Influential Black Musicians
In honor of this year’s Black History Month, here’s my pick of the most influential black musicians.
James Marshall “Jimi” Hendrix was born November 27, 1942, in Seattle, Washington. He began playing guitar at the age of 15. His career started when he began playing small gigs on the Chitlin Circuit, venues that provided commercial and cultural acceptance for African American musicians and comedians in the 1960s. Then, with his headline performance at 1969’s Woodstock Festival, Jimi Hendrix showed the whole world that he was one of the best guitarists of all time, securing his place among the world’s most influential Black musicians in the process.
Popular song: “All Along The Watchtower”
Stevland Hardaway Wonder was born on May 13, 1950, in Saginaw, Michigan. Wonder became a child prodigy at the age of 11, signing with Motown Tamla label and was given the name “Little Stevie Wonder.” Despite losing his eyesight as a newborn, Wonder was one of the youngest artists ever, only 13 years old, to have a song hit number one on the Billboard Hot 100 with the song “Fingertips.” Throughout his career, he used his platform to support various important causes: he was one of the leading campaigners to make Martin Luther King, Jr.’s birthday a national holiday in the US, and in 2020 he released two politically charged singles in support of another wave of Black Lives Matter protests, which is why I believe he should be on this list.
Popular song: “Superstition”
Ella Fitzgerald, also known as the “Queen of Jazz” and “First Lady of Song,” was born on April 25, 1917, in Newport News, Virginia. Fitzgerald made her debut touring with the famous Chick Webb Orchestra making a name for herself before going solo. Her 1938 co-written version of the nursery “A-Tisket, A-Tasket” brought her public acclaim. Fitzgerald was one of the first female jazz artists to break through in America, and hits such as “Dream A Little Dream Of Me” and “It Don’t Mean A Thing (If It Ain’t Got That Swing)” are timeless classics. During her career, she collaborated with the likes of Duke Ellington and Louis Armstrong and influenced many 21st Century singers such as Lana Del Rey and Adele.
Popular song: “Someone To Watch Over Me”
Prince Rogers Nelson was born on June 7, 1958, in Minneapolis, Minnesota. At the age of 19, Prince signed a recording contract with Warner Bros. Records and soon became one of the most diverse artists the world has ever seen, incorporating a variety of styles like funk, R&B, rock, soul, jazz, and hip-hop into his music. Prince released 39 records in his life and sold over 150 million records worldwide, inducting him into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame, the Rhythm & Blues Hall of Fame, and the Black Music & Entertainment Walk of Fame this year.
Popular song: “When Doves Cry”
Aretha Louise Franklin was born on March 25, 1942, in Memphis, Tennessee and has been referred to as the “Queen of Soul.” Once Franklin signed with Atlantic Records in 1966, she found commercial success with her hits such as, “Respect,” “I Say a Little Prayer,” and “Chain of Fools.” Franklin recorded 112 charted singles on the US Billboard charts, including 73 Hot 100 entries, 17 top-ten pop singles, 100 R&B entries, 20 number-one R&B singles, and 18 Grammy Awards. Her influence is clear to see not only in modern-day acts like Ariana Grande, but also in other genres like country music.
Popular song: “I Never Loved a Man the Way I Loved You”