The ZORA Music Canon
The 100 most iconic albums by African American women
The ZORA Music Canon, our list of the 100 most iconic albums by African American women and a follow-up to the ZORA literary canon, is, like its predecessor, an unprecedented collection created to honor artists and artworks whose contributions to American culture have not previously been recognized this way. Canons have historically been reserved for the works of white men. These lists are meant to go beyond that — to give proper due to Black American women whose monumental influence not only shapes music but is foundational to its past, present, and future.
As journalist and author Danyel Smith observes in her powerful and lyrical introduction to the canon, this list “is rooted in the genius and glory of Black women musicians. It is a story of talent and difficult work, of emotional truth and dare.” Spanning seven decades, the canon covers artists from Ella Fitzgerald to Lil’ Kim to Brittany Howard and highlights genres from classical to rap and gospel to rock. Its capaciousness is designed to make space for a wide range of artists, sounds, and stories.
To help compile the list, the editors of ZORA assembled a panel of leading authorities in music, including Smith; MC Lyte, a rapper, DJ, and businesswoman; Naima Cochrane, a music and culture writer and former entertainment executive; Jordannah Elizabeth, a music journalist and lecturer; Daphne Brooks, a professor of African American, women’s, and gender studies at Yale University whose writing covers race, gender, and popular music; Naomi André, a professor of Afroamerican, African, and women’s studies at the University of Michigan whose research focuses on opera and issues surrounding gender, voice, and race; and Olivia Dope, a DJ and recording artist. Then the ZORA editors vetted and refined the collection while keeping you — the ZORA reader — top of mind.
While commercial and chart-topping success was considered for many of the albums chosen, we also accounted for long-lasting cultural and emotional impact. The albums that get us hype and mark significant periods in our worlds. The timeless works that help…