Famous Black Musicians

Talented composers, singers and more

Trumpeter Louis Armstrong
Underwood Archives/Archive Photos/Getty Images

In 1926, a Harvard scholar by the name of Dr. Carter G. Woodson organized the first annual Negro History Week. The said event happened in the second week of February which also coincides with the birthdays of two great civil rights leaders: Abraham Lincoln and Frederick Douglass. In honor of the annual Black History Month celebration, here are several profiles of famous African-American musicians, from Louis Armstrong to Fats Waller.

  • Louis Armstrong: Armstrong was a musician and composer of jazz music known as one of the founding fathers of jazz. Armstrong was also known as a trumpeter, singer, and actor with the nickname Satchmo.
  • Chuck Berry: Berry was a blues and rock and roll guitarist and vocalist. He is considered one of the musical pioneers of rock and roll.
  • James Brown: Brown is a vocalist and keyboardist of soul, R&B, funk, pop and dance music genres. Referred to as the "Godfather of Soul", Brown is known for popular songs like "It's A Man's Man's Man's World."
  • Ray Charles: Charles is known as "The Genius," and was a gospel singer/songwriter and pianist.
  • Nat King Cole: Cole started out as a pianist and later became known as a vocalist. You may know his music from popular songs like "Unforgettable" and "Mona Lisa."
  • John Coltrane: Coltrane was an influential tenor jazz saxophonist.
  • Edmond Dede: Dede was a violin prodigy and Orchestra Conductor at the Alcazar Theatre for 27 years.
  • Duke Ellington: Ellington was a composer, bandleader and jazz pianist, fondly called "The Duke." Some of Ellington's hits included "In a Sentimental Mood", "Satin Doll", and "Take The 'A' Train."
  • Ella Fitzgerald: Fitzgerald is known as "The First Lady of Song" and for her incredible scat-singing. Fitzgerald's hits included "Summertime" and "Blue Skies."
  • Dizzy Gillespie: Gillespie is one of the founding fathers of jazz and one of the inventors of bebop. He was also a trumpeter who had a reputation for puffing out his cheeks during performances.
  • Billie Holiday: Dubbed "Lady Day," Holiday was one of the foremost blues singers in history known for her soulful voice.
  • Francis Johnson: Johnson was the inventor of cotillions and was the first major band master in the US.
  • Scott Joplin: Joplin was known as the "King of Ragtime" due to his classic rags for the piano.
  • B.B. King: King was an American blues singer known as "The King of the Blues."
  • Charlie "Bird" Parker: Parker influenced the development of "bop" in the 1940s and was one of the greatest improvising soloists in jazz.
  • Florence Beatrice Price:  Price was the first African-American woman composer whose work was performed by a leading US orchestra.
  • Ma Rainey: Rainey was known as the first great blues singer. She made over 100 recordings under the Paramount label.
  • Bessie Smith: Smith was known as "Empress of the Blues," one of the greatest blues singers of the 1920s.
  • Sarah Vaughan: Vaughan was one of the greatest jazz vocalists in history whose career spanned almost 50 years.
  • Fats Waller: Waller was a jazz organist, pianist, singer, composer, conductor, and bandleader of small bands during the 1930s.