An image with a blue background, Jimi Hendrix and the text “Black History Month.”

5 Black Musicians: Their Impact On Genres and History

By Paige Greene
Web Content Assistant Manager

Early Black musicians led the way in the U.S. for the funk and jazz fusion that exploded in popularity during the late 1960s to 1970s. The blues’ influence reached as far as rock, country and classical music. Changing the musical landscape as we know it, below are five Black musicians who influence not only music but the world as we know it. 

Marvin Gaye (1939-1984)

Marvin Gaye helped shape the Motown sound of the 1960’s and earned the nickname “Prince of Motown.” Gaye was one of the first soul artists to address social issues in his music.

Gaye produced his own music and three years after his death was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. Gaye released the song “What’s Going on” in 1971 and become a huge success. The song, despite clashing with Motown, is inspired by political unrest over the Vietnam War. The song opened the door for Gaye to take risks politically and write about many more controversial topics. 

Educational Videos for Students’ YouTube video on Marvin Gaye

Aretha Franklin (1942-2018)

Aretha Franklin, or the “Queen of Soul,” ruled the pop charts. Franklin was a singer, songwriter, actress, civil rights activist and more. Like Gaye, Franklin used her talent to talk about social issues and further the civil rights movement. 

Franklin released a version of Otis Redding’s “Come to Me” and titled it “Respect.” This song demanded equality and continues to be an anthem of women and black rights. Franklin became the first women inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and won 18 Grammy Awards.

Educational Videos for Students’ YouTube video on Aretha Franklin.

Jimi Hendrix (1942-1970)

Jimi Hendrix was an influential and creative musician of the 20th century and developed the electric guitar sound often heard today. 

He is the founder of Electric Lady Studios and one of the most popular artists in the history of rock music. According to The Rolling Stone, Hendrix left an “indelible, fiercely individual mark on popular music,” and accelerated “rock’s already dynamic rate of change in the late Sixties.” Hendrix was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1992 and the Grammy Hall of Fame for six songs.

Educational Videos for Students’ YouTube video on Jimi Hendrix

Chuck Berry (1926-2017)

Chuck Berry, or “The Father of Rock and Roll,” is accredited as the pioneer of rock and roll music. 

According to PBS, Berry helped define rock and roll and put together the building blocks of famous groups such as the Beatles, the Rolling Stones, and the Beach Boys. Berry was also the first African American rock and roll artist to have a national hit. 

Educational Videos for Students’ YouTube video on Chuck Berry

Stevie Wonder (1950-)

Stevie Wonder is one of the best-selling music artists of all time, selling over 100 million records worldwide.

Wonder popularized the Motown genre and has won 22 Grammy Awards. He is the second African American musician to win an Academy Award for Best Original Song. Wonder serves as a role model to both blind and Black persons, contributing to AIDS awareness, fundraising for the blind, anti-drug awareness and more. 

Educational Videos for Students’ YouTube video on Stevie Wonder

Feature Image by Paige Greene via Canva

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