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Interview with Josh, ETM-LA Music Teacher


Please describe the cultural significance of the term “Black American Music.” Why did you decide to incorporate this topic into a lesson for your students?

It’s a term I came across from following @nicholaspayton and @dannyjanklow on Instagram and it really helped define what I didn’t have words for. It’s more than just jazz or trying to define it in such narrow terms. Black American Music (BAM) is significant because it acknowledges the culture of the music we are drawing from. Like Payton says, “I’m not vehemently opposed to the existence of jazz, I’m opposed to the true spirit of Black music being labeled as such.”

I decided this would be a great topic for my students because it really opens up the possibility of what we believe the spirit of BAM can be. Our whole lives we’ve been drawing genre boundaries in music and to just recognize that BAM belongs in so many musical spaces is liberating.


What do you think are the positive benefits of the students learning about Black American Music and the importance of this term? What would you like them to gain from your lesson?

Students that learn about BAM can more fully appreciate how it informs the American music experience. We really owe a tremendous amount of what we enjoy in modern day music to innovations made in BAM. It’s more than just harmonies and rhythm.

One of my most vulnerable points in this lesson was to show my students that a non-Black person can perform and study BAM. I’m personally in a unique position as an Asian-American studying gospel organ in my church community. My students are mostly Latinx, so from one non-Black Person of Color (PoC) to another, I thought it was worth addressing. A lot of folks tend to leave these types of presentations feeling guilty about learning or playing BAM.

As a music teacher, one of my main goals is to give students the ability to listen more critically and independently. Our ears aren’t always ready to appreciate what we are listening to at the time (I am especially guilty of this), so if anything my hope is that one day these musical experiences open the door for them to recognize and appreciate the sound of Black American Music beyond their time in my classroom.


How have the students been responding to the lesson? Have they given any feedback?

This is by far the most student participation I’ve had all year. During the course of the lesson we highlighted the disparity between successful non-Black artists profiting from BAM and Black artists who didn’t receive the same level of recognition or success. We had students in the chat connecting the dots and making points in my presentation for me before I even got to them! Students especially enjoyed watching Kendrick Lamar’s 2016 Grammy Performance – they kept asking me to post the link for it in the chat.

P.S. I also did a slightly modified Gospel Presentation (from Angelica Rowell’s professional development on the Evolution of Black Music). I played them the classic Handel’s Hallelujah Chorus VS the Hallelujah Chorus from Handel’s Messiah: A Soulful Celebration (1992) just to demonstrate the concept of syncopation – and my favorite student comment was: “Ahh there we go. That’s better.