As musicians, Black women have shaped the musical climate in the United States throughout history. Black women in the music industry face an astronomical amount of obstacles.
In general, how many Black female singers/songwriters are you able to name off the top of your head? Many people immediately think of Beyoncé, Mariah Carey, Whitney Houston, and other more recent Black female artists. While these women are incredibly talented and influential and have achieved great musical feats, it wasn’t always easy for Black women to make a name for themselves in this industry.
Take Billie Holiday, Ella Fitzgerald, and Aretha Franklin for example. These three women were paid amounts deemed considerable for the time period in which they lived but, unfortunately, they were never properly advised on what to do with their royalties. Billie Holiday “...died in July 1959 at age 44 from complications from cirrhosis of the liver with $0.70 in the bank and $750 strapped to her leg.” This is just one example of a talented Black female singer/songwriter who was overlooked and didn’t receive any advice that would help her succeed. Had it not been as taboo for Black women to thrive in the musical climate of the ‘20s through the ‘60s, I have no doubt that there would have been many more successful singer/songwriters that were Black women.
History has not been very kind to Black women in the music industry, but these women helped pave the way for contemporary artists to thrive and receive the recognition that they deserve. In an interview published on the website Hypebae, four Black female singer/songwriters open up about their experiences with being a Black woman in the music industry. Muni Long, a Black singer/songwriter, started creating Youtube videos in 2004 when Youtube was just beginning to develop. A few of her inspirations are Josephine Baker, Donna Summer, and Janet Jackson, and she credits them, along with every other Black woman throughout musical history, for paving the way for her and other contemporary Black women who are breaking into the world of music. Long continues on to say that “...every single artist, male or female, that pushed against the strongholds of racism and colorism in the music industry has paved the way for me to exist the way that I do.” This quote is exceptionally powerful because it reiterates just how much Black women in this industry have struggled in order to pave the way for modern-day Black female song artists.
In 2019, The Berklee College of Music released a report detailing how satisfied or unsatisfied women in the music industry were with their careers. The report was overall positive, but “...white women were more likely to be satisfied than women of color — 75 percent compared to 62 percent.” This is unsurprising due to the long-standing racial barriers in the music industry, but Black women who are a part of the contemporary music scene are overwhelmingly happy with what they do.
Black women in the music industry have faced many more challenges than their male counterparts, but they continue to push boundaries and thrive due to their immense talent and drive. Black women have become a dominant presence in many different genres of music, and they will only continue to succeed thanks to the exceptional Black female musicians who paved the way.
Allsopp, Peter. “The Estate of Billie Holiday - in Many Sad Ways Reflects Her Life.” Medium, Medium, 29 Apr. 2018, https://medium.com/@injudiciouslex/the-estate-of-billie-holiday-in-many-sad-ways-reflects-her-life-a53682ec5f89#:~:text=Holiday's%20estate%20was%20valued%20at%20around%20%241%2C000%2C000%20and%20earned%20%24121%2C212%20per%20year.
Leon, Pauline De. “4 Artists Discuss the Realities of Being a Black Woman in the Music Industry.” HYPEBAE, HYPEBAE, 24 Feb. 2021, https://hypebae.com/2021/2/black-women-music-representation-gender-diversity-inclusion-interview-kiana-lede-mahalia-abby-jasmine-muni-long.
Shea, Andrea. “7 Takeaways from a New Berklee Report on Women Working in the Music Industry.” WBUR News, WBUR, 12 Mar. 2019, https://www.wbur.org/news/2019/03/12/berklee-report-women-music-industry.