From Celia Cruz to Rihanna: 15 Albums That Shaped Music
We celebrate the global sensations of the Black diaspora
This story is a part of the ZORA Music Canon, a celebration of Black women musical artists.
The ZORA Music Canon, our list of the most iconic albums by African American women, honors 100 masterworks and the Black American artists who created them. But we know Black women’s impact is not exclusive to the United States. It’s worldwide and limitless. To celebrate the vast reach of the diaspora, this list celebrates Black women from around the world whose influence exceeds borders.
Celia Cruz was the Queen of Salsa and a global sensation who stood out with her vibrant outfits, distinct voice, and her authenticity to Cuba’s rich musical history. In 1966 she released Son Con Guaguancó, her first record as a solo artist. The album was significant in many ways. It marked her life in exile in the United States while establishing her musical approach to fuse Afro-Cuban son and guaguancó rhythms with elements of rumba, mambo, and cha-cha.
Miriam Makeba, endearingly known as Mama Africa, was the South African singer-songwriter who spent the majority of her career exiled from her home country for speaking out against the atrocities of apartheid in her music. Though her 1967 album Pata Pata has upbeat and melodic moments, it was the theme of social justice that made her purpose much greater than being an entertainer. “I made that decision,” Makeba told NPR in 2006. “And from then on, I was branded that artist who sings politics.”
Poly Styrene was an icon in the punk scene, becoming the first woman of color to lead a punk band, as well as being one of the first Black women in rock in the U.K. Leading X-Ray Spex, Styrene, who was of Somali descent, was the creative force behind the success of the band, despite only releasing one album, Germfree Adolescents, with the original members in 1978. The debut, with Styrene at the helm, achieved critical acclaim.
Grace Jones is the epitome of confidence and multifaceted talent. The Jamaican-born singer-songwriter, producer, model, and actor is progressive with her music, diving into reggae, funk, post-punk, and pop. You can hear those sounds in her 1981 album Nightclubbing. The album…