The Chicago Defender’s Black Music Month Special Edition
10 Chicago Artists Who Changed Music By: Duane Powell | @soundrotation
Quincy Jones is by far the most prolific producer, arranger, and conductor in the history of music. With a career spanning almost 70 years, he’s responsible for some of the biggest hits in the world of pop, soul, jazz and film with artists including Sarah Vaughan, Frank Sinatra, Lesley Gore and Michael Jackson. And that’s seriously about one percent of the many legendary artists he worked with. He was the first African-American to become VP for a white major record label. He’s the first African-American to serve as musical director and conductor of the Academy Awards, the first African-American to be nominated for Best Original Song and was the first African-American to be nominated twice within the same year for an Academy Award for Best Score. He’s also the record holder for the most Grammy nominations at 79. To list all of he’s done in the world of music, TV, film. media and activism, we’d be writing a book. No one has accomplished all this.
Herbie Hancock is one of the most respected, influential and versatile pianists and composers in the world with 14 Grammy and countless other awards under his belt. Classically trained at age 7, he would go on to take the world of modern jazz by storm in the early 60’s at Blue Note Records. While playing with Miles Davis in the late 60’s into the 70’s, he became one of the first notable electric piano players in jazz. Further exploring electric sounds, he is considered one of the founding fathers of the jazz fusion and jazz funk genres. Many of his compositions have been covered or sampled heavily. His explorations in sound have influenced other pianists and producers well into the 21st Century especially producers in the world of electronica like Flying Lotus.
Known as the Father of Chicago Blues, Muddy Water’s influence far exceed the genre. His use of amplification is cited as the “technological missing link between Delta Blues and Rock ‘N’ Roll”, having introduced Europe to the blues played with electric guitar. That influence was so great that the iconic rock band as well as the popular magazine named themselves after Muddy Waters song “Rollin’ Stone”. The six-time Grammy winner would go on to be the greatest influence on many artists in rock n roll including AC/DC, Van Morrison and Eric Clapton.
The Southside native is one of the most accomplished and critically acclaimed artist of the 21st Century. This acclaim has led him to be one of the biggest selling artist of all time. His experimental approach to hip hop music coupled with his not so modest, do it on my terms mentality defied many industry standards, shattered stereotypes and paved the way for a new wave of hip hop culture that even had the likes of Prince singing his praises.
Known as the Queen of Funk, Chaka Khan broke barriers in the 70’s with her fiery personality, provocative outfits and her siren like voice. She shattered myths about women’s roles, confidence and sexuality making her a hero amongst feminists. The ten Grammy winner has sold an estimated 70 million records worldwide and was ranked at number 17 in VH1’s original list of the 100 Greatest Women of Rock N’ Roll. Artists including Mary J. Blige and Erykah Badu lists her as their biggest influence.
Thomas A. Dorsey/Mahalia Jackson
While musical director at Pilgrim Baptist Church, Thomas A. Dorsey crafted a new sound drawing from his roots in jazz and rhythm and blues combining it with Christian praise music creating what became known as black gospel music. He discovered 17-year-old Mahalia Jackson, gospel’s first superstar, and their 14-year relationship spawned some of the most classic songs and moments in gospel and black music history most notably “Take My Hand, Precious Lord”. Martin Luther King, Jr. cited as his favorite song. Their work influenced generations of singers most notably a young Aretha Franklin.
Nat King Cole
The Bronzeville native set the standard as a crossover jazz artist into the pop world. He recorded more than 150 singles that reached the Pop, R&B, and Country charts, and has yet to be matched by any other artist on Capitol’s roster including Frank Sinatra. His approach to ballads made him the quintessential crooner that went onto inspire artists for generations most notably Marvin Gaye and John Legend. He also was one of the first African-Americans to host a national TV variety show.
The Chicago born songbird with the five-octave range. In her early career as a session singer in girl groups at Chess Records, she provided vocals on several hits for the label backing artists including Etta James, Howlin’ Wolf and Fontella Bass. As the featured female vocalist for the cult followed psychedelic band Rotary Connection and into her solo career, she’s the first singer to incorporate the whistle register into the world of soul / R&B paving the way for the likes of Mariah Carey, Chante Moore, Shanice Wilson and many other singers for generations. In hip hop, majority of A Tribe Called Quest’s most classic songs contain samples from her catalog.
Curtis Mayfield is one of the most influential singers, musicians and composers of all time. He was inducted into the Songwriters Hall of Fame, Vocal Group Hall of Fame and one of the few who’s a double inductee in the Rock N’ Roll Hall of Fame (as solo artist and with his group The Impressions). With his various record labels, he launched the careers of many Chicago and soul music legends including Donny Hathaway, The Staple Singers, The Five Stairsteps, The Jones Girls and Linda Clifford. His message music with songs including “People Get Ready”, “Moving On Up” and “Keep Pushing” led to him being credited for introducing social consciousness into black music, paving the way for many of his peers, most notably Marvin Gaye with “What’s Going On”. This influence carried on for generations inspiring conscious hip hop some decades later.
Simply put, R. Kelly is one of the most successful R&B artists for a quarter of a century. Combining modern-day street songs with gospel and classic soul of artists that inspired him including Marvin Gaye and Sam Cooke, changed the way generations approached the world of black music. He became the standard. Even artist before him including Ronald Isley and Charlie Wilson of The Gap Band adapted his approach as a way to reignite their careers. His influence is undeniable.