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Saturday, April 28 • 11:15am - 12:45pm
Roundtable: Women as Catalysts

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Daphne Brooks, Ann Powers, Alexandra Vazquez, and Gayle Wald
Women as Catalysts
            In his definitive rock-critical book Mystery Train, Greil Marcus described the moment in which rock and roll, an amorphous stirring in the wind of black, white, and Latina/o/x American popular music, pinned itself down within the body of the southern white male. “Rockabilly fixed the crucial image of rock and roll: the sexy, half-crazed fool standing on stage singing his guts out.” Marcus identifies rockabilly as the birthing ground of rock ‘n’ roll because it was also a battleground: the space where white performers, the designated subjects of a segregated and hierarchical popular music industry, could “beat the black man at his own game.” In 1982, Marcus was simply noting the binary divide that had already come to define rock and roll: the violating love white music fans felt for black culture played off against the efforts of black male artists to reclaim that culture, whether through assimilating (beating the white man at his own game), separating or riding black pride into powerful acts of rebellion.
            Yet this binary, masculinized view of rock and roll history, reinforced on every level from the Billboard charts to the touring and recording  industries to the media outlets that arose to turn a musical subculture into a countercultural lifestyle, reduces and distorts the full view of popular music’s evolution in the rock and soul era. Simply place another body at the center of the fixed image and the entire story changes. That body might be Ruth Brown’s, dismantling convention the way a woman would by shouting, “Mama! He treats your daughter mean,” or Brenda Lee, who at eight years old busted out dance moves as wild as anything Elvis managed when he was almost no longer a teenager. There is a way to document and elucidate the rock and roll revolution that does not consider women an extraneous element within a dialogue between men, but which examines how women’s pivotal innovations and interventions shaped a broader music culture than the one rock history -- and, in many ways, rock criticism -- ever fully acknowledged.
            This collaborative multimedia presentations staged by four scholars who have spent their lives shedding light on women’s central presence in popular music culture will shift the epistemological paradigm by recognizing and celebrating a history in which women are the catalysts, not merely extra players, overlooked geniuses or singular exceptions. Disturbing the conventional format of 20 min papers, our session  is an ensemble effort with presenters taking turns to offer critical revisionist meditations on canonical moments in rock/pop history as well as snapshots of radical moments left out of the books that expand or trouble our notions of that history as well as how that history has been written about and reproduced.


Daphne A. Brooks

Daphne A. Brooks is the author of Bodies in Dissent: Spectacular Performances of Race and Freedom, 1850-1910 (Durham, NC: Duke UP), winner of The Errol Hill Award for Outstanding Scholarship on African American Performance from ASTR and Jeff Buckley’s Grace (New York: Continuum... Read More →
avatar for Ann Powers

Ann Powers

Ann Powers is NPR Music's critic and correspondent. She writes for NPR's music news blog, The Record, and she can be heard on NPR's newsmagazines and music programs. She is the author of Good Booty: Love and Sex, Black and White, Body and Soul in American Music (2017). Powers also... Read More →

Alexandra T. Vazquez

Alexandra T. Vazquez is Associate Professor in the Department of Performance Studies at New York University. Her book, Listening in Detail: Performances of Cuban Music (Duke University Press 2013), won the American Studies Association’s Lora Romero Book Prize. Vazquez’s work... Read More →
avatar for Gayle Wald

Gayle Wald

Gayle Wald teaches at George Washington University, where she presently chairs the American Studies department. Her books include Shout, Sister, Shout! (Beacon Press, 2007) and It’s Been Beautiful: Soul! and Black Power Television (Duke University Press, 2015). Outside the academy... Read More →

Saturday April 28, 2018 11:15am - 12:45pm PDT
Sky Church