2016 is not a great year for fans of music. In January, we lost one of the all time greats in David Bowie. On April 21, news broke around 6pm BST that Prince, one of the most iconic singers in history had died at the age of 57.



It's no secret that people of colour face struggles within industries such as the world of music that a white person would find easier to overcome. Prejudice does of course still exist and though the world is progressing, Prince is one of the reasons why. He blazed his trail through the industry and led the way for thousands of artists to follow. Not everybody will have agreed with some of the controversial views that came from his mouth from time to time, but there's no denying his cultural impact.

Here, I take a look back at Prince's career and see just what he, and 8 other black artists who have paved their way with incredible determination and talent have done for the world of music.

Prince (1958-2016)

There's a reason Prince is one of the best-selling artists of all time. Taking seven Grammy Awards through his career and shifting over 100 million records across the globe, the performer had 'it', managing to engage with a variety of different audiences.

In 1999, 'Little Red Corvette' was one of the first regularly played songs on MTV by a black artist. This was just one of many barriers Prince ensured he broke down. In doing so he became - whether intentionally or not - an advocate for people of colour everywhere. Attitudes began to shift towards black citizens ever since the release of his album and single 'Purple Rain' in the 80s and from that moment on, his position of power for the black community was immeasurable.

Trying to box Prince into any one genre or even two or three is an impossible feat. This is a man who ensured that with each era of music he delved into, he delivered something utterly different to what had come before. Sometimes he even did so under a different name.

Those who ever try to deny his impact serve only to prove how little they know. Prince will forever be etched into the history books and fans wouldn't have him any other way.

Whitney Houston (1963-2012)

In 2012 when I found out about the death of Whitney Houston, I couldn't stop my bottom lip from quivering. Her well-publicised battles with addiction meant that this was a moment the world had probably seen coming but, her passing still left millions in a stunned silence.

I was in my teenage years when I first began listening to Houston's music - a very late bloomer. Perhaps not the first thing to spring to everybody's minds would be her performance of 'Million Dollar Bill' on The X Factor in 2009. In fact, looking back at media stories from the night, she was given a lot of grief for that very moment. It only made me fall in love with her a lot more. During the performance, a strap on her dress came undone - this was her big UK comeback and there was a major wardrobe malfunction. It distracted her if but for a second, but with a flick of the head as if to say 'F**k it, let's have some fun', she continued to deliver a masterclass in singing. In fact, it seemed to allow her to really bring down her barriers and find her place back on the stage.

Houston's legacy is not tainted. We should not care what she did in her personal life. Sure, most of us wish she was still around releasing exciting new material but that isn't the way things turned out. Grateful for everything she did release, Houston's biggest impact was perhaps through the soundtrack and her starring in The Bodyguard movie. What a film and what a collection of songs. It's fitting that the breakout track from that movie was Houston's rendition of Dolly Parton's 'I Will Always Love You', as that is how the world will forever feel about this legend of the business.

Michael Jackson (1958-2009)

Androgynous, experimental and charismatic are just three of a plethora of words which could be used to describe the late King of Pop, Michael Jackson. From his debut in the 1970s as part of the Jackson 5 to the material he released as a solo artist, the man left a legacy unrivalled after his untimely death and ensured the world would never forget about him.

As a man, MJ was an enigma. Everybody wanted to know more and more about him and the media were relentless in their pursuit of sensational tabloid stories. Despite that, he held his own and continued to do what he loved - sing for his fans and release some beautiful music.

He is in a way the driving force behind black people being granted recognition and being allowed into mainstream music. He meant the world to black culture and whilst so much bad went on around him in the world and negativity was spewed towards the black community, MJ continued to shift public opinion. He was and continues to be a cultural phenomenon.

Tupac Shakur (1971-1996)

In his relatively short but incredible career, Tupac Shakur became one of the most influential and recognisable names in the rap industry. It's fair to say that everybody in the rap game today likely owes a hell of a lot to Tupac and should hold him in immensely high regard. Whether they liked his material or not there was always something unique about what he produced. He really set the bar for those who came after him to follow and his skill certainly allowed jealousy to creep in for those around him. Who wouldn't want to be the best at what they do? That's exactly what Tupac was.

Honesty and integrity is often something lacking from the world of mainstream music nowadays, but both of those things are traits that shone through in his material. It's easy for fans of music to write off rap immediately, but really they should sit down and think of Tupac as more of a poet. A thinker. A believer, a dreamer and a trendsetter.

Tupac thought through the concepts for his music in a way that not many artists were and are capable of. His writing was incomparable. It says a lot that everybody knows who you're speaking about with just a first name.

Jimi Hendrix (1942-1970)

Some would say that if you call yourself a fan of music but you haven't ever heard a Jimi Hendrix track, you're lying to yourself. It's also possible that you have indeed heard and enjoyed a Hendrix song, but not realised who exactly it was you were listening to. He's another one of those artists who never stuck to a single lane, instead blending and manipulating genres to suit his narrative and the stories of his heart he wanted to tell.

Of course, those who do know a thing or two about Hendrix will immediately conjure up images in their mind of the great one holding his guitar. He didn't just play the instrument, he formed an everlasting bond with it and it became as much a part of him as anything else.

Losing Hendrix at such a young age is of course beyond tragic. As a 90s kid, I feel a little jealous that I never got the chance to experience the fervour that surrounded his days in the spotlight. But what his death in 1970 did prove in the present day is that he was a man who held longevity. His star was never going to fade despite his life being lost. Physically, he may no longer be with us, but his spirit is something that refuses to die.

Tina Turner (1939-present)

This is a woman who has never allowed her age to get in the way of delivering a stellar performance. She's a high-energy, feel-good artist with an incredible catalogue of infectious hits that have no problem in securing themselves as some of the most memorable tracks in existence.

"You can't say soul, R&B, rock & roll. She's all of it! She can squeeze passion from any line," said Melissa Etheridge, pitted against Turner in her time but obviously just as in awe of her as everybody else.

For many, Turner's music provides the soundtrack for their lifetime and because of that, she's sold over 180 million copies of her albums and singles worldwide. Energetic and extraordinary on the live stage, she's more than earned her position amongst the greats.

This is a woman who first started in the business alongside her man, but vowed to stand on her own two feet when he stopped treating her in the way she deserved to be treated. Facing failure she continued to plough away at her career until her massive breakthrough with her cover of 'Let's Stay Together', originally by Al Green. The rest as they say, is history.

Aretha Franklin (1942-present)

'Respect'. Aretha demands it and the world delivers it in spades (rightly so). Beginning her career as so many African-American singers do, in church as a child, Aretha is an artist who has allowed her smarts to be shared with the world. Growing up in a country that was and at times still is so against people of colour doing well, it would have been understandable if she hadn't wanted to bless the masses with her gift. But thankfully she did so and in doing so, lit a fire under the backsides of so many, encouraging acceptance of equality no matter the colour of somebody's skin or their gender.

Aretha is one of those artists who you cannot emulate. Those singers who do their best to take from what she does on a record will of course at times come out with great results, but they'll always be the thought of, 'they're not Aretha'.

Perhaps President Barack Obama said it best in his response to Aretha's performance at the 2015 Kennedy Center Honors: "American history wells up when Aretha sings. Nobody embodies more fully the connection between the African-American spiritual, the blues, R&B, rock and roll--the way that hardship and sorrow were transformed into something full of beauty and vitality and hope". Aretha is exactly that. A beacon of hope.

Stevie Wonder (1950-present)

Stevie Wonder is another artist whose success is hard to pin down to any specifics. He's so multitalented that to list all of his achievements, impacts and the like would make this feature the longest I've ever written, both in the body of text and the time it would take to get everything together. Even then I would be unsure if I had even scratched the surface.

This is a man who clearly loves his job and spreading hope and joy through his music. For many, there are certain times in a career where you're riding a massive wave of success and in the eyes of the masses you cannot place a foot wrong. For Stevie, it seems he never stopped riding that wave.

Beyoncé (1981-present)

Though she's already done so much, Beyoncé in many ways is just starting out, and I write that with the upmost respect. She encourages females to express themselves through whatever means they see suitable and is a huge backer of independence no matter what your gender. As exciting as everything Beyoncé has achieved really is, what's more exciting is what she can continue to achieve in the future.

As an ever-evolving and developing artist and entrepreneur, she has the power to flip the industry on its head. She can bring the world to its knees in a matter of minutes - just look at the surprise release of her last studio album - the thought of what she's capable of gives me goosebumps. The future is VERY bright for this shining star.

Of course, there are more black artists who have made an incredible impact - Janet Jackson, Ray Charles, Little Richard, James Brown, The Supremes, Bob Marley, Chaka Khan, Mariah Carey and many, many more. Let us know your fondest memories of those mentioned and others in the comments section below.

by for www.femalefirst.co.uk
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