CLARKSVILLE — From the earliest spirituals sung by enslaved African Americans to Billie Holiday’s jazz vocals to the legendary Ray Charles, Cheatham Elementary School students were treated to the sounds and stories of black music makers who left their mark on America.

The Wednesday morning program was part of the school’s Black History Month celebration. Fourth- and fifth-grade students, some dressed as the musician they spoke of, took turns at the microphone telling the stories of the greats who paved the way. There was Texarkana’s Scott Joplin, otherwise known as the “King of Ragtime,” who introduced the style known as “banjo piano.” And Mahalia Jackson, who became known as “The Queen of Gospel.” She was a civil rights activist who performed during a march in Washington, D.C., in 1963 at the request of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.

“For more than half a century, B.B. King had performed the blues for a worldwide audience. Since he started recording in the 1940s, he has released over 50 albums, many of them classics,” Ty’Shawn Hill told the crowd, which included Clarksville ISD Superintendent Kermit Ward and Mayor Ann Rushing.

“Alicia Keys is a 15-time Grammy Award-winning singer, songwriter, producer, accomplished actress and a New York Times best-selling author,” Adrianna Harrell said. “Alicia is also the co-founder of Keep a Child Alive, a nonprofit organization that combats the physical, social and economic impact of HIV on children, their families and their communities in Africa and India.”

Prince, Michael Jackson, Whitney Houston, Beyonce, Jay Z and Janet Jackson all were among those whose careers were included in the presentation, which ended with a quote by powerhouse singer, songwriter and civil rights activist Aretha Franklin:

“Music does a lot of things for a lot of people. It’s transporting, for sure. It can take you right back, years back, to the very moment certain things happened in your life. It’s uplifting, it’s encouraging, it’s strengthening.”

“Outstanding,” Rushing told Ward at the program’s conclusion.

Just outside the gymnasium, first-grade students had decorated a wall with other African American influences, including poet Maya Angelou; athletes Kobe Bryant and Serena Williams; Walter Moses Burton, the first black elected sheriff in the U.S. and a Texas state senator; King; agriculture scientist and inventor George Washington Carver; and President Barack Obama and his wife, Michelle.

Black History Month is the evolution of a week-long celebration of African American history started by historian Carter G. Woodson and what would become the Association for the Study of African American Life and History. The original week was chosen because it included the birthdays of President Abraham Lincoln and African American abolitionist and author Frederick Douglass.

“In 1976 the association that Woodson had founded … facilitated the widespread institutionalization of February as Black History Month, and U.S. Pres. Gerald Ford urged Americans to participate in its observance,” the Encyclopedia Britannica states.

Clarksville High School and Paris Junior College also celebrated the month with presentations on their campuses.

Klark Byrd is the managing editor of The Paris News. He can be reached at 903-785-6960 or

Managing Editor

Klark Byrd is the managing editor of The Paris News and the editor of Paris Life Magazine. He resides in Paris with his wife, Krystle, and their three children, Charlie, Annalise and Willow.

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