Happy Black History Month! Continuing with our BHM theme, this week we’re highlighting books by Black authors that provide a different perspective on the history and cultural influence of Black musicians and industry professionals. Last week we covered several BHM music events, so check that out if you missed it since many of them are still coming up.
Autobiography: Black by Design: A 2-Tone Memoir by Pauline Black
In the late 70s in England, a new genre called 2 Tone was all the rage. Also known as second wave or revival ska, the genre took its name from 2 Tone Records. The Selecter was one of the first artists to release a song on the label and are widely considered pioneers of the genre.
The frontwoman, Pauline Black, released her autobiography in 2011. The book spans most of her life, from her early memories of learning she was adopted, to growing up during the Black Power movement, through her career as an actor and in The Selecter, up through the search for her birth parents.
An excerpt from the book, where Pauline describes her early memories of learning she was adopted, is available on NPR’s website. This book is available in eBook format from most major retailers.
Nonfiction: What Are YOU Doing Here? A Black Woman’s Life and Liberation in Heavy Metal by Laina Dawes
For anyone who isn’t a straight white male, the world of metal can sometimes make you feel like an outsider. As the title of the book suggests, Dawes dives deep into what it’s like being a Black woman in a genre typically thought of as a white man’s space.
In What Are YOU Doing Here?, Dawes discusses her own experiences, as well as conversations with fans, musicians, and sociologists. For example, in Chapter 4, So You Think You’re White?, Dawes starts off with an anecdote about a friend’s boyfriend, who was surprised that she liked rock music, and when he learned that she was adopted into a white family said “Well that explains it.” She then moves on to discuss how listening to alternative or metal, “white people music,” while being Black can make someone feel like an outsider not only in the music community, but in the Black community as well. “Believe it or not,” Dawes writes, “blacks and nonblacks both commonly assume that black people get into heavier musical genres to shed their blackness – […] Nothing could be further from the truth.”
History and Cultural Analysis: One Nation Under a Groove: Motown and American Culture by Gerald Early
Gerald Early has quite the impressive resume: he studied English at the University of Pennsylvania, and got his Ph.D. in English and American Literature from Cornell. He’s been a professor since 1982, has worked at NPR, and has even received two Grammy nominations for his work on album liner notes.
Amongst his numerous books is One Nation Under a Groove, a book he released in 1995 about Motown Records. Given Early’s academic background, this book is a bit denser than others on this list, but it’s nonetheless quite interesting. The book goes beyond just the history of the label to analyze both the cultural context that allowed Motown Records to thrive, as well as it’s lasting impact.
No official eBooks exist, but you can purchase a paperback copy from the University of Michigan press, as well as from some resale sites.
History and Music Theory: The Power of Black Music: Interpreting Its History from Africa to the United States by Samuel A. Floyd, Jr
For those history or music theory nerds among us, look no further than this book by Samuel A. Floyd. Unfortunately, Floyd is no longer with us, but his analysis lives on for those seeking to understand the lasting impact of African religion and folk music on popular music in America up through the 1960s and beyond.
Given that this book is also academic in nature, it may be a tough read for those unfamiliar with certain aspects of music theory or African religion. However, Floyd does give background information and his descriptions are still easily understood in most cases without detailed knowledge. Overall, it’s still an interesting read even without understanding all the references.
This book is available in eBook form from major sellers, as well as in paperback from Oxford Press and other major sites.
Which of these books will you be checking out? What other books or genres would you like to see featured? Let us know in the comments!
If you missed it, be sure to check out the first edition of Punk Rock Bookshelf from last November.