June 1 marked the start of Black Music Appreciation Month.
Throughout the month, exhibits and festivals were held in honor of music created by Black artists throughout the decades. In addition to special exhibits by the Delta Blues Museum, the National Museum of African American History & Culture opened up its “Musical Crossroads” exhibit featuring memorabilia from legendary Black artists like Jimi Hendrix.
Musical acts also celebrated the month with performances at festivals such as Afropunk and Pharell’s Something in the Water.
As Black Music Appreciation Month draws to a close, here are five groundbreaking albums by Black artists to revisit.
- Sly & the Family Stone’s There’s a Riot Goin’ On: Released in 1971, “There’s a Riot Goin’ On” marked the beginnings of what would be known as the more “matured” sound of funk in the 1970s. Featuring guest musicians, such as Billy Preston and Bobby Womack, the album was noted for its darker sound as the band’s psychedelic funk sound mixed in with Avant-soul.
Now known as one of the greatest albums ever written, its influence can be heard throughout funk, hip hop and jazz-funk as it was reportedly this album that influenced both Miles Davis’ and Herbie Hancock’s switch to jazz-funk. The album also marked a departure in terms of themes as Stone developed a more introspective point of view. As he became more involved with the Black Panther Party, Stone turned to commenting on topics such as the 60s counterculture, the music industry and politics to go with the album’s darker sound.
- Nine Simone’s Black Gold: Released in 1970, “Black Gold” is a live album featuring recordings of Simone’s performance at the Philharmonic Hall in NYC on October 26, 1969. Known as one of Simone’s last U.S. albums, the album captures Simone at the height of her music career and political activism. “Black Gold” features two versions of the traditional “Black is the Color of My True Love’s Hair” when Simone played it first as a ballad as well as a recording of Simone’s hit from the previous year and one of her most known tracks to this day, “Ain’t Got No, I Got Life.”
In addition to “Westwind,” a track that Miriam Makeba taught her, the album is notable for Simone’s performance of “To Be Young, Gifted and Black,” a then-new track she wrote for playwright Lorraine Hansberry which became known as a Civil Rights Movement anthem.
- Fugees’ The Score: Also known as the second and last album by the hip hop group, “The Score” received instant critical acclaim upon its release. Featuring hits such as “Ready or Not” and the group’s cover of “Killing Me Softly,” the album was praised for its mixture of hip hop, gospel, reggae and soul as well as for its use of sampling while maintaining a sound that was uniquely theirs. For their work, Fugees were nominated for both “Album of the Year” and “Best Rap Album,” becoming the first hip-hop group to be nominated for the former and winning the latter. Decades after its release, the album is certified as “the best-selling album by an American hip hop group in France” and the fifth rap album to come out of the 1990s with the most streams on Spotify.
- Muddy Waters’ Electric Mud: Released in 1968, the album’s noted for blues legend Muddy Waters’ departure from the Chicago blues sound to a heavier electric blues sound. Inflected with a bit of the psychedelic sound of the 1960s, “Electric Mud” also features elements of gospel, free jazz and the sound of popular music of the day with covers such as “Let’s Spend the Night Together” and “My Girl.” Initially conceptualized by Marshall Chess as a way to expand Waters’ fan base and later criticized by Waters as not being a blues album, the album’s influence spans across decades; Jimi Hendrix was claimed to have listened to the album before performances for inspiration and hip hop acts, such as rapper Chuck D, admire it for the album’s early pre-hip-hop sound.
- Tina Turner’s Private Dancer: Released in 1984, “Private Dancer” is the album that shot the Queen of Rock’n’Roll to superstardom as a solo act and helped her become one of the best-selling artists following a decline in her career. Recorded in just two weeks, the album was hastily put together following her success with her cover of Al Green’s “Let’s Stay Together.” Featuring hits such as “What’s Love Got to Do With It,” “Private Dancer” and “Better Be Good to Me,” the album was nominated for three Grammys, winning “Record of the Year,” “Best Female Pop Vocal Performance” and “Best Female R&B Vocal Performance” and making Turner the only woman to have won awards in the pop, rock and R&B categories. For its impact, the album was recently added to the National Recording Registry in 2020 in honor of its “cultural significance.”