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29 January, 2024

It is impossible to overstate the profound impact that Black musicians have had on modern music. Almost any contemporary musical genre can be traced back to Black musicians who pioneered it. This Black History Month, KCSB’s staff is putting their heads together to highlight some of our favorite Black musicians that we believe deserve more time in the spotlight. This is by no means a comprehensive list, and it is intended to celebrate and highlight the diverse musical impact of the Black community. We hope you enjoy and dive deeper into the artists we have highlighted!


  • “Seduzir” by Djavan

Djavan is an Afro-Brazilian singer whom I discovered in the KCSB music library. Djavan hails from Maceió, Brazil, and he has collaborated with the likes of Stevie Wonder, and covered by legends like Al Jarreau. While this song begins in a fairly standard way for 90s pop, I absolutely love the transition that happens at around the one-minute mark. The syncopated rhythms, clean but full bassline, the wind instruments featured in the background, and the unique percussion all blend together to create an overwhelmingly joyous moment. 

  • “Harmony” by Suzi Lane

Suzi Lane is a disco legend that is often overlooked in hindsight. However, this track, which she made in collaboration with legendary Donna Summer producer and disco legend, Giorgio Moroder, is a testament to her talent. The groovy synth line, which characterizes the verses of the song, mixed with the classic four-on-the-floor drum rhythm, makes for a high-energy and highly danceable tune that’s sure to get you on your feet. The tragic story of Suzi Lane is that at the height of her career, when this track reached #1 on Billboard’s Hot Dance Music/Club Play chart, she was involved in a car accident which injured her face and forced her to retreat from the spotlight while recuperating. For this reason, I believe it’s time to bring Lane back into the forefront of the retrospective disco conversation. 

  • “Slave To The Rhythm – Hot Blooded Version” by Grace Jones

Fashion icon, disco queen, Bond girl, an irreducible and unstoppable force of nature- Miss Grace Jones. Few careers have been as illustrious as that of Grace Jones, who was born in Jamaica, and partially raised in Syracuse, NY. Jones lived a complicated life of stardom, especially throughout her relationship with Jean-Paul Goude, who cites her as his muse. Her musical catalog has been one of my most exciting musical endeavors, not only because of her ubiquity throughout the art world of the late 20th century, but also because of the sheer amount of influences amalgamated in her work. I highly recommend diving deep into the music of this icon. 

  • “Gun” by Gil Scott-Heron

Gil Scott-Heron is often referred to as the grandfather of rap music, he was one of the first artists to incorporate spoken-word into his lyrics. Scott-Heron’s work often dealt with societal issues which affected the African American community- this song deals with gun violence in Black communities. Scott-Heron wrote this song for his 1981 album, Reflections. Because of the year it was released, one can infer that Scott-Heron was reacting to the violence that ensued after the War On Drugs within Black neighborhoods. Scott-Heron examines the fact that because of this over-policing and unjust killings, Black Americans developed a fear of police, leading them to obtain guns for self-protection. 

In his lyrics, Scott-Heron says, “every channel that I stop on got a different kind of cop on, and they’re killing them by the millions for Uncle Sam.” Unfortunately, this fact continues to hold true, more than forty years after this song was released. As such, this song is a powerful reminder that racial stereotypes can, and often do, have violent and deadly effects for communities of color. 

  • “Original Faubus Fables” by Charles Mingus

“Fables of Faubus” appears on Charles Mingus’ 1959 record Mingus Ah Um. Mingus wrote this song in response to the 1957 incident infamously referred to as The Little Rock Nine, during which Governor Faubus of Arkansas defied the Supreme Court’s decision to desegregate schools on Brown vs. Board of Education. The incident climaxed with President Eisenhower sending the National Guard to Arkansas so that the nine Black children could be allowed to enter their school. The original song is overtly political, with lyrics that directly denounce Governor Faubus for his actions, calling him “ridiculous” and “a fool.” However, Columbia Records did not allow Mingus to include the lyrics in Mingus Ah Um– the song was only released in its intended form in 1960 by a small record label named Candid records. 

I chose to include this song because it deals with systemic racism in multiple ways. First, the song talks about the incident involving The Little Rock Nine, which shows that even when anti-racist policies are put in place, such as Brown vs. The Board of Education ending segregation in schools, the racist prejudices of those in power can nevertheless continue to perpetuate racial disparities. Additionally, the fact that Columbia Records refused to allow Mingus to include the lyrics in the final recording shows that financial power can also play a part in the perpetuation of racism, because Columbia Records essentially censored Mingus’ attempt to challenge the racial hegemony of the United States. 

  • “Stay Close To Me” by Bad Brains

Bad Brains is a revolutionary and monumental component of the punk canon for innumerable reasons. For one, they were one of the first, and finest punk groups to emerge which included Black musicians- not only that, but they were solely composed of Black musicians. Another remarkable aspect of this band is the way they blend harcore with reggae, while listening to a Bad Brains album, you can go from some of the most precise and aggressive hardcore punk to groovy and (relatively) laid back tunes, like “Stay Close To Me.” An interesting thing about the band is that they were followers of the Rastafari movement, of which Bob Marley was notably a believer. The technical prowess and innovation within the punk genre that can be observed within Bad Brains’ musical catalog is astonishing to this day- and their legacy into the contemporary is evident in the current state of punk music. 

  • “Love Is Everywhere” by Pharoah Sanders

The late, great, Pharoah Sanders- close collaborator of John and Alice Coltrane, innovator in the free jazz genre, and uncompromisingly sincere in his sonic depictions of the complex range of human emotion. While he was an incredibly prolific and talented jazz musician, he was also an equally impressive activist, and beginning in the 1970s, his music reflected his support of the Black Unity movement. Towards the end of his life, he recorded one of my favorite albums of 2021- Promises– with Floating Points and the London Symphony Orchestra. This album represents the end of a career spanning decades, but whose meaning and influence will transcend space and time.


  • “Moody” by ESG

New Wave, Post-Punk, Dance Punk, Funk, and House are all words used to describe ESG. Formed as a way for their mother to keep them out of trouble, sisters Deborah, Marie, Renee, and Valerie initially developed their style from a mutual love of Funk and Latin, as well as replicating television programs. They got their start entering local competitions and playing in New York punk clubs. At one of those gigs, they opened for Certain Radio and were noticed by the Factory label who offered them studio time where they recorded their three song single, “You’re No Good.” The name ESG is an acronym for Emerald (Valerie’s birthstone), Sapphire (Renee’s birthstone), and Gold (you were probably expecting garnet for Marie or Deborah, but they went with gold which is not a birthstone but represented their goal: for their records to go gold). The droning, siren-like sound of their song “UFO” was popularly used in the ‘90s as a sample in many rap songs. LCD Soundsystem’s compared them to the band The Fall, saying these band’s sounds are “almost impossible to copy.” ESG’s most recent album came out in 2017, and their influence continues to be felt in post-punk groups.

  • “Magnólia” by Jorge Ben Jor

My parents were really into Bossa Nova while I was growing up, so Jorge Ben Jor’s music is very near and dear to me. When I came to UCSB as a freshman, this song in particular was on repeat for me, biking the campus, walking the bluffs, watching birds at the lagoon. His Tropicália sound is the perfect backdrop for Santa Barbara year round. Jorge Ben Jor started playing the pandeiro and singing in a choir as a teenager and when he was eighteen he started performing at clubs and parties. As he grew his catalog of singles and albums, he faced some backlash for his hybrid rhythms that didn’t fit into the two primary genres in Brazil at the time: Jovem Guarda and traditional Samba. Though as Bossa Nova took rise, he gained prominence and became an incredibly influential figure in the Tropicália movement.

  • “NY” by Suffrajett

Suffrajett is an early 2000s garage rock group from New York that was led by vocalist/violinist Simi Sernaker. They’ve got a very small discography, only one album is available on Spotify, though their latest (2007) album, Black Glitter, and their 2005 EP, Suffrajett EP, are available on Last.fm. They’ve got a super cool, punky, high energy sound and all of the members have played in various other groups including The Psychedelic Furs, Elysian Fields, and with Liz Phair.

  • “Party at Ground Zero” by Fishbone

Fishbone is a band that I’ve heard many familial stories about, my dad and his siblings have been going to their SF shows since the ‘80s. Fishbone is a (sort of) local band that got its start in 1979 in South Central LA while the members were in junior high. Initially they were a Ska/Funk band that played in small punk clubs all over LA, growing their influence and making friends with prominent LA bands including the Red Hot Chili Peppers. They released their first full album in 1986 and went on an international tour with the Beastie Boys a year later. As the band developed, they transitioned from Ska to a more guitar driven Rock and Soul sound and incorporated leftist social commentary into their lyrics, shedding light on topics including nuclear war, fascism, and racism. In 2010, a documentary called “Everyday Sunshine: The Story of Fishbone” was created, detailing the band’s start and rise to fame.

  • “The Voodoo Curse” by Scientist

The Scientist, or Hopeton Overton Brown, was one of the leading pioneers of the Dub genre. Born in Kingston in 1960, just as Reggae was becoming popular in Jamaica, a primary aspect of the Dub sound. His introduction to electronic music was not of the typical sense, his father was a television and radio repair technician which gave him access to amps and sound electronics to experiment with. Eventually, he was asked to transform King Tubby’s studio and was taken in as his assistant. In the mid-1970s, he became one of the mixers in Tubby’s studio and later moved on to become the principal engineer for Channel One where he graduated from the 4-track mixing table at Tubby’s to a 16-track table. His influence continued to spread and in the ‘80s he was known as a huge producer for other Dub and Reggae artists. He also produced many of his own albums, often detailing fictional battles between his character, the Scientist, and Vampires, Pac-Man, and Space Invaders.


  • “Faithful” by Common

Off of Common’s sixth studio album, Be, “Faithful” emerges as the standout track, embodying the soul and vulnerability that characterize the album. This conscious and heartfelt piece of  spoken word highlights the intersectionality of love and faith. The track is elevated by its creatively chopped soul beat, providing an immersive sonic experience. “Faithful,” along with the album as a whole, serves as a profound testament to the complexity and richness of love and spirituality as Common navigates it through the lens of his identity as a Black man.

  • “100” by dean blunt 

Dean Blunt’s “100” is a transformative addition to the predominantly white landscape of indie music. Blunt, a musician who defies easy categorization, brings a raw authenticity to his work that both captivates and challenges. Off his most acclaimed album, “Black Metal” is innovative in it’s fusion of lo-fi, indie, electronic, and hip-hop influence. “100” exemplifies this blend, a testament to Blunt’s craft as a producer and his ability to elicit complex emotions through a minimalist approach.

  • “Everytime He Comes Around” by Minnie Ripperton

Minnie Riperton brings a unique fusion of soul and rock in “Every Time He Comes Around” from her album “Perfect Angel”. While Riperton may not be the most prominent name in the soul genre, this track underscores a genuinely fresh sound in the genre. The song, featuring an exciting electric guitar underpinning Riperton’s soaring vocals. 

  • “Street Fighter Mas” by Kamasi Washington

Kamasi Washington, renowned for his mastery on the saxophone, has made a significant impact in modern jazz, blending tradition with innovation. His contributions extend beyond his solo work as well, notably collaborating with Kendrick Lamar on his “To Pimp a Butterfly” adding rich jazz texture. His track “Street Fighter Mas” from “Heaven and Earth” exemplifies his talent, merging vibrant jazz with elements of funk and soul, reflecting his ability to engage a broad audience while staying true to his jazz roots.


  • “Nothing Can Change This Love” by Sam Cooke

Early on in the pandemic, when I, like so many others, began to experiment and explore from the safe confines of my home, Sam Cooke was one of the first “new” artists I fell in love with. Blessed with a beautiful, slightly raspy, and effortless voice (one of my personal favorites ever), Cooke became one of the most popular singers of his day. It wasn’t just his voice that touched so many, but also his equally remarkable songwriting skills.

Before he was killed at the age of 33, Cooke banked on his popularity during the early 1960s to champion racial justice: his friendships with Muhammad Ali, Jim Brown, and Malcom X were documented in the Regina King-directed One Night in Miami… (2020), while his faith in the impending success of the civil rights movement were memorialized in the self-written “A Change is Gonna Come,” a song considered to be one of the greatest of all time. 

“Nothing Can Change This Love” is one of my favorites by Sam Cooke. Take a listen, and you’ll see why they don’t call him the King of Soul for nothing.

  • “Invention in A Minor” by Hazel Scott

In my opinion, Hazel Scott is probably one of history’s most naturally gifted pianists. Equally proficient in both classical and jazz, Scott was a musical prodigy who could play piano by ear at age three and who earned a place at Juilliard when she was eight. In 1950, she became the first Black American to host her own TV show. As her career as a pianist and singer took off in the 1930s and 1940s, she remained critical of McCarthyism and the House Un-American Activities Committee, and committed to civil rights, refusing to perform in segregated venues and successfully suing restaurant owners in Washington state who refused to serve her because of her race.

Like the other songs from Swinging the Classics, “Invention in A Minor” demonstrates Hazel Scott’s masterful and inventive approach to her craft.

  • “It’s Over Because We’re Through” by Chick Webb

I admit, it was The Shining that first got me interested in big band music, but it was movies of the 1930s (Some Like It Hot and Ball of Fire, especially) that got me hooked. Chick Webb ranks among my favorite bandleaders. I feel like the prototype for a bandleader is an expert on the piano or a wind instrument (Count Basie, Benny Goodman, etc.). But Webb was a drummer!, and his drummer-led band would later pave the way for groups like Gene Krupa’s. Webb’s doctor recommended him the drums to help “loosen up” his bones, following an accident in his childhood that also led to spinal tuberculosis, his short stature, and, eventually, his death at just 34 years old. Yet in the less-than-ten-years his band was active, they were energetic, exciting, and never with a dull moment, helping pioneer the burgeoning swing style. You might know one of his featured vocalists, who started with Webb’s band as a teenager – Ella Fitzgerald. Though she doesn’t appear on this song (I recommend “When I Get Low I Get High” to hear them collaborate),  “It’s Over Because We’re Through” – mournful, regretful, and poetic – remains my favorite of Chick Webb’s discography.

  • “Stack O’ Lee” by Mississippi John Hurt

When I think of delta blues, I think of Mississippi John Hurt – the state is even part of his stage name! Hurt worked as a farmer and sharecropper for nearly all his life, but nothing was quite the same after he taught himself to play guitar as a kid. One of the things about his story that’s always stuck with me was that he actually got the chance to make recordings in the late 1920s, but success never came; his records didn’t sell, and the label he worked with went out of business during the Depression. After that, he returned to his Mississippi hometown, to familiarity, obscurity, and sharecropping. But during the folk revival of the 1950s and 1960s, Hurt’s recordings were rediscovered, and, in his 70s, he finally got his long-overdue flowers. He recorded a new album, performed across the country, and even appeared on The Tonight Show. And though he died just a few years into his peak fame and appreciation, Mississippi John Hurt remains one of the great blues singers and guitarists. Hear his signature style – a mellow, relaxed singing voice accompanied by lively fingerpicking – on “Stack O’ Lee.”


  • “Que Sera, Sera (Whatever Will Be, Will Be” by Sly & The Family Stone

A cover of a classic by one of the most influential groups to the development of the funk, R&B, and psychedelic soul genres. 

  • “Wilson rag” by Elizabeth Cotten

Elizabeth Cotten, born in 1893, joined the workforce at age nine. During that time, she saved money to buy a guitar and taught herself how to play. Because she was left-handed and played a guitar for a rightie, she played upside-down, creating her own style which is still influential today. Cotten’s music is warm and comforting, and listening makes me feel like I’m eating a bowl of oatmeal with brown sugar.


  • “About Damn Time” by Lizzo

I played this song every day after my beloved partner died from Covid in January 2022 and danced till I had blisters on my feet … inspired my new radio show on KCSB called Good Grief. 

  • “Ribbons in the Sky” by Stevie Wonder

When I met my late husband and we would sail out from the Santa Barbara Harbor on his beautiful wooden sailboat named Siboney, I would sing this song to him … as I always saw those ribbons in the sky. 


  • “I Never Loved A Man The Way That I Love You” by Aretha Franklin

When I was just a little girl, riding my bike around Isla Vista, I used to go to what were the first sororities in town and listen to Aretha Franklin on the record player.  The girls who were much older than me … (college age!) use to play this song over and over again and dream of the day they had ‘real men’ to love.  Very inspiring to a girl like me who thought boys were just people to go surfing with!

  • “I Say a Little Prayer for You” by Aretha Franklin

Again, when hanging out with the big sorority girls in Isla Vista, when I was 10 years old, they would choreograph a line dance to this song and we would practice it over and over and over again … 

  • “Day Dreaming” by Aretha Franklin

How can you not LOVE this song?  From the time it came out in 1972 and I was now in Junior High … just dreaming about what my future loves might bring my way and the places we might go to sometime!  My girlfriends and I learned to slow dance to this song …  

  • “They Can’t Take that Away from Me” by Ella Fitzgerald and Louis Armstrong

A song about True Love that can’t be taken away from anyone …

  • “My Funny Valentine” by Ella Fitzgerald

Who would not want to get this song on Valentine’s Day from your love?

  • “Cream” by Prince

If this is not one of the all time sexiest songs, what is?


  • “I Am Not My Hair” by India.Arie

Hair is a statement, a direction, a belonging, a story, a statement, a manifestation of, and so much more… Yet, for those who continue to use the textures and styles of African people’s hair to demonize and further oppress or make stereotypic references on that African descendent’s character… Well, India has a whole song to let you know what really matters, what all should know about hair (or no hair) and who we all are as people of the world…take a listen! I loved this song especially when I lost most of it during chemotherapy!!!

  • “Oh Happy Day” by The Edwin Hawkins Singers

Have you ever seen Sister Act 2? Well, one of my favorite songs from that movie is Edwin Hawkins 1967 gospel music arrangement of the 1755 hymn “Oh Happy Day” by clergyman Philip Doddridge. They also sang this gospel song live at “Black Woodstock ” which was actually the Harlem Cultural Festival, held annually from 1967 to 1969. There’s a documentary film “Summer of Soul” that came out in 2021, which provides lots of unseen footage. So if you’re able, check out that doc. filled with such a variety of Black music, including other gospel artists like Mahalia Jackson and The Staples Singers. It’s amazing how Gospel music reaches beyond the church walls and into the great outdoors of people’s hearts everywhere! If you’re looking to lift your spirits up, this song is surely one to get you rocking and looking up!

  • “Wade In The Water” by Sweet Honey in The Rock

I’ve been singing this song since I was a child in church. There are so many recorded versions of this song, including the Alvinn Ailey Dance Company for their Revelations piece. Sweet Honey in The Rock has recorded and performs this song acapella, which brings such a rich spirit of harmony to this Negro Spiritual. While listening you may feel the Ancestors and God humming and vibrating through your soul.

  • “Come By Here” by The Williams Brothers

You’ve probably heard the African American/Negro spiritual song, “Kum ba ya” (Come By Here). You might have even sung it before. There are ties throughout the African diaspora (West/Central Africa, The Carolinas with the Gullah and Creole languages, The Bahamas, and even The South). It was sung throughout the civil rights movement and is sometimes misunderstood. Well, The Williams Brothers take us on a gospel trip with this “gospel remix”, starting us off slow and then taking us to church! If you’ve never been to church or never been interested in going, I’m still sure that you’ll want to stop to rock with this soulful version! 

  • “Brighter” by DOE

Okay, so DOE (Dominique Jones) is a 3X Grammy nominated gospel artist who started off singing with her family, Forever Jones. Her music is full of freedom and life. This song in particular brings such Light and brightness every time I hear it. Imposter syndrome runs throughout, for “a people” who deal and live with systematic racism on a “daily”. This song reminds us all, how the African people in the America,s after the trans-Atlantic slave trade continue to shine and move in all spaces. A reminder of how we got over and how every part of us is valid to be a light in this world. At least it encourages me so I hope that it does the same for you!

  • “Black Butterfly” by Denise Williams

While making an errand to the office for my teacher, I met Denise Williams, who was enrolling her son into our elementary performing arts school in the 1980’s. I remember thinking, this is that beautiful lady with the beautiful voice that I hear on the radio and on the record player at home. She sings R&B, Jazz, and Gospel music, most of which I have heard growing up. Several of my favorites of hers are; Let’s Hear It For The Boy, Stop Making A Fool Of Me, Silly, It’s Gonna Take a Miracle, and Free. For Black History Month, I want to share a song that’s on her Let’s Hear It For The Boy album, called Black Butterfly. It was written by the song-writing duo Barry Mann and Cynthia Weil in 1982. This song reflects an emerging spirit of history from across Africa into the Americas. One verse says, “Black Butterfly, Sail across the waters, Tell your sons and daughters, What the struggle brings, Black Butterfly, Set the skies on fire, Rise up even higher, So the ageless winds of time can catch your wings”. It also references the dream and freedom! I love it and hope you do too! 

  • “I Gotta Find Peace of Mind” by Lauryn Hill

I’ve enjoyed Lauryn Hill since she sang with the Fugees. This song is a prayer and a petition of forgiveness of self, recognition of gratitude and what true peace in this life is, what’s possible, and finding identity and freedom in who she calls a “wonderful, merciful God”. She sings and plays the guitar during the 2002 Live MTV 2.0 Unplugged performance and storytelling time! It’s an amazing testament through lyrics, heart, and acoustic sounds. The entire album is Wisdom on Fire!!!


  • “Any Other Way” (Live) by Jackie Shane

Jackie Shane was an intrepid trailblazing artist and Black trans woman who broke barriers as a beloved soul singer. She gained popularity in the Toronto soul scene where she sought refuge and artistic freedom upon leaving the Jim Crow South where she was raised. In this song we hear her covering William Bell’s song, “Any Other Way.” In her version, she adds a different meaning to the lyric: “tell her that I’m happy / tell her that I’m gay /  tell her I wouldn’t have it any other way.” In 2023, a plaque was installed during the commencement of Pride at the location of the former Saphire Tavern, where she had recorded a live album in the 1960’s.

  • “James Brown” by Nancy Dupree

Nancy Dupree was a Black feminist music teacher. This song was a recording she made with her students in New York sometime around 1969 and 1970. She composed this song on the Monday after her students had been to see the Godfather of Soul, James Brown, play in their hometown of Rochester. According to the Guardian, Dupree was “dissatisfied with the songs she was expected to teach her charges and so introduced them to a diet of Miriam Makeba, Nina Simone and Odetta, adapting and rewriting songs so that, in her words, ‘they had meaning for US.’” From there she and the children created their own compositions, including the song you can hear in this playlist. 

  • “When I’m Alone” by Winfield Parker 

Winfield Parker was an incredibly talented saxophonist and he played the saxophone for Little Richard as a teenager and later he toured with the likes of Tina Turner and Otis Redding. He had a long and storied career and is a legend in the Baltimore area. He tragically lost his life to COVID-19 in January of 2021. I found a tribute to him online, written by Sam Sessa, WTMC’s Baltimore music and engagement manager and former Baltimore Sun reporter. He wrote, “Late in life, he was reintroduced to a younger generation. Winfield played his first show after recovering from lung cancer at WTMD in 2014. He came out in a white suit and had the audience eating out of his hand in minutes. At the end of his set, he walked out into the audience and disappeared into the arms of his fans. I want to remember him that way.”

  • “To Love What I Want, and Want What I Love (Take 3) by Mable John

 Mable John was the first female artist signed by Berry Gordy to Tamla label and was both a solo artist with Stax Records and a background singer, a Raelette, for Ray Charles throughout the rest of her career. In the late 1970s, Mabel John started a Los Angeles charity called “Joy Community Outreach to End Homelessness” that provided food and clothing to people experiencing homelessness. And in 1993, John earned a Doctor of Divinity degree from the south Los Angeles ministry, Crenshaw Christian Center. She also received a Pioneer Award from the Rhythm and Blues Foundation in 1994.

  • “When Will I Be Loved” by Margaret Singana 

Margaret Singana was a South African musician whose musical talent was acknowledged by producers while she was working as a domestic worker. It’s said that her then-employers recorded her while she was singing and sent it to a record company where producers embraced her. Later in her career she experienced a severe stroke; however, she made what many described as a comeback. In 2000, she succumbed to a long illness after a period of financial insecurity. In 2005, her work was remembered with a posthumous Lifetime Achievement Award at the South African Music Awards. After a hard life of work and grit, her cover of this song rings true – and our answer to her question in this song is: you’ll be loved for a very long time. 


  • “One-Dime Blues” by Etta Baker

Etta Baker was a Piedmont blues guitarist from North Carolina who learned to play guitar and banjo while she was growing up in the 1910s and ‘20s. She and her family worked on a tobacco farm in Virginia when she was very young and Baker ended up dropping out of school in the 10th grade. It wasn’t until 1956 that she was “discovered” by folksinger and folklorist Paul Clayton and her music was recorded and put on the album “Instrumental Music of the Southern Appalachians.” Unfortunately she wasn’t actually compensated for her work on that record until years later while she was working with the Music Maker label. 

The song “One-Dime Blues” was first recorded and released by Blind Lemon Jefferson in 1927, and it was one of the songs first recorded by Etta Baker on that 1956 album she appeared on. The next album she would release wasn’t until 1991, when she was 78 years old, and it was named “One-Dime Blues.”

The thing I like about Etta Baker’s music is the simplicity she can convey with some very difficult and intricate guitar work. She has such a unique, almost carefree style that’s perfect for whatever mood you might be in while listening, and from my own experience learning her songs on guitar, it’s a lot harder than it might sound!

  • “Roberta” by Odetta

Odetta was one of the most influential musicians behind the civil rights movement, and an early contributor to the midcentury American folk revival. She started her career in musical theater before switching over to folksinging in the early 1950s, and performed the song “O Freedom” at the March on Washington in 1963. Odetta didn’t limit herself to a single genre, and has albums that focus on folk music, blues, jazz, and spirituals, so there are endless opportunities to find music of hers that you might love!

“Roberta” is Odetta’s rendition of a traditional folk song, and I really love how layered but still toned down her take on this tune is. Her voice is so beautiful and so expressive, but it doesn’t overshadow the gorgeous instrumentation that’s both comforting and always manages to get your foot tapping along to the beat.



  • “Only When I’m Dreaming” by Minnie Riperton

I saw another version of this song on this list but it’s just a piano rendition, and I was blown away again by this song. The internet won’t tell me if she wrote this song, but regardless, Minnie Riperton’s version is enchanting every single time I listen. There’s some parts of this song that genuinely sound like a Siren’s song, absolutely incredible.

  • “I Can’t Make It Anymore” by Richie Havens

This song has 2 sections for me. The first part where I’m in awe with the beautiful acoustic guitar intro, some of the most expressive playing I’ve ever heard before. And then the second part where Richies performance has brought water to my eyes every time I hear it. And this is a live performance!! 

  • “The Homeless Wanderer” by Emahoy Tsege Mariam Gebru

This song has convinced me to give learning piano a try on three separate occasions (I gave up 3 times but still that’s a lot of motivation from one song). This album is volume 21 of Ethiopiques, and each volume I’ve heard from Ethiopiques are always the most captivating, and usually dreamlike sound ever.


  • “can u feel meh” – CLIP

Black women rule the world… Need I say more?


  • “Today I Sing the Blues” by Aretha Franklin

What better way to celebrate Black history month than with the Queen of Soul herself, Aretha Franklin? Although Ms.Franklin has many hit songs we all know, the album this song is from, Soul ‘69, has sunk into obscurity. The entire album is my favorite of hers, Aretha’s powerful vocals are backed by equally strong instrumentals from the Count Basie Orchestra and the Miles Davis Quintet.  

  • “Still Feels Good” by Cameo 

Cameo was an eccentric funk band from the 70s and 80s known for songs like “Candy” and “Word Up”. This album is all kinds of groovy and funky, and its notes of afrofuturism will be sure to transport you. 

  • “Work Song” by Ledisi 

Ledisi has one of the most beautiful voices I have ever heard, and one of the only voices capable of covering the glorious Nina Simone. This song, from the album “Ledesi Sings Nina” is everything you expect from a Nina Simone song—political, emotional, powerful—modernized by Ledisi. 

  •  “Siboney” by Lucrecia 

This song is by Afro Cuban singer Lucretia. Her powerful vocals combined with the slow and dreamy instrumentals of this song make it a dream—-which is fitting because the chorus of the song says “Siboney de mis sueños” or “Siboney of my dreams”. 

  •  “Only When I’m Dreaming” by Ramsey Lewis 

Here I have another dreamy song for you with contemporary Jazz pianist Ramsey Lewis’ Only When I’m dreaming. If you like great piano playing with a touch of psychedelic soul vocals, this song is for you! 

  • “Sunny” by James Brown and the Dee Felice Trio 

Sunny is a song an array of talented Black artists have done over the years, including Marvin Gaye, Stevie Wonder, Ella Fitzgerald, and the Four Tops. While usually a slower ballad, James Brown does what James Brown does best in this version—he made it funky! This upbeat but soulful version of the classic is bound to get your head bobbing along. 

  •  “A Change is Going to Come” by Baby Huey and the Babysitters 

Another funkified rendition of a classic, Baby Huey’s version of this song is nothing short of remarkable. Covering a song as classic as Sam Cooke’s original version is a tall order, but the Babysitters made it their own. With equally soulful vocals, a somewhat psychedelic funky instrumental track, and a monologue at the end, this song feels like you just had the best conversation of your life. 

  • “Tell It Like It Is” by Nina Simone 

This very well may be my favorite Nina Simone song, which is saying a lot. Something about the jazzy piano, smooth vocals, and fierce attitude of Ms.Simone scratches my brain in just the right way. Many Nina fans don’t know this song, so if you haven’t yet, go and give this one a listen! 

Posted in Playlists, Music