5 of The Most Influential Black Musicians in Music
In the midst of the Black Lives Matter movement, we can see a revolution of change paving the way for a more equal and inclusive society. As members of the music industry, we have always been at the forefront of change and diversity. Music has always been a safe and inclusive medium of equality and many black musicians have carved out their own successful careers in music, going against the barriers of systematic racism and rising above the prejudice.
To celebrate this change, we would like to take a look at some of the most influential black artists of the last 100 years and see how they’ve influenced a new generation of modern music.
5. Aretha Franklin
Aretha Franklin is one of the most prolific singers of the last century and was arguably the face of Motown and Soul. Known for her hit tracks such as: “Respect”, “Think” and “A Natural Woman” she was a big advocate for freedom and respect for women. Franklin had a big impact on the civil rights movement, as she would regularly hold free concerts, house activists and fundraise for the movement.
Her father was a Baptist minister and the person who organized the Detroit ‘walk for freedom’ in 1963, which became the largest ever demonstration of civil rights in the US – until now that is.
This would be the catalyst for Franklin to pursue this movement through her music as she would speak about these issues on stage and become a voice for change during her long and impressive career. She is a shining example of the power that music can have on change and would inspire a generation of artists to come. Such as Mariah Carey, Whitney Housten and Lauryn Hill.
4. John Lee Hooker
John Lee Hooker is the king of boogie. Hooker lived the American Dream to the full and has some wild stories to tell whilst doing it. Known for being a drifter in the blues scene, he started in the Mississippi delta and was inspired by his stepfather and guitarist Will Moore as well as his sister’s boyfriend Tony Hollins who gave him his first guitar.
Throughout his career, Hooker would drift from town to town playing hits such as “Boom Boom”, “Chill Out” and my personal favorite “One Bourbon, One Scotch, One Beer”. During this time, his was stiffed by many producers and record labels who demanded exclusivity or simply wouldn’t pay. To make joke of this, Hooker would change his name several times and was known as John Lee Booker, John Lee Cocker, Boogie Man as well as several other names.
In 1991, John Lee Hooker was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and he went on to inspire a plethora of blues rock band and acts such as Rolling Stones, Eric Clapton and ZZ Top.
3. Jimi Hendrix
Jimi Hendrix is widely regarded as one of the most influential guitarists of the last century. He fused elements of blues rock, garage rock and 60s psychedelic experiences to create some of the wildest and inspirational sounds in music.
During the late 1960s there was a bid to create the most aggressive and distorted sound on the guitar. From The Kinks’ “You Really Got Me” to The Beatles’ “Helter Skelter” but it was Hendrix who pioneered the overdriven grit of psychedelic rock and he would become known for the outrageous sounds he and his band created.
Perhaps one of his most controversial moments was when he performed an abridged version of The Star-Spangled Banner at Woodstock in ‘69. Many regard this as a protest against America’s unnecessary involvement in the Vietnam war. Hendrix, in his early life, was also a member of the US Army. However, his was discharged due to an ankle injury.
His sound was influenced by the likes of B.B King, Muddy Waters and Howlin’ wolf, black blues musicians similar to John Lee Hooker. As well as this, Hendrix left behind a legacy like the musicians who before him and is wildly regarded as one of the breakthrough artists who pushed the boundaries of the rock and metal cultures we see today.
2. Dr Dre
Andre Romelle Young or Dr Dre is a king in the Hip Hop genre. From his entrepreneurial influence on the likes of Snoop Dogg and Eminem to his unrivaled producing techniques and even his own dabble in rapping artistry; Dr Dre is a figure of epic proportions in modern music.
His career began in Compton California where he was a member of the World Class Wreaking Cru. However, it wasn’t until his role in the gangsta rap group N.W.A where his fame and talent began to rise. Specifically, on their track “Fuck the Police” which Dre produced. The track has become a symbol for Black empowerment and anti-racist ideology which quickly spread through the movement. Infact it was the song which underground group Anonymous played over the Minneapolis police radio when they hacked into their system.
As well as a very prominent career in music, Dr Dre has founded several successful businesses. This includes Aftermath Entertainment and Beats Electronics, on top of being the co-founder of Death Row Records. His most notable albums include “The Chronic” and “2001” which collectively have sold more than 10,000,000 copies.
Dr Dre stands a figure of not only successful black musicians but successful black businessmen and should be an inspiration to all who wish to go against the status quo and rise through racism and prejudice.
- Childish Gambino
Childish Gambino is the musical alter-ego of actor Donald Glover. Known for playing roles in TV shows such as Community and Atlanta, as well as a young Lando Calrissian in Solo: A Star Wars Story. It is a radical change that Glover also produces some of the most influential and moving music of this Century.
His name derives from a Wu-Tang Clan name generator which he used in college. Gambino has written 4 studio albums, all to critical acclaim. However, his most notable track is the song “This is America”.
The track went to on to be one of the most controversial songs of 2018, and for good reason. It serves as a highlight of the racial prejudice and violence against black Americans. Cataloguing some of the most awful times during America’s black history. Such as the Jim Crow caricature, gun violence and confederacy symbols. The track effortlessly puts a mirror up to America and shows how in just the system is and acts as a cultural reflection of the times that we live in.
There have been many black musicians who have created some of the most famous and important music of the last 100 years, and these are just a select few. But it just goes to show that modern music would be the same without these individuals.
So, next time you’re listening to music, think about where it came from and who made it, or even who influenced it; because there is a good chance that black artists had something to do with it. We should respect that black musicians have played an integral part of our humanity and our development as a species. But, instead of viewing ourselves as separate, perhaps we can understand and respect each other, because it is the collective collaborate of all that will advance and innovate the next generation of music creators.
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