5 Black Artists Who Shaped Music As We Know It

Like history in general, the music industry tends to whitewash its historical narrative.  Artists like The Beatles, Frankie Valli, and the Rolling Stones are credited with laying the groundwork for the music we listen to today.  While they certainly played a huge role, it is a vast injustice to ignore the mass influence of the Black artists of our parent’s time.  Here are five who helped build music as we know it:


1.  Sister Rosetta Tharpe

You may have never heard of her, but you’re definitely familiar with her influence.  Sister Rosetta Tharpe was a Black woman who made music from the 1940s through the 1960s.  She single-handedly invented the styles of blues guitar that we hear from the greats like Elvis Presley, Johnny Cash, and even Jimi Hendrix.  Most of her music was gospel and very little footage of her playing exists today, but her influence will live on even longer than we do.


2.  Berry Gordy

It’s fair to say that Berry Gordy created music as we know it today.  As the founder of Tamla Records (eventually known as Motown Records), Gordy gave us the artists and hit songs that we still love today.  Artists like Marvin Gaye, The Jackson 5, The Supremes, The Commodores, and countless others produced some of the most successful tracks of all time.  With over 190 hit songs, the Motown Sound defined what pop music would be and gave us hits that would remain household staples for generations to come.


3.  Michael Jackson

This is a no-brainer.  The late King of Pop, who got his start with Berry Gordy, went on to produce one of the most iconic pop albums of all time, Thriller.  Thriller is the world’s best selling album and became the first album to successfully use music videos as a promotional tool.  The album includes favorites like: “Billie Jean,” “Wanna be Startin Somethin,” “Beat It,” “PYT”, and- of course- “Thriller”. These songs changed music as a whole and gave a new meaning to what “black music” was.  Not a single artist today could truthfully say that they do not draw inspiration from Michael Jackson.


4.  Prince

Another obvious innovator in the music industry, Prince created the sound that we came to know as the 80s.  His funky synth beats, catchy lyrics, and blatant sexual energy captivated millions and left us with one of the most quintessential musical catalogues of all time.  Purple Rain, released in 1984, is the 6th best selling soundtrack of all time and was ranked by Rolling Stone Magazine as the second best album of the 80s and number 76 on the 500 greatest albums of all time.  If you aren’t convinced, check this article that lists the artists who would not exist without Prince. Spoiler alert: Beyoncé, Maroon 5, and the Jonas Brothers are on the list.


5.  Run DMC

Run DMC was one of the founding fathers of the hip-hop movement.  They were the first group in their genre to be nominated for a Grammy, go platinum, have videos on MTV, and appear on the cover of Rolling Stone Magazine.  They created a sound that would inspire artists like NWA, Wu-Tang Clan, and even the Red Hot Chili Peppers.  Their accomplishments in hip-hop defined an entire genre of music and set the tone for East Coast/West Coast rap music.

Originally posted on Feb. 17, 2017 on Her Campus Uconn

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