Bet Cable Offers Month of Music Channel Tunes in to the Best of Black Culture and Performers

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BLACK Entertainment Television is turning up the volume - figuratively - for Black Music Month in June.

The BET cable channel celebrates jazz, rhythm and blues, hip-hop, reggae, funk and gospel music with specials focusing on such artists as Stevie Wonder, Luther Vandross, Lena Horne and Anita Baker.

But BET executives say that while the mix is richer this month, a focus on the best of black culture and performers is what the channel has stressed for 15 years.

"We try to give as full a perspective as possible to the African-American audience about what's going on in the entertainment arena," said Lydia Cole, vice president for program management.

More than half of BET's schedule typically is given over to some form of music programming, whether videos, profiles or performances.

For Black Music Month, originated by then-President Jimmy Carter in 1979, there's increased attention to the music industry and its movers and shakers.

This week, daily one-hour "Lyrically Speaking" specials examine the lives and careers of some of the brightest stars. Original episodes on Patti LaBelle (Monday) and Wonder (Thursday) are scheduled.

Luther Vandross, Lena Horne and Anita Baker will be spotlighted in repeat episodes airing Tuesday, Wednesday and Friday, respectively.

On June 12, BET host and gospel music pioneer Bobby Jones serves as host of "The Amazing Grace of Gospel," which looks at rhythm-and-blues performers who began their - careers in gospel.

Donnie Simpson, host of BET's "Video Soul" program, conducts special hour-long interviews with Curtis Mayfield (June 19), Barry White (June 21) and Aretha Franklin (June 26).

On June 14, Motown record company founder Berry Gordy is interviewed in a repeat episode of "Conversation with Ed Gordon," followed by a profile of veteran music industry publicist Bob Jones.

BET is available in 42 million TV households, according to Nielsen Media Research, and draws its biggest audiences in major East Coast cities and among viewers 18 to 49.

Founded in 1980, the black-owned channel has the financial backing of corporate giant Tele-Communications Inc. and Home Box Office. Robert L. Johnson is president and chief executive officer.

Besides music, BET offers a mix of syndicated series such as "Out All Night," which stars LaBelle and ran briefly on NBC; a BET-produced stand-up comedy show and "a sprinkling of sports, news and public affairs," Cole says. …