By Anna Newton
During the month of February, we celebrate Black History Month in which we remember integral individuals and moments that helped shape African American history. In doing so, we remember cultural icons as well who are essential to establishing this history. One significant facet of cultural icons is that of music icons. They often serve to solidify what we know of our past by depicting their own decade’s cultural atmosphere and hardships through their music.
Valuing and celebrating black artists is important because they have undeniably influenced American culture immensely and continue to do so. Here are 3 black artists who have done just that: Michael Jackson, Prince, and Beyoncé.
Michael Jackson, known as The King of Pop, was a singer, dancer, songwriter, producer, and actor who revolutionized American music and entertainment. A professional by the age of 6, Jackson began his career as a member of the Jackson 5. It was not until the 80s that he became one of the most influential figures in music. In 1982, he released the best selling album of all time, Thriller. He was constantly number one on the US charts with his other albums, such as Bad, Dangerous, and History. Michael also introduced a new style of dance to the American public with moves like the moonwalk, the lean, and the widely known and adopted Thriller walk.
Along with these many musical feats, Michael Jackson was the first black artist to have a music video aired on MTV. Once this video for “Billie Jean” aired, the music industry was transformed drastically as racial barriers were starting to break down in mainstream American culture. His other videos, such as “Beat It,” “Thriller,” and “Bad,” also helped to popularize the novel concept that music videos are a form of art that have the freedom to tell a story.
Prince was a singer, songwriter, record producer, and style icon who integrated a variety of music styles including funk, rock, R&B, and pop into one unique melding of genres. Regarded as one of the best-selling artists, Prince has sold more than 100 million records and has won countless awards for his music and his film Purple Rain, including multiple Grammy Awards, an American Music Award, and an Academy Award. Before receiving these honors, Prince released his debut album For You in 1978 and his second album Prince the year after, which then went platinum. His next three albums continued to intrigue the American public, and his popularity only increased.
Prince was known for his androgynous sexuality and flamboyant personality. He and others like David Bowie were among the few prominent artists during this time to challenge the norms of gender with their eccentric styles and extravagant makeup. Prince was also known for supporting women throughout his career by collaborating with many and creating an apparent female presence in his bands.
Beyoncé is a singer, actress, and songwriter who is currently regarded as one of the most influential women in the world. She began her singing career in Destiny’s Child, a well-known R&B girl-group in the late 90s and early 2000s. Beyoncé then released her first solo album Dangerously in Love in 2003 which received five Grammy Awards. After officially leaving Destiny’s Child, her solo career took off and she soon became one of the best-selling music artists of all time. Beyoncé is also the most nominated woman in the history of the Grammy Awards, and in 2015 she was listed by Forbes as the most powerful female in entertainment.
As a prominent influencer of our culture today, Beyoncé has spoken out about various social issues like the Black Lives Matter movement, police brutality, same-sex marriage, and feminism. She frequently uses her music and exposure to spread awareness of these topics, making her a social advocate as well as a leading artist in the music industry.