I decided to make a post about Black musicians because I think that the arts throughout history have been a way of documenting where we are as human beings and capturing the mood of an era.
This will be a short list but I hope you learn something new, are inspired and look up some of the tracks mentioned.
Nat King Cole
I remember listening to a Christmas song when I was a little girl and hearing my mother say, “That’s Nat King Cole nuh” and for some reason, I asked, “Is he Black?” And my mother responded with, “Yes.” I swelled with pride to know that this Black man with an incredibly smooth voice was singing this “old time music.” It helped me visualize Black people doing normal things in times that were so oppressive. Yes, Blacks were living and making incredible music with their incredible talents back then too.
Cole initially rose to fame as a jazz pianist and transitioned into a pop icon.Cole, most notably known for songs “Unforgettable” and “L-O-V-E”, was the first Black person to host a variety show series in 1956.
Heello Dolly! This is Louissss, Dolly! Louis Armstrong is a legend in jazz music. The renown trumpeter and charismatic singer also known as “Satchmo” (for his unusually large mouth that was said to be like a satchel bag) or “Pops” was born in New Orleans, Louisiana. He is probably best known for his songs, “What a wonderful world” and “La vie en rose.” Gritty voiced Armstrong was the first Black man to host a nationally aired radio show in the 1930s and the first jazz musician to grace the cover of Times magazine in 1949.
Louis Armstrong is one of the greatest jazz influencers having impacted the likes of jazz great Billie Holiday.
Billie Holiday born Eleanora Fagan was as troubled as she was talented. However, maybe her talent could be partially attributed to the troubles she endured. Lady Day as she was sometimes called was born in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. She had a tumultuous upbringing- her father abandoned her family, she was raped at 10 and had turned to prostitution as a teen. However, as a teen, she also discovered jazz music and became one of the most prominent jazz figures of all time. If you’ve ever listened to a record by Holiday, you’ll her the pain and passion in her voice. Her style was distinctive as she delivered songs injected with emotion like no other could. Some of her most memorable songs are “Strange Fruit,” and “God bless the child.” Holiday sadly had a habit of abusing heroin that led to her untimely death at the age of 44.
Nina Simone was a brilliant pianist, singer and song- writer that was dubbed the voice of the Civil Rights Movement. Simone famously penned the song, “To Be Young, Gifted and Black” after being inspired by the Black playwright, Lorraine Hansberry. She also recorded the song “Why? The King of Love is Dead” following the assassination of Martin Luther King Jr.
Simone also recorded renditions of the songs “I loves you, Porgy,” and “Love me or leave me.”