As part of Black History Month here at the British Music Experience we are shining the spotlight on black artists featured in the experience. The influence of black music and culture on the world of pop music cannot be overstated, and Britain was, and still is, certainly no exception. If you consider modern popular music, post-1945, to be a blend of genres that had come before, then you will see the presence of a significant amount of black music.
Blues music was used extensively in the development of Rock ‘n’ Roll and Rhythm and Blues, alongside Country and Western and Gospel music, and can be seen as the primary catalyst in the creation of these genres. Black musician, Sister Rosetta Tharpe has been credited as the ‘Godmother of Rock ‘n’ Roll’, with her Gospel and Rhythm and Blues style having a major influence on many future stars.
In the UK, the influence of black music on popular music as a whole has been massive. Taking inspiration from these early Blues and Rhythm and Blues musicians from the USA, the young black groups and singers in the UK began forming their own styles. Here, we’ve highlighted some of the artists who have helped to achieve this:
Even among the legions of Liverpool bands making music in the early 1960s, The Chants were unusual. They were a black vocal harmony quartet in a city that was known for its hard-rocking electric bands. Their sound was a mix of R&B harmony and a solid British beat tempo. Eddie Amoo, later of The Real Thing, fronted the group. The Chants were often backed up onstage by some of Liverpool’s biggest future stars, including The Beatles on several occasions. The group was popular locally though they never managed to chart with a single and broke up in the mid-60s.
Albeit from America, Jimi Hendrix forged his career right here in the UK after struggling to establish himself as a musician back home in the US. The Animals’ bassist, Chas Chandler, brought Hendrix to the UK but it was Keith Richards’ girlfriend, Linda Keith, who first spotted him. She saw Hendrix playing The Cheetah Club with his band and later brought Chandler to see him. His influence extended far beyond his short career, spanning 4 years, with many heavy metal guitarists citing Hendrix as inspirational.
Hot Chocolate started their recording career making a reggae version of John Lennon’s ‘Give Peace a Chance’ but Errol Brown was told he needed permission. He was contacted by Apple Records and upon discovering that Lennon liked their version, the group was subsequently signed to Apple Records. The band went on to become the only group, and one of just 3 artists, to have a hit in every year of the 1970s in the UK charts. The band eventually had at least one hit every year between 1970 and 1984.
The Real Thing
British soul group The Real Thing formed in Liverpool in the 1970s. By number of sales, they were the most successful black rock/soul act in the UK during the 1970s. Their 1977 album ‘Four From Eight’ was originally to have been called ‘Liverpool 8’ in honour of the racially mixed, economically depressed neighbourhood in which the band grew up but their record label, Pye, rejected the title.
Aswad are one of the most significant reggae bands to have emerged from the UK in the mid-70s, initially releasing roots music distinct from Jamaican reggae insofar as it specifically tackled issues surrounding black youth in Britain. In the 1980s, they added R&B soul and pop influences to their sound. Throughout their career, Aswad have released 21 albums to date and are still very much on the road.
Sade Adu is a Nigerian-born British singer-songwriter who gained worldwide fame as the lead vocalist of the band, Sade, which was named after her. The band performed as part of the London line-up for Live Aid in 1985. Sade was the only African-born artist to appear in front of the live, 75,000 strong audience that day. She has since been awarded an OBE for services to music, stating her award was “a great gesture to me and all black women in England”. In 2007 she was awarded a CBE, also for services to music.
The biggest selling winner’s single is Alexandra Burke’s cover of ‘Hallelujah’, released in 2008. It sold 576,000 copies in the first week, making it the Christmas number 1. It was also the biggest selling song of 2008 and, to date, has sold over 1 million copies.
The history of black music is rich and varied and the future looks to continue just so. For the past 2 years, the Mercury Music Prize has been awarded to black artists - Skepta and Sampha in 2016 and 2017, respectively. Thanks to Skepta’s win, Grime as a genre has been brought to the forefront of British music for the first time with it entering the mainstream. Indeed its success has continued throughout the past year with the rise of Stormzy.
Head on down to the British Music Experience throughout October to check out the artists for yourself and to hear more interesting insights and anecdotes from our Crew. Pick up a copy of our Black Music History Guide at the ticketing desk. The experience is open daily from 10am-5pm (last entry 3:30pm).
If you are interested in finding out more about Liverpool’s black music history, visit Liverpool Central Library’s ‘Black to the Future’ exhibition. Exploring the black music and culture of Liverpool from the past 200 years, it is well worth a visit.