In celebration of some of the greatest and most well-known artists, we’ve compiled a list of the 13 best black musicians of all time. From soulful singers to legendary jazz icons, these artists will have you grooving to their tunes and admiring their immense talent.
So, let’s start and look at these talented musicians!
13 Best Black Musicians of All Time
Here’s our list of 13 black musicians of all time. Let’s know what makes them great with their musical contribution.
- Marvin Gaye
The “Prince of Soul,” Marvin Gaye, needs little introduction as one of the most inspiring and influential black musicians of all time. With hits like “I Heard It Through the Grapevine” and “Ain’t No Mountain High Enough,” he pioneered soul music in the 1960s.
His funk-influenced hits and socially conscious music explored global issues such as poverty, civil rights, and drugs. He also expressed his personal struggles with heartache and depression, which created some of the most influential songs in history.
- Aretha Franklin
Legendary vocalist and composer Aretha Franklin gained a great deal of respect over the course of her career. She is also known as the “Queen of Soul.”
Franklin was born in Memphis, Tennessee, in the year 1942 but spent the bulk of her early years there before becoming one of Motown’s most well-known performers. For songs like “Respect,” “Chain of Fools,” “Think,” “A Natural Woman,” and many others, she attained international renown.
- Stevie Wonder
Stevie Wonder is well-known for his timeless music and is an ardent opponent of inequality and poverty. He backed organizations like Black Lives Matter. His passion for social justice certainly made a lasting impression on generations of people.
But his unmatched talent for writing, performing, and producing music set Wonder apart. He mastered traditional and electric instruments like the keyboard synthesizer, finding music in places where many musicians couldn’t find.
- Michael Jackson
No list of the best of the best would be complete without Michael Jackson, the king of music. It is simple to understand why Michael Jackson is a legend, given his ground-breaking musical style and memorable lyrics. His electrifying live shows electrified the world. In addition, his moonwalk was a legendary dance move.
Few could ever expect to achieve his feat of selling more than 750 million records worldwide. Michael Jackson helped usher in MTV as a medium for music videos and shaped how people consumed music worldwide.
Prince deserves to be listed among the top black artists of all time. Prince’s influence on music cannot be disputed as his unique approach, still imitating today, was known for fusing various genres. His work saw him earn eight Grammy Awards and enjoy enormous success, selling more than 100 million records globally.
His talent was undeniable—he played multiple instruments at once and wrote almost all of his music. Not to mention that he also danced right alongside some of his biggest hits onstage during his performances.
- Jimi Hendrix
Hendrix, a 1942 native of Seattle, Washington, a talented guitarist and composer, became well-known during the 1960s. His fusion of blues and rock with electronic effects made him an icon known for his intense guitar solos and powerful singing voice. However, his influence spread far beyond blues and rock into jazz, pop, and reggae music.
He was among the first to use distortion and feedback to create a signature sound and inspired generations to push the boundaries of music. Hendrix also embodied an expressive style that enabled others to craft intricate solos over complex chord progressions.
- Bob Marley
Bob Marley gained fame first through releases like the 1971 album “Catch a Fire,” which were immediately embraced by audiences far beyond Jamaica. He offered an alternative to traditional music and politics through his lyrics, often addressing social issues.
Moreover, Bob Marley was passionate about empowering the people of Jamaica and sought to use his music as a platform. He wrote songs about their experiences as they sought to reclaim their independence from colonial control. Marley reached countless fans by performing concerts in various parts of Jamaica.
- John Coltrane
Holding 8th position on our list is John Coltrane, the legendary jazz composer and saxophonist. He is famous for his experimental approach to jazz and his signature sound. In addition, Coltrane expanded the boundaries of jazz and introduced new sounds to an evolving art form.
John Coltrane combined gospel, blues, bebop, swing, and hard bop jazz styles into something unique. Known for his sweeping and expansive musical compositions, Coltrane made music that often lasted 10 minutes or longer.
- Miles Davis
Miles Davis is regarded as one of the most influential musicians in jazz. He revolutionized the genre with his monumental album “Kind of Blue.” Not only was he talented beyond belief, but he also had a unique sound that saw him blur boundaries between jazz, funk, and hip-hop.
Miles Davis not only influenced countless other musicians but was heavily influenced by people like Charlie Parker, John Coltrane, and Bill Evans. He was hungry for innovation and growth. So, he challenged conventions by constantly changing his style and pushing musical boundaries.
- Kool & the Gang
Famous American groove, jazz, R&B, and soul band Kool & the Gang hails from New Jersey. Kool & the Gang defined a period of music from the 1970s through the 1980s with a body of timeless hits. In addition, they gave birth to electro-funk and modern-day hip-hop, which still draws influence from their early works.
Kool & The Gang received numerous awards for their creative efforts, including 7 Grammy nominations and even induction into the Songwriters Hall of Fame in 2018. In addition, their contributions left an indelible mark on popular music: gospel, funk, classical music, jazz fusion, blues; you name it!
- Sly & the Family Stone
Founded in 1967 by frontman Sly Stone, the band blended soul, funk, and psychedelic music for something unique. Just think about their hits “Dance to the Music” or “Everyday People”—some deep funk grooving still gets people up.
Sly’s vision for socially conscious music was compelling and earned him much respect from his peers. Sly & The Family Stone revolutionized music and put true soul into it, making them an undeniable part of this list.
- Chaka Khan
Chaka Khan is popular for her genre-blending soulful voice and made her mark on music in the 1970s, influencing generations of musicians to come. Chaka Khan knew everything from funk to jazz to rock to R&B. However, her ability to move audiences with her powerful voice and bold performances stands out.
Khan excelled as a performer but has also tried to use her position to aid those in need. Chaka Khan is on number 12 on our list because she inspires those who want to improve their communities.
- Tina Turner
Tina Turner is the ultimate powerhouse when it comes to soulful music. She brought her signature sound to stages worldwide since the early 1960s, and her influence spans multiple generations. Her voice is iconic, inspiring many singers and songwriters over the decades.
Turner is famous for her outstanding performances and soulful sound, blending rock and roll elements and rhythm and blues. Tina Turner will forever remain an icon in music history, inspiring generations of fans with her powerful voice and defiant spirit.
You can also learn about the 13 Best Pop Singers of All Time here.
This list of the 13 best black musicians of all time is far from exhaustive. With such a vast range of talented artists, capturing them all is impossible. These 13 individuals, however, offer a great foundation to begin exploring the incredible music that African-Americans have produced throughout history.
So turn up the volume, kick back, and ride the wave of music these great artists provided—a soundtrack for every beat of life.