On This Day in Black History: Music Resources

Week 1 – February 1–6

February 5

February 5, 1950 — Singer, songwriter and actress Natalie Cole was born. Cole rose to success in the 1970s and sold over 30 million records worldwide. To see concert footage of Natalie Cole singing a duet with her father, jazz singing legend, Nat King Cole, click here.

February 6

February 6, 1945 — Reggae Music legend Bob Marley was born. Considered one of the pioneers of reggae, his musical career was marked by fusing elements of reggae, ska, and rocksteady, as well as his distinctive vocal and songwriting style. Marley’s contributions to music increased the visibility of Jamaican music worldwide and made him a global figure in popular culture.

To hear the “Redemption Song” by Bob Marley, click here.

Week 2 – February 7–13

February 7

February 7, 1883 — James Hubert “Eubie” Blake, famed pianist, lyricist and composer was born in Baltimore, MD. In 1921, Blake and his longtime collaborator, Noble Sissle wrote the Broadway musical, “Shuffle Along,” one of the first Broadway musicals to be written by African Americans. Blake composed one of his most popular songs, “Charleston Rag,” when he was only 16 years old.

To see video of Eubie Blake playing “Charleston Rag” in Berlin, Germany in 1972, click here.

February 8

February 8, 1902 — Mary Elizabeth “Bessie” Jones, founding member of the Georgia Sea Island Singers, was born in Smithville, GA.  Her work preserved the rich history of folk and spiritual songs in the southern Black tradition and she is credited with bringing African American folk songs, circle games, plays and stories to 20th century audiences.

To view archival footage of Bessie Jones singing and giving background information on the traditional ring games “Little Sally Walker” and “Johnny Cuckoo”, click here.

February 9

February 9, 1906 — Paul Laurence Dunbar, the first poet to use Black dialect in his verse, died at the age of 33. Dunbar published his first poems as a young teenager in a Dayton newspaper, and served as president of his high school’s literary society. Dunbar was one of the first Black writers to establish an international reputation. He wrote the lyrics for the musical comedy In Dahomey (1903), the first all-African American musical produced on Broadway in New York.

To the hear the Overture to “In Dahomey” with music written by Will Marion Cook, click here.

February 10

February 10, 1927 — Leontyne Price, an internationally acclaimed opera singer, was born in Laurel, MS. She received a Kennedy Center Honor in 1980.

To listen to an audio recording of Leontyne Price singing “Vissi d’arte” from Puccini’s Tosca at the Metropolitan Opera, click here.

February 12

February 12, 1907 — The gospel singing great Roberta Martin was born in Helena, AK. She helped to launch the careers of many gospel artists through her group, The Roberta Martin Singers.

To listen to Roberta sing “Teach me, Lord” with The Roberta Martin Singers, click here.

Week 3 – February 14–20

February 15

February 15, 1968 — Henry Lewis became the first African American to lead a symphony orchestra in the United States when he became the conductor and musical director of the New Jersey Symphony Orchestra. Lewis, who played the double bass, was also the first African American instrumentalist in a major orchestra when he joined the Los Angeles Philharmonic when he was only 16 years old.

Watch “The Symphony of Sound with Henry Lewis and the Royal Philharmonic” (1970), narrated by Mr. Lewis. The video introduces the characteristics of symphony orchestra and the instruments to audiences and includes excerpts of him conducting the Royal Philharmonic.

February 17

February 17, 1982 — On this day, jazz pianist and composer Thelonious Monk died at the age of 65. Monk was considered one of the most important composers of Jazz, which originated in Black communities in New Orleans, LA. Jazz has its roots in West African traditions that enslaved Black people brought with them to the United States. It is frequently referred to as “America’s Classical Music.” To view video of Thelonious Monk playing “Don’t Blame Me” in Denmark on April 17, 1966 click here.

February 19

February 19, 1940 — Legendary singer Smokey Robinson was born. As the lead singer of the group The Miracles, Smokey would be one of biggest stars of the Black music record label called Motown. Motown developed a distinctive style of music that appealed to all audiences and therefore called a “crossover” success.

To watch Smokey Robinson & The Miracles perform on the Ed Sullivan Show (June 1, 1969) click here.

Week 4 – February 21–28

February 21

February 21, 1933 — The legendary singer and the “High Priestess of Soul” Nina Simone was born in Tryon, NC. Simone was a classically trained pianist who studied at Julliard in New York and later became a singer, songwriter and civil rights activist. Her music spanned a broad range of musical styles including classical, jazz, blues, folk, R&B, gospel, and pop. Many of her songs were protest and “civil rights” songs written in response to events affecting the Black people during the Civil Rights era in the 1960s and 1970s.

To watch an interview with Nina Simone and hear her sing “To Be Young, Gifted and Black” (live at Morehouse College, June 1969), click here.

February 22

February 22, 1989 — D.J. Jazzy Jeff (Jeffrey Allen Townesand) and The Fresh Prince (Will Smith) won the first rap Grammy for their single, “Parents Just Don’t Understand.”

To hear the see the video of the song, click here.

February 24

February 24, 1999 — Lauryn Hill won five Grammy Awards, setting a record for female artists, with the first hip-hop recording to be named Album of the Year, “The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill.”  Since its release in 1998, the record has been ranked in numerous best-album lists, with a number of critics regarding it as one of the greatest albums of the 1990s, as well as one of the greatest albums of all time. In 2015, it was included by the Library of Congress in the National Recording Registry. As of 2018, the album has reached estimated sales of 8 million copies in the US and over 20 million copies worldwide, making it one of the best-selling albums of all-time. It remains Hill’s only studio album.

To watch the video for Lauryn Hill’s “Everything is Everything”, click here.

February 26

February 26, 1928 — Singer Antoine Dominique “Fats” Domino was born in New Orleans, LA. Fats Domino was one of the pioneers of rock and roll and sold over 65 million records. Between 1950 and 1963, Domino hit the R&B charts a reported 59 times, and the pop charts 63 times. He outsold Little Richard, Chuck Berry and Buddy Holly — combined. Only Elvis Presley moved more records during that time period, and Presley cited Domino as the early master. To view Fats Domino singing “Blue Monday” in 1957, click here.

February 27

February 27, 1902 — Famed opera singer, Marian Anderson was born. In 1939, during the age of segregation, she was prevented by the Daughters of the Revolution from performing at their venue, Constitution Hall in Washington D.C. First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt and President Franklin Roosevelt arranged for her to perform on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial for an inclusive audience of more than 75,000 people with millions more listening on the radio.

Video of Marion Anderson singing at the Lincoln Memorial can be seen here.

February 28

February 28, 1984 — The 26th Grammy Awards occurred where Michael Jackson won seven Grammy Awards (11 nominations) for his critical and commercially successful album, “Thriller.” That album still remains one of the top-grossing albums of all time. At the same ceremony, Wynton Marsalis became the first artist ever to be nominated and win a Grammy Award in both the jazz and classical categories.

To see Michael Jackson’s “Beat it” video, which won Song of the Year at the Grammys, click here.

To see Wynton Marsalis perform the Haydn Trumpet Concerto in E Flat that he won the Grammy award for, click here.