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Photo credit: Everyday Health Photo of Hernandez (dressed in all black) at The Watcha! Film Series in honor of Women’s History Month.

SAN ANTONIO –African American artists made history and innovated some of the world’s most popular genres of music today. Black music became a resource to promote racial equality and uplift black communities. 

Since the discovery of America, the culture of music has developed mainly from African American musicians. During slavery, African Americans used music to express their pain, suffering and dreams of being freed from slavery. Fast forward to the 20th century, when artists such as Elvis Presley would sing songs made by a black American. Today, genres that society listens to, such as rock, jazz and R&B, were all created by African Americans. With thousands of documents of African American music’s influence, it is essential to recognize black musicians who used music as a resource for leadership, activism and history-making.

Billie Holiday: “Strange Fruit”

Billie Holiday was an African American Jazz and Swing musician during the early 1930s and 1940s. While being signed to Colombia Records, Holiday’s song titled “Strange Fruit” was not favored nor accepted due to its controversial meaning. Strange Fruit interprets the tragic lynchings and mass murdering of African Americans located in southern states. Yet and still, the black community and other leaders continued to spread Strange Fruit’s message to the nation.

James Brown: “Martin Luther King Jr. Day”

James Brown, also known as the “Godfather of Soul,” visioned a holiday dedicated to Martin Luther King Jr. for his leadership and activism during the Civil Rights Movement. In 1983, James Brown stood alongside President Ronald Reagan to sign the federal Martin Luther King Jr. Day bill.

Jimi Hendrix: “Rock”

Jimi Hendrix is one of the most influential and successful guitarists in rock music history. Because of Jimi Hendrix’s innovations to playing guitar and live performances, he is still one of the most popular and skilled musicians in rock and roll history. 

Michael Jackson: “Record Breaker”

Michael Jackson, also known as the “King of Pop,” is the only African American Musician to break over 20 world records in music history. Jackson accomplished much success, including being the first black global pop icon. Today, his album “Thriller” is still the best-selling album of all time. 

Erykah Badu: “Neo-Soul”

Erykah Badu, also known as the “First Lady of Neo-Soul,” evolved the music genres of Soul and R/B. Badu is an advocate for black feminism and Afrofuturism. Erykah Badu uses black culture, spirituality and female ideology to persuade and influence audiences to believe in equality and racial harmony. 

Solange: “Track 9 Almeda”

Solange Knowles is an African American singer and songwriter born and raised in Houston, Texas. In 2019, Solange released her album “When I Get Home” in honor of Houston’s culture. Track 9 of the album is titled “Almeda,” a song dedicated to African Americans and black culture. Solange Knowles advocates for African American rights, racial justice and the Black Lives Matter Movement. 

African American musicians are honored during Black History Month. To them, black music is more than just a funky jazz beat, but an acknowledgment and appreciation of black success. 

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