African-American Music Appreciation Month is an annual celebration of African American music in the United States. Initiated as Black Music Month by President Jimmy Carter. Black Music Month was declared on June 7, 1979. President Barack Obama commemorated it by giving it its current name. President Obama African-American music and musicians have helped the country “to dance, to express our faith through song, to march against injustice, and to defend our country’s enduring promise of freedom and opportunity for all. “
In honor of this month, I wanted to take a look at some of the most influential African American musicians in history. I mostly wanted to focus on musicians that are a bit less well known these days, but help paved the way for our advancement in music today.
Honoring African American Musician Greats
Influential Musician – Marian Anderson 1897-1993
Marian Anderson grew up in a poor family in Philadelphia and never received formal education because of the color of her skin. But she didn’t let that slow her down. In 1939 after being refused permission to perform for the Daughters of the American Revolution then First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt invited Marian to perform for 75,000 people in front of the Lincoln Memorial. In 1955 she became the first African-American to perform with the Metropolitan Opera. She also sang at the inaugurations of Eisenhower and JFK. Today we remember her not only for her gorgeous voice but also for paving the way for African-American musicians to come.
Influential Musician – Louis Armstrong 1901-1971
The father of modern jazz hardly needs an introduction. These days Louis is best known for his song What a Wonderful World but that is really only the very surface of his amazing career. He also popularized scat singing which you can hear in the video below.
Influential Musician – Robert Johnson 1911-1938
Though his life was short he had a huge influence on music as a master of the blues and the creator of the Delta Blues Style. Robert Johnson took part in just two recording sessions which resulted in 29 songs. His style helped bring about Rock and Roll and is still influencing people today including Eric Clapton, Fleetwood Mac, and even Slipknot. Sadly most of his popularity and success came after his death.
Influential Musician – Sister Rosetta Tharpe 1915-1973
Sister Rosetta Tharpe is known as the Original Soul Sister and the Godmother of Rock and Roll. She was one of the first to use heavy distortion on the electric guitar, making a completely unique sound. Johnny Cash, Chuck Berry, and Elvis Presley are just a few who have said they were influenced by her.
Influential Musician – Scott Joplin 1868-1917
Scott Joplin may not be a household name these days but in the late 1800s and early 1900s he was well known as the King of Ragtime. He wrote the Maple Leaf Rag which was ragtime’s first and most influential hit. In all, he wrote 44 ragtime pieces, a ragtime ballet, and two operas. He also helped pave the way for African-American artists who came after him with his universal appeal.
Influential Musician – Aretha Franklin 1942-2018
Anyone born after the 1960s knows the name Aretha Franklin, the Queen of Soul. She had massive hits like Respect, Chain of Fools, Natural Woman…the list goes on. She had 112 singles make the Billboard charts, making her the most charted female artist in history. She’s also one of the bestselling music artists of all time having sold more than 75 million records worldwide. Aretha was also heavily involved in civil rights activism throughout her life. It’s impossible to tell how long her music is going to continue to influence artists but she is unlikely to ever be forgotten.
There are so many amazing African American artists from all genres of music. I love that BET hosts it’s annual BET Experience during the month of June honoring some of our faves. What’s your Angelica type of music and who is your favorite African American artist?