With everything that’s going on during this important phase of the Black Lives Matter movement, it’s important to celebrate the achievements of famous Black artists that have paved the way for the arts industry today. Here are a few Black artists that inspire me:
Louis Armstrong, along with other jazz musicians such as Miles Davis, Duke Ellington, and Charlie Parker were extremely influential to some of the greatest jazz songs of all time. Jazz, and other genres owe a lot to the Black community that changed the world of music forever. Armstrong was known for performing pieces such as ‘The Bare Necessities’, ‘Moon River’, and ‘What a Wonderful World’, as well as co-writing several instrumental jazz band songs. He’s even been labelled as the ‘first great jazz soloist‘.
This woman is powerful with her acting. She ‘held it down for black cinema in the ’90s’, portraying strong female characters and figures such as Tina Turner in ‘What’s Love Got To Do With It’, a film surrounding the story of Tina Turner and her struggle for freedom. I highly recommend this movie (trigger warning: there are scenes of violence and domestic abuse). Bassett is a powerhouse actress, not to mention that she has had the honour of meeting Rosa Parks and portraying her in ‘The Rosa Parks Story’.
Nina Simone’s music is incredibly moving and often revolved around her thoughts on race and feminism, with songs such as ‘Brown Baby’ constantly present in her repertoire. One particular song, ‘Mississippi Goddam’ was Nina’s response to the murder of Medgar Evars and the bombing of the 16th Street Baptist Church, which killed 4 young black girls and was referred to by many as her ‘first civil rights song’. She wrote this song in under an hour and performed it live at Carnegie Hall and was initially banned in some states. But Simone still regularly fought for black lives and was an active speaker and contributor to the Civil Rights movement. Do yourself a favour and listen to her music and research her incredible story.
This is one of my all-time favourite poets. His poetry is strongly influenced by the street-politics of Jamaica. Despite difficulty initially spreading his message in his small town of Handsworth, when he moved to London, his poetry soon gained momentum, and ‘it was once said of him that he was Britain’s most filmed, photographed, and identifiable poet’. He wanted to make poetry accessible, not just something studied in school – and so he performed wherever he could (on TV, radio, the street). His realistic poems and novels were aimed towards teenagers and adults, to influence their awareness of the gritty truth of life. You won’t regret watching his public performance, ‘Money’, here.
There are so many more influential artists of our generation, as well as those from previous generations. If you are trying to educate yourself at the moment you could start by watching some movies on the struggle for civil rights and also search for and consume Black created content and media . A few recommendations for films are ‘Men of Honor’, ’12 Years a Slave’, and ‘The Butler’.