Today is the seventh day of Black History Month. I tend to use this time as a way to remind readers – and everyone else of a couple of important facts:
- You can’t love Black artists and their work, and not see them as people
- Black lives — and Black art matters
- Black culture is American culture
So as we go through the month, I’m going to talk about a collection of Black artists. It’ll be fairly comprehensive and eclectic list — although it won’t be a complete list.
So far I’ve mentioned the following artists:
- Patti LaBelle
- Rick James
- John Lee Hooker
- Janet Jackson
- Aretha Franklin
- Chaka Khan
- Sister Rosetta Tharpe
- Curtis Mayfield
- Bob Marley
Coincidentally, James Dewitt Yancey, best known as J. Dilla, one of the most influential and important hip-hop producers and beatmakers was born 49 years ago today. Much like Coltrane, Jimi Hendrix and countless other pioneering Black artists, Dilla has transformed how we hear listen — and how it’s made. And his influence goes beyond hip-hop: Back in 2020, I attended NYC Winter Jazz Fest and almost every contemporary jazz musician was essentially an acolyte of Dilla. Yeah, seriously.
Tragically, we lost Yancey 13 years ago but his music manages to be as transcendent and soulful as ever.
Happy birthday, Dilla! Happy birthday, wherever you are!