Black History Month starts today and there are numerous local activities planned to mark the annual event. Many of those events touch on the most obvious learning point about black history, even in Canada and even in Prince George - black history is part of our collective history and black culture is part of our collective culture.
But a clear distinction need to be made about being a part of our history. That doesn't mean it's apart of our history, running in some parallel universe. It's woven all together as part of one complete fabric (thanks, Cliff Raphael, for the analogy). Put another way, black history is part of the cake of history - nobody tastes just the eggs, the vanilla, the sugar or the flour - it's combined into overall taste but the individual contributions can be studied and appreciated in greater depth.
John Robert Giscome, Lance Morgan and Dr. Winston Bishop are just three examples of how black history is so immersed in our own local history.
News this week that Grade 12 students at Valemount secondary will have the option, starting this September, of taking a rock and roll music history course is another opportunity to recognize the contribution of black history to a musical genre that is now almost exclusively white.
It's a shortlist of black musicians that still play rock - once you get past Jimi Hendrix (and he died more than 40 years ago), you're quickly into the more obscure territory of Living Colour, TV On The Radio, The Roots or the flavour-of-the-month Alabama Shakes (are you a black band when you're three white guys playing in front of a black frontwoman?) and more than a few people would question whether all of those acts, except for Living Colour, actually play something any fan would recognize without hesitation as rock.
The course plans to focus on the protest songs of the 1960s and 1970s, the unique regional sounds of The Beach Boys (California) and The Beatles (the U.K.), punk rock and a section on Canadian rock.
In other words, this course will have no black representation, accurately reflecting the fact that when rock n' roll became rock in the late 1960s, it became almost exclusively white.
But that doesn't reflect rock's roots.
It was the work of Robert Johnson, Howlin' Wolf, John Lee Hooker, Lead Belly and Willie Dixon (all members of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, by the way) that inspired The Rolling Stones, Eric Clapton, Led Zeppelin... and Hendrix, along with countless others. It was Willie Mae "Big Mama" Thornton who first recorded Hound Dog, four years before Elvis Presley made it a classic.
And those blues pioneers were in turn inspired by gospel, the songs of the church, along with the songs of the cotton fields and the factories and the bars, which in turn came from the songs of slavery.
A fascinating project for that class would be to explore the racial segregation that has run through the history of popular music and how that segregation shaped the development of rock and its offshoots, particularly punk and heavy metal.
"The whole idea of being able to blend music and bring the experience that kids know to the classroom, you just know they are going to be engaged because that's a world they live in," said SD 57 chair Sharel Warrington this week when school trustees gave their blessing to the class.
The key word there is blend. Despite its white sheen for the last 50 years, a serious exploration of rock and roll history has to start with its black roots.
That's just one of the countless reasons why Black History Month matters.