Full title: “African American Women Vocalists and the Sound of Race, Gender, and Authenticity in Rock and Roll”
A lecture by Maureen Mahon, New York University
Wednesday, December 4, 2013
5:00–6:30 p.m. in College of Arts & Sciences Room 203
725 Commonwealth Avenue, Boston
This talk will reference the experiences and musical style of African American women such as P. P. Arnold, Ava Cherry, Merry Clayton, Venetta Fields, Gloria Jones, Clydie King, Claudia Lennear, and Doris Troy who brought their gospel-trained voices to hard rock during the late 1960s and 1970s as they recorded and performed in concert with artists such as David Bowie, Joe Cocker, Bob Dylan, Humble Pie, Elton John, Lynryd Skynrd, Pink Floyd, the Rolling Stones, the Small Faces, Steely Dan, T-Rex, and Neil Young. By putting these black background singers into the foreground and exploring the interracial, cross-gender collaborations in which they were engaged, I will demonstrate the ways they helped create the “authentic” sound sought by the white artists with whom they collaborated. This consideration of the sonic presence of African American women in rock highlights the intersection of race, gender, and authenticity in the music of the classic rock era, a context in which romanticized notions of “black sound” and black identity fueled the attraction (among artists and fans) to the sound these women provided. An additional goal is to draw attention to an underacknowledged aspect of black women’s cultural production.