This article is the first of a two-part series about African-American musical artists. The next part, which will focus on the best living artists, will be published following this one.
In honor of Black History month, I decided to write about the top five living and dead African-American music artists of all time. As an African-American myself, I’m proud of my culture and the talented musicians that have helped to shape not only just my culture but the entire world viewpoint throughout history. However, it makes my job a lot harder as there are many black musicians that can make a case to be on this list: from innovators of jazz, Thelonious Monk & Mary Lou Williams, to Chuck Barry who reinvented and helped to create modern rock and roll; you have the queens of Motown Aretha Franklin & Diana Ross; and, if you fast forward to the 90s, you have Tupac who is, in my opinion, the best rapper of all time and Lauryn Hill, who went solo with her classic album, “The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill.” African-Americans like myself have a rich history of music that will last the test of time and continue for generations to come.
#5: Minnie Riperton (Chicago, Illinois)
For everyone who is asking, “Who the hell is Minnie Riperton?” and why I put her on this list, let me explain. Minnie Riperton is, in my opinion, the best singer of all time and one of the most underrated artists throughout history.
Living or dead, her voice was absolutely the best that I believe the world will ever hear. And yet no one, for the most part, has ever heard of her, which is a crying shame. Her vocal range, which was a four-octave coloratura soprano, allowed her to sing a note as high as birds. Discovered by Stevie Wonder, Minnie made five albums throughout her lifetime.
Her two most notable albums were “Come to My Garden” and “Perfect Angel,” with the former, producing her most well-known song “Lovin’ You,” which fully showcase her vocal range and singing abilities.
Sadly her life was cut way too short due to breast cancer in 1979. Before she passed away, she was an early advocate of the disease and performed live until she physically couldn’t anymore.
#4: Jimi Hendrix (Seattle, Washington)
Jimi Hendrix is simply the godfather of the guitar and modern rock music today. Ask any musician who the best guitarist of all time is and they all would say Hendrix. Jimi Hendrix reinvented the guitar to what we all know today. From different guitar riffs and musical petals, Jimi helped to create a sound of music that was never heard before he arrives in the music scene in the 1970s.
Overcoming an abusive childhood and hardships through his life, Hendrix defines the 70s. From his performance at Woodstock to his rendition of the National Anthem, he always performed the best in the biggest stages of his career. While is life was tragically cut short, songs like “Hey Joe,” “All Along The Watchtower” and “Purple Haze” will keep his legacy alive for years to come.
#3: Whitney Houston (Newark, New Jersey)
Whitney Houston is easily one of the best pop singers to ever walk the earth. She made nothing but hits throughout the 1980: hits like, “I Will Always Love You,” “I Wanna Dance With Somebody,” “Saving All of My Love” and “How Will I Know.” I could go through a ton of other songs like theses that topped music charts around the world and helped to influence other African American female musicians.
At just 19 years old, her self-titled album hit number one at the charts. What does she do next? Make another album two years later under her first name for another chart-topping album! She was an extremely talented woman who in her prime, could rival anyone within her industry. Her ending and fall from grace were hard to look back at, even today.
While a lot of problems negatively affected her life and reputation, there’s no denying that she is one of the best musicians of all time and a legend within black culture.
#2: Prince (Minneapolis, Minnesota)
It’s been three years since Prince passed away and the world is still mourning the loss of one of best rock and roll artist of all time. Just like Lamar, Prince was ahead of his time in the ’80s, making music that is still played today. With “The Revolution,” Prince made one of the best albums of all time with his 1984 “Purple Rain.” Within it are hits like “When Doves Cry,” “Purple Rain” and “Let’s Go Crazy.”
Other albums of his, like “Controversy” and “1999,” were as equality daring, interesting and creative as the man himself. “Little Red Corvette,” “D.M.S.R.,” “ Uptown,” “Dirty Mind” and “U Got The Look” are instantly recognizable and make you want to party. You can not go to a block party without hearing one of his songs.
Just like Madonna in the ’80s, Prince used sex and sexuality to express his flamboyant dress style and unique look. The man was confident as hell and, as you can hear within his song “Controversy,” didn’t really care what others thought of him. He was going to be his genuine self regardless of the questions or rumors about him.
In order to get creative freedom and out of a record deal that he felt made him a slave, Prince changed his name to a sign. With the independence and creative freedom that he desperately wanted, he made record after record and performed live in from of thousands of people on a nightly basis. Just look at Chance and The Rapper and you can clearly see the impact that Prince has had on other African-American artists who wanted freedom from record labels.
Other artists like The Weeknd, Lenny Kravitz, Beyonce, Frank Ocean, Kelly Clarkson, Darius Rucker and Miguel have all said that they were influenced by Prince. He even mentored Janelle Monae early on in her career.
#1: Michael Jackson (Gary, Indiana)
Does this really surprise anyone? Michael Jackson is simply the best musician of all time. Other than maybe The Beatles, no one else has had such a major impact and influence on music, culture and society that Michael Jackson had when he was alive.
The guy made arguably one of the best top three, if not best, albums of all time with “Thriller.” Within that album, he had countless chart-topping hits like “Wanna Be Startin’ Somethin,” “Billie Jean,” “Human Nature” and “P.Y.T.” It’s insane how amazing that album is and how well it holds up.
Other albums like “Off the Wall” (my personal favorite of his), “Dangerous,” “Bad” and “Invincible” were also amazing. Back in the ’80s, MTV refused to play African American artists’ music videos. It was Michael Jackson who broke through that bigotry and opened the door for other African American artists to have their music videos be seen by the entire country and world.
He fought for equal rights and battled through racism throughout his long career making songs like “Black or White” and “ Man in The Mirror,” which forced people to look within themselves and the beliefs that they hold.
Michael Jackson’s career lasted over five decades. Not only did he have success as a solo artist, but he had an equally impressive career as a member of the Jackson Five with his brothers.
What made Michael Jackson great was that he incorporated all genre of music from Rock, R&B, Soul, Disco, Electric, Gospel and others into unique sounds, beats and music that will last forever. There is not an artist living today who haven’t been influenced in some way by him. The impact that he had on African-American culture and the artists making music today cannot be understated.
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