Public Media Highlights 50th Anniversary of Hip Hop and More This Black History Month
January 30, 2023
The 50th anniversary of hip hop is front and center this February as public media explores the Black experience on the air and online during Black History Month.
On PBS, Chuck D of Public Enemy hosts a four-hour docuseries, Fight the Power: How Hip Hop Changed the World, airing at 9 p.m. ET on Tuesdays from January 31 - February 21 on PBS, and February 11, 18 & 25 on WORLD Channel. Public media stations such as Rocky Mountain PBS and the Urban Alternative station The Drop104.7 in Denver will host special screenings.
Seattle public radio station KEXP launches a weekly podcast, 50 Years of Hip Hop, on February 1 as part of the station’s yearlong celebration. The podcast features the KEXP editorial team and DJs with personal reflections, iconic tracks and albums and conversations on how it all began. PBS SoCal/KCET has launched a digital series on hip hop and new technologies, Hip Hop and The Metaverse.
Public media spotlights the breadth of the Black experience, from Senegalese astrophysicists to Black characters in opera, all month long. Some examples:
PBS and WORLD Channel
PBS and WORLD Channel, the public television multicast channel available in three-quarters of U.S. households, are airing and streaming extensive programming throughout Black History Month.
PBS is bringing back The Block Party, a curated streaming collection, and its #BlockPartyPBS social media push to amplify Black stories and content across PBS platforms. Originally launched last year on PBS.org and the PBS app, The Block Party features new and favorite programs celebrating Black excellence, including American Masters (Roberta Flack), American Experience (Zora Neale Hurston: Claiming a Space); Independent Lens (The Picture Taker) and America ReFramed documentaries; new episodes of Finding Your Roots with Henry Louis Gates Jr.; and select episodes from PBS Digital Studios series such as Say It Loud, If Cities Could Dance, and Historian’s Take. WORLD Channel offers an online viewer’s guide featuring broadcast premieres and online programming.
Black-themed programming premiering on PBS and WORLD Channel (times may vary; check local listings) include:
- Outta the Muck, a film about the Dean family and seven generations of their history in the African American community of Pahokee, Florida, which has sent more than a dozen players to the NFL. It airs on Independent Lens at 10 p.m. ET on February 6.
- Star Chasers of Senegal, which follows a team of Senegalese scientists as they set out to capture crucial data needed to help NASA navigate its Lucy mission and its asteroid targets across millions of miles of space. The episode of NOVA airs on PBS at 9 p.m. ET on February 9.
- The Magic of Spirituals, a glimpse behind the curtain at opera stars Kathleen Battle and Jessye Norman’s famed 1990 concert at Carnegie Hall in New York City, airs on PBS’ Great Performances at 9 p.m. ET on February 24.
Big Chief, Black Hawk which follows Big Chief Tee, a high school senior and the youngest masking Mardi Gras Indian Big Chief in New Orleans, as he and the Black Hawk Hunters celebrate the beauty and resilience of "the culture" even in the face of crisis and change. The film airs February 16 on America ReFramed on WORLD Channel, online & on the PBS app
The Death of My Two Fathers by filmmaker Sol Guy, who tells the story of his family for his two teenagers by using six tape recordings by his father, who died 20 years earlier. The film airs February 23 on America ReFramed on WORLD Channel.
- Black Broadway: A Proud History, a Limitless Future is a concert special that features Black Broadway stars performing classics from “The Wiz,” “The Color Purple,” “Company,” “Porgy & Bess,” and others, with a choir of students from Howard and Morgan State universities. The special airs on PBS stations (check local listings) and is available at PBS.org.
- PBS Voices, the documentary-focused YouTube channel from PBS Digital Studios, showcases three new series funded by CPB. Hip Hop and The Metaverse, produced by PBS SoCal/KCET, features Dr. Taj Frazier exploring how hip hop artists and entrepreneurs are reshaping and remixing emerging technologies. Ritual, premiering February 14 from Louisiana Public Broadcasting, features New Orleans culture bearer Tarriona “Tank” Ball examining the layers of meaning contained in various Southern rituals.
Numerous public radio stations, including more than a dozen public radio stations licensed to historically Black colleges and universities and six stations pioneering the Urban Alternative public radio format, celebrate Black history and culture all year round as they produce local programming to meet the informational, educational, and cultural needs of their communities.
Special programming in February across public radio includes:
- NPR Music announced seven new Tiny Desk Concerts and a new season of Amplify with Lara Downes, launching February 2.
- NPR Live Sessions, the video website of public radio music stations, features a Black History Month playlist, opening with Rhiannon Giddons performing “At the Purchaser’s Option” at WYEP Pittsburgh. NPR Live sessions also highlight videos by Black artists weekly its homepage.
- Black Enough, a program exploring what it means to be “Black enough” and featuring interviews with TV and radio journalist Joshua Johnson and comedian W. Kamau Bell. It airs as a special on public radio stations across the country in February. The special program is an episode of “The Stoop,” a Radiotopia network podcast of stories from across the Black diaspora hosted by Leila Day and Hana Baba. It’s distributed by PRX.
- Seattle public radio station KEXP launches 50 Years of Hip Hop on February 1 part of the station’s yearlong celebration. The weekly podcast features the KEXP editorial team and DJs with personal reflections, iconic tracks and albums and conversations on how it all began.
- Atlanta jazz station WCLK will air a series of vignettes highlighting African American contributions to American history and a look at “Who’s Making Black History Now.”
- Each weekday during February, Philadelphia’s WXPN will highlight a different Black musician of the past and today. Ray Charles, Lauryn Hill, Aretha Franklin, The Roots, Jimi Hendrix, Grace Jones and Marvin Gaye are among the artists whose lives, career and music will be examined starting at 6 am ET each day.
- New York Public Radio celebrates Black History Month with an online NYPR Archives collection including radio series, sonic artifacts and images, as well as programming throughout the month. WNYC is airing news segments and specials such as “Notes from America – MLK: Blueprint for The Culture.” from the 17th annual Apollo Uptown Hall MLK celebration (8 pm, February 15), and special segments every Wednesday on The Brian Lehrer Show. Classical station WQXR launches Every Voice with Terrance McKnight, a 16-episode podcast about figures from marginalized communities in the classical field. “I wanted to see what has been passed down to us through the operatic tradition in terms of Black representation, interrogate these characters who continue to appear every season on opera stages around the world, and honor the Black performers who have performed these roles,” said McKnight, who will look at four characters from Mozart and Verdi operas.
- Philadelphia classical and jazz station WRTI will focus on releases by Black composers and instrumentalists in its Album of the Week reviews and will feature Sankofa Sounds, a jazz series with new videos posting online every Monday morning with in-studio performances by Philadelphia artists. The word Sankofa originates among the Akan people, who historically migrated from Ghana, according to the station. "While its literal translation is 'to retrieve,' the word carries a message from an Akan proverb: Se wo were fi na wosankofa a yenkyi: 'It is not taboo to go back and fetch what you forgot.' ”
- All hosts and shows on New York’s WFUV will honor Black artists and their stories, with a wide depth of artists and deep cuts, every hour. WFUV will also feature Black artists in all its live events and air specials on Nina Simone and on Philly Soul music.
- KUTX Austin will air eight Black History Month features by KUTX producer Miles Bloxson. They will explore the contributions of African Americans to the Austin music scene, past and present.
- Colorado Public Radio’s Indie 102.3 will spin the hits of influential Black musicians on the air and feature Black artists on its nightly shows throughout February. Indie 102.3 has also compiled Power to the Music Vol. 3, a 50-song Spotify playlist of “Black musicians spanning genres and generations speaking on empowerment, love, Blackness, and beyond.”
StoryCorps, whose conversations are heard on NPR’s Morning Edition, offers an online Black History Month story collection, which includes animations, audio clips and behind-the-scenes information connecting to broadcasts and podcast episodes. StoryCorps also invites listeners to sit down with someone they love for a StoryCorps conversation to talk about their history and preserve for generations.
The American Archive of Public Broadcasting (AAPB), a collaboration between the Library of Congress and GBH in Boston, hosts an extensive collection of historically significant public media programming and raw interview footage from the past 60 years, including extensive footage from the civil rights era.
Initiated more than a decade ago by CPB, the AAPB is in a race against time to preserve public radio and television content, much of which is available online for free at Americanarchive.org
Content added in the past year includes unedited interviews from the 1986 Emmy-winning documentary Black Champions, which chronicles the lives and accomplishments of Black athletes throughout the 20th century with a focus on their fight against discrimination and racial barriers in American sports; unedited interviews recorded by Henry Hampton and the Blackside production company for the landmark documentary Eyes on the Prize II; and nearly 250 programs and segments from Howard University’s WHUT-TV from 1981-2008. AAPB has also added three Multimedia Primary Source Discussion Sets: The Black Power Movement, Busing in Boston, 1974-1988 and The Great Depression and Southern Sharecroppers.
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