Black Music Month Spotlight: My Favorite Black Musicians of The Past
Since this is my first year celebrating black music month, I’d like to share my favorite black musicians of the past. As an early twenty-something, I am so grateful to be able to appreciate these musicians and their impact on music today.
Janet Jackson- As a 90’s kid, I grew up listening to her and Michael. On her birthday last month, I rediscovered her music via a bunch of tracks that were not released as singles and songs released as alternative versions. My favorite Janet songs are “The Knowledge“, “Velvet Rope“, “Special“, “Funky Big Band” and the guitar mix version of “Black Cat“. My favorite Janet music video is “Alright“.
When I was a kid, my parents recorded The Velvet Rope tour on VHS when it came on HBO. I loved watching that concert over and over. I also liked watching a VHS tape I still have called The Rhythm Nation compilation, which has all the music videos from the album Rhythm Nation 1814.
Death, the punk band If you have viewed the documentary A Band Called Death like I have, then you know that this band has a unique and special story. In the mid-70’s the band’s original line-up (David, Bobby, and Dannis Hackney) recorded the master tapes for what would become the album Death For The Whole World To See. Unfortunately, the band’s name prevented any record company from fully supporting them, and the music would remain unknown until 2008.
I liked that David Hackney, the band’s late guitarist and founder, was willing to stick to what he believed the band should be. He was the one who came up with the name Death and the spirituality around it, and I liked how he incorporated some of his beliefs into the song “Let The World Turn“.
Another thing I like about this band is that they were willing to play rock music during a time when black musicians were expected to do Motown or soul and disco music. Some tracks on For The Whole World To See incorporate funk and rock, which is really cool.
Overall, I think this band was ahead of their time. Listening to them led me to discover the Afro-punk music genre, so I’m happy I learned about them.
Poly Styrene from the punk band X-Ray Spex- I love how Poly yelled the lyrics with so much fire and conviction. She didn’t care how she sounded, because she had something she wanted people to hear no matter what. I also liked that she held her ground in a mostly white, male-dominated genre. I love the song “Oh Bondage, Up Yours!” because it really lets you know who she is. Heck, the entire Germ Free Adolescents album reflects her bold spirit. R.I.P. Poly.
Rock Musician Chuck Berry- He was the first classic rock musician I ever listened to. I have four songs from him on my iPod, but I like watching live clips of him on YouTube because you can see how awesome his guitar playing was. Like most people, I think “Johnny B. Goode” is the best.
Blues-Jazz Singer Billie Holiday- I love her voice, especially when it was younger because it was so golden. I love the way she stretches out the words on songs like “Billie’s Blues” because it allows me to savor the emotion in her voice. I also liked how she could fight when she wanted to. According to a BBC documentary I watched, she once hit a guy with a chair because he made a lewd gesture toward her when she was performing the haunting anti-lynching song “Strange Fruit“.
Jazz Singer Sarah Vaughan- Her young voice is like drinking something warm and sweet. It always gives me a good, soothing feeling when I listen to it. She is my number one favorite female jazz singer. My favorite song by her is “Autumn in New York“. I wish I could go back in time and see her live. Recently, I discovered a beautiful live version of the song “Over The Rainbow“.
Jazz musician and bandleader Cab Calloway- I’ve had a couple of his songs on my iPod, but I’ve recently added four more and have become fascinated by him. His upbeat songs like “Jumpin Jive” are so energetic and fun to listen to. I love that he is multi-talented; he could sing, dance, scat, compose songs, and lead a band. Not to mention, he had his own dictionary of slang words!
Besides Sarah, he is someone else I’d love to see live. Recently, I watched this great documentary about him called Sketches and have been watching some live footage of his performances. One that has become a favorite is “St. Louis Blues“. In the past, I also remember loving the live version of “Jumpin Jive” with The Nicholas Brothers from the film Stormy Weather.
Ella Fitzgerald and Louis Armstrong– I love Ella’s voice and scatting and Louis’s voice and trumpet playing, but I think they sound best together. They are they perfect combo. Love their versions of “Summertime” and “Dream a Little Dream of Me“.
Michael Jackson- My favorite song by him will always be “Human Nature“. It holds a special place in my heart because I love the lyrics and his vocals and this song helped me put imagery into my poetry when I was in high school. I don’t really have a particular favorite music video, but I always enjoyed watching the movie Moonwalker on VHS. R.I.P. Michael.