Covers of Black Music Classics | ASCAP Celebrates Black History Month
With just a piano, acoustic guitar, cajón and that supple voice of his, Usher breathes new life into two songs from Marvin Gaye’s masterpiece, What’s Going On. You can tell from his comfort with all those syncopations and falsetto breaks that Usher has loved and sung these songs his whole life. Fun fact - Usher got a chance to play Gaye on screen in 2002, for an episode of the TV series American Dreams.
Nobody elevates an awards show like Alicia Keys. In 2017, the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame invited her to honor one of the year’s inductees, Tupac Shakur, with a medley of his songs "Ambitionz az a Ridah,” “I Get Around,” “I Ain’t Mad at Cha,” “Dear Mama” and "Changes." It’s a low-key, soulful performance. Pac would have been proud.
What was old can always be new again. As the elder visionaries look forward to the possibilities for future generations, the new guard takes inspiration from the legends of their past. A song can be as relevant the day it was written as it is 50 years later. And furthermore, a salute to a celebrated icon never goes out of style.
Celebrating history means more than celebrating what's past – it also means acknowledging how what has come before us continues to resonate. We've chosen these 12 videos of Black ASCAP members performing covers of Black classics as a testament to the connection music forges between creators of all generations.
In one of the all-time most-viewed videos on our YouTube channel, prolific contemporary jazz man and master pianist Jon Batiste and his band Stay Human blow the roof off the ASCAP Sundance Cafe in 2013 with their explosive cover of “St. James Infirmary,” popularized by the inimitable Satchmo.
LA soul singer SiR lends his silky pipes to a sleek cover of The Isley Brothers’ 1977 slowjam “Footsteps in the Dark.”
Ms. Lauryn Hill joined Ziggy Marley for this radiant cover of Bob Marley’s acoustic anthem “Redemption Song” as part of the One Love tribute concert in late 1999. A year after the release of her own masterwork The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill, Hill was at the peak of her powers, especially in the fiery rap that made the song her own.
Just a few months after the release of his debut single “Birthday Sex,” Jeremih covers one of Stevie Wonder’s most hypnotic songs, “Ribbon in the Sky.”
You know you’re a legend when Beyoncé covers you! With a world-class backing band that includes Gary Clark, Jr. and Ed Sheeran, Queen Bey brings class and sass to the immortal Stevie Wonder hit, “Higher Ground.” It was the undisputed highlight of a 2015 Grammy tribute to Wonder. Killer.
Though many associate Ornette Coleman with the controlled chaos and atonality of free jazz, his immortal composition “Lonely Woman” – first recorded on Coleman’s 1959 album The Shape of Jazz to Come – centers around a series of arcing, aching, unforgettable melodies. This searing 1987 recording by Branford Marsalis and his quartet is 16 minutes of edge-of-your-seat tension and release. Marsalis’s keening, spiraling tenor sax plumbs some harrowing emotional depths and, by track’s end, ascends to the heavens.
Many worthy acts have tried accessing the spiritual heights of Jimi Hendrix’s “Voodoo Child (Slight Return).” As far as we know, none of them have gotten this close while standing in a pool. Kudos to LA’s psychedelic soul-rockers The Main Squeeze for getting the vibe just right (and not getting electrocuted).
In this live performance from late 2003, Jay-Z and Mary J. Blige bring passion and charisma to “Song Cry” – a track from one of Jay-Z’s many high watermarks The Blueprint. The track samples “Sounds Like a Love Song,” a 1976 soul epic co-written by ASCAP members Douglas Gibbs and Randolph Johnson.
An all-Black funk rock band covering an all-Black hardcore punk band? Yes please. This raucous live clip from the early ‘90s shows the insanely talented Living Colour paying homage to DC punk legends Bad Brains.
Who needs words? Modern day jazz legend Dee Dee Bridgewater reminds us that scat-singing is alive and well in this rendition of one of Duke Ellington’s most exciting charts, “Cotton Tail.” Want to see the sound and picture synced up? Check out this slightly slower version with the Italian Big Band.