Black sitcoms have given pop culture some of the best theme songs in the history of TV. Whether they are original songs, covers, or instrumentals, classic theme songs have stood the test of time, connecting with audiences across generations.
Black TV theme songs are cultural touchstones that identify the zeitgeist of the moment, while introducing the audience to a new world of possibilities and the adventures that the show seeks to take fans on. What has made Black TV theme shows unique from white ones throughout the years is that they usually incorporate popular Black music of the time — from soul and gospel music in the ’70s to hip-hop and R&B in the ’90s. The songs are were often performed by legendary artists of times. The list of names are staggering: Aretha Franklin, Quincy Jones, Queen Latifah, Will Smith and DJ Jazzy Jeff, Brandy, Solange, and more.
Even when the theme song is absent of words, the melodies have stuck with us, eventually becoming fixtures in Black culture. If the opening credits are designed to hold the attention of the viewers, then these Black TV theme songs have done that and more. Here are the 25 best Black TV show theme songs of all time.
25. Roc (1991-1994)
Roc did not have a long run but it was one of the most underrated sitcoms of the ’90s. For the theme song, Jerry Lawson, lead singer of The Persuasions, gave a soul-stirring rendition of Billie Holiday’s classic “God Bless The Child.” In true doo-wop fashion, the tight harmonies on the background vocals, with an acapela performance, is still fire. In the last season, En Vogue sang “Live Your Life Today” which was major but the original really connected with the hardcore persona of Roc, who was the proudest trashman in the history of civilization.
24. Gimme A Break! (1981-1987)
Many of Neil Carter’s contributions have been tragically ignored. She was the leading actress in her own sitcom and she sang the theme song. The song served as an anthem for women who were turning societal norms upside down and staking their claim in the world. Composed by Bob Christianson, and written by Bob Garrett and Marley Sim, Nell Carter absolutely owns the song as only she could. With her larger than life personality and impeccable vocal range, Carter belted out the song with undeniable authenticity.
There was no way that anyone other than Jamie Foxx was gonna perform the theme song for his show. The multi-talented singer, songwriter, and comedian used his new show to put all of his skills on display, especially his singing ability. Singing over some low-riding West Coast funk, Foxx’s silky vocals was a recipe for success with an unforgettable theme song. A new song debuted during season three, but the original version slaps harder.
After becoming a multi-platinum selling rapper, Eve took her talents to the small screen with her TV show. The theme song is one of the most overlooked of the 2000s. While it didn’t feature the “pitbull in skirt” Eve herself — who wanted to focus all of her energies on acting — the choice for theme song wasn’t too shabby in the form of Missy “Misdemeanor” Elliott. “I decided not to even do music for the opening scene, so people can actually see me as an actress,” Eve told the Sun-Sentinel at the time.
Unlike many shows today, growin-ish actually has a theme song and it’s a damn good one. Sung by co-stars Chloe X Halle, “Grown” epitomizes the sitcom as it chronicles the growing pains of young-adults navigating the collegiate world. Not only is the “Grown” the theme song of the hit show but it was single from the dynamic duo’s debut album, The Kids Are Alright. With lyrics like, “Watch out, world, I’m grown now/It’s about to go down/My heart beatin’ so loud/Mama, look, I’m grown now,” “Grown” is the soundtrack of young Black girls getting their first taste of independence.
20. Proud Family (2001-2005)
The 2000s featured a plethora of African American animated shows and The Proud Family comes in at the very top. The theme song of the show was sung by Solange Knowles, who was following in the footsteps of her big sister Beyoncé. Before her breakthrough as a bona fide cultural icon, singing the theme song for The Proud Family was one of Solange’s first opportunities to shine. With backing vocals provided by none other than Destiny Child, The Proud Family’s theme song is an underrated gem that often gets overlooked.
19. Sister Sister (1994-1999)
Twins Tia and Tamera Mowry bust into the scene in the mid-’90s with their own sitcom about being separated at birth and then reuniting. While the show was successful, the energetic theme song is revered by fans of the show. “Sister Sister” served up all the teenage enthusiasm that they could muster. Not only did Tia and Tamrera star in the show but they sang the theme song, as well. Some thought they were just lip synching but they were performing their own vocals. Tamera said in an interview with Hollywood Life, “In the beginning we’re lip syncing and dancing to the theme song, but we actually are singing it.”
18. Family Matters (1989-1998)
Family Matters could have easily been titled The Steve Urkel Show. When Jaleel White emerged as the star of the show, it was a game changer. But the constant of the show was the catchy theme song. Written and sung by Jesse Frederick — who also wrote and sung the Full House song — “As The Days Go By” featured a jazzy, ragtime piano riff that immediately resonated with the audience.
17. Half and Half (2002-2006)
A very underrated show of the 2000s, Half and Half often fell under the radar during its initial run. Just like the show itself, the theme song, which was great, doesn’t get that love that it should. Sung by Melanie Daniels, the neo-soul-influenced song was extremely popular during the mid-2000s.
16. What’s Happening !! (1976-1979)
Composed by Henry Mancini, the theme song of What’s Happening !!, with it’s memorable instrumental, compliments the hilarious cast of characters about a show that featured Black teenagers growing up in Los Angeles. Based on Cooley High, What’s Happening!! deployed a laid-back, funky theme song that fit the youthful optimism and personalities of Rog, Dwayne, and Rerun. The mix funk, jazz, and R&B by Mancini became even more popular in syndication after it’s original run. Even the updated version in the ’80s was pretty good.
15. Fat Albert and the Cosby Kids (1972-1985)
Before Bill Cosby was crowned America’s dad and before he became a convicted felon, he created an animated educational program targeted to kids that was based on his childhood that became a big hit. For 12 years, Fat Albert and The Cosby Kids was must-see TV on Saturday mornings for children and adults. Not only did the show teach life lessons but the theme song was one of the books. “Gonna Have a Good Time”, was composed by Ricky Sheldon and Edward Fournier and performed by Michael Gray.
14. 227 (1985-1990)
“I mean no place child” are the lyrics sung by Marla Gibbs on the theme song for 227 and she meant every word. Written by Marla Gibbs and Ray Colcord, “No Place Like A Home,” was a bluesy, churchy number that meshed seamlessly with the theme of the show which focused on a Black, middle-class community living in the apartment building at 227 Lexington Place. “There’s No Place Like Home” was a showcase of Marla Gibbs singing and songwriting prowess. Often overlooked, “No Place Like Home” is a notable theme song from one of the best Black sitcoms of the ’80s.
13. Girlfriends (2000-2008)
“My girlfriends/There through thick and thin/My girlfriends/There for anything/My girlfriends.” Angie Stone’s sultry vocals laced the theme song of Girlfriends and they wisely kept the song for the entirety of the series run. The song ties in with the premise of the show which is the deep bonds of Black sisterhood. Although the song is relatively short, spanning all of forty-two seconds, the power of the lyrics and Stone’s flawless performance exuded the sentiments of the show.
12. Hanging With Mr. Cooper (1992-1997)
There are some occasions when both the theme song and the sitcom are forgotten about. This seems to be the case with Hang With Mr. Cooper. While the show was good, the theme song may have been better. The opening song featured the incomparable En Vogue, who were at the peak of their powers, who slayed the background vocals while co-stars Dawn Lewis and Holly Robinson-Pete sang the leads. Without question, they all nailed the theme song.
11. Moesha (1996-2001)
In 1996, Brandy was fresh off of the release of her massive self-titled debut album. So when she made the move to star in her own show, Moesha, the timing could not have been better. As expected, she sang the theme for the show that bore her name. With Brandy’s top tier vocal ability, the theme song was sure to be a good one and she didn’t disappoint. A coming of age, celebration of a Black girl going through the ups and downs of teenage life, the theme song of “Moesha” was an anthem for Black girls everywhere.
10. Cosby Show (1984-1982)
From 1984-1992, The Cosby Show portrayed a vision of what a Black, upper-class family in America is. The opening theme song changed every season, and season three is the most memorable. The jazzy, bossa nova influenced version of Stu Gardner’s original composition is second to none. The dancing and the musicianship all combined to serve up some killer opening credit vibes.
9. Amen (1986-1991)
When a show is based on the adventures of a Black Church, the theme has to be Holy Ghost fire. Andrae Crouch, one of the architects of modern Gospel music, gave Amen a sanctified church bop for its theme song. Sung by the gospel great Vanessa Bell Armstrong, “Shine On Me” was the epitome of what the music of the Black Church was all about. From 1986-1991, Amen took everybody who tuned to church.
8. Martin (1992-1997)
Following the course of many sitcoms, the theme song of Martin, one of the most beloved sitcoms of all-time, went through various incarnations. But the first season is by far the best of all the seasons. With Martin Lawrence ad-libbing over a hot instrumental, with DJ sketching, the opening song was the perfect match for the hilarious sitcom. From the theme song alone, you know that the show was gonna be crazy. The remix and the digital versions pale in comparison to the original adaptation
7. In Living Color (1990-1994)
Created by Keenan Ivory Wayans, In Living Color was a ground-breaking sketch comedy show that launched many successful careers. The theme song was written and performed by the legendary Heavy D, who brought the New Jack Swing vibe that had the music world on fire during the early 90s. In Living Color’s theme song also accomplished that is rare: The updated version, still featuring Heavy D, is just as good as the original.
6. Good Times (1974-1979)
Within the pantheon of great Black TV theme shows, the Good Times theme song is still one of the best. Written and performed by Jim Gilstrap and Blinky Williams, the song captures the singular premise of the show, a poor Black family struggling in the projects of Chicago. While some of the lyrics are still up for debate, the theme song of Good Times is as relevant as ever.
5. Living Single (1993-1998)
From the outset, Living Single was barrier-breaking T.V. as the show centered around the lives of four Black women in New York City. The theme song, written and performed by star Queen Latifiah, one of the most acclaimed MCs in hip-hop, was a certified banger. With Queen Latifah lending her skills as an MC and producing the track, the Living Single theme song instantly became an all-time favorite. Who could forget the closing saxophone solo and Big Lez’s silohoette?
4. A Different World (1987-1993)
Although the A Different World’s theme song stayed the same — albeit with different variations — undoubtedly the best version belongs to the Queen of Soul, Aretha Franklin. A spinoff of the Cosby Show, A Different World showed America what HBCU life was like and influenced generations of Black kids. Written by Dawn Lewis (who also c0-starred as Jaleesa Vinson) and composer Stu Gardner, Aretha Franklin’s soulful rendition ranks it among the best theme show performances in TV history.
3. Sanford and Son (1972-1977)
When that Red 1951 Ford F-100 pulls up and that classic instrumental comes on, you know that Sanford and Son is about to bring some serious laughs. Composed by the legendary Quincy Jones, the song is one the most recognizable in the history of television. Interestingly, Jones didn’t think the show would be hit because of Redd Foxx’s blue comedic routine. In an interview with Billboard, Jones said: “I said, ‘man, you can’t put Redd Foxx on national TV [laughs]. I had worked with Redd Foxx 30 years before that at the Apollo. Yorkin said, ‘No, it’s gonna be a great great show. And it was. Foxx took his sense of humor and took it all the way to the top. I wrote that song in about 20 minutes too.”
2. Fresh Prince of Bel-Air (1990-1996)
“In West Philadelphia, being born and raised/on the playground is where I spent most of my days” are some of the most well-known theme song lyrics. The classic theme song was composed in a couple of minutes according to one of its co-creators, DJ Jazzy Jeff. Recalling how the song came to be he said, Jazzy Jeff said. “We literally went into the studio and made the theme song in about 15 minutes. One of the things Will used to always say is the hardest part to come up with for a song is the concept, but the concept behind the Fresh Prince of Bel-Air was already laid out. I ended up just going in and programming some music, and he wrote something and laid it down. I did a rough mix and sent it in, and in about three weeks it was on NBC.
Arguably the most iconic theme song in the history of television, “Movin On Up” is in a class by itself. Composed by the late Ja’net DuBois, “Moving On Up” captured the ethos of The Jeffersons as they left the hood of Queens and rode the wave of Black capitalism to a deluxe apartment on the East Side of Manhattan. A staple in hip-hop, the song has been sampled by the likes of Nelly on “Batter Up,” B.Rich on “Whoa Now,” and many others, proving its enduring legacy.
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