Black History Month - Celebrating Iconic Musicians

3rd October 2023

Posted in: Articles | Playlists

To celebrate Black History Month, we look at some of the iconic musicians that have inspired and shaped the music industry through the 20th-century and beyond.

Through genres, including R&B, sacred, jazz, folk, Rock 'n' roll, blues, hip-hop and rap - Black artists have created, developed and inspired. Their music has helped to spread culture, popularising the idea of racial integration and greatly influenced the social lives of Black people. Various forms of these genres still exist today and their work is highly significant.

Check out our playlist, as we list over 200 artists who have, and continue to offer, a unique array of musical talent.

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Jimi Hendrix

Inspired by American rock and roll and electric blues, Jimi Hendrix was one of the most influential electric guitarists in the history of popular music. Hendrix received several prestigious rock music awards during his lifetime and posthumously, whilst also being inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and receiving a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame. His mainstream career spanned only four years, releasing four albums before his untimely death, but despite that, his legacy lives on. The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame describes him as "arguably the greatest instrumentalist in the history of rock music."


Aretha Franklin

From the age of 12, Franklin performed in various churches, which helped gain her first record deal and subsequent single at the age of just 14. Just two years later, Franklin went on tour with Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., and she would later sing at his funeral. Following Sam Cooke in recording pop music, the rest is history. With an incredible 112 charted singles on the US Billboard charts, from 1961 all the way up to to 1998, Franklin’s contribution to music and culture was symbolic. Referred to as the "Queen of Soul”, she became one of the world's best-selling music artists, receiving 18 Grammy Awards and a Pulitzer Prize.


Bob Marley

A pioneer of reggae, Marley increased the visibility of Jamaican music worldwide. Alongside some childhood friends, he formed a groundbreaking ska, rocksteady and reggae band, later named the Wailers. Following his death in 1981, his album Legend became the best-selling reggae album of all time. Many of children followed in his footsteps, including Ziggy, Stephen and Damian, who all experienced varying levels of success. Bob Marley was a once-in-a-lifetime talent who alongside his extraordinary music career, spent his time bridging the divide between Jamaica's political groups, promoting peace.


Ella Fitzgerald

The first African American woman to win a Grammy Award, Ella Fitzgerald was one the hardest working artists the world has seen, recording more than 200 albums and some 2,000 songs in her lifetime. After entering an amateur singing contest when she was 17, she went on to become a regular at the Savoy, one of Harlem's hottest clubs. Whilst becoming a rising star in the early 40, she starred in film and TV all the way to the late 60s. Known as the "First Lady of Song”, Fitzgerald was an immensely popular American jazz and song vocalist who interpreted much of the Great American Songbook.



Thanks to his father, Prince developed a keen interest in music and went from a child prodigy to bandleader in short time. He would go on to produce his own albums, winning an Academy Award for Purple Rain, which became an instant cultural phenomenon. As well as producing, Prince was a renowned multi-instrumentalist, famously playing 27 different instruments on his debut album. During his stellar career, he wrote songs for the likes of Sinéad O'Connor and Celine Dion. In 1984, simultaneously held the number one spots for film, single, and album. Known for his flamboyant showmanship, he is widely regarded as one of the greatest musicians of his generation.


Tina Turner

The first black artist and woman to be on the cover of Rolling Stone, Tina Turner found huge success in a career that spanned five decades. After immersing herself in the local rhythm-and-blues scene, she met and performed live with then husband Ike Turner, before disbanding in the late 70s. At 44, she was the oldest female solo artist to top the Hot 100 as she launched a big comeback in the 80s, going on to become one of the best-selling recording artists of all time, earning her the 'Queen of Rock 'n' Roll' nickname. in 2018, a musical based on her life opened in London’s West End. Turner is the only female artist to have won a Grammy in the pop, rock, and R&B fields, and later received a Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award.


Stevie Wonder

A virtual one-man band, child prodigy Stevie Wonder became a soloist from a young age, singing in his local church choir. Despite being blind, he defied odds, learning to play the piano, drums and harmonica, before signing with the Motown record label at just 11 years old and went on to become the youngest artist to achieve No. 1 on the Billboard Hot 100. Using the electronic keyboard, Wonder went on to release multiple hit records during his mid-20s, and was the recipient of numerous honours during this classic period. With 23 studio albums, he has won 25 Grammy Awards, the most by a solo artist, and is known for helping to drive R&B into the album era.


Whitney Houston

With 28 Guinness World Records, Whitney Houston’s rise was unprecedented, becoming a singing sensation, dominating the charts throughout the 80s and 90s. Singing in church as a child, Houston signed for Arista Records at 19 years old. She made her motion-picture debut in The Bodyguard - which remains the bestselling soundtrack album of all time, thanks to Houston’s hit songs. It later became an a smash-hit musical. Her life and career were dramatised in the biopic I Wanna Dance with Somebody. A cultural icon, Houston paved the way for many artists, and was pivotal in ensuring black women were covered by radio and MTV.


Marvin Gaye

Despite the circumstances of his passing, Gaye’s artistic reputation and influence were not affected, still being seen as one of the most gifted singer-songwriters of his generation. Gaye developed a love of singing at an early age, encouraged by his mother, becoming a star in a glee club. Following his discharge from the Air Force, Gaye sung with the Marquees, before joining Motown subsidiary Tamla. After a series of duets with Tammi Terrell, he signed a new contract, making it the most lucrative deal by a black recording artist at the time. From there, he became a force in pop music, blending rhythm and blues with his unique soul sound, and was later inducted into the Songwriters Hall of Fame.


Diana Ross

Ross started out at just 15 years old for girl group the Primettes, later named the Supremes. Under Motown, they became one of the world's best-selling girl groups, dominating the charts during 60s. After leaving the band, Ross won critical acclaim for her music and film roles, later becoming the first African-American woman to co-host the Academy Awards. When signing for RCA in 1981, it was music history's most expensive recording deal. Named the "Female Entertainer of the Century" by Billboard in 1976, Ross has released 25 studio albums and is one of the rare performers to have two stars on the Hollywood Walk of Fame. Ross continues to perform today, kicking off her greatest hits tour in 2023.