This digital library was born out of a need to make resources about Black music history as comprehensive and accessible as possible. It contains well over one thousand entries (and counting) in the form of books, articles, documentaries, series, radio segments, and podcasts about the Black origins of popular and traditional music, dating from the 18th century to the present day. These materials range from informal to scholarly, meaning there is something in the library for everyone.

There are many notable archives doing similar work, yet it isn’t uncommon for some to have a limited view of Black music—one which fuels US-centrism and a preference for vernacular music traditions. This collection considers the term “Black music” more widely, as it aims to address any instances in which Black participation led to the creation or innovation of music across the diaspora. Plainly speaking, that means just about every genre will be included here.

Black artists have often been minimized or omitted entirely when it comes to the discussion, practice, and research of many forms of music. This library seeks to correct that. It is time to reframe Black music history as foundational to American music history, Latinx music history, and popular music history at large.

“Music is our witness, and our ally. The beat is the confession which recognises, changes and conquers time. Then, history becomes a garment we can wear and share, and not a cloak in which to hide; and time becomes our friend.”

- James Baldwin, 1979.

What is the selection process for the library?

Every material selected for the Black Music History Library goes through a manual vetting process that considers the following:

  • Who is the author or participant in this material?
  • What is the perspective this source offers?
  • Is it an inclusive, accurate addition to Black music history? 

This library attempts to highlight Black authors and participants as much as possible when selecting materials, as it’s essential to prioritize accounts from those who have primary insight into the subject at hand. Supporting their materials can also signal to institutions that there is a public interest in their work. Hopefully, this inspires more investment in these individuals and their projects in the future.

Library materials must also be well-researched, contextualize issues of race in music, and challenge intolerant standards of taste. Ideal selections offer an inclusive and thoughtful consideration of Black music—one that also values styles of the diaspora, oral traditions, and new movements. All materials are considered on this basis, but it’s still important to think critically and question perspectives (especially those of non-Black sources) as you encounter them.

Where do you find these materials?

Materials for the library are collected from a variety of sources. The curator keeps an eye on research journals, music industry newsletters, social media, the work of Black musicologists, ethnomusicologists, and performance studies scholars, blogs, and university database searches.

It’s all about redistributing the wealth of knowledge and equalizing “research” to include both unconventional and established paths. You can find some of these resources in the Relevant Websites folder.

How are the materials organized? 

Materials are sorted on the library landing page in general chronological order and by genre or regional origin.

It is important to note that while genre is used here to make the browsing experience easier, it is not a perfect system with which to categorize music. Historically, the commercial music industry has utilized genre as a segregational tool for Black artists: Designations like “urban” have been used to describe music of many styles by Black artists, whereas some are deemed “R&B” while their white counterparts are marketed as “pop.”

Please question these biases as you engage with the materials. Meanwhile, the library will continue to consider categorization methods that best represent artists’ work.

Visitors to the library are also encouraged to reference the key listed above each category. Sources by Black writers, scholars, directors, and/or interviewees will always be highlighted.

Are all the materials free?

Many are! But not all materials are immediately available for public download or viewing. Visitors to the site are still encouraged to purchase materials by Black authors.

That said, the mission of the Black Music History Library is not to bar access to anyone who cannot afford a paywalled article, book, film, or other material. Contact the curator at this form to request a copy and she will do her best to share what she can. 

How often is the library updated?

Updates will be performed on a conditional basis to ensure fair screening of any new materials. A marquee on the library landing page indicates the last time the site has been updated.

Who curates this?

The Black Music History Library is curated by Jenzia Burgos. She is a Puerto Rican-Dominican writer and music journalist from the South Bronx, NY. Her investment in the library is entirely non-commercial, and she does not receive a cut from listing materials on the site.

You can find her on Instagram and Twitter, where she’s probably ranting about gentrification, or learn more about her on her website.

How can I support the library?

Sharing the library, submitting feedback, and visiting is more than enough! But for those interested in donating, please feel free check back for future fundraising initiatives in 2022.

Donations will allow for the library’s continued expansion, which includes site updates and funding the original work of Black music scholars, researchers, and writers to be featured on the site.

How can I make a request or suggestion?

There’s a form for that! 😉 Feel free to reach out with questions, recommendations, or comments related to the Black Music History Library at any time.

This project is supported by Critical Minded, an initiative to invest in cultural critics of color cofounded by The Nathan Cummings Foundation and the Ford Foundation.