Black History Month: Music, Food and Liberation

Today, Charvis Campbell, our guest writer, shares with a story of music, food, the Black community and what it means for kids accessing meals.

Campbell is the President of the Home Rule Music and Film Preservation Foundation, a DC based non-profit who has a mission to support, promote and preserve DC music, film and culture. His organization recently produced the award-winning film, Black Fire: The Documentary, about the DC based Black independent jazz record label from the 1970’s. 

“Henry Minton, a former saxophonist and officer of the Rhythm Club, became the first Negro delegate to Local 802 of the American Federation of Musicians and was thus doubly aware of the needs, artistic as well as economic, of jazzmen. He was generous with loans, was fond of food himself and, as an old acquaintance recalled, ‘loved to put a pot on the range’ to share with unemployed friends.” This is how Ralph Ellison described one of the roles of Henry Minton and Minton’s Playhouse, the nightclub much mythologized as the crucible of bebop, in his seminal 1959 essay “The Golden Age, Time Past” for Esquire magazine in 1959. Ellison ascribes the importance of Minton’s not as a hotbed of jazz or place where the music was really jumping, but a place where musicians could jam, work with each other on their craft; then maybe even get a bite to eat. It was a center of community. This is often the case where food and music follow.

It’s easy to document that in Harlem, the location of Minton’s, and in Washington, DC and other major urban centers in Northern U.S. states in the first half of the 20th century. From rent parties – home-based parties where hosts would make-up for a deficit in their rent payments by charging friends entry, usually with some kind of blues or early jazz performer accompanying heaps of food – to the songs of the Great Migration like Louis Armstrong’s “Big Butter and Egg Man,” food was essential to the early imagination of jazz and blues music in the United States.

Food and music are also linked by sense – or sensation, but in different ways. Just as hearing a particular piece of music can bring you back to the first moment you heard it, or a powerful memory associated with it like a summer romance or a heartbreak or moment of epiphany, so too can food act on taste and smell: a spoonful of pasta sauce rocketing you back to a family dinner, the crispy, crackly bite into some fried chicken recalling the last big family reunion.

So, when the two forces of music and cuisine act in combination – as they did in rent parties and do in barbeques, block parties, cook-outs, or maybe even some street-side dining in a foreign county – the potent mix of sounds, smells and tastes is a near-complete submergence in the human senses. “Sound changes our perception of the taste of food and logically, it is easy to understand that music has a huge impact on our perception of a dish.” (The Relationship between Music and Food Intake: A Systematic Review and Meta-Analysis) That dopamine rush combined with eating, creates a link in the brain between the food and the good feeling that the music created. Hopefully it’s a dive into happy memories like when you heard Pharrell on the radio, it takes you back to the fond feeling of the great meal you were eating last time you listened to him.

Both food and music create energy within our minds and bodies. They can work in tandem to invoke emotion and change within us, both physically and mentally. According to the ‘The Relationship between Music and Food Intake: A Systematic Review and Meta-Analysis’ study, “It has been demonstrated that music affects food intake and specifically in relation to the various features of music, [such as] genre, tempo, volume, the presence or absence of an accompanying human voice, and familiarity with music.” These different factors of a song creates a response in the brain that impacts your subconscious emotions. A song of a higher tempo can make you unknowingly eat faster in order to match the tempo.

Music and food are two things that heavily influence our everyday moods. “Dopamine is the brain’s “motivation molecule” and an integral part of the pleasure-reward system.” Music and food are both dopamine boosters and stress relievers. Food sends fuel to the brain and music helps connect those neurotransmitters which helps “[enhance] performance on cognitive tasks, improves accuracy, and enables the completion of repetitive tasks more efficiently.” (Alban, 23)Your brain can function better due to both food and music, separately and together. Be sure to eat healthy food every day!  

The relationship between music, food and kids is just as interesting. According to Charles Spence, a professor of experimental psychology at the University of Oxford, playing wind chimes or high pitched chirpy music can bring out the sweetness of an otherwise ‘yucky vegetable’. Music that reminds children of moments when they felt happy and safe can also help children associate this feeling with eating foods they don't particularly like. Becoming familiar with foods that are new to them is hard for kids, so playing something that is already familiar, especially that evokes good feelings, can help them become well adjusted in trying new foods.

Finally, it is widely noted that the Free Breakfast for School Children Program, started by the Black Panther Party, was all about feeding kids and led to the creation of the National Breakfast Program. Many of the spirituals and hymns, and the popular songs of the civil rights movement including People Get Ready (1965), performed by Curtis Mayfield & The Impressions, were the soundtrack to African-Americans fighting to ensure kids have the meals they need. 


Alban, Patrick. “How Music Affects the Brain.” Be Brain Fit, 30 Nov. 2022,

Cui, Tianxiang, et al. “The Relationship between Music and Food Intake: A Systematic

Review and Meta-Analysis.” Nutrients, U.S. National Library of Medicine, 27 July 2021,

Ellison, Ralph.  “The Golden Age, Time Past.”  Esquire magazine.  1959.