Local Current Blog

Black History Month Playlist: St. Paul mayor Melvin Carter and the music that inspires him

Melvin Carter at Minnesota Public Radio in 2018. (Evan Frost/MPR)

Since its inception in 1926, Black History Month commemorates the valuable contributions, achievements, and the remarkable history of black Americans. In honor of Black History Month, I asked several black Minnesota leaders to share the artists and songs that inspire them.

“As a kid we’d joke, they gave us the shortest month of the year,” said St. Paul mayor Melvin Carter with a smile. He continued, “our history gets winnowed down into one storyline that doesn’t reflect all of us, so we need months like this.” Carter said he’s inspired by Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., Frederick Douglass, Malcolm X, and Nelson Mandela.

“Music is the universal language,” Carter said as he described black music and culture. “I think just as people, we are a musical, rhythmic group.” During his childhood, Carter was inspired by Stevie Wonder, describing him now as his “favorite artist of all time” and “a genius” because of his ability to stay “current and relevant over time,” someone who gives us “something to think about.”

The playlist that Carter created is based on his own personal connection to the music and comprises artists who “take their role in history seriously enough to say, I don’t just want to entertain people, I want to challenge us.” When Carter hears the songs on his playlist, he has a lot of emotions and nostalgia.

“The music tradition I grew up in was one that was very much about communicating with the audience, about the musicians communicating with each other, and operating in the moment. A song can go on for 15 minutes or it can end after three minutes,” Carter said. “It can go back to the hook and go back to the bar, but it’s a living organism and it’s one of the things I love about black music.”

More Black History Month playlists: Andrea JenkinsIlhan Omar, Raeisha WilliamsMychael Wright.

Mayor Melvin Carter’s Black History Month playlist

Marla Khan-Schwartz is a former Civil Rights Commissioner who finds passion in writing, music and deep conversation accompanied by a glass of French Malbec.