cover image Shine Bright: A Very Personal History of Black Women in Pop

Shine Bright: A Very Personal History of Black Women in Pop

Danyel Smith. One World/Roc Lit 101, $28 (320p) ISBN 978-0-593-13271-5

Smith (Bliss), host of the music podcast Black Girl Songbook, combines memoir, cultural history, and criticism in this masterful examination of the Black women artists who’ve indelibly shaped American popular music. Paying tribute to the music that “fortified” her through her toughest times growing up in L.A. in the 1970s all the way to her career as a music journalist, Smith offers a sharply written survey of the Black women who blazed the trail for the “whole of my creative life.” She transports readers back to 1773, to highlight the poetry of the enslaved Phillis Wheatley—“who spoke truths in the language of her oppressors”—and cites the “brief and hot stardom” of the Dixie Cups in 1964 and the “unheralded” work of the Sweet Inspirations later that decade to point out the ways in which Black voices were “the very genes of popular American soul, R&B, and rock ’n’ roll” yet often went uncredited. Legends such as Aretha Franklin, Whitney Houston, and Janet Jackson make appearances, too, as stirring figures who represent the struggles Black women continue to face in the music industry (despite “dominating the cultural landscape”) and, by the same token, the ways in which they reclaim it to fuel their musical works of art. This lyrical and whip-smart work is a cause for celebration. (Feb.)