These Black Artists Made Music A Family Affair And Cemented Unforgettable Legacies
From gospel to rap, Black musical greats sometimes come as a packaged deal.
June 14, 2021 at 6:38 pm
From the gut-wrenching gospel sounds birthed in the Bible Belt, to the "bubblegum soul" sounds of the Jackson 5, the history of Black musical families is a varied quilt, sewn from the fabrics of southern Black culture, imagination and soul.
Here are some of the most notable:
1. The Jackson 5
Arguably the most iconic Black musical family in American history, the Jackson family produced Michael and Janet Jackson — two of the most influential voices in pop music. The Jackson 5, formed in 1964, initially consisted of Michael, Jermaine, Jackie, Tito and Marlon. Although the young group earned the descriptive genre “bubblegum soul” for their buoying pop sound, the Jackson boys were far from amateur: they could sing, memorize choreography and play instruments, according to Black Past.
The talented quartet’s success in local competitions would eventually draw the gaze of Gladys Knight, who, along with Diana Ross would push Motown Records to sign the group in 1968. Under Motown’s guidance, The Jackson 5 were an instant success — becoming the first group ever to have their first four singles go number one on the Billboard 100, with legendary songs like “ABC” and “I’ll Be There."
In 1975, Randy would go on to replace Jermaine. And while most of the Jackson family left Motown in 1976, it was on a television program spotlighting Motown artists that Michael would eventually debut the legendary moonwalk dance in 1983, the site explains. For their groundbreaking performance style, the Jackson family has been inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, the Vocal Group Hall of Fame, and, of course, remains immortalized by their stars on the Hollywood Walk of Fame.
2. The Clark Sisters
The Clark Sisters' career, which spans 1966 to 2020, has earned them two Grammy wins and seven nominations, according to the recording academy. The most successful female group in gospel music history was created at the direction of their mother, world-renowned gospel choir director and gold-certified singer, Dr. Mattie Moss Clark. The Detroit natives are even credited with inventing the contemporary gospel genre, according to All Music.
Their gifted mother raised them to be evangelists, winning over crowds with their voices. Dr. Clark raised her daughters to sing almost as soon as they could talk. Dr. Mattie Moss Clark’s vision would be captured decades later, as Queen Latifah-produced Lifetime film The Clark Sisters: First Ladies of Gospel would be released in April of 2020, chronicling the trailblazing groups’ career.
3. The Isley Brothers
As is idiosyncratic of the time and culture, the iconic Isley Brothers earned longevity with a diversified sound that was also most successful when imitated by white groups, their All Music biography chronicled. The duo was birthed in the 1950s gospel movement and later evolved from a sultry R&B sound to Motown soul, before eventually adopting into a more funky sound. The shape-shifting sounds of The Isley Brothers would make history again in 1964, with the adoption of a new drummer, James, who would later achieve stardom by his given name, Jimi Hendrix.
Still, after the lukewarm success of their singles and the formulaic nature of the songwriting process at Motown Records, the group left the label in the late 1960s, and would go on to finally make the charts with the 1973 re-launch of their earlier song “Who’s That Lady,” re-released this time with a funky twist. Indeed, the 70s would usher in more mainstream successes for the group, with albums 3+3 and the 1975 project The Heat Is On both charting. Today, the group enjoys their spot among Black musicians elite creators. The Isley Brothers were included in the Verzuz franchise, facing off against Earth Wind & Fire earlier this year. The iconic duo also released a song with Snoop Dogg this year, Pitchfork reports.
4. The Migos
This trio consists of Southern rappers who go by the stage names Quavo, Offset and Takeoff. The former two are cousins while Takeoff is Quavo's nephew. These southern rappers were raised together in North Atlanta, where their Hot Boys and OutKast inspired sound was discovered by rapper Gucci Mane, and eventually landed them a deal at 300 Entertainment, an offshoot of Atlantic Records, according to AceShowBiz.
The trio is known for hits like 2013’s “Versace,” the trend-setting “Look At My Dab” record, which spawned a dance that would become a viral sensation, and the 2017 number one smash “Bad & Boujee,” according to All Music. The groups’ debut album Culture, also went number one in 2017, according to All Music. The Migos would release a follow up effort the next year with Culture II, most noted for hits like “Motor Sport” and “Stir Fry.”
5. The DeBarge Family
The DeBarge family is a group of second acts, with three different groups springing from the family tree. The family of performers were a part of Motown Records’ group Switch, which launched in 1978 with a string of successful releases, including “There’ll Never Be,” in the top 10, “I Call Your Name” and “Best Beat In Town,” according to the Michigan Chronicle.
Still, the DeBarge brothers would eventually leave the group Switch, ultimately leading to its end. In their second run, another group of DeBarges garnered the heat of the spotlight with their 1982-1985 run of hits like “Time Will Reveal,” “I Like It,” and “Love Me In A Special Way.” Finally, the group also produced successful solo artist El DeBarge, whose penned hit “Ride Wit Me” has appeared on hit TV series Atlanta, Dancing With The Stars, and Are We There Yet? per his IMDb page.
6. Kindred The Family Soul
This crooning duo has a lot of love and you can hear it in their music. Still, Kindred the Family Soul hasn’t reached its influential height overnight: Fatin Dantzler got his start at 17 years old as a producer for group Bell Biv Devoe, according to the group’s website, while Aja Gordon received her first recording deal at just 14.
Indeed, through their individual journeys, it has been the love of music that’s kept them together. Dantzler was a songwriter on Gordon’s first solo project, quickly leading to their marriage in 1998. It was this creative chemistry that led to the birth of Kindred The Family Soul, as the couple began performing together shortly thereafter Gordon’s solo debut.
The couple would go on to release six studio albums, with their debut, Surrender To Love, immortalized by records like “Stars'' and “Far Away,” both hits that would ultimately garner a Soul Train Award and BET nomination for the 2003 debut. Most recently, the couple released their sixth album in 2016. The hit single from Legacy of Love went number one in the UK, and spent a good deal of time in the U.S. top 40.
7. The Sylvers
Dubbed as a southern Jackson 5, the Sylver children were born in Memphis and were quickly baptized by the sound of their opera-singing mother’s talents. The Sylvers would go on to perform their pop R&B songs throughout Memphis talent shows and venues, before taking their talents to Harlem, where their sound was better received, affording them access to tourmates like Ray Charles, with whom they performed on holiday breaks from school.
Later, the family left the East coast for Watts, Los Angeles, where their success continued, and they shed their initial group name, “Little Angels,” to re-launch as The Sylvers, according to Oldies. The groups’ hits include their 1972 single “Fool’s Paradise” and “Boogie Fever,” in 1975, All Music said.
8. The Braxtons
Stars of reality show Braxton Family Values, this group of singing sisters has been a packaged deal since their 1990 launch. Still, their path to success has been far from linear. According to All Music, they were quickly dropped from their first record label after their debut single stalled on Billboard. Ever the artists, sister Toni Braxton would go on to carry the family name as she launched a solo career that would catapult her to stardom. Toni's successful solo run offered audiences around the globe classics like “Unbreak My Heart,” “He Wasn’t Man Enough,” and “You’re Makin Me High,” with her sisters covering the background vocals.
Later, sisters Towanda, Trina and Tamar would make a comeback as the Braxtons, releasing their album So Many Ways on Atlantic Records. While the sisters enjoyed the success of the record climbing to number 22 on Billboard, Tamar still vyed for her independence — a theme she discusses openly on Braxton family Values — and decided to launch her solo career in the late 90s. Indeed, the reality show would go on to document the sisters’ rambunctious and relatable family dynamic, including Tamar’s struggles with her mental health as she survived a suicide attempt in 2020.