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Five influential Black artists you should know

By Munir Sulaiman Oct 13, 2022
Tupac Shakur PerformingMandatory Credit: Photo by Sipa/Shutterstock (263808b) TUPAC SHAKUR TUPAC SHAKUR, 1996.

Black artists are held to a standard where the talent itself at times is not enough, what is achieved when you have notoriety is just as important. These artists below demonstrate the importance Black artists have, to inspire, inform on the racial inequality we face and celebrate their Blackness. 

Sam Cooke 

Sam Cooke
Sam Cooke. Photo credit: Public domain

Born on January 22, 1931, in Clarksdale Mississippi, Sam Cooke was a singer and songwriter who is revered for being one of the pioneers of soul music.

One song that resonates with Black pain and fight is ‘A change is gonna come’ released in 1964.

This song inspired many to keep their head held higher during the civil rights movements and to fight through adversity.

The cultural impact of the song is so great that Barrack Obama, after his 2008 inauguration, referenced the song to his supporters in Chicago noting: “It’s been a long time coming, but tonight, change has come to America.” 

Maya Angelou 

Credit: Courtesy of William J. Clinton Presidential Library

Born on April 4, 1928, St. Louis, Missouri, Maya Angelou was a poet and writer. She was also a civil rights activist, and her poems are known to invoke the emotions of readers.

Poems such as And Still I Rise illustrated the power of Black resilience during a period when there was strife. 

On the Pulse of Morning was another impactful poem in which she recited at U.S. President Bill Clinton’s inauguration on January 20, 1993. 

Tupac Shakur 

Credit: A Crollalanza/Shutterstock

Born on June 16,1971, in New York City, Tupac is one of the most successful rappers and is considered one of the greatest of all time.

Tupac’s cultural impact was huge with songs such as Dear Mama, Keep Ya Head Up and Changes which highlighted how aware Tupac was of social issues in society.

Tupac was outspoken and always fought against injustice.

He was mulit-talented and starred in classic movies such as Poetic Justice, Juice and Above the Rim.  

Bob Marley 

Credit: Ian Dickson/Shutterstock

Born on February 6, 1945, in Nine mile, Jamaica, Bob Marley was a musician, songwriter and one of the pioneers of reggae music.

Marley has impacted the world with his music greatly most notably with Redemption Song and ‘Three Little Birds’, infusing a feel-good factor song with words of self-affirmation.

Bob Marley was also known for his activism in which he called out inequality in society, regarding race, money and power.

His achievements were recognised by the United Nations when he received the Peace Medal of the Third World as his music brought hope to people all over the world.  

Jean-Michel Basquiat 

Image of Jean-Michel Basquiat: jpvargas, Dripping

Born on December 22, 1960, in New York City. Jean- Michel Basquiat started off as a graffiti artist but became renowned for his neo-expressionism paintings which he used to protest injustices.

In 1983 Basquiat created the piece Hollywood Africans to highlight the misrepresentation of African Americans in the entertainment industry.

Basquiat was one of the youngest artists of his time and his charismatic character was reflected in his work.

His paintings have become timeless with famous piece untitled (1982) selling for $110.5 million in 2017.  

Image of Jean-Michel Basquiat, Dripping, jpvargas. Credit: Wikimedia commons uploaded by JotaCartas

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