As black history month draws to an end, there is no better way to end it than to celebrate black music artists who have made history in the music industry. They have not only passed across important messages through their songs but have also passed on the baton of honour to contemporary black music artists.
While there are so many black artists who have held up the light of the black community for all to see, I have limited the list to include just five of them. The contemporary artists are doing an equally great job, so I included some of them that have kept the fire burning. Meanwhile, don’t miss this article on Black History Month: Celebrating Iconic Black Designers’ Contributions.
Five Veterans in the Black Music Industry That Changed the Course
Here are five black music artists who have changed the game in the industry and inspired the black community:
#1 James Brown (1933–2006)
The music industry has a lot to thank James Brown for, including the invention of funk. With songs like Get Up (I Feel Like Being A) Sex Machine and Get Up Offa That Thing, his music has served as a vital foundation for contemporary hip-hop.
He was also the originator of a variety of dance trends, including the moonwalk, which he invented years before Michael Jackson.
#2 ARETHA FRANKLIN (1942-2018)
With an excellent discography, Franklin earned her place among the top 60 best female singers in the world and as one of the most influential black musicians in the world.
Starting out as a gospel singer in her father’s church, she spread out to other genres, including jazz, R&B, blues, and even rock’n’roll.
Her style and influence are obvious in the work of contemporary music artists like Ariana Grande, and country music artist Dolly Parton admitted to Franklin’s influence on her music.
#3 Will Marion Cook (1869–1944)
Will Marion Cook was one of the few black music artists to be classically trained. He first trained with a violinist in Berlin named Joseph Joachim and later with Antonín Dvorák. He was among the pioneers of black musical theatre. Cook was known for his fearless stance on issues concerning race at a time when many of his peers were more meticulous with their tone and words.
#4 Bob Marley (1945–1981)
Without a doubt, Bob Marley paved the way for reggae music as the most famous reggae singer. He shook the entire music industry in the 1960s and 1970s. Bob Marley led “The Wailers” with his passionate and vibey jams that were catchy for the real-world messages and issues they passed across and addressed. Explore how Afropop is Shaping The Future Of Global Music.
He used hit songs such as “Get Up,” “Stand Up,” and “Redemption Song” to spread the message of unity and peace. Bob Marley also introduced the world to the Rastafarian movement. With his inspiring lyrics, his music has stayed relevant across generations.
#5 Stevie Wonder (1950- present)
A worthy example of kicking disability in the face and making a difference, Stevie lost his eyesight at a young age and still went ahead to become the youngest artist to top the Billboard charts at the tender age of 13. It is even more iconic that he is still in the business of producing brilliant music. Stevie Wonder paved the way for incorporating the latest music technology and was among the first musicians to try out synthesisers, sampling, and vocoders. He has been a huge influence in various genres such as R&B, funk, electronica, pop, jazz, soul, and hip-hop.
He has used his influence to lend his voice to various causes, especially black-related issues. Stevie contributed by leading the campaign to make Martin Luther King Jr.’s birthday a national holiday in the US. Stevie Wonder also released two singles in support of the 2020 wave of Black Lives Matter protests. An absolute black icon indeed.
Check out some contemporary artists who have upheld the legacy.
Beyonce Giselle Knowles-Carter, popularly known as Queen Bee, has not only shown black artists what is possible for them in the industry but has also broken down barriers and opened the eyes of the entire black community to their relevance with her music. The mom of three and crooner of “Formation,” and “Black Parade”, a pro-black song which gave her her 28th Grammy win in 2021 celebrates all black everything. The “Black Parade” song was particularly relevant to George Floyd’s protest.
#2 The Weekend: Black artist Preaching Against Drug Abuse
In his nature of being open about his addiction to drugs in the past and its toll on his mental health, The Weeknd did justice to addressing the social vice of substance abuse in his music, “Gasoline”.
The video highlights differences between him and his former self, and the song portrays his relationship with his partner. He is so attached to her because he fears he will overdose, having used drugs as a “crutch” before. However, if he overdoses, he’d rather be poured into gasoline because life is meaningless without her.
#3 Chance the Rapper
This is one black music artist who has used his raps to touch on different issues. Ranging from the importance of family to messed-up political systems, his rhymes have succeeded in inspiring this generation.
The artist’s “I Might Need Security” reflects an angry depiction of his hometown’s politics. particularly the case of the shooting of the Mayor of Chicago. In 2017, his name went down in the book of history as the first black artist to win a Grammy for his streaming-only album “Coloring Book.”
There! Black veterans in the music industry that have been a light in the Black race and used their art to speak on important causes relevant to the entire Black community and Black contemporary artists upholding this legacy! We celebrate them this Black History Month and wish the ones still here with us all the best as they go forward in their careers!