I would like to thank all of you for coming to tonight’s concert. And I would especially like to thank all of the choirs in advance for what I am sure will be a great night of inspirational music. Tonight we gather to celebrate an important part of African-American culture, the Gospel music tradition. We do so in the month of February in which annually Americans of all races, creeds, and religions take time to recognize the contributions and achievements of the African-American Community. Among those contributions have been various forms of music, whether it be jazz, the blues, rhythm and blues, rap, or gospel.
Needless to say, Gospel music is not restricted to African-Americans, it couldn’t be. Gospel music is part and parcel of the Christian religious tradition. However, due to the Particular experience of African-Americans, including slavery and many years of oppression, and the fact that church was often the only means for slaves or ex-slaves to truly express their hopes and dreams, gospel music took on a special importance in the African-American Church. And the African-American interpretation of Gospel Music is like no other.
Call it Negro spirituals, southern gospel, or more recently urban Contemporary gospel, it has always been and always will be a reflection of the African-American experience. Whether we are describing the soul-stirring power of Mahalia Jackson or the beautiful grace of whitney Houston, and countless others, who doubts that the African-American interpretation of gospel music has been unique, magnificent, and like no other.
As you know so well, this music form is clearly rooted in the oral traditions of this continent and has remained with Black Americans through their passage to the Americas, the decades of slavery, emancipation, legalized discrimination, and the civil rights movement, especially the civil rights movement. Gospel music provided a virtual soundtrack for the movement, providing inspiration in church gatherings and motivation during protest marches, even in the face of taunts, snarling dogs, and water hoses.
The music continues to inspire young and old today, in the mass choirs of big, urban churches … in the tiny, rural churches that still dot the American South … or in musical celebrations within the white house. As i said, this great music directly stems from mother Africa, so it is with great pleasure that we not only mark this music tradition here during African-American history month but performing for us tonight are excellent examples of how this musical genre resonates right here in Abidjan.
I can’t wait to hear the choirs and I’m sure neither can you, so let me conclude by thanking everyone again for coming, for helping the U.S. Embassy celebrate African-American History Month, and let’s all enjoy tonight’s program.