Recap: A Conversation About Juneteenth and Black Music

Jason Hainsworth and Reverend James Smith

Takeaways from Jason Hainsworth and Reverend James Smith’s live conversation on June 19.

In honor of Juneteenth, SFCM hosted an Instagram Live discussion entitled “Giant Steps: A Conversation About Juneteenth and Black Music.” SFCM Executive Director of Roots, Jazz, and American Music, Associate Dean of Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion and Special Advisor to the President Jason Hainsworth and Reverend James Parrish Smith, artistic director and rev. of the Charles Tindley Academy of Music and program manager of SFCM’s Bridge to Arts and Music spoke about the importance of music in celebrations of the holiday.

Hainsworth and Smith opened with a discussion of how each celebrated Juneteenth growing up. Celebrations differed state-to-state, in part because of uneven familiarity with Juneteenth, which both hope will change now that it is a federal holiday). While Houston-raised Hainsworth recalls parades, marching bands, and music-filled barbecues, New Orleans-born Smith didn’t attend large-scale Juneteenth parties until moving to the Bay Area.

Music for our people has been a time of release and a time of expression and communication.” - Rev. James Parrish Smith

Music has always been a significant part of the Juneteenth celebrations—whether gospel (Smith recommends, “I will make the darkness light before thee” by Charles Price Jones), motown or soul (Hainsworth likes listening to Curtis Mayfield). Hainsworth and Smith discussed how Black Americans throughout history have always used music to express what they were going through. Listening to music on Juneteenth is both entertainment and a reflection of how far Black Americans have come—as well as how much work there is left to do.

The conversation ended with an idea for a diverse SFCM gospel choir that performs original music, classical music by Black composers, and blends musical styles. In Smith’s words: “We live in a beautiful, diverse, global society. An instrument is what we make of it. The instrument shouldn’t tell us what to do. We should work with the instrument to create what happens here that we desire.”

Watch the video below or head over to SFCM’s Instagram for the full conversation.