RACE MUSIC: Black Cultures from Bebop to Hip-Hop

Guthrie P. Ramsey, Jr., Author Univ. of California $29.95 (281p) ISBN 978-0-520-21048-6

This is a challenging and fascinating look at various ways in which popular music from the 1940s to the 1990s represented "anchor moments in the cultural, social and political realms of twentieth-century African American history." Ramsay, an assistant professor of music at the University of Pennsylvania, notes that this "is not a comprehensive, strictly chronological study"; he also uses a wide range of source material including family narratives, recordings, live concerts and films. But his sophisticated understanding of current ethnological, musicological, literary and historical theories—as well as a clear and engaging writing style remarkably free of theoretical jargon—explores a central theme: the "subjective understanding of black music as shaped continually by community sensibilities." Through nuanced looks at such musical artists as Dinah Washington and Dizzy Gillespie, Ramsay shows not only that their work displays a wide range of expressive possibilities but also that, "taken together, they provide a realistic representation of a diverse African American culture always in the process of being made." For example, Ramsay shows how James Brown's "musical language, lyrical subject matter, public presentation, and cultural politics are saturated with the new consciousness of the late 1960s... at the crossroads between the Civil Rights and Black Power movements." While Ramsay's shift toward the end of the book from the music of the '60s to an insightful analysis of music in films like Spike Lee's Do the Right Thing is jarring, this is a valuable exploration of American culture. (June)

Reviewed on: 04/21/2003
Release date: 06/01/2003
Ebook - 978-0-520-90090-5
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