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Race Music

Race Music: Black Cultures from Bebop to Hip-Hop

Copyright Date: 2003
Edition: 1
Published by:
Pages: 294
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  • Book Info
    Race Music
    Book Description:

    This powerful book covers the vast and various terrain of African American music, from bebop to hip-hop. Guthrie P. Ramsey, Jr., begins with an absorbing account of his own musical experiences with family and friends on the South Side of Chicago, evoking Sunday-morning worship services, family gatherings with food and dancing, and jam sessions at local nightclubs. This lays the foundation for a brilliant discussion of how musical meaning emerges in the private and communal realms of lived experience and how African American music has shaped and reflected identities in the black community. Deeply informed by Ramsey's experience as an accomplished musician, a sophisticated cultural theorist, and an enthusiast brought up in the community he discusses,Race Musicexplores the global influence and popularity of African American music, its social relevance, and key questions regarding its interpretation and criticism. Beginning with jazz, rhythm and blues, and gospel, this book demonstrates that while each genre of music is distinct-possessing its own conventions, performance practices, and formal qualities-each is also grounded in similar techniques and conceptual frameworks identified with African American musical traditions. Ramsey provides vivid glimpses of the careers of Dinah Washington, Louis Jordan, Dizzy Gillespie, Cootie Williams, and Mahalia Jackson, among others, to show how the social changes of the 1940s elicited an Afro-modernism that inspired much of the music and culture that followed.Race Musicillustrates how, by transcending the boundaries between genres, black communities bridged generational divides and passed down knowledge of musical forms and styles. It also considers how the discourse of soul music contributed to the vibrant social climate of the Black Power Era. Multilayered and masterfully written,Race Musicprovides a dynamic framework for rethinking the many facets of African American music and the ethnocentric energy that infused its creation.

    eISBN: 978-0-520-93843-4
    Subjects: Music

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. List of Illustrations
    (pp. ix-x)
  4. Preface
    (pp. xi-xii)
  5. 1 Daddy’s Second Line: Toward a Cultural Poetics of Race Music
    (pp. 1-16)

    In the summer of 1999, Stevie Wonder’s hit recording “I Wish” from two decades earlier provided the rhythm track to a rap recording by the ubiquitous entertainer Will “the Fresh Prince” Smith. The recording, a single from the soundtrack of the filmWild, Wild West(based on a 1960s television show), features Smith rapping and the soulful vocals of Sisqo, formerly the lead singer of the hip-hop/R&B group Drew Hill. While the filmWild, Wild Westdrew mixed reviews and proved only moderately successful, the single itself was a smash hit, without doubt bolstering interest in the movie. Smith’s gesture...

  6. 2 Disciplining Black Music: On History, Memory, and Contemporary Theories
    (pp. 17-43)

    Christopher Small’s question in the epigraph above has served as a guiding principle for me in both my research and my teaching. Answering the question adequately, however, has taken me to many methodologies, each shaping my interpretations of music in specific ways. I don’t consider myself beholden to any one theory over others; rather, my methodological, intellectual, and theoretical premises are taken from varied sources and disciplines. In the previous chapter I tried to show how my muse has led me through many different cultural spaces. Likewise, my intellectual pursuits reflect no straight line of influence: my thinking has been...

  7. 3 “It’s Just the Blues”: Race, Entertainment, and the Blues Muse
    (pp. 44-75)

    In July 1948, singer Dinah Washington recorded “Long John Blues,” in which she boasted about her dentist, whose height topped seven feet.¹ Among other notable charms, Washington sings about the dentist’s trusty “drill,” which he pulls out and guarantees will fill his willing patient’s cavity. She reports that Long John has entreated her to open wide, but not before he gives her a shot of Novocain. “Every woman just can’t stand the pain,” he explains. Washington delivers the song with classy, matter-of-fact understatement and reserve. She doesn’t whoop, holler, or bray the lyrics but sings with a quiet sass, allowing...

  8. 4 “It Just Stays with Me All of the Time”: Collective Memory, Community Theater, and the Ethnographic Truth
    (pp. 76-95)

    In the previous chapters, I outlined what I believe to be important considerations for the study of or, rather, the disciplining of African American music. I began in chapter 1 with an ethnomemoir, recalling specific events in my life in which music was central or played an important role. The themes raised in those passages provided a springboard into some of the intellectual issues explored in chapter 2 and throughout this book. They also grounded some of my observations and interpretations within a specific web of culture, a relationship that I believe exists in all humanistic scholarship, despite the reluctance...

  9. 5 “We Called Ourselves Modern”: Race Music and the Politics and Practice of Afro-Modernism at Midcentury
    (pp. 96-130)

    In the last of the epigraphs above, modern jazz musician Dizzy Gillespie conflates what is considered different modes of musical creation in jazz: the improviser’s oral-based head arrangements and the composer’s written arrangements. By privileging improvisation as the source of jazz composition, he turns on its ear one of the “truths” of the Western music tradition and of modernism. Moreover, when he talks about the potential role of the tape recorder, Gillespie points to the place of technology in establishing “modern” cultural forms. As drummer Kenny Clarke points out in the second epigraph, the processes described by Gillespie were thought...

  10. 6 “Goin’ to Chicago”: Memories, Histories, and a Little Bit of Soul
    (pp. 131-162)

    The male protagonist in the 1939 recording “Goin’ to Chicago Blues” expresses a sentiment found in many blues songs: a male fleeing an unful-filling heterosexual relationship, escaping to another location, presumably to reestablish himself in a new environment and, perhaps, love interest. Cast in the familiar twelve-bar blues pattern, the song features the paradigmatic vocalist Jimmy Rushing supported by a small jazz combo led by Count Basie. Black neighborhoods in urban centers such as Chicago, Harlem, and Philadelphia began a steady decline during the Depression, a pattern that would continue throughout the latter half of the century. But these cities...

  11. 7 Scoring a Black Nation: Music, Film, and Identity in the Age of Hip-Hop
    (pp. 163-189)

    The 1990s will be remembered as a boom decade for black popular culture. One might say that like New Negroes in the 1920s, African American performers were in vogue. By the century’s end, black expressive culture had become a pervasive factor in American society, fixed indelibly to the country’s cultural profile. African American entertainers of all stripes are a commanding presence in the culture. In the post–Cosby Showera, cable television serves up a steady diet of situation comedies starring African American casts, whose exaggerated performances sometimes come dangerously close to worn-out, reliable stereotypes. Trumpeter and composer Wynton Marsalis,...

  12. 8 “Santa Claus Ain’t Got Nothing on This!”: Hip-Hop Hybridity and the Black Church Muse
    (pp. 190-216)

    Policing the boundaries of black religious expression in the West is an activity that reaches back centuries. The historical record documents negative reactions to black religious practices from a range of detractors that includes both black and white critics. A self-conscious hybridity has marked the development of African American religious practices since their appearance in the New World. Scholars trace many of these tendencies back to the ring shout of slave culture. Accounts describing the ring shout abound in the literature of missionaries, travelers, and abolitionists, among others. A typical report describes religious services that combine elements of dance, storytelling,...

  13. EPILOGUE: “Do You Want It on Your Black-Eyed Peas?”
    (pp. 217-218)

    Vocalist and poet Jill Scott, a Philadelphia native and the anointed princess of hip-hop’s recent neosoul movement, asked the question in this epilogue’s title in one of the songs on her celebrated debut recording,“Who Is Jill Scott?”¹ Her work is a stunning synthesis of the dense narrative themes of rap music, hip-hop recording techniques, and musical conventions from the soul and funk genres of black popular music. At the same time that it is forward-looking, her music seems like a throwback to days gone by. As I discussed in the first chapter, Stevie Wonder announced in the 1970s that...

  14. Notes
    (pp. 219-244)
  15. Selected Bibliography
    (pp. 245-258)
  16. Acknowledgments
    (pp. 259-262)
  17. Index
    (pp. 263-281)
  18. Back Matter
    (pp. 282-282)