An Exciting New Museum On The Horizon

African American Music Appreciation Month is the perfect opportunity to talk about the new museum that is on the horizon.


The National Museum of African American Music is scheduled to open in 2019 in Nashville, Tennessee. It will be the only museum dedicated to preserving the legacy of the different types of music that was created, influenced, and inspired by African-Americans.

Proposed in 2002 by members of the Nashville Area Chamber of Commerce, a task force was organized to determine the feasibility of such a project. The task force concluded that Nashville needed a place that could attract more African American conventions, as well as visitors from all backgrounds.

The museum will cover 50 genres of music, including Southern religious, blues, hip-hop, Rhythm & Blues, Jazz, call-and-response spirituals, work songs, gospel, etc.

Black Music Month began in 1979 and was organized by Kenny Gamble, Ed Wright, and Dyana Williams. They convinced President Jimmy Carter to host a reception to formally recognize the cultural and financial contributions of black music. Since then, Black Music Month is celebrated with events across the country. In 2009, President Barack Obama designated June as African American Music Appreciation Month.

The National Museum of African American Music will definitely be a welcome addition, not only to Nashville residents, but to visitors throughout the United States and the world.  Even though there is not a physical building in existence, the National Museum of African American Music has developed programs that served over 8,000 people in 2016.

Although the opening of the National Museum of African American Music is two years away, I am excited about the prospect of having over 50 genres of music, which African-Americans influenced, in one place.

My contribution to the history of jazz music is When Grandmama Sings. When I visit with students I talk to them about the origins of jazz and the various types of jazz artists. They eagerly listen to the excerpts of songs and discuss the story that is being told through the words.

The National Museum of African American Music will further open students minds to the contributions made by black Americans to the musical tapestry of the world.

For information: When Grandmama Sings



The Music Of Uncle Jed’s Barbershop

The music of Uncle Jed’s Barbershop exemplifies the rich cultural heritage of African American music. In honor of African American Music Appreciation Month, I’m taking a moment to highlight the music in Uncle Jed’s Barbershop, a new family musical created by David Wohl, Kenneth Grimes, and Susan Einhorn and adapted from my book of the same name.  Inspired by the music of the 1920’s through the early 1960’s, the musical is uplifting, sizzling, and glorious!

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The songs hook you with their rich creativity. An evening at the Uncle Jed’s Barbershop musical is completely satisfying, with theater music influenced by blues, gospel, jazz, spirituals, bebop, and a variety of pop and classical influences.

A joyous celebration of music, the actors deliver emotional punch in every song. But don’t take my word for it. Below are quotes from theatre critics, theater goers, and the creators of the show.

“When the creators of Uncle Jed’s Barbershop decided it was time to finally, fully stage their unapologetically sentimental new family musical, they weren’t messing around. Their cast features Broadway veterans Ken Prymus, Nora Cole, and Terry Burrell, along with a host of local stalwarts including Mary Louise Lee, Harvy Blanks, Leonard Barrett Jr. and Anna High. And they weren’t messing around when they unearthed a then 12-year-old named Yasmine Hunter to share with Lee the leading role of Sarah Jean. Lee brought the backbone and Hunter brought down the house on a solo called ‘I Will Go Where You Go’.”  – John Moore, Theatre Critic

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“Get ready for some toe-tapping fun! The brainchild of composer David Wohl and co-creators Kenneth Grimes and Sarah Einhorn, this heartwarming performance tells a story of faith, determination and family to the backdrop of a soulful score that traverses decades of musical styles. Theater-goers will find themselves immersed in the story of Sarah Jean Carter and her Uncle Jed, who dreams of one day opening his own barbershop.”  –  Denver Life Magazine

“Uncle Jed’s Barbershop leaps from the bookshelf to the stage! Colorado composer David Wohl drew inspiration from the music of the 1920’s and 30’s for the score.” – Colorado Public Radio

“Uncle Jed’s Barbershop, an award-winning play, is an inspiring story which all families can learn from. This is the type of show where you don’t get bored. It will get you up and get you moving.”  – Good Day Colorado, Fox 31 Denver

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“Oh, my God! I have never been to a play where I was so caught up in the music! It touched my soul! I had to go back the next day. The music gripped me even more. I was completely swept back in time. I was mesmerized.” Ira Johnson, Ft. Lauderdale, FL

“Uncle Jed’s Barbershop is a stage play the whole family can enjoy. Loaded with life lessons about perseverance, financial, and personal struggles, the music ties everything together. It is fantastic.” – L. R. Henderson, Houston, TX

“This is a show whose family, community, and generational story lines and dynamics tell a powerful and moving universal story for all people of all times. The music is theater music that is both eclectic and ‘rooted’. Influences include blues, spirituals, romantic music, gospel, Motown, country, and so forth. The main purpose of every musical number is to advance plot and to continually fill out the lives of the characters.” – David Wohl, Finale Blog

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“To do this show has really been a faith walk. We don’t have systems of support in place to really help independent artists to pull off productions on this scale. We are hopeful that this will launch us to take it nationally.” – Kenneth Grimes, Denver Urban Spectrum

To learn more about the new musical, Uncle Jed’s Barbershop, and its music, visit:  Uncle Jed’s Barbershop, A New Musical

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June Is African American Music Appreciation Month

President Obama has issued a proclamation naming June as African American Music Appreciation Month.  Now is a great time to teach children about the contributions to music made by people of color.

When Grandmama Sings tells one such story. Set in the 1940’s, Belle is going to spend the summer touring the South with her grandmother and a swing jazz band.  Belle has never been outside Pecan Flats, Mississippi. And she can’t wait to go on the road with Grandmama. There are so many new things to see on their travels through the Deep South. But some things aren’t new. Everything is segregated, just like at home. But Grandmama stands up for what’s right.

At the end of the tour, Grandmama says, “Belle, tonight was special. I could feel all of those folks with me. I want us to feel this way all the time. I want to sing in a place where black people and white people aren’t kept apart. That’s the kind of world I want for you.”

President Obama’s official proclamation is below:

A vital part of our Nation’s proud heritage, African-American music exemplifies the creative spirit at the heart of American identity and is among the most innovative and powerful art the world has ever known. It accompanies us in our daily lives, and it has rung out at turning points in our history and demonstrated how our achievements as a culture go hand-in-hand with our progress as a Nation.

Billie Holiday

During African-American Music Appreciation Month, we honor the artists who, through this music, bring us together, show us a true reflection of ourselves, and inspire us to reach for the harmony that lies beyond our toughest struggles.

Songs by African-American musicians span the breadth of the human experience and resonate in every corner of our nation — animating our bodies, stimulating our imaginations, and nourishing our souls. In the ways they transform real stories about real people into art, these artists speak to universal human emotion and the restlessness that stirs within us all. African-American music helps us imagine a better world, and it offers hope that we will get there together.


This month, we celebrate the music that reminds us that our growth as a Nation and as people is reflected in our capacity to create great works of art. Let us recognize the performers behind this incredible music, which has compelled us to stand up — to dance, to express our faith through song, to march against injustice, and to defend our country’s enduring promise of freedom and opportunity for all.

Now, therefore, I, Barack Obama, President of the United States of America, by virtue of the authority vested in me by the Constitution and the laws of the United States, do hereby proclaim June 2016 as African-American Music Appreciation Month.

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I call upon public officials, educators, and all the people of the United States to observe this month with appropriate activities and programs that raise awareness and foster appreciation of music that is composed, arranged, or performed by African-Americans.

In witness whereof, I have hereunto set my hand this thirty-first day of May, in the year of our Lord two thousand sixteen, and of the Independence of the United States of America the two hundred and fortieth.

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Uncle Jed’s Barbershop, A New Musical

Celebrate African-American Music Appreciation Month with When Grandmama Sings

President Obama has issued a proclamation naming June as African-American Music Appreciation Month. I recently sat down with the Jazz Collaborative to discuss When Grandmama Sings. Following are excerpts from that conversation.

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JC: Your book, When Grandmama Sings, intermingles jazz with Southern history. Describe the story.

MM: When Grandmama Sings takes place in the 1940’s. Belle’s grandmother is a local singer in a small town in Mississippi. She gets an opportunity to go on a tour of the South and she takes Belle with her.

When Grandmama Sings shows what life was like for black entertainers who traveled from place to place. Grandmama is protective of Belle but she doesn’t shelter her from the harsh realities of life. They encounter separate hotels for blacks and whites. They can’t eat in a restaurant after a show because of the color of their skin. Grandmama meets with injustice in New Orleans when a club owner wants her to perform without pay. And when she performs in a big venue in Atlanta the audience is segregated: whites sit on the main floor and black people have to sit in the balcony.

JC: But after the tour great things happen for Grandmama.

MM: Absolutely. I love happy endings. I want students to know that life isn’t fair or equal at times. Regardless of how you are treated, if you remain focused on the gift you have inside of you, no one act or person can put your light out.

JC: What defines the relationship between Belle and her grandmother?

Trust defines their relationship. Bell travels with her grandmother and helps her read signs, menus, newspapers, etc. Even though she is a child, Belle is providing a valuable service to her grandmother. Grandmama trusts Belle to read everything to her. And Belle trusts her grandmother to take care of her.

JC: I love the relationship between Belle and her grandmother. Tell us about your relationship with your grandmother.

MM: My grandmother and I were very close. When she visited her sisters in other cities, she took me with her. My earliest memories are of me sitting in a chair beside my grandmother and she is teaching me how to read. When I was older my grandmother taught me how to cook. I will always cherish those moments in the kitchen with her teaching me her secret recipes. I wanted to show the same closeness between Belle and her grandmother.

JC: Why is it important for children to read books like When Grandmama Sings during African-American Music Appreciation Month?

MM: With budget decreases in schools and arts programs being cut, students are not being exposed to music and art programs. It is important that students learn to appreciate different types of music. They should know that certain types of music were born out of struggle. If students hear music and can read about the challenges the artist faced, they will have a better appreciation of what it takes to build a career.

JC: Students loved your program on When Grandmama Sings where you introduced female blues and jazz singers. Why is it important that they actually hear the music from that era?

MM: Students are familiar with music of today: rap, hip hop, and pop songs. It isn’t every day that they hear a different type of music. By introducing them to blues and jazz singers, I hope the music will speak to something inside of them. They will see that stories can be told through music.

JC: When Grandmama Sings is a recipient of the Living The Dream Award. What does this honor mean to you?

MM: It is extra special because students voted on the books. I am honored that When Grandmama Sings touches the hearts and minds of students.

JC: What does African-American Music Appreciation Month mean to you?

MM: It means that adults and children can learn about the rich heritage of African American music. African-Americans played an integral role in all types of music: blues, jazz, soul, rock & roll, musical theater, opera, classical, and choral music. This month is a great time to learn about their contributions.

JC: Any final thoughts about music?

MM: There is strength in music. The songs of the Civil Rights Movement provided strength and hope during the entire struggle for equal rights. There is joy in music. A song has the ability to lift people to a higher realm. That’s joy! There is power in music. Music has the power to change moods. Music, in all of its styles, is part of our lives. It is like the different color strands in fabric that when woven together creates a beautiful garment.


JC: Thanks so much for talking to us. If people want to learn more about your books, where can they reach you?


Book information, as well as contact information, is there.