It's Black History Month, and it’s time to step back a few decades and look at some of the most influential black artists of the 1970s.

Jimi Hendrix

Jimi Hendrix was arguably the greatest guitarist of all time. Certainly one of the most famous to play the six-string axe, he was known for his unique performance style, the ease with which he moved around the instrument, and some truly great songs.

Despite a tragically early death in 1970 at the age of 27, which earned him his spot in the infamous “27 Club” alongside the likes of Jim Morrison, Kurt Cobain, and Amy Winehouse, Hendrix managed to transform the perception of the guitar. He enjoyed a brief period of huge commercial success, particularly in the UK, culminating in now-classic hits and his legendary performance at Woodstock.

Some of Hendrix’s music might not sound particularly revolutionary now given the amount of blues-influenced bands around who use distortion and effects in their songs, yet they only exist because of his music. Just as The Beatles’ music looms over the rock and pop landscape of today, Hendrix’s influence can be heard in everything from David Bowie and Prince right up to Red Hot Chili Peppers and A Tribe Called Quest.

Though of course he utilised heavy drive sounds, he also has a remarkable clean tone that he would get just right by adjusting the volume knob on his guitar during performances.

Stevie Wonder

Even from an exceptionally young age, there was no doubt that Wonder would truly be a wonder.

At age 11, he’d already achieved what so many musicians dream of – a signed deal with Motown superstar label, Tamla. With Marvin Gaye, The Isley Brothers, and Smokey Robinson & The Miracles also on the client list, Stevie would be in great company. Stevie’s 1963 single “Fingertips” shot to the Billboard Hot 100 number 1 spot when he was at the tender age of 13, the youngest ever artist to top this chart. Yes, as he had only just hit his teen years, Stevie Wonder was already building the foundations for the outstanding career that lay ahead of him.

Most of Stevie’s critical success happened during the 70’s, which saw the release of the still-HUGE tunes like “You Are The Sunshine of My Life”, “Sir Duke”, “Isn’t She Lovely” and “Superstition”. His albums Innervisions (1973), Fulfillingness’ First Finale (1974) and Songs in the Key of Life (1976) all won a Grammy Award for Album of the Year – yep, that’s three consecutive albums with a Grammy. He is the only artist to have ever achieved this, breaking records left right and centre.

100 million records, 25 Grammys and a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame later, Stevie is still a living legend. To sum up the enormity of his career in one blog is frankly impossible, but celebrating his fantastic achievements is not! Now get your speakers on and blast your favourite Wonder tune… Ooooooh very superstitious…

Marvin Gaye

It’s time to talk about Marvin Gaye – the award-winning, hit-making Prince of Motown.

There’s no doubt that this man and his music played a key role in shaping the sound of Motown music in the 60s. From the beginning of his career to its premature end, Marvin Gaye’s singing and songwriting eventually earned him the Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award.

Marvin Gaye soon began collaborating with other huge names in the Motown crew. The series of duets that he wrote with Tammi Terrell were particularly successful, and included giant hits like “Ain’t No Mountain High Enough” (Gaye’s most streamed tune on Spotify), “Your Precious Love”, “You’re All I Need To Get By” and “Ain’t Nothing Like the Real Thing”.

But his first single that reached the number 1 spot was “I Heard It Through the Grapevine”. Who wouldn’t recognise that iconic keyboard introduction?! Without a doubt this song is considered one of the staples of the Motown era and we absolutely love it. So much so, that we had to include it in the Rockschool Keys syllabus at Grade 3. We wanted everyone to have the chance to play that famous riff!

Another tune that we just have to talk about is “What’s Going On”. Marvin wrote this after witnessing an act of police brutality and was desperate to release the song. Berry Gordy was very reluctant to release it for fear that it was “too political” and would jeopardise his crossover audience. Gaye was not satisfied with this at all, and decided to go on strike and not record or release a single song until “What’s Going On” was released. Gaye knew his worth. As soon as the song came out it went straight to the number 1 spot on the R&B chart, and number 2 on the Billboard Hot 100 too!

Stay tuned for more blogs this Black History Month, celebrating the artists that we all know and love. Their contributions to music are incredible!