Celebrating Black Music Month with Listener Faves

We asked WNXP listeners for Black musical artists they consider most influential, and we received far more requests than we could fit in an eight-song Thematic Static set.

Your suggestions spanned generations and genres, from outspoken early icons to game-changing culture-shifters, under-appreciated “retrospective role models,” and current day influencers. The feedback was generationally and genre diverse, spanning outspoken early icons, game-changing culture-shifters, under-appreciated “retrospective role models,” and current day influencers.

Listener voice memos (leave us one!) and social media commentary on “why” gave extra oomph to the picks that composed the June 10, 2021 #ThematicStatic mixtape (streamable below), and several runners-up.

Soul Legends

Nina Simone – listener Steph requested a song from the High Priestess of Soul, who sonically blessed all strata of music fans but refused to tamp down her outrage, nor her inspiration. Today we played “To Be Young, Gifted and Black,” which Simone discusses and sings in a school gym (watch!👇🏼).

Sam Cooke – requested by Jenny, and also Megan, who recounted Cooke’s music is tied to sweet memories of time with her grandparents (listen!👇🏼).

Megan requests Sam Cooke

Aretha Franklin – requested by Kelley, and probably (unconsciously) anyone that breathes air, since The Queen of Soul’s music is life-giving; her legacy deep and wide.

Ray Charles – DJ pick by yours truly! The groundbreaking singer-pianist died on this day in 2004.

Otis Redding – requested by Nathan, as well as Ross, who said of song pick “Good to Me”:

“This song is a deeply emotional outpouring of love and appreciation between one person and another, who seems almost overwhelmingly appreciative of them. I loved the excitement of looking forward to what’s next, and looking back on where their relationship had taken them. I strongly considered this song for our recent wedding, but ultimately felt it was more about a longer-term, earned relationship that we can aspire to.”

Sent on Instagram

Underappreciated Influencers

Jackie Shane – requested by Katy, this Black transgender artist — also a longtime Nashvillian — was a pioneer The Guardian also called, in this life-spanning 2019 memorial, “a retroactive role model.” For more on Shane, dig a 2013 long read from Hazlitt and a 2018 Nashville Scene piece published during Pride month the last year of her life.

Donny Hathaway – Tammy requested “Tryin Times,” which is definitely worth a listen (👇🏼) for its continual relevance.


Darando – the smooth falsetto crooning on “Didn’t I,” requested by Ross, found the ears and hearts of new generations, decades after the artist’s retreat into relative obscurity, when it was used in hit TV show “Breaking Bad” and covered by contemporary artists this century.

Undisputed Game-changers

Miles Davis – requested by Nick — who replied to our Instagram call with simply “Miles.” — this legendary trumpeter and composer is a no-brainer entry in the influential Black music cannon, as Davis reinvented his sound many times over and pushed the boundaries of jazz. While we might not play much of this genre over the airwaves on 91.one, it is doctor- and DJ-recommended that you get kind of blue occasionally, maybe here (👇🏼) and now?

Erykah Badu – I chose the Queen of Neo-Soul’s duet with Janelle Monae for a two-fer of influential, quadruple-threat (singer/rapper/instrumentalist/actor) women this morn. But Badu’s discography stands — really towers — on its own.

Prince – requested by Jenny, Nashville band Anchor Thieves, and our own Engagement Coordinator Paige Jack, who shared her love for the pop-rock-funk legend during his birthday week, via voice memo (listen!👇🏼).

Paige Jack picks Prince

Carrying the Torch, & Setting New Worlds Ablaze

Janelle Monae – requested by Phoebe and Jenny, this modern influencer released an “Emotion Picture” for her political song “Turntables” that she wrote for the 2020 “All In: The Fight for Democracy” documentary about Stacey Abrams and the fight against voter suppression (watch!👇🏼).

Conner Youngblood – requested by fellow Nashville musician Molly, who said:

Conner is such a unique individual — he plays nearly all the instruments in his recordings, and sends postcards to fans. His knack for aural atmospheric landscaping is in the ranks with Boards of Canada and Sufjan Stevens.

Sent via Instagram

Solange – also requested by Molly, this innovative R&B artist may be outsold but is not musically outshone by her chart-topping big sis. Who run the world? The Knowles girls, no doubt about it.

Devon Gilfillian – fellow Nashville musician Jason left us a voice memo requesting “anything at all” from this “monster talent” (listen!👇🏼).

Jason wants Devon Gilfillian

You can also learn in our new Touching Base series how a quarantine year shaped Devon’s thoughts, actions and the sharing of his 2020 release Black Hole Rainbow plus the reinvention of Marvin Gaye’s What’s Going On.

Enjoy all eight songs that aired beginning at 9:11am on June 10 in this Spotify playlist. Check Twitter and Instagram @WNXPNashville for next week’s theme and to make your requests!