Updated: Feb 23
In today's article, we continue to celebrate Black History Month through the empowering influence and contribution of African American women artists who highlighted Black pride, beauty, and equality in music culture.
Highlighting the pride that humans have for their ethnic background, their ancestors, or their beliefs is often an emotional response to diverse circumstances reflected in an empowering way through cultures such as the arts or music. Due to its history of oppression and discrimination, the Black community has produced a great variety of passionate manifestations of pride and strength with the help of creative arts, perhaps more so than other ethnic groups have. Thus, in the history of music, we can identify countless such examples manifested in songs, in messages, in acts of empowerment that demonstrated and demonstrate that while we are making progress, we still have a long way ahead towards a state of full equality. In today's article, we take a look at prominent manifestations of Black pride and political protests in Black music history.
In 1959, Berry Gordy founded Motown Records, a family-owned record label led mostly by Black women from the city of Detroit, Michigan, which from the beginning was characterized by a sound that broke all racial barriers of the time. Although the label would go on to sign more successful artists such as Stevie Wonder, The Jackson Five, among others, the first group to have more than 12 Billboard number-one singles (five of them in a row, a record never beaten), were"The Supremes". It was the label's first female band, formed by Diana Ross, Mary Wilson, and Florence Ballard. However, the three ladies went on to become much more than just the most successful artists of Motown Records. When the streets of the United States were overflowing with marches of African-Americans in search of civil rights, they appeared glamorously on The Ed Sullivan show, the most important TV program in the country at the time, conquering the hearts of white people and winning the hearts of the most influential people in the country at the time. "It was December 27, 1964, when I turned on the Ed Sullivan show and I experienced a life-changing moment. When I saw The Supremes on television it was magical because I had never seen Black women on television and, moreover, with that grace and glamour,", said Oprah Winfrey on her show.
Everything that The Supremes meant as a group in Black music was the same thing that Aretha Franklin represented as a soloist.
During the '50s, and after the explosion of rock and roll, started to emerge soloists and R & B groups led by black womxn as The Ronettes, or The Chiffons managing to cross racial barriers and become a success among white audiences.
"If it wasn't for Aretha, I would never be here," Beyoncé said at a concert in Detroit a few days before the Queen of Soul died. I could spend hours writing about what Aretha means to many people in this world. Aretha Franklin was much more than a singer, her contribution to the struggle for civil rights and women's liberation helped define identity in the African American population and in much of Western societies. Aretha became a symbol of Black Pride in a white America, and she remains a symbol of female empowerment to this day. She was not only an artist who reversed an anti-sexist classic like "Respect", but she was also a Black woman who, in the tensest moment of the struggle for civil rights in the United States, released her version of RESPECT daring to shout her message at the top of her lungs. This message fit perfectly with the stage of racial discrimination that the country was going through at that time and remains relevant to this day. Aretha is, without a doubt, a mythical, powerful and unattainable woman.
"Everybody told me to be smart, 'look at your career they said 'Lauryn, baby, use your head', but instead I chose to use my heart."
Ms. Lauryn Hill
Ms. LAURYN HILL
In the 1990s in the United States, identifying rap lyrics with violence was part of everyday life in this musical genre. The "war" for the reign of Hip Hop was part of the daily life of rappers on the east and west coasts of the country. However, if there was one artist who knew how to raise awareness and understand that aggression was not the message that society needed to receive, it was Lauryn Hill. In the early nineties, Lauryn was part of The Fugees, with whom she released two albums that revolutionized the sound of the time. "The Score" (1996) was something absolutely new in relation to the Hip Hop groups that sounded at that time, the lyrics were full of messages of social conscience, inviting to end violence. The album was a success, selling over 18 million copies worldwide (something unheard of for a rap album at the time), however, within this wonderful momentum for any artist, Lauryn was a victim of the same violence that was reflected in the lyrics of her colleagues but generated nothing more and nothing less by the greats of the industry. After becoming pregnant with her first child, she was "advised" by industry insiders to have an abortion so that if motherhood did not affect her rise to star status, related advice would be a real violation of her human rights.
In 1998, after giving birth to her first son Zion, Lauryn released her first solo album "The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill", an album that potentially exceeded all expectations both in sales and rankings. From her pain and oppression, she created an album that took Lauryn to the top of her career - even higher than with The Fugees.
Beyond these three pristine examples of Black women who made music history and represented their community through far more than just artistry, there are of course countless more exhilarating figureheads of Black female excellence. In fact, every Black woman in music contributes to the better representation and lifting of oppression of her community. Every Black woman should be celebrated beyond Black History Month, and every Black woman deserves - in the words of Aretha - R.E.S.P.E.C.T.