Black History Month 2021: Music as Medicine

February 1, 2021

The Black History Month Student Planning Committee of the Black Cultural Center’s theme for Black History Month 2021 is Music as Medicine: Evolution of Music in the Black Community. Be sure to check the UW-Madison Black History Month site to learn about all the events planned! The events include an online exhibit on the history of Black Radio in the United States, a DJ battle (February 5), a Black Table Talk series (February 10, 17, 24), a workshop on the basics of beat and song making (February 17), guided meditation with jazz (February 21), and Moonshine, a traditional performance gathering featuring dance, spoken word, and experimental choreography (February 26).

The following description appears on the UW-Madison Black History Month site:
“From generation to generation music has been utilized by the Black Community as a form of activism, healing, and freedom of expression. From the use of negro spirituals to uplift the spirits of enslaved peoples, to the arrangement of contemporary hip-hop tracks to call out systemic racism and oppression, throughout generations music has been used by Black people to reflect their internal and external situations.

This year, we will celebrate the theme Music as Medicine: Evolution of Music in the Black Community by presenting a cohesive set of programming designed to highlight the various forms of Black music such as Negro Spirituals, Jazz, Blues, Reggae, Hip Hop/Rap, Gospel, R&B, and more. We will also discuss the influence of those often ignored for their contributions to music, such as women in genres dominated by men.”

The use of singing, chanting, and drumming as part of healing rituals is an ancient practice, one that’s widespread across Africa and every other continent. Much of this wisdom has found its way into the field of music therapy, and scientists have documented the effects of singing and making music on our sense of well-being and our wellness.

Mills Music Library has resources galore to explore related to this year’s Black History Month theme, both in terms of Music as Medicine and the Evolution of Music in the Black Community, and we’ve assembled a list of selections we’ll be adding to as the month continues.


  • The Negro Spiritual Speaks of Life and Death, by Howard Thurman. New York: Harper, 1947. Call Number: ML3556 T56
  • The Power of Black Music: Interpreting Its History from Africa to the United States, by Samuel A. Floyd, Jr. New York: Oxford University Press, 1995. Call Number: ML3556 F65 1995. E-book: ACLS Humanities E-Book
  • Black Music, by Amiri Baraka (LeRoi Jones). New York: W. Morrow, 1967. Call Number: ML3556 J728. E-book: African American Music Reference
  • Blues Legacies and Black feminism: Gertrude “Ma” Rainey, Bessie Smith, and Billie Holiday, by Angela Davis. New York: Pantheon Books, 1998. Call Number: ML3521 D355 1998. E-book: Black Thought and Culture  
  • If You Don’t Go, Don’t Hinder Me: The African American Sacred Song Tradition, by Bernice Johnson Reagon. Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 2001. Call Number: ML3187 R43 2001 E-book: ProQuest Ebook Central
  • Move On Up: Chicago Soul Music and Black Cultural Power, by Aaron Cohen. Chicago; London: The University of Chicago Press, 2019. E-book: De Gruyter University Press Library eBooks
  • Routes, Rap, Reggae: Hearing the Histories of Hip-Hop and Reggae Together, by Wayne Glenn Marshall. Dissertation, UW-Madison, 2007. Call Number: AWB M369 W385. Full Text PDF: ProQuest Dissertations and Theses Global.
  • Break Beats in the Bronx: Rediscovering Hip-Hop’s Early Years, by Joseph C. Ewoodzie Jr. Chapel Hill: The University of North Carolina Press, 2018. E-book: Project MUSE eBooks
  • Musical Healing in Cultural Contexts, edited by Penelope Gouk. Aldershot; Brookfield, USA: Ashgate, 2000. Call Number: ML3920 M89997 2000

Sound Recordings

  • Fisk University Jubilee Singers, in chronological order. Document Records, 1997. Call Number: COMP DISC 8354, v.1-v.3. Streaming: Music Online: American Music
  • Wattstax: The Living Word. Berkeley, CA: Stax: Fantasy, [1989] ℗1972. Call Number: COMP DISC 15727. Streaming: Music Online: American Music CD 1, CD 2
  • Say It Loud! A Celebration of Black Music in America. Los Angeles, CA: Rhino, 2001. Call Number: COMP DISC 33819
  • The Long Road to Freedom: An Anthology of Black Music, edited by Harry Belafonte. New York: Buddha Records: Distributed by BMG, 2001. Call Number: COMP DISC 8574


  • At the Jazz Band Ball: Early Hot Jazz, Song and Dance 1925-1933. Yazoo presents; produced by Sherwin Dunner and Richard Nevins. [Place of publication not identified]: Yazoo Video, [2000]. Call Number: DVD 69
  • Wattstax. 30th-Anniversary Special Edition. Burbank, CA: Distributed by Warner Home Video, c2004. Call Number: DVD 90
  • Wild Women Don’t Have the Blues. New York, N.Y.: Infobase, [2012], c1989. Streaming: Films on Demand
  • Rejoice & Shout. Magnolia Pictures presents a Deep River Films production; produced by Joe Lauro; directed by Don McGlynn. Los Angeles: Distributed by Magnolia Home Entertainment, [2011]. Call Number: DVD 793


  • The Treasury of Negro Spirituals, written by Henry Alban Chambers; edited by Henry Alban Chambers. New York, NY: Emerson Books, 1963. E-book: Music Online: African American Music Reference
  • The Book Of American Negro Spirituals, edited with an introduction by James Weldon Johnson; musical arrangements by J. Rosamond Johnson; additional numbers by Lawrence Brown. New York: The Viking Press, 1933. Call Number: M1670 J67 B6
  • Soul Classics: piano, vocal, guitar. Milwaukee, WI: H. Leonard Corp., 2000. Call Number: M1630.18 S68 2000