Rage to Survive: A reflection on music education during African American Music History Month

Once upon a time in the United States, music education was not the privilege of the few that could provide their children with private lessons to enrich their talents. It may be hard to believe but that golden era can still be heard on the radio or discovered on Spotify. The fruits of the golden era of Motown records were not only solidified in the churches and street corners of Detroit, it was often fostered and nurtured in public schools from Kindergarten through High School.

This all-encompassing access to arts education was not unique to Detroit, or the late 1950s. However it did create a wealth of talent and creative energy that eventually generated the soundtrack that would be soon known as The Sound of Young America by the middle of the 1960s and cherished so dearly by young and old souls 50 years later.

Two of Motown’s premiere singing groups, The Marvelettes and Supremes, sprang out of spaces created for teens to display their talents within the school day. And just about every other artist that eventually signed to the label can point to support and influence from within the school day (and after school) to pursue their dreams of artistic expression, to go beyond mere imitation and to discover their own unique voices.

It makes one wonder if American Culture wouldn’t have had such significant moments. Or would legions of performers famous and not so famous would have had a chance to express themselves? For each time The Supremes scored another million selling #1 hit, more and more women of color saw opportunities to express themselves creatively and an opportunity to grasp their piece of the American dream through artistic expression. It’s not to say that prolific artistic expression still doesn’t occur in our public schools. But there has been a fundamental shift from seeing it as a necessity for a well-rounded education to being considered a luxury or a privilege to be done after testing standards are met.


It doesn’t seem random that I thought of this post as I saw this infographic floating around social networks recently. Music, like all of the other performing arts such as dance, spoken word and theater, add multiple dimensions to learning that if not provided would leave large holes in the ability for young minds to nimbly cope with learning a number of essentials for life.

The infographic can be expanded beyond music to “why teach art?” Everyone should have the opportunity to creatively express themselves throughout their lives. The stories of the people above show how essential it is to receive arts education from an early age.


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