COLUMN: Black musicians’ influence spans countless genres


Ryan Meyer

Ryan Meyer, Columnist

Popular American music has a short history relative to the history of its parent country, and it would be even shorter without the contributions of Black musicians.

Given the Beatles’ and Rolling Stones’ countless covers of Black artists, from Chuck Berry to Robert Johnson, it’s no secret that the biggest bands of all time wouldn’t have been the same if not for the music of the 50s or 60s.

Ozzy Osbourne once said the Beatles’ “Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band,” is what got him into music, and it’s interesting to think whether or not the heavy metal landscape would even exist today if not for Osbourne’s first band, Black Sabbath.

The Beatles might not have ever gotten to a point in their career where they could release something as experimental and new as “Sgt. Pepper’s” without the success they experienced earlier in their career.

Hard rock might sound vastly different if the blues had never made its way into the hands of Elvis Presley, who would cover a song by Arthur Gunter called “Baby Let’s Play House,” a single that would then make its way into the hands of Jimmy Page, according to a Reverb article called “5 Moments in the Blues that Altered the Course of Rock ‘n’ Roll,” written by Deen Anbar.

Page would go on to play guitar in Led Zeppelin and cast himself as one of the fixtures in rock Rushmore.

Another critical moment in blues’ history according to the Reverb article is Muddy Waters’ song “Mannish Boy,” which is one of the few blues songs I listen to. I should really listen to the blues more often. I kind of know how to play the riff on guitar, and when you speed it up it sounds like a ZZ Top song.

Jimi Hendrix is another rock-defining figure and arguably the guitar hero. His playing influenced guitarists in everything from heavy metal to grunge. Hendrix also learned from his Black contemporaries, including Sam Cooke and Tina Turner, according to an article called “The White Erasure And Black Reclaiming Of Jimi Hendrix,” by Okayplayer.

“Through them Hendrix also gained his musical foundation, learning about R&B, soul and blues from the artists that became seminal figures of those genres,” writes Elijah Watson.

Part of the beauty in enjoying your favorite music is having the ability to trace it back through its influences. Depending on your taste, it’s very possible that a search like that would lead you to Black artists that trailblazed the beginnings of genres, long before today’s artists made them famous or enhanced them.

Acknowledge this and you could discover countless more artists, who, although their music might be decades or even a century old, created something so timeless and influential that it found itself intertwined with the DNA of all modern music.

Ryan Meyer is a senior journalism major. He can be reached at [email protected] or at 581-2812.