The music industry is an ever evolving world full of creativity and constant circulating influence. Many artists nowadays find influence in musicians who have been established as legends. In celebration of Black History Month, we remember those who shaped and continue to mold the industry and influence current artists today.
Bob Marley (1945-1981)
Background: Robert Marley was born on a family farm in Saint Ann Parish, Jamaica. He moved to Kingston when he was 12, after this father died, in 1957. He and friends there molded into vocalists, joining the duo Higgs and Wilson, forming a larger vocal group. Higgs taught Marley how to play guitar to bring instruments to the band. In 1962, the group became known as The Wailers, releasing their debut single Simmer Down, selling 70,000 copies and going number 1 in Jamaica that same year, releasing four albums under three different labels. After label and internal disputes, the group signed with Island Records in 1972 and released their major label debut album, “Catch a Fire”. There was an incident when the group was fired as the opening act for Sly and the Family Stone, for being more popular than the main act, four dates into the tour. The group dismembered two years later, Marley continuing to record as Bob Marley & The Wailers, releasing 10 more albums under Island Records.
Accomplishments: Sold 75 million records worldwide, received the Peace Medal of the Third World by the United Nations and the Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award, Time Magazine named his album “Exodus” the album of the 20th century in 1999
Recommended Songs: No Woman, No Cry, One Love / People Get Ready, Three Little Birds
Nina Simone (1933-2003)
Background: The sixth born child out of eight, Eunice Waymon began learning piano at age 3. The North Carolina native would play at her local church, where her mother was a pastor. As she grew older, she went to other churches and played events, demanding at one that her parents sit in the front row or she would not play. She attended Juilliard School after being rejected from the Curtis Institute of Music in Philadelphia. After earning a college degree as a pianist, she moved to Atlantic City, playing at the Midtown Bar & Grill on Pacific Avenue regularly to help continue private piano lessons. The owner told her she would earn $90 a week if she were to sing and play, adopting the stage name of Nina Simone.
Simone earned a small fan base in Atlantic City and the surrounding area, resulting in the creation of her debut album “Little Girl Blue” in 1958, featuring top 20 hit I Loves You, Porgy. In 1964, she began to strongly enforce the civil rights movement, releasing Mississippi Goddamn, the first ever song with a curse word, after the Birmingham church bombing. Her career began to suffer as she kept singing about political issues and stances, moving to Europe and Africa and retaining success there and performing in clubs constantly, releasing 40+ live and studio albums throughout her career.
Accomplishments: Became a recipient in the Grammy Hall of Fame, earned an honorary degree from Curtis Institute in 2003, after being rejected 49 years previous. She is listed as a main influence of dark pop songstress Lana Del Rey, covering a Simone original song on her last two albums. Kanye West also sampled her song Strange Fruit on his song Blood on the Leaves for his album “Yeezus.”
Recommended Songs: Don’t Let Me Be Misunderstood, Here Comes The Sun, The Other Woman, Feeling Good
Micheal Jackson (1958-2009)
Background: Born in suburban Chicago, Jackson was the eighth of ten children, beginning his career with four of his brothers and becoming the Jackson 5 in 1965. The group earned four number 1 hits on the Billboard Hot 100, including ABC, I Want You Back, The Love You Save, and I’ll Be There. Jackson emerged as a solo artist in 1979 with his solo debut “Off The Wall,” the album selling 20 million worldwide to date, recording six solo records total. He had reported allegations of child abuse against him and took a large career break due to the amount of controversy after the album release in 2001. He passed just after he announced the development of a new album in 2009 and a comeback world tour to begin in London that year.
Accomplishments: Received 13 Grammy Awards, presented with the most wins in a single night, awarded the Grammy Legend Award, won 26 American Music Awards, sold him 750+ million records worldwide, has the only 3x Diamond certified album (30x Platinum) in the United States—“Thriller”—and is the only male artists to have five number 1 hits off of one album.
Recommended Songs: Smooth Criminal, P.Y.T. (Pretty Young Thing), Billie Jean, Thriller
Beyoncé (1981- )
Background: Beyoncé Knowles was seen to have the potential of a superstar at an early age, when a dance teacher heard her high vocal range at a lesson. The Houston born icon befriended Kelly Rowland and LaTavia Roberson while auditioning for a girls entertainment group, becoming Girl’s Tyme with three other girls. After the group lost the show Star Search, her family experienced financial troubles, the group signing with Columbia Records in 1996, changing their name to Destiny’s Child. Knowles and Rowland were the only two members of Destiny’s Child to be in it for its entirety until it’s disbandment in 2006, the group selling 60 million records worldwide. Soon after, Jay Z aiding Beyoncé with their duet 03 Bonnie & Clyde and releasing Beyoncé’s debut album Dangerously in Love, going on to release five solo albums. She introduced the concept of a surprise album, putting her most recent album “BEYONCÉ” on digital selling platforms without any promotion, and continues to do so as she gears up for a release of her next album.
Accomplishments: Had every album debut at number 1 on the Billboard 200, considered by Forbes magazine as “the most powerful woman in music,” awarded 20 Grammy Awards and given the Michael Jackson Video Vanguard Award in 2014.
Recommended Songs: XO, I Was Here, Listen, Halo, Crazy In Love