Black History Month: Derin Adebiyi, Public Affairs Officer

To celebrate Black History Month, and as part of our ongoing commitment to support diversity and promote inclusion, the ISM is producing a series of blogs featuring prominent black musicians working in the industry today.

The series will include blog posts from prominent black musicians, including Chi-chi Nwanoku, Philip Herbert, Errolyn Wallen, Nadine Benjamin and Clive Campbell as well as a contribution from the Samuel Coleridge-Taylor Foundation about the vital work of the prominent 19th century composer.

The contributions of black artists to music is deep rooted and fundamental, shown by the influence of Chuck Berry on the Beatles, the influence of Muddy Waters on the Rolling Stones  (they named themselves after one of his songs) and the transformative power that delta blues stalwarts Robert Johnson and Memphis Minnie had on Led Zeppelin.

As a member of the black community and a musician, I take pride in the works of those that have gone before me and I am deeply influenced by their works which have lasted the test of time.

Growing up, my mother would always play and sing the music of prominent black female soul singers, such as Aretha Franklin, Patti Labelle and Nina Simone. She would tell us that these women demanded respect at a time of great social inequality, instilling those values in my siblings and I that still run true today.

In my teenage years, my friends and I would go to the local youth club around the corner from the council estate where we lived and would check out the older kids getting on the mic and spitting bars to the new underground grime scene that was just coming up.

Grime affected me profoundly because they were singing about topics that I could relate to growing up in that area: racial inequality, poverty, social justice. These issues were the norm every day but hearing this artform challenge and expose these issues for what they were – huge problems - was powerful. It is no surprise to me that grime music has become so popular in the modern climate, with artists like Dizzy Rascal, Wiley, Kano, Skepta and Stormzy amongst the UK’s biggest music stars.

Even Adele, who is the biggest selling artist of the modern era cites her whole musical raison d'etre as being deeply rooted in the works of black female singers. Artists such as Etta James Mary J. Blige, Lauryn Hill and Alicia Keys – she calls The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill and Songs in A Minor ‘life-defining’.  I agree unequivocally. I still get goosebumps when I listen to those albums.

I decided to pursue my own career as a professional musician when I saw Jimi Hendrix on the TV for the first time. I had heard Voodoo Child(Slight Return) on the radio before, but had always assumed it was performed by five guitarists. I thought there was no way that it could be just one guitarist. Imagine my shock at seeing a black guy – who had the same complexion that I did - playing an upside down guitar with his teeth and then behind his back whilst making sounds I did not know were humanly possible by just one human. That day I decided that all I wanted to do was play the guitar like Jimi Hendrix.

The list of prominent black musicians whose works have inspired countless generations is endless. Artists such as Miles Davis, John Coltrane and Dizzy Gillespie introduced me to jazz. Chaka Khan led me to Prince who in turn led me to Parliament and Funkadelic.

Artists protesting the Vietnam War whilst trying to have a voice in a racially-divided America led towards the creation of some of the greatest music ever recorded. I’m talking Innervisions’ by Stevie Wonder, ‘What’s Going On’ by Marvin Gaye and ‘There’s a riot going on’ by Sly and the Family Stone.

I should also mention the positive impact that hip hop artists have had on me, Public Enemy, TuPac, Notorious BIG, Nas, Jay Z, Missy Elliott, Lil Kim, Salt n Pepper, Wu Tang clan and Kendrick Lamar, are all truly inspirational and thought provoking; I will also acknowledge the influence of artists like Freddie King, BB King, Willie Dixon and Son House and the imprint they left on my love of music.

Finally there are the artists that my mum used to force me to listen to (and she was right as usual). The music of Otis Redding, The Supremes, Dione Warwick, Bill Withers, Bob Marley, James Brown, Curtis Mayfield and Gladys Knight is music I will always hold dear to my heart.

In celebration of those that have gone before, we celebrate the legacy they have left behind by asking prominent black musicians to talk to the ISM about their experiences in the music industry.

The ISM is an inclusive professional body with a diverse membership spanning the whole music profession. We are committed to supporting and promoting diversity and inclusion within the music sector.

We hope you enjoy the series. 

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