February is Black History Month, a time to celebrate and honour those in the black community who have made significant changes around the world and continue to make a big impact. Black music is the backbone America’s cultural music history. In honour of those black music artists who shaped music and pop culture globally, we highlight ten of the greatest black artists who rose to prominence in the music industry. Let's honour these legends during this Black History Month.
1. Michael Jackson
Michael Jackson wasn’t called the 'King of Pop' for nothing. He was the most recognized figure and the most influential artist of the 20th century. From his well-known signature dance moves (moonwalk, lean, sidewalk, Thriller dance) to his famous clothing (black hat, white sequined glove, military jackets), his unique singing voice and his memorable music videos have influenced numerous artists of various music genres and broke down the racial barrier in the music industry. Memorable songs: “Beat It,” "The Way You Make Me Feel,” “Black or White,” “Remember the Time,” “I Just Can't Stop Lovin’ You,” “Rock with You,” “I’ll Be There,” and “Never Can Say Goodbye.”
Beyoncé (born Beyoncé Giselle Knowles, September 4, 1981) is an American pop/RnB singer, record producer, and songwriter. She has attained five Hot 100 number one singles, becoming one of the two female artists—joint with Rihanna—with the most number ones attained within the 2000s. Her 2020 visual album Black Is King (the visual companion to 2019’s The Lion King: The Gift) features nearly 30 artists, over half of which are African singers and songwriters.
Memorable songs: “Formation,” “Love on Top,” “Single Ladies (Put a Ring on It),” “Irreplaceable,” “If I Were a Boy,” “Crazy in Love,” and “Listen.”
3. Jay Z
Shawn Corey Carter (born December 4, 1969, in Brooklyn, New York, United States) is an American rapper, songwriter, and record producer. He is known professionally as Jay-Z and is widely regarded as one of the most influential, prolific, and successful American hip-hop artists of the mid-90s and early 2000s. He received 21 Grammy awards for his work and married his long-time girlfriend Beyoncé in April 2008 after dating for over seven years.
Memorable songs: "Pump It Up (Freestyle)," "Empire State of Mind”, "Encore," "Meet the Parents," "You Must Love Me, " "What More Can I Say, " "Where I'm From" (1997), "Big Pimpin’" feat. UGK (2000), "99 Problems" (2004), and "Dead Presidents II."
4. Jimi Hendrix
Jimi Hendrix was an American musician, singer, and songwriter, and he is a rock guitar god. He contributed much to the development of hard rock, heavy metal, funk, post-punk, and hip-hop music and influenced countless musicians, including Prince, Ernie Isley, George Clinton, and Funkadelic's Eddie Hazel. His significance to rock and roll as a black guitarist is legendary.
Memorable songs: “Purple Haze,” “All Along the Watchtower,” “Voodoo Child (Slight Return),” “Foxey Lady,” “Hey Joe,” “Little Wing,” “The Wind Cries Mary” and “Machine Gun.”
5. Whitney Houston
Whitney Elizabeth Houston was born into a musical family on 9 August 1963, in Newark, New Jersey. There is no doubt why she is on the list. She was an American singer, actress, and the princess of pop music. She was incredibly popular in the 1980s and was known for her big voice and unique style, and was certified as the most awarded female artist of all time.
Memorable songs: “You Give Good Love,” “Saving All My Love For You,” “How Will I Know,” “Greatest Love of All,” “I Wanna Dance With Somebody (Who Loves Me),” “So Emotional," “All the Man That I Need,” “I Will Always Love You,” “I’m Every Woman,” “I Have Nothing,” and “Million Dollar Bill.”
American singer-songwriter Prince was a musical talent like no other. He had the performance skills of James Brown and first captured the world's attention with his numerous album releases in the 1980s. This Grammy and Academy-Award winning genius released 39 albums during his lifetime and was inducted in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2004.
Memorable songs: "Purple Rain", "Raspberry Beret", “Soft and Wet,” “I Wanna Be Your Lover,” “Uptown,” “How Come You Don’t Call Me Anymore,” “1999,” “Let’s Pretend We're Married,” “Let’s Go Crazy,” “The Beautiful Ones,” “Darling Nicki,” “Pop Life,” “Kiss,” “Sign o’ the Times,” “U Got The Look,” “Adore,” “Diamonds and Pearls,” and “The Most Beautiful Girl in the World.”
7. James Brown
Born in extreme poverty in Barnwell, South Carolina, James Brown lives up to his title as the hardest working man. He rose to superstardom to record much more chart hits than any other R&B artist, including 44 gold records, sometimes release four or five albums in one year. He was not just a musician. He was once a prolific dancer, a renowned singer, and a bandleader, and credited as the progenitor of funk music and the grandfather of rap. R&B, hip hop, and dance music wouldn't be what they are today without James Brown.
Memorable songs: “Please, Please, Please,” “Try Me,” “Papa's Got a Brand New Bag,” “I Got You (I Feel Good),” “It's a Man's Man's Man's World,” “Cold Sweat,” “Say it Loud – I'm Black and I'm Proud,” “Mother Popcorn,” “Super Bad,” “Talking Loud and Saying Nothing,” “Get on the Good Foot,” “The Payback,” “Papa Don’t Take No Mess,” “Get Up Offa That Thing,” “Living in America” and “Static.”
Robyn Rihanna Fenty, the queen of music, is a Barbadian-American pop singer, actress, and businesswoman. She first entered the music industry under the direction of American record producer Evan Rogers. And she has been crowned the best-selling black female artist selling over 200 million records within ten years.
Memorable songs: "Umbrella [feat. JAY-Z]", "Love The Way You Lie [feat. Rihanna] [Explicit]", "Disturbia", "Don't Stop The Music", "This Is What You Came For", "The Monster [feat. Rihanna] [Explicit]", "Only Girl (In The World)", "Diamonds", "Stay [feat. Mikky Ekko]", "We Found Love (Album Version) [feat. Calvin Harris]", "Love On The Brain [Explicit]".
9. Stevie Wonder
Stevie Wonder, whose real name is Stevland Hardaway Morris, was born in Saginaw, Michigan, and grew up in Detroit, Michigan. He has long used protest music to protest against racism and injustice, including "Black Man", "Pastime Paradise", and“Conversation Peace". He is a beloved American icon and has been credited as a pioneer to musicians of various genres like R&B, pop, funk, and jazz.
Memorable songs: "Signed, Sealed, Delivered (I'm Yours)", "Superstition - Single Version", "Sir Duke", "Isn't She Lovely", "I Just Called to Say I Love You", "For Once in My Life", "I Wish", "Higher Ground", "You Are the Sunshine of My Life", "Superstition".
10. Ray Charles
Ray Charles Robinson, known as Ray Charles, was an American singer-songwriter. This Rock and Roll Hall of Fame legend was a pioneer in the genre of soul music and one of the few black artists to enjoy major crossover success during the pre-Motown era of the early’ 60s. He will forever be remembered as one of the greatest of all time.
Memorable songs: "What'd I Say", "Georgia On My Mind", "Busted", "Unchain My Heart", "Here We Go Again", "I've Got a Woman", "I Can't Stop Loving You", "Hit the Road Jack", "One Mint Julep", "Crying Time", "That Lucky Old Sun", "Eleanor Rigby", "Let's Go Get Stoned", "Don't Set Me Free".