15 Rock Bands with Black Lead Singers That Are Amazing
Throughout its history, rock music has always been a cultural melting pot. It has borrowed heavily from countless musical traditions around the world, especially black music like the blues. Today we’ll be looking at some of the greatest rock bands with black lead singers, ranging from household names to some lesser-known legends in the rock pantheon.
Rock Bands with Black Lead Singers (TLDR)
One great rock band many of us know is The Jimi Hendrix Experience, whose frontman and lead guitarist Jimi Hendrix redefined rock music forever. With that said, underground hardcore punk legends Bad Brains had a crucial impact on rock music with their vocalist HR. Alice in Chains, too, have been making great music with vocalist William Duvall in the modern era.
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1. The Jimi Hendrix Experience
Jimi Hendrix is a name that needs little introduction for music fans, but if you haven’t heard his work with the original Hendrix Experience, you’re missing out. With drummer Mitch Mitchell and bassist Noel Redding manning the rhythm section, Hendrix formed one of the all-time great power trios and wrote some iconic tracks.
Favorite Song by The Jimi Hendrix Experience: “If 6 Was 9” is one of the iconic 60’s psychedelia anthems, a bluesy and heavy track with inspirational lyrics for rockers to live by. The entire Axis: Bold as Love record is my personal favorite of all of Hendrix’s works.
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2. Thin Lizzy
Exploring another rocker who died far too soon, Thin Lizzy’s Phil Lynott deserves a mention. Thin Lizzy were rare enough as an international touring act from Ireland, but they also featured a great black lead singer with a powerful voice.
Favorite Song by Thin Lizzy: “Emerald” from 1976’s Jailbreak is a pummeling hard rock tune, with powerful vocals and blazing twin guitars.
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3. Alice in Chains
When Alice in Chains chose to replace the late, great vocalist Layne Staley in 2006, the band hired black singer William Duvall on the condition that the singer “be himself” and not merely try to mimic Staley.
I don’t think any longtime Alice in Chains fans expected Duvall’s tenure with the band to be as good as it is, with each album being an essential addition to the band’s great discography.
Favorite Song by Alice in Chains: “A Looking in View” is an epic track from 2009’s Black Gives Way to Blue, which was the comeback album of the century for the grunge titans. Duvall’s performance here would have made Lanye Staley proud.
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While Hirax’s name is usually only known to diehard thrash metal fans like myself, that’s a shame because they wrote some great music. Hirax stood out in the 80’s California thrash scene for several reasons, one of which was their black lead singer Katon W. De Pena, whose vocals range from vicious and brutal attacks to soaring, operatic highs reminiscent of bands like Iron Maiden and Judas Priest.
Favorite Song by Hirax: “Destruction and Terror” from 1985’s Raging Violence accurately sums up the group’s mission statement. Clocking in at two-and-a-half minutes, this is old school thrash metal at its finest.
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Like Alice in Chains in a previous entry, Sepultura are another band who managed to replace an iconic vocalist with a worthy successor. While Max Cavalera’s departure in 1996 shocked fans of the band and ushered in a new sound, black vocalist Derrick Green has made some great, overlooked albums during his time with Sepultura.
Favorite Song by Sepultura: “Capital Enslavement” is an awesome headbanger from the band’s most recent album Quadra. Listeners who are only familiar with the Max Cavalera era of Sepultura should give this one a chance.
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Oxbow are a little-known experimental rock group who have dabbled in hardcore punk, metal, and a touch of avant-garde. The group’s black lead singer is the imposing Eugene Robinson, a guy who is more well-known for his philosophical and political writing than his music, which is a shame.
Favorite Song by Oxbow: “Bomb” is a chaotic track that always stood out to me. Robinson’s voice is menacing on this recording.
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7. King’s X
King’s X are an anomaly in the world of rock for a few reasons. Musically, they can bounce from intricate progressive metal to Beatles-influenced melodic pop rock in the span of a single song. Not to mention, their lead singer and main songwriter Doug Pinnick is an openly gay black man. This band did some of the most unique music in the late 80’s and early 90’s.
Favorite Song by King’s X: “The Burning Down” is the perfect closer to the band’s Gretchen Goes to Nebraska album. It‘s a wonder these guys never got as big as some of the others during the alternative metal boom.
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Fishbone were an eclectic all-black ensemble that blended elements of punk, metal, ska, and funk. They have been compared to everyone from King’s X to Bad Brains to Faith No More, but that has more to do with the fact that Fishbone’s diversity makes them hard to classify. What I do know is these guys made some fantastic music with vocalist Angelo Moore at the helm.
Favorite Song by Fishbone: “Freddie’s Dead,” a cover of a Curtis Mayfield classic, was given new life with a fresh and unique take by Fishbone on their Truth and Soul album.
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9. Bad Brains
These Washington DC hardcore legends were constantly changing up their sound and evolving, mixing a blend of punk, metal, and reggae into something revolutionary. Vocalist HR is a madman, whose stage antics are as legendary as his savage vocal delivery. Their influence is wide ranging, with one of the band’s albums making Dave Grohl’s top ten list.
Favorite Song by Bad Brains: “Right Brigade” is one of the band’s heaviest tunes, an early hardcore anthem that’s blazing fast and full of HR’s unique and powerful vocals.
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10. Prince & The Revolution
Prince is an iconic black artist who needs no introduction, but his fame and talent often overshadows just how good his backing band was. While Prince would eventually break away as primarily a solo artist, his work with The Revolution is what put him on the map.
Favorite Song by Prince & The Revolution: “When Doves Cry” from the iconic Purple Rain soundtrack is a radio hit staple for a reason. This powerful pop rocker never gets old.
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Arthur Lee was one of the few major black figures in the San Francisco music scene of the 1960’s. Love don’t get as much attention as contemporaries like Jefferson Airplane and The Grateful Dead, but their 1967 album Forever Changes is a classic of psychedelic rock.
Favorite Song by Love: “The Red Telephone” is an epic and moving track from Love’s Forever Changes. Arthur Lee sounds great here.
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12. Sly and the Family Stone
Black vocalist Sly Stone and his band were among the very first in music to blend elements of funk and soul with psychedelic rock, which would have a crucial impact on both white and black music culture.
Favorite Song by Sly and the Family Stone: “Everyday People,” one of the group’s bigger hits, is a soulful psychedelic rock anthem featuring some great vocals.
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While Sly Stone planted the seeds, it was George Clinton and his revolving door of musicians in Funkadelic who laid the foundation for the funk rock of generations to come. Clinton hired guitarists like Eddie Hazel who added the influence of Jimi Hendrix and Frank Zappa to the psychedelic funk sounds Funkadelic were creating.
Favorite Song by Funkadelic: “Maggot Brain” is an epic jam of monstrous proportions, featuring one of the greatest guitar solos ever put on tape.
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Coming in with a more obscure pick, Maryland hardcore punk rockers Void were only around for a few short years but they released a landmark split EP with the band The Faith in 1982. Their black lead singer Bubba Dupree did double duty as a guitarist and had a chaotic and emotional voice that stood out in a music scene that was mostly dominated by white male singers.
Favorite Song by Void: “Time to Die” is a blistering hardcore punk anthem that ends just soon enough that any punk fan will immediately want to play it again.
15. Living Colour
While Living Colour are best known for being the all-black metal band that had a surprise hit with 1988’s “Cult of Personality,” these guys are fantastic musicians who have a lot more to their discography than just that great song.
Vocalist Vernon Reid has a soulful and powerful voice that can rock out on a moment’s notice, and the band’s musicianship brings to mind influences as diverse as Rush and Funkadelic, making for quite an eclectic blend of sounds.
Favorite Song by Living Colour: “Open Letter (to a Landlord)” is Living Colour’s unique take on a ballad. Musically, it’s a bit more dialed back in comparison to the rest of the tracks on 1988’s Vivid, but it’s very soulful and moving.
I hope you enjoyed this list of some great rock bands with black lead singers. Hopefully, this list has reminded you of some of the obvious greats like Prince and Hendrix, while exposing you to some criminally overlooked and underrated groups as well.
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This article was written by Avery and edited by Michael.