In 1979, President Carter declared a celebration of African American music during the month of June, a tradition that carries on to this day. Here’s a list of graphic novels that celebrate the contribution of African Americans to the rich musical heritage of the United States:
Hip Hop Family Tree
This Eisner Award-winning series by writer and artist Ed Piskor chronicles the inception of the genre in the 1970s and 80s. The art is designed to mimic superhero comics of the era. There are 12 individual issues commonly found collected into 3 separate volumes.
Neverland: The Life and Death of Michael Jackson
One of three books on our list by writer Jim McCarthy, this book, illustrated by Brian Williamson, explores everything from the Jackson 5 to the moonwalk to the King of Pop’s marriage with the King of Rock n Roll’s daughter, Lisa Presley.
Writer Carlos Sampayo and artist Jose Muñoz employ the storytelling construct of a reporter delving into Holiday’s life on the 30th anniversary of the singer’s death. The black and white book takes a look at the glamour, hardship and scandal that followed one of jazz’s most unique voices.
Voodoo Child: The Illustrated Legend of Jimi Hendrix
Described by some as “speculative fantasy,” this mesmerizing book by Martin I. Green and legendary illustrator Bill Sienkiewicz features hazy, hypnotic art depicting the beautiful yet turbulent life of the innovative guitarist. Oh, and the hardcover comes with a 6-song cd.
Death Rap: Tupac Shakur – A Life
Another installment by McCarthy, this time teaming up with another writer, Barnaby Legg, with art by Flameboy, the book examines the successes and ultimate tragedy of a hip hop star whose life was cut way too short.
Louis Armstrong: Graphic History
Geared towards kids aged 8-14, this book by author Terry Collins and illustrator Richie Pope follows Armstrong from his youth in New Orleans through the obstacles he faced in becoming a professional musician in a racially divided America.
Sentences: The Life of M.F. Grimm
This Eisner Award-nominated autobiography illustrated by Ronald Wimberly is a frank look at the childhood and young adult life of Percy Carey. Gang wars, rap battles, struggling to make a living, hustling to make it as an artist – it’s all here in gritty detail.
Writer and artist Paolo Parisi takes a look at the life of this jazz legend, including his childhood in North Carolina, military career, performing with Dizzie Gillespie and Charlie Parker, and going on to be a standout musician in his own right.
Wake Up and Live: The Life of Bob Marley
Bob Marley was Jamaican, but there’s no mistaking his influence and impact on the American music scene. Yet another book by Jim McCarthy, this time teaming with artist Benito Gallego, the book employs Marley’s dialect, with footnotes to define words and Rastafarian beliefs.
This ongoing comic book series was created by Darryl McDaniels himself. It’s set in an alternate universe where he never met Run and formed one of the most famous hip hop groups of all time. Instead, he is a hero with superpowers. The first volume is set in New York City during the 1980s.
While this list of African American music graphic novels is impressive in an industry that puts so much focus on heroes and fantasy, I’d love to see even more books on artists such as Aretha Franklin, Whitney Houston, Prince, Stevie Wonder, Miles Davis, Ella Fitzgerald, Diana Ross – the list goes on and on.