Earlier this month, as part of GRAMMY week in Los Angeles, Lenny Kravitz was honored at the third annual Recording Academy Honors Presented By The Black Music Collective. He was presented with the award by H.E.R. She discussed his influence on her: “The fashion, the confidence, the badass walk, and the killer vocals made me at six years old say to my dad, ‘I wanna play guitar.’ ‘I wanna be a rockstar.’ ‘I wanna be like Lenny Kravitz.’”
Kravitz recalled going to see the Jackson 5 as a kid, and fantasizing about joining the group. He also discussed the influence of Duke Ellington, Miles Davis, Grandmaster Flash and the Furious 5, Marvin Gaye, Rick James, Prince, and John Coltrane.
“So many geniuses and so many genres informed my spirit,” he said, according to the Associated Press. “I could go on all night about these musical masters who molded me. I love all of these musicians. I love this music because it feeds our hearts and strengthens our resolve to keep our hope. A healing to a wounded world. To be a part of the lineage is a privilege I cherish.”
It was a lovely moment. And in a week when lots of awards and honors are given out, it was a moment that mattered. In his recent interview with Esquire, Kravitz mentioned how he’s been ignored by traditional Black media outlets, including Vibe, BET, and The Source. “To this day, I have not been invited to a BET thing or a Source Awards thing,” he noted. “And it’s like, here is a Black artist who has reintroduced many Black art forms, who has broken down barriers—just like those that came before me broke down.”
He added, “I have been that dream and example of what a Black artist can do.” In the same feature, he noted that an article written about him early in his career said that “If Lenny Kravitz were white, he would be the next savior of rock and roll.” The feature noted that instead, he was often criticized for being too influenced by older acts, like Led Zeppelin. This writer recalls he was often compared to the Rolling Stones and the Beatles. All of those bands, and every white rock band of that era borrowed heavily from Black artists (and that’s a generous way of phrasing it).
Later in the week, another Black artist who debuted in the late ‘80s got an outpouring of love as well. Tracy Chapman was a surprise performer at the GRAMMY Awards, joining country singer Luke Combs for his cover of her 1988 classic, “Fast Car.” The moment she appeared on stage the crowd at the Crypto.com arena went nuts, and a quick search for Ms. Chapman on social media shows overwhelmingly positive sentiment. More than that, people reacted in a really emotional way to seeing her, hearing how amazing she sounds, and seeing the smile on her face when she heard the cheers.
So when we decided to celebrate some of the great Black rock stars (and we definine “rock” broadly), we decided to stick with the ones who you can still see today.