Sounds of Freedom: The Music of Black LiberationHistorians in the News
tags: music, black power, Black Panther Party, Funk
Conversations in Black Freedom Studies (CBFS) is a monthly discussion series held at the Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture. Curated by Jeanne Theoharis and Komozi Woodard, the series was established as a space to discuss the latest scholarship in Black freedom studies, bringing the campus and community together as scholars and activists challenge the older geography, leadership, ideology, culture, and chronology of Civil Rights historiography. In anticipation of the discussion on Sounds of Freedom: The Music of Black Liberation, scheduled for May 6th, we are highlighting the scholarship of two of their guests.
Shana L. Redmond is a Professor of Global Jazz Studies and Musicology at UCLA. As a scholar, Shana Redmond pulls from multiple subjects, strategies, and approaches in her work and situates her scholarship in and between fields including Black Studies, Performance Studies, History, Critical Ethnic Studies, Sound Studies, English and Literature, Cultural Studies, and (Ethno)Musicology. She is the author of Everything Man: The Form and Function of Paul Robeson and Anthem: Social Movements and the Sound of Solidarity in the African Diaspora. Redmond is currently at work on two books: the first, The Song that Saved the World, interrogates aid music and racial benevolence, while the second, The Next Jubilee, tracks the possible impossible in Black music. Follow her on Twitter @ShanaRedmond.
Rickey Vincent is a scholar, educator, radio host and author. He obtained his PhD in Ethnic Studies at the University of California, Berkeley in 2008. He lectures on black music history, black power and social movements, the cultural politics of Hip Hop, and issues of African American culture and globalization. He is the author of Funk: The Music, the People and the Rhythm of The One, a definitive study of the culture and politics of funk music; and Party Music: The Inside Story of the Black Panthers’ Band and How Black Power Transformed Soul Music. He hosts The History of Funk on KPFA radio. Follow him on @Rickeyvincent.
Conversations in Black Freedom Studies (CBFS): You each write about the importance of music and performance in the struggle for Black liberation, as a reflection of the movement, as inspiration to the movement, as a product of the movement. Can you tell us a bit about your work and how you came to write this history?
Shana Redmond: I was drawn to the global struggle for Black liberation and wanted to understand how it played out in various local contexts. What I found is that shared conditions of antiblackness and coloniality also produced similar approaches to its end: where people struggle they inevitably also sing. It was important to me to understand not only which songs they sung but how that singing became a repetitive effort–a chanting down–that structured these movement organizations. The anthems I write about in Anthem: Social Movement and the Sound of Solidarity in the African Diaspora appeared as both a defensive and offensive strategy that refused the state’s version of blackness and collectively projected a new one in its place.
Rickey Vincent: Party Music: The Inside Story of the Black Panthers’ Band and How Black Power Transformed Soul Music came about as a result of efforts to connect the music of Black Power with the militant movements on the US streets in the late 1960s. I originally sought to clear up one overarching question: Did the music generate the movement, or did the movement generate the music? It did not take long to determine the answer to that question. Nina Simone explained her rationale for writing “Mississippi Goddamn,” by writing in her memoir that after “the bombing of the little girls in Alabama and the murder of Medgar Evers…I had it in my mind to go out and kill someone…instead I went to my piano and the music erupted out of me faster than I could write it down.” That organized the work for me from then on.
Out of the blue I heard from Boots Riley, who told me a tale of the Black Panthers and their funk band The Lumpen. The prospect at the time was absurd, as the Panthers we knew were all about the Revolution then, and now. Through research from multiple angles and support from dedicated Panther archivists like Billy X Jennings, I was able to locate the four lead singers of the group. It turns out they were hidden in plain sight, as former rank and file Bay Area Panthers, they were each engaged in community activist work, and each with a supply of stories to tell.
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