While we rarely underestimate the power of music – especially around these parts – sometimes we overlook how important music is to our favorite television shows.
Over the years, some of the most iconic programs in black culture have also generated iconic theme songs. Just the mere mention of phrases like “HEY HEY HEY” or “movin’ on up” instantly transport your mind to the show they’re inedibly tied to. Sometimes those songs were crafted by proven hitmakers like Aretha Franklin, En Vogue or Heavy D; other times, the instrumentals alone did the heavy lifting.
Regardless, those songs added to the legacy of those shows – and the legacy of black television.
Let’s look back at the 30 greatest theme songs to grace our favorite TV shows.
You know ’em. And you love ’em.
Honorable mentions: Soul Food: The Series, The PJs, The Steve Harvey Show, The Bernie Mac Show, Everybody Hates Chris
30. The Parkers (1999-2004)
Let’s not fool ourselves, this song is pretty annoying. But somehow, it remains oddly endearing – just like the show itself. Art imitates sitcom life.
29. Sister, Sister (1994-1999)
The original “Sister, Sister” theme perilously teetered between “super catchy” and “annoyingly screechy” but somehow it works. It certainly showcases the show’s youthful enthusiasm.
28. Kenan & Kel (1996-2000)
This theme song might be Coolio’s last great contribution to our society. For that alone we’ve gotta give props to K&K.
27. Cousin Skeeter (1998-2000)
So, um, we’re just gonna ignore the fact that this song is a blatant clone of 702’s “Steelo?” I guess 702 was cool with it since their vocals carry this unofficial remix. Plus “Steelo” is awesome, so I’ll allow it.
26. The Jamie Foxx Show (1996-2001)
We know Jamie knows his way around a recording booth, so it’s no surprise that he’d do the honors for his 90s TV show. And, as the case for many of the songs on our list, nothing beats the original theme.
25. Waynehead (1996-1997)
Bet y’all don’t remember this one. Waynehead was a sorta-obscure WB cartoon in the mid-90s about kids clowning around in the hood. I don’t remember much about it besides theme song, which is still as catchy as it was in 1996.
24. Girlfriends (2000-2008)
There isn’t much to the lyrics of this one besides “Myyyyyyy giiiiiiiiiiiiiirlfriendzzzzzz,” but the pitch-perfect delivery is so heartfelt that less is certainly more.
23. The Wayans Bros. (1995-1999)
The Wayans’ theme is an anomaly because fans’ memories mostly center on the goofy intro skit (“gimmie a high-five!”). The actual theme evolved over the years, but A Tribe Called Quest’s brand of Electric Relaxation is by far the smoothest.
22. Roc (1991-1994)
I know many people prefer the show’s later theme performed by En Vogue, but when I think of Roc, I think of the guttural soul of “God Bless the Child.”
21. Moesha (1996-2001)
Brandy seemed to remix the theme to “Moesha” every season but the version circa season 4 stands tallest. That’s probably because it feels like it was lifted right from one of Brandy’s albums. And that’s cool with me.
20. The Proud Family (2001-2005)
Before she got a seat at the table, Solange teamed up with Destiny’s Child for this underrated animated gem. “They’ll push your buttons/They’ll make you wanna hug ’em/A family, a family.” Sounds like family to me.
19. Hangin’ With Mr. Cooper (1992-1997)
When it comes to Coop, we had to bypass his later “Soul Man” theme and show love to his original, courtesy of En Vogue. Those ladies racked up a lot of theme song coins in the 90s.
18. Fat Albert and the Cosby Kids (1972-1985)
“HEY HEY HEYYYYYY!” This funky ode to Albert and his junkyard pals is one of the most renowned in animation history.
17. Diff’rent Strokes (1978-1986)
This song is about as 80s as it gets – goofy, way over the top and insanely catchy. But it’s downright unforgettable, which is why it easily makes our list.
16. Half & Half (2002-2006)
A vastly underrated show with an even more underrated theme, the vocals on this one are immaculate.
15. What’s Happening!! (1976-1979)
With an instrumental track this fun, who needs lyrics? I can’t hear this track without picturing Rog and the crew dribbling that basketball down the street.
14. 227 (1985-1990)
When Marla Gibbs sang, “There’s no place like home,” you believed it. Every episode was a family reunion with Mary, Sandra and their wacky neighbors.
13. Gimme a Break! (1981-1987)
We really didn’t give Nell Carter her flowers while she was able to smell them. She nailed the theme to her hit 80s show, easily one of the most overlooked themes EVER.
12. Family Matters (1989-1998)
Man, those piano keys rang out in my household many a Friday night, followed by a family-friendly song that belied the chaos Steve Urkel brought to the screen every week.
11. In Living Color (1990-1994)
The original version of this groundbreaking show’s theme is easily the most memorable but the season 3 remix is where it’s at. RIP Heavy D, who made this one a winner.
10. Sanford & Son (1972-1977)
Talk about iconic instrumentals – that bluesy harmonica is synonymous with Fred’s cranky demeanor and is instantly recognizable.
9. Martin (1992-1997)
Like many of the themes we’ve already discussed, the intro song for Martin Lawrence’s hit series went through several incarnations over the course of the show’s run. But first impressions are hard to top – the hip-hop fueled instrumentals accented by Martin’s ad-libs do the trick.
8. Living Single (1993-1998)
When one of the greatest rappers of all time (regardless of gender) is at the helm of your theme song, you know you’ve got a hit. This theme embodied the energy and sisterhood that made the show a classic. Thank you, Queen Latifah.
7. A Different World (1987-1993)
Listen, I love the Boyz II Men-helmed final theme as much as the next fan (and even the oft-forgotten jazzy original song is great) but nothing tops Auntie Aretha’s best-known theme. The power she brings to each note is reinforces its message – coming of age isn’t easy, but it’s necessary.
6. The Boondocks (2005-2014)
It’s funny how the theme song to a 10-year-old cartoon exudes more edge and attitude than 95% of the songs mucking up your radio stations. Rapper Asheru’s lyrics are unforgettable.
5. Amen (1986-1991)
True to its name, the theme to “Amen” is a mini-revival concert that perfectly depicts the holy hijinks at Deacon Ernest Frye’s church. This song doesn’t get nearly enough credit.
4. Good Times (1974-1979)
“Hanging in the chow line?” “Hanging out n’ jivin’?” Yeah, these lyrics have been in doubt for 40 years now but that hasn’t stopped us from singing along.
3. The Jeffersons (1975-1985)
When phrases like “movin’ on up” and “dee-luxe apartment in the sky” become synonymous with financial success, you know your song has made a mark on pop culture history. The Jeffersons’ theme is the anthem for black excellence.
2. The Cosby Show (1984-1992)
Controversy aside, The Cosby Show is one of the most important shows in black culture and its revolving door of fantastic opening themes is part of that legacy. But of all those themes, the greatest is the jazzy season 6 opener. It really is the best elevator music we’ve ever heard.
1. The Fresh Price of Bel-Air (1990-1996)
If you’re reading this post, I’m pretty sure you know every single word of this song. And for good reason, it’s has to be one of the most recognized rap songs in American history. That’s not hyperbole – I bet your grandma even knows the lyrics to this one. But it’s not just a fun track – Will essentially lays out the show’s entire plot in the span of two minutes. Effective and inescapable. When it comes to black TV themes, this one is tops.
Which of these themes were your favorite? Let us know in the comments below.