The Real Voices Of Black Rights: 11 Legendary Black Female Singers!

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From South Africa to the United States, the black rights issue is again on top of the global political agenda. Although the civil rights movement has a long history by now, it’s heartbreaking to see so many issues still remaining unsolved in 2016. In this post, however, we won’t be looking at the milestones or influential political leaders of the black rights movement. Instead, you’ll find 11 of the greatest female black singers from various musical genres who are also remembered with their political activism or with their songs touching on issues like freedom, social justice, black history, and on top of all: being a black woman.

The list is in chronological order.

1. Mahalia Jackson - We shall overcome

Jackson played a very important role during the civil rights movement.

Jackson said that she hoped her music could "break down some of the hate and fear that divide the white and black people in this country". She also contributed financially to the movement.

The story of "We shall overcome", which has became an international anthem for human rights, reveals the civil rights movement’s remarkable and complex tapestry and its lasting influence.

2. Billie Holiday - Strange Fruit

Billie Holiday was  the first black women to work with a white orchestra, an unusual arrangement for the times. Also, this was the first time a full-time-employed black female singer toured the segregated Southern US with a white bandleader.

Holiday describes one incident where she could not sit on the bandstand with other vocalists because she was black.

“Strange Fruit” was a revelation in its disturbing and emotional condemnation of racism.

3. Lena Horne - Stormy Weather

Horne was long involved with the Civil Rights movement as well.

She had proper direction in two all-black movie musicals, both made in 1943. Lent to 20th Century Fox for “Stormy Weather,” one of those show business musicals with almost no plot but lots of singing and dancing, Ms. Horne did both triumphantly, ending with the sultry, aching sadness of the title number, which would become one of her signature songs.

4. Shirley Verrett -"Vieni t'affretta" from Verdi's Macbeth

Shirley Verrett was  an African American opera singer and one of the leading sopranos in the world.

She has appeared in most of the world's principal opera houses to great acclaim, particularly well known for singing the works of Verdi and Donizetti.

In 2003, Shirley Verrett published a memoir, I Never Walked Alone, in which she spoke frankly about the racism she encountered as a black person in the American classical music world.

5. Nina Simone - Mississippi Goddam

In the ‘60s, Simone was identified as a leading voice of the Civil Rights Movement.
She  had always included songs in her repertoire that drew upon her African-American origins. For the first time she openly addressed the racial inequality that was prevalent in the United States with the song "Mississippi Goddam", her response to the Medgar Evers and the 1963 bombing of the 16th Street Baptist Church in Birmingham, Alabama, that killed four young black girls and partially blinded a fifth girl who survived. She remarked that the title and the song itself was, "like throwing 10 bullets back at them", becoming one of many other protest songs written by Simone.

Simone has inspired many performers, including Aretha Franklin, Laura Nyro and Joni Mitchell.

6. June Tyson - Astro Black

June Tyson was a singer and dancer who achieved prominence performing with  Sun Ra.

When she joined Sun Ra's Arkestra around 1968, she became the first female member of his band. She became a close and trusted friend of Ra, and helped him with costume design.

By the 1960s every aspect of Sun Ra’s music and personality had become influenced by outer-space and what he would call ‘Afro-futurism’, which have a unique place and understanding in the black rights issue.

7. Aretha Franklin - Lift Every Voice & Sing

Aretha Franklin had a string of hits, including her claim to fame "Respect", which became an anthem for women and humanity during the Civil Rights Movement. She became a symbol of black empowerment during the movement of the time.

In 2008 she won her 18th Grammy Award, making her one of the most honored artists in Grammy history.

8. Tracy Chapman - Talkin'bout a Revolution

Chapman is widely regarded as a politically and socially active musician. She has performed at numerous socially aware events, and continues to do so.

Tracy Chapman originally recorded and released the song in 1988 as a means of political consciousness and liberal activism. The song also became incredibly popular in Tunisia during its 2011 revolution.

9. Erykah Badu - Window Seat

The Grammy Award-winner has never been one to shy away from addressing political issues through her music, such as social justice.

The music video for "Window Seat" features Badu walking the streets Dealey Plaza in Dallas, Texas, slowly stripping to the nude, before being shot by an unseen assassin. Badu's public nudity, guerrilla filming, and the allusions to President John F. Kennedy's assassination in the video were met by controversy among fans and critics.

10. Alicia Keys - We Gotta Pray

American singer, pianist, songwriter, record producer, and actress Alicia Keys is the second American recording artist to win five Grammys in one night in 2002.
Keys is the co-founder and Global Ambassador of Keep a Child Alive, a non-profit organization that provides medicine to families with HIV and AIDS in Africa.

In collaboration with Mic and the We Are Here Movement, Keys organized celebs like Beyoncé, Rihanna, Chris Rock, Bono, Pharrell Williams, and many others to recall the mundane reasons that black lives have been ended.

Following mass protests in New York City and Ferguson, Mo., Alicia Keys released a song, “We Gotta Pray”. Famous quotes from iconic civil rights activists such as Martin Luther King Jr. and Mahatma Gandhi are interspersed throughout the song.

11. Beyoncé - Formation

Beyoncé and husband Jay-Z have quietly been involved social activism for years, from their support of the Obama campaign and their attendance at the Trayvon Martin vigil, to their donations to the Flint water crisis and bailing out of Black Lives Matter protestors.

Its imagery invoking the realities of police brutality, its celebration of black gay ballroom culture and the Black Panthers, Beyoncé’s “Formation” is perhaps the most straightforward expression of her blackness. The song, and its video, were lauded for proving that Beyoncé is “woke,” and fully plugged into what it means to be a black woman in America.

Sources:
1, 2,3,4, 5, 6, 7

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