Updated by Jazzmyne Pearson and Lorenzo Washington on June 19, 2020
On Juneteenth: Two Open Letters and 101 Songs
Growing up in Texas, Juneteenth meant a weekend of barbecue and fun with the family every single year. I remember helping my grandpa out with the grill, talking trash over a heated game of dominos, and only turning off the sound system for prayer before dinner. This was all in celebration of the day in Texas history when the last enslaved people in the United States were officially declared free, one of the first big steps in Black people’s fight for equality in this country. I have always loved that Juneteenth focuses on the joyful moments in our history and I love the way we honor that by coming together to be surrounded by the beauty of Black culture and laugh over the labor of love that is soul food. This year, I’m far from the family I’ve celebrated this long-standing tradition with, and hosting a giant barbecue with those I love is out of the question due to the ongoing pandemic, so If I can’t have a barbecue, I decided I would do the next best thing—put together some jams for the evening.
This playlist is my way of celebrating by elevating artists who capture the many facets of the Black experience. Especially now, during the newly-erupted modern Civil Rights Movement, it is easy to get lost in the suffering and pain of Black folk, and while it should by no means be ignored, it's important to remember we are more than that. We are as full of creativity and happiness as anyone and, despite our treatment, we love ourselves, our communities, our skin, and live life to its fullest. I wanted to curate a collection of songs that really captured the essence of that in every possible way. When you listen to this playlist I hope you can’t help but dance or sing along, and maybe lose yourself in the love that went into these wonderful creations.
I’m a big fan of collaborative work and wanted to give my idea the justice it deserves. I couldn’t have done this without the help of my friend, Jazzmyne, who was as much a part of this process as myself. Many hands make light work, and working with friends makes for a fun time.
In the spirit of uplifting our community, the focus of the playlist is largely on lesser-known artists who are carving their own spaces in today’s music landscape. So often seen as a monolith, Black people have seldom been afforded the opportunities to occupy the vast variety of spaces others so effortlessly fill. We are living in a time where perceptions are consistently and ambitiously challenged, and now, more than ever, the beauty and uniqueness we possess is being allowed the room to be recognized and celebrated. Individually talented but united by a shared experience, our strength is in numbers and our expressions of it are limitless. Just as Juneteenth is a celebration of freedom, so this playlist is a tiny glimpse into the incredible talent, overflowing joy, unique and trailblazing artistry, and variety possessed by Black folk against all odds.
No strangers to versatility, Black people have proven time and again that labels can be temporary and easily turned on their heads. With every step, molds can be broken and new trends are set, all thanks to an intrepid and ever-innovating spirit. These songs—101 to be exact—are by old artists and new, well-known artists and niche, spanning nearly all genres, and yet still remain only a small sampling of the range Black artists continue to exhibit by pushing the boundaries of the boxes we refuse to be placed in. Here, there is no struggle, only music that is a direct outpouring of triumph despite it.
So much of Black culture exists and even thrives on its own, undisturbed, but often under-appreciated until the unfortunate spotlight of appropriation is shone upon it, seemingly watering down its brilliance. I think it's past time for Black culture to stand tall and proud, in a spotlight all its own, in all its glory, and for a moment, without mention of all its scars or reminders of the pain it carries. It deserves that. We deserve that. We contain multitudes.
Peace and power,