Showing posts with label interview. Show all posts
Showing posts with label interview. Show all posts

Q&A — Microbiologist Steven C. Ricke — Salmonella: Why it’s a Chicken and Egg Thing

Eliminating this food-poisoning bacterium from poultry is tricky — not least because rapid, precise tests are still unavailable. Researchers are looking at vaccines, probiotics, prebiotics and even essential oils as ways to reduce contamination on the farm.

Poultry contamination with Salmonella bacteria is a leading cause of food poisoning.
Image via pxhere (CC0 Public Domain)
By Maureen O'Hagan - September 17, 2021
This article was originally published in Knowable Magazine
Every year, food tainted with Salmonella bacteria causes nearly 3 million illnesses in the US, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Among those sickened by Salmonella, 26,500 will be hospitalized and 420 will die, accruing an estimated $365 million in direct medical costs. Though Campylobacter is less likely to lead to hospitalization or death, it’s still no fun, causing diarrhea, vomiting, nausea and, in some cases, long-term health problems. Preschoolers and the elderly are most at risk.

These pathogens can lurk in many different kinds of foods, but chicken and eggs are major sources. Researchers regularly find Salmonella or Campylobacter on chicken sold at grocery stores, with anywhere from 8 percent to 24 percent of packages testing positive. The law doesn’t ban the sale of raw chicken that’s contaminated like this — instead, it requires manufacturers to test a certain percentage of chicken coming off the production line, and as long as positive tests remain beneath a threshold, production can continue unchanged.

Part of the thinking is that raw chicken — unlike, say, lettuce — gets cooked, killing the microbes. But advocates for change find holes in that reasoning: If it’s so simple, they wonder, why do so many people get sick?

To learn more about the persistence of Salmonella and Campylobacter  on poultry, Knowable Magazine spoke with Steven C. Ricke, a microbiologist at the University of Wisconsin–Madison and the author of a 2021 article about poultry safety in the Annual Review of Animal Biosciences. This conversation has been edited for length and clarity.

What are some of the challenges to eliminating these pathogens on the farm or in the processing facilities?

Campylobacter has an optimal growth temperature of about 42 degrees Celsius, which happens to be the body temperature of chickens. It’s pretty well adapted to poultry. And wild birds are carriers for Salmonella. So are house cats and cockroaches. It can get on the poultry feed when it’s stored. Mice and rats, they love grain. Salmonella can be airborne.

It’s a great survivor — so you can imagine the challenges.

And you can’t look at chickens going through a processing line and say, “There’s Salmonella there.” But sampling itself is a challenge. Ideally, for every product that goes out the door you’d like to be able to immediately run it through some kind of test. Is there any Salmonella there? Campylobacter? If yes, then you take other measures to decontaminate it. Right now, we don’t have tests that are fast enough or precise enough. There’s a lot of research being done, but we’re not there yet.

If we had faster, better and more precise diagnostic tools, other stuff would get easier. For example, in testing control measures, you don’t know how effective the measure was until you have really good diagnostic tools and can ask: How much did we lower the numbers when we applied this treatment?

We also need tools for rapid identification of Salmonella’s different serovars — the traditional typing system for this pathogen that is based on immunological assays. Identifying the serovar is important because not all Salmonella are equalSalmonella serovars Typhimurium and Enteritidis — these are pathogens of major concern and have been the source of a lot of outbreaks. Other serovars, you would not assign much risk to them. Ideally, you’d have a sensor that would instantly tell you which Salmonella serovar was there and in what kind of amounts.

Anything you can do to stack the deck against pathogens and support your good bacteria, that’s a win.

In your paper, you mention that to fight these pathogens the poultry industry uses probiotics (bacteria thought to be beneficial) and prebiotics (nutrients that promote growth of probiotics). You also mention essential oils. What’s the idea behind these things?

There’s been a growing concern about antibiotic resistance, so the poultry industry has been working to curtail routine antibiotic supplementation. The thing is, antibiotics had a benefit, so now there’s a lot of interest in trying to recoup some of that benefit with these other compounds. Essential oils, probiotics and prebiotics can be added to the feed or water, but they each have a different aim.

Essential oils have antimicrobial properties. They have the potential to kill foodborne pathogens — depending, of course, on the particular compound, the pathogen and the concentration.

Probiotics and prebiotics work, in different ways, to prevent pathogens from establishing in the gut in the first place.

Some people think of these products as more like snake oil.

There’s actually a lot of science behind it. We have worked with essential oils from the citrus industry and they can be very inhibitory towards pathogen growth and survival. In one study, orange oil reduced Salmonella by a detectable number, by a log or two, which in the industry would be important. I wouldn’t say we’ve achieved complete kills of the pathogens, but antibiotics haven’t done that either. Of course, some essential oils are inhibitory and some are not. In a best-case scenario, we want to reduce the pathogens below detection limits.

Probiotics used in the poultry industry include Bacillus,  Bifidobacteria and Lactobacillus. It’s pretty much what’s in yogurt, but maybe different strains. The aim here is to help establish a healthy gut microbial population.

Prebiotics are non-digestible carbohydrates such as fructo-oligosaccharides, galacto-oligosaccharides and mannan-oligosaccharides. They’re essentially food for the good bacteria. There’s no evidence that I’m aware of that pathogens can use the prebiotics — that’s the beauty. It’s almost like you’re starving out the pathogens and you’re feeding the good bacteria at the same time.

In a young bird’s first 24 to 48 hours, they’re pretty susceptible because their gut microbes are not well-developed. With probiotics and prebiotics, you can accelerate the development of the young bird’s gut microbes. When you establish a healthy gut microbial population, it serves as a barrier to prevent pathogens from establishing. It’s called competitive exclusion, which is sort of like saying, the neighborhood is already occupied and there’s no way for pathogens to buy a house.

Anything you can do to stack the deck against pathogens and support your good bacteria, that’s a win.

There are groups trying to get the USDA to declare Salmonella an “adulterant” in chicken, meaning contaminated chicken couldn’t be sold. After E. coli O157:H7 was declared an adulterant in beef, illnesses declined substantially. Would that be a good step?

I understand the desire to have it declared an adulterant, but it’s a complex issue. For one thing, you’re dealing with chickens versus cows, two different animal species. Also, Salmonella has quite a bit of range and adaptability. It’s so ubiquitous, I used to say, I could go out and isolate Salmonella from just about anywhere.

On top of that, there are over 2,500 serovars of Salmonella and not all of them make you sick. I think that gets lost in the discussion. In addition, the existence of Salmonella on a carcass is a real imprecise measurement. The question is, how much? If you have one Salmonella on a carcass, the risk of getting sick is essentially nil. But if there were a million Salmonella on the carcass, the risk is much higher. The problem is that we don’t have quantitative tests for Salmonella.

We need more science to do more investigations and to field-test this stuff on real farms and then have good detection and quantitation tools.

We don’t have tests to determine how much Salmonella is in our food?

Well, there are ways to do it, but they’re slow. You want instantaneous results, like the old science-fiction movies where you have the sensor that instantly gives you answers. We don’t have that yet. It takes us potentially at least three or four days to get an answer.

There’s a lot of research being done. We’ve got more rapid tests and we’re getting more and more precise on our quantitation. I think it’s on the horizon.

What’s the most important development you’ve seen in fighting these pathogens?

Whole-genome sequencing has been a game-changer, mostly because it allows you to more accurately pinpoint the source of an outbreak. It’s really revolutionized the science of identification. It’s like the forensic science stuff on these crime shows. The DNA from the person suffering from salmonellosis — can you find that strain in any of the food they ate? Then you go back to the farm and see: Is that same Salmonella there? Or did it get introduced somewhere else in the food supply chain? It allows you to more precisely trace the cause.

Whole-genome sequencing also helps us to understand these pathogens better. For example, because we know the entire genetic code, we can identify which genes make the bacteria virulent. Foodborne Salmonella and Campylobacter typically do not make adult chicken sick. So one of the fundamental questions is, what makes them pathogens in people?

Salmonella contamination has been significantly reduced in some other countries, especially in eggs. Are the challenges somehow more insurmountable in the US? Too expensive? Too inconvenient?

All the above. The places where those pathogens have been effectively eliminated are much smaller countries, with smaller-scale production. For example, they do complete sanitation of trucks bringing feed into the farm. That’s an expensive, extensive process that just wouldn’t be practical here from an economic standpoint.

But there are interventions that would work here. For example, Great Britain went into a very extensive poultry-vaccination process that worked pretty well in eradicating Salmonella in eggs. Vaccines have been employed here, too, but part of the problem is vaccines are somewhat specific. Let’s say you create a vaccine that works on Salmonella Enteritidis. Salmonella Typhimurium can come in and fill that niche, and so now you’re going to have to create a second vaccine. So it’s sort of a moving target. Vaccination programs are very active now and more are being developed as we understand more about Salmonella.

What else would help?

You want what we call multiple hurdles — several interventions that are very different from each other mechanistically, so they attack the problem differently. We’ve done things like combining mild heat with organic acids, and it’s very effective.

What we really need is more investment, trying to figure out things like which probiotics work best, which combinations work best, so you can get that one-two punch: the probiotic to prevent the establishment of Salmonella and your essential oil to knock out any Salmonella already there. We need more science to do more investigations and to field-test this stuff on real farms and then have good detection and quantitation tools.

Where is the research headed?

Coming up with what I would call mechanistically better-defined interventions to where we know what they’re doing and how they work. Traditionally, producers have relied more on anecdotal reports; we’ve moved beyond that now, and the farmers and companies producing these products know we need peer-reviewed research. We’re in an era that’s exciting for me because I do that kind of mechanism-based research. Now there’s both governmental support and industry support.

What are you working on right now?

We’re doing microbiome mapping of poultry-processing facilities — mapping all the microbes that are found there — trying to identify what we call indicator organisms. These organisms are non-pathogenic, but they behave similarly to the way Salmonella behaves. The idea is they’re usually found in high numbers, and they’re very quantifiable, which makes them easier to detect and measure than Salmonella.

By monitoring these indicator organisms, you can determine whether your interventions are working. If the indicator organism went from, say, 2,000 down to 2, we know that if Salmonella were in there, the measure would work the same way against it.

New York City Public School Classroom's Recollections of 9/11

Chalkbeat interviewed instructors and kids 20 years later about what they remember of that day of terror.

Image by David Z from Pixabay
By Gabrielle BirknerChalkbeat - September 11, 2021
"On 9/11, they were at school. Here’s what happened inside their classrooms." was originally published by Chalkbeat, a nonprofit news organization covering public education.
Sign up for their newsletters here:

It was the beginning of the school day at the beginning of the school year at the beginning of the millennium. Millions of American children were in classrooms on the morning of September 11, 2001, when hijackers flew planes into the World Trade Center and the Pentagon. Then-President George W. Bush was in the classroom, too — reading with young Florida students until his chief of staff whispered in his ear: “America is under attack.”

Across the country that morning, there were hushed conversations among teachers and attempts to explain to students what was happening — or shield them from it. Students remember pained looks on their teachers’ faces. Some said it was the reaction of the adults around them, rather than the images of burning buildings and pulverized steel, that conveyed the life-changing nature of the attacks.

News back then moved slowly by today’s standards. The world was still largely without smartphones or social media. Teachers and students watched the news on boxy TVs strapped to rolling carts that moved between classrooms. Across the country that day, lesson plans were futile. Then, one by one, students were called out of class as parents arrived early to bring them home.

In New York City, things were even more dramatic — the day’s horrific events were playing out nearby. At P.S. 1, in Lower Manhattan, one teacher remembers another lowering the shades so kindergartners wouldn’t see the burning towers out the window. At P.S. 124, a few blocks away, another teacher watched as crowds covered in ash walked toward Brooklyn. New York City educators did their best to provide students a steady hand even as some feared for loved ones who worked in the towers, or struggled to get through to friends and family on jammed phone lines. There were harrowing evacuations, long walks home, and eerily silent subway rides.

As for the aftermath of 9/11, some teachers and students recalled with nostalgia how Americans came together, and they wondered if such shows of unity would be possible today. Others saw the attacks as having the opposite effect, citing the rise in Islamophobia, and long, costly, and polarizing wars that are only now ending.

With the 20th anniversary of 9/11 approaching, Chalkbeat asked those in school on that day to share what they remember and what they think K-12 students growing up today should know about the generation-defining terror attacks.

These are their words, edited for length and clarity.

Paula McDonel was teaching a World Geography class at Collierville High School in Collierville, Tennessee, when a colleague, looking somber, entered her classroom.

She asked me where my husband, a FedEx pilot, was that morning. I said he was home. Only then did she tell me that a commercial plane had struck the World Trade Center. I asked my students if anyone had a parent that was flying on a plane that morning. Our community had many pilots and others who may have been flying. No one in my class did. We had finished our lesson, so I turned on CNN, thinking this would be part of the current events we covered in class that week. We didn’t understand how radically our day was changing.

McDonel is retired and lives in Rosharon, Texas.

Debbie Castellani, then a student-teacher at Cambridge Rindge and Latin high school in Cambridge, Massachusetts, was teaching a World History class alongside her mentor teacher.

Suddenly, another teacher burst into the room and yelled: “Oh my goodness, the World Trade Center was just bombed!” The students started to chatter, and we tried to calm them, frustrated that this teacher thought it appropriate to share this publicly in front of the students, but also concerned about this news.

Between periods, my mentor teacher and I were able to slip into a workroom where a science teacher had a television. This was all pre-smartphone. The news featured the first World Trade tower with smoke billowing from the side, and the newscasters were sharing that a plane had crashed into the building. Then, suddenly, we saw the second plane flying into the south tower.

Castellani is now a high school history teacher in Highland Park, Illinois.

Yvette Ho taught kindergarten at P.S. 1 Alfred Smith School in Lower Manhattan. On the morning of 9/11, she remembers hearing a crash, followed by sirens.

I was a new teacher at the school and was so unaware of the events that were taking place just blocks away. I kept teaching. I even brought the class to their scheduled art class. When we arrived at the art room, the class of older children was buzzing with a nervous energy, and the teacher had a look of shock on her face as she lowered the window shades. The fifth-floor room had a direct view of the towers, and the students were witnessing people jumping out of windows.

Ho is an early childhood administrator in New York City.

Most kids didn’t fully understand what was going on or the gravity of the situation, but we were worried because we had never seen our teachers this worried.

Katie Lootens, a seventh grader at Northview Middle School in Indianapolis, was on the school bus just before 9 a.m. Eastern that day.

The last girl to get on told us something “bad” had happened but didn’t know exactly what. When we got to school, half of the students were worried about the attacks, and the other half were worried about a rumor that a kid had brought a gun on the bus. Once we got to homeroom, my teacher had the news on, and we just watched.

The second plane hit during first period, French. Most kids didn’t fully understand what was going on or the gravity of the situation, but we were worried because we had never seen our teachers this worried. Later in the day, my English language arts teacher had us journal our feelings and then share. By social studies that afternoon, I remember my teacher pulling out the map and showing us where Afghanistan was. I remember my math teacher trying to teach us math, but nobody was paying attention, and eventually, he gave up and put the news back on. In band and PE, we had the option to participate in the normal day if we wanted some normalcy, or we could sit out if we wanted.

Lootens now teaches English learners in Washington, D.C.

Mike Brown, a sixth grade teacher at Berkeley Middle School in Williamsburg, Virginia, was reviewing the day’s agenda with the students in his homeroom when he heard a commotion outside his classroom.

Middle school teachers very quickly are able to decipher kids running in the hallway. This was not that. I heard an “oh my God,” at which point I walked quickly to look out into the hallway. One of my teacher teammates was approaching the room as I was opening the door. She had a startled look on her face and asked if I was watching TV. When I turned it on, we were immediately heartbroken for the people that were on the plane as well as those in the building that was just hit. But we still thought it was a tragic accident. That only lasted for a minute as the news camera focused on the burning building caught a glimpse of a second plane hitting the second tower. Immediately we knew our country was under attack, and we were sitting in the middle of a military town. A number of my students’ parents were living in the neighborhood solely because they were enlisted in the military.

Brown is the director of new school development at New Schools for Alabama. He lives in Memphis.

Eric Nordstrom was a student at Battle Mountain High School in Edwards, Colorado. When the news first broke, Nordstrom’s English teacher, Mr. Loetscher, took the class down to the cafeteria, where there were TVs with cable.

Prior to the second plane hitting, it seemed like there was confusion over what was happening. The second strike made it clear that it was an attack, which made things more terrifying and confusing, especially to a high school student.

Now, looking back, I mostly think about all of the terrible things that have emanated from that terrible day. Whether it’s the lives lost, the money squandered that we could have done actual good with, the many stupid policies that came out of the aftermath that do nothing to keep us safe, or how it caused so many people to abandon their moral compasses and embrace hate. I think about the anti-Islam hate that spiked overnight.

Nordstrom lives in Vail, Colorado.

Alex Tronolone, a junior at Curtis High School in Staten Island, was the photographer for his school’s yearbook and newspaper. After the first plane crashed into the north tower, he was called out of class to snap some pictures. As he made his way up to the roof, where the janitors were looking out at the towers, Tronolone was imagining a small passenger plane.

When I finally got to the roof, you could tell it was more than that. While I was up there, the first tower fell. At first, it looked like water was being used to put out the fires, but as the smoke spread and cleared, it became obvious that the tower fell. After that, I returned to class, incredulous. I remember looking at my watch to note the date because I knew it would be something that would be remembered.

Tronolone is an educator from Staten Island.

Rashid Johnson taught fourth grade at Bruce-Monroe Elementary School in Washington, D.C. The principal there began evacuating the school after a third plane hit the Pentagon. (A fourth hijacked plane crashed into a Pennsylvania field soon after.)

I was paralyzed, and my students were terrified and asking me if we were going to die. It felt like an alien invasion.

Johnson is a senior director of school support in New York City.

It was and still is the most devastating storyline of my life. One moment you’re in class learning, and the next, you’re thinking about death, violence, religion, war, and safety all at once.

Barbara Gottschalk was a teacher at Flynn Middle School in Michigan’s Warren Consolidated Schools district. As events unfolded that morning, school leaders told teachers to turn off their TVs and keep teaching.

The message was to continue on and not let the students know. At the end of the school day, the principal came on the intercom to announce after-school activities had been canceled. One of my students said, “I wonder why they’re canceling everything.” That’s how protected we’d managed to keep our students. Our principal wanted the students to learn about this from their family members. To this day, I admire how my principal handled this.

Gottschalk is retired and lives in North Carolina.

Gloria Turner, a teacher at Southside Middle School in Florence, South Carolina, remembers the principal coming over the loudspeaker to say that we could not watch the news on TV or the computer.

We turned on the radio instead. I spent the day calming the fears of young teenagers while trying to control my own. All these years later, the unity of our nation is what comes to mind. We had prayer services in the park, and people from all walks of life attended. This is unusual in our town. We held hands and prayed and hugged. American flags were everywhere.

Turner teaches media arts and theatre in Florence, South Carolina.

Alyson Starks was in her fifth grade math class at Mt. Juliet Elementary School in Mt. Juliet, Tennessee, when the science teacher, Ms. Jeffries, rushed into the room without knocking.

Ms. Jeffries told Mrs. Hahn something behind the piece of paper as if to tell her a secret. Mrs. Hahn rolled in the TV — those big ones, strapped to a rolling cart with the VHS that never worked — and turned on the news. Later that day, I remember getting off the bus and my parents being home. They were never home when my brother and I got home from school. The TV was on, and I’ll remember my mom’s face as she turned to notice us walk in for the rest of my life.

Starks is a senior graphic designer in Nashville.

Suzanne Werner was an educator at P.S. 124, which backs up to the Manhattan Bridge. That morning she was asked to cover for a fifth grade teacher whose husband worked at the World Trade Center.

At first, there was a steady stream of sirens, then silence and a steady stream of people covered in ash walking [toward Brooklyn]. By noon most of the children had been picked up, and the teachers were sent home. I stayed with a small group and the principal till 4 or 4:30 p.m., when the last child was collected. By then, the F train was running, and I was able to get back home to Brooklyn. The train was packed and completely silent.

It was so hard to get back to teaching that fall. There were so many distractions. Chinatown was impacted in so many ways. Businesses closed. There was no phone service for many, many months. The stench of the cloud hung over the neighborhood. The number of boxes of letters and boxes of teddy bears from school kids all over the country was overwhelming.

Werner is retired and lives in New York City.

Latasha Fields-Frisco, who on 9/11 was the dean of students at Bronx School for Law, Government & Justice. Her own daughter had just started kindergarten.

It was a regular morning that ended with a bomb threat to our school. We evacuated and ensured all of our students were safe. I lived in Harlem at the time and was unable to drive home. The bridges were closed off. I walked from the Bronx to 122nd Street in Harlem. It seemed like the longest walk ever. I was happy to reach home safely to see my family and just broke down in tears.

Fields-Frisco is an assistant principal in the Bronx.

Sonia Algarin was a school counselor at Health Opportunities High School in the Bronx when the NYPD ordered an evacuation of the school. The city had shut down mass transit temporarily.

How could we dismiss students who now had to walk home during a crisis situation? When would their parents get home if they had to walk from their jobs? Was it safer to keep them at the school? Our school was across the street from a highway, the Major Deegan. The police said we needed to seek shelter at Hostos Community College three blocks away. We had to walk all 500 students through the busy streets. Some were scared there could be another bombing or another airplane crashing into Yankee Stadium 10 blocks away.

Algarin is a school counselor in the Bronx.

Sunny Asra, a fifth grader at P.S. 220 Edward Mandel School in Queens, thinks about the repercussions of 9/11 for America’s South Asian community.

[On Sept. 13], schools had a two-hour delayed opening. Still having not processed the events, it started to hit us when the kids met each other and our parents hugged one another, and we kind of did the same. In the following weeks, major hate was thrown at the South Asian community due to a lack of knowledge about religion and race. Being that I had a turban, I was even more fearful. Many innocent South Asians were killed, stabbed, and beaten.

Asra is an operations manager for the New York City Department of Education. He lives on Long Island.

Elvis Santana, a student at P.S. 66 in the Bronx, remembers listening to the radio that morning from under his desk at school. Many of his classmates wondered aloud if their parents were OK and tried to call them.

It was and still is the most devastating storyline of my life. One moment you’re in class learning, and the next, you’re thinking about death, violence, religion, war, and safety all at once. As a Bronx native, by the age of 8, you have already previewed violence and discrimination. The incident of 9/11 broadened that violence and triggered something we weren’t prepared to deal with. To anyone born after 2001, it was a testament to how America handled hatred and violence. In the end, we failed in achieving our objective, and today we see that in places like Afghanistan.

Santana is an education outreach director in the Bronx.

Dale Chu, a third grade teacher in East Palo Alto, California, heard about the terror attack from a local Spanish-language radio station on his drive to work. He had no idea of the scale of the disaster until he walked into the teachers lounge and saw the images on TV.

For the most part, we decided not to address it with our students at the time because of their age and because the feelings were all so visceral. I also vividly remember my brother in Los Angeles calling me that morning, and me stepping out of my classroom to take it. He told me that America was now at war.

9/11 is one of those rare life-defining moments. I can’t believe it’s been 20 years. The recent image of the Afghan boy falling from the U.S. Air Force jet over Kabul brought back for me — in stark relief — this picture of a falling man from the World Trade Center. Most of all, I remember how I felt in the following weeks. The sense of national pride and unity, like when George W. Bush threw out the first pitch at the World Series game in New York City. Given today’s raging culture wars and swirling currents of polarization, we could use a little bit of that now.

Chu is an education consultant in Parker, Colorado.

Chalkbeat is a nonprofit news site covering educational change in public schools.

African-American Music Appreciation Month Is About More Than just Great Songs

Little Richard
Little Richard, the self-proclaimed “architect of rock ‘n’ roll” whose piercing wail, pounding piano and towering pompadour irrevocably altered popular music while introducing Black R&B to white America, died May 9, 2020, but remains a key figure in music history.
Photo by Robbie DrexhageCC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons
By Leah Fleming and Tiffany GriffithGPB News - June 15, 2021

It was 1979 when then-President Jimmy Carter introduced the country's first ever observance of Black Music Month. The month was established to recognize the economic and cultural power of Black music, as well as those who make and promote it.

The month was later renamed African-American Music Appreciation Month under President Barack Obama.

GPB’s Leah Fleming recently spoke with Tammy Kernodle, a professor of musicology at Miami University in Ohio, to dig deeper into the roots of the month.

Tammy Kernodle: When you think of 1978, 1979, most historians will tell you that the Black Power movement was really dying down. Either through violence, mass incarceration, or people assimilating and becoming disillusioned. But what we forget is that the Black Power and the Black Nationalist movement were not just about radical activism. It was also about reclaiming and establishing an understanding of our cultural heritage. But there was also an economic piece to that. Black Power was about Black people empowering themselves and creating infrastructures. And that's the important part: infrastructures that would galvanize our communities culturally, economically, politically and socially. 

Leah Fleming: So when President Carter at the time in 1979 rolled out the first Black Music Month, he talked about growing up in Georgia and hearing many Georgia artists and hearing the pain that came through the music and the movement, and hearing about some of the joy of being Black. We heard that then. We continue to hear that now. 

Tammy Kernodle: Well, I think that's what makes Black music such an important cultural artifact, is how it encapsulates the fullness of life. It has been one of the chief documenters of our experience. And we see that in this current age, I think in a way that became absent in the decades that followed the establishment of Black Music Month, because at the time that this month of appreciation was established, we were at a high point of Black music and Black consciousness in a wedding of those things. And I think what we saw with the kind of corporate takeover of Black music in the '80s, you know, with all of those labels like Stax, like Motown, and Atlantic and all of those indie labels that are giving us all of that music, that was the soundtrack to our liberation struggle throughout the '50s, '60s and '70s. You know, when CBS and Sony and MCA and all of these labels took it over, we saw the muting of certain narratives within our music. Now they are reemerging. They're reemerging because you have a generation of artists who have found new ways in which to engage.

Leah Fleming: So what are you listening to this Black Music Month?

Grammy-nominated blues singer Shemekia Copeland performs at The Summit on Race in America at the LBJ Presidential Library on Tuesday, April 9, 2019
Photo by Laura Skelding, LBJ Library, Public domain, via Flickr

Tammy Kernodle: Oh, I'm listening to everything because I consume music. So, like, for the last couple of days, I've been listening to Shemekia Copeland, you know, who is a blues singer, she kind of does Americana. She has an album called Uncivil War. So what's really resonating with me is how we're seeing these protest narratives, these social message songs all showing up in these genres that don't get played primarily on Black radio these days. But, you know, it's getting played on white radio and in regional spaces where this is a Black woman engaging in a conversation with white America in many ways. So I listen to a range of things. Classical music, you know, because that's something we have to talk about in Black Music Month, because we oftentimes want to center Black Music Month around R&B and gospel and, you know, hip hop, because we think of those things as being representative of authentic Blackness. But classical music, we have classical composers like Courtney Bryan and Mark Lomax, who did a suite of albums called the 400 African Suite that really tries to musically trace us from 1619 to a future that he envisions. I'm looking at how Blackness is intersected in sound in so many different ways. So I listen to so many different things, and I'm an old-school person, so I've got thousands of CDs and LPs.

Leah Fleming: You say that the month should not be maybe African-American Music Appreciation Month. It should've remained Black Music Month.

Tammy Kernodle: Yes, ma'am. Blackness is, the term Black is representative of the wholeness of identity. We are African people at our core. But we did not just come to America. And to say African-American means that you negate all the Black people and all the Black music that came out of the Caribbean and South America, out of Canada, out of London, out of Germany. Black people extended from the continent, not just through slavery, but migration and colonization. And we created a larger diaspora of expressions and experiences. And that music is a reflection of those environments. And we hear some of those things coming into African-American music. But when we use the term African-American music, it means that we are very U.S.-centric. We are cutting off what are these larger cultural connections of sound and culture and experience that are represented under Blackness.

Leah Fleming: So I want to ask you one more question. Chuck Berry, Little Richard, Sister Rosetta Tharpe, Bo Diddley: They're all considered the originators of rock 'n' roll. But that's a fact that few people are aware of, especially today. So how do you suggest we not only appreciate, but hold on to the history?

American guitarist and singer Chuck Berry performs his "duck walk" in this publicity still, circa 1958.
Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

Tammy Kernodle:
 Well, I think, first of all, what you are doing here is important, because NPR, public radio has become one of the primary mediums that is above all of the political fray and rhetoric and bringing to us wholesome stories. So I thank you for your work in that. But I think also, as we are seeing these conversations about critical race theory and what is taught in the classroom, what we need to understand is how music can be a focal point for us to understand these particular moments and the importance of these voices. Right. And so it's about reclaiming that. And what I liked about the initial vision of Black Music Month, that that initial vision was about preserving, it was about progressing, but it was about historicizing. And too often we leave out the history. Every generation thinks that they are charting a revolution. And they think that because, in many cases, they don't do their history lessons. They don't learn their history. They come back to that, you know. Or they are told, ‘Hey, do you know this?’ or ‘Do you know that?’ And not all artists, but many people who think they're groundbreaking don't understand sometimes these historical trajectories. So I think it's important that we elevate. I think it's important that Black radio elevates these voices. And I think with, you know, the National Museum of African-American History and Culture in D.C., but now the newly minted National Museum of African-American Music in Nashville will see people having much more of an expansive understanding of what has been the history of this music. So this is what I do every day. Every day. I want people to leave, you know, my classrooms hearing music different, but understanding the people behind the music. I tell my students all the time, you cannot like Black music and not have a consciousness about Black people. If you do, something's wrong.

This story comes to Magatopia Buzz through a reporting partnership with GPB News, a non-profit newsroom covering the state of Georgia.

Popular Posts