that pillar of the Black (and world) music pantheon, I would not have watched the show—not even for the promise of pecuniary reward. For I have long avoided BET like the plague, as have most thinking people.

At any rate, it was left to Academy Award winner Jamie Foxx to set the tone for the evening, and the result was an unmitigated disaster. From Foxx’s so-not-funny, tasteless caricatures of Michael Jackson, to his performance of his new signature ditty, “Blame it” it was, by-and-large, disgraceful.

Is it any wonder, then, that when it comes to the continued relevance of Black Music Month (BMM), most African Americans range from ambivalence to indifference on the subject?

For example, did you even know that June is BMM, or that today marks the end of its 30th anniversary?

If not, you’re not alone.

This, in spite of the fact that BMM has been widely publicized on Black radio and television, thanks largely to the efforts of Dyana Williams and the International Association of African American Music (IAAAM).

The problem though, I submit, is the almost wholesale devolvement of much of mainstream Black music, particularly Hip Hop, into debauchery. As a result, some have even begun to question the value of our music.

Perhaps, this is why President Barack Obama opted not to continue the presidential tradition of observing Black Music Month in the White House, which Jimmy Carter, Bill Clinton and George W. Bush did before him, which I write about at length in Black Music Month at 30: A Cultural Retrospective.

This being the case, am I the only one who sees the irony—and the danger—in this cultural proposition: The first Black President refuses to publicly celebrate Black Music Month (“even as he opts to host a widely publicized White House reception for Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual, and Transgender (GLBT) Pride Month”:

And why does any of this matter, in the grand scheme of things, you may ask?

It is because Baraka is absolutely right when he stresses the centrality of music to Black history and culture.

The bottom line is this: Black music’s progenitive role in much of world popular music simply cannot be diminished by some in this generation’s emphasis on the unsavory.

Thus, not only must we continue to celebrate Black music—during Black Music Month, and beyond—but we must preserve it.

It began with the death of the Queen of the Chicago Blues, Koko Taylor and ended with the passing of Michael Joseph Jackson, the King of Pop.