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Music Industry

Black Male Artists – The Best In The Business

Photograph of the blog post author, Georgia Carter

Georgia Carter

27.10.2022

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Continuing our celebration of black history month, we wanted to share another article celebrating black culture in music, this time looking at black male musicians who have graced the music scene, and those who are making waves right now. Black culture’s contribution to music is vast, and there are many artists I want to mention here if only I had the space! Their talent, gravitas and style of music have made them a household name and I would suggest you re-listen to their music once having read this article.

Black History Month

October marks Black History Month, commemorating the history, achievements and contributions of black people in the UK, and the world. Throughout October African and Caribbean history and culture are celebrated with events around the UK.

In the US, where Black History commemorations originated, it takes place throughout February. Wherever in the world Black History is celebrated, it is a chance to recognize Black achievement and progress, and to acknowledge where systemic racism persists -while recognising the people and organizations working towards facilitating change.

Celebrating black history is so important and we can celebrate so much in music, so this is exactly what we are going to do today. The artists we speak about here changed or are changing the course of the music industry, whether that be in the 1930s or right now in 2022. Let’s delve in!

John Legend

PATRICK T. FALLONGETTY IMAGES

John Legend is one of my favorite male black artists who is currently nailing it with hit after hit after hit – yes there is supposed to be repetition there. ‘All Of You’, ‘Ordinary People’, and ‘Glory’ are just a few of them and also he can add being an actor to his list of talents, as he appeared in La La Land, playing a black male jazz artist alongside Ryan Gosling in their band in the film. His soulful, striking music has been so successful on an international scale and I don’t think there is anything he cannot do. This man is unstoppable and his music will remain firmly on my playlists!

Ray Charles

Courtesy of https://raycharles.com/

Ray Charles was a famous American singer, songwriter & pianist in the latter years of the 20th century and if you happened to be alive in that era, you definitely knew about him as one of history’s most prolific black male artists. He was, and is, considered a legend on the jazz scene. He was called Genius by his contemporaries but it is rumored that he preferred the nickname Brother Ray.

His disability in terms of being blind, due to juvenile glaucoma never hindered his career in music and in the 1950s was so influential across jazz, R&B, blues, and gospel as a black male music artist. His first career number-one hit came in 1960 with ‘Georgia On My Mind’. He was considered a powerful gospel artist. 

Prince

Jeff Katz Photography ©Paisley Park Enterprises, Inc.

In the music industry we know that in 2016, we lost a true icon. Prince, a songwriter, musician, and record producer was enigmatic in the best way possible and had so much stage presence that anybody who went to see him live was in complete awe. He will always be remembered for the single ‘Purple Rain’ but there were many others such as ‘When Doves Cry’ and ‘Kiss’.

His flamboyant and eccentric personality made him unique and it is said that Prince had offered to produce an album for Lizzo prior to his death. The pair also got the opportunity to perform at Paisley Park. 

Lionel Richie

(Photo by Aaron Rapoport/Corbis/Getty Images)

Lionel Richie is a singer, songwriter, and musician who made a name for himself in the 1970s. His music, such as ‘All Night Long’, ‘Easy’, ‘Lady’, Dancing On The Ceiling’ is played even now and his fanbase will always be there. Formerly the lead vocalist of The Commodores and he has recorded with the likes of Diana Ross. They worked together to produce ‘Endless Love’. 

His album ‘Can’t Slow Down’, released in 1983 sold more than 20 million copies globally, which was a massive feat in the music business. Lionel was a hugely successful black male pop artist of his time. 

Bill Withers

Picture: Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images

If we are talking about love songs by black male artists, then Bill Withers is your guy. Over a career spanning 18 years, he notably wrote tracks such as ‘Lovely Day’, ‘Lean On Me’, ‘Grandma’s Hands’, ‘Just The Two Of Us’ and of course ‘Ain’t No Sunshine’, which was famously used in the film Notting Hill. Withers won three Grammys and was nominated for an additional six. He made history as holding the most sustained note in the music industry, an 18-second long high E. 

Louis Armstrong

Wikimedia Commons

Louis Armstrong was a contemporary of Ella Fitzgerald and as a jazz, and blues duo, they worked up a storm. Nicknamed “Satchmo”, “Satch”, and “Pops”, he was an American trumpeter and vocalist. I think I can go so far as to say that as a black male jazz artist, he was one of the most influential and renowned of his time. With hits such as ‘What A Wonderful World’, ‘Cheek To Cheek’, ‘Summertime’, ‘Hello Dolly’, ‘Jeepers Creepers’ he is a true golden treasure of the jazz age. 

Otis Redding

Otis Redding, January 7, 1967
Public Domain Image

Otis Reading was an American singer and songwriter and is known as an incredible singer in terms of soul music and rhythm and blues. ‘Stand By Me’, ‘The Dock of the Bay’, ‘Hard To Handle’ and ‘Try A Little Tenderness’ all showcased how much talent he really had, so much so that he is called the King of Soul. His first hit single “These Arms of Mine,” came as a surprise due to an unscheduled appearance on a Stax recording session in 1962.

Stax released his debut album, Pain in My Heart, in 1964, and it eventually took off throughout American pop music. His most iconic song “(Sittin’ On) The Dock of the Bay” was recorded shortly before he died in a plane accident.

Usher

Usher could be said to be one of the black male hip-hop artists of the 21st century and is a renowned R&B artist. Similar to John Legend he has been in a few films over the years, including ‘She’s All That’ and ‘Hustlers’. Throughout the course of his career, Usher has won eight Grammy awards, 35 ASCAP Awards, 18 Billboard Music Awards, 14 BMI Awards, nine Soul Train Music Awards, and eight American Music Awards. His hit songs include ‘You Got it Bad’, ‘Yeah!’, ‘DJ Got Us Fallin In Love’ and ‘OMG’. 

Curtis Mayfield

Curtis Mayfield was a singer, record producer, songwriter, and guitarist and some serious influence in the soul scene. His music had politically conscious themes running through it and he was known to bring more prevalent themes of social awareness into soul music. The catchy anthem ‘Move On Up’ was a surefire hit upon release and still is today, which speaks wonders of his long standing magnitude in the industry as one of the principal architects of Chicago-based soul music during the 1960s and ’70s. Quite rightly, he won a Grammy Legend Award in 1994 and a Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award in 1995 for his contribution to music. 

Luther Vandross

R&B icon Luther Vandross performed in Chicago, Illinois, on 12 January 1984. (Paul Natkin/Getty)

Luther Vandross was a record producer, singer, and songwriter who is famous for his sweet, soulful voice. Vandross paired up with artists as varied as Bette Midler, Todd Rundgren, Chaka Khan, Diana Ross, Judy Collins, Stevie Wonder, Donna Summer, Ben E. King, and David Bowie. He released his first solo album ‘Never Too Much’ in 1981. He sold over 40 million records and won 11 consecutive platinum albums and won eight Grammys. As a black male artist of the 90s, he had a pretty high success rate and his songs will still be played for many years to come. ‘Dance With My Father Again’ and ‘Endless Love’ are probably the ones that people know the best. 

Marvin Gaye

LOS ANGELES – 1973: Soul singer and songwriter Marvin Gaye at Golden West Studios in 1973 in Los Angeles, California. (Photo by Jim Britt/Michael Ochs Archive)

Marvin Gaye was a singer and songwriter who made a big impact on Motown. Because of this, he is nicknamed the Prince of Soul and the Prince of Motown. His famous songs include ‘Let’s Get It On’, ‘Ain’t No Mountain High Enough’, ‘How Sweet It Is (To Be Loved By You)’, ‘I Heard It Through the Grapevine,’ and ‘Ain’t That Peculiar’. He famously dueted with the likes of Diana Ross, Kim Weston, Mary Wells, and Tammi Terrell. He is also known for later releases like “Sexual Healing” in his 1982 album Midnight Love, leading to an influence over R&B subgenres like neo-soul and quiet storm. 

Stevie Wonder

Stevie Wonder in 1968 (Photography by Edwin Sampson)

Stevie Wonder is an American singer-songwriter, who is a pioneering influence throughout a range of genres; rhythm and blues, pop, soul, gospel, funk and jazz. ‘I Just Called To Say I Love You’ became Stevie’s biggest-ever hit in 1984, and topped the charts in 19 different countries. 

There are many tracks that made him a household name like the others on this list, such as ‘Signed, Sealed, Delivered, I’m Yours’, ‘For Once In My Life’, ‘Sir Duke’, ‘Isn’t She Lovely’ just to name a few. When he was young, there was something about him and he was seen as a child prodigy, recording his first album at the age of 12. His single “Fingertips” hit number one on the 1963 Billboard Hot 100 when he was only 13 years old. How about that? His unique implementation of synths and various electronic instruments in his work reshaped the R&B genre in the 1970s. He won 25 Grammys in his career. 

Nat King Cole

Courtesy of TJL Productions

This singer, songwriter, actor, and jazz pianist was someone who heavily influenced jazz in the 20th century and he was the first black man to host a TV series in the United States, The Nat King Cole Show, which ran from 1956 to 1957. I feel like I want to mention all of his songs, as they are all hits to me, but you must have heard of ‘L.O.V.E.’, ‘Sentimental Reasons’, ‘Unforgettable’ or ‘Smile’? If the answer is no, where have you been? Get listening to these tracks of pure bliss now! 

Closing Thoughts

So it is very clear that black male artists in the music industry have some history and are continuing to make history as we speak. Long may it carry on. I hope you have enjoyed delving back into the history books for this article and also looking at influential black artists in music today. Life without music from this very talented group of men would be a bleaker world, so let’s make sure we champion black male musicians and watch the new accomplished artists of today shine through.


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