Prince, Rihanna & Cardi B: 15 Big Music Moments in Black History
African-American music creators have braved the sometimes rough music industry with talent, tenacity, and unbreakable pride. Historically overshadowed, overlooked and written out, black musicians and singers have created and inspired music that transcends boundaries of race and class. Jazz, R&B, blues, and hip-hop were all birthed from the creative tapestry of the African-American cultural experience.
In continuing our Black History Month celebration, GRAMMY.com takes a look back at 15 musicians who've created some of the biggest milestones in music history.
Matilda Sissieretta Joyner Jones
Jones is known throughout history as the first African-American to perform at the storied Carnegie Hall in New York City in 1892. The soprano singer — who was also known as Sissieretta Jones — also performed at illustrious NYC venues such as Madison Square Garden and Steinway Hall. She wound up making it to the White House as well, singing for four consecutive presidents: Benjamin Harrison, Grover Cleveland, William McKinley, and Theodore Roosevelt.
In 1958 Edwards became the first African-American artist to reach No. 1 on the Billboard Hot 100 with "It's All In The Game." The song hit the top spot in September 1958, just weeks after the Hot 100 chart debuted in August. Edwards went on to score additional Top 40 hits such as “Love Is All We Need" (No. 15, 1958) and "Please Mr. Sun" (No. 11, 1959).
Hall's role as Bloody Mary in the Rodgers & Hammerstein Broadway musical "South Pacific" netted the actress her first — and lone career — Tony Award. She became the first person of color to earn a Tony, winning for best performance by a supporting or featured actress in a musical in 1950.
In 1979 disco diva Gaynor topped the Billboard Hot 100 chart with "I Will Survive." The smash earned her a GRAMMY for Best Disco Recording for 1979, making her the only artist to win the short-lived category, which was discontinued thereafter.
Robinson is renowned for her major achievements in hip-hop as one of the founders of the Sugar Hill Records label. However, it was her involvement in the musical duo Mickey & Sylvia that categorizes her as one of the first black women in rock and roll. The group went on to record the 1956 single, "Love Is Strange." The hit was later featured in the 1987 film Dirty Dancing.
Wonder's vast music catalog is filled with acclaimed hits like "Superstition," "You Are The Sunshine Of My Life" and "I Just Called To Say I Love You," among others. Yet it was his first No. 1 single, 1963's "Fingertips — Pt. 2," that wrote the then-13-year-old music genius into history as the youngest artist to score a chart-topper on the Billboard Hot 100.
The late singer and rebellious soul stirred the pot with his flamboyant style and innovative genre-shifting sounds. Fittingly, one of his greatest hits continues to captivate the world long after it made music history. In 1985 Prince's Purple Rain film landed him an Academy Award for Original Song Score, making him the first African-American composer to win that category.
The Queen of Soul not only taught us the definition of a rose in 1998, but the powerhouse vocalist became the first female performer to be inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. Franklin's No. 1 singles "I Knew You Were Waiting (For Me)" and "Respect" are just two of the reasons that contributed to her induction in 1987.
Gens X and Z have been introduced to a young Latifah through the '90s hit television series "Living Single" streaming on Hulu, but it's the queen's musical contributions that have landed her a spot in black history. Queen Latifah became the first woman to earn the GRAMMY for Best Rap Solo Performance, winning for 1994 for "U.N.I.T.Y.," a single that highlighted sexism and violence against women — a topic still prevalent in today's society.
Three 6 Mafia
The hip-hop trio featuring Frayser Boy, Juicy J and DJ Paul brought rap music to Hollywood. In 2006 Three 6 Mafia became the first African-American rappers to win an Academy Award for Best Original Song for "It's Hard Out Here for A Pimp." The song was featured on the Hustle & Flow soundtrack and was performed in the film by actor Terrence Howard (Djay) and Taraji P. Henson (Shug).
TLC's topical songs like "Waterfalls," "Creep, " "Unpretty,” and "No Scrubs" were among the nine Top 10 hits the trio scored on the Billboard Hot 100. With 1994's CrazySexyCool, they made history by becoming the first female group to earn a diamond-certified album in recognition of more than 10 million in sales.
Island gyal Rihanna stayed atop the Billboard Hot 100 for 10 nonconsecutive weeks from 2011–2012 with the Calvin Harris-produced track "We Found Love." But in 2015 the Good Girl Gone Bad singer scored an even bigger milestone in becoming the first artist to surpass 100 million gold and platinum RIAA song certifications.
Tupac continues to make history after his death — the legendary rapper "performed" via hologram at the 2012 Coachella festival alongside Dr. Dre and Snoop Dogg. It marked the first time the technology was used at the popular Southern California festival.
Newcomer femcee Cardi B took 2017 by storm. In January 2018, the reality star-turned-overnight sensation became the first solo female rapper in history to earn three simultaneous Top 10 hits on the Billboard Hot 100 with her solo hit "Bodak Yellow" and features on G-Eazy's "No Limit" and Migos' "MotorSport."
Mary J. Blige
With nine GRAMMY wins already under her belt, Blige's acting chops have written her another chapter in the history books. With current 2018 Academy Award nominations for Best Supporting Actress and Best Original Song, she is the first black woman to receive multiple Academy Award nominations in the same year. Blige was recognized for her role as Florence Jackson in Mudbound; she is also nominated with Raphael Saadiq and Taura Stinson for their soundtrack contribution, "Mighty River," from the Dee Rees-directed film.
(Malikka McDuffie is an entertainment journalist and freelance social media manager residing in sunny L.A. Stay connected with her @malikkamichelle on Twitter and Instagram.)