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With Black Music Month in its 45th year, many concerts, panels, social media posts, and events will celebrate the contributions of Black musical innovators, legends, and creations. While it’s important to highlight the artists and the history in these public forums, it’s also vital that we ensure schools recommit to teaching music to Black students.

As a high schooler in upstate New York, music continued to my through-line. I was a member of several select choirs and jazz groups, which deepened my connection to sounds from across the country and world. I learned how to process and contextualize music both as a consumer and a journalist. I am not sure I would even be doing the work I do now as a journalist without my school’s commitment to music programs.

Music helped me bond with my family during times of conflict and distance. Music taught me that I wasn’t alone when I felt detached and sad. Growing up, it was a window onto the world beyond the one I knew at home. Music gave me the courage to explore, to hear and beyond what I thought possible.

Because it wasn’t just the notes and chords; music taught me how to listen differently, intently. And today, there are so many students who are similar to who I was in school: a young Black man in need of a new way of knowing myself, hearing myself.

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It was the majesty of Michael Jackson, Stevie Wonder, Chaka Khan, Missy Elliott, and so many, many others—their music was life-affirming. They connected me directly to Black genius and my culture and heritage as a Black man living in America.

Eric Adams, Other Mayors, Cutting Music Programming

Over the last several years, there have been significant cuts to music and art programs across American schools. In North Carolina, the Cairo-Durham Central Schools face a $900,000 cut toward music and art, according to the NYSUT Federation.

In New York, Mayor Eric Adams announced a $7 million budget cut in after-school programming, as reported by Chalkbeat. How many young people need something in the hours between the school bell and when their families get home that positively stimulates them?

And that comes on top of all that was lost because of the COVID-19 pandemic, academic budget cuts and teacher layoffs. Music and art classes continued to be decimated, according to a Columbia University report, The Consequences of Cutting Music Programs in K-12 Public Schools.

More, the cuts to music and art programs, they reported, disproportionately affected Black students, which in turn exacerbated existing educational inequities and impeded their academic and personal development. The elimination of these programs removes a critical avenue for cognitive, social, and emotional growth, which research shows is vital for overall academic success.

Music Education Enhances Overall Development In Students

Music education plays a crucial role in developing a wide range of skills that contribute to academic achievement. It enhances cognitive abilities, such as memory, attention, and spatial-temporal skills. Participation in music programs is linked to improved language development and reading skills, as well as higher levels of creativity and critical thinking.

For Black students, music programs often serve as a cultural touchstone, providing a means of expression and connection to their heritage. These programs also offer a safe space for students to build confidence and find a sense of belonging, which is essential for their overall well-being and academic motivation. According to the National Educational Music Company, learning instruments and music theory help with a child’s cultural awareness, and helps develop self-discipline.

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Music programs also often serve as a cultural touchstone for Black students, providing a means of expression and connection to their heritage. They offer a safer space for students to build confidence and find a sense of belonging, which is essential for their overall well-being and academic motivation. According to the National Educational Music Company, learning instruments and music theory help with a child’s cultural awareness and the development of self-discipline.

Cutting Music Programs Harms Black Students In Particular

According to the Arts Education Data Project, Black students often attend schools in underfunded districts where extracurricular programs are limited. The removal of music education further reduces their access to enrichment activities that are readily available to their peers in more affluent areas.

Black students already face systemic barriers that contribute to an academic achievement gap. Music programs provide a unique avenue to close this gap by fostering skills that directly impact academic performance. These programs are necessary for the gap to widen.

Music education is not just about academic skills; it also supports emotional and social development. For many Black students, music is a form of emotional expression and stress relief. The absence of music programs can lead to increased stress and decreased emotional well-being, negatively affecting their academic engagement and performance. Those responsible for young people’s growth and development should consider the following:

  1. Without the cognitive benefits derived from music education, Black students may experience a decline in academic performance, particularly in areas such as mathematics and literacy. A Science Daily report via the University of Kansas states that there is a connection between children who learn music and musical instruments and higher test scores in math and science.

  2. Music programs often keep students engaged and motivated. Their removal can lead to a decline in overall student engagement, increasing the risk of absenteeism and dropout rates.

  3. Participation in music programs can enhance college applications and provide scholarship opportunities. The absence of these programs limits students’ chances of pursuing higher education and successful careers in fields related to the arts and beyond.

We Can Help Stop The Harms Of Cutting Music Programs 

The cutting of music programs in American schools has far-reaching consequences, particularly for Black students. These programs are essential for fostering academic success, emotional well-being, and cultural identity.

  1. Advocacy for increased funding for music education is crucial. Highlighting the academic and social benefits of music programs can help garner support from policymakers and communities.

  2. Integrating music education into the standard curriculum can ensure that all students have access to its benefits, regardless of budget constraints.

  3. Schools can partner with local music organizations, nonprofits, and cultural institutions to provide alternative music education opportunities for students.

Making a real commitment to Black students’ success–particularly given the historical and ongoing disruption of resources for equality education in predominately Black schools, this should be a top priority for policymakers, educators and community members. Our children deserve access to the transformative power of music education.


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