In ‘Liner Notes for the Revolution,’ a History of American Music With Black Women at Its Center

Jennifer Szalai in The New York Times:

For a critic, there’s maybe nothing so central but also confounding as the question of taste — why we like what we like, and whether it’s something we decide for ourselves, based purely on our own freedom and idiosyncracies; or if our tastes can be shaped and even scripted, influenced by earnest argument, entrenched biases or cynical manipulation.

With “Liner Notes for the Revolution: The Intellectual Life of Black Feminist Sound,” Daphne A. Brooks blurs and eventually explodes this binary. She argues that “taste-making” has often served to enshrine a musical canon that skews white and male; at the same time, she emphasizes the importance of canon-building and does some taste-making of her own. The old guard might have deigned to make room for “Satchmo, Monk, Miles and Trane,” she writes, but it still seems hesitant to “imagine a pop (culture) life with Black women at its full-stop center rather than as the opening act, the accompanying act or the afterthought.”

There are a number of recent and forthcoming books by Black women — among them Maureen MahonDanyel Smith and Clover Hope — that elucidate the central role that Black women artists have played in American music. Brooks, who teaches at Yale, is explicit about wanting to connect two worlds that would seem to be distinct: those of intellectual theory and commercial appeal. One doesn’t have to exclude the other, she says, even if traditional rock criticism has supposed that market success must come at the expense of that vague and vaunted quality known as “authenticity.”

More here. (Throughout February, at least one post will be dedicated to honoring Black History Month. The theme this year is: The Family)