The Music of Black History Month

As music continues to bring people through various walks of life, it’s important to acknowledge black musicians that sculpted, created, and invented much of the music individuals know and love today.

Throughout the globe, many individuals view February as a time of recognition and reflection. For many, the month of February is not just a regular month filled with Valentine’s Day or close relatives’ birthdays. February is an enriching period to appreciate the tremendous contributions to life brought forth by the black community. Black History Month is a month of celebration and remembrance of black excellence all around the world. As music continues to bring people through various walks of life, it’s important to acknowledge black musicians that sculpted, created, and invented much of the music individuals know and love today. Let’s dive into the world of music and reflect on the impact black musicians have upon the music community!

From Ragtime to Motown

Ragtime is a musical style that resonated in popularity between 1895 and 1919. With its origins coming out of Midwestern and Southern United States regions, ragtime was the birth of jazz. Ragtime pioneer, Scott Joplin inspired a genre that would influence many future genres to come. As ragtime gave way to jazz, black musicians such as Louis Armstrong, Nat King Cole, Billie Holiday, and Ella Fitzgerald became household names known for their unique and legendary approach to music. Based in New York City American composer, Duke Ellington is said to be the ‘most significant composer of the genre’. As a pianist, Ellington was the leader of a jazz orchestra starting in 1923. Throughout his musical life, Ellington would later be awarded a posthumous Pulitzer Prize Special Award for his impact on music in 1999. Miles Davis and other artists continued to keep the jazz sound alive as a fusion of blues, R&B, and gospel styles morphed in the sounds of soul music. With contributions from artists such as Ray Charles, sound music became the sound of the 1950s.

Years would pass as the sound of soul music started to melt into the musical stylings of pop music. Focusing on the ‘commercial sound’ of popular music, Music Founder Berry Gordy founded Motown Records in 1959, creating the genre Motown. Early Motown diners featured musical stylings from Marvin Gaye, The Temptations, and The Supremes. However, as the Vietnam War impacted various lives all over the world, music turned upside down as the implementation of psychedelia and rock and roll hit the sound waves. Legendary electric guitar stylings of Jimi Hendrix along with funky stylings of rock music Stevie Wonder, Black excellence was prominent from the very beginning.

From Rock & Roll to Hip Hop

The queen of soul, Aretha Franklin was introduced to the music public in the mid-1960s while soul music was heavily incorporated in the musical stylings of Tina Turner. Turner’s sound later became a prominent musical style that influenced the decade. The rise of musical legends also sparked the rise of the Civil Rights Movement. This era for the fight for justice and to halt racial discrimination featured the voices of Nina Simone, an advocate against racial inequality alongside other extraordinary artists such as Paul Robeson and Marian Anderson.

The civil rights movement impact the black community in varying ways. The music birthed from the 1970s was known as the early beginnings of disco and hip-hop. Disco was known for its music of pop music and dance-soul. The disco sound heavily influenced the sounds of music icons Whitney Houston and Prince. According to Oxford University Press Blog, Sugarhill Gang released Rapper’s Delight, one of the first rap projects to make the Top 40 chart in 1979. As hip-hop continued to impact the music industry in the 1980s, hip-hop artists such as Run-D.M.C and Grandmaster Flash would be prominent figures in American music. Hip-hop maintained its musical stamina as the 1990s continue to propel the hip-hop sound with legendary music artists, such as Tupac Shakur and Notorious B.I.G.

In recent years, black artists continue to be monumental figures within the music community. Black excellence can be seen in modern black artists such as Beyoncé, Janelle Monae, and Pulitzer Prize winner Kendrick Lamar. With the musical contribution of black people, music would have never been in existence within the world of pop music. Black musicians have evolved, celebrated, and contributed within music spaces in ways many are unfamiliar with. So, this February, let’s appreciate the contributions of black excellence everywhere! Happy Black History Month!


Illustration: Vikky Mir/

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