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Black music month: Five acts to watch

From the powerful spirituals of the antebellum South to the multi-layered instrumentals found in contemporary hip-hop, black musicians have shaped the cultural history of this country in myriad ways. In 1979, President Jimmy Carter formally recognized these contributions by declaring June black music month. Thirty-two years later, we are taking notice of five up-and-coming acts with their own history-making potential.

Photo: Johann Sauty

Esperanza Spalding

This 25-year-old musician from Portland, Ore., is a jazz instrumentalist and singer who fuses a healthy mix of jazz, pop and Latin into her music. Recently profiled in The New Yorker, this “prodigiously talented” bassist and chanteuse has already garnered critical praise for her inventive approach to contemporary jazz.

Listen to her music here:

Photo: Jean-Francois Leblanc

This songstress raised in Champaign, Ill., to Rwandan and Nigerian parents, just dropped her latest album, “If the Rain Comes First” last year. Her music is a smooth hybrid of soul and jazz, sonorously dubbed the “New African Soul.”

Listen to her music here:

Photo: Ebet Roberts

Homemade Jamz Blues Band
This impressive trio from Tupelo, Miss., is made up of siblings Ryan Perry, 17; Kyle Perry, 15; and Taya Perry, 11. This youthful group recently won over skeptics with their mature take on modern blues, best sampled on their latest release, “I Got Blues for You.”

Listen to their music here:


Progressive Rock
The Memorials

This Bay Area-based band is made up of singer Viveca Hawkins, lead drummer Thomas Pridgen and guitarist Nick Brewer. While many in the music press have compared The Memorials to famous rockers like Lenny Kravitz and The Roots, the group has a refreshingly edgy sound that is decidedly all their own.

Listen to their music here:


Johnson Barnes isn’t just any ordinary rapper: He’s on a mission to revive hip-hop. His style is so catchy that you will find yourself zoning out to both his lyrics and the beat. Barnes’ 2007 debut album, “Below the Heavens,” produced with rapper Exile, won fans like Slum Village and Emanon.

Listen to his music here:

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