In recognition of Black History Month, this week, #SoundingOFF takes a look at some of the pioneers, musicians, and top executives in the industry.
African-American culture has had a major influence on contemporary music from the very get-go. Musical pioneers such as Chuck Berry, Ella Fitzgerald, Fats Domino, and Little Richard, would perform a style of music that would shape the foundation of modern rock music, before the style of music was culturally appropriated into the mainstream by white musicians such as Elvis Presley, Jerry Lee Lewis, and The Everly Brothers.
But the buck doesn’t stop there, as the music continued to evolve over the decades. Traditional blues music would eventually give way to the birth of jazz, during the Harlem Renaissance in the 1920’s, as nightclubs became all the rage in predominantly Black communities.
Sound and technology have continued to evolve over a great many years, bringing about more than just rock ‘n’ roll. Jazz was influential to the creation of R&B, soul and early doo-wop in the ‘50s, funk and psychedelic rock in the ‘60s, and the creation of house, hip-hop, dancehall and reggae music in the late-‘70s and ‘80s.
This is why it is important to acknowledge the many African-American musicians, label executives, and pioneers, without whom, contemporary music as we know it today, just plain wouldn’t exist.
#1) Florence Beatrice Price
Florence Beatrice Price was the first African-American female recognized as a symphonic composer, who went on to have her work performed by a leading U.S. orchestra. In 1933, the Chicago Symphony Orchestra conducted by Frederick Stock, premiered Price’s composition.
#2) Dean Dixon
Dean Dixon was a classical conductor/performer as well as a graduate of Columbia University. He would make history in 1941, as the first African-American conductor of the New York Philharmonic Orchestra. Dixon continued conducting throughout the ‘50s and ‘60s, which took him all across the world, to Italy, Denmark, France, and Sweden.
#3) Sister Rosetta Tharpe
Nicknamed the “Godmother of Rock ‘n’ Roll,” Sister Rosetta Tharpe is best known as the pioneering gospel singer who developed a finger picking technique which was a major inspiration to Elvis, Little Richard, and Jerry Lee Lewis, among others.
#4) Count Basie
Count Basie was the renowned leader of a big band jazz group, which helped shape swing music in the late ‘30s and early ‘40s. Basie was the first Black man ever to win a Grammy Award in 1948. He later went on to win eight more, including a Lifetime Achievement Award in 2002.
#5) Nina Simone
Nina Simone was singer, songwriter, pianist, arranger, and an outspoken activist in the Civil Rights Movement, who was perhaps best known for her broad range of musical styles which varied between classical, jazz, blues, folk, R&B, gospel, and pop.
#6) Quincy Jones
Apart from his latest interview, which went viral after mentioning the late-comedian Richard Pryor’s homoerotic love affair with legendary actor Marlon Brando, Quincy Jones is a legend in his own right. He is a multi-faceted record producer, composer, arranger, musician, instrumentalist, actor, television producer, film producer, magazine founder, entertainment company executive, and humanitarian. He has received a record total 79 Grammy nominations for his work in the entertainment industry over the last six decades.
#7) Berry Gordy III
If there is anyone more deserving of being on a list about Black excellence, it has to be the founder of Motown records, which at one time was one of the highest earning African-American businesses for decades. In addition to his work as a record executive, Gordy also served as a producer, songwriter, film producer and television producer.
#8) Fela Kuti
Nigerian multi-instrumentalist, human rights activist, political maverick, composer, and pioneer of the Afrobeat music genre, Fela Kuti, has been called a great many things, but above all has been described as one of Africa’s most “challenging and charismatic music performers” of all-time.
#9) Al Bell
Al Bell is best known as the record executive and co-owner of the historic Stax Records, based in Memphis, Tennessee, during the latter half of the label’s 19-year existence. He was also vital to the careers of the Staple Singers, Isaac Hayes, the Emotions, the Dramatics, and Mel and Tim.
#10) L.A. Reid
What can we really say about L.A. Reid that he already hasn’t said himself? He is a renowned music executive, musician, songwriter, record producer, author and former television music competition judge. Reid is also the founder and current co-chairman of Hitco Entertainment and had previously served as the chairman and CEO of Epic Records, a division of Sony Music Entertainment, the president and CEO of Arista Records, and the chairman and CEO of the Island Def Jam Music Group.
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