Black music has sustained us since even before we arrived on American shores. It’s been our celebration, our satisfaction, our baby-making music, and even our call to action during slavery. Musicians move us through their music of course, but some of their personal stories have also been inspirational.
Here are our choices of some of the best Black music biographies. Again, we could never do a definitive list as we’re limited to ten, but we tried to choose a good cross-section of some of the best.
Tina Turner and former MTV correspondent Kurt Loder collaborated on the biography that was the basis for the classic 1993 biopic ‘What’s Love Got To Do With It.’
A new entry into the music bio pantheon, rapper Radric “Gucci Mane” Davis tells a compelling story of rising above both his circumstances and his personal demons to get to a more positive life.
With cameos by Common’s mother, the book becomes as much a biography as a primer on how to raise a Black man to be a positive productive citizen despite the challenges that many mothers, sons and fathers face to get there.
The classic biography of reggae superstar Bob Marley updated and revised over time. While the Marley documentary (available on demand) tells Bob’s story more in his own words, this book does provide a comprehensive history of the times and influences that impacted Marley’s music.
Maurice White, the late founder of Earth, Wind and Fire had a plan for the group before it was even formed. Not only is this a book about the evolution of a seminal, multi-genre band, it is the powerful story of man’s personal evolution.
It’s not a traditional biography which makes it the more intriguing. It’s Jay Z talking about specific life events and then ‘decoding’ the songs he wrote and recorded inspired by them. If you’ve ever wondered about why this or that song was created then this is the biography for you.
Hip-hop artist turned actress Queen Latifah talks about her early struggles including sexual assault in her 1998 memoir. Despite its age (20 years!) it still provides great insight into the beginning of Queen’s career and first triumphs.
David Ritz’ classic biography of The Queen of Soul is full of more revelations than her own book and explains much of what makes the legendary singer who she is today. A must for Aretha Franklin fans or those who are interested in music history.
A controversial biography, also by Ritz, that is nonetheless considered to give some insight into Marvin Gaye‘s challenging life. If you want one from a more insider perspective, there’s also Jan Gaye’s After the Dance, which is more her story but an insightful look at Gaye’s life as well.
To date, there’s really no definitive Prince biography if only because he was so prolific and before his unexpected passing, he’d signed a deal on his own memoir. Since Prince himself said he put his life in the music, this comprehensive look at his musical offerings is perhaps the best insight into the man we’ll get for a while.
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