By the 1970s, Motown’s influence in popular music had begun to wane. But that didn’t mean black influence in popular music was going down. On the contrary, several African American groups saw their music hit the charts during the decade of bell bottoms, large collars, and fancy white shoes.
Below is a list of the best black male groups of the 70s. They are listed in order of the number of gold and platinum records earned.
- Platinum – 10 (1 single, 9 albums)
- Gold – 15 (7 singles, 7 albums, 1 long-form video)
- Grammys – 6 wins, 17 nominations
More than 50 years after its forming in Chicago, Earth, Wind, & Fire remains one of the greatest music groups of all time. Their sound combines rhythm and blues, funk, jazz, disco, and soul. And who can forget the amazing horn section that drives almost every EWF song?
Maurice White started the band with two friends, then kept adding players to develop a classical, symphonic quality. Combined with the natural funk and groove of the black experience, this group created an irresistible sound.
They signed with Columbia Records and legendary producer Clive Davis in 1972. By 1974, EWF had its first hit song “Mighty Mighty.” It reached No. 29 on the Billboard Hot 100 List. Later that year, EWF performed at the West Coast rock festival known as California Jam. Almost 200,000 people saw them perform live, and millions more watched the concert on television.
In 1975, EWF provided the soundtrack for a forgettable movie called “That’s the Way of the World.” But the album was anything but forgettable. It rose to No. 1 on the Billboard list, and the single “Shining Star” also hit No. 1. With these achievements, EWF became the first African American male group to have the No.1 album and single at the same time.
Throughout the rest of the 70s, EWF continued to release albums of various musical styles that showcased their incredible Phenix Horn section and strong vocals. They provided a single for the movie “Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearst Club Band” and performed live throughout Europe and the USA.
In the years since, EWF has been inducted into just about every hall of fame imaginable (Rock & Roll, Vocal Group, NAACP Image). They received the Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award and the Kennedy Center medallion. EWF tops the list of best African American male groups of the 70s.
- Platinum – 10 Platinum (10 albums)
- Gold – 9 (4 singles, 5 albums)
- Grammys – 1 win, 4 nominations
Here’s one of the best black male groups of the 70s whose motto must be, “If a family plays together, it stays together.” Or at least mostly.
The Isley Brothers formed as a trio in the 1950s out of their Cincinnati, Ohio, home. They added a fourth brother and moved to New York City, where various musical styles began to influence their sound. Hits such as “Shout,” “Twist and Shout,” and “It’s Your Thing” soon followed.
Two more younger brothers joined the band and they recorded and released one of their most commercially successful albums, “The Heat is On.”
They continued to record gospel and be-bop-influenced music throughout the 70s. The group broke up in 1983, and original member O’Kelly Isley died three years later. Rudolph Isley left the band to pursue ministry work in the late 80s. Of the original six family members, two (Ronald and Ernie) continue performing together today.
The Isley Brothers sold a total of 18 million records in the U.S. They produced at least one song that landed on the Billboard Hot 100 list in six consecutive decades.
- Platinum – 2 (2 albums)
- Gold -14 (6 singles, 8 albums)
- Grammys – 2 nominations
If you think of two 70s songs that couldn’t be much different, “Low Rider” and “Why Can’t We Be Friends” might come to mind. Yet, they were both hits on the same album by the same Long Beach, California, band named War. This band, among the best black male groups of the 70s, provided a fusion of many different musical styles (rock, funk, and reggae among them).
Almost no two War songs sound anything alike. Yet, their progressive takes on soul and funk turned out some of the most classic songs of the decade.
Most band members grew up in the ghettos of Los Angeles, and they saw their music as an avenue of protest against inner-city violence, racism, gangs, and crime. The ban’s name comes from “declaring war” on these issues.
War received much of its initial success in Europe, where they toured extensively in the early 70s. They happened to play at the same venue on the same night as Jimi Hendrix’s final performance before his untimely death.
The group released several albums throughout the 70s. They included live albums, a mixture of live and studio albums, and one that focused on instrumental music. In addition, War’s members took a liking to Star Wars and devoted an album, “Galaxy” to music inspired by the film.
A devastating fire in the backlot of Universal Studios in 2008 destroyed much of War’s musical material.
- Platinum – 4 (4 albums)
- Gold – 11 (5 singles, 6 albums)
- Grammys – 4 nominations
Originally from Canton, Ohio, the O’Jays began as a quintet but found their biggest success as a trio in the 70s. Eddie Levett, Walter Lee Williams, and William Powell united to bring original R&B to the charts. Their biggest hit was “Love Train” provided their biggest hit. It came from the album “Back Stabbers” in 1972. Love Train reached No. 1 on the Billboard Hot 100 List that year.
Three different organizations have inducted the O’Jays into their halls of fame. They include the Vocal Group HOF (2004), Rock and Roll HOF (2005), and Rhythm and Blues HOF (2013).
- Platinum – 0
- Gold – 12 (7 singles, 5 albums)
- Grammys – 6 nominations
A Motown holdover group with a long list of hit songs for the better part of two decades, the Spinners are one of the best African American male groups of the 70s. They formed in Ferndale, Michigan, a suburb north of Detroit.
But The Spinners found their most commercial success after leaving Motown and signing with Atlantic Records. “I’ll Be Around” rose to No. 3 on the Hot 100 List in 1972, and “Could it Be I’m Falling in Love” sold more than 1 million copies one year later. In 1974, they teamed with Dionne Warwick for the hit “Then Came You.” In 1975, The Spinners reached the top 5 again with “They Just Can’t Stop It (Games People Play)” and their biggest song, “The Rubberband Man,” which reached No. 2 on the charts.
The Vocal Group Hall of Fame inducted the Spinners in 1999.
- Platinum – 3 (3 Albums)
- Gold – 5 (1 single, 4 albums)
- Grammys – 1 win, 9 nominations
They built a Brick House of hits and launched the career of Lionel Ritchie. The Commodores are regarded as one of the best black male groups of the 70s based on their popularization of funk and soul fusion and some of music’s best ballads.
Band members met at Tuskegee Institute in the late ’60s, signed their first record deal in 1972, and saw their popularity rise in the late 70s and early ’80s when Ritchie became the lead singer. Hits include “Three Times a Lady,” “Easy,” “Sail On,” “Still,” and “Lady (You Bring Me Up).” The funky “Brick House” reached No. 5 on the Hot 100 List.
The Commodores have plaques in the Vocal Group Hall of Fame and the Alabama Music Hall of Fame.
- Platinum 1 (1 single)
- Gold – 1 (1 album)
- Grammys – 0 wins, 2 nominations
The family group that spawned superstar Michael Jackson began in Gary, Indiana, and included brothers Jackie, Tito, Jermaine, and Marlon. Their most famous songs as a group included “ABC” and “I’ll Be There.” In the early 70s, the Jackson 5 had four consecutive No. 1 hits on the Billboard Hot 100 list. They sold more records than any other group in Motown history, including the Supremes.
The 70s provided a time for black male groups to experiment with new sounds and fuse various musical styles. Several groups became famous for songs that combined rhythm and blues, funk, soul, and do-wop in new and exciting ways.
And we’ve been left with some of the best songs ever to be played on the radio.