Music is a language that truly unites us all. Music transcends the generations and can speak for us when we don’t have the words ourselves. June is African American Music/Musicians Month and we are celebrating by showcasing a few of the many talented musicians in a wide variety of genres that shaped the music that we listen to everyday. From Jazz to the funky soul of Motown and everything in between, give these artists a listen using our Freegal database.


Duke Ellington       

  • Born in 1899, was one of the greatest jazz composers and band leaders of his time
  • Started playing piano at age 7 and performing professionally at age 17

He and his band played at the Cotton Club in Harlem for 7 years between 1927 and 1938 (Britannica | Duke Ellington).

Ella Fitzgerald         

  • Dubbed the “First Lady of Song”
  • In 1936, she did her first recording called “Love and Kisses”
  • Ella was a master at Scat singing

Awarded National Medal of the Arts in 1987 by President Reagan (Ella Fitzgerald | About Elle Fitzgerald).


Run DMC  

  • Introduced rap/hiphop to mainstream musical culture
  • Consisted of Run (Joseph Simmons) DMC (Darryl McDaniels) and Jam Master Jay (Jason Mizell)

First rappers to have a Gold Album in 1984 and appear on MTV (Britannica | Run DMC).

Bow Wow

  • Was given stage name Lil Bow Wow by Snoop Dogg and now uses Bow Wow
  • In 1999, the soundtrack to the movie Wild Wild West included his song “Stick Up”

Released numerous tracks and albums and retired from the rap scene in 2017 (Hip Hop Music Wiki | Bow Wow).


Kane Brown

  • Started his career by uploading covers of Alan Jackson and Randy Travis songs to the internet
  • Signed a record deal with RAC Sony Nashville in 2016

Two of his hits include “Heaven” and “What If” a duet with Lauren Alaina (The Boot | Kane Brown).

Charley Pride

  • Started his singing career by singing the National Anthem at baseball games, singing at honky tonks, churches and nightclubs
  • In 1966, Chet Atkins with RCA Records signed Charley to a contract
  • His hit “Between You and Me” earned him his first Grammy nomination in 1967

Was inducted into the Grand Ole Opry in 1993 (could have joined in 1967 but declined due to requirements at the time that members do 26 Saturday performances a year) (Charley Pride | About Charley Pride).


Marian Anderson 

  • Known as the world’s greatest contralto
  • Easter 1939, she drew a crowd of over 75,000 at the Lincoln Memorial
  • In 1955, she became the first African American Opera Singer to perform as a member of the Metropolitan Opera

Awarded Grammy Award for Lifetime Achievement in 1991 (Britannica | Marian Anderson).

Jessye Norman

  • Considered the finest Operatic Soprano of her day
  • Studied voice at Howard University and Peabody Conservatory in Baltimore

Performed the title role in the Opera Aida in Berlin, Germany and Milan Italy (Britannica | Jessye Norman).



  • The 1984 movie Purple Rain first introduced the world to Prince
  • Prince’s sound is a mix of funk, rock, punk, disco, modern dance music and old school jazz that he started in the late 1970’s and is called Minneapolis Sound

Prince had the stunning ability to play all of the instruments and sing all the parts and his first demo tape that was presented to an advertising office entitled Soft and Wet showcases this (Becoming | Prince).

Alicia Keys  

  • Alicia Keys started playing piano at age 7 and graduated from a prestigious performing arts school.
  • Her debut album “Songs in A Minor” went platinum over 5 times in 2001

In 2016 she appeared as a judge on the TV show The Voice ( | Alicia Keys).


Aretha Franklin 

  • First female artist inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1987
  • Is the “Queen of Soul”
  • Won over 18 Grammys, in 1994 was given the Grammy for Lifetime Achievement and Kennedy Center Honors

Founded her own record label in 2003, Aretha Records ( | Aretha Franklin).

Earth, Wind, & Fire 

  • Group had 11 consecutive gold albums between 1975-1981
  • The group is known for their shows with giant stage props, illusions, elaborate costumes, and high energy

They took a hiatus in 1984 and came back in 1987. In 2000, they were inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame (Brittanica | Earth, Wind, & Fire).

Christian/Religious Music

Kirk Franklin   

  • In 1992, Kirk created a 17 voice choir, and in 1993, Kirk Franklin and the Family released their debut album
  • The album “Whacha Lookin’ 4” released in 1996, was certified 2x platinum and earned Franklin a Grammy

In 2001, he became a solo artist and produced the soundtrack for the film Kingdom Come (Wikipedia | Kirk Franklin).

Yolanda Adams 

  • Her debut album “Just As I am” was released in 1990
  • She toured with Kirk Franklin and the Family in the mid 90’s

In 1999, she earned a Grammy for “Mountain High, Valley Low” (Allmusic | Yolanda Adams).