To celebrate Black History Month, we should look at the massive influence that black culture has had on pop culture, and specifically how much impact it’s had on music. Without early black rock and blues artists, there would be no Beatles or Elvis Presley. The influence that black artists have had on soul, rock, jazz, hip-hop, and many other genres is immeasurable and the entire landscape of music would be so much different today if it weren’t for these artists.
- Marvin Gaye- What’s Going On
- Erykah Badu- On & On
- Outkast- Rosa Parks
- Jimi Hendrix- Purple Haze
- Michael Jackson- Billie Jean
- Earth Wind & Fire- Let’s Groove
- Aretha Franklin- Respect
- Prince- Purple Rain
- Jay-Z & Beyonce- 03’ Bonnie & Clyde
- Miles Davis- So What (feat. John Coltrane, Cannonball Adderley, & Bill Evans)
- Kendrick Lamar- King Kunta
- Tupac- Dear Mama
- Lauryn Hill- Doo Wop (That Thing)
- Stevie Wonder- Superstition
- Frank Ocean- Pink + White
- Rihanna- Only Girl (In The World)
Marvin Gaye– Being one of the biggest icons in music history, Marvin Gaye’s 1971 smash hit “What’s Going On” has stood the test of time. The song’s cry for peace during the height of the Vietnam War is just as relevant today as it was when it was released, almost 40 years after Gaye’s untimely death.
Erykah Badu– One of the biggest figures in the neo-soul genre, Badu’s 1997 song “On & On” peaked at number 12 on the Billboard chart and won an award for Best Female R&B Vocal Performance.
Outkast– Known for countless hits such as “Hey Ya!”, “Ms. Jackson”, and “Roses”, the duo’s impact on the Southern hip-hop genre lasts to this day. The 1998 single, “Rosa Parks”, is a perfect example of the duo’s chemistry, catchiness, and experimentation, and even features a harmonica solo filled with guitars and drums.
Jimi Hendrix– Widely regarded as the best guitarist of all time, Jimi Hendrix was one of the biggest rock stars of the 1960’s. “Purple Haze” was The Jimi Hendrix Experience’s first huge hit and features a signature guitar solo from Hendrix.
Michael Jackson– The king of pop is known for so many hits, but 1982’s “Billie Jean” stands out from the rest after going number 1 in seven countries and being certified six times platinum, becoming one of the most well known songs of all time.
Earth Wind & Fire– One of the biggest disco acts of all time, Earth Wind & Fire’s 1981 single “Let’s Groove” still stands as one of the most danceable songs ever.
Aretha Franklin– A strong voice advocating for women in the 1960’ s, soul legend Aretha Franklin’s 1967 cover of “Respect” by Otis Redding reached number one on the Billboard’s pop chart for 2 weeks and was even ranked as the number one song of all time on The Rolling Stone’s most recent “500 Best Songs of All Time” list.
Prince– The name “Purple Rain” being synonymous with Prince’s 1984 film, album, and song, and the accomplishment of making all 3 both very popular and acclaimed, solidified Prince as one of the biggest artists of the 1980s. This nine minute rock ballad is Prince at his most experimental and stands as his most popular song.
Jay-Z and Beyonce– The legendary billionaire power couple consisting of New York rap legend Jay-Z and R&B/pop/hip-hop sensation Beyonce, who is widely considered one of the best live performers of all time, have recorded many hits together, including 2002’s “‘03 Bonnie & Clyde”, which was their first collaboration and hit number 4 on the Hot 100.
Miles Davis and John Coltrane– Two of the most legendary jazz musicians ever, Coltrane was featured on every song on Miles Davis’ influential 1959 album “Kind Of Blue”, which is seen as one of the most popular jazz albums of all time.
Kendrick Lamar– The only rapper to ever win a Pulitzer Prize, Kendrick Lamar’s 2015 Grammy-winning album “To Pimp A Butterfly” was released in the height of 2015’s BLM movements, and not only made a groundbreaking statement but also earned Lamar the respect of the entire music industry. The third track off the album, “King Kunta”, took inspiration from the character Kunta Kinte in the novel “Roots: The Sage of an American Family”, a slave that had his foot cut off after attempting to escape the plantation he was on.
Tupac– One of the only rappers whose music is in the Library of Congress, Tupac is one of the most famous and influential rap legends of all time, despite his untimely death at age 25. His classic 1995 track “Dear Mama” is a heartfelt song dedicated to his mother and everything she meant to him.
Lauryn Hill– Widely regarded as the best female rapper of all time, rapper, singer, and songwriter Lauryn Hill only ever released one studio album as a solo artist. The album not only won album of the year at the Grammys, but was certified platinum by the RIAA. On top of that, the lead single from the album, “Doo Wop (That Thing)” reached number 1 on the Billboard Hot 100.
Stevie Wonder– Soul legend and cultural icon Stevie Wonder has had a long career in music that lasts to this day, and 1972’s “Superstition” may be his biggest hit. The song is on Wonder’s 15th album “Talking Book”, and hit number 1 on the Hot 100.
Frank Ocean (produced by Pharrell Williams)– Perhaps the most influential R&B artist of the 2010s, Frank Ocean represents the LGBTQ+ community proudly in his music and has been recognized on stages like the Grammys. Ocean’s transition to an art pop sound in 2016’s “Blonde” surprised many fans, but his work continued to be critically acclaimed. The track “Pink + White” off the album features production from legendary producer Pharrell Williams of The Neptunes, and even features backing vocals from Beyonce.
Rihanna– One of the best hitmakers of the 21st century, Rihanna has recorded 14 number one songs to her name. One of these hits is 2010’s “Only Girl (In The World)”, which reached number one in six different countries.