Liner Notes for the Revolution

This week: a conversation with Daphne Brooks about Black feminist music across the twentieth century. Listen today at 2 pm, or anytime at our website.

From Bessie Smith to Beyoncé, our show this week tracks a history of feminist music from Black artists. We’re joined by the historian and critic Daphne Brooks, whose new book, Liner Notes for the Revolution, explores such music via intellectual and political history. She says on our show:

Those Black women artists were archiving the history of our American struggle, our American catastrophe, which is that of racial subjugation and gender subjugation, through their music. They were kind of our Smithsonian before African Americans had a Smithsonian of their own, in terms of historical memory and how we actually reckon with that blood-soaked history.

This is history missed too often by historians. Brooks says:

There are a lot of ways that we can understand young Black women and girls as having been connected to this music in all sorts of ways. You know, Angela Davis reminds us that the lyrics themselves are the proof that women were listening to this music. Because the lyrics are testifying to and bearing witness to what their lives were like. And so this is the kind of inverted and counterintuitive way that we have to do research on marginalized peoples.

The players in this story range from Mary Lou Williams to Aretha Franklin to Janelle Monáe—Brooks’s playlist on Spotify includes an abundance of crucial songs, including music from Abbey Lincoln. Brooks says:

Many folks are familiar with the extraordinary and legendary 1960 recording by Abbey Lincoln, Max Roach, and their ensemble of players, “We Insist,” which really heralds the coming of the second Reconstruction and the dawn of the modern civil rights movement.

And on that recording, Abbey Lincoln delivers this blistering scream that many of my colleagues in the field of jazz studies, most famously the great Fred Moten, reminds us, is a scream that is archiving the history of screams and that suffering that Mary Lou Williams sees at the root of all Black music. So Abbey Lincoln was summoning that history.

But amazingly, by the mid 1960s, she’s also delivering lectures at the New School in 1965. She’s on this remarkable panel with a number of other Black feminist writers and thinkers. And she’s name-checking everybody from Bessie Smith to Billie Holiday to Mahalia Jackson. And she closes that lecture by delivering the lyrics to Duke Ellington’s “Come Sunday” . . . Abbey Lincoln, in a way, is kind of digging through the archival history, the sonic history of Duke Ellington and also Mahalia Jackson in order to kind of end on a prayer.

Listen: Daphne Brooks’s Playlist

Daphne Brooks created a massive playlist for her Liner Notes, and it’s up on Spotify, with songs including:

And:

And:

Watch: Summer of Soul

Summer of Soul, the new movie from Questlove, documents 1969's Harlem Cultural Festival — a major moment in music history. From NPR:

A wide constellation of stars turned up for the festival, which drew more than 300,000 people over six free concerts held in the space now known as Marcus Garvey Park. The roster of performers included Wonder, Nina Simone, Gladys Knight and the Pips, Mahalia Jackson, The Staples Singers, B.B. King, Ray Barretto, The Temptations’ former frontman David Ruffin, The 5th Dimension, and more.

Just documenting their jaw-dropping live work would add up to an amazing concert film. But Summer of Soul uses the music as both inspiration and foundation, setting the scene for subjects to talk about everything from the debate over non-violence in civil rights work to Harlem’s status as a cultural oasis for Black people.

This week’s ephemeral library

Kyle Chayka on the creator economy. Remembering Biz Markie. We Are Not Ready: On the Climate Crisis and other Hyperobjects. Delta is Driving a Wedge Through Missouri. Why Did We Invade Iraq? Lost in Space.

That’s it for this week, folks.

The OS players.

An American conversation with global attitude, on the arts, humanities, and global affairs, hosted by Christopher Lydon. chris@radioopensource.org