Learn About African American Music at the DC Public Library

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Learn About African American Music at the DC Public Library

Films, music, videos and articles available

Without James Brown, there would be no Michael Jackson. But who influenced James Brown? This June, celebrate the history and creativity of African-American Music with the DC Public Library.

Started by President Jimmy Carter in 1979 as Black Music Month, African-American Music Appreciation Month celebrates music composed, arranged and performed by African Americans. Each June, Americans are asked to study and celebrate how African-American music started and contributes to global culture and commerce. As a place where people can deepen their understanding of topics, the Library can help people learn more about African-American music. 

At the Library, people can stream music, read articles and watch documentaries/films that explore the history of African-American music and the artists who create it. goDigital, the DC Public Library's collection of more than 15 million free online movies, eBooks, music and audiobooks, can be found on the Library's website. Three of the services offered- Freegal, Kanopy and Alexander Street Music – have particularly strong offerings related to African-American music. 

Freegal is a streaming music service that features more than 16 million songs across more than 200 genres. You can stream music and can download up to 3 songs a day. Featured playlists include "Unbreakable: A Juneteenth Playlist," Earth, Wind & Fire's greatest hits, Charlie Wilson's 'There Goes My Baby' and more.

Kanopy is a video-streaming platform that showcases famous and unknown documentaries and films. For example, Bert Stern's 1959 documentary "Jazz on a Summer's Day" shows a series of all-star musicians like Louis Armstrong, Dinah Washington and Thelonious Monk performing their best songs. "Nas: Time is Illmatic," a 2014 documentary showing the making of Nas's debut album, is also on the site. Kanopy is also available as an app for Apple, Android, Roku and other platforms.

Alexander Street Music features more than 80 collections totaling millions of pages, audio tracks, videos, images and playlists in the humanities and social sciences. Of note are the "Music Online: African American Music Reference" collection and the "Music Online: Jazz Music Library." These resources feature the most extensive collection of streaming jazz available online and biographies, manuscripts, song-sheets, lyrics, and personal narratives from oral histories covering jazz, spirituals, civil rights songs, slave songs, minstrels, rhythm and blues, gospel and other forms of African-American music.

To learn more, and possibly discover what Louis Jordan meant to James Brown, visit dclibrary.org/godigital.