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Blues Legacies and Black Feminism: Gertrude "Ma" Rainey, Bessie Smith, and Billie Holiday (Englisch) Taschenbuch – 26. Januar 1999

3.8 von 5 Sternen 8 Kundenrezensionen

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The female blues singers of the 1920s, Gertrude "Ma" Rainey, and Bessie Smith, not only invented a musical genre, but they also became models of how African American women could become economically independent in a culture that had not previously allowed it. Both Smith and Rainey composed, arranged, and managed their own road bands. Angela Y. Davis's study emphasizes the impact that these singers, and later Billie Holiday, had on the poor and working-class communities from which they came. The artists addressed radical subjects such as physical and economic abuse, race relations, and female sexual power, including lesbianism. Ma Rainey was well known as a lover of women as well as men, and her song "Prove It on Me" describes a butch woman who dresses like a man and dates women. Blues Legacies and Black Feminism places the fluid sexuality of these women within a larger context of African American artists' attempts to subvert and recreate America. -- Dieser Text bezieht sich auf eine vergriffene oder nicht verfügbare Ausgabe dieses Titels.

Synopsis

In this book Angela Davies provides the historical, social and political contexts with which to reinterpret the lyrics and performances of Gertrude Ma Rainey, Bessie Smith and Billie Holiday.'

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If you expect to read a traditional biography you may be dissappointed. The lives of the blues women and their political messages behind their songs are discussed in one another's light. This works very well as blues is a folk music which tells many things about the black experience and most singers are song writers themselves. The section about Billie Holiday and her song Strange Fruit is one of the rare approaches to Lady Day as an artist who gave a very important political messages about racism. In other biographies Billie Holiday is always portrayed as a victim rather than a person who had an important political message. I believe this very style of her portrayal could be discussed in a feminist context and that's what Angela Davies did in this book with her vast knowledge and experience in black politics and gender issues. Some people criticize the book for being overtly political. However, I see no other way of analyzing the blues without its political context. The transcriptions of the songs also gives a documentary value to this book. It has been a great reference for my research in this field. I wish I can get in touch with Angela Davies one day and discuss her about the research she has done while preparing this book.
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Somewhere in "Blues Legacies," Angela Davis the Activist and Angela Davis the Scholar collided leaving both worse for wear. This is a powerfully stated, well-intentioned study that loses focus and credibility by screaming, rather than supporting its ideology. Davis argues that three foremothers of American blues music, Ma' Rainey, Bessie Smith, and Billie Holiday, offered up a version of black, working-class feminism through their songs that emphasized self-suffiency, personal pride, and admitting one's shortcomings. These value, the author asserts, sprouted into the feminist conciousness of the 1960's, largely coded as white and middle class. Davis thorough knowledge of black musical criticism and exhaustive study of the three artist's lyrics makes this central assertion a convincing one. From here, I waited for her to place it in a historical context and ask some tough questions about the role of women in popular music which would tie the study firmly to contemporary discourse. It never happened. Davis hammers this feminist assertion into submission for nearly 200 pages, never letting it mature beyond simple declaration. The role of black feminism in the 20th century is under-explored and long overdue. Yet the author never grants it the weight it deserves. How did this black feminism figure into the process of composition since Rainey, Smith and Holiday wrote very few of their songs? How did these Artists influence their children from the Shirelles to Tina Turner to Salt n' Pepa? The potential for answering these important question is all over "Blues Legacies" yet Angela Davis keeps getting in her own way. A scholar shouldn't have to choose between their message and their scholarship but this case, a frustering collision might have been avoided.
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Many of the reviewers have missed the most useful point of Davis's book. When she talks about "proto-feminist consciousness" she means that the lives and music of Ma Rainey and Bessie Smith (her arguments about Holiday are not quite as convincing) paved the way for modern feminism. As working-class black women, these two singers were utterly alienated from the "hearth and home" that defined the "official version" of (white) woman's identity. Yet were they not still women? They broke all of the rules at the intersection of domesticity and Jim Crow: They worked outside the home, they traveled extensively, they chose their lovers, they were artists, and they were band-leaders. None of these positions fit neatly within the prevailing attitudes about woman's place. So, before the 1970s feminist movements explored these same topics (sexuality, gender roles, working women), Rainey and Smith had lived and sung about it.
Whereas white feminists find white women's literature a valuable place to search for roots of feminism, Davis and other scholars of black American culture (in which the struggle for literacy has still not ben won) have found music to be a rich source of personal and communal histories and social commentary. So music is where she searches to find articulations of women who already lived identities in conflict with the prevailing notions of femininity. No one need fear Davis's use of the term feminist or her use of race and class to analyze these women's music. Race, class, and gender undoubtedly determined the possibilities for these women's lives.
Davis draws upon existing definitions of the blues and also expands the definition to include the "proto-feminist consciousness" of black women.
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Davis' title explains her project in clear terms at the outset. She is not engaged in a critique of modern women in popular music (as one reviewer anticipated). Nor is she profiling these women in biography format. Therefore, she does not need the permission of Rainey's relatives for this project. Her goal is to uncover the pre-feminist sentiments expressed in these women's music. In that regard, she needs only the barest biographical information (that women performers were not rooted to hearth and home, traveled, worked, and had marquee positions). Assuming this general information to be true of all these women, Davis then concentrates her primary energy on the legacy that blues lyrics leave for Black Feminism. Part of that legacy is found in the advice on romance, religion, and race that these women's songs shared (or share now) with black female listeners. I hope this gives readers an accurate idea of what to expect from this worthwhile book and encourages disappointed readers to re-encounter the book on its own terms.
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