14 Times Black Women in Music Broke Boundaries and Made History


Lauren Porter Feb, 10, 2016

Nicki Minaj recently made history as the female artist with the most Billboard 100 hits in history, surpassing Aretha Franklin’s previous record. The news reminds us that the “No Frauds” rapper has earned her R-E-S-P-E-C-T! To close out Women’s History Month, we’re celebrating the incredible accomplishments of Black women in music—from influencing genres to breaking sales records.

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Beyoncé is the most decorated Black female Grammy Winner of all time. Bey has taken home 20 Grammys, including two with Destiny's Child. In 2013 she made iTunes (and music) history by selling close to a million copies in less than a week after releasing her suprise self-titled album. That album and its songs would go on to earn six Grammy nominations in 2014, making her the most Grammy Award-nominated female artist of all time.

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Mamie Smith may not be a household name but she should be. The singer, born in 1883, was the first Black Blues singer recorded after she cut "That Thing Called Love" and "You Can't Keep a Good Man Down" in 1920.

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Hill is the only Black artist to ever win both a Best New Artist and Album of the Year Grammy in the same year for her 1998 album, The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill.

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Considered one of the world’s first Black superstars, the 30s and 40s belonged to the singer Ethel Waters. Whether it was in theater or vaudeville, the Oscar-nominated phenom always pushed boundaries. In 1939, she became the first African-American to star in her own television program, The Ethel Waters Show on NBC.

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Monica is the youngest Black Grammy Winner, taking home her first award at the age of 18.

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Natalie Cole's Unforgettable...with Love was the most awarded album by a female artist of color in 1992. The album won 6 Grammys.

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The late-great Whitney Houston is one of the most decorated musicians of all time. She has 2 Emmy wins, 30 Billboard Music Awards, 22 American Music Awards, 29 NAACP Image Awards, 12 Soul Train Awards, and 6 Grammy Awards.

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Gospel singer and guitar virtuoso Sister Rosetta Tharpe (March 20, 1915 – October 9, 1973) is considered the "Godmother of Rock & Roll." Before it was called "rock & roll," there was Sister Rosetta and her incredible guitar playing inspiring a generation of musicians—including Elvis Presley, Chuck Berry and Little Richard.

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TLC is the best-selling girl group of all time. That’s no surprise, the trio gave us some of the biggest hits of the 90’s from “Ain’t to Proud to Beg” to “No Scrubs”

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Gloria Gaynor is the first and only winner of the Best Disco Recording Grammy Award. She took home the prize in 1979 for "I Will Survive."

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In 2014, Rihanna broke the record for most number one pop songs by a woman on Billboard charts. She now has a total of 11 number ones, passing Madonna and Katy Perry. In 2016, her eight album ANTi went platinum in 48 hours and RIAA Gold & Platinum history, becoming making Rihanna  the first and only artist in to be certified with 100 million song awards.

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The Queen of Soul Aretha Franklin was the first woman to be inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1987. At that point she had already won 12 Grammys and would go on to win 2 more at the 29th Annual Grammy Awards. In total, The Queen of Soul has taken home 18 Grammys.

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In 1955, legendary opera singer Marian Anderson broke the color barrier by becoming the first African-American to perform with the New York Metropolitan Opera.

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Nicki Minaj's "No Frauds," "Regret in Your Tears," and "Changed It'' all landed on the Billboard chart after their release. With all three songs on the chart, Minaj became the female artist with the most Hot 100 hits at 76, beating Aretha Franklin's record of 73.