In honor of Black History Month, we took the time to honor some of the most influential black artists who have shaped the music world in various ways. From Nina Simone to Michael Jackson, music history has been graced with the talent of numerous black artists throughout the decades. These artists have made a long lasting impact in the music industry and even socially, using their platforms and music to communicate their universal message. We have picked some of our favorite artists’ from the past few decades who have contributed to the culture and growth of the music as an art form and paved the way for present and future artists to come.
American born songwriter, singer, poet, pianist and civil rights activist, Nina Simone succeeded in many genres of music including Jazz, Classical, R&B, Gospel and Blues. Many themes could be found in Simone’s discography including songs of social and racial commentary which have inspired many people from the civil rights era of the 60’s up until today. Many artists today have said to be immensely inspired by the late great icon.
The wildly famous group of singers were incredibly influential in the evolution of R&B and Soul music in the 60s and 70s, leaving their footprint on the genres and paving ways for black boy bands to rise in years to come. Their memorable choreography, melodies and stage presence set the bar high for many other R&B musicians at the time, making them one of the most successful music groups in history.
One of the most successful musicians of the late 20th century, Stevie Wonder has excelled in singing and songwriting as well as being a multi-instrumentalist. The musician has recorded well over 30 top ten hits throughout his career and has won 25 Grammy awards. Stevie Wonder has been inducted in both the Rock N’ Roll and Songwriters Hall of Fame and has also earned the Lifetime Achievement Award for his work.
The Prince of Soul, Marvin Gaye is credited to have helped shape the sound of Motown before venturing off into his globally successful solo career. Gaye’s music had influenced many subgenres of R&B as well as Soul. His successful singles such as “Sexual Healing” and “How Sweet It Is” earned him worldwide recognition and eventually lead to his induction into the Rhythm & Blues Hall of Fame as well as the Songwriters Hall of Fame.
No one can deny the achievement and legacy the King of Pop himself has made in the music industry, and furthermore as a philanthropist. His hit songs from “Thriller” to “Billie Jean’ propelled him to global super stardom, influencing and inspiring people all over the world. His music transformed the art of music videos and his legendary dance moves and fashion cemented him as one of the most incredible performers the world has seen thus far. The late entertainer’s impact on music has influenced musicians of all genres and will continue to do so for years to come.
Recording artist, actress, dancer and author, Tina Turner’s successful career has made her one of the best-selling artists of all time. The artist excelled across different genres from Rock, Pop, Soul and R&B, earning her several awards throughout her career including eight Grammy awards. The singer has sold more concert tickets than any other solo performance artist in history and has greatly influenced many performers of today’s era including Beyoncé and Mary J. Blidge.
Late music legend Prince was known for his eclectic style, energetic stage presence, wide vocal range and his talent for playing several instruments. The singer/songwriter’s impressively produced the majority of his work by himself, blending genres together including pop, soul, funk and R&B. He has sold over 100 million records worldwide which earned him seven Grammy awards. His work in creating modern synthesizer sounds was the foundation of post-70s funk music which influenced many artists after him.
The most awarded female artist of all time, Whitney Houston remains a global icon as a singer, actress and producer. The late music legend sold an estimated 200 million records worldwide and left an immense impact in pop, soul and R&B. She was the first female artist to earn a number one spot on the Billboard 200 albums chart with her second album Whitney. She was also the first black female musician to receive more rotation on MTV with her music video “How Will I Know”, breaking the barrier for other black female artists such as Janet Jackson and Anita Baker to succeed at the time. Houston has been credited to be a major source of inspiration by numerous powerhouse singers such as Celine Deion, Mariah Carey, Toni Braxton and Christina Aguilera.
Rapper and businessman Jay Z is one of the bestselling musicians of all time, selling well over 100 million records and receiving 21 Grammy Awards so far over the span of his career. Three of the rapper’s albums were included in Rolling Stone’s “500 Greatest Albums of All Time”. He has made a tremendous print in rap music as well as being a successful business entrepreneur with his investments in other industries from fashion to sports teams. The rapper has also been involved in philanthropy and founded the Shawn Carter Foundation, which since its start has helped eligible students facing socio-economic hardships succeed through college.
Global superstar of today’s era, Beyoncé Knowles-Carter is one of the most tremendously successful singers, dancers and performers music history has seen in years. The music legend's career, starting with Destiny’s Child, has seen constant evolution and change across a variety of genres including R&B, Pop and Hip Hop. The performer's last two visual albums have completely revolutionized the way music is released in today's industry. The singer has also been politically active recently. Her latest successful release, Lemonade included a full length film circling the themes of black female empowerment. Beyoncé is a worldwide phenomenon, inspiring millions of people and setting the bar higher and higher with each step of her career.