Liner Notes for the Revolution

Winner of the National Book Critics Circle Award An award-winning Black feminist music critic takes us on an epic journey through radical sound from Bessie Smith to Beyoncé.

“A gloriously polyphonic book. Moving through the tumult of the twentieth century and the millennium, Brooks scores, archives, and curates the history of Black women musicians and their radical modernities. What did they do to be so Black, brilliant, and blue? Listen. And read on.” —Margo Jefferson, author of Negroland

Daphne A. Brooks explores more than a century of music archives to exam- ine the critics, collectors, and listeners who have determined perceptions of Black women on stage and in the recording studio. How is it possible, she asks, that iconic artists such as Aretha Franklin and Beyoncé exist simulta- neously at the center and on the fringe of the culture industry?

Liner Notes for the Revolution offers a startling new perspective on these acclaimed figures—a perspective informed by the overlooked contribu- tions of other Black women concerned with the work of their musical peers. Zora Neale Hurston appears as a sound archivist and a performer, Lorraine Hansberry as a queer Black feminist critic of modern culture, and Pauline Hopkins as America’s first Black female cultural commentator. Brooks tack- les the complicated racial politics of blues music recording, song collecting, and rock and roll criticism. She makes lyrical forays into the blues pioneers Bessie Smith and Mamie Smith, as well as fans who became critics, like the record-label entrepreneur and writer Rosetta Reitz. In the twenty-first cen- tury, pop superstar Janelle Monae’s liner notes are recognized for their inno- vations, while celebrated singers Cécile McLorin Salvant, Rhiannon Giddens, and Valerie June take their place as cultural historians.

With an innovative perspective on the story of Black women in popular music—and who should rightly tell it—Liner Notes for the Revolution pio- neers a long overdue recognition and celebration of Black women musicians as radical intellectuals.

Daphne A. Brooks is author of Jeff Buckley’s Grace and Bodies in Dissent, winner of the Errol Hill Award for Outstanding Scholarship on African American Performance. A Professor at Yale University, she has written liner notes to accompany the recordings of Aretha Franklin, Tammi Terrell, and Prince, as well as stories for the New York Times, The Guardian, and Pitchfork.