This week at MI, we’re celebrating Back History Month in the only way we know how–with some awesome music.

Music is a rich part of black history in this country and the priceless records speak for themselves. From jazz to soul, from Bob Marley to James Brown, these artists have touched the hearts of many.

So let’s celebrate this Black History Month by remembering five of the most epic black musicians of all time.

Will your favorite be on the list?

1. Muddy Waters: The Godfather of Modern Blues

Muddy Waters, originally McKinley Morganfield, was a major player in the post-war blues scene and has become famed as the godfather of the modern Chicago blues. After growing up on Mississippi’s Stovall Plantation, he moved to Chicago and recorded his first record for Columbia and Aristocrat records in 1946.

Muddy Waters and his band were to become a rudimentary influence on British music after visiting England in 1958.

Fun Fact: Did you know that the Rolling Stones named themselves after Muddy Waters’ 1950 song, Rolling Stone?

2. Nat King Cole: The King of Jazz Piano

Nat King Cole is a true great in the world of jazz piano. Cole’s influential career is a testament to his talents as a pianist and performer par excellence. By the age of 12, Cole was playing the organ in his father’s church. He would later form the King Cole Trio whose iconic singles are known the world over.

Such was Cole’s popularity, that he was offered his own network variety program on NBC in 1956. The Nat King Cole Show was the first network variety program to be hosted by an African American. Though this was a huge success, Cole’s show would end after one season–the result of bigotry from sponsors reluctant to be associated with a black entertainer.

3. Bob Marley: The Reggae Icon

Bob Marley is arguably the undisputed king of reggae. Born Robert Nesta Marley, the Jamaican musician brought reggae into global popularity. Marley expertly blended reggae elements with ska and rocksteady to create his distinctive sound. Bob Marley’s popularity soared and he has the hits to prove it.

Think No Woman No Cry, Buffalo Soldier, I Shot the Sheriff…the list goes on and on. Though Marley died at the young age of 36 after a cancer diagnosis, his influence has been truly out of this world. Marley is not only a music hero but lives on as an important symbol of spirituality and Rastafarian culture through music.

4. Aretha Franklin: The Queen of Soul

Aretha Franklin started off as a church singer during the Civil Rights era in Detroit and became known as the Queen of Soul. Her songs are undisputed hits all over the world.

Who could ever forget the powerful lyricism of Respect, Natural Woman, or I Say A Little Prayer?

But Aretha’s impact reaches far beyond records and she has used her voice as a powerful tool for activism. She performed two presidential inaugurations and released critically acclaimed albums supporting young, black artists. This woman is certainly deserving of her title as the Queen of Soul.

5. Prince: Simply, The Prince

Prince. Need I say more? Prince Rogers Nelson signed his first record deal at the delicate age of just nineteen. To this day Prince is famed for his genre-defying anthems, androgynous persona, undeniable genius, and extraordinary vocal range.

Prince was a musical genius and multi-instrumentalist whose anthems will go down in history as an encapsulation of genres. His album Dirty Mind would achieve critical success in 1980, but many more were to follow, including Purple Rain (1984), and Sign o’ the Times (1987). Prince died in 2016 but his music is well and truly alive in the hearts of many.

A Testament to Music

So there we have it. Five of the most influential black musicians. The history-making, genre-defying, musical influencers of their day, whose influence lives on. It would be impossible to make a list of every Black musician who has helped shape American music today, but there is always a time to celebrate the most notable artists. The history-making, musical geniuses of their day, whose influence lives on.

A testament to black music history and a testament to America’s musical heritage.

Who would you put on the list?

Want to find out more about other black musician greats? Why not check out this list of 20 music documentaries and delve into the world of Nina Simone, John Coltrane, or Quincy Jones–take your pick!

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