Award-winning Black feminist music critic Daphne A. Brooks’s new book Liner Notes for the Revolution: The Intellectual Life of Black Feminist Sound explores more than a century of music archives to examine the critics, collectors, and listeners who have determined perceptions of Black women in the recording studio and on stage. How is it possible, Daphne asks, that iconic artists such as Aretha Franklin and Beyoncé exist simultaneously at the center and on the fringe of the culture industry?
Do we ever think of Black women musicians as intellectuals? Do we ever think of them as innovating and curating repertoires that actively engage with the complexities of African American history and American history more broadly? Is there such a thing as Black feminist music writing? Liner Notes for the Revolution seeks to answer these questions.
Brooks presents fresh and surprising takes on seemingly well-known figures such as Zora Neale Hurston, Lorraine Hansberry, Abbey Lincoln, Bessie Smith, Mamie Smith, and Mary Lou Williams. Here, Hurston’s history as a sound archivist and performer comes to the fore; Afrofuturist pop star Janelle Monáe’s liner notes innovations stand front and center; the resonances between Hansberry’s queer Black feminist cultural criticism and the modern rock criticism of feminist thinker Ellen Willis rise to the surface; classic blues women pioneers Bessie Smith and Mamie Smith’s respective experimentalism create a pathway for the contemporary avant-garde work of celebrated artists such as Cécile McLorin Salvant, Rhiannon Giddens, and Valerie June. Brooks examines Beyoncé’s magnum opus Lemonade as a masterful example of Black feminist sonic experimentalism as it relates to radically confronting the historical past. These musicians emerge as serious cultural historians and archivists in and of themselves.
Daphne A. Brooks, the William R. Kenan Jr. Professor of African American Studies at Yale University, is a scholar of African-American literature and culture, performance studies, critical gender studies, and popular music culture.
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