How David Bowie Inspired—and Was Inspired by—Black Artists

The iconic singer, who died of cancer Sunday, embraced the work of black artists and was an advocate for diversity in the entertainment industry.

David Bowie performing onstage at Seaclose Park June 13, 2004, in Newport, Wales
David Bowie performing onstage at Seaclose Park June 13, 2004, in Newport, Wales Jo Hale/Getty Images

David Bowie was an iconic figure whose genius, vision and artistic versatility inspired—and was inspired by—generations of black musicians and artists.  

Bowie was an outspoken champion for diversity in the entertainment industry, and he was widely known to embrace black artists and their work. In his recent retrospective touring exhibition, David Bowie Is, he recalled wanting to be a white Little Richard at age 8 after being exposed to his music. “I wanted to be a musician because it seemed rebellious, it seemed subversive.” In the ’70s, Bowie—already a bona fide glam-rock star—turned to R&B, soul and funk to create music he dubbed “plastic soul.” In the ’80s and beyond, his irreverent style was a source of inspiration for artists across many genres, including hip-hop.

Here’s a list of some of Bowie’s more popular intersections with black musicians and performers:

Little Richard

Bowie cited Little Richard as a major influence and said he heard the voice of God when listening to Richard’s “Tutti Frutti.”

Luther Vandross

Guitarist Carlos Alomar, who previously worked with Luther Vandross in 1974, invited him to attend a Bowie recording session at Sigma Sound Studios in Philadelphia. Vandross’ amazing voice became a fixture on Bowie’s R&B-inspired 1975 album, Young Americans, as a background singer. Vandross also co-wrote the single “Fascination” with Bowie. Vandross would later tour with Bowie as both backup singer and opening act.

Nile Rodgers