Celebrating Black Musicians and Their Music

December 4, 2013
Veronika Edwards

More than a decade ago, a group of students determined to raise awareness and recognition of black music and black musicians on campus collaborated to form the Oberlin College Black Musicians Guild (OCBMG).

OCBMG is responsible for sponsoring or cosponsoring the appearance on campus of black musicians whose chosen genres run the musical gamut, from opera singers like Angela Brown and Karen Slack to rappers like Yasiin Bey (formerly known as Mos Def) and Kendrick Lamar.

But the scope of the guild’s work is not limited to bringing famous black musicians to college. The group began with an emphasis on student work, organizing showcases at elementary schools in the greater Oberlin community.

“We are working toward a preservation of black music and in support of black musicians,” says Michelle Ellison, a fourth-year voice major in the conservatory and chair of OCBMG. “Black music transcends genre,” she says. “It is an artistic action that results from the expression of black American vernacular and lifestyle at any point in time.”

Providing an opportunity for students to connect with outside artists is an invaluable component of OCBMG’s work.

The artists OCBMG brings to campus give students “the option to see people who look like them doing what they do and what they love … it opens that connection to different people,” says De’Ron McDaniels, a second-year voice major and cochair of OCBMG.

Students interested in nonperforming careers related to the music industry also benefit from involvement with OCBMG. Fourth-year Africana studies major Samantha Brown has been working throughout her time at Oberlin with OCBMG and other student organizations to bring performers to campus. Most recently, she collaborated closely with Oberlin alumni, the TIMARA department, and dance groups to bring the New York City DJ collective I Love Vinyl, to campus and to organize a weekend of events surrounding the collective’s visit.

“After doing this for so many years here—arts administration and event programming, booking, planning—that’s what I plan on doing for a while after graduating from Oberlin,” says Brown.

As Ellison points out, the group is not exclusive to black musicians. “I wanted to bring [black music] to campus, not just for myself and people in the conservatory but also for people that are in the college who are musicians. The guild is not limited to college or conservatory.”

In the future, say Ellison and Brown, the guild will revisit its initial objective of community-oriented student shows. With more shows to attend than days in the year, Oberlin’s campus is teeming with students anxious to exhibit their unique musical styles and abilities, and the OCBMG aims to continue fostering this student-driven enthusiasm.

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