BLACK MUSIC MONTH: Book Notes – A Breakdown of the Latest Urban Reads


It’s the most wonderful time of the year! No, not Christmas, it’s Black Music Month! Since its establishment in 1979, television channels, corporations, and consumers have acknowledged the contributions of African-Americans to the cultural landscape of this country through song.

There are any numbers of books that provide rich histories of music genres, as well as books that serve as great autobiographies of musical artists. This month, as celebrates Black Music Month, we want to share with you some of our Black Music book picks:

The Music of Black Americans (A History) by Eileen Southern
Nearing its 15th anniversary, and in its third printing, The Music of Black Americans (A History), weaves a fascinating narrative of intense musical activity. Singers, players, and composers, Black American musicians are fully chronicled in this landmark book. Beginning with the arrival of the first Africans in the English colonies, the author added a wealth of material covering the latest developments in gospel, blues, jazz, classical, crossover, Broadway, and rap as they relate to African American music.

Motown: Music, Money, Sex, and Power by Gerald Posner
Set against the Civil Rights movement, the decay of America’s Northern industrial cities, and the social upheaval of the 1960s, Motown is a tale of the incredible entrepreneurship of Berry Gordy. But it also features the moving stories of kids from Detroit’s inner-city projects who achieved remarkable success and then, in many cases, found themselves fighting the demons that so often come with stardom—drugs, jealousy, sexual indulgence, greed, and uncontrollable ambition. Motown features an extraordinary cast of characters, including Diana Ross, Michael Jackson, Marvin Gaye, Smokey Robinson, and Stevie Wonder. They are presented as they lived and worked: a clan of friends, lovers, competitors, and sometimes vicious foes.

Jazz by Gary Giddins and Scott Deveaux
Emphasizing its African American roots, Jazz traces the history of the music over the last hundred years. They explain what jazz is, where it came from, and who created it and why, all within the broader context of American life and culture. Jazz describes the travails and triumphs of musical innovators struggling for work, respect, and cultural acceptance set against the backdrop of American history, commerce, and politics.

The History of the Blues: The Roots, The Music, The People by Francis Davis
A groundbreaking rethinking of the blues, The History of the Blues fearlessly examines how race relations have altered perceptions of the music. Tracing its origins from the Mississippi Delta to its amplification in Chicago right after World War II, Davis argues for an examination of the blues in its own right, not just as a precursor to jazz and rock ‘n roll.

Memoirs of a Super Freak by Rick James
There are autobiographies, and then there are books about a person that totally transform how you see them and builds the respect you have for them. Memoirs of a Super Freak is the latter. Written while James was incarcerated, this autobiography is a trip inside his creative and amusingly twisted mind. The book chronicles James early life, his musical career and achievements, his eventual unraveling, and his return to popularity shortly before his death.

Room Full of Mirrors: A Biography of Jimi Hendrix by Charles Cross
There are many books on this iconic guitar player – this is considered one of the best unlocking the mystery of who Hendrix was. From his difficult childhood and adolescence in Seattle, through his incredible rise to celebrity in London’s swinging ’60s, it is the story of an outrageous life – with legendary tales of sex, drugs, and excess, while it also reveals a man who struggled to accept his role as idol and who privately craved the kind of normal family life he never had. The book showcases never-before-seen documents and private letters, and is based on hundreds of interviews with those who knew Hendrix – many of whom had never before agreed to be interviewed.

Songs in the Key of My Life: A Memoir by Ferentz LaFargue
Songs in the Key of My Life is the book that we all would want to write, but LaFargue definitely beat us to it. Chronicling life experiences and interpreting them through some of his favorite songs, this book, and The Message by Felicia Pride are books that remind us how significant music can be in one’s life. LaFargue invites readers into his life via his playlist, and the trip is a good one.