9 Black Musicians Who Changed The World

American music is black music. In a recent interview with Latina, Bruno Mars breaks it down further. “When you say ‘black music,’” he begins, “understand that you are talking about rock, jazz, R&B, reggae, funk, doo-wop, hip-hop, and Motown.” According to Mars, “black music means everything” and we agree.

June happens to be African American Music Appreciation Month — a celebration created by Jimmy Carter in 1979. With nationwide protesting and our foot on the gas pedal to fight for equality, it only seems natural that we celebrate a few stars who paved the way for the last century.

Photo credit: © Yousuf Karsh | http://karsh.org
  1. Marian Anderson (1897 – 1993)

After facing consistent racial adversity through her early career, Marian Anderson performed at the Lincoln Memorial in 1939 to a crowd of 75,000 and a radio audience in the millions, which has been named a watershed moment in civil rights history. She then went on to become the first black person to perform at the Metropolitan Opera in New York City in 1955. Listen Here.

(Sheet Music Direct)

  1. Sister Rosetta Tharpe (1915 – 1973)

Sister Rosetta Tharp is widely known as “The Godmother of Rock & Roll”. She rose to popularity as the first recording artist to use heavy distortion on her electric guitar, coupled with gospel lyrics. She is cited as an influence to many early rock-and-roll musicians, including Little Richard, Johnny Cash, Elvis Presley, and Chuck Berry. Listen Here.

(Sheet Music Direct)

Photo credit: Norman Seeff | raycharles.com
  1. Ray Charles (1930-2004)

Ray Charles is widely regarded as the musician who combined soul and country to create a new sound of blues and R&B. Charles became one of the first black musicians to be granted full artistic control by a mainstream record company while he was with ABC. Charles is a 17-time Grammy Award winner among many other accomplishments. Listen Here.


  1. Aretha Franklin (1942 – 2018)

Aretha Franklin, “The Queen of Soul”, will go down in history as a remarkable musician, as well as a key figure in the Civil Rights Movement of the 1960s. Her hit song “Respect” served as an anthem for both the Civil Rights Movement and the Women’s Rights Movement. In 1987, she was the first female artist to be inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of fame. Listen Here.

(Sheet Music Direct)

Photo credit: washingtonpost.com
  1. Jimi Hendrix (1942 – 1970)

Jimi Hendrix pioneered new music technologies and redefined the role of guitar in popular music. His unique sound, extraordinary technique, and staggering stage presence influenced many guitarists that came after including Stevie Ray Vaughan, Prince, and Joe Satriani. Listen Here.

(Sheet Music Direct)

  1. James Brown (1944-2006) 

James Brown is the most sampled artist of all time. Without him, there would be no hip-hop as we know it today. Brown is known as the creator of funk, and his rhythmic tracks have directly inspired rap artists from the 80’s to the present. Listen Here.


Photo credit: themighty.com
  1. Stevie Wonder (1950 – )

Stevie Wonder was a child prodigy – he signed with Motown records at 11 years old where he mastered the piano, harmonica, drums and bass. He was an early pioneer of electronic sound, which influenced pop, rhythm and blues, soul, funk, and rock. Since then, he’s had an abundance of influence in the civil rights movement in the United States and the abolishment of the Apartheid regime in South Africa. Listen Here.

(Sheet Music Direct)

  1. Pharrell Williams (1973-)

An influencer with an eclectic wardrobe, Pharrell is a multi-faceted musician, producer, philanthropist and civil rights activist. He is known as a long-time supporter and advocate of all human issues including women’s rights, youth education, climate change, and racial equality and has invested millions of dollars in non-profits. His song “Happy” which says that all people have a right to the pursuit of happiness, became a “protest anthem” in countries like Ukraine, Tunisia, Moscow, and the Philippines. Listen Here.

(Global Citizen)

Photo credit: essence.com
  1. Beyonce (1981-)

When Beyonce dropped her sixth studio album Lemonade which featured songs like ‘Freedom’, it was hard not to feel the momentous shift in her career. If you want to know how she has spoken out about civil rights, look no further than her Super Bowl 50 performance. Bey released ‘Formation’ ahead of game day which featured powerful video clips then proceeded to make a statement during her halftime performance with references to the Black Lives Matter movement, Malcolm X and the Black Panthers. She continues to speak out publicly on all platforms as an advocate for equality and justice. Listen Here.


This is by no means an exhaustive list, just a few of our favorites. While this list shines a positive light on our progress as a society, there is still more work to be done. We will be taking the next several weeks to look inward to see where we can do more as individuals and as an agency with a voice. If you have suggestions for us, we are here to listen. Feel free to shoot us a note.

Want to join the conversation but not sure where to start? Here are a few resources where you can learn more: