Black influence in rock and roll has remained in the background of American history. In our history, Black creations are treated like an almost secret foundation.

Growing up, music was important to me. At home, we listened to hip-hop, R&B, reggae, and soul music.

I started listening to rock music in middle school. I learned about Lenny Kravitz from flipping through my mom’s CD collection. In seventh grade, a friend shared with me bands like Linkin Park, Sum 41, Good Charlotte, and other pop punk artists in the early 2000s. I used to spend hours after school watching music videos, and consuming whatever music-focused content that I could.

Thanks to platforms like MTV2, FUSE, and The Rock Block on Indy’s Music Channel (IMC), I saw some rockers who looked like me. Bands like N.E.R.D., Bloc Party, Fefe Dobson, and TV on the Radio became quick favorites. But, it wasn’t enough. I needed to learn more. From a young age, I knew I wanted to be a music journalist. Rhythms in rock and roll have always felt natural, almost ancestral. As I’ve studied more, I found that rock and roll is connected to the Black identity. From there, I’ve made it my job to learn about music, specifically Black influence in every genre and media form.

When I think about the history of rock and roll, there are countless times when Black influence transformed the genre. From jazz, blues, and reggae influences, Black artists laid the blueprint for what rock and roll music is today. In a white-dominated space, it can be hard to see ourselves reflected in a genre that was created by us. But, we are there. There are many pioneers like Little Richard, Chuck Berry, Big Mama Thornton, Muddy Waters, John Lee Hooker and more.

Starting with classic rock, one of the most notable artists in the genre and the greatest guitarist of all time, Jimi Hendrix.

A shy musician from Seattle traveled to England and made a splash in a big way. Before this, he played in soul groups and influenced their sound like the Isley Brothers. Jimi took what everyone thought they knew about rock music and spun it upside down. His reach was massive. From his classic psychedelic work with his first band, The Jimi Hendrix Experience, to his more blues-focused work with the Band of Gypsys and everything in between, Jimi defined the genre. He continued to expand in this space until he died in 1970.

A lesser-known rock and roll founder is a band named Death. They were three brothers from Detroit named Bobby, Dannis, and David Hackney. Death attempted to make a way in the industry in the early 1970s but were limited in their success (at the time) because of their band name. The brothers’ sound was influenced by early rockers like The Who and Alice Cooper, to name a few. They were lightyears ahead of their time. After not much success in the rock space, two of the brothers formed the reggae band, Lambsbread and found success.

A documentary released in 2013 introduced the world to the first Black proto-punk band.

We can’t talk about Black influence in rock and roll and not mention punk music, and the legendary Bad Brains. Bad Brains is the first Black punk band that fused fast-paced rock music with reggae and the spirituality and teachings of Rastafari.

The original lineup includes Paul Hudson, known as H.R. on vocals, Gary Miller, known as Dr. Know on guitar, Darryl Jennifer on bass, and Earl Hudson on drums. Bad Brains formed in the late 1970s, and released their debut album, Banned in D.C., in 1982. They transformed punk music by creating spaces for spiritual exploration. Bad Brains opened doors for bands like the Beastie Boys, Sublime, Rage Against the Machine, and more.

I was lucky enough to meet H.R. at Healer in 2022. He’s an elder now, still touring, and mostly performing reggae sets. His show at Healer was a spiritual experience.

It’s still important to me to know the Black founding artists in rock and roll.

There are many more artists that I could mention like Fishbone, Funkadelic, Eddie Hazel, Living Colour, Prince, The Time, and Mother’s Finest.

Black artists shaped the mold of rock music, but the creators remain hidden in plain sight.

Without Blackness, rock and roll wouldn’t exist.

The night Jimi Hendrix plugged himself into the UK scene (Salon)
Thanks to film ‘A Band Called Death,’ punk rockers get a new life
About Ariana Beedie

About Ariana Beedie

Beedie is a writer, curator and community connector. Her passion for community storytelling combined with an asset-based community development approach led her to co-create projects like Face A Face (FAF Collective), Hoy Polloy Art Gallery, WooGrl Fest, and more. Her work is featured in AFROPUNK, Sixty Inches from Center, Indianapolis Contemporary, Indy Arts Council and WFYI.

When she isn’t working, she loves to care for her plants, journal, obsess over vinyl and music samples, and hang out with her amazing kid.