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HIGHER GROUND: Stevie Wonder, Aretha Franklin, Curtis Mayfield and the Rise and Fall of American Soul

Craig Hansen Werner, Author
Craig Hansen Werner, Author . Crown $24 (352p) ISBN 978-0-609-60993-4
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In this eloquent cultural history, critically acclaimed music writer Werner (A Change Is Gonna Come ) conducts a journey through the lives of three leading musical artists and the ways they used their gospel music training and the vision it provided to transform American popular music. What makes the music of these three singer-songwriters so significant is that each had a vision of helping African-Americans to strengthen their racial identity while at the same time moving to a higher ground the dawning hope for interracial equality that was emerging in the late 1960s. As Werner points out, Wonder, Franklin and Mayfield grew up in impoverished homes while at the same time singing in their parents' or grandparents' churches about visions of a better world. As each singer took that musical vision to the streets, he or she applied it in various ways to the struggle for civil rights and equality. Franklin's music, as Werner observes, incorporated the hopes of Martin Luther King's interracialist dream and themes of the Black Power movement in songs like "Respect" and "Think." By the early '70s, Mayfield, whose early collaborations with Jerry Butler in the Impressions produced some of soul music's most moving moments and one anthem of the Civil Rights movement ("People Get Ready"), produced music that reflected the concerns of the Black Power movement. Mayfield's focus on black identity, pride and power later made itself felt in his powerful protests against drug abuse in "Freddie's Dead" and "Beautiful Brother of Mine." Werner adeptly examines the beauty and power of each singer's music as well as gracefully tracing the ways that their music and their culture influenced each other. Werner's exquisite prose and his richly informed music history offer a deeply felt love letter to three of soul music's greatest. (Mar.)

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