Atlanta Music Scene

Melissa Ruggieri covers the Atlanta’s vibrant and evolving music scene. From hot new artists to Music Midtown to shows at the Tabernacle, she’s got you covered.

Muhammad Ali inspired a musical legacy

No doubt Muhammad Ali received his kudos as an athlete.

But before he won the world heavyweight championship, converted to Islam and changed his name, he was Cassius Clay. And in August 1963, he released a spoken word album called “I Am the Greatest.”

The title track – a passionate spoken word throwdown -- was released as a single, with a cover of Ben E. King’s “Stand By Me” as the B-side.


But while Clay’s musical career fizzled after he became Ali and emerged as a boxing powerhouse (although he did record "Ali and His Gang vs. Mr. Tooth Decay" in 1976 with Frank Sinatra and Howard Cosell), his prowess continued to inspire musicians. In 1975, Johnny Wakelin had a hit in the U.S., Australia and the U.K. with “Black Superman (Muhammad Ali)” – a song that Ali reportedly didn’t approve of and shunned.


As Ali’s status grew in the ring, so did the musical references.

In 1975, The People’s Choice, a Philly soul band, released the funk-shuffle “The Best Ever and Muhammad Ali,” while 1976 brought the synth-tastic “Muhammad Ali” from Detroit singer Sir Mack Rice.

In the ‘80s, Texas blues rockers The Fabulous Thunderbirds name checked the champ with its best-known song, “Tuff Enuff” and as recently as 2010, jam rockers Big Head Todd and the Monsters paid homage with the gruffly sweet, yes, “Muhammad Ali.”

Take a listen to some of the ways Ali has been immortalized in sound.

Reader Comments ...

About the Author

Atlanta Journal-Constitution staff writer Melissa Ruggieri covers music and entertainment news for Atlanta Music Scene blog on