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PMC Lecture: Black Women and Civil Rights Music
January 17 @ 7:00 pm - 8:30 pm
Dr. Tammy Kernodle
(Professor, Miami University)
Kernodle is a leading authority on African American music. She is the author of Soul on Soul: The Life and Music of Mary Lou Williams (2004), and associate editor of the three-volume Encyclopedia of African American Music (2011).
‘I’ll Take You There’: Black Music and the Transmitting of Transcendence and Resistance to late 60s America
Nina Simone, Aretha Franklin, Mavis Staples and Roberta Flack emerged in the late 1960s and early 1970s as voices that used musical performances to mediated audiences through one of America’s most chaotic and violent periods. Songs such as Mavis Staples’ “I’ll Take You There” and Aretha Franklin’s “Bridge Over Troubled Waters” served as the intermediary between the warring political ideologies of non-violence, Black Nationalism and black militancy. They also channeled the pain generated by the assassinations of Martin Luther King, Jr. and Robert Kennedy, the destruction of urban cities through riots as well as the violence associated with the Anti-war Movement (e.g. Kent State, Jackson State). Music scholarship from this period has privileged the voices of black male musicians, most notably James Brown and Sly Stone, as examples of how these events shaped the lyrical context of late sixties/early seventies black popular music.
I argue that the privileging of black male musicians has narrowed our sonic awareness of how blackness and the themes of resistance and transcendence were framed in popular music during this period. Simone, Franklin, Flack and Staples advanced a different type of sonic blackness that was a synthesis of black sacred music, jazz and blues. Through an analysis of selected performances, I will explore how these performers interweaved ideologies associated with the Civil Rights campaigns of the 1960s (e.g. equality, self-empowerment, black nationalism) with their personal experiences of black women in America to create sonic contexts through which listeners could interpret, understand, and transcend the violence and social unrest of the late 1960s and early 1970s.