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The White House Held Its First Ever Juneteenth Concert — And Recording Academy Experienced It Firsthand
Not only did the night mark the two-year anniversary of Juneteenth becoming a federal holiday, but it also celebrated June being Black Music Month with a joyful showcase of Black artists and culture.
On Tues. Jun. 13, the White House held its first ever Juneteenth Concert, commemorating emancipation in America — and the two-year anniversary of Juneteeth's institution as a federal holiday.
The Recording Academy's Vice President of Diversity, Equity & Inclusion, Ryan Butler, worked closely with White House staff to build the event including helping to secure GRAMMY Winner and 14-time GRAMMY nominee, Ledisi, and the evening's headliner, two-time GRAMMY Winner and eight-time GRAMMY nominee, Jennifer Hudson.
The Recording Academy also had a large delegation in attendance including National Board of Trustees Chair Tammy Hurt and Vice Chair Dr. Chelsey Green.
The evening started out with an HBCU Battle of the Bands featuring Morgan State University Marching Band: The Magnificent Marching Machine and Tennessee State University Marching Band: The Aristocrat of Bands — a two-time GRAMMY winning band. The two marching bands battled it out on the White House South Lawn and crowds gathered to enjoy the music and good-natured competition.
The formal program began shortly after with opening remarks from Vice President Kamala Harris. Harris gave a moving speech in which she emphasized the importance of Juneteenth and the importance of honoring "Black excellence, culture, and community."
The vice president continued to state that, "America is a promise — a promise of freedom, liberty, and justice. The story of Juneteenth, as we celebrate it, is the story of our ongoing fight to realize that promise — not for some, but for all." To conclude her opening remarks, Harris was joined by activist and widely known "Grandmother of Juneteenth," Opal Lee.
Ms. Lee encouraged the audience to continue to fight for progress, saying, "If people can be taught to hate, they can be taught to love. And it's up to you to do it." With those words, the celebration and the evening's musical program continued unabated.
In addition to Ledisi and Hudson, the concert was packed with artists of varying genres and included numerous GRAMMY winners and nominees such as GRAMMY winner and two-time GRAMMY nominee Cliff "Method Man" Smith; GRAMMY winning vocal group, Fisk Jubilee Singers; two-time GRAMMY winner Audra McDonald; GRAMMY winner Patina Miller; and Broadway Inspirational Voices, which was founded by GRAMMY nominee Michael McElroy. Other performers included the Hampton University Concert Choir, Step Afrika!, and Colman Domingo.
To conclude the evening, President Biden took to the stage alongside his daughter, Ashley Biden, to deliver closing remarks.
"Juneteenth, as a federal holiday, is meant to breathe new life into the very essence of America," President Biden stated. "To make sure all Americans feel the power of this day and the progress we can make as a country; to choose love over hate, unity over disunion, and progress over retreat. Choosing to remember history, not erase it..."
Biden wrapped by telling the crowd that, "We have to move forward together. When we choose to protect the freedoms we all deserve — when they are attacked, that's when we cannot remain silent. Silence is complicity."
After his remarks, President Biden went on to introduce the final act of the evening, Jennifer Hudson — who tied up the evening with a performance so moving even the President was brought to tears.
Overall, the night was celebratory, emotional, and reminded everyone in attendance of the importance of continuing to stand up for what is right.
Beyond Juneteenth and Black Music Month, the Recording Academy — led by its DE&I and Advocacy departments — is dedicated to continuing to fight for black music creators. This evening was another demonstration of the immeasurable influence of Black music on our culture and communities.