As the end of June comes upon us and we prepare for our nation’s celebration of its independence from the English, we bid farewell to the time that has become known as Black Music Month.

This month we pay homage to legendary Jazz musician Horace Silver and pay tribute to Michael Jackson, who passed away five years ago.

Black Music Month, also known as African American Music Appreciation Month (the official name), began in 1979, when music business insiders Kenny Gamble, Ed Wright, and Dyana Williams developed the idea to set aside a month dedicated to celebrating the impact of Black music. The group successfully lobbied President Jimmy Carter to host a reception on June 7 of that year to formally recognize the cultural and financial contributions of Black music.

Since its inception, Black Music Month has grown from a simple commemoration to one of national proportions with celebrations across the United States. Former President Bill Clinton eventually signed a presidential proclamation which made African American Music Appreciation Month official during his administration. The proclamation was legislation known as the “African American Music Bill,” and June became the official period for recognizing and celebrating Black music, dance and artists across the nation.

Black Music Month celebrates a sound that has its origins in the heart of Africa but is indigenous to the United States. When we look at the different genres of Black music such as Blues, Jazz, Rock ’n Roll, Hip Hop, and Gospel, we see an art that has impacted, and influenced the sound, lyrics, and dance of different cultures worldwide throughout history. In fact, Gospel music may have inspired a German and a Vietnamese person to take a stand and right a situation they believed was wrong. It may seem unusual but someone once said, “Black music is universal.”

Here’s what happened. In the movie “Valkyrie” actor Tom Cruise plays Col. Claus von Stauffenberg, a World War II German officer who is disillusioned with the war and becomes one of the conspirators planning the assassination of Adolf Hitler towards the end of the war. In real life, a few years before Stauffenberg decided to overthrow Hitler, there was Dietrich Bonhoeffer who was intent on overthrowing the dictator.

According to Eric Metaxas, author of a best seller “Bonhoeffer: Pastor, Martyr, Prophet, Spy,” Bonhoeffer was born into an intellectual, aristocratic German family in 1906. Too young to be ordained a minister after completing seminary school in his country, he decided to travel to the United States and teach.

In 1930, Bonhoeffer was awarded a teaching fellowship at Union Theological Seminary in New York City. During his stay, he befriended an African American classmate from Alabama by the name of Frank Fisher.

Fisher introduced him to Abyssinian Baptist Church, an African American congregation located in Harlem. Bonhoeffer began attending services and teaching Sunday school there; he seemed drawn to the fervent Evangelical-style of preaching.

“Here, one can truly speak and hear about sin and grace and the love of God … the Black Christ is preached with rapturous passion and vision,” Bonhoeffer would write in a letter to a friend describing African American worship.

According to Metaxas, the passion and vision he experienced there influenced Bonhoeffer’s own writing and preaching. The German immigrant also had an extensive collection of Black Gospel music, which would remain a lifelong inspiration for him.

Upon completing his fellowship in New York, Bonhoeffer returned to Germany, which at the time was in the midst of transitioning to a dictatorship run by government officials that had embraced a political ideology based solely on racism. Immediately after Hitler was elected Chancellor on Jan. 30, 1933, Bonhoeffer did a radio broadcast that included the following quote: “Should the leader allow himself to succumb to the wishes of those he leads, who will always seek to turn him into an idol, then the image of the leader will become the image of the misleader. This is the leader who makes an idol of himself and of his office, and who thus mocks God.”

The German government cut off the broadcast midway and Bonhoeffer became a marked man. Eventually arrested by the German military, Bonhoeffer was imprisoned and executed by the Nazis. He was charged with attempting to overthrow Adolf Hitler.

Researchers noted that Bonhoeffer would fall back on singing Black Gospel to help himself in times of trouble. He also said the music inspired and gave him strength to try to change the world.

The influence of Black Gospel Music also reached the rice paddies of Vietnam long before the United States military sent American troops to fight a war to prevent the spread of communism throughout Indochina.

Vietnam’s leader, Ho Chi Minh, would eventually lead the country of North Vietnam to winning a war against the western powers of the free world.

While employed as a seaman on a French steamer, a young Ho Chi Minh would visit ports in Asia, Africa, and New York. Historians often refer to this time period as his years of exploration. He decided to spend time in New York and found a job as a laborer working with other immigrants and African Americans. It was there that he noticed Asians were treated better than African Americans. Having a curious nature and understanding a total of five languages (French, English, Russian, Chinese, Vietnamese), Minh was able to interact with Harlem’s African American community. He spent time going to meetings put on by Marcus Garvey’s Universal Negro Improvement Trust (the shipping company) in Harlem as well as various Black churches Garvey visited as a keynote speaker.

It was at one of these gatherings that he was introduced to African American Gospel music. Voung Nguyen Anh, a former senior education officer at the Ho Chi Minh Museum, believes Gospel music and the Black struggle was one of many life experiences that inspired the revolutionary leader with his war with the French and later with the United States. His father, a Confucian scholar, taught Ho Chi Minh to follow the religion’s precepts and taught him how to be rebel against injustice. Anh also believes Minh’s understanding of Confucius created empathy towards African Americans and their Gospel music.

But before Ho Chi Minh and Dietrich Bonhoeffer encountered Black Gospel music and found inspiration in it, another group of individuals existed that used the chants and harmony found in Gospel music to survive a harsh and rigorous life—the African slave working in the cotton fields of huge plantations in the American South.

Slave owners feelings about Gospel music and its power to inspire individuals to rebel wasn’t initially a concern of the Southern slave masters. They thought the music calmed African slaves, according to William H. Swatos Jr., Ph.D., senior fellow at Institute of Studies for Religion at Baylor University and managing editor of the Interdisciplinary Journal of Research on Religion. He believes prior to the American Revolution, very few slaves were Christian, other than in a nominal sense. He noted most plantation owners were reluctant to introduce their slaves to Christianity because they feared it might provide the Africans with the impression of being and deserving freedom.

Eventually plantation owners became convinced that a selective interpretation of the Gospel (as found in the Bible) would foster docility in their slaves, and they allowed Gospel music in the cotton fields. However, African American slaves used Gospel music to bring joy and inspiration to lives that knew no happiness. Researchers say slaves also used a form of early Gospel music (Spirituals) to communicate with each other (“call and response”) encoding messages about freedom and escape routes in ostensibly religious lyrics. For this reason, many songs today are about the exodus or God as liberator.

The belief by plantation owners that Gospel music sedated slaves was ludicrous because history is full of examples of how Gospel music and Christianity served as an inspiration for people like Nat Turner, a leader of one of the best known slave rebellions in U.S. history. Music producer and historian Bernd Lichters explains that Turner was known as the “prophet” and described by some historians as being fanatically religious. On Sunday, he would be found preaching and singing to slaves on his master’s plantation.

How is it that a music that has its origins in the antebellum South empowered individuals from different cultures to rise up and correct a wrong? We can only ponder the question. But what we do know is no matter where you go and what you read, there is a great possibility that someone of non-African heritage has listened to Gospel music sung by ancestors of the motherland and been inspired with the courage to take action.