In Honor of Black History Month We Present 10 Honorable African-Amercian Artists


Albert Bustos, Art Editor

1. Kerry James Marshall

Born in Birmingham Alabama, Marshall grew up in South Central L.A. Kerry James Marshall uses painting, sculptural installations, collage, video and photography to comment on the history of black identity both in the United States and in Western art. He is a 1978 graduate of the Otis College of Art and Design and currently lives and works in Chicago. He is well known for paintings that focus on black subjects historically excluded from the artistic canon. He recently had his work exhibited at the The Met Breuer in New York City titled MASTRY

2. Billie Holiday

Considered one of the best jazz vocalists of all time, Billie Holiday had a thriving career as a jazz singer for many years. She was born in Philadelphia on April 7, 1915. Holiday had an abusive childhood and was raped at age 10. She was blamed for the rape for supposedly seducing her attacker. She toured with some of the biggest names in Jazz and is the first black singer to be featured with an all-white band. Fed up with racial discrimination she returned up north and made a landmark song titled Strange Fruit, a song that addressed southern lynching of black people. Billie Holiday battled with drug addiction throughout her life and died untimely on July 17, 1959 at the age of 44.

3. James Baldwin

James Baldwin was an essayist, playwright and novelist. He is regarded as a highly insightful, iconic writer with works like The Fire Next Time and Another Country. He was born on Aug. 2, 1924, in New York City. Baldwin garnered acclaim for his insights on race, spirituality and humanity. In 1954, Baldwin received a Guggenheim fellowship and he published his next novel, Giovanni’s Room, the following year. Baldwin died of stomach cancer on Dec. 1, 1987 in Saint-Paul de Vence, France at the age of 63.

4. Jean-Michel Basquiat

Jean-Michel Basquiat was born on Dec. 22, 1960, in Brooklyn, New York. He first attracted attention for his graffiti under the name “SAMO.” Before his painting career took off he would sell sweatshirts and postcards on the streets that featured his artwork. He was a Neo-Expressionist and in the mid-1980s he collaborated with Andy Warhol. Sadly, at the young age of 27 Basquiat died of a drug overdose. He has been credited with bringing the African-American and Latino experience in the elite art world.

5. Harriet Powers

Harriet Powers is one of the best-known southern African American quilt makers. Only two of her quilts still exist today that were made after the Civil War (1861-1865). One is located at the National Museum of American History collection at the Smithsonian Institution in Washington, D.C. the other in Museum of Fine Arts in Boston, Massachusetts. Powers was born into slavery near Athens, Georgia on Oct. 29, 1837. Her remarkable quilts depict extensive records of local legends, Bible stories and astronomical events. Powers died on Jan. 1, 1910.

6. Denzel Washington

Denzel Washington is an American actor, director and producer. He was born on Dec. 28, 1954 in Mount Vernon, NY. Washington has received much critical acclaim for his film work since the 1980s. He received three Golden Globe Awards, a Tony Award and two Academy Awards for the historical war drama film Glory (1989). Notable films he’s starred in are Training Day, (2002) where he won an Oscar for Best Actor and the biopic Malcolm X where he was nominated for an Oscar. He recently received an Oscar nomination for his latest work in Fences (2016).

7. Langston Huges

Regarded as the primary contributor to the Harlem Renaissance of the 1920s, Langston Hughes published his first poem in 1921. He was a poet, novelist and playwright of African American themes. Born on Febr. 1, 1902 in Joplin, Missouri, Hughes constantly moved from place to place and often wrote about being lonely. He has countless works. A notable poem by Hughes The Negro Speaks of Rivers was published in The Crisis magazine and was highly praised. He passed away on May 22, 1967.

8. Nasir Jones

Nasir Jones, best known for his stage name Nas, is regarded by many as one of the greatest rappers of all time. It is said he was a master rapper by the age of 15. He was born in Queens, NY, on Sept. 14, 1973 and is the son of a jazz musician, Olu Dara. His first album Illmatic (1994) is classified as a masterpiece and the book Born to use Mics: Reading Nas’s Illmatic is a collection of scholarly essays presenting Illmatic from an academic perspective. Nas would go on to release more successful albums. On Sept. 30, 2015, Nas was the first rapper to be awarded the W.E.B. Du Bois Medal during a ceremony held at Harvard University.

9.  John T. Scott

John T. Scott, a New Orleans sculptor, painter, printmaker and collagist was born on June 30, 1940. He said that his first art training began home, when he learned embroidery from his mother. He attended Xavier, a Roman Catholic and historically black college and Michigan State University where he studied with painter Charles Pollock, Jackson Pollock’s brother. Over the years his artwork developed into different themes and styles. John T. Scott passed away on Sept. 1, 2007.

10. Prince

Famed singer, songwriter, multi-instrumentalist and musical innovator, Prince was born Prince Rogers Nelson on June 7, 1958, in Minneapolis, Minnesota. His early music career saw the release of Prince, Dirty Mind and Controversy and they created controversy due to the fusion of religion and sexual themes. He would go on to release 1999 and Purple Rain which made him a superstar with No.1 hits like When Doves Cry and Let’s Go Crazy. Prince was a seven-time Grammy winner. He died on April 21, 2016.