Legendary African-American jazz musicians

Influential African-American jazz musicians in honour of Black History month

We’re in New Orleans, in the early 1900s. An exciting new style of music has emerged, known as jazz. It is a style that is deeply-rooted in various African cultures. Jazz has always been evolving and was greatly influenced by a lot of African-American musicians. Below are recommendations of legendary African-American jazz artists that have composed incredible music.

Louis Armstrong

Known as “Satchmo” or “Pops,” was an incredibly influential jazz trumpet player and singer whose career spanned from 1920 to 1960. He is one of the first scat singers and is responsible for its popularization. One of his most iconic singles is “What a Wonderful World,” and even though it was released in 1967, it is still popular half a century later. Armstrong influenced some of the greats with his singing and trumpet-playing, including Frank Sinatra, Bing Crosby, Miles Davis and Dizzy Gillespie. Armstrong is known as one of the most important musical figures in American history, and was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1990.



Miles Dewey Davis III

Known as one of the great innovators of jazz. In a 2015 BBC poll, Miles Davis was voted the greatest musician of all time.The American bandleader, trumpeter and composer was at the forefront of many stylistic changes in jazz music, from be-bop, to hard bop, to cool jazz, to funk and techno. His five-decade career spanned from the 40s to the 90s. Throughout this time, he has helped jazz music evolve so much that he is considered one of the most acclaimed figures in jazz history. In fact, he is known as one of the key developers of jazz music, and his accomplishments were highlighted in the recent film Miles Ahead (2015). One of Davis’ most recognized songs is “Stella by Starlight,” which was released in 1958. Davis has received eight Grammy Awards, and was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2006.


Edward Kennedy “Duke” Ellington

Ellington is highly praised for making jazz an art form. Not only was he one of the most recognized bandleaders, but he was a hugely popular pianist and composer. He has more than a thousand compositions under his belt, with many of his works becoming part of the standard repertoire of jazz music. One of his most highly praised songs is “It Don’t Mean a Thing (If It Ain’t Got That Swing), which was released in 1943. Many artists, including Tony Bennett, have been influenced by this artist, and have covered his songs. Ellington has received many awards and honours for his music, including 13 Grammy Awards, a Pulitzer Prize, a Presidential Medal of Freedom, a NAACP Spingarn Medal and is featured on a Commemorative U.S. quarter.


Mary Lou Williams

As the first female jazz musician to be ranked among the greatest jazz musicians of all time, Mary Lou Williams was a pioneer. Not only was she a prominent jazz pianist, composer and vocalist, but she began her career as a child musical prodigy. Even before she was in her 20s, she was writing and arranging music for bandleaders such as Duke Ellington and Benny Goodman. Williams was also a friend, teacher and mentor to legendary jazz musicians such as Miles Davis, Dizzy Gillespie and Thelonious Monk. One of her most popular songs is “Roll ‘Em” which was released in 1945. Williams’ legacy continues to this day, at the Mary Lou Williams Centre for Black Culture at Duke University.


John Birks “Dizzy” Gillespie

Gillespie along with Charlie Parker, is recognized for ushering in the era of bebop in America. Dizzy founded Afro-Cuban and Latin jazz music. He also fused Afro-American jazz and Afro-Cuban rhythms to form a Cubop sound. The artist toured the world, from Africa to Latin America, and brought many musicians back to America to play with him on stage. While he incorporated many different styles of music from around the world into his performances, he was particularly drawn to music with African roots, as he was very proud of his heritage. One of his most recognized songs is “A Night in Tunisia.” The legendary jazz musician was inducted into the Big Band and Jazz Hall of Fame in 1982.

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