June is commonly synonymous with Pride Month, but did you know that it’s also African American Music Appreciation Month? It started way back in 1979 under President Jimmy Carter. This month basically celebrates the cultural impact made by African American musical influences in the US. As Obama puts it, African-American music and musicians have helped the country “to dance, to express our faith through song, to march against injustice, and to defend our country’s enduring promise of freedom and opportunity for all.” So if you want to celebrate with us, check out these songs by notable African American artists to add to your playlist!
Hello, Dolly – Louis Armstrong
This jazz song is Louis Armstrong‘s most successful single. It topped the US Billboard Hot 100, even ending The Beatles’ streak of 3 chart-topping hits in a row over 14 straight weeks. It’s even got a musical named after it!
Waterfalls – TLC
Every 90s and 00s kid knows this iconic song. It’s one of those songs that defined a whole decade, so this one’s definitely on this list. And, Umbrella Academy fans will certainly have an affinity for this.
I Got You (I Feel Good) – James Brown
Another classic song from the 60s is this one by James Brown. It ranked number 21 on VH1’s 100 Greatest Songs in Rock and Roll in 2001. In 2004, It ranked 78th on Rolling Stone’s 500 Greatest Songs of All Time.
Respect – Aretha Franklin
I don’t need anyone to tell me to put this in my playlist because it already is. This is one of Aretha Franklin’s greatest songs, and you have to give her credit and R-E-S-P-E-C-T!
At Last – Etta James
This is one of the most soulful songs ever, so if you’re feeling in the mood to just lay in your room and feel music, this one’s a great choice. The lyrics, the voice, the power! Just everything about this will leave you feeling all sorts of things.
Ordinary People – John Legend
John Legend has one of the most emotional voices ever. He has that rasp and that emotion that just hits the right spot. Ordinary People is one of the first songs that made him a household name, so this better be on your playlist.
What’s Going On? – Marvin Gaye
Considered as Marvin Gaye’s masterpiece, What’s Going On? forever changed the sound of R&B. In a time when most mainstream Black music comprised of Motown artists, in came Marvin Gaye with this soulful song.
Proud Mary – Tina Turner
This fun and funky song ranked number 155 on Rolling Stone’s 500 Greatest Songs of All Time in 2004. Over the years, there have been many versions of the song. Even Leonard Nimoy recorded this song in 1970.
It Wasn’t Me – Shaggy
It Wasn’t Me was the first single from Jamaican reggae musician Shaggy’s album Hot Shot. This popular 2000s song is all about a guy asking his friend for advice after his girlfriend catches him cheating on her with the neighbor. The friend’s advice is to deny everything, hence the title.
Dream a Little Dream of Me – Ella Fitzgerald
Though this song isn’t an Ella Fitzgerald original, her and Louis Armstrong’s 50s rendition is my favorite. It may not be your typical upbeat pop song, but it has that vintage swing feel to it that makes it a favorite among vocalists.
Say My Name – Destiny’s Child
Any child born in the 90s would know how big Destiny’s Child was at the time. Say My Name was one of the group’s first hits, winning 2 Grammy Awards for Best R&B Song and Best R&B Performance by a Duo or Group with Vocals.
Strange Fruit – Billie Holiday
This 1939 song was so bold for its time that Billie Holiday could only sing it in certain places. Initially hesitant to politicize her performances, Holiday closed out every performance with this song due to public demand. The song protests the lynching of Black Americans, with lyrics that compare the victims to the fruit of trees.
Happy Birthday – Stevie Wonder
Out of all the Birthday Song renditions out there, Stevie Wonder’s has got to be the funnest. It also happens to be the most meaningful because Wonder wrote it for a campaign to make Martin Luther King Jr.’s birthday a national holiday.
Ride Wit Me – Nelly
Ride Wit Me was rapper Nelly’s highest-charting single from his debut album. Compared to the others on this list, this song didn’t exactly win awards. However, it was still one of the most popular songs from the 2000s. In popular culture, the song appeared in Scary Movie 2, Scrubs, Glee, Ted 2, and many more.
Midnight Train To Georgia – Gladys Night and The Pips
If you want to feel nostalgic, this song is for you. It was a number one hit single in 1973 and won a Grammy Award for Best R&B Vocal Performance by a Duo, Group, or Chorus.
I Can’t Stop Loving You – Ray Charles
It’s a little ironic that Ray Charles’ biggest hit wasn’t his original song. I Can’t Stop Loving You came out in 1957, but it was in 1962 when Charles made it a chart-topper. It was number 1 on the Billboard Hot 100 for five weeks.
The Thrill Is Gone – B.B. King
B.B. King’s signature rendition of The Thrill is Gone made the song a blues standard. It also earned him a Grammy Award for Best Male R&B Vocal Performance in 1970 and a Grammy Hall of Fame award in 1998.