(CLEVELAND, OH) -- Honoring the finest books on popular music from around the world, the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame, New York University’s Clive Davis Institute of Recorded Music, and The Pop Conference have announced the winners of the 2022 Ralph J. Gleason Music Book Award. They include books by Daphne A. Brooks, Kira Thurman, and Eric Weisbard.
1st Place: Liner Notes for the Revolution: The Intellectual Life of Black Feminist Sound by Daphne A. Brooks (Harvard University Press). Daphne A. Brooks explores more than a century of music archives to examine 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 simultaneously 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 contributions 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 tackles 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 century, pop superstar Janelle Monae’s liner notes are recognized for their innovations, 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 pioneers a long overdue recognition and celebration of Black women musicians as radical intellectuals.
2nd Place: Singing Like Germans: Black Musicians in the Land of Bach, Beethoven, and Brahms by Kira Thurman (Cornell University Press). In Singing Like Germans, Kira Thurman tells the sweeping story of Black musicians in German-speaking Europe over more than a century. Thurman brings to life the incredible musical interactions and transnational collaborations among people of African descent and white Germans and Austrians. Through this compelling history, she explores how people reinforced or challenged racial identities in the concert hall. Throughout the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, audiences assumed the categories of Blackness and Germanness were mutually exclusive. Yet on attending a performance of German music by a Black musician, many listeners were surprised to discover that German identity is not a biological marker but something that could be learned, performed, and mastered. While Germans and Austrians located their national identity in music, championing composers such as Bach, Beethoven, and Brahms as national heroes, the performance of their works by Black musicians complicated the public's understanding of who had the right to play them. Audiences wavered between seeing these musicians as the rightful heirs of Austro-German musical culture and dangerous outsiders to it. Thurman explores the tension between the supposedly transcendental powers of classical music and the global conversations that developed about who could perform it. An interdisciplinary and transatlantic history, Singing Like Germans suggests that listening to music is not a passive experience, but an active process where racial and gendered categories are constantly made and unmade.
3rd Place: Songbooks: The Literature of American Popular Music by Eric Weisbard (Duke University Press). In Songbooks, critic and scholar Eric Weisbard offers a critical guide to books on American popular music from William Billings's 1770 New-England Psalm-Singer to Jay-Z's 2010 memoir Decoded. Drawing on his background editing the Village Voice music section, coediting the Journal of Popular Music Studies, and organizing the Pop Conference, Weisbard connects American music writing from memoirs, biographies, and song compilations to blues novels, magazine essays, and academic studies. The authors of these works are as diverse as the music itself: women, people of color, queer writers, self-educated scholars, poets, musicians, and elites discarding their social norms. Whether analyzing books on Louis Armstrong, the Beatles, and Madonna; the novels of Theodore Dreiser, Gayl Jones, and Jennifer Egan; or varying takes on blackface minstrelsy, Weisbard charts an alternative history of American music as told through its writing. As Weisbard demonstrates, the most enduring work pursues questions that linger across time period and genre—cultural studies in the form of notes on the fly, on sounds that never cease to change meaning.
These winners were selected from a shortlist of fifteen books that were revealed at the 2022 Pop Conference (hosted by the Clive Davis Institute of Recorded Music). The award aims to encourage more publishing and reading of books about popular music from all over the world and to showcase the combination of passionate writing and scholarship across journalism and academia, which marked pioneer music critic Ralph J. Gleason’s work.
“It’s a real honor to receive the 2022 Ralph J. Gleason Music Book Award for Liner Notes for the Revolution: The Intellectual Life of Black Feminist Sound,” said first-place winner Daphne A. Brooks. “This is a book that, in many ways, owes much to the inroads in journalism forged by the pioneering Gleason and a generation of critics who wrote with color, character, passion, and rigor about popular music culture’s riveting complexity, its promise, and its prodigious power. I’ve often said that the rock criticism that shaped my teen years had as much to do with the kind of writer I’ve become as did the novels of Toni Morrison, Alice Walker, and Zora Neale Hurston. Writing this book became a way to bridge these two seemingly disparate worlds; to make a case for Black feminist music criticism as crucial to modern culture; to trace the secret, century-old history of that criticism; and to give some flowers to the women writers, thinkers, critics and musicians who were, like Gleason, dedicated to their craft and determined to tell stories about the sounds that were vital to their lives. I hope that this award might encourage more of my rock critic peers to seek out the voices of Black women critics—past as well as present. And I also hope that this award will add further momentum to what is clearly a new renaissance in Black feminist music writing produced by my marvelous colleagues.”
A prize of $10,000 has been distributed among the winners, underwritten through the Wenner Journalism Fund.
An event honoring this year’s winners will be hosted by the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame this fall with details forthcoming. Information about nominating music books published in 2022 as candidates for next year’s Ralph J. Gleason Music Book Awards can be found on rockhall.com.
Over 70 books were submitted for consideration. They are now available to read as part of the permanent collection at the Rock Hall’s Library & Archives.
Ralph Gleason was a highly perceptive critic of jazz, pop, and rock music whose words withstand the passage of time and perceived the importance of artists like Bob Dylan, Janis Joplin, and Miles Davis. He co-founded Rolling Stone magazine, was one of the first mainstream writers to cover the mid-1960’s San Francisco music scene, pushed the San Francisco Chronicle into the rock era, and cofounded the Monterey Jazz Festival.
The Ralph J. Gleason Music Book Award advisory board is chaired by writer Holly George-Warren, and includes writers RJ Smith, Carl Wilson (Slate), Clive Davis Institute of Recorded Music/NYU Chair Jason King, Rock & Roll Hall of Fame VP of Education Jason Hanley, and academics Kimberly Mack (University of Toledo) and Eric Weisbard (University of Alabama). Judges will rotate yearly. This year’s judges were Laina Dawes, Nelson George, Alisha Lola Jones, Greil Marcus, and Amanda Petrusich.
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