[box] Today we are pleased to present yet another engaging post written by Over My Shoulder Foundation Intern Sarah Gross. One of my favorite quotes about music by Jimi Hendrix is a driving force behind our mentoring organization. The quote reads, “If there is something to be changed in this world…it can only be done through music.” With keen insight, Sarah writes about how Lenny Kravitz’s new album mentors his listeners with a poignant message to replace all lingering racial discrimination with a joyful celebration of the common ground that can unify all people, all races. Enjoy!
-Dawn Carroll, Over My Shoulder Foundation Co-Founder[/box]
Black History Month recognizes the history of racial tensions between blacks and whites alongside celebrating the achievements and impact African Americans have had on the country. While we commemorate Blacks in the shaping of the nation, we do so with the backdrop of racial strife. We are cognizant of the inequality between different races, an issue which was addressed but not quite remedied with the Civil Rights Act of 1964. With each passing decade, legal measures are passed to improve equal treatment among the races, and yet the scars left by discrimination do not fully fade. We strive to overcome these scars through awareness and communication; a most potent form of communication is music.
Music, the lyric and the melody, encourages oneness or togetherness, and inevitably unifies people from a variety of backgrounds. Music speaks to people on a transcendent level, where words sung can convey meaning more effectively than plain words spoken.
From Smokey Robinson to Marvin Gaye to Michael Jackson, many African American musicians have used music as a form of communication to speak to broad audiences with great resonance. Recently, successful musical artist Lenny Kravitz released an album titled “Black & White America,” which targets conflicts between race and society.
With themes of hope, inspiration, and unification, Kravitz’s album comments on continued racial discord with positivity. That is, Kravitz conveys positive messages in “Black & White America” to uplift and inspire his audience rather than remind them about the pain of negative racial discord.
For Kravitz, “Black & White America” is an opportunity to personalize his experiences through song—experiences of home life, of culture, and of racism. He hopes to revitalize people’s belief in goodness through songs that are a “celebration” of life. “Anybody listening is going to feel it and be uplifted by the spirit of the music,” he avers. This sentiment rings true with all of the tracks on the album, which carry lively beats and catchy phrases that are full of life and spirit. The title track achieves both goals of positive energy and social commentary:
The future looks as though it has come around
And maybe we have finally found our common ground
We’re the children of our father,
if you’re looking back, don’t bother
We’re black and white America
In an artistic move that plays with innovation and nostalgia, Kravitz weaves his personal story into a broad social message. His own experience as the child of mixed race parents models the successful unity between blacks and whites in spite of surrounding discrimination and prejudice. The “future”—peaceful and equal relations between blacks and whites—has reached Kravitz through the loving bond of his family, and his lyrics strive to reach out and inspire other people to appreciate their bonds of family and friendship. Kravitz does not advocate black solidarity (perhaps this is implied in “looking back”), but rather black and white togetherness. “Looking back” to the past reminds us of racial strife, but only looking forward, only the “future,” can promise progress. We are black and white America, Kravitz declares, as a personal sentiment but also as a prediction of the future. He envisions an integrated country, free of racism and segregation, which stands on common ground where blacks and whites relate to one another in terms of similarities rather than differences.
Kravitz’s album achieves a remarkable duality. Not only does his music reflect on the past, but it looks to the future. He perceives that future in a positive light and his message is one of hope and optimism. Poetry is often thought by scholars to predict the future, where the poet possesses divine intuition and thus can foretell the state of society. Musicians, a different strand of poet, seem to possess this intuition. Kravitz may be blessed with the gift of predicting the future, as his lyrics resonate so powerfully with the past and the present. The songs of “Black & White America” guide and mentor Americans toward a more tolerant and hopeful manner of existing in the world. Through the medium of music, Lenny Kravitz inspires kinship and commonality. As he describes his album as a “celebration,” he is communicating the true purpose of Black History Month: a celebration of blacks, striving for and achieving unity with people of all different races.
To learn more about Lenny Kravitz and his new album, visit www.lennykravitz.com.