I was four years old when I knew I wanted to make and perform music for the rest of my life. My passion for the craft eventually led me to Columbia University to study ethnomusicology and film, but after a year, I knew I wanted to learn more about how to actually make music. With much deliberation, I decided to transfer to Berklee College of Music on a partial scholarship. There, I’d begin to discover my “sound” through my newfound love for blues and rock and roll.
Unlike many of my friends, I didn’t want to go straight to Los Angeles or New York after graduating. Instinct told me I had to go connect with my musical roots in the cultural hub that is New Orleans. My spirit knew that the authenticity I sought hid in those cracked city streets, where my African ancestors landed in this country by way of the Mississippi, and built American music as we know it from the blues up. Somewhere between singing for tips on Frenchman Street in those small, smoky night clubs and incessantly doing research, I learned the truth about the roots of rock and roll: that it was not only originated by Black people, but birthed by a Black woman. I’d always seen white faces associated with the stars and legends of rock on TV, the radio, and in record shops, so my life was forever changed in learning that a Black woman like me invented the music that moved my soul most.
As a performer, I began to notice I was being boxed into genres that my white counterparts were not. I’d tell bookers to bill me as a rock act, yet every time I’d arrive to play a venue, the sign read “GRACE GIBSON R’n’B Singer” or “GRACE GIBSON soul songstress.” Meanwhile, I was an electric guitar-toting, leather jacket-wearing band leader scrawling covers of The Allman Brothers, The Meters, and Radiohead. But I was also Black, and I realized many people just couldn’t associate rock with Blackness — that’s why I’m committed to creating a community, genre, and movement that honor the Black roots of rock. For Black history month, I’ve compiled a list of performers and works I feel represent the musical odyssey that is the last 10 decades of Black rock.