Juneteenth, also known as Freedom Day, Jubilee Day, Cel-Liberation Day, or the Black Fourth of July, is an American holiday that commemorates June 19, 1865.
President Abraham Lincoln signed the Emancipation Proclamation on January 1, 1863, however, slaves in Texas were not immediately granted their freedom.
Texas was the most remote of the slave states, and special government actions, two years and a few months later, were required. The June 19 date of freedom was celebrated by the Black community in many ways—some past decades of Texas-style Juneteenth-celebrating involved everything from barbecues to rodeos to beauty pageants. Juneteenth has ever so gradually grown into a nation-wide celebration of freedom, Black culture, and community pride.
In 2021, Juneteenth became the first new federal holiday since Martin Luther King Jr. Day became official in 1983.
This month, we installed an exhibit of Juneteenth children’s books, celebratory cookbooks, official government documents, Juneteenth flags, and traditional African-American paper fans relaying the significance of the Juneteenth holiday in the West Wing of Geisel Library.
I don’t use sound in exhibits at the UC San Diego Library, so I’ll use this Troubadour column to share some music listening options for you Troubadour readers for Juneteenth….
Enjoy Juneteenth, Troubadour readers!
Here’s a suggested playlist for your Juneteenth:
Leontyne Price: “I Wish I Knew How It Would Feel to Be Free”
Leontyne Price sings this Civil Rights Movement anthem with a gospel choir and liberates. As a life-long fan, I note that her glorious musical journey started with a childhood gift of a toy piano and later conquered the great opera houses in any continent she chose to visit. She credits those early, small steps on that toy instrument as the start of her international diva-dom, but your Juneteenth visit with her via this recording allows Ms. Price to take you on a journey to hear from her ancestors, the enslaved.
James Brown: “Say It Loud—I’m Black and I’m Proud” (1968)
This affirmation from the Godfather of Soul says it all, positively!
Young, Gifted, and Black
This song was actually penned by Nina Simone, but let’s listen to Aretha’s version!
Florence Price: “Juba” from Symphony No. 3
A surge in the interest of African-American composer Florence Price swells throughout Black History Month. Another surge during Women’s History Month is also noted. Her music is now being programmed year round in American music halls and beyond. Your Juneteenth playlist needs some Florence Price! Pianist Laura Downes summed up Price’s essence best: “Price’s music itself speaks volumes about our freedom to simply be ourselves, true to our authentic voice and vision. In her time and place, a Black woman seeking entry into the community of symphonic composers was knocking at a formidable door. When Price managed to crack that door open (though not as wide as she would have liked), she brought her ancestors with her in the melodies and rhythms that infuse her symphonic compositions—echoes of Black spirituals and dances like the Juba brought to this country by enslaved Africans and held as an essential outlet for self expression and celebration even within the bondage of servitude.”
Jean Batiste: Freedom
On his way to a great Juneteenth celebration.
The O’Jays: “Family Reunion” (1975)
Family gatherings and food are an important part of Juneteenth and this O’Jays’ classic invokes!
This reunion is replete with food, gratitude, and lyrical musings. Immediately after sharing some less-modern familial dynamics, the singer/narrator, Eddie Levert, takes a step, up and out, and looks at his extended family:
It don’t just stop there with the family of yours or mine—
It’s a universal family…
Under one divine purpose
And one divine father
That is, we all come together—no matter what color, race, creed
Because that’s all in the head whether you wanna believe it or not…
The first sentence of Eddie’s spoken interlude: sums it up best:
“You know the family is the solution to the world’s problems today.”
I’ll use this as my “Goin’ Home” hymn, for sure.
UPDATE: To honor Juneteenth, I received a request to go up to the roof of Geisel Library to play “Lift Every Voice and Sing!” on the library chimes!