How Lenny Kravitz Changed the Tapestry of Contemporary Music

by Gina Loring

Musically, Lenny Kravitz is a rare combination of creative brilliance, forward innovation, and a colorful collage of various throwback influences. His impressive body (of work) is clearly that of a committed and hard-working individual. His career has unfolded like a narrative soundtrack, each album a musical backdrop for various chapters of his life. He is an artist in the truest sense---he's not answering to societal expectations or pop culture fads. In short, he doesn't give a fuck what people think---the music comes from God, through him, and we get to be moved and rocked and grooved by it. Yes, I just used the f-word and God in the same sentence, but that’s the kind of balance of consciousness that puts Lenny’s music in its own lane. In a land of cookie-cutter bands and social-media celebrities, he still manages to operate as a vessel for a new and genuine sound. He’s a multi-talented, multi-instrument playing, hit-composing, hit-producing, stadium filling, jet-setting, bad-ass full-fledged ROCK STAR. But that’s not why I love him.

In an industry where artists habitually change their name of origin for a more mainstream (read: WASP) sounding name (Jennifer Anastassakis, anyone?) it is refreshing and beautifully empowering that Lenny Kravitz stands unapologetically in all of who he is: Black, Jewish, Native American, son, father, musician, world citizen. Lenny--just by being himself-- has crossed boundaries, challenged stereotypes, and arguably shifted the consciousness of millions. As a genre-bender, his reach is both wide and influential (cut to a white suburban teenager rocking out to the racial-profiling themed Mr. Cab Driver or Bank Robber Man, or a crowd of thousands chanting Let Love Rule). In addition to being unabashedly and deeply spiritual (Believe, God is Love, If You Want It), he uses his music as a platform for socio-political commentary (What the Fuck Are We Saying?, Back in Vietnam, Black and White America) and leads by example as a present and adoring father (Flowers for Zoe, Little Girl's Eyes).

While most (if not all) people of the African diaspora are "mixed" (one of the many repercussions of colonization and the slave trade), being both black and Jewish is a slightly less crowded club. As a card carrying member, (my mother, like Lenny's father, is of eastern European Jewish descent and my father, like Lenny's mother, was of African American and Native American descent), I would be remiss not to mention the personal impact of Lenny's presence as a fixture on the public stage. As much as I recoil (if not roll my eyes and gag) at the "tragic mulatto" label, and am in no way claiming to be a "representative" of a community as vast and multidimensional as our ancestry itself, the fact is, being "mixed"--and in my case, racially ambiguous--can be a bothersome, frustrating, and at times, lonely pain in the ass. Watching Lenny Kravitz walk comfortably in his skin has given me the invaluable gift of a sense of comfort in my own. He has provided me and countless others someone with whom to identify.

When asked my ethnicity (which is a regular occurrence), I began a few years ago responding with "Lenny Kravitz tribe.” The asker usually smiles and nods, "Oh, black and Jewish." No further explanation needed---the name Lenny Kravitz stands on its own two feet-- and thus, so too, in that moment, does Gina Loring.

If mirrored ancestry, political values, and a passion for music weren’t enough, I share a commonality with Lenny in an entirely different regard. We are both children of late actors highly revered in the black theatre world (like Lenny’s mother, my father, William Marshall, aka "Blacula", was Shakespearean trained and began his on-and-off Broadway career in the close knit New York City black theatre community, followed by various TV/film work, including a stint on The Jeffersons where he worked alongside Lenny’s mother). I know what it feels like to watch a deceased parent move, speak, walk--- be alive again on the TV screen. I understand the comfort and sorrow and complexity of that experience. I know what it’s like for such a private and deeply personal loss to be reduced to a Jet Magazine headline. I wouldn’t wish grief on anyone, but knowing I am not alone lends a proverbial comforting embrace in those moments.

Lenny Kravitz has undoubtedly changed the tapestry of contemporary music. He added a much needed dimension to American popular culture---something exceedingly important considering this country exports more TV, film and music internationally than any other country. And really-- what’s more American than a black Jew from Brooklyn rocking out on an electric guitar in front of a huge American flag? (American Woman). Lenny redefines the way the world sees African Americans, Jews, and those of us who light both the Hanukkah menorah and the Kwanzaa candelabra (shout out to Drake, Tracee Ellis Ross, Rashida Jones and Maya Rudolph to name a few). He has created a space of belonging by giving a face to an important component of the American experience---and in doing so, shifted how we see ourselves. Through his authenticity and artistry, he has paved the way for us to shine our own lights following the path of his ever-evolving footsteps.

Photo Credit: lev radin /

Gina Loring holds a BA from Spelman College and an MFA from Antioch University Los Angeles. She was featured on two seasons of HBO's Def Poetry, and has performed her music and poetry in over ten countries as guest artist of the American Embassy. Contact her at:

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