“I Sing Because I’m Happy-I Sing Because I’m Free” Celebrating The Achievement And Success Of Black Musicians -Part 2

The music industry has been transformed by talented, remarkable black artists: singer-songwriters and performers. Their contributions to jazz, soul, rock, gospel, and R&B stand in contrast to the victimization cry that our usual City Councilmen and cohorts cry when questioned or criticized. These usual suspects make a living telling the black community they are victims and thwarted by racism. The reality across the spectrum of American life, however, bears witness to the endless achievements and contributions by blacks who have helped change the world. Nowhere is that more evident than in the field of music. It is a shameless thing, because of personal gain, the usual suspects never extoll the possibilities in the lives of all blacks and especially the youth. No wonder black youth are often left hanging out in gangs where they find some validity to their lives through belonging.

In talking to my grandsons and great-grandsons, I am likely to call them “Honey, boy………” This series is a message for all the black sons, and grandsons: “Honey, boy, it is all possible once you dissent from the victimization explanation of black fate.” – Shelby Steele

I can’t imagine my musical world without this shortlist of favorite black musicians and these particular songs. I know the selections date me, but then, I am dated. This music has followed me through the years, and I am grateful.

(Click On Each Name For Music)

Ray Charles


Soul music pioneer and fuser of R & B, Gospel and Country music, Ray Charles is a legend and was one of the world’s greatest artists. Blind, but beyond talented, the artist is famous for such singles as ‘Baby Let Me Hold Your Hand’ and ‘Kissa Me Baby’ as well as ‘Mess Around’. Known as ‘The Genius’ and ‘The Father of Soul’ Charles’ remarkable talent inspired many musicians and his creativity extended to the many instruments that he touched.

John Legend


Legend was born John Roger Stephens on December 28, 1978, in Springfield, Ohio. A child prodigy, Legend’s grandmother taught him how to play the piano, and he grew up singing in the church choir. He went on to attend the University of Pennsylvania, where he directed a co-ed a cappella group. After graduation, he switched gears and worked for Boston Consulting Group, but continued to perform in nightclubs in New York City.

Stevie Wonder


Stevie Wonder, is an American singer, songwriter, musician, and record producer. A prominent figure in popular music during the second half of the 20th century, Wonder is one of the most successful songwriters and musicians.

Louis Armstrong


Multi-talented, all-round performer Louis Armstrong had a presence that is world-famous and was known for his influences to Jazz. He was associated with bands such as ‘His Hot Five’ and ‘His Hot Seven’ and ‘The All Stars’, and could popularize music in his style. In the 1930s he broke barriers and was featured in a Hollywood movie. Known for ‘What a Wonderful World’, a world-renowned single, Armstrong truly is one of the greats.

Mandatory Credit: Photo by McBride/Mediapunch/REX/Shutterstock (8877948a) Whitney Houston Receives the United Negro College Fund Award in New York City July 1988 Whitney Houston

Whitney Houston


American singer and actress Whitney Houston was incredibly popular in the 1980s and was known for her big voice and unique style. She sang in her local church and was inspired by Gospel as a genre. Clive Davis transformed her career and she is known for such hits as ‘Saving All My Love For You’. She collaborated with Mariah Carey on the single ‘When You Believe’ and her significant contributions to modern music are undeniable.

Aretha Franklin

How Do You Keep The Music Playing (from Duets II: The Great Performances)

Aretha Louise Franklin (March 25, 1942 – August 16, 2018) was an American singer, songwriter, actress, pianist, and civil rights, activist. Franklin began her career as a child singing gospel at New Bethel Baptist Church in Detroit, Michigan, where her father C. L. Franklin was a minister. At the age of 18, she embarked on a secular-music career as a recording artist for Columbia Records. By the end of the 1960s, Aretha had come to be known as the “Queen of Soul”. Known for her energy and ability to sing multiple genres, her impact on the music genre is unsurpassed.

Nat King Cole


Nat King Cole was an American musician who came to prominence as a jazz pianist. He owes most of his popular musical fame to his soft baritone voice, which he used to perform in big band and jazz genres. In 1956, Cole became the first African American performer to host a variety of television series, and for many white families, he was the first Black man welcomed into their living rooms each night. He has maintained worldwide popularity since his death in 1965.

Ella Fitzgerald


Known as the ‘First Lady of Song’ or ‘Lady Ella’, a significant contributor to the Jazz genre, Ella Fitzgerald was a remarkable singer. She was discovered by and worked with Chick Webb and his band and rose to fame in the 1930s. Her uplifting tone can be recognized in such singles as ‘Dream A Little Dream of Me’ and ‘Every Time We Say Goodbye’.

Louis Allen Rawls was an American singer, songwriter, actor, voice actor, and record producer. Rawls released more than 60 albums, sold more than 40 million records, and had numerous charting singles, most notably his song “You’ll Never Find Another Love Like Mine”. He worked as a film, television, and voice actor.

Lou Rawls


Mandatory Credit: Photo by Evan Agostini/Invision/AP/Shutterstock (9241939fq) Usher Raymond attends a special screening of “Fences”, at Rose Theater at Jazz at Lincoln Center’s Frederick P. Rose Hall,, in New York



Usher Raymond IV is an American singer, songwriter, actor, businessman, and dancer. He was born in Dallas, Texas, but raised in Chattanooga, Tennessee until moving to Atlanta, Georgia. At the age of 12, his mother put him in local singing competitions before catching the attention of a music A&R from LaFace Records.

Queen Latifah


Dana Elaine Owens, better known by her stage name Queen Latifah, is an American rapper, singer, songwriter, actress, and producer. Born in Newark, New Jersey, she signed with Tommy Boy Records in 1989 and released her debut album All Hail the Queen on November 28, 1989, featuring the hit single “Ladies First”. Her lead in the mivie, The Secret Life of Bees is not to be missed.

I am writing this series for those who dare to embrace the possibilities of their lives refusing to believe otherwise.

6 thoughts on ““I Sing Because I’m Happy-I Sing Because I’m Free” Celebrating The Achievement And Success Of Black Musicians -Part 2

  1. This seems a little bit patronizing when framed as a contrast to the city council rather than just a celebration of black celebrities themselves. It also selectively leaves out the history of the hurdles some of the older notables had to overcome… E.g. Nat King Cole was assaulted in Alabama at a performance and afterwards refused to play at segregated venues. In that sense they were “victims”, but it also makes them doubly inspiring for continuing to pursue their artform.


    1. Thank you for leaving this comment adding to the piece. I appreciate it. Not patronizing perhaps, but certainly I was trying a version of the childhood game, ‘Pin the Tail on the Donkey’ when objecting to the cry of racism and victimization from any Councilmen if questioned or criticized. I fall back on Shelby Steele as I write the series. He has said, “Blacks make little to no progress and, worse, the preoccupation with injustice only leaves them eternally inconsolable and cut off from their own best energies and talents.” Keep on keeping company with me on Main Street.


      1. Thank you Stepheny! Definitely agree the accusation of racism used by city council members against anyone who disagrees with them is unacceptable. At the same time, I do think there are some who do not want to talk about racism or even its legacy. That may contribute to some attempts to force the conversation in reaction. There is a fine line somewhere in the middle, as always. I wish city council leadership was not so focused on doing everything on their own. Plenty of cities Rocky Mount’s size or larger that have black majorities but are oriented toward the future and not stuck on past grievances we can learn from. They are not making enemies and sinking any possibility of regional cooperation like this council seems to do. Oh well. Will keep on keeping on.


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