Playlist: Unrecognized Black Talent

By Devon Chodzin ’19

Sorry, white people — when it comes to music, black people probably did it first. This month, WKCO is celebrating black pioneers in music of all types: jazz, classical, punk, you name it. Contained in this list is just a snippet of black musical history as well as black excellence of today.

The band Death has received much more attention in the last few years as being one of the original punk bands, pushing the boundaries of hard rock in the 1970s. Columbia Records originally refused to release this album because of the band’s name in 1975 but, finally, Drag City Records released the collection of songs …For the Whole World to See in 2009.

Hazel Scott was a brilliant Trinidadian-American pianist and jazz singer who rose to stardom in the 1930’s and 1940’s, capping it off by being the first woman of color with her own TV show in 1950. One of her most intriguing talents was that she could play two pianos at once, which is absolutely a feat, considering that these pianos would have to mirror each other.

Sister Rosetta Tharpe’s 1945 record “Strange Things Happening Every Day” is considered by many to be the first rock and roll release in history, recorded well before the term “rock and roll” would be coined. She also pioneered the use of the electric guitar in major recordings.

As one of the most prominent Blues stars of the Harlem Renaissance, Gladys Bentley set herself apart from her counterparts with her genderqueer expression. During her career she was openly lesbian, but when queer expression was equated with anti-Americanism, Bentley began dressing more femininely and even married men. However, she remains an icon in history for black LGBTQ people.

Black Swan Records

Black Swan Records, founded in 1921, became the first record label owned by and catering to the interests of the black community in the United States. While the label itself had a short lifespan, it paved the way for major record companies to actually start caring about the interests of black consumers.

DJ Clive “Kool Herc” Campbell, Jamaican-born Bronx-based artist, pioneered stage hip-hop by elaborating upon Jamaican traditions. This set the standard for Bronx hip-hop, the precursor to rap, which is arguably the most significant cultural phenomenon of the previous three and a half decades.

Toro y Moi, born Chazwick Bradley Bundick, is one of the most well-known names in semi-popular indie and electronic music. He is one of the most successful proponents of the subgenre Chillwave, a retro-futuristic genre which rose to prominence in the late 2000’s. Today, Toro y Moi continues to dazzle audiences in the EDM world, a world which is often anonymous and therefore whitewashed.

Angel Haze distinguishes themself, in addition to being talented, by being one of only a few prominent gender-nonconforming artists on the scene today. They identify as pansexual and agender, bringing forth significant representation in hip-hop culture, which is often unjustly branded as inherently homophobic or transphobic

AH MER AH SU is a brand new artist on the scene, offering black trans representation at a time when violence against black transgender women is at a peak. She has collaborated in art communities and has garnered fans, in large part, due to the famous trans poets Darkmatter. AH MER AH SU has a very, very small following, so now is the chance to really say you heard her before (almost) anyone else.


Chicago-based R.P. Boo is considered to be the founder of the genre Footwork, which evolved from Juke on the streets of Chicago in the mid-2000s. Kenyon College has played host to Footwork artists over the years, including the cutting-edge TEKLIFE crew members DJ Paypal and DJ Taye. Footwork is considered to be the future of House music and there’s no doubt that as time goes on, Footwork’s influence will continue to grow.

So, this February, take a second to really think about where your favorite art began. These artists paved, and continue to pave, the way for all artists to express themselves in ways unlike ever before. Happy Black History Month, everyone!

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