Arts & Entertainment

Black History Month: Influential Musicians

Music wouldn’t be where it is right now without the help of Black musicians.

You can find music in almost any day-to-day situation. You can hear it in an elevator, grocery store, on a car ride or even in the video games you play. Music is a form of art that is ever-evolving. It can be something that the world has never heard before, or it can even be something simple like the rhythm of water droplets dripping from a leaking faucet. The most well known music to people around the world is music that is produced from big-name labels like Atlantic Records, which has some of your favorite musicians like Cardi B and Jack Harlow, and maybe some you don’t know yet like Oliver Tree and A Boogie Wit Da Hoodie. Anything can be music to the ears and in honor of Black History Month, we should get to know some of the most influential Black musicians.

Sister Rosetta Tharpe:

Known as the “Godmother of Rock and Roll,” Sister Rosetta Tharpe has made an impact in the music industry far past her own career. Her career started in the 1930s-40s with gospel music. This was no ordinary gospel music, however, as she played the electric guitar alongside her spiritual lyrics. Sister Rosetta Tharpe’s music was very important to the making of rock and roll. Her song “This Train” has very simple lyricism, but the song was heightened by the performance of the band she sang it with and her soulful way of singing. She was a large influence on big names in music decades later such as Elvis Presley, Carl Perkins and Johnny Cash. Her influence had a snowball effect that gave the world of music many of the well known and beloved musicians today.

Jimi Hendrix:

Jimi Hendrix is known for his electric guitar playing and rightfully so. His style of playing the guitar shook the way people played the instrument decades ago and has changed the genre of rock alongside it. His song “All Along The Watchtower” is a good example of what his guitar playing sounded like. The album “Are You Experienced” is his most well-received album and was instantly a huge success. However, Hendrix did not start his career too well as he wasn’t widely accepted in the US. He then went to the UK where his music became an instant success. When he came back to the US to perform at Woodstock Music and Art Fair, he played his own version of the Star Spangled Banner – which he thought was a beautiful rendition of the national anthem, but some Americans were offended by his performance. His creativity with his playing – like the times he played the electric guitar with his teeth – is one of the reasons people began to explore the possibilities of the electric guitar.

Michael Jackson: 

Known as the “King of Pop,” Michael Jackson is without a doubt one of the most influential Black musicians to ever grace the ears of people from around the world. Some of his top songs include “Thriller,” “Billie Jean,” and “Beat It” – all of which will make anyone just want to sing along. In a time where people listened to music live or on discs, Jackson still topped the sales chart years after his death. Even with music being available to stream, they cannot even come close to what Jackson achieved.

Bob Marley:

With passionate and groovy music, it’s no surprise that Bob Marley is here. He is known for his reggae music but also has used his music to send messages to people. His songs like “Get Up, Stand Up” and “Redemption Song” were used to spread his message of peace when the world was divided amongst itself. He also helped spread the Rastafarian movement through his music, which was a religious and political movement that began in Jamaica. 

Louis Armstrong:

As one of the best and well-known jazz musicians of all time, Louis Armstong made a name for himself when it wasn’t uncommon for Black musicians to not be listened to because of their skin color. His music was the foundation of the jazz genre and his unique voice created a new way to sing. People may not know what his songs were titled, but you have definitely heard his work before. Some songs include “What a Wonderful World,” which has appeared in Disney’s “Finding Dory,” and “When the Saints Go Marching In,” which is a song that embodies the idea of jazz.

Little Richard:

Little Richard helped shape the genre of rhythm and blues for years to come.

His style of music which consisted of strong beat lines and piano playing, alongside his upbeat rhythm had helped create music genres such as soul and funk. His music, alongside other musicians like Elvis Presley, was the inspiration for many other rock musicians. Besides rock, Little Richard had started his music career with rhythm and blues. “Tutti Frutti,” a song made by him and another rhythm and blues band, was one of the very first songs that hit with white audiences, despite it being made by a Black musician. It was so popular at the time that it became a hit in both the US and the UK.