Blackbird: How Black Musicians Sang the Beatles into Being—and Sang Back to Them Ever After

Penn State Univ. Nov. 2023. 264p. ISBN 9780271095622. pap. $24.95. MUSIC
Paul McCartney said he wrote his 1968 song “Blackbird” because of the U.S. civil rights movement and his desire to provide a song of hope and liberation. Going far beyond an analysis of the song itself, Kapurch (English, Texas State Univ.; coeditor, The Beatles and Humour) and Smith (English, Texas State Univ.; coauthor, Make Them Cry) place “Blackbird” in a historical context that demonstrates how much of the Beatles’ music and imagery—particularly of the avian variety—comes directly from Black music. The examination of birds and flight in song takes up a significant portion of the book, and the comprehensive scholarship is impressive. The authors highlight some of the most noteworthy performances of the Beatles’ music from Black musicians. They also provide interviews with many who had a direct influence on the Beatles and some of their finest interpretations. Sections on Nina Simone, Aretha Franklin, Ramsey Lewis, Billy Preston, and Bettye LaVette are especially impressive; there’s much to be savored. Readers will appreciate the extensive endnotes and bibliography.
VERDICT An academic analysis of the Beatles as products and producers of music performed by Black musicians. This deep dive into music will entertain and influence listeners.
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