This month has been filled with a number of celebrations, from weeks of exciting Pride events to a jam-packed Juneteenth holiday week. Before we walk into July, there’s one more holiday to acknowledge. In 1979, former President Jimmy Carter declared June to be Black Music Appreciation Month.
Texas has played a major role in Black music history. We were the site of origin for Clifton Chenier in his pioneering of zydeco and a muse for blues legend Big Mama Thornton in her journey as an originator of rock ’n’ roll. While country music stamps the state, in Houston rap and R & B are the defining genres, with artists like Beyoncé and Drake (who cites the city as his driving force) dominating the national charts for years. In addition, Houston is home to The Flat, a major dance/electronic hub spearheaded by artist and producer DJ Sun, who moved to the city as a teenager and is fueling the burgeoning scene. Practically every popular genre has either found its footing or been pushed forward right here.
In honor of Black Music Month, we’ve rounded up some of the Lone Star State’s most iconic Black musicians, along with a handful of emerging artists destined to join them.
The legacy of Texas jazz and blues legends Ornette Coleman and Lightnin’ Hopkins lives on in the music of Robert Glasper. Born in Houston, Glasper is a renowned pianist and producer whose work exemplifies the fusion between jazz and hip-hop. His mother was a jazz singer, and he attended the High School of Performing and Visual Arts alongside his contemporaries composer Jason Moran and drummer Jamire Williams. Glasper is a four-time Grammy winner whose production roster ranges from Herbie Hancock to Kendrick Lamar, Talib Kweli, his frequent collaborator Bilal, and many more.
Rock ’n’ Roll
Gary Clark Jr.
Austin-born guitarist and songwriter Gary Clark Jr.'s unique rock ’n’ soul sound has brought him much acclaim. Clark has collaborated with artists including Childish Gambino, Alicia Keys, Bun B, and more. He has been praised for his heavy blues influences, and his 2019 album This Land won him two Grammy Awards.
The revival of rock music is happening right under our noses, and Beaumont native Aaron Thomas, better known as Teezo Touchdown, is taking over. Gleaning his sound and style from the ’70s, Teezo has managed to have a meteoric rise. Known for his hit singles “I’m Just A Fan” and “Strong Friend,” he’s also been featured alongside acts like California native Tyler The Creator and super-producer Kenny Beats.
R & B/Pop
No list of iconic Black Texans would be complete with mention of Queen Bey. Born in Houston’s Third Ward, Beyoncé Giselle Knowles-Carter is a 28-time Grammy Award-winning artist known for pushing the limits of performance. Following her years as the lead singer in Houston-bred girl group Destiny’s Child, she forged a path as a solo act with her chart-topping release Dangerously in Love (2003). For the past two decades, she’s continued to make history and remains one of the world’s best-selling recording artists.
If Beyoncé is the sun, Solange Knowles is the moon: a Houston-born singer/songwriter, performer, and producer with a poetic and ethereal style. She started her music career in the early 2000s and went on to win a Grammy Award for her 2016 album, A Seat at the Table.
Although he’s known for acting, Jamie Foxx got his start as a performer in his hometown church in Terrell, Texas. In addition to his numerous on-screen accolades, Foxx won a Grammy in 2010 for his hit single “Blame It” and has released a total of five studio albums. Other hits include “Unpredictable,” “Fall for Your Type,” and his features on Kanye West’s classic songs “Gold Digger” and “Slow Jamz.” Talk about a Renaissance man.
Gulf Coast soul band The Suffers just debuted their singles “Don’t Bother Me” and “Yada Yada,” with songstress Kam Franklin leading the way. Rooted in her life’s experience and the state of the world today, Franklin touches on the pressing issues that face the nation, particularly racism and injustice. Collectively, the band’s sound leans into blues and gospel, both genres Franklin grew up on.
Dallas-born singer-songwriter Erykah Badu is an R & B/neo soul pioneer. Prominent in the mid-1990s and early 2000s, her eclectic voice has put her down in history as one of the most innovative artists of our time.
Fort Worth has been crucial to the career of soul singer Leon Bridges; it’s the city that made him a star. In 2015, he released his song “Coming Home,'' which went viral, and today he continues to write about the state’s impact on his life. His collaborative EPs Texas Sun (2020) and Texas Moon (2022) are the perfect marriage between his soulful vocals and the classic sounds of Houston music trio Khruangbin.
Katy native Dende is redefining some of Black music’s oldest genres, namely soul and R & B. His rise to stardom is palpable, having been acknowledged by major label imprints such as J. Cole’s Dreamville and with a performance at his first music festival, SXSW in Austin. The singer released his Pregnancy Pack EP earlier in the year, followed up this month with his new single, “Block Me.”
Port Arthur rap duo Underground Kingz, or UGK for short, contributed to some of Texas's most iconic raps, from both Bun B and Pimp C. The charismatic duo was inherently Southern, and though Pimp C passed in 2007, the group's impact is still felt today, and Bun B carries on the legacy of the group as a solo act.
You can’t talk about Houston music without mentioning the Geto Boys. Integral to the outset of Houston hip-hop, the final group consisted of the late Bushwick Bill, Scarface, and Willie D. Infamous for their horrorcore and personifying life in the ghetto, the trio garnered an RIAA certified gold record for their 1991 track “Mind Playing Tricks on Me.”
As a native of Missouri City, Travis Scott’s Houston pride can be heard and felt throughout his music, with his biggest claim to fame being his 2018 album Astroworld, a tribute to the now-defunct theme park.
Known as “The Originator,” DJ Screw is arguably one of Houston’s most iconic musical figures. As a DJ and entrepreneur, Screw created hundreds of thousands of mixtapes, remixing songs of his time with his signature sound, “chopped and screwed.” His legacy lives on today through his sought-after mixtapes, and every year the city of Houston gathers to celebrate his legacy on June 27, also one of Screw’s most popular tapes.
Megan Thee Stallion
Thee Stallion will go down in history as Houston’s most popular female rapper. She garnered critical acclaim for her mixtapes and her debut album Good News (2020), which featured singles like “Savage,” featuring Beyoncé, which ushered in her first Grammy Award. Megan has cited her Houston upbringing as the core of her musical inspiration. She’ll always remain a self-proclaimed H-Town hottie.
Lez Mone is one of the few trailblazing women who pioneered women in gangster rap in Houston and has paved the way for other local hardcore women rappers like KenTheMan and OMB Bloodbath. She released her solo debut in 1994, Talkin Sh*t, seven tracks of Lez Mone rapping with authority and challenging her male counterparts.
As the first Black woman to receive a nomination for a solo country album, Arlington-born Mickey Guyton is on a mission to change the narrative in country music. Her single “Black Like Me” helped her gain widespread attention, but her latest feat is the release of her album, Remember Her Name.
As one of the most transformative Christian artists and musical directors of our time, the Dallas-born gospel arranger has a career that spans over two decades. Today Franklin is on tour, alongside the Atlanta-birthed Maverick City Music choir, performing some of his most popular hits, including the 1996 smash “Melodies From Heaven.”