The High Priestess of Soul, Nina Simone, was an icon with a commanding stage presence and whose rich contralto voice powerfully wove together stories about liberation, empowerment, and love. She became a voice to power for the black American community. Nina sang from a diverse catalog – jazz, classical, folk, blues, gospel, and covers of contemporary popular artists such as Bob Dylan. She recorded more than 40 albums between 1958 and 1974.
Last year during Black History Month I tried to do a post every day about an innovative black American whose name was likely not currently common knowledge, starting with Carter G. Woodson, the historian who started Black History Month, and ending with Octavia Butler, a science fiction writer. And, I tried to not focus on the “predictable” focus areas of black excellence, such as athletics and music. I wanted to hi-light how time and time again black Americans fought adversity, excelled, and changed our world, such as with Percy Julian, who was instrumental in creating birth control, or Bayard Rustin, the civil rights and gay rights activist who brought the non-violent teachings of Ghandi to MLK Jr. Continue reading
In light of her recent passing, today’s Black History Month post is on Toronto soul singer, Jackie Shane. A performer who defied gender stereotypes and had a captivating stage presence, Shane is recognized by soul-music enthusiasts as one of the greatest singers of the genre, yet Shane has remained largely unknown outside Toronto.
In the Black History Month post on Sister Rosetta Tharpe I talked about the far-reaching impact black Americans have had on practically every music genre to be developed in the US. Today, I want to introduce you to Juan Atkins, Derrick May and Kevin Saunderson – the three friends that gave birth to techno and who influenced music around the world. Continue reading
I originally thought I’d stay away from writing about black American musicians for Black History Month; as with athletes, it was too predictable. But, when black Americans are the driving force behind American music, with artist after artist excelling, and with music being such a prevalent part of my life – I just can’t avoid it. I asked myself who might be categorized as THE best. Quincy Jones has the most Grammy nominations and wins out of any performer; Jay Z, Dr. Dre, and Sean Combs are the richest black artists; Michael Jackson sold the most albums out of any black artist (81 million); and James Brown produced the most studio albums (71). These are all well-known artists, even in white households, so they don’t fit with my intention of sharing the stories of amazing black Americans that probably aren’t universally known names.
Then it hit me – Nile Rodgers, producer, composer, guitarist, and the leader for my favorite disco band, CHIC. He has written, produced, and performed on records that have cumulatively sold more than 500 million albums and 75 million singles. He has written for artists such as Madonna, David Bowie, George Michael, and REM. His Fender Stratocaster was nicknamed “The Hitmaker” because Rodgers helped write over $2 billion worth of music.
This article from The Daily Beast was in my Facebook newsfeed today, presenting me with the perfect opportunity for this Black History Month series to feature not only a contemporary figure, but someone from New Mexico! Meet Richard Antoine White aka Raw Tuba – the first African-American to receive a doctorate of music in tuba performance. Quite the achievement when you learn that only 1.8% of symphony members in the US are African-American.
Black Americans have influenced every style of music since they were brought here during the slave trade. With the sheer volume of trailblazing musicians in the African American community, I could easily devote Black History Month to posts about their contributions to American culture. Ragtime, blues, jazz, gospel, be-bop, rock-n-roll, reggae, funk, ska, rap, sampling, hip-hop, disco, house, techno…all of these were born in black American communities. Heavy metal came from blues and rock & roll. Punk was influenced by ska. Country music traces back to blues (and the racist black–face minstrel music of Emmett Miller.)
Appropriation versus appreciation is a difficult topic to discuss or even understand. It seems everyone places their line of distinction in a different place. I’ve read and written a lot about this in relation to Native American cultures. But, it is a concept that needs to be considered when looking at art by, inspired by, and stolen from any indigenous or oppressed culture.