By Shalini Basu | For AC JosepH Media
ATLANTIC CITY — The foundation of American music is rooted in the African American culture and the Black experience, from the Blues, Rock & Roll to Hip Hop, according to organizers of Stockton University’s Pre-Juneteenth celebration on June 15.
The event, co-hosted by the School of Arts and Humanities and the Department of African Studies, was led by Dr. Donnetrice “DJ Mello-D” Allison, chair of the African Studies Program.
Allison led the crowd consisting of faculty, community members and visitors thru a historical journey of African American music and its impact of culture, politics and history. “Black musicians laid the foundation for the American music scene,” Allison stated.
Her presentation weaved a timeline of musical genres that began with the Blues at the turn of the century and traveled thru eras encompassing Rock & Roll, Jazz, Gospel, to modern-day Hip Hop and Neo Soul.
The interactive presentation had the audience singing along to musicians from Mahalia Jackson, Ray Charles, the Four Tops, LL Cool J, Erykah Badu and more. Allison touched on how music thru the eras in the African American community not only meant self-expression and art but also was the platform for self-preservation and advocacy.
The evening included fun activities such as crossword puzzles, trivia games and prizes that audience members of all ages were encouraged to participate in. Dinner was also made available to all guests in attendance.
The Reeds Brooks family in attendance during the evening emphasized the importance of being able to connect thru music generationally.
“We talk to our children about how music has been an important part of the African American journey, thru struggles and celebrations,” Mrs. Brooks said. “This is why we are here today because it is important to learn the history behind the music too.”
Isabella Gallagher a young student talked about her grandmother who was part of the Black Panthers teaching her songs like “We Shall Overcome,” which was an anthem for political change during the Civil Rights Movement.
Desiree Robinson, a case manager with the Stockton Cares program talked about the responsibility of Black musicians being bigger than just spreading their craft. Robinson used singer Billie Holiday as an example of using her celebrity to break color barriers and demand a place on stage in an era where merit was not rewarded.
Robinson pointed to Holiday’s personal tragedy such as the death of her father from not being rendered medical care due to his race, being a driving force in her using the limelight to push a higher cause.
During the presentation, Allison also addressed plagiarism experienced by African American artists. Lillia Wilson a young student in attendance discussed how her grandparents lived thru the era of the rise of mainstream artists like Elvis Presley.
Much of Presley’s music and inspiration remains controversial, particularly in the African American community, because he rarely gave credit to the Black artists he covered or imitated, leaving them with little to no recognition or compensation as he rose to fame as the media-styled “King of Rock & Roll.”
The evening ended as a true celebration of African American music with the audience dancing and singing thru the venue and audience members of all ages could be seen vibing to the infectious atmosphere.
“Black music is joy,” said Marcus Johnson, associate dean of students at Stockton University. “It crosses boundaries, language barriers and generations.”
Johnson acknowledged the work of global musical icons like Whitney Houston and Michael Jackson being universal household names throughout the world.
Dr. Kimoni Ajani, professor of African Studies at Stockton, hailed the event as a great start to the Juneteenth festivities, saying, “Atlantic City is a mecca for Black artists who are ever present in the art scene.”
Shalini Basu is a community reporter for Stories of Atlantic City, based at Stockton University. This is her first contribution to Front Runner New Jersey.com.
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