Cover songs have been a part of the music industry for decades, with countless artists putting their own spin on popular tunes. But some of the most iconic and enduring covers have been performed by Black artists, who have not only added their own unique flair to familiar songs but have also used cover music as a means of creative expression and cultural commentary.
One of the most notable examples of Black cover music is Whitney Houston’s soulful rendition of Dolly Parton’s “I Will Always Love You.” The iconic singer’s powerhouse vocals turned the original country song into a soaring anthem of love and devotion. The famous hit earned Houston a Grammy and cemented her status as one of the greatest singers of all time. Due to the song’s success, some fans weren’t even aware that Parton was responsible for the original hit.
Cover music has played a vital role in asserting Black cultural identity and promoting social and political change. Many Black artists have often used cover songs as a means of expressing their own experiences and struggles while addressing issues of social justice and inequality. Take Nina Simone’s powerful cover of “Strange Fruit,” for example. Originally performed by Billie Holiday, Simone’s haunting spin on the classic is a reminder of the horrors of lynching and racial violence in America.
Aretha Franklin’s chart-topping rendition of Otis Redding’s hit “Respect” became a symbol of women’s empowerment in the late 60s. The socially charged anthem soundtracked the height of the feminist movement as women across the country fought to secure higher pay and better job opportunities.
There are so many incredible covers that have made us weep, dance and shake our tailfeathers over the years. In honor of Black History Month, here are six of the Blackest cover songs that we just can’t get out of our heads.
“Killing Me Softly With His Song” – The Fugees (Originally sung by Lori Lieberman)
In 1996, Hill and The Fugees put their iconic hip-hop spin on Lori Lieberman’s smash “Killing Me Softly With His Song.” The track was featured on the hip-hop trio’s sophomore album The Score. Hills’ ethereal vocals paired with the stripped-down production of the boom beat truly make this cover a classic. When you listen to the song, you’re instantly transported back into a moment in time. The rendition even had an impact on Roberta Flack after she heard it. In 1973, Flack famously covered the hit song.
“The Score came on us like a mighty wind, and I was totally blown away by the power of the group—their musicality, their political message, and their creativity,” she said in a 2016 interview. “They gave the song a new meaning and exposed it to a new generation.”
“This Woman’s Work – Maxwell (Originally sung by Kate Bush)
Maxwell’s tear-jerking rendition of Kate Bush’s 1989 hit “This Woman’s Work” has become a staple in the Black cover music repertoire. The tune was featured on his 2001 album Now and has been making lovers rock on the dance for over a decade.
“All I Do Is Think Of You” – Troop (Originally sung by The Jackson 5)
Troop put their classic late 80s R&B twist on The Jackson 5’s seventies hit “All I Do is Think Of You.” The silky R&B ballad was featured on the group’s second album Attitude. Troop revolutionized the new jack swing genre in the late 80s, but this hit smash showed off their versatility and impeccable range.
“Do Me Baby” – by Meli’sa Morgan (Originally sung by Prince)
Soul singer and writer Meli’sa Morgan covered the late great Prince’s smash “Do Me Baby” on her 1986 album of the same name. Morgan’s slow and sultry vocals make this rendition pure audio gold.
“Love Ballad” – K-Ci and JoJo (Originally sung by L.T.D.)
Folks have been making babies to L.T.D.’s “Love Ballad” for years. Released from their album Love to the World, it spent two weeks at number one on the R&B singles chart in 1976. Over a decade later, K-Ci and JoJo gave the track a whole new meaning when they covered the classic on their 1997 album Love Always. This love song is still making knees buckle right now.
“Sweet Thing” – Mary J. Blige (Originally sung by Chaka Khan)
Mary J. Blige dominated Chaka Khan’s hit “Sweet Thing” on her debut album What’s the 411? Mary’s iconic raspy vocals pair incredibly well with the song’s slow and drawn-out bouncy R&B beat.
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