Famous Black Musicians Who Are Rockers
Rock 'n' roll has been dominated by white musicians for decades. However, many of the Black musicians on this list are not only pioneers of the genre, their music still sells years after its initial release.
Meet the famous Black musicians whose creative output continues to influence today's young rockers. We've ranked them by the number of records sold to show just how influential they really are.
10. Chuck Berry
Date of birth: Oct. 18, 1926
Years active: 1953–2016
Records sold: 1 million+
Bottom line: Chuck Berry was, along with Little Richard and Ike Turner, a pioneer of rock 'n' roll, so much so that he's been dubbed the "Father of Rock 'n' Roll."
In the 1950s, he went to the top of the charts with classics such as "Maybellene," "Rock and Roll Music," and "Johnny B. Goode," and he's influenced everyone from the Beatles (who covered more than one Berry song) on down.
Berry was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1986 and was a Kennedy Center Honors recipient for his musical contributions. He continued to record music until his death in 2017 at age 90, leading to a spike in album sales by a whopping 9,581 percent.
9. Ike Turner
Date of birth: Nov. 5, 1931
Years active: 1940s–2007
Records sold: 1 million+ (solo, but significantly more with Tina Turner)
Bottom line: Well before there was an Ike and Tina Turner Review, Ike Turner recorded what most historians believe is the first rock 'n' roll record, all the way back in 1951.
"Rocket 88," a song by Jackie Brenston and His Delta Cats (in reality, Ike Turner's Kings of Rhythm), was recorded at Sun Records (where Million Dollar Quartet artists Elvis Presley, Johnny Cash, Jerry Lee Lewis and Carl Perkins would record a few years later) and released through Chess Records.
Turner, while band leader, wasn't the singer on the track (that was Jackie Brenston). The song sold half a million copies; despite this, the band was paid only $20 each for the rights to the song by Sun Records owner Sam Phillips. (Brenston made a whopping $910.)
Turner later said of the song, "I don't think that ‘Rocket 88’ is rock ‘n’ roll. I think that ‘Rocket 88’ is R&B, but I think ‘Rocket 88’ is the cause of rock 'n' roll existing."
8. Phil Lynott
Date of birth: Aug. 20, 1949
Years active: 1965–1985
Records sold: 3.5 million
Bottom line: Phil Lynott was an Irish musician, singer and songwriter best known as the lead vocalist and bassist for Thin Lizzy, which was at its peak during the 1970s.
He was of mixed race and struggled with his identity and acceptance throughout his life. He was nonetheless an influential figure in Irish rock and had a number of hits stateside, including "The Boys Are Back in Town," "Jailbreak" and "Whiskey in the Jar," which are still classic rock staples to this day.
Lynott died in 1986 at just 36 years old.
7. Sly Stone
Date of birth: March 15, 1943
Years active: 1952–present
Records sold: 8 million
Bottom line: Sly Stone rose to fame as frontman and lead vocalist for Sly and the Family Stone, but he was actually a child prodigy who started playing music at just 7 years old. The band was together from 1966 to about 1983 and was known for its blend of soul, funk and rock music. Men and women (including members of Stone's family) and white and black musicians were in the band, which was a rarity for the time.
Stone wrote and produced many of the group hits, including "Dance to the Music," "Everyday People" and "Thank You (Falettinme Be Mice Elf Agin)." The group reached its pinnacle in 1969 with a groundbreaking performance at Woodstock.
By the mid-1970s, Stone's tumultuous personal life and drug addiction would lead to the band's dissolution. However, he was inducted into Cleveland's Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1993. Stone has since fallen on hard times and is said to reside in a van in Los Angeles, California.
6. Jimi Hendrix
Date of birth: Nov. 27, 1942
Years active: 1962–1970
Records sold: 24 million+
Bottom line: There is probably no bigger guitar legend than Jimi Hendrix. He is consistently named one of the greatest and most influential guitarists of all time, more than 50 years after his death.
Before hitting the big time, Hendrix played with Little Richard in the early 1960s — however, he was fired from the band. According to Little Richard: "I fired Hendrix, who was using the name Maurice James at the time I knew him. He was a good guitar player, but the guy was never on time. He was always late for the bus and flirting with the girls and stuff like that. It came to a head in New York, where we had been playing the Apollo and Hendrix missed the bus for Washington, D.C. I finally cut him loose.”
Not too long after, Hendrix was discovered in New York City by Animals' bassist Chas Chandler, who brought him to the U.K. where he formed the Jimi Hendrix Experience. He released a series of groundbreaking and highly influential albums, including "Are You Experienced," "Axis: Bold as Love" and "Electric Ladyland."
Hendrix is best known for his iconic performance at Woodstock in 1969, which took place on a Monday morning after most of the crowd had already gone home. Sadly, he died on Sept. 18, 1970, at the age of 27.
5. Little Richard
Date of birth: Dec. 5, 1932
Years active: 1947–2014
Records sold: 35 million+
Bottom line: The flamboyant Little Richard paved the way for legions of musicians from the Beatles and Rolling Stones to Jimi Hendrix (who, as we mentioned, was in his band) and even Prince.
Born Richard Wayne Penniman, Little Richard began performing in church at a young age. His breakthrough came in 1955 with the release of "Tutti Frutti," followed by "Long Tall Sally," "Rip It Up," "Lucille" and "Good Golly, Miss Molly." Through these hits and a stage presence like none other, he would soon be known as the "Architect of Rock 'n' Roll."
In the late 1950s, he temporarily retired from music to become a minister, but he returned to the stage in the 1960s — and his final show wasn't until 2014.
4. Lenny Kravitz
Date of birth: May 26, 1964
Years active: 1981–present
Records sold: 40 million
Bottom line: Known for his retro-glam look and music, Kravitz gained fame in the late 1980s with hits like "Let Love Rule" and "It Ain't Over 'Til It's Over."
He also acted in a number of films and television shows. After all, acting is in his blood — he's the son of actress Roxie Roker (of the classic sitcom "The Jeffersons"), and his daughter is A-list actress Zoë Kravitz.
And believe it or not, Lenny went to high school with Guns N' Roses member Slash...
Date of birth: July 23, 1965
Years active: 1981–present
Records sold: 100 million+
Bottom line: As a member of Guns N' Roses, Slash dominated American metal in the 1980s and '90s and is widely regarded as one of the greatest guitarists of all time.
Slash has been inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame twice, once as a Guns member and once as a solo artist. He has released five solo albums and has also worked with numerous other artists as a session musician.
In addition to his musicianship, Slash is also a producer and occasional actor.
Date of birth: June 7, 1958
Years active: 1975–2016
Records sold: 100 million+
Bottom line: Prince (aka, Prince Rogers Nelson) was known as a virtuoso who could play multiple instruments. He was also a singer, songwriter and record producer, who was known for his eclectic and innovative style, which blended elements of several musical genres, including funk, rock, R&B and pop.
He released 39 studio albums during his career, his most successful of which were "Purple Rain," "1999" and "Sign o' the Times." His live performances — from the 2007 Superbowl Half Time show to his Rock and Roll Hall of Fame performance honoring George Harrison — are the stuff of legend and show just how iconic a performer he was.
Sadly, Prince died in 2016 at 57 from an accidental drug overdose.
1. Tina Turner
Date of birth: Nov. 26, 1939
Years active: 1957–2009
Records sold: 200 million +
Bottom line: Tina Turner became famous as the singer for the Ike & Tina Turner Revue in the 1960s, but it wasn't until she left Ike and became a solo performer that she came into her own and became one of the most successful artists of all time.
Turner, known for her powerful voice and energetic stage presence, achieved even greater success with hits like "What's Love Got to Do with It," "Simply the Best" and "We Don't Need Another Hero" in the 1980s.
With a net worth of $270 million, she retired on her own terms in 2007. She said, "I got on that plane … I took a deep breath, and I said, ‘It’s over.’ I really felt like it’s over. And I’m glad it’s over. And I went home.”
Turner lives a quiet life with her husband Erwin Bach in Switzerland and became a Swiss citizen in 2013.