Written by: Noni Kigera
Get ready to get blickity black this February – the shortest month of the year – with a list of history’s most fundamental rockstars.
Screamin’ Jay Hawkins
Born Jaylacy Hawkins, Screamin’ Jay Hawkins is another black man stripped of his rightful title – Father of Shock Rock. His fame skyrocketed in 1956 (when Alice Cooper was about 8 years old) with his rendition of “I Put a Spell on You.” He performed this song live with his skull named Henry, a flaming coffin, ghoulish gimmicks, and signature howls. Although he never formally received his Rock n’ Roll honors, he did pass his rocking genes to over 50 children.
Sister Rosetta Tharpe
Like many of your favorite trends, a black woman had her hand and pick in founding Rock n’ Roll. Sister Rosetta Tharpe in the 1930s blended blues, jazz, and gospel to create her signature style. Known as the Godmother of Rock n’ Roll, Sister Tharpe was a queer woman who flourished when female guitarists were rare and Jim Crow was still in full effect. Her guitar style and groovy moves are said to have influenced mainstream legend Elvis Presley.
If you don’t know Jimi Hendrix then you’re probably not a fan of rock n’ roll, and you’re probably literally living under a rock that occasionally rolls. Jimi Hendrix, a natural lefty, received his first guitar from his father when he was 16 and he had to flip it upside down to play. From then, Hendrix used music as an outlet and he achieved life in the limelight as a rockstar. One of his most legendary performances was 1969 Woodstock when he shredded his guitar to a rock rendition of “The Star-Spangled Banner.”
Musical royalty and non-binary trailblazer, Prince, is next on our list of quintessential rockers. As a melodic prodigy Prince mastered over 20 instruments by the time he was 12, and joined his first band at 14 in his predominantly white hometown of Minneapolis, Minnesota. His carnal lyrics and unconventional style embodied ingenuity and intersectionality by escaping the social identities and musical expectations thrust upon him. Long story short he was a baddie and your fave’s fave.
If you don’t know Chuck Berry… we’re praying for you. The Father of Rock n’ Roll picked up the technique of bending two strings at once and creating the Chuck Berry lick, which would be emulated by the Rolling Bones (I mean Stones) and others. His fame really took off in the late 50s with his rebellious teenage grooves like “Sweet Little Sixteen.” By the way, if you ever wondered how in the midst of all his gyrating his hair stayed laid, he happened to have a degree in hairdressing and cosmetology as well.
Born into a sharecropping family, the “the Beale Street Blues Boy” disc jockey is a world renowned American musician. His beloved guitar Lucille got its name in a near death accident in 1949. King was at a dance when a fight broke out and knocked over a kerosene lit barrel. The building was set ablaze and King managed to escape, but he realized his guitar was still inside. In true James Bond fashion, King reentered the fiery dancehall, retrieved his guitar, and got away by the hairs of his sideburns. The woman who started the fight was named Lucille.