Black Music Month is our focus for the month of June, bringing the BAW readers introspective features that show you all aspects of music made by our creative people. While we know hip-hop, R&B and even pop music at times can be the main genres of Black musicians, you’d be surprised how influential we’ve been in the realms of rock as well.
From the early days of pioneers like Chuck Berry, Little Richard and Bo Diddley of course, all the way to the psychedelic ’60s where Jimi Hendrix reigned supreme, Black musicians have been on, off and all around their rockers for decades now. People like Gary Clark Jr. and Alabama Shakes lead vocalist/guitarist Brittany Howard are some of the few showing our visibility in rock music today, and we don’t see our presence in the genre quieting down anytime soon.
From the Queen of Rock ‘n’ Roll herself Tina Turner to the new age revolutionary D’Angelo And The Vanguard, take a look at these five Black musicians that made impactful changes in rock music over the past five decades:
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1. 1970s: James BrownSource:Getty
James Brown’s success may have felt like a flash in the pan in the 1970s, but what a spark it was! The Godfather of Soul giving us both “Sex Machine” and “Get Up Offa That Thing” during this era solidified that honorary status.
2. 1980s: Tina TurnerSource:Getty
Another addition from the musical hierarchy, the Queen of Rock ‘n’ Roll that we know and love simply as Tina Turner embodies everything that title would suggest. The style, the voice, the sheer command of her band at all levels of her illustrious career — none have done it better, nor could try!
3. 1990s: PrinceSource:Getty
It’s hard to pinpoint Prince to any one decade or genre even, as his influence spans over many moons and musicians. However, his will to defy censorship during this era specifically, as a leading Black musician in the industry at that, made for a prominent moment in the ’90s. Besides, “The Artist Formerly Known As” move from 1993 is still iconic today.
4. 2000s: Lenny KravitzSource:Getty
There was a moment for sure when Lenny Kravitz was the face of Black rock music. How else do you explain his four consecutive “Best Male Rock Vocal Performance” GRAMMY wins from the late ’90s into the 2000s? We’re just patiently waiting for the king to return!
5. 2010s: D’Angelo And The VanguardSource:Getty
While many would consider D’Angelo more of an R&B artist in the ’90s and early 2000s, it was like he completely shed that side over his 14-year hiatus and came back a new man with 2014’s Black Messiah. The Vanguard, comprised of drummer Chris Dave, bassist Pino Palladino, guitarists Jesse Johnson and Isaiah Sharkey, vocalist Kendra Foster and keyboardist Cleo “Pookie” Sample, each deserve props for his revolutionary reinvention in rock.