Music can help children to learn about history and identity

In its online mental health A–Z the Children’s Society says that having an identity “can give you a sense of belonging, which is important to your wellbeing and confidence.” The theme of this year’s Black History Month is ‘Proud to be’, encouraging people, especially children, to share the things about which they are most proud, particularly in relation to their identity and heritage. Pinning down a meaning of ‘identity’ isn’t straightforward. As the Children’s Society also says, identity “can mean different things to different people.” Somewhere in that mix is almost certainly music, which is just one reason why an exploration of music is a great way to celebrate Black History Month.

Music is also an avenue for children to develop and deepen their knowledge and understanding of black history. As organisations like the Black Curriculum are at pains to point out, black history is much more than just slavery and the slave trade. But in the case of music it is perhaps a way in: the spirituals that originated among enslaved peoples, especially those working in the plantation fields of the southern states of the USA, ultimately evolved into gospel music. It indicates how the slaves reimagined and reinterpreted Christian practices, following their forced conversion, in ways that held meaning for them.

Music is an important part of black history, especially (but not only) in the long struggle for justice and equality. As well as gospel music, folk, reggae, the blues, jazz, rhythm and blues, soul, rock ‘n’ roll, hip-hop and rap — and no doubt others too — are all deeply rooted in the black experience. It is also a wonderful opportunity to explore the incredible contribution that black musicians have made to popular music — from Billie Holiday to Bo Diddley to Aretha Franklin to Jimi Hendrix to Bob Marley to Stevie Wonder to Tina Turner. So many extraordinary individuals. The list is endless.

It’s a vast world for children to explore. The good news is that background information, handy lists (‘The Top 10 This…’, ‘The 50 Most That…’) and curated playlists are available at the click of a button. Here’s a good place to start:

50 most important African American music artists of all time

And how about the contribution of black musicians to classical music:

19 black musicians who have shaped the classical music world

There are also lots of organisations offering resources for use to support the teaching of music during Black History Month and beyond. One of them in the UK is The Musical Me, an organisation that we have mentioned here before. One of its founders, Corrine Hope, is listed on our Changemakers page. The goal of The Musical Me, according to its website, is “changing the world’s approach to teaching the primary music curriculum.” Their Library page offers resources and lesson plans to help primary schools teach lessons through music, including resources to support Black History Month.

A key feature of Life-Based Learning is the belief that effective communication is much more than being able to read and write well, vitally important though those skills are. As well as being a way for children to learn about history and identity, music — along with the other creative and expressive arts such as art and design, dance and drama — increases the breadth of children’s communication skills and strengthens their connection to the cultural sphere.

in our blog Music education is far too valuable to be allowed to disappear we highlighted evidence of the ways that music can also support children’s wider learning, everything from “helping with behaviour and confidence to encouraging creativity and learning skills that can be used across many subjects.”

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Image at the head of this article by congerdesign from Pixabay.

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