Since we are nearing the end of the first week of February, I thought I'd blog about some of my favorite musical activities for Black History Month. Most of these activities could be used any time during the year–and in any classroom–but I know, for me, Black History Month is a great reminder to make sure I delve deeper into cultural and social contexts by reading, singing, and having thoughtful discussions with students!
One of my favorite ways to celebrate Black History Month is by reading children's literature about famous African-Americans, and teaching them about music history in the process. Below are several of my favorites; simply click each picture to view each book on Amazon or Alibris!
Another way to celebrate Black History Month is by performing a play or program about African-American history. In a few days, my fourth graders will be performing “Follow the Drinking Gourd,” based off of this book:
The students of course learned the song “Follow the Drinking Gourd,” but they will also be singing other songs, such as “Freedom Train,” shown below, and other favorites, like “Old House” (which you can find here) and “Red are strawberries” (found here), which they will sing after discussing how the slaves sometimes had berries to pick, and sometimes had no food at all to eat. Many of the songs and dances they are performing are African-American, but some are also serving as a way to illustrate the story of the Underground Railroad. Although some scholars now believe that this song may not have been used to teach slaves how to find the Underground Railroad, it does teach students about the plight of runaway slaves in an engaging way, and we've had great discussions about equality and fairness through the book and the song.
I have also used “I See the Rhythm” (shown above) as a program. The book is wonderful because it is like a chronological musical African-American history told with beautiful pictures and poetic prose. For the program, I had students learn “Ensemble #1” from World Music Drumming; the resource is shown below.
I also had them learn a dance from this great resource:
And of course, to celebrate Black History Month, we can sing! One of my all-time favorites is Freedom Train, which I learned from my Kodaly Level III teacher Joan Litman (I've raved about how amazing she is in previous posts, and I really must again! If you get a chance to see her at a workshop you MUST!)
Freedom Train works beautifully in a round. Although it seems like it is an Underground Railroad song–since the Underground Railroad was sometimes called the Freedom Train–I learned that this is actually a Civil Rights song (and I was able to have a great discussion with my students about Civil Rights by discussing its origin.)
I also LOVE this resource, which comes with a book and a very, very helpful DVD (the author of the book teaches the songs to your students AND provides authentic field recordings of each song!)
I just made some major revisions to my “Songs and Activities for Black History Month Set,” shown below. The set includes lessons for most of the picture books shown above, as well as several songs, PDF's with embedded music, and a bulletin board set. If you've already purchased this set, simply re-download under “my purchases.”
What are your favorite Black History Month activities? Feel free to comment below.
ANYTHING from Soul Science Lab’s Asante Amin and Chen Lo. They have been the best teachers/mentors on learning about Black music (and culture) in America, from its West African roots to Hip Hop and all genres in between. I cannot say enough good about Soul Science Lab and am indebted to them for deepening my understanding of Black music and culture in the US.
Thank you for the suggestion, Maureen! I’ll check them out!
Time well spent, for certain, Aileen, and I must say that learning from SSL has been transformative for me both personally and professionally, so definitely outside the boundary of Black History Month, more like informing me on a wider perspective that also includes BHM! Thank you for all of your thoughts and resources – they are terrific!
Hi Aileen! I was trying to access your link for “Old house” and it doesn’t appear to be working. Just an FYI. Thanks for your amazing resources!
Thanks for letting me know! I’ll fix it, but here it is: https://mrsmiraclesmusicroom.com/2014/05/living-kodalys-vision.html.