Berry Gordy

Photo by Kingkongphoto & from Laurel Maryland, USA – Berry Gordy, CC BY-SA 2.0,

American Record Producer and Songwriter • Born November 28, 1929 • Motown / R&B

Fast Facts

  • Gordy worked at the Lincoln-Mercury plant and got the idea to produce records in an assembly line style.
  • Berry Gordy started Motown Records on January 12, 1959. He used an $800 family loan to get started.
  • Motown is named after the nickname for Detroit, “Motor City.”
  • Gordy thought about songwriting at all hours of the day, and even called up Smokey Robinson at 3:00 am to re-record a track!
  • Gordy had “Quality Control” meetings and only the very best recordings made it to the market.
  • Gordy’s assembly line production style included songwriting, recording, costumes, choreography, and stage presence. 
  • Motown artists toured the segregated south in the 1960s where they saw and experienced racial violence.
  • Motown Records were produced from 1959 through the 1980s.

Popular Motown Artists

  • Smokey Robinson, songwriter
  • Holland-Dozier-Holland songwriting team
  • Diana Ross and the Supremes
  • The Temptations
  • The Four Tops
  • Martha and the Vandellas
  • Marvin Gaye and Tammi Terrell
  • Jackson 5

Richard Hagopian

Photo by Alice Daniel of Valley Public Radio (KVPR). Re-used with permission.

Armenian-American Oud Player • Born 1937 • “Kef” Music

Fast Facts

  • Born in Fowler, California.
  • His parents fled from Armenia to the United States after the Armenian Genocide of 1915.
  • Began on violin when he was 9 and clarinet when he was 10
  • Switched to oud when he was 11.
  • Began lessons and study of traditional Armenian music at age 13 with teacher Kanuni Garbis Bakirgian.
  • Helped form Kef Time Band in 1963 to play “Kef,” or traditional Armenian dance music. 
  • A typical kef band includes the oud, doumbeg, kanun, clarinet, and electric bass.
  • In 1969 given the title “Oudi,” or oud master by Oudi Hrant.

Cynthia Erivo

By Rhododendrites – Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0, 

English (UK) Singer, Songwriter, Actor, Dancer • Born January 8th, 1987 • Musical Theater, R&B, Soul

Fast Facts

  • Cynthia’s Full name is: Cynthia Onyedinmanasu Chinasaokwu Erivo.
  • Her parents immigrated to the UK from Nigeria.
  • Cynthia first started performing at the age of 11.
  • Erivo is one Oscar Award away from becoming the 16th person ever to complete an EGOT (Emmy, Grammy, Oscar, and Tony!)
  • Cynthia has starred in The Color Purple on Broadway, Sister Act The Musical, The Last Five Years, and more! 
  • Her most recent debut was in the movie Harriet, a movie that followed the life of the abolitionist Harriet Tubman.

Ranky Tanky

Ranky Tanky Thursday Showcases Womex 2018  by Eric van Nieuwland, licensed under CC by 2.0

American Singer, Guitarist, Bassist, Trumpetest, and Percussionist • Band formed in 2016 • Jazz, Gullah Music

Fast Facts

  • Ranky Tanky was formed in 2016 by 4 musicians who had previously played in a jazz quartet after college in 1998. 
  • The band reunited with the vision of creating a new sound inspired by the history of their home in South Carolina and added Quiana Parler as their vocalist. 
  • The ensemble focuses on jazz-influenced arrangements from Gullah culture, who were descended from enslaved people in the lowcountry of the southeast and the nearby Sea Islands. 
  • “Ranky Tanky” is a Gullah saying roughly translating to “work it” or “get funky”
  • Debuted their first full-length album Ranky Tanky in 2017 and their second album Good Time in 2019.
  • Ranky Tanky was awarded a Grammy for Best Regional Roots Album in 2020 for their album Good Time.
  • Performed at the Biden/Harris “We are One” inaugural event.

Wyclef Jean

Photo by Matthew Straubmuller of Wyclef Jean live in Washington, D.C. CC By 2.0 (

Haitian Rapper, Producer, and Philanthropist • Born October 17, 1969 • Hip Hop, Reggae Fusion, R&B

Fast Facts

  • Wyclef Jean was born in a suburb of Port-au-Prince in Haiti where he lived and was raised by his relatives until he was 9 years old. 
  • His first instrument was accordion, then he learned guitar, bass and piano, but his favorite of them all was guitar.
  • At age 9, Wyclef moved to Brooklyn, New York to join his parents who had immigrated to the United States when Wyclef was a baby.   
  • Although rap was frowned upon by Wyclef’s family he joined the Fugees, originally known as the Tranzlator Crew founded by Lauryn Hill and Prakazrel Michel in the late 1980s. 
  • Wyclef Jean studied music at Five Towns College in Long Island, New York but didn’t graduate because he dropped out to focus on rapping. 
  • Every day he gets up and goes into the studio: “My therapy is when I pick up my guitar and sing.”
  • As a producer, he has worked with such artists as Shakira, Whitney Houston, Destiny’s Child, Carlos Santana and Avicii.
  • He filed to run for President of Haiti in 2010, but was disqualified because he hadn’t lived in the country for five years prior to the election.
  • Wyclef won two grammys for his work with the Fugees. 
  • Wyclef’s original name is Nel Ust Wycliffe Jean

Jessye Norman

Photo by Jati Lindsay, CC BY-SA 2.0 <;, via Wikimedia Commons

American Opera Singer • 1945-2019 • Opera, Western Classical Music

Fast Facts

  • Jessye Norman was an American opera singer and recitalist (this means she sang recitals of Western Classical music).
  • Her mother and grandmother both played the piano, her father sang in a local choir, and Jessye and her four siblings learned to play the piano at a young age.
  • When she was nine years old, Jessye received a radio for her birthday and was inspired by listening to the weekly broadcasts of the Metropolitan Opera.
  • Jessye Norman studied music at the Interlochen Center for the Arts in Northern Michigan and Howard University in Washington, D.C.
  • She has performed many roles with opera companies around the world.
  • Jessye Norman received the Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award and the National Medal of Arts.

Buffy Sainte-Marie

“Buffy-Sainte-Marie-DSC_2402” by sidrguelph is licensed with CC BY-SA 2.0. To view a copy of this license, visit

Indigenous Canadian-American Singer/Songwriter, Guitarist, Pianist, Political Activist and Visual Artist • Born February 20, 1941 • Folk and Rock

Fast Facts

  • Buffy Sainte-Marie is an Indigenous Canadian-American musician, artist and activist.
  • She was born on Feb. 20, 1941, on the Piapot Cree First Nation reserve in Saskatchewan, Canada.
  • She was adopted by parents of Micmac ancestry and raised in Massachusetts.
  • She is well known for using her music to raise awareness for issues affecting Indigenous Americans.
  • Buffy plays the guitar, piano, and the mouth bow.

Wu Tong

Photo Copyright by World Economic Forum / Greg Beadle / CC-BY-NC-SA-2.0

Chinese Sheng Player, Bawu Player,
Singer and Composer • Born 1971 • Chinese Traditional Music, Western Classical Music, and Rock & Roll

Fast Facts

  • Performs on the sheng (pronounced shung) and the bawu (both Chinese wind instruments).
  • Attended the Central Conservatory of Music in Beijing, China.
  • From a family of sheng makers/players.
  • Has developed an electronic sheng.
  • Performs in the Silkroad Ensemble with Yo-Yo Ma and Rhiannon Giddens.
  • Sang in the rock band Lunhui and also sings opera.
  • Has played with orchestras in Hong Kong, Singapore, Chicago, and New York.
  • New York’s China Institute named him 2012 Musician of the Year.
  • Has won 2 Grammys and an Asia Game Changer Award.
  • Has also composed music for film.

Marian Anderson

Marian Anderson / William Henry Johnson /c. 1945,  Oil on paperboard /Smithsonian American Art Museum, gift of the Harmon FoundationAccessed: Re-used for educational use according to the Smithsonian’s Terms of Use.

Marian Anderson, New York / Irving Penn / 1948, Gelatin silver print / Kislak Center for Special Collections, Rare Books and Manuscripts, University of Pennsylvania Libraries. 
© The Irving Penn Foundation Accessed: Re-used for educational use according to the Smithsonian’s Terms of Use.

American Singer and Diplomat • 1897-1993 • Western Classical Music and African-American Spirituals

Fast Facts

  • Born February 27, 1897 in Philadelphia, PA 
  • Became a choir member at her church at 6 years old, nicknamed “Baby Contralto”
  • Choir members raised money to send her to train with well-known voice teacher Giuseppe Boghetti
  • Toured extensively through Europe 
  • Invited by President Franklin D. Roosevelt and First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt to perform at the White House, becoming the first African-American to receive that honor
  • Denied the opportunity to perform at Constitution Hall by Daughters of the American Revolution (DAR) on account of her race
  • Her rejection from the DAR caused an uproar, leading Eleanor Roosevelt to publicly withdraw her own DAR membership and work to secure a performance for Anderson at the Lincoln Memorial on Easter Sunday, 1939, which became one of Anderson’s most famous performances 
  • Sang at the inauguration of both Dwight D. Eisenhower and John F. Kennedy Jr. 
  • Sang at the 1963 March on Washington, where Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. gave his “I Have a Dream” speech
  • First African-American to perform with the New York Metropolitan Opera in 1955

Shreya Ghoshal

Bollywood Hungama / CC BY (

Indian Singer • Born 1984 • Bollywood Playback Singing and Indian Classical Music

Fast Facts

  • Born in 1984, West Bengal, India
  • Mum was a singer and taught Shreya songs from an early age
  • She trained in Hindustani Classical Music (Northern Indian)
  • Her father (and the whole family) was transferred to Mumbai when she was 13. Mumbai is the main centre of the ‘Bollywood’ film industry.
  • Shreya won or did well in several national singing competitions whilst a teenager, including Sa Re Ga Ma (famous singing competition show).
  • She records in several languages including Hindi, Assamesse, Bengali, Bhojpuri, Gujrarati, Kannada, Marathi, Malayalam, Nepali, Oriya, Tamil and Telegu 
  • “The American state of Ohio has honoured Bollywood playback singer Shreya Ghoshal for her contribution to the music industry by declaring June 26 as ‘Shreya Ghoshal Day.'” (From
  • She has been a judge on various talent shows including X Factor India and Indian Idol Junior