Muhammad Ali: A Career in Music

For people of a certain age, Muhammad Ali was your hero. He was the most important athletic figure we’ve ever seen–and probably the most important we’ll ever see. If you weren’t around when he was at his peak, you might not understand that statement, but trust me. There was no one like Ali. No one.

Lots has been written about his boxing career (go here for a great reading and watching list) but I’d like to focus on Ali’s contributions to music.

1. Ali Released an Album

Before he changed his name to Muhammad Ali, he released an album under his birth name, Cassius Clay. Released by Columbia in 1963, it captured his ability to talk trash poetically. The title track was released as a single and nominated for a Grammy.


Ali also recorded a version of Ben E. King’s “Stand by Me.” He does well.


2. Ali the Hip-Hop Pioneer

Ali was famous for freestyling two- or four-line poems about just about any subject. His timing was impeccable, his trash-talking perfect, the bragging bang-on. Sound like rap and hip-hop, doesn’t it? (Thanks to Halifax for pointing us to this link about Ali’s best quotes.)

Rolling Stone looks at the influence that had on hip-hop. ESPN wonders if Ali invented rap.


3. Ali’s Broadway Role

Back in 1969, Ali appeared in a musical called Buck White. And yes, he sang.

He even appeared on The Ed Sullivan Show to perform.

Let’s end with this. Paul Simon was playing a concert when word came of Ali’s death. Here’s how he announced it to the crowd. Guess what song he used. (Via JamBase)

Alan Cross

is an internationally known broadcaster, interviewer, writer, consultant, blogger and speaker. In his 40+ years in the music business, Alan has interviewed the biggest names in rock, from David Bowie and U2 to Pearl Jam and the Foo Fighters. He’s also known as a musicologist and documentarian through programs like The Ongoing History of New Music.

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