Celebrating African American Music Appreciation Month | Cooking With Jade

Celebrating African American Music Appreciation Month

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Celebrating African American Music Appreciation Month

I just wrote an article on Pride Month, but did you know that June is also African American Music Appreciation Month? Given my Black heritage – and the fact that I greatly appreciate African American Music, this month holds special significance for me. And I thought I would observe it by celebrating black-owned businesses in cities that have made huge contributions to African American music: Memphis, New Orleans, Atlanta, New York, and Detroit. Pull up that playlist, because this article is best enjoyed with a little musical accompaniment!

Celebrating African American Music Appreciation Month

New Orleans

I can’t talk about African American contributions to music without mentioning jazz, and I can’t talk about jazz without mentioning New Orleans. More than any other city, New Orleans can take credit for the birth of this truly American art form. And – fortunately for jazz lovers such as myself – you can still hear it all over this vibrant, tasty town. Before I head off to a local jazz show, I like to hit up Lil Dizzy’s Cafe in the Treme neighborhood. The name is a reference to iconic jazz trumpeter Dizzy Gillespie, and let me tell you, the food hits all the right notes!

Lil Dizzy’s is a no-frills, lunch-only spot, open every day except Sunday. Customers line up (literally) for classic Creole and Soul Food dishes like gumbo, po’boys, dirty rice, candied yams, and fried catfish. This being New Orleans, they also serve beer and cocktails. My favorite is “Da Dizzy”: a stiff strawberry-lemonade vodka cocktail that gets me ready for an evening on the town. 

Lil Dizzy’s Cafe New Orleans

New York

Home to the Harlem Renaissance and the birthplace of hip hop, New York’s influence on black culture and music has been incalculable. And one of New York’s great centers of Black culture is a legendary Soul Food spot in Harlem, called Sylvia’s. Opened by Sylvia Woods in 1962 (and still run by the Woods family) this Harlem institution has fed everyone from presidents, to civil rights leaders, to – yes – musicians, to movie stars, to neighborhood folks looking for a hearty meal. Perhaps best known for its ribs and chicken & waffles, This James Beard Foundation American Classic restaurant serves up classic Soul Food dishes like chicken livers, potato salad, mac & cheese, and collards. And if you’re in New York City this June, celebrate African-American Music Appreciation Month by attending one of Sylvia’s Sunday Gospel brunches! This is a spot that I love to return to here in New York. 

Sylvias New York

Memphis

Home to many of our greatest Blues musicians, Memphis has left an indelible mark on the history of African-American music. It’s also left an indelible mark on the history of American cuisine. Memphis-style BBQ is known the world over for its slow-cooked, dry-rubbed pork. Cozy Corner BBQ is a no-frills, black-owned BBQ joint that has been doing the style proud since 1977. Owner and pitmaster Desiree Robinson (she’s been running things solo since her husband Raymond’s death in 2001) was the first African-American woman to be inducted into the “BBQ Hall of Fame,” in 2020. She’s still going strong at 85 years old, and I imagine there are more accolades in her future.

Cozy Corner BBQ Restaurant Memphis

Atlanta

This sprawling Southern metropolis has long been an epicenter for African-American culture–setting trends in music, fashion, media, and food. For proof of the latter, look no further than Slutty Vegan (a provocative name, for sure, but I’m all for it). This black-owned vegan burger and sandwich has gone national, with locations in New York, Dallas, and Birmingham, as well as several in its hometown of Atlanta. Owner Pinky Cole (a definite rising star in the food industry) started the business in her west Atlanta apartment, in 2018. Back then, she would whip up vegan burgers in her home kitchen and take orders via Instagram. A dozen locations later – including one in the Atlanta Braves stadium – Cole still hasn’t lost her hustle. And she does an incredible job of empowering people of color through her Pinky Cole Foundation.

Slutty Vegan Atlanta

Detroit

I just wrote about Detroit – the city with the highest percentage of African Americans and the birthplace of Motown Records and its hugely influential sound – after an incredible recent trip. While there I was lucky enough to visit the Motown Museum, a must-see for fans of the label and its groundbreaking artists (Marvin Gaye, Diana Ross, Michael Jackson, Stevie Wonder, Smokey Robinson…the list goes on and on). For some delicious Afro-Caribbean food near the museum, check out Yum Village. Chef/Owner Godwin Ihentuge – a Detroiter with Nigerian roots – has made a name for himself serving up dishes like jollof rice, jerk oxtail, and the fermented cassava dish known as fufu. Like Slutty Vegan, Yum Village is a restaurant on the move: there’s a second location in Detroit and one in Cleveland. Yum!

Yum Village Detroit

About That Playlist…

I said this article goes best with a good playlist and I would love to hear what is on yours. Without spilling all my secrets, my African-American Music Appreciation Month playlist includes a little bit of Soul Music, a little hip-hop, and maybe even an African American musical or two. Artistwise, I’m talking Beyoncé, Aretha, James Brown, John Coltrane, Janelle Monáe, Marvin Gaye, and OutKast. And Beyoncé. Because every playlist needs more Beyoncé.

If you enjoyed this article or have suggestions on how we can improve it, please leave us a comment below. Also, make sure to check out other articles I’ve created or stories I’ve written about food culture – here.


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