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Black History Month

Black History Month

Published on February 8, 2021

In honour of Black History Month, learn about some trailblazing Black musicians and their contributions to everything from classical to popular music. 

Black Musicians of Yesteryear

Learn more about four influential, talented, and note-worthy Black musicians from the past and their impact on music today.

Born in 1745, this composer is best remembered as the first known classical composer of African ancestry.


This child prodigy and composer of popular songs was blind from birth, and learned to play piano, by ear, at age four.


An American composer and pianist, this musician achieved fame for his compositions and was known as the "King of Ragtime”.


This English composer combined African-American folk music with concert music in his works, making him one of the most progressive writers of his time.

Black Musicians Who Broke Barriers

The following musicians were the first in their category to achieve success, and helped paved the road for their successors.

This classical composer, pianist, organist, and music teacher was the first African-American woman to be recognized as a symphonic composer, and to have her music performed by a major symphony orchestra.

This virtuoso violinist and bugle-player wrote more than 200 compositions and was the first Black composer to have his works published as sheet music.

This American composer, pianist, and organist was the first Black musician to win a Pulitzer Prize for Music.

This musician was known as "The Dean" of African-American composers, as he was the first Black composer to conduct a major American symphony orchestra as well as have an opera produced by a major opera company.

Black Contributions to Music Genres

African-American history and culture are also the root of many of the genres of music we enjoy today – read on to learn more.


This genre is one of the largest and most significant forms of American folksong and is most closely associated with the enslavement of African people in the American South. Often sung in a call and response form, a popular example of this genre is "Swing low, sweet chariot."

This dynamic and diverse genre of music was derived from and was largely played by Southern Black men in the 19th Century. It is now one of the most important influences on the development of popular music throughout the United States.

This genre is perhaps the most well-known American musical export and was born from a fusion of musical styles in New Orleans, where the population was more diverse than anywhere else in the South, in the very early part of the 20th century.

This genre of music was associated with Black youth in after-hours clubs in the 1950s, and evolved to include soul and funk in the 1970s. Today, it can be used to loosely define most sung African-American urban music.