Updated: Apr 6
When looking at the history of American music, the contributions of Black musicians are particularly notable, leaving an indelible impact on the music world. From rock and roll and funk to jazz and hip-hop, here are four Black musicians whose talents continue to inspire and set a standard.
Ella Fitzgerald (1917-1996)
Referred to as the "First Lady of Song" and the "Queen of Jazz," Ella Fitzgerald was arguably the most popular jazz singer of the 20th Century.
A winner of 13 Grammy awards and countless other accolades, Fitzgerald's vocal diversity, jazz ballads, and unparalleled range has allowed her music to possess a timeless sound. From Beyoncé to Lady Gaga, countless artists list her among their biggest inspirations.
Some of her most famous songs include: "Dream a Little Dream of Me", "Cheek to Cheek", and "Blue Skies."
James Brown (1933-2006)
In a career that spanned 50 years, James Brown is an icon of funk music, with a stage presence that rocked the music world.
Brown's music began to top charts in the mid-1950s, and throughout his massively successful career, Brown released 17 singles that ranked No. 1 on the Billboard R&B charts. Among his notable releases, "I Got You (I Feel Good)", and "Get Up Offa that Thang" are two of his most popular.
Brown was also a civil rights activist, dubbed "Soul Brother Number One," and used his fame to speak out against injustice while raising money for several humanitarian efforts.
"Growing up, James Brown's music was played throughout my house by my late grandfather, shaping the way I groove when I listen to music. To this day, his accomplishments and music continue to influence some of pop's biggest and best musicians, including the original Jackson Five, Michael Jackson, Prince, and George Clinton." --- Victor P. Inwang II, BHS Agent
Tina Turner (1939-)
This twelve-time Grammy award-winner, and "Queen of Rock n' Roll," is an unmistakable giant in the music industry.
Inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1991, Turner's career has been massively successful, with over 5 decades in the industry.
Most notably, Turner was the first Black artist and woman to be featured on the cover of Rolling Stone Magazine in 1967.
"The Tina! 50th Anniversary Tour in 2008 is one of the greatest concerts I've ever been to. I was 16 years old and went with my whole family. We stood and danced the entire time. The electricity in that room was nothing I had ever experienced before. Seeing her perform “What’s Love Got to Do With It” and “Proud Mary” -- there are no words. Tina Turner is an American Icon." --- Ali Rubenstein, BHS Social Media Director
"When Doves Cry, "Purple Rain," and "Little Red Corvette" are just a few of the beloved hits released by singer-songwriter Prince.
Regarded as one of the greatest artists of his generation, Prince was the recipient of numerous awards and record-breaking success.
Aside from his career in music, Prince was active in philanthropic efforts, working with several non-profit organizations such as Green for All, which was devoted to creating economically sustainable jobs for underrepresented communities. Prince also went on to launch #YesWeCode, which encouraged urban youth in pursuing jobs in technology.
Prior to his death, Prince cemented his legacy by offering his counsel and mentorship to up-and-coming, Black female artists. Both Lizzo and Janelle Monae credit him with guiding their recent works.