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Black Producers That Shaped The Soundtrack to Our Lives

Black Producers That Shaped The Soundtrack to Our Lives

Martha Reeves Honored with Star on The Hollywood Walk of Fame

Source: Michael Buckner / Getty

Berry Gordy. Quincy Jones. Teddy Riley. Jam & Lewis… These are just some of the producers that helped shape how we listen to (and learn from) music. Throughout history, these names and more not only make hit records for some of the greats in Black music but also revolutionized and shaped our lives’ soundtrack for many generations. From the names you know to some that you may not know, these producers laid the foundation for Black music…and music in general.

Let’s take a look at some of the most iconic Black producers of all time.

1. Berry Gordy

Of course, we all know Berry Gordy as the founder of Motown Records, but he was also an accomplished songwriter and producer in his own right. In fact, he’s responsible for a lot of the label’s early releases, including its first hit record, Barrett Strong’s “Money (That’s What I Want).” Other credits include Stevie Wonder’s “Fingertips, Pt. 2,” The Temptations’ “I Want A Love I Can See,” and Jr. Walker & The All Stars’ “Shotgun.”

2. Holland-Dozier-Holland

We can’t mention Motown without the dynamic songwriting/production trio of Lamont Dozier and brothers Brian and Eddie Holland. The trio pretty much shaped Motown’s “golden era.” Some of their biggest hits include “Mickey’s Monkey” for Smokey Robinson & The Miracles, “Baby, I Need Your Loving” for the Four Tops, “Stop! (In The Name of Love)” for The Supremes and many…many…many more 

3. Gamble & Huff

Credited as the creators of the “Philadelphia Sound,” Kenneth Gamble & Leon Huff have written and produced over 175 gold and platinum records. Their most significant work involved artists on their label, Philadelphia International Records, including hits by the O’Jays, Billy Paul, and Teddy Pendergrass. They’re also responsible for one of Black culture’s most iconic TV theme songs – MFSB’s “The Sound of Philadelphia,” also known as the theme from Soul Train

4. Sylvia Robinson

Now here’s one that you may not know by name, but you definitely know her work. Sylvia Robinson got her start as an artist, with two big hits to her name: “Love Is Strange,” which she released as a part of Mickey & Sylvia, and her own solo hit, “Pillow Talk.” However, she was also the co-founder of Sugar Hill Records and the producer of two of hip-hop’s first hits: Sugar Hill Gang’s “Rapper’s Delight” and Grandmaster Flash & The Furious Five’s “The Message.”

5. Jimmy Jam & Terry Lewis

Getting their start as musicians (as members of Flyte Time, which later became Morris Day & The Time), it took getting fired by their boss (some guy named Prince Rogers Nelson) for them to really hit the ground running as the premiere songwriting/production duo in music. From Janet Jackson & George Michael to Mariah Carey & Boyz II Men…you name the artist, it is very likely these two gave them a hit.

6. Quincy Jones

With a career spanning over 7 decades, no “greatest producers” list is complete without Quincy Jones. Not only was he the producer behind the best-selling album of all-time (Michael Jackson’s Thriller), he has also worked with pretty much everyone, from jazz legends like Frank Sinatra and Tony Bennett, to soul icons like Patti Austin, Barry White and James Ingram. He also had an eye for new talent, helping launch the careers of R&B hitmakers Tevin Campbell and Tamia. 

7. Teddy Riley

Known as the “Godfather of New Jack Swing,” Teddy Riley was only a teenager when he produced his first big hit, Doug E. Fresh & Slick Rick’s “The Show.” He would go on to have an illustrious career as both an artist and as the man behind the boards. He was the founding member of two of R&B’s most iconic groups, Guy and Blackstreet, both with a string of hits.  However, he would achieve greater success producing hits for Michael Jackson, Bobby Brown, SWV, Keith Sweat, Joe and Heavy D… just to name a few. 

8. Rodney “Darkchild” Jerkins

Whenever you hear the “Darkchild” tag on a record, you already know what comes next is a hit. An early protegé of Teddy Riley, Rodney Jerkins became a force to be reckoned with. He is known for his notable work on Brandy’s blockbuster Never Say Never and Michael Jackson’s comeback album, Invincible. Aside from that, Jerkins’ production can be found with major pop stars like Lady Gaga, Jennifer Lopez, Backstreet Boys, Janet Jackson and many more that we can’t even list. 

9. Timbaland & Missy Elliott

Linking up in the early 1990s, Timbaland and Missy Elliott became an elite songwriting/production team. They helped reshape Aaliyah’s career with the success of her sophomore album, One In A Million, and also had hits for Ginuwine, 702, and Jodeci . And, of course, there’s also their own projects as recording artists.  Timbaland can also count credits with Justin Timberlake, Nelly Furtado, and Nas, while Missy has collaborated with Whitney Houston, Tweet, and Monica. 

10. The Neptunes

Consisting of Chad Hugo and Pharrell Williams, The Neptunes delivered a wide range of hits from the late 1990s into the new millennium. Britney Spears, Kelis, SWV, N.O.R.E. and Clipse are just a few of the acts that got hit with the Neptune sound. (That’s not including their own performing offshoot, N.E.R.D.) Unfortunately, with the duo currently at odds over ownership of the group’s name, there’s a chance that we’ve seen the last of this dynamic duo…but, as they say, never say never. 

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