Updated: Apr 28, 2020
February is Black History Month. Let's take a moment to acknowledge African-American singers who are making important contributions to our lives. Five singers are standing out for me because of how they defy expectations and have established themselves as leaders in their field. Lizzo, Drake, Lajon Witherspoon, Jessye Norman and Ella Fitzgerald bring us all together with their music regardless of culture, religions and other beliefs. For that, they are eternal black heroes.
What a pleasant surprise it was to see R & B singer Lizzo open the Grammy ceremony with her dazzling performance of "Cuz I Love You" but also to receive her three Grammy awards. Man, she's got some amazing pipes that one! I love the versatility of her vocal delivery entangling moderate vocal fry and bluesy grit with her pure powerful tone and exquisite whistle bell register. It just goes to show what an impressive range she has. Beyond her increasing popularity and mainstream success as a singer, Lizzo is also a role-model fighting against body stereotypes in order to push for body-positivity and self-acceptance. Her confidence and drive is contagious. Time magazine even named her Entertainer of The Year. Lizzo is definitely one to watch...
Love him or hate him, Drake is here to stay! Although I'm not a big fan of rap music, I can appreciate his talent and I'm proud that he is from Toronto. Canadian rapper Drake has come a long way since his acting debut in the teen drama television series Degrassi; The Next Generation. To date, Drake has earned 44 Grammy nominations and 4 wins. Many of his hits make it to the top of the US Billboard 200; Drake surely has a gift for catchy tunes and meaningful rhymes. His lyric content often puts the emphasis on reaching out for dreams and following our bliss. If he is considered a marketing genius it is because of how good he is at seizing opportunities. For example, his early mix tapes were distributed for free online. Have you noticed how often Drake is featured rapping on other artists' tracks? More recently, we have seen Drake making accolades with Toronto basketball team The Raptors. He is consistently brought into the spotlight and that in itself is very clever. It has been inspiring to grow up watching Drake become such a strong presence in the music business.
3) Lajon Witherspoon
And then there's Lajon Witherspoon, heavy metal singer extraordinaire for Sevendust. A rocker with a soft spot. Having seen Sevendust perform on a few occasions, I can tell you that Lajon is one of the most charismatic and intense performers I have ever had the opportunity of seeing live. Lajon alternatively uses his screaming voice and pure tone to hypnotize his crowd into singing along his every word. Sevendust's music transgress the boundaries of anger, vulnerability and everything in between; a truly beautiful and emotional cataclysm. Sevendust has sold millions of albums worldwide
and is well respected in the metal industry.
4) Jessye Norman
From operatic Wagner to Verdi, to Mahler's and Strauss's ambitious orchestral vocal pieces, to German lieder and other recital works, Jessye Norman was known for her larger than life personality and voice. She touched deeply with her sumptuous dramatic interpretation of spinto soprano roles and performances. Jessye Norman had an incredible range and a tone which defied gravity with her ability to reconcile heavy, dark qualities and an intricate subtleties in volume and intervals. Among numerous prizes and merits throughout her career, her talent has been acknowledged by 5 Grammy awards, the Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award, the National Medal of Arts and many more...
5) Ella Fitzgerald
The First Lady Of Song is an unavoidable choice when it comes to singers who have made their mark in music history. Her velvety pure voice gave her ability to capture the audience's attention and give songs an undeniable character. Labeled the Queen Of Jazz, she brought the Great American Songbook to life. Check out Ella's scat mastery in "Airmail Special". While musician instrumentalists can rely on visual scale patterns to improvise, vocal improvisation is even more intuitive; very few singers reach that level of expertise. Other memorable recordings include "Dream A Little Dream Of Me" and "Cheek To Cheek" both duets with Louis Armstrong, "It Don't Mean A Thing (If You Ain't Got That Swing)", "How High Is The Moon" and so many more... She too was awarded the Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award and National Medal Of Arts. Her voice continues to resonate from generations to generations.
This is just a small selection of a large bank of fantastic influential African-American vocal artists. My list could go on and on... Prince, Beyonce, Whitney Houston, Ray Charles, Marvin Gaye, Bob Marley, etc... come to mind. I so appreciate all of them for sharing such a big piece of their hearts with us and making the world a better place with their singing. I would like to say "Thank you for the inspiration!" and I look forward to discovering many more in the years to come.