Every February our country celebrates and honors the achievements of black Americans and their great effect on the history of our nation. This month Music Will is highlighting the black musicians who often are underappreciated despite their enormous amount of influence on not just American music, but music around the world. Join us in learning about and jamming to some of the greatest musicians in history!
Muddy Waters is most commonly known as the “father of modern Chicago blues.” Born in a small Mississippi town in 1913, Muddy was first introduced to music through his church; later learning to play harmonica and then selling his family horse to buy a guitar at 17. Muddy’s legacy is tremendous, from helping Chuck Berry get his first record contract to helping the Rolling Stones bring American blues across the Atlantic to England. His music is often seen as the beginning of most modern blues, rhythm and blues, rock and roll, hard rock, folk music, jazz, and country music. Listen below to one of Muddy Waters’, and the blues genre’s, most popular track “Mannish Boy.”
Jimi Hendrix is well known as one of the greatest instrumentalists in rock history. While helping his father with a job as a child, Jimi found a ukulele in the garbage with only one string and learned to play by ear. At 15, Jimi purchased his first guitar for $5 and dedicated himself multiple hours a day to learning from blues artists such as Muddy Waters, Howlin’ Wolf, and B.B. King. Jimi’s rise to fame was heavily marked by his revolutionary use of amplifier distortion and feedback as well as his popularization of the wah-wah pedal. Jimi’s creativity is shown in this psychedelic rock song “Voodoo Child.”
Nina Simone began playing piano at age three and developed a dream of playing concert piano. Nina pursued this dream by attending Juilliard School of Music and after graduating, she auditioned at the Curtis Institute of Music in Philadelphia and was denied. Nina believed her rejection was due to her race and never auctioned again. Her career began playing cocktail piano in nightclubs in Atlantic City which led to her success as a jazz vocalist. Nina used her well-known talent and fame to draw attention to the Civil Rights movement; she made speeches at not only private civil rights meetings, but national marches included the Selma to Montgomery march. Listen below to her jazz classic “Feeling Good.”
Donna Summer is a singer, songwriter, actress and painter best known as the “Queen of Disco.” Getting her singing career launched as a member of her church choir, Donna later left her hometown of Boston to New York City and was recruited to play in a musical called “Hair” which broke ground by using rock music in a musical as well as recruited a racially diverse cast. Donna continued touring with musicals around the world and learned fluent German in her travels and decided to stay in Munich, Germany where she earned her first record deal. With the income of disco in the 1970s, Donna rapidly became one of the best-known singers and the first ever to have three consecutive double albums reach No. 1 on the United States Billboard 200 chart and charted four number-one singles in the U.S. within a 12-month period. Listen below to Donna’s disco dance anthem “Dim All The Lights.”
Miles Davis is responsible for some of the major stylistic developments in jazz over his five-decade career. Miles’s mother was a blues pianist and encouraged him towards the piano. However, Miles’s musical career began at age 13 when his father gave him a trumpet, primarily because his mother did not like the sound of the trumpet. By 16, Miles was recognized in the local music society. Miles later attended Juilliard only to drop out telling his father that he believed their musical education style was primarily European and “white” focused. His success is often attributed to his focus on African-American performance traditions. Listen below to the first track on his famous album Kind of Blue, “So What.”