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Radio stations and REC Philly are offering grants to Black artists, poets, musicians, and more to honor Philadelphia’s ‘Black Music City’ legacy

The Black Music City project will award grants of $1,000 to $3,500 to Black artists from all disciplines.

Philly's own Tierra Whack performs at the Made in America festival in September 2019.
Philly's own Tierra Whack performs at the Made in America festival in September 2019.Read moreTYGER WILLIAMS / Staff Photographer

Philadelphia’s Black music legacy runs deep and wide:

The Rev. Charles A. Tindley, for whom Tindley Temple United Methodist Church was named, composed gospel music in the early 1900s, including his song, “I’ll Overcome Someday,” which is credited as the source of the civil rights anthem, “We Shall Overcome.”

John Coltrane played the bustling jazz scene on Columbia Avenue in the ’40s and ’50s. Gamble and Huff’s Sound of Philadelphia reigned during the 1970s.

And Grammy-nominated, Philadelphia-born hip-hop artist Tierra Whack, a rising star, is known for her witty and sometimes playful lyrics.

In honor of that history, and to support artists who have seen their incomes plunge during the coronavirus pandemic, a new project announced Monday, Black Music City, will award grants to Black artists to support and promote works that are inspired by Philadelphia’s Black music heritage.

“This project is a way to reflect back on the amazing music that has come out of the city and to make a statement about the current times in which we’re living and being able to get some money to artists who are making art now,” said Bill Johnson, general manager of the Temple University public radio music station WRTI-FM (90.1), one of the project’s sponsors.

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Black Music City is a collaboration between that station, the University of Pennsylvania’s public music station WXPN-FM (88.5), and REC Philly, a creative hub in Center City with rehearsal and performance space, recording studios, and classes for entrepreneurs.

Grants of $1,000 to $3,500 will be awarded to Black artists working in the Philadelphia region (extending to New Jersey and Delaware) to support new projects that “recognize and honor the influence of Philadelphia’s Black music history,” the organizers said in a statement.

The grants are supported by the Wyncote Foundation and will total more than $30,000.

Artists must be older than 18 and can come from any discipline, including but not limited to musicians, illustrators, painters, dancers, and spoken-word performers.

The deadline to submit grant applications is Jan. 25, 2021.

The Black Music City artist grants stemmed from conversations on how the coronavirus pandemic was hurting all artists, but especially local Black artists, the project partners said.

“Back in June, in the middle of the pandemic, we knew our creators — most are freelancers and artists — were disproportionately affected by COVID,” said Will Toms, cofounder and chief creative officer at REC Philly. “Most of their income depends on getting out in front of people, whether that’s onstage or shooting a wedding video.”

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WXPN had developed a partnership with REC Philly prior to that to elevate the work of Black artists and help get them before new audiences. WXPN, for instance, supports the WXPN Podcast at REC Philly.

“Our mission is connecting artists and audiences, and recently we’ve had a focus on intentionally elevating the work of Black artists,” said Roger LaMay, general manager for WXPN. “That’s been a priority of ours.”

LaMay and Toms had been talking about ways to build on their existing partnership when they decided the continuing pandemic was a reason to support Black artists, whether they were musical artists or not.

LaMay and Toms invited Johnson and WRTI to join them. He readily agreed.

“Our first goal is service,” Johnson said. “If we can come up with a way to serve more people by coming together, collaboration makes all of us stronger.

Grant recipients must complete their works by May 27 and be available to showcase them in June during African American Black Music Appreciation Month.

Details and the grant application are at