With Father's Day quickly approaching, it's time to reflect on the men who showed us the way. While we all may not have been blessed to have our fathers around for a plethora of reasons, no other art form expresses the impact or absence of fathers quite like music. It’s in the songbook of the Black music tradition that we discover how to celebrate and even argue with our “dear old dads.’
In honor of Fathers Day, here are 10 jams dedicated to various types of dads.
On her debut solo album Dangerously In Love, Beyoncé chose to honor her father on "Daddy." Composed by Beyoncé along with Mark Batson, the tune paid tribute to her father and recalls how he taught her to be strong and stand up for herself.
Luther Vandross, “Dance With My Father”
In one of his last recordings before his passing, Luther Vandross penned a reflective song in memory of his late father. “Dance With My Father,” which was co-produced by Nat Adderly Jr., featured Vandross recalling memories of his father who danced with him as a child. At the 2004 Grammy Awards, the jam won both Song of the Year and Best Male R&B Vocal Performance awards.
Will Smith, “Just the Two of Us”
Will Smith’s remade Bill Withers and Grover Washington’s Grammy award-winning tune “Just the Two of Us” into a song about a relationship between a father and son. Released in 1997, Smith originally wrote a children's book with the same title and lyrics before turning it into a single from his Big Willie Style album. The song peaked at number 20 on Billboard 100, a testament to the bond between father and son.
On her sixth studio album, Soldier of Love, Sade released a track called “Babyfather” as her second single. On the reggae-inspired track, she sings of how a man can be a good father to her child without being in a relationship with the child's mother. Just thirteen years old at the time, her child Mickailia provided backing vocals on the track, along with Clay, the teenage son of long-time Sade band member Stuart Matthewman, who also co-wrote the song.
Chrisette Michelle, “Your Joy”
This song is a favorite at daddy-daughter dances. It's a slept-on gem that's dedicated to fatherhood. Chrisette Michelle sings beautifully about the impact her father has made on her life. She sings, “No one loves me just like you do/No one knows me just like you do/No one can compare to the way my eyes fit in yours/You'll always be my father, and I'll always be your joy."
James Brown, “Papa Don’t Take No Mess”
“Papa Don’t Take No Mess” is James Brown’s take on no-nonsense Black fathers who didn’t have time to play games. Brown famously sang, "Papa didn't cuss/He didn't raise a whole lot of fuss/But when we did wrong/Papa beat the hell out of us."
Released in 1974, one R&B hit and peaked at number thirty-one on the Hot 100 becoming a favorite in hip-hop through sampling and of fathers who don’t play,
Gladys Knight and the Pips, “Daddy Could Swear I Declare”
A lesser-known song in the canon of Gladys Knight and the Pips, “Daddy Could Swear I Declare” is a smoking hot tribute to a father who wasn’t afraid to give you a piece of his mind.
He loved us all and we knew it/Though he showed it in a very funny way/For most of the time/He was a-cussin' and fussin'/When he said what he had to say.
In one of their final songs as Motown artists, the velvety vocals of Gladys Knight and the smooth background of the Pips gave us a gem about fathers who loved to cuss.
Stevie Wonder, “Isn’t She Lovely”
From his magnum opus Songs In the Key of Life, “Isn’t She Lovely” captures Stevie Wonder celebrating the birth of his daughter. The adorable cries at the beginning of the song are Aisha Morris' first moments after being born that Wonder recorded. Although it was never released as a single, the tune became one of Wonder's most beloved songs and is an authentic expression of the joy of fatherhood.
Common featuring Lauryn Hill, “Retrospect For Life”
As the first single from Common's third album One Day It'll All Make Sense, “Retrospect For Life” is an emotional, autobiographical song about the choices of abortion and birth. Produced by James Poyser and NO I.D and with Lauryn Hill’s soulful vocals on the hook, the song gives a glimpse of a father's role in choosing to have children. Common raps, “Knowin you the best part of life, do I have the right to take yours/Cause I created you, irresponsibly/Subconsciously knowin the act I was a part of."
Hip hop icon Nas expressed all the highs and lows that he experienced as a father on “Daughters.” On the tune from his Life Is Good album, Nas vividly describes how being a father forced him to mature as a human being. Nothing does that for a father like having a daughter.
The Temptations, “Papa Was a Rolling Stone”
Originally performed by Motown recording act The Undisputed Truth in 1972, “Papa Was a Rolling Stone,” a cautionary tale, became an instant classic when The Temptations covered it in the same year on their All Directions album. Composed by Norman Whitfield and Barrett Strong, the song is an ode to a father who was never around and “all he left us was alone." The song hit the number-one spot on the Billboard Hot 100 and won three Grammy Awards in 1973.