Tuesday, February 1, 2011

Music, Race & Feminism

This Barbara Acklin track was recorded in 1968. It didn't get a large release and audience, and its catchy rhythms and soulful backing track were eclipsed by the success of Young Holt Unlimited's "Soulful Strut" (you should recognize this from The Parent Trap-1998) and Dusty Springfield's re-recording of the song a year later. The main difference between Acklin's track and Springfield's is that Acklin was a big-haired, big-boned Black woman, and Dusty Springfield was a big-blonde-haired, big boned white woman, and the dimwads in charge of track distribution thought that one would be more successful than the other.

It's not a big secret that white artists appropriated music from Black artists in the 50s and 60s and used it for their own commercial success. (Remember the "Cadillac Car" scene from Dreamgirls?) But it should be recognized that Black artists were the revolutionaries of the pop music scene in the 50s and 60s, especially black female artists and groups, and that pop music today wouldn't be what it is now without it.

For those of you with flashes of Ke$ha popping in your head, I don't mean it like that. I mean that y'all should brush up on your Motown and pre-Motown knowledge. This 2007 Smithsonian Magazine article on "The Real Dreamgirls" is a good start. The music mentioned in the article is some of the most recognized, sampled and influential in pop music. Girl groups like the Marvelettes, the Ronettes, the Crystals, Martha Reeve and the Vandellas, the Chiffons, the Shirelles and of course, the Supremes, opened up mainstream pop charts to black women and integrated pop music before many schools were integrated. Girl groups of the 50s and 60s formed a cultural mold for future girl-groups (the Spice Girls, Destiny's Child, TLC, Atomic Kitten, the Sugababes, Girls Aloud, the Saturdays) and created the basic stencil for hit songs on the pop charts. They also created an essential role for teenage girls in pop culture, one which has not disappeared. Female artists of all genres owe some of their success to these pioneering ladies who paved the way for not only female artists, but female artists of color.

Within this framework, in the next few months I'm going to try and look more into female rappers. I'm a big fan of Lauryn Hill, Salt-N-Pepa, Queen Latifah, and Monie Love, and I'm trying to listen to more Lil Kim, Da Brat, Lady of Rage, Missy Elliot, MC Lyte, Bahamadia, and Nicki Minaj to try to look more closely at how feminism, femininity, and race play into their identities as artists in a male-dominated genre of music. (Note: if anyone has recommendations of other feminist and/or female rappers, let me know! I'd love to hear more.)

And is there a perfect way to start up this investigation with the ticket I bought this morning to see Salt-N-Pepa in 17 days??? I think not. My friend Sara and I are going and we are practically peeing ourselves in excitement. I shall clearly be writing about this more in the weeks to come.

In other news, I have another post up on The FBomb! I love reading all the posts on The FBomb and check it daily to see who's contributed and on what subject. It's a great website, and if you haven't before, you should check it out.

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