“The creation of Black Music Month was the brainchild of Grammy Award winning songwriter/producer and one of the architects of The Sound of Philadelphia (TSOP) Kenny Gamble,” schools Dyana Williams, the music industry veteran and celebrity strategist. The songwriter/producer—along with his partner Leon Huff—has created countless classics, including “If You Don’t Know Me By Now,” originally recorded by Harold Melvin and the Blue Notes; “For the Love of Money” by The O’Jays; and Teddy Pendergrass’ “Turn Off the Lights.”

“When he established the Black Music Association in the late 1970s, we were a couple at that point; we had two children,” continues Williams, whose illustrious road to premier Black music advocate and tag as “the Mother of Black Music Month” began as a radio pioneer, holding her own on the airwaves during a time when women were woefully underrepresented.

It was a collective effort to that day on June 7, 1979 when President Jimmy Carter hosted the reception at the White House that made Black Music Month official. Williams, who played a critical role, describes it as “a coming together of various aspects of the music industry to celebrate and recognize this multibillion-dollar industry, not just the songwriters and the singers, people behind the scenes as well.” 

They, she says, include people like Ed Wright, who was a DJ in Cleveland and head of the National Association of TV and Radio Announcers, as well as supporters like Berry Gordy, Soul Train creator Don Cornelius, Stevie Wonder, Smokey Robinson, and Jesse Jackson who attended BMA’s official launch in September 1978 in California. Greats Billy Eckstine, Andraé Crouch, and Chuck Berry attended the White House celebration. Subsequent U.S. presidents have continued to recognize Black Music Month, with President Biden issuing a 2023 proclamation on May 31, recognizing Gamble, Williams and others. 

Williams' love of Black music, she shares, was sparked in her native New York City at a very early age. As a child, Williams learned how to dissect music. She grew up knowing where songs were recorded, who wrote them, who sang them, who played on them, who engineered them, who produced them and more. Later the daughter of Puerto Rican parents would mix and mingle with those same folks, even dating musicians as well as forming meaningful relationships with many other titans. City College of New York’s radio station WCCR gave her the first taste of what being a behind-the-scenes mover and shaker could be. 

“I was the music director. I had a jazz show, but I also availed myself of student funds to produce concerts to bring artists to the school,” she says. At a time when very few women were on the air, she took her cues from one legendary figure who is today best known for Mama, I Want To Sing!. “Vy Higginsen was on the radio at WBLS and she's the first Black woman that I listened to that inspired me to want to be on the radio,” shares Williams. 

As Williams found her own success on the airwaves where she was known as Ebony Moonbeams— subbing for Rob Crocker at WBAI, and even landing on a TV show—she knew she had found her calling and college, to the dismay of her college professor mother, was not part of it. Taking her talents to D.C., she settled in at Howard University-owned WHUR, where she made a lifelong friend in radio mogul Cathy Hughes. Along the way, she also became an industry fixture, making Philly her permanent home, even working with the city’s legendary WDAS. 

Although radio no longer physically occupies as much of her time as it did throughout her life, even as she raised her three kids, Black music still keeps her busy. She is the president and founder of the International Association of African-American Music Foundation, which organizes conferences and educational symposiums as well as produces panels that communicate the vastness of Black music. In addition, IAAAM has honored many Black music greats, including Stevie Wonder, Patti LaBelle, Jimmy Jam and Terry Lewis, Babyface and L.A. Reid. She’s also a board member of the Nashville-based National Museum of African American Music (NMAAM), which recently honored Missy Elliott. TV One fans also recognize her as a frequent and trusted contributor to the network’s acclaimed series Unsung.

Even as Williams enters her 70s later this year, advocating for Black music is a personal mission and calling from which she can’t retire. And for good reason. “Black music deserves champions and advocates, and that's what I see myself as,” she insists. “Black Music is American music created in this country and exported culturally, but also economically. We don't tend to think of it that way, but the reality is that Black music is big business. I'm talking about not millions of dollars, but billions of dollars. We are the trendsetters. We are the weathervane so to speak. We’re the taste. We’re the flavor all over the planet. It is us and I see myself as a person who uses her platform, whether it's social media, whether it is talking with [journalists] to spread the word about the magnificence, the viability, and the power of Black music.”

And for her it is a message that resonates not just in June, but 365 days of the year.

Ronda Racha Penrice is the author of Black American History For Dummies and editor of Cracking The Wire During Black Lives Matter.