Black Artists You Should Know: House Music Edition

The history of house music and the role Black artists and culture played in its development

The sounds of house music that we all know and love today can primarily be traced back to Chicago in the late 1970s. Although it’s become an international phenomenon adopted and enjoyed by many different groups, house music is deeply rooted in African-American culture and music, in addition to queer culture. 

The origins of house music can be traced back decades to the disco scene in Chicago. House music was heavily influenced by Black culture as it was pioneered by Black artists such as Frankie Knuckles and Ron Hardy. These DJs created a unique sound that was heavily inspired by the soul and funk music of the era, as well as the electronic sounds of Kraftwerk and Giorgio Moroder. 

Throughout the 1980s and 1990s, house music spread to clubs and dance floors all over the world, with many of its major producers and DJs being of African-American descent. 

True then and now, house music is an amalgamation of various styles of music such as funk, disco, and electronic music. It is characterized by a four-on-the-floor beat, synthesized basslines, and a steady tempo. House music also features a range of vocal samples, as well as handclaps and drum machines. 

Through the years, many different subgenres of house music have developed: tech house, deep house, disco house, UK garage, minimal house, electronica, progressive house, and much more.

Key Black figures in the history of house music

frankie knuckles godfather of house music

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Frankie Knuckles

Known as the “Godfather of House Music,” Frankie Knuckles pioneered the genre of house music in the late 1970s and early 1980s during his residency at the Warehouse in Chicago. Not only was he a Black artist pushing boundaries, but to this day, his name is reserved as one of the most influential DJs in the scene. 

Ron Hardy

Ron Hardy was a legendary Chicago house DJ who was known for his creative mixing and unique sound. He took what Frankie Knuckles already built in Chicago to the next level. His sets at The Music Box in Chicago are still considered some of the most renowned performances in house music history. 

Farley “Jackmaster” Funk

Farley Jackmaster Funk was a pivotal figure in the house music scene in Chicago during the mid to late 1980s. He’s well known for his innovative mixing techniques and boundary-pushing productions. 

Marshall Jefferson

Breaking into the scene in the 1980s in none other than Chicago, Marshall Jefferson is considered one of the founding fathers of house music. His track “Move Your Body” is one of the most influential house tracks of all time. Jefferson is still releasing music today, more recently sharing a fresh new rendition of “Move Your Body” in 2019.

House music today

What about house music today? The past few decades have allowed DJs and producers from around the world to refine house music sounds and cultures. However, house music has seen a huge surge in popularity in the US over the past decade. More than ever before, house music has gone mainstream, infiltrating radio and large-scale festival stages. 

International Black artist sensation Beyoncé enlisted house music producers to assist in the development of her grammy-winning album Renaissance. At the 2023 Grammy awards, Renaissance received the accolade for the Best Dance/Electronic Music Album. Helping Beyoncé produce the album was none other than Honey Dijon, a prominent Black figure in house music. 

Modern Black tastemakers in house music:

Black Coffee

One of the most acclaimed Black artists in the dance music space, Black Coffee has been spinning for over a decade and a half. The Grammy-nominated producer’s signature sound blends deep house, tech house, and techno, creating a mesmerizing and soulful atmosphere. He’s had several number-one albums and has been awarded numerous awards, including the South African Music Awards’ Best Dance Album. 

Honey Dijon

Honey Dijon is a sought-after name in the house music scene, having played at festivals and clubs around the world. Her unique blend of house and techno has had crowds dancing for hours. With her own label, Classic Music Company, Honey Dijon has been able to share her music with the world. More recently, Honey Dijon assisted in the production of Beyoncé’s Renaissance album, championing representation for both the Black and LGBTQIA+ communities in house music. 

Gene Farris

Gene Farris is a Chicago-based house music DJ who has made a name for himself with his signature deep house sound. His sets are often filled with soulful and funky vibes that fuel dance floors all night long. He’s released several albums, performed around the world, and even created his own label: Farris Wheel Recordings. 

Green Velvet

Considered one of the pioneers of the house music scene, Green Velvet has been producing and DJing dance music for over two decades. His signature sound blends deep and tech house, creating a unique and pungent atmosphere. Although also based in Chicago, he’s introduced his sound and culture to all corners of the world. 

Carl Craig

Based in Detriot (sometimes called the birthplace of techno music), Carl Craig is a legendary house music DJ and producer whose signature sound blends deep and tech house. He is widely considered one of the most influential figures in the development of electronic music. In addition to numerous albums, singles, remixes, and notable collaborations, he’s founded several labels, including Planet E Communications.

Final thoughts

Black culture was and still is an integral part of shaping the house music we all know and love. By remembering the role Black artists and culture played in the development of house music, we can honor the contributions of those who laid the foundation for one of the most explosive and respected genres of music today.

“Every day is a good day to support and buy from Black artists.” Check out Black Artist Database for more information.

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