During the celebration of Black Music Month, we must take the time to highlight some of the hidden figures whose contribution to music shaped the industry and sounds we all know and love. In addition to the countless Black women entertainers we see on stage, there are numerous composers, producers, songwriters who worked behind the scenes to get some of the greatest hits to the radio waves and streaming platforms.
From classical to country, R&B, to rap, the early 1900s and today, these women have left their mark on music forever.
Here are 10 Black women composers and songwriters you should know. We thank these women for their lasting impact and life’s work.
Born in 1887 in Little Rock, Arkansas, pianist, composer, organist, and music teacher Florence Price would go on to make history in music. Price was recognized as the first Black woman symphonic composer and was the first Black woman to have her music performed by a symphony orchestra. She studied at the New England Conservatory –– one of the few in the nation accepting Black students at the time and lived in Chicago during her adult life.
Margaret Bonds is among the first and few Black women recognized as a classical composer during the early 20th century. She made history as the first Black soloist to perform with the Chicago Symphony in 1933 at the Chicago World Fair. Bonds was born in Chicago in 1913 and lived until 1972 and actually received piano lessons from Florence Price. She Her work, "Troubled Water" continues to be performed by orchestras around the world.
Singer-songwriter Sylvia Moy helped ignite the star power of the legendary Motown Records. She was the first woman at the iconic label to write and produce for some its biggest acts. Moy penned the lyrics for Stevie Wonder's "My Cherie Amour" and "Uptight (Everything's Alright) and the Isley Brothers' "This Old Heart of Mine." Moy died in 2017 at the age of 78.
A native of Brooklyn, singer-songwriter-producer Andrea Martin made her music debut writing songs. Her first major R&B hit came in 1995 with Monica's "Before You Walk Out of My Life." Martin went on to pen hits for SWV and En Vogue before releasing her own music. Still the songwriter, Martin has credits on Melanie Fiona's "It Kills Me" and worked on the soundtracks of The Great Gatsby and The Get Down on Netflix.
Makeba Riddick earned a degree in Music Business at Berklee College of Music at just 19 years old. She moved to New York to intern at Columbia Records in 2001 and a year later penned the Jennifer Lopez hit "All I Have" featuring LL Cool J. She soon got a publishing deal with Bad Boy Records/EMI and went on to contribute to Rihanna's discography dating back to one of the singer's first hits "If It's Loving That You Want." Riddick has also lent her talents to the widely popular show Empire on Fox.
Songwriting-production duo Nova Wav is a joint effort comprised of Denisia "Blue June" Andrews and Brittany "Chi" Coney. Before joining forces, each woman worked individually, charting their own path. Andrews has writing credits on "Loveeeeee Song" by Rihanna and Future.
After moving to Los Angeles at 17 and teaching herself vocal production, Tayla Parx worked to find her songwriting voice. In 2015, that work paid off after she landed her first major hit in Fifth Harmony's "Boss." The songwriter's undeniable talent helped her keep busy, earning credits on Ariana Grande's "7 Rings," Khalid and Normani's "Love Lies" and "High Hopes" by Panic! At the Disco.
"So she got it for me, and then, right then and there, I started banging on the keypad," songwriter-producer Nija Charles told ABC News, recalling how she'd asked her mom for a mini keyboard for her 13th birthday. After making beats, she began singing on her creations, gaining a social media following that caught the attention of record label execs.
Nija was juggling producing music and studying at New York University before ultimately deciding to do music full time. She's since worked with Beyoncé, Kehlani, Cardi B, Jay-Z, Meek Mill, Jason Derulo, 21 Savage, SZA, Chris Brown, and more. The 23-year-old and Union, New Jersey native, earned a Grammy nomination in 2019.
Undine Smith Moore
Known as the "Dean of Black Women Composers," Undine Smith Moore wrote more than 100 pieces between 1925 and 1987, though only 26 were published while she was living. Moore attended Fisk University and was the first student there to be awarded a scholarship to the Julliard School. She went on to be the Music Laureate of Virginia, her home state and received a nomination for the Pulitzer Prize in Music.
Composer Errollyn Wallen made history in 1998 by being the first Black woman to have her work performed by the British Proms, an eight-week concert series founded in London in 1895. Wallen studied at Kings College and Cambridge University and has recorded music with Sting and Björk.