Destination Jam: 5 iconic songs by African-American musicians that pay tribute black culture

From gospel and blues to rap and R&B, black artists have delivered hit tracks soaked with soul and empathy

                            Destination Jam: 5 iconic songs by African-American musicians that pay tribute black culture
Aretha Franklin, James Brown, Beyonce (Getty Images)

Hello, music lovers! As the month of July rolls in, we're still in a wee bit of limbo – the nation attempts to keep its head firmly on its shoulders after the disorienting effects of the last few months. The coronavirus pandemic and its widespread impact are still being felt as we continue to follow social distancing protocols and venture outside with our masks. Even more significant at the moment is the recent Black Lives Matter movement, as the death of George Floyd, Oluwatoyin Salau and many others serve as a lightning rod for public condemnation of racism, police brutality and numerous other sociopolitical issues that have afflicted the nation, such as the right to equality, health care, and free speech. To add to this, we've also just wrapped up Pride Month 2020, which celebrates the often marginalized LGBTQIA++ community. But even in these times of strife and the need for better communication and education, America has mobilized around its wounded and afflicted, doling out plenty of compassion, hope, and love for our impassioned citizens.

In today's Destination Jam playlist, we pay tribute to some of the iconic songs that are a significant source of pride and inspiration for the African-American community. From gospel and blues to rap and R&B, black musicians have shown that they are passionate entertainers, with songs soaked with soul and empathy, and we wanted to pay tribute to just a few of them today. There are far too many to put on one list, so consider this a mere sampling of great tunes.

Protesters gather near the White House before a group tried to pull down the statue of Andrew Jackson in Lafayette Square on June 22, 2020 in Washington, DC. Protests continue around the country over police brutality, racial injustice and the deaths of African Americans while in police custody. (Getty Images)


Destination Jam: African-American Gems 

Aretha Franklin: 'Respect'  



Best known as one of the most impassioned singers and civil rights activists of our modern era, Aretha Franklin is right up there when it comes to iconic African-American singers. Her signature song 'Respect' which has been covered dozens of times by every black singer worth their salt, is considered a definitive version by many, even though it was first recorded by Otis Redding in 1965. Aretha Franklin's 1967 rendition is an impassioned declaration by a strong, confident woman who knows that she has everything her man wants, and now just needs some respect in return. It soon became a feminist anthem, and even earned Aretha two Grammy awards in the R&B category. "I ain't gonna do you wrong while you're gone / Ain't gonna do you wrong 'cause I don't wanna / All I'm askin' / Is for a little respect when you come home."

Bill Withers: 'Lean On Me' 



Even though Bill Withers recently passed away in March, the soulful singer's tunes still leave a lasting impact on a generation in dire need of hope and healing. First recorded in 1972, 'Lean On Me' is treasured by millions worldwide, and its timeless lyrics seem even more apt and timely for our present circumstances. "Lean on me, when you're not strong / And I'll be your friend / I'll help you carry on..." It's a balm for our distraught souls and deserves to be adopted as an international anthem for our current troubled times. And let's not forget that the song carries an eternal message of hope as well, for every citizen of the United States. "We all have pain / We all have sorrow / But if we are wise / We know that there's always tomorrow."

James Brown: 'I Got You (I Feel Good)'  



Best known as the godfather of soul and one of the pioneers of groovy funk, James Brown is a true blue African-American icon. Dubbed the "hardest working man in show business," James Brown could be seen entertaining packed stadiums well into his 70s. First recorded in 1965, 'I Got You (I Feel Good)' is probably his best-known song, with its layers of bubbling brass instrumentation and Brown's passionate delivery. The song's lines have Brown celebrating how good he feels now that he has got his lover in his embrace, and hoops and holler about his infectious delight to anyone who will listen. "When I hold you in my arms / I know that I can't do no wrong / And I feel nice, like sugar and spice..."

Beyonce: 'Black Parade'



Although the pop star Beyonce is a more of a contemporary African-American icon, the former Destiny's Child member and current wife of hip-hop mogul Jay-Z is a modern diva in her own right. Her recent 'Black Parade' track which released last month on Juneteenth, serves as a celebration of black culture, as well as a strong sociopolitical commentary on the current plight of African-Americans with its themes of solidarity, activism, and hope. Besides being incredibly uplifting, it's also an incredibly mesmerizing and catchy offering by the one and only Queen Bey. "We got rhythm (We got rhythm), we got pride (We got pride) / We birth kings (We birth kings), we birth tribes (We birth tribes) / Holy river (Holy river), holy tongue (Holy tongue) / Speak the glory (Speak the glory), feel the love."

Jennifer Hudson: 'A Change is Gonna Come' 



The Oscar-winning actress and singer Jennifer Hudson first burst into the spotlight during the third season on 'American Idol', and has gone on to earn rave reviews for her singing performances ever since. Known as the "Princess of Soul," it's probably fitting that J Hud was chosen to sing the 1964 Sam Cooke classic, 'A Change is Gonna Come' at Denzel Washington's (another African-American icon) AFI Life Achievement Award ceremony. Full of soaring power notes and an exemplary delivery that is both fragile, determined, and hopeful, Jennifer Hudson earned herself rave reviews for her stellar and emotive performance. "There have been times that I thought I couldn't last for long / But now I think I'm able to carry on / It's been a long, a long time coming /But I know a change is gonna come, oh yes it will." These inspiring lyrics still ring as true as ever, serving as a beacon of hope to all American citizens yearning for change.

Destination Jam is a daily list of songs that will keep you entertained and grooving up top in lieu of feeling drained and losing the plot. Look out for a fresh selection of great tunes from MEAWW to refresh your mood every day!

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