The Current

Great Music Lives Here
Listener-Supported Music
Donate Now
The Current Presents

Celebrate Black History Month 2024 with The Current

Minnesota great Sonny Knight
Minnesota great Sonny KnightPhoto: Nate Ryan | MPR; Graphic: Natalia Toledo | MPR

February 01, 2024

Many Black artists and musicians have shaped the Minnesota music scene and its rich legacy. In honor of Black History Month, The Current is sharing some lesser-known stories of Black music, venues, events, and culture in the Twin Cities. These important moments from yesteryear broke creative and systemic barriers to create the vibrant Minnesota music community of today.

Each week in February, The Current reveals a different chapter in musical history of Black Minnesota artists with deep dives on the radio.

February 22: Radio support for Black musicians

Black History Month - KUXL

Before streaming, social media, and even MTV, one of the only ways Minnesota musicians could gain more exposure was on the radio. In the 1960s, the funk and soul music coming out of North Minneapolis and Rondo found a home on KUXL AM 1570. In between songs, Jack “Old Daddy Soul” Harris became a celebrated host. Read more details about the station and its local impact.

Learn even more by reading the chapter about KUXL in Got to Be Something Here: The Rise of the Minneapolis Sound by Andrea Swensson, published by the University of Minnesota Press.

February 15: Minnesota’s first rock ‘n’ roll record

Black History Month: Augie Garcia and Cornbread Harris

The first rock ‘n’ roll record to come out of Minnesota features a legend of local Black music history, Jimmie “Cornbread” Harris. Read more about Harris’ time awith the Augie Garcia Quintet, who released “Hi Yo Silver” in 1955.

You can learn more about Cornbread Harris here and here, and by reading the chapter about Cornbread’s contributions to the Augie Garcia Quintet in the forthcoming book Deeper Blues: The Life, Songs, and Salvation of Cornbread Harris by Andrea Swensson, out this summer on University of Minnesota Press.

February 8: Dave Brady and the Stars

Black History Month: Dave Brady and the Stars

During the 1960s, the sound of Twin Cities rock ’n’ roll evolved from rockabilly to surf rock to British-influenced rock. By 1966, it was moving in yet another direction: soul music. Dave Brady and the Stars — a group with both Black and white musicians — were leaders of this new sound in Minneapolis.

Learn even more by reading about Dave Brady and the Stars in Everybody’s Heard about the Bird: The True Story of 1960s Rock ’n’ Roll in Minnesota by Rick Shefchik, published by the University of Minnesota Press.  

February 1: King Solomon’s Mines

The Current - Features - King Solomon's Mines

In the mid-1960s, this club in the Foshay Tower in Minneapolis brought Black performers to downtown audiences. Find out about the space’s history in this 2017 story.

Learn even more by reading the chapter about King Solomon’s Mines in Got to Be Something Here: The Rise of the Minneapolis Sound by Andrea Swensson, published by the University of Minnesota Press.   

The Current’s 2024 Black History Month content is a collaboration with the University of Minnesota Press.

Black History Month Reading and Listening

• 'We continue to rise': artists discuss the intersection of Black history and music - 15 artists talk about the influence and intersection of Black history, music, and culture.

• A timeline of history-making Black music - Trace a timeline of historic black musical events, with extended riffs on selected items.

MLK Remembered - Honor and remember Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s life, work and legacy through music with four hours of special programming

Minnesotan Oscar Pettiford changed American music - Jazz pioneer Oscar Pettiford got his start on the stages of the Twin Cities, helping create a ‘Minneapolis sound’ long before Prince. His innovations made him one of the most influential bass players of the bebop era. A century after his birth, that legacy endures.

• Soul and inspiration: Black artists salute their musical heroes - 12 artists talk about the musicians who inspired them and helped shape their sound and vision.

• Say it Loud: Anthems of Black Pride and Empowerment - Tales from 13 artists about the creation of their inspirational social and political anthems of black pride and empowerment.

Yola and Gary Clark Jr. discuss roles in new ‘Elvis’ film - Baz Luhrmann’s film on Elvis Presley also sheds light on Black artists who often weren’t credited for influencing the early rock ‘n’ roll star.

'So many stories to tell': Minneapolis Sound luminaries trace their roots to historic Fergus Falls black community - Digging deeper into André Cymone's own history reveals that the connection between the Minneapolis Sound and Fergus Falls is further tied to an epic struggle for freedom at the heart of American history.

• Black History Month Playlist: St. Paul mayor Melvin Carter and the music that inspires him - "As a kid we'd joke, they gave us the shortest month of the year," said St. Paul mayor Melvin Carter with a smile. He continued, "our history gets winnowed down into one storyline that doesn't reflect all of us, so we need months like this." Carter said he's inspired by Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., Frederick Douglass, Malcolm X, and Nelson Mandela.

• Black History Month Playlist: Ilhan Omar talks Prince, and the music that inspires her - As we continue to see her voice emerge, U.S. Rep. Ilhan Omar shows strength, resilience and confidence in her current role. In 2019, Omar made history as the first Somali woman sworn into Congress. Reflecting on history, culture and music, Omar shared a playlist of songs and spoke of the personal connection she feels with her favorite music.

• Black History Month Playlist: Andrea Jenkins and the music that inspires her - A trailblazer in Minneapolis, City Council member Andrea Jenkins broke barriers in 2018 when she became the first black openly transgender woman elected to public office. Jenkins passionately talks about Black History Month as "a time to reflect and be proud, but it's also a time to recognize that there's still a lot of work and history yet to be made."

• Black History Month Playlist: Mychael Wright and the music that inspires him - A well-known St. Paul community activist, Mychael Wright has made his mark by not only creating tasty cuisine at his shop Golden Thyme Coffee, but by curating the ongoing Selby Avenue Jazz Festival every September. "At 60 years, I have an appreciation for neo-soul," said Wright. "Very inspiring to hear our young beautiful people singing, rhyming, rapping with intellect, and deep-felt meaning and understanding. Erykah Badu, Lauryn Hill, Jill Scott, Sade, Goapele to name a few."

• Black History Month Playlist: Raeisha Williams and the music that inspires her - Raeisha Williams and her mother Rosemary Nelvin-Williams worked hard to open the doors of their African-inspired Heritage Tea House off University Avenue in St. Paul. Williams wanted a concept that drew from her African ancestry as well as her experiences within the African-American community. Both Raeisha and Rosemary aspire to engage the community and provide the comforts of social gathering within a cultural concept.

Picks from Rock & Roll Book Club

A Little Devil in America: Notes in Praise of Black Performance by Hanif Abdurraqib

A Sick Life: TLC ‘n Me: Stories from On and Off the Stage by Tionne “T-Boz” Watkins

Aretha: The Queen of Soul - A Life in Photographs by Meredith Ochs

Baby Girl by Kathy Iandoli (Aaliyah)

Bessie Smith: A Poet's Biography of a Blues Legend by Jackie Kay

Beyoncé in Formation by Omise'eke Tinsley

Beyoncégraphica by Chris Roberts

Black Diamond Queens: African American Women and Rock and Roll by Maureen Mahon

Blues All Around Me by B.B. King

Blues People by Amiri Baraka

Creative Quest by Questlove

Dig If You Will the Picture by Ben Greenman

Famous People Who Met Me by Owen Husney (Prince)

Gold Experience: Following Prince in the '90s by Jim Walsh

Good Booty: Love and Sex, Black & White, Body and Soul In American Music by Ann Powers

Got To Be Something Here: The Rise of the Minneapolis Sound by Andrea Swensson

I Put a Spell On You: The Bizarre Life of Screamin' Jay Hawkins by Steve Bergsman

I Would Die 4 U by Touré (Prince)

If You See Me: My Six-Decade Journey in Rock and Roll by Pepe Willie

It Ain't Retro: Daptone Records & the 21st-Century Soul Revolution by Jessica Lipsky

Kill 'Em and Leave: Searching for James Brown and the American Soul by James McBride

Lady Sings the Blues by Billie Holiday

Let Love Rule by Lenny Kravitz with David Ritz

My Name Is Love by Darlene Love

My Name is Prince by Randee St. Nicholas

Nothing Compares 2 U: An Oral History of Prince by Touré

Odetta: A Life in Music and Protest by Ian Zack

On Time by Morris Day with David Ritz

Once Upon a Time in Shaolin: The Untold Story of Wu-Tang Clan’s Million-Dollar Secret Album, the Devaluation of Music, and America’s New Public Enemy No. 1 by Cyrus Bozorgmehr

Otis Redding: An Unfinished Life by Jonathan Gould

Prince: A Private View by Afshin Shahidi

Prince: Before the Rain by Allen Beaulieu

Prince: Inside the Music and the Masks by Ronin Ro

Prince and the Purple Rain Studio Sessions: 1983 and 1984 by Duane Tudahl

Room Full of Mirrors: A Biography of Jimi Hendrix by Charles R. Cross

She Begat This: 20 Years of The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill by Joan Morgan

Showtime at the Apollo: The Epic Tale of Harlem's Legendary Theater by Ted Fox

Sights, Sounds, Soul: The Twin Cities Through the Lens of Charles Chamblis by Charles Chamblis, with text by Davu Seru

Signed, Sealed, and Delivered by Mark Ribowsky (Stevie Wonder)

Ten Ways Not to Commit Suicide by Darryl "DMC" McDaniels

The Beautiful Ones by Prince with Dan Piepenbring

The Big Life of Little Richard by Mark Ribowsky

The Butterfly Effect: How Kendrick Lamar Ignited the Soul of Black America by Marcus J. Moore

The Meaning of Mariah Carey by Mariah Carey with Michaela Angela Davis

The Memory Librarian and Other Stories of Dirty Computer by Janelle Monáe

The Most Beautiful: My Life with Prince by Mayte Garcia

The Motherlode: 100+ Women Who Made Hip-Hop by Clover Hope

This Thing Called Life: Prince's Odyssey On + Off the Record by Neal Karlen

Time is Tight: My Life, Note by Note by Booker T. Jones

What Is Hip-Hop? by Eric Morse

Who Got the Camera? A History of Rap and Reality by Eric Harvey

Why Solange Matters by Stephanie Phillips