On Rhetoric and Black Music

Wayne State Univ. May 2024. 232p. ISBN 9780814346488. pap. $36.99. MUSIC
Musician and scholar Brooks (English, Univ. of Maryland, Baltimore County) examines how Black music and composers have impacted public discourse. He eschews popular music choices for this subject—Sly and the Family Stone or James Brown, for example—in favor of examining the communicatory power of Scott Joplin’s elegant piano ragtimes and opera (Treemonisha); Duke Ellington’s 1927 evocative Black and Tan Fantasy, 1941 musical revue Jump for Joy, and magnificent 1943 Black, Brown and Beige suite; the extraordinary compositions of pianist Mary Lou Williams; John Coltrane’s 1968 free-jazz album A Love Supreme; and the performances of singer Mahalia Jackson, whose singing merged blues and gospel and moved audiences worldwide. In the urtext on rhetoric, Aristotle argued that oratory affects audiences through their minds, behavior, and empathy. Brooks argues that music has the same effect and can build awareness of community. This book sometimes overindulges in theory; however, it’s a new and difficult field, and the subject couldn’t be more important.
VERDICT Best for scholars focused on the link between Black music and rhetoric.
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