How African American Women Pioneered Rock Music

How can African American Women have pioneered rock music when white men are at the forefront of its history? It’s about time we truly learned about the iconic Black women who paved the way for the white-washed music history most of us know.

It’s time we acknowledge the real story… Elvis, The Beatles, Mick Jagger and so many more drew inspiration from the vocal styles and dance moves of African American women.

Elvis Presley rose to fame with his 1956 hit “Hound Dog,” but three years prior, Big Mama Thornton was the first one to sing the song and to hit #1 on the charts. The Shirelles’ dreamy vocal harmonies served as the inspiration for John Lennon’s own harmonies with The Beatles. 

And Tina Turner’s iconic vocal style and dance moves inspired the likes of Mick Jagger and Rod Stewart. It wasn’t until Turner ironically reclaimed the rock n roll sound by covering hits like “Honky Tony Women” by the Rolling Stones and “Whole Lotta Love” by Led Zeppelin that she got her recognition from the general public.

Facts like these often get written out of the one-sided, white-washed rock n roll history textbooks, leaving out entire generations of hard work from African American women who pioneered and inspired these men. 

This week, we dive into Black Diamond Queens: African American Women in Rock n Roll by Maureen Mahon to gain a better picture of the legendary musicians who laid the groundwork for music as we know it today.

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Learn more about mishaps in the history of rock from our past episodes like, The Inescapable Misogyny in Songwriting and The Importance of Groupies to Rock n Roll.

Sources for How African American Women Pioneered Rock N Roll

Black Diamond Queens: African American Women in Rock n Roll by Maureen Mahon (2020)

Relearn Music History With Us

Why is Everyone Always Stealing Black Music by Wesley Morris (New York Times, 2019)

Just Around Midnight by Jack Hamilton (2016)

Right To Rock by Maureen Mahon (2004)

Segregating Sound: Inventing Folk and Pop Music in the Age of Jim Crow (Refiguring American Music) by Karl Hagstrom Miller (2010)

Dayglo! The Poly Styrene Story by Celeste Bell and Zoe Howe (2019)

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