Black Love Songs
By Mia Porter
How are we to celebrate Black History Month without celebrating the influence that Black musicianship has had over today’s culture? Black music has not only helped us express ourselves in a multitude of ways, but it has also let others within our community hear our joy and our pain. Our music has always had a message.
Rooted from slavery, spirituals and gospel music was used to promote thoughts and hopes of freedom. The music contained lyrics that were only understood by other slaves, and even today, we still see messages that are only understood and felt within the Black community.
The birth of the Blues was the start of modern day music. Blues was the sole influence in Rock and Roll, Pop music, R&B, and so much more. Artists such as Ma Rainey, Bessie Smith, Louis Armstrong, and Muddy Waters were instrumental in Blues and paving the way for many other Black musicians. The Blues was used to tell the story of depression, poverty, and an oppression torn community.
Songs such as Strange Fruit by Billie Holiday and Back Water Blues by Bessie Smith tell stories of racial violence and natural disaster, but this was just the surface of what Blues singers performed about. As Blues slowly faded out of popularity, Jazz became the new spotlight entertainment and introduced us to a lot of the music we know today.
Jazz musicians such as Duke Ellington, Ella Fitzgerald, and Louis Armstrong incorporated a new sound that was fresh and distinct in the world of entertainment. Swing rhythms, saxophones, and trumpets were the base of many jazz instrumentals, but as time went on these rhythms were amplified by full scale orchestras.
Somewhere Over the Rainbow by Ella Fitzgerals and What a Wonderful World by Louis Armstrong are famous examples of these beautiful and complex Jazz rhythms. As Black musicians began to gain more popularity and money, the messages of songs had much more variety and began to exude Black joy and love.
These love songs manifested themselves in many different ways, but one of the first was in R&B. The world of Rhythm and Blues started in Detroit, also known as the “Motor City”. Motown was the pioneer in R&B and enhanced the sounds of Jazz by picking up a faster beat, more bass, and less instruments. Signing groups like the Supremes, Ray Charles, and the Jackson 5, Motown grew in popularity, bringing R&B music to the forefront.
As I reflected on the spirit of Black musicianship and Valentine’s Day, I wanted to create a playlist that highlighted love music by Black artists. While composing this playlist, I carefully went through and selected 14 songs from each decade starting with the 1960s all the way until present day.
These selections will allow you to hear the change in musicianship, production, and history as Black musicianship evolved over time. Here are eight of my all time favorite love songs by Black artists:
1. At Last by Etta James (1960)
2. Bring It On Home to Me by Sam Cooke (1962)
3. Lovin’ You by Minnie Riperton (1974)
4. You Give Good Love by Whitney Houston (1985)
5. With You by Tony Terry (1990)
6. By Your Side by Sade (2000)
7. Sure Thing by Miguel (2010)
8. Comfortable by H.E.R. (2020)