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Sound Starters II

It’s impossible to tell the story of American music without mentioning the countless Black musicians who shaped it. Practically every genre you can think of was influenced by these pioneers in one way or another. Last year we highlighted ten Black musicians who shaped American music, but it was hardly an exhaustive list. This mix features ten more Black artists who blazed trails, pushed music forward, and changed history. Tune in, turn up the volume, and read along as you listen—you might learn a thing or two!


Ella Fitzgerald with “Dream A Little Dream Of Me”

With nicknames like "the First Lady of Song" and "the Queen of Jazz,” it’s no surprise that Ella Fitzgerald has gone down in music history as one of the most recognizable voices of all time. Plus, her immaculate enunciation is something we should all aspire to. We’re not sure she even knew the definition of “mumble.”

Sam Cooke with “A Change Is Gonna Come”

Clocking in as the third best song of all time (according to the newest Rolling Stone list), “A Change Is Gonna Come” was released two weeks after Sam Cooke was fatally shot at an L.A. motel. This posthumous hit became an anthem for the civil rights movement and solidified Cooke’s reputation as a true pop legend.

Etta James with “At Last”

Is there a more popular song to play at a wedding? We’re pretty sure not even Y.M.C.A. can hold a candle to this timeless track.


Ray Charles “I Got A Woman”

“Brother Ray” is the definition of a musical pioneer. By blending blues, jazz, R&B, and gospel music, he helped create and shape what we now call soul. Not letting his lack of sight get in the way of success, he was one of the first black musicians to be given artistic control by a record company. Charles’ long and influential career earned him the number 10 spot on Rolling Stone’s 100 Greatest Artists of All Time list.


Marvin Gaye with “What’s Going On”

If Ray Charles invented soul music, Marvin Gaye was the one who pushed it to the forefront of American culture. By redefining the sound of soul and pop, “the Prince of Motown” inspired countless artists from Stevie Wonder to Todd Rundgren. “What’s Going On” remains at the top of multiple “best albums of all time” lists and is considered by many to be the pinnacle of 70’s soul.


Bob Marley with “Coming In From The Cold”

Bob Marley didn’t invent reggae, but his unique fusion of sound and songwriting brought international attention to this previously niche sound. From timeless feel-good tunes to political protest songs, his catalog includes countless classics that will get anyone up off their seat and grooving along.


Whitney Houston with “I Wanna Dance with Somebody (Who Loves Me)”

Whitney Houston’s powerful career earned her a spot among the best selling artists of all time, and her seven consecutive number-one singles on the Billboard Hot 100 is a feat only she has accomplished. Etta James’ “At Last” might be the go-to “first dance” song at weddings, but when it comes to getting everyone on the floor and singing along this tune might take the cake. Seriously, is it possible not to belt out this chorus?


Public Enemy with “Fight The Power”

Some groups make hits. Some make statements. Public Enemy was a master of both. Their first four albums all reached either gold or platinum certifications without shying away from political topics like racism and media bias. “Fight The Power,” originally recorded for Spike Lee’s 1989 film Do The Right Thing, became one of the most influential and acclaimed hip hop songs of all time, eventually making its way to the #2 spot on Rolling Stone’s Best Songs of All Time list.


Beyonce with “Halo”

If you sat down and tried to think of a more powerful and influential woman than Queen Bey, you might be waiting around a while. Her award-winning performance with Destiny’s Child and illustrious solo career have made her the highest-earning Black musician of all time, as well as one of the most prominent women of the last century. Her husband is a pretty solid artist too.


Kendrick Lamar with “i”

West Coast rap has a legendary past, and if Kendrick Lamar is any indication of where things are going, we’ve got a lot to look forward to. Kendrick’s brilliant lyricism and storytelling have rightfully earned him a place among the most respected hip hop artists of all time, as well as a Pulitzer Prize Award. Luckily for us, he’s still making plenty of music.


Bonus: Music is Black History


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