Liner Notes for the Revolution: The Intellectual Life of Black Feminist Sound

Harvard Univ. Feb. 2021. 608p. ISBN 9780674052819. $39.95. MUSIC
Black feminist critic Brooks (African American studies & theater studies, Yale Univ.; Bodies in Dissent) embarks on a rich reimagining of the archive as both concept and wellspring, specifically in the creation, performance, and reception of blues music by Black women. Brooks focuses on the interaction with this archive by artists, curators, and listeners, ranging from Zora Neale Hurston’s fieldwork in the American South to the photography of Carrie Mae Weems to the author’s own interviews with her mother on the record shop as the place to hear the music that too frequently received little or no radio airplay. Brooks centers Black female blues singers from Mamie Smith onward and shows them as active participants in and directors of their own creative lives. She concludes by highlighting three “curatorial musicians,” contemporary Black women performers, each of whom possesses her own archive: an active engagement with and drawing of inspiration from music that has previously been decontextualized, objectified, and obscured. For these musicians, the archive is ancestry.
VERDICT An ambitious work of great complexity and depth. For scholars and interested readers, particularly in Black studies, but also music, anthropology, and archival studies.
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