Black Music Month was started by Kenny Gamble—half of the famous Gamble and Huff song writing and producing team—and former wife Dyana Williams, a radio and music industry professional, journalist, and co-founder of the International Association of African American Music Foundation (IAAAM Foundation).
She also serves as a frequent commentator in TV One's docu-series, “Unsung.”
Known for the soulful “Sound of Philadelphia,” Gamble and Huff wrote a plethora of hits for Teddy Pendergrass, Jerry Butler, the Supremes, Lou Rawls and many others back in the day.
According to Williams, after observing how the Country Music Association designated Nashville as the country music capital, he was inspired to create a similar observance for black music.
Gamble started the Black Music Association, which collaborated with music executives, producers, writers, musicians and artists, including Stevie Wonder, Dionne Warwick, and Barry White. During that time, Philly International became the first black-owned music label.
The push for a special observance reached the White House, and in 1979 President Jimmy Carter hosted a reception in honor of black artists, and decreed that June would be the month of black music. President Barack Obama renamed the observance under a new title, African-American Music Appreciation Month.
In the 1990s, Association members again wanted the president to host a reception honoring black music. It was revealed that although Carter supported the observation, he never signed the order, making Black Music Month official. By this time President Bill Clinton was in office. He encouraged Williams to lobby Congress.
She recalled her experience:
“I was by myself. I put on a very comfortable pair of shoes and I went up to Capitol Hill. I knew nothing about lobbying or the process of it. But I’m passionate. So I know a lot about articulating what I believe in and going hard for it. For instance, around that same time, I wrote an editorial in Billboard magazine that was published, talking about why it was important for us to get this legislation passed and why it was important to celebrate Black Music Month. I had two private meetings in the oval office with President Clinton.”
Clinton requested that Williams bring the Isley Brothers—one of the president’s favorite groups—with her for the second meeting. She did. They gave him a guitar signed by all the brothers. The African American Music Bill passed in 2000.
“For black people, music is like breathing,” Williams told The Root in June 2015. “It’s part of our experience, from field hollers to the hip-hop of today and every genre in between, because we have influenced everybody from the Rolling Stones to the Beatles to Eric Clapton, who cite black music as their wellspring. We are talking about America’s indigenous music that just happens to be black.”