100 Black Innovators in 10 Days (DAY 1: Musicians)

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June 19, 2020

Welcome to 100 Black Innovators in 10 Days, a campaign aiming to showcase the work, voices, and impact that these innovators have had throughout history. Today we are featuring the work of 10 Black Musicians. From feeling the blues to jazz, rock, reggae, rap, hip-hop and beyond, these talented individuals have done more than simply cater to their audiences - they created an impact. The music industry would not be where it is today without their hard work and dedication.


Marian Anderson

Marian Anderson (1897 - 1993)

Anderson showed a great talent for singing at a very young age and applied to the Philadelphia Music Academy after graduating from high school – an application which was declined due to the color of her skin. Continuing her studies privately, her musical career blossomed and she launched a highly successful European singing tour. On her return to the United States, she was invited to perform at the White House by First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt.





Louis Armstrong

Louis Armstrong (1901 - 1971)

Having grown up in extreme poverty with an absent father, Louis Armstrong (affectionately known as “Satchmo”) acquired a cornet at a young age with the help of his surrogate family. This clearly sparked something within Armstrong, who had grown up hearing jazz music on the streets of New Orleans. Before long, he was pioneering the transformation of jazz from ensemble music to the solo art form we still recognize today.





Robert JohnsonRobert Johnson (1911 - 1938)

Johnson’s unique style of blues guitar has influenced some of the biggest names in popular music – including Eric Clapton and George Harrison, amongst others – and he was inducted at the inaugural Rock and Roll Hall of Fame ceremony in 1986 recognizing his impact on rock and roll.





Sister Rosetta Tharpe (1915 - 1973)Rosetta Tharpe

Commonly known as "The Godmother of Rock & Roll," Sister Rosetta Tharpe was one of the first big stars of gospel music in the late 1930s. It was her somewhat unique style (coupling her spiritual lyrics with electric guitar accompaniment), however, that made her appeal to a whole new audience. Tharpe was one of the first popular recording artists to use heavy distortion on her electric guitar and her song "Strange Things Happening Every Day" became the first gospel record to reach the R&B Top 10 in 1945.




Billie HollidayBillie Holliday (1915 - 1959)

Billie Holiday impressed audiences around the world with her use of tonal variation and vibrato and unparalleled skill at jazz phrasing until her death at the young age of 44. During her lifetime, Holiday fought racism and sexism – and in the face of great personal adversity blossomed into one of the most revered jazz singers of all time.





Miles Davis (1926 - 1991)Miles Davis

What set Davis apart was his ability to continually evolve. As Davis himself said: "I have to change. It's like a curse." It was this ability to reinvent himself and push the limits of his own musical style that created his legacy, and he was to become an inspiration for an entire generation of black musicians.





Arethra FranklinAretha Franklin (1942 - 2018)

Having sadly passed away this past year at the age of 76, Aretha Franklin (a.k.a. "The Queen of Soul") will always be remembered as a remarkable musician with a truly unique voice. But her significance as a black woman in music extended way beyond her musical talent. Franklin was a key figure in the Civil Rights Movement of the 1960s with her hit song "Respect" serving as an important anthem for both this cause and the Women's Rights Movement of the same era.





Jimi Hendrix (1942 - 1970)Jimi Hendrix

Jimi Hendrix influenced an incredible array of guitarists who came after him – from Stevie Ray Vaughan to Prince to Joe Satriani. And while it may be an overused cliché when referring to musical virtuosos, Hendrix’s guitar truly was an extension of himself when he played. The combination of his unique sound, stunning technique and truly electric stage presence puts Jimi Hendrix at the front of any conversation about the greatest guitarist of all time.





Stevie WonderStevie Wonder (1950 - )

Aside from his musical achievements, Stevie Wonder has long been active in civil rights movements. The release of his song "Happy Birthday" in 1980, followed by tireless campaigning, led directly to the establishment of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Day in 1986. Wonder was also a key figure in the abolishment of the Apartheid regime in South Africa in the late 80s, publicly supporting Nelson Mandela with the result of his music being banned in the country for several years.





Kendrick LamarKendrick Lamar (1987 - )

Kendrick Lamar became the first rap artist to win a Pulitzer Prize in 2017 for his album entitled DAMN. The Pulitzer Board felt the album is "a virtuosic song collection unified by its vernacular authenticity and rhythmic dynamism that offers affecting vignettes capturing the complexity of modern African American life."





Stay tuned throughout the next 10 days as we highlight 100 black innovators from a wide range of fields. We hope you feel inspired by the accomplishments of these immensely talented individuals.