Book – Soul R&B Funk Photographs, 1972-1982

 

Title: Soul R&B Funk Photographs, 1972-1982
Author: Bruce W. Talamon
Publisher: Taschen
Format: Hardcover, 375 pages
Release date: October 2018

 

The coffee table book of the year for soul and funk music fans is without a doubt this oversize, hardcover volume featuring the early photographs of Bruce W. Talamon. Those who are familiar with SOUL newspaper will recognize some of these images. Started in L.A. in 1968 by Ken Jones and Regina Jones, SOUL was the first black-owned paper dedicated to R&B, soul and funk musicians. Talamon was hired in 1972 by Regina, who gave the young photographer his first steady gig, and before long he was shooting for national publications. From 1972-1982, Talamon captured R&B royalty in stunning detail—working up a sweat in concert, dancing on the stage of Soul Train, striking a pose during formal photo shoots, and enjoying quieter moments backstage and on the road. Continue reading

Book – Contact High: A Visual History of Hip-Hop

 

Title: Contact High: A Visual History of Hip-Hop Author: Vikki Tobak
Publisher: Clarkson Potter/Random House
Format: Book (Hardcover, Kindle)
Release date: October 16, 2018

 

What could be better than a visual history of hip hop, told not only through the lenses of the photographers who shot these images, but through their personal accounts as well. What’s most unusual is the presentation of these images in the form of contact sheets, rather than prints. According to author Vikki Tobak, her goal was to reveal the photographer’s creative process and techniques, rather than assemble the curated “money shots” we typically see in print.  Continue reading

Book – Aretha: The Queen of Soul―A Life in Photographs

 

Title: Aretha: The Queen of Soul―A Life in Photographs
Author: Meredith Ochs
Publisher: Sterling
Format: Book (hardcover (144 pages), Kindle)
Release date: December 11, 2018

 

In one of the first posthumous books on Aretha Franklin, radio personality and author Meredith Ochs “explores the diva’s life, from her formative years growing up in Detroit, to her singing and recording career from the 1950s until her untimely death in 2018, to her numerous honors, awards, and causes, including her advocacy for civil rights and the arts.” Though Aretha fans will likely find nothing new in this biography, Ochs writes with an engaging style and covers all of the high points of Franklin’s career. But the main selling points of this volume are the photos. With over 85 illustrations, more than half of the pages are filled with glorious images of Aretha, making this a fine commemorative volume for libraries and for those seeking a brief introduction to the Queen of Soul. Continue reading

New Book – Spirituals and the Birth of a Black Entertainment Industry

Spirituals
Title: Spirituals and the Birth of a Black Entertainment Industry

Author: Sandra Jean Graham

Publisher: University of Illinois Press

Series:  Music in American Life

Format: Book (hardcover, paperback, digital)

Release date: March 19, 2018

 

Ethnomusicologist Sandra Jean Graham, associate professor of music at Babson College, was introduced to spirituals and minstrelsy early in life, and throughout her career has published and presented extensively on the “multifaceted and extremely complex history of these genres.” Her new book, Spirituals and the Birth of a Black Entertainment Industry, is the culmination of her in-depth research and supplements previous articles and books on the topic, including Tim Brooks’ award winning Lost Sounds: Blacks and the Birth of the Recording Industry 1890-1919 (also part of the Music in American Life series).

Graham’s primary focus is on spirituals performed by jubilee troupes in post-Civil War America, “charting the spiritual’s journey from the private lives of slaves to the concert stage.” This includes the transition from folk spirituals (covered in chapter 1) to concert spirituals. Along the way, she unpacks issues of power and cultural authenticity in the white-controlled jubilee industry and within blackface minstrelsy performances, including Uncle Tom and plantation shows.

As Graham states in the conclusion (p. 263):

“To remember student jubilee singers [Fisk Jubilee Singers, etc.] at the expense of black minstrel performers and their parodies of camp meetings and spirituals, to valorize one and denigrate the other, imposes a hierarchy on the historical past that obscures the manifold contributions of black entertainers and reifies black folk culture as authentic to the black experience at the expense of fully engaging the diversity and complexity of that experience. Indeed, the very complexity that led black minstrels to engage with spirituals is at the crux of understanding the climate and conditions in which all performers of the era operated.”

Full disclosure: I received a copy of the book earlier this week and have only skimmed the surface, but very much look forward to delving deeper. Spirituals and the Birth of a Black Entertainment Industry will be crucial to anyone studying American music, especially those focused on the post-Civil War period through 1900, and of course anyone who studies African American music and history.

The freely available companion website contains links to 85 jubilee troupes with biographical information for each, lists of personnel and songs performed by selected groups, and excerpts from early recordings.

Reviewed by Brenda Nelson-Strauss

New Books About Black Recording Artists

Following are brief descriptions of recently published books that are certain to please fans of funk, soul, jazz, hip hop and reggae music.
Al Green

Title: Soul Survivor: A Biography of Al Green

Author: Jimmy McDonough

Publisher: Da Capo Press

Formats: Hardcover (432 pages), Kindle, Audiobook

Release date: August 29, 2017

 

Though Al Green collaborated with Davin Seay on an “autobiography” in 2000, most fans were unsatisfied with the result, which was famously short on details due to Green’s reluctance to actually sit for interviews and tell his own story. Now Jimmy McDonough has attempted a more definitive biography, likewise working from previously published interviews with Green and secondary sources, in addition to new in-depth interviews with many colleagues and associates. The result is Soul Survivor, which chronicles the many sides of Al Green, from his days as a soul singer to his transition to Reverend Al Green and the many facets of his character that fall in between and outside of these boundaries. Not all of it is pretty, but Soul Survivor is likely as close as we’ll ever get to understanding the man behind the music and the pulpit.

Otis Redding
Title: Otis Redding: An Unfinished Life

Author: Jonathan Gould

Publisher: Crown Archetype (May 16, 2017)

Formats: Hardcover (544 pages), Paperback, Kindle, Audiobook

Release date: May 16, 2017

 

Seven short years – that was the entire length of the career of one of the giants of soul music, Otis Redding, from the first single he cut as a teenager in 1960 to his untimely death at the age of 26 in December 1967. Now, on the 50th anniversary of Redding’s death, Jonathan Gould finally offers a biography that’s a fitting tribute to the architect of Southern soul music. Otis Redding: An Unfinished Life, however, is so much more than one man’s story, as Gould digs into the social fabric of the era, exposing the racial tensions and realities of faced by black musicians of his generation. Impeccably researched, respectfully written, and highly recommended!     

Prince & the Purple Rain Studios
Title: Prince and the Purple Rain Era Studio Sessions, 1983-1984

Author: Duane Tudahl

Publisher: Rowman & Littlefield

Formats: Hardcover, Kindle, Audiobook

Release date: November 15, 2017

 

Described as “the definitive chronicle of Prince’s creative brilliance during 1983 and 1984,” author Duane Tudahl’s 552 page volume is a must have for any serious Prince fan. Delving into the brief but intense period that produced Purple Rain, Tudahl expounds on Prince’s professional as well as his personal life. But this is not a tell-all, biopic-type treatment. Rather, the focus is on Prince’s studio sessions and includes copious details on recording studios, which songs were tracked at each, session personnel, producers, engineers, and the stories behind the sessions. Also included are details regarding Prince’s work with The Time, Vanity 6, and the Revolution, including his frenetic schedule of rehearsals, tours, and filming. Tudahl has been covering Prince for over 20 years, and is able to draw upon interviews he conducted with a wide range of Prince’s associates, adding to the authoritative nature of his reporting. This is the first book in the series; Tudahl is already planning the second volume, which will cover 1985-1986.

Prince
Title: Prince: A Private View

Author: Afshin Shahidi

Publisher: St. Martin’s Press

Formats: Hardcover (256 pages), Kindle

Release date: October 24, 2017

 

We can’t include just one Prince-related book when there are so many to choose from. If you’re more interested in a visual representation of the artist than a chronology of his early recording sessions, then check out Prince: A Private View. Featuring many never-before-seen photos by Afshin Shahidi, Prince’s primary photographer, this collection captures both the glamour and mystique of the artist. Though the text takes a backseat to the vivid portraits, Shahidi does provide some context to the photos in the form of short stories. It should be noted, however, that this isn’t a “coffee table” book, but a standard-size volume.

The Jacksons Legacy
Title:  The Jacksons: Legacy

Author: The Jacksons with Fred Bronson

Publisher: Black Dog & Leventhal

Formats: Hardcover (320 pages), Kindle

Release date: October 24, 2017

 

Even if we’re weren’t based in Indiana, we’d still have to jump on The Jacksons: Legacy documenting the state’s most famous musical family. Plugged as “the first official book on the Royal Family of Pop,” the Jacksons collaborated with well-known music industry writer Fred Bronson, who was allowed access to the family archives and conducted interviews over a two week period. Though it’s highly unlikely that any new information was uncovered in that extremely brief period of time, we’re at least promised some previously unpublished photographs, including documentation of official merchandise and other ephemera. The book coincides with The Jackson’s 50th anniversary, which may be reason enough for fans to pick up a copy.

Gucci Mane
Title: The Autobiography of Gucci Mane

Author: Gucci Mane & Neil Martinez-Belkin

Publisher: Simon & Schuster

Formats: Hardcover (286 pages), Kindle

Release Date: September 19, 2017

 

 

There’s nothing like a comeback story to warm our hearts, especially at Christmastime. Through honest, unflinching reflectiveness, Gucci Mane has given us just that—a down-and-out but not done-and-out narrative of his journey so far. Mane tells his story in his own words, covering his early years as Radric Delantic Davis to his star-studded fame as Gucci Mane, trap pioneer and mentor to a subsequent generation of artists and producers: Migos, Young Thug, Nicki Minaj, and Zaytoven, to name a few. Detailing how choices to be part of the drug dealing world continuously dealt him one-step-forward, two-steps-back in the music world, Mane also confronts his dark past and explains how his time in lockup became his most positive life-altering experience. It is one of the greatest comeback stories in the history of music, and it is one you won’t want to miss.

Chuck D Hip Hop History
Title: Chuck D Presents This Day in Rap and Hip-Hop History

Author: Chuck D, Shepard Faiey (Foreword)

Publisher: Black Dog & Leventhal

Format: Hardcover (673 pages), Kindle

Release Date: October 10, 2017

 

Chuck D.’s dedication to hip hop’s fan base has been solid since the start of his Public Enemy days, and with this release he continues to gift us in the form of vital information about rap and hip hop’s history. Based on his long-running show on Rapstation.com, D’s comprehensive collection of pivotal moments and influential songs in the genre’s recorded history is a first in the hip hop scholarship world. Included in this chronological collection are songs such as Kurtis Blow’s “Christmas Rappin’” to Kendrik Lamar’s ground-breaking verse on “Control”, and all hits in-between. Incorporated into the tome are key events in hip hop history, from Grandmaster Flash’s first scratch through Tupac’s holographic appearance at Coachella, interwoven with 100+ portraits of various hip hop artists. This work is a worthy addition to any hip hop lover’s collection, and for those that study or work in the genre, it is a necessity worth owning.

Queen of Bebop
Title: Queen of Bebop: The Musical Lives of Sarah Vaughan

Author: Elaine M. Hayes

Publisher: Ecco

Formats: Hardcover (432 pages), Paperback, Kindle, Audiobook

Release date: July 2017

 

One of the greatest jazz vocalists of all time, Sarah Vaughan has been the subject of previous books, but the only full length biography of note was Leslie Gourse’s Sassy: The Life of Sarah Vaughan, published nearly 25 fives ago. Now jazz historian Elaine M. Hayes offers a more definitive treatment in Queen of Bebop, which digs deeper into her life not only as a performer, but as a black woman facing the challenges of race and gender within the music industry and beyond. A must read for anyone interested in jazz and popular in the latter half of the 20th century, African American music and musicians, or music in general.

Bob Marley
Title: So Much Things to Say: The Oral History of Bob Marley

Author: Roger Steffens

Publisher: W.W. Norton & Company

Formats: Hardcover, Kindle

Release date: July, 2017

 

So Much Things to Say is a must have for any serious Bob Marley fan. Drawing on testimonies by friends, relatives and musical associates, author and archivist Roger Steffens—the leading authority on Bob Marley—tells the story of the reggae legend, from his younger days in Kingston to his professional years. As the title implies, this book includes a great deal of information regarding the life of Marley, including the violent confrontation with Lee “Scratch” Perry, his performance for freedom fighters in Zimbabwe, details on Marley’s final months, controversies surrounding Marley’s death, and many more first-hand accounts of his life. So Much Things to Say will serve as a valuable resource for anyone who is interested in the history of reggae music and Marley’s incredible influence upon the genre and global culture.

Reviewed by Brenda Nelson-Strauss, Amy Aiyegbusi and Jamaal Baptiste

 

Walker Smith – Mello Yello: The Incredible Life Story of Jack the Rapper

walker smith_mello yello

Title: Mello Yello: The Incredible Life Story of Jack the Rapper

Author: Walker Smith

Publisher: Sonata Books LLC/Walker Smith Books

Format: Book (softcover, 270 p.), eBook

Release date: 2015

 

Based on interviews conducted by Walker Smith over a two year period from 1997-1999, Mello Yello: The Incredible Life Story of Jack the Rapper is part biography, part autobiography—told primarily through the words of Jack Gibson.

Affectionately known as “Jockey Jack,” and later “Jack the Rapper,” Jack Gibson was a legendary figure in Black radio and the Black entertainment industry. Though not well known outside of those circles (amazingly, Gibson doesn’t even have a Wikipedia entry), his influence was incredibly broad, reaching all four corners of the nation and extending from the 1940s until his death in 2000, and beyond. A master storyteller to the end, Mello Yello is his final exposé on the industry—with sidebars on life, love, and the pursuit of happiness—edited by Ms. Smith in a manner that’s both informative and entertaining.

Born May 13, 1920 on the South Side of Chicago, Gibson was the son of a prosperous doctor from Barbados, who was also Marcus Garvey’s personal physician. Though Gibson trained at Lincoln University to be an actor, due to his mixed race heritage and light skin he was not able to land one of the few roles reserved for Black actors. Capitalizing instead on his vocal talents, Gibson was given a starring role in “Here Comes Tomorrow,” the first radio soap opera drama to feature an all-Black cast. Produced by another legendary Chicagoan, the African American writer Richard Durham, the show went on the air in 1945 over Chicago station WJJD. As Gibson recalls, “during a time when Negro actors were relegated to playing cartoonish sidekicks, maids and butlers, we were playing three-dimensional characters concerned with voting rights, segregation, and family relationships.” Shortly thereafter, Gibson launched his own music-based radio program, “The Jack Gibson Show,” while also working as a local emcee and helping Black artists such as Sarah Vaughan get booked into Chicago clubs.

Continue reading

Sonja D. Williams – Word Warrior: Richard Durham, Radio and Freedom

sonja d williams_word warrior

Title: Word Warrior: Richard Durham, Radio and Freedom

Author: Sonja D. Williams

Formats: hardcover (265 pages), softcover, eBook

Publisher: University of Illinois Press; New Black Studies Series

Release date: August 11, 2015

 

Sonja D. Williams, a professor in Howard University’s Department of Radio, Television, and Film, offers the first full-length biography of Chicago writer Richard Durham, an extremely important figure in the history of radio whose most notable programs included Here Comes Tomorrow and Destination Freedom. Williams’ was first introduced to Durham’s work in the early 1990s while serving as associate producer on the Peabody Award-winning radio documentary, Black Radio: Telling It Like It Was, for Smithsonian Productions. After the conclusion of that project, she was determined to embark on a more thorough study of Durham, whose “dramatic flair and fiery rhetoric” infused his dramas about African American life. Now, after twenty years of research, we are finally gifted with Word Warrior: Richard Durham, Radio and Freedom—which explores Durham’s life as well as the totality of his contributions to radio.

Williams is a natural storyteller, weaving an engaging story of Durham’s early life. Born in 1917 in Mississippi where his grandparents were both former slaves, Durham spent his early years on the family farm. His father was one of a few Black landowners, while his mother earned extra income peddling Madame C.J. Walker hair products. Williams provides an interesting account of the history of the Durham family in the south, based on first-hand interviews and quotes from Durham family papers. His parents eventually decided to leave their agricultural life behind to seek better educational and employment opportunities for their family, and thus in 1923 joined the Great Migration to Chicago. At the same time, radio was expanding rapidly in the city. As a young boy, Durham was exposed to programs on WMAQ, WGN, and WLS, including “Amos ‘n’ Andy”—a “blackface” radio comedy that poked fun at southern-born Negroes using minstrel stereotypes. Williams conjectures that the show likely had a major impact on Durham, inspiring him in later years to create more realistic characters who fought for social and economic justice.

Continue reading