As many around the nation and the world prepare to celebrate the 150th anniversary of Juneteenth, also known Emancipation Day, a variety of celebrations will take place. Figuring in the center of those celebrations and events honoring the holiday will be music related to Juneteenth, hearkening back to when African-American spiritual songs galvanized enslaved Blacks and kept them filled with hope.
Thousands of slaves were kept in bondage in some Confederate states and non-battleground states like Texas during the Civil War. As a result, news of President Abraham Lincoln’s outlawing of slavery in the Confederacy didn’t reach the shores of Galveston, Texas until June 19, 1865. Federal Union troops read details of the Proclamation, which effectively ended their enslavement and ignited a slew of celebrations.
While there aren’t any official Juneteenth songs, as the celebrations grew so did the adopting of so-called “Freedom Songs” or spirituals that are largely connected to the civil rights movement. Standout songs like “Lift Every Voice And Sing,” “Swing Low, Sweet Chariot,” and “This Little Light Of Mine” also figured prominently in Juneteenth gatherings over the decades.
The family gatherings and cookouts that mark most nationally recognized holidays are also a strong centerpiece of Juneteenth. Community centers and churches also host events where readings of the Proclamation will take place, along with historical enactments and the like. At these same events, the Freedom Songs will also hold some prominence in reflecting on the trials of those who were liberated from slavery that day.
There are also several Juneteenth hip-hop events nationwide, although there’s a scarce amount of reference to the holiday by rap artists. Willie D, a veteran Texas rapper and member of longtime group The Geto Boys, mentions the holiday in a 1992 track with a title not fit for print.
Today, 43 states, including the District of Columbia, officially observe Juneteenth.