Jazz music is one of Africa’s greatest gifts to America and the whole world. I say this because although the genre is considered a uniquely American creation that blended African and European instruments and musical traditions, the fact remains that jazz is a product of America’s black culture, specifically those in New Orleans, Louisiana.
Since its beginnings in the early 20th century, jazz music has gone from being condemned as “the devil’s music” and a low-culture style without artistic merit to a global form that has been adapted by musicians of many races, nationalities and languages. Jazz festivals are held in dozens of countries around the world, drawing top talent, huge crowds and millions of dollars in revenue.
So wide has its influence spread that in 2002, the Smithsonian Museum in Washington, DC, declared April to be Jazz Appreciation Month. United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) followed suit in 2011, setting aside today, April 30, as International Jazz Appreciation Day. So it is in the spirit of the day, inspired by the amazing Black Girls Rock! awards gala and concert that aired on Black Entertainment Television (BET) earlier this month, that I present “Black Girls Swing” – a tribute to more than a dozen phenomenal women throughout the African diaspora who have stamped jazz with their own style.
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There are many more women who could easily have made this list like one of my personal favorites, Shirley Horn, and much that could be said of each. But I hope this video playlist will serve as a teaser to encourage you to explore some old favorites and new names, this weekend, on into the Mother’s Day season and beyond.