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Black History Month 2024: Celebrating Artists

Find activities and observances to commemorate African Americans and the arts

spinner image From left: violinist Jessie Montgomery and jazz trumpeter Eddie Henderson
African Americans and the Arts is the theme for Black History Month 2024. The music of composer and violinist Jessie Montgomery, left, and an exhibit about jazz trumpeter Eddie Henderson will be featured this February. 
Left to Right: Hiroyuki Ito/Getty Images; Jack Vartoogian/Getty Images

Black History Month is a time for all Americans to reflect on the history and contributions of African Americans to the nation. This year marks the 98th commemoration of Black History Month, which was started by scholar and educator Carter G. Woodson as Negro History Week in 1926.

Increased recognition in mainstream America of the observance has bolstered educational and cultural programming, events and exhibits that keep the memory, histories and achievements of Black Americans alive throughout the year.

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This year’s theme, chosen by the Association for the Study of African American Life and History (ASALH), is African Americans and the Arts. 

spinner image left shroeder cherry handling one of his puppets right a church activist organization puppet scene made by shroeder cherry
Schroeder Cherry, a mixed media artist and puppeteer, will perform “Civil Rights Children’s Crusade” in New York on Feb. 10 and in Baltimore on Feb. 17.
courtesy of Schroeder Cherry/The Walters Art Museum, Baltimore Maryland

“There is such a broad wealth of expression and historic accomplishment throughout the African diaspora,” says Schroeder Cherry, 69, a mixed media artist and puppeteer. “It is important to know that people who identify as Black are not of a monolithic culture.”

In-person events

Cherry, who was recently featured on PBS’s Craft in America with his bubbly troupe of puppets, will perform a free show, “Civil Rights Children’s Crusade,” on Feb. 10 (registration encouraged) at City Lore, a pioneering gallery of urban folklore, in New York City. The show is part of City Lore’s exhibit “The Calling: The Transformative Power of African American Doll and Puppet Making,” featuring 26 nationally renowned African American artists who are elder visual storytellers chronicling the history, identity and culture of their communities.

Cherry will perform his show in Baltimore on Feb. 17 (free, registration encouraged) as part of the Walters Art Museum celebration of storytelling and an expansive exhibit and citywide display of the work of Elizabeth Talford Scott (1916–2011). Talford Scott was a fiber artist and quiltmaker who moved the latter craft from domestic function to sculptural wall hangings using repurposed objects that tell narratives of familial history and more.

The Harlem Chamber Players — an ethnically diverse collective of professional classical musicians — hosts a season of affordable or free events, and the group will perform a free concert for its 16th Annual Black History Month Celebration on Feb. 15 at the Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture in New York.

Liz Player, a clarinetist and the executive and artistic director of the chamber, will conduct this year’s concert. Player fell in love with classical music in middle school. She founded the organization because she wants to share the art form with everyone.

“What we often refer to as ‘classical music’ is European-derived and has historically excluded many people of color. ... This music is for everyone,” she says. “It is empowering for Black people to know there are many classically trained musicians of color and that there were in fact many Black composers and musicians who contribute to this art form.”

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Ashley Jackson, a harpist, will participate in the Harlem Chamber Players’ 16th Annual Black History Month Celebration on Feb. 15.
courtesy of Ashley Jackson

Harpist Ashley Jackson, one of the featured artists in this year’s program, focuses on the connections. “All kinds of music can make us feel joy or sadness, and when we begin to see the connections between different styles of music, perhaps that allows us to be more empathetic, to see the common humanity in all of us,” she says.

To Player’s point, the Mill City String Quartet, which is dedicated to “cultivating transformative concerts that promote underrepresented composers and celebrate the classical musical genre,” will perform the works of three contemporary classical composer/musicians. The Minneapolis-based group will perform select works from Jessie Montgomery, Shelley Washington and Daniel Bernard Roumain in a free concert in Minnetonka, Minnesota, on Feb. 10.

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Community-focused events

Throughout the month, cultural organizations, libraries, houses of worship and universities often organize and present an array of programming. Check the websites of your local newspaper, college or other organizations for activities.

The University of Colorado Denver presents the immersive exhibit “Time and Spaces” and a companion documentary, Uncommon Genius, about the life of jazz trumpeter Eddie Henderson. Henderson, an Air Force veteran and medical doctor, trained as a professional figure skater in the 1950s, when African Americans were unwelcome in the sport. The exhibit, which opens with a free reception featuring a brief performance and remarks by Henderson, runs Feb. 1–April 21.

Farther west, in Los Angeles, a female dance troupe will bring African music, dance, drumming and song to a workshop Feb. 6 at Art + Practice as part of an exhibit, “Bahia Reverb: Artists and Place.” Curated by Bia Gayotto in partnership with the California African American Museum (CAAM), the exhibit runs through March 2. The experiential workshop will feature a performance and public instruction of a dance, observed each February in Brazilian and Salvadoran cultures, honoring the Dia de Iemanjá (Day of Yemanjá) for the queen of the sea and the beloved orixás (spirits) established in the Afro-Brazilian tradition of Candomblé.

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Virtual events and podcasts

In addition to in-person events, there are many virtual activities for people to participate and engage in.

AARP is hosting two virtual “Real Conversations With AARP” events. The first, on Feb. 6 at 7 p.m. ET, features hip-hop photographer Joe ConzoRegistration is required. Conzo captured early images of hip-hop, which celebrated its 50th anniversary last year. On Feb. 22 at 7 p.m. ET, AARP sits down with Oscar-winning costume designer Ruth E. CarterCarter, the first African American woman to receive the Academy Award for best costume design, was recognized for her work on Black Panther and Black Panther: Wakanda ForeverRegistration is required.

The Stax Museum of American Soul Music in Memphis, Tennessee, will host a student-produced and -acted musical production contrasting the histories of two great American record labels, Motown and Stax. Registration is free, and educator registrants will receive links to supplemental companion guides to help prepare lesson plans in advance of viewing for their students. The U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs will host a free Virtual Outreach Symposium on Feb. 8 to educate and empower African American veterans about benefits and services for which they are eligible. Other free online community events, including a workshop to be livestreamed on Facebook on Feb. 8 on the humor and joy of caring for loved ones with dementia, can be found on the ASALH calendar.

The National Museum of African American History and Culture (NMAAHC) in Washington has a plethora of free in-person and online programming for all generations (registration required). Programming includes a webinar on nature and beekeeping on Feb. 2 and the Smithsonian podcast series Sidedoor, which explores the unexpected overlaps in science, art, history and culture. Feedspot, a content reader site, has compiled a list of 20 recommended podcasts featuring interviews, meditative programming, history and entertainment exploring the spectrum of Black creativity.

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