Last month, I shared some black artists you can blast in your kitchen while you drink red wine. Perhaps, you’ve been in this fight for a few years too long and are growing weary. Maybe you’re tired of hearing people say they just started learning this whole holy-shit-systemic-racism-is-everywhere-and-overwhelming-and-how-did-I-not-know-about-this? mental loop. Maybe the music you normally listen to just isn’t cutting it for you. This time, I’m sharing black artists you can play for those world-weary, two-cups-of coffee-can’t-chase-away-the-exhausted anger, just need a smile, early mornings and late nights.
Ruthie Foster-Mama Said
Whether it be folk, gospel, or blues, Ruthie Foster does it damn well. When offered a deal by Atlantic Records that would require her becoming an pop artist, she turned them down. Luckily, Blue Corn Music chose her music just as it was, and over twelve years, she released seven albums. Her songs show a long history of pain and joy that make you feel like she’s gotten through some things, and so will you. When she sings Phenomenal Woman by Maya Angelou, you sense a massive family gathering of womxn laughing and braiding hair in her living room.
Ed Lewis-Oh, I Be So Glad When The Sun Goes Down
Carried over from many African and Caribbean music traditions, the call and response is an important oral component of “work songs”-songs to sing while you labor-to keep you in rhythm, keep you going when you’re exhausted, and encourage dialogue. When I grew up, I wondered why most American pop music (melody/harmony) just didn’t feel right or “stick” with me. I realized it’s because the songs I preferred tend to focus on polyphony-giving the impression of an improvised conversation. My grandfather would sing this song with us as we cleaned the house/tended the vegetables as my grandmother fried the catfish we caught that day in the hot kitchen.
Bessie Smith-Nobody Knows You When You’re Down and Out
If you cried all the tears you could last night and you’re feeling like you want a little nip in your coffee the morning after? Bessie Smith is the artist for you. One of the recurring black women in my rotation, she sings of love, greed, compassion, evil, and beauty in a heartbreaking voice that wraps you up and soothes your spirit. If you’ve ever wondered if your friends are only around you for what you can do for them, you’ll feel understood to your core when she sings ‘In my pocket not one penny, And my friends I haven’t any’.
Willie Mae ‘Big Mama’ Thornton-Summertime
Big Mama Thornton definitely needs to be added to everyone’s playlists with a swiftness. I don’t normally say artists haven’t been given enough respect, but she’s not nearly as recognized or known as she deserves. Start with this song as the muggy heat of July approaches. Her voice is sturdy and robust enough to carry head notes to the ceiling and trail the smoky bottom of the basement. Listen to the hope in the words ‘one of these mornings/you’re gonna rise up singing’ as you shuffle around your kitchen for the thousandth time and let them seep into your bones.
Mississippi Fred McDowell-Good Morning, School Girl
Good Morning, School Girl is one of the blues standards — songs that have been widely recorded, interpreted, and performed — so you could spend half your morning listening to this song performed by John Lee Hooker, Muddy Waters, and Smokey Hogg and feel like you’re listening to wildly different songs. McDowell’s version of a twitter-pated schoolboy is still one of my favorites. His guitar slides are legendary, and while he once said ‘I don’t play no rock and roll’, you can hear traces of him in rock music to this day.
Corrine Bailey Rae-Put Your Records On
After sending her one of my playlists, a friend had the audacity to ask if I listen to anything from the past two decades. I do, but it’s generally background music. Corrine’s gentle voice makes you want to buy all the records you can fit in your living room. Honorable Mention: Ndidi, Move Together. Play them when you’re cleaning your house and open the windows to let the breeze through. (So, here you go, Sanaya.)
Happy listening, friends.