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Senior Year

Senior Year, 1979: Juneteenth Festival

by Mosi Reeves

Senior Year, 1979: Juneteenth Festival


About this playlist

It's a bit late to celebrate Juneteenth. After all, the annual holiday commemorating the ending of slavery in the United States doesn't take place in the middle of September, but at the beginning of summer, on June 19. Perhaps it's the onset of fall, though, that makes our thoughts turn to warmer months and memories of park jams, barbecue and family reunions.

If you've ever been to a Juneteenth festival, then you know it's the kind of neighborhood gathering where hundreds of kids run wild in a park, half-crazed on sugar and sensory overload, while parents gossip, dance to the music, and hopefully get some much-needed alone time. Onstage there's usually an earnest activist or two, a few city councilpersons reaching out to the constituents, and a lineup of local singers and bands using the day as a stepping stone to wider fame. Back in 1979, that means you would have gotten a lot of funk and disco with your chicken and ribs. While we can only guess what the actual soundtrack would be, we know it would undoubtedly include the latest hits from Chic, P-Funk and The O'Jays perhaps not in the flesh, but definitely via a party-rocking DJ's selections.

So why focus on 1979? Why not? The end of the '70s was a fantastic time for black music, and although the omnipresent disco beat could get a little annoying (see the Village People and Amii Stewart's "Knock on Wood"), it also led to incredible singles like Sister Sledge's "We Are Family" and McFadden & Whitehead's "Ain't No Stoppin' Us Now." It's easy to imagine how these songs evoked feelings of pride and accomplishment because, decades later, they remain a part of any community celebration. Rest in peace, Minnie Riperton, whose "Memory Lane" is included in this playlist; she died shortly after the song's release on July 12, 1979.