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The Games Black Girls Play

Learning the Ropes from Double-Dutch to Hip-Hop

Kyra Gaunt

Publication Year: 2006

2007 Alan Merriam Prize presented by the Society for Ethnomusicology

2007 PEN/Beyond Margins Book Award Finalist

When we think of African American popular music, our first thought is probably not of double-dutch: girls bouncing between two twirling ropes, keeping time to the tick-tat under their toes. But this book argues that the games black girls play —handclapping songs, cheers, and double-dutch jump rope—both reflect and inspire the principles of black popular musicmaking.

The Games Black Girls Play illustrates how black musical styles are incorporated into the earliest games African American girls learn—how, in effect, these games contain the DNA of black music. Drawing on interviews, recordings of handclapping games and cheers, and her own observation and memories of gameplaying, Kyra D. Gaunt argues that black girls' games are connected to long traditions of African and African American musicmaking, and that they teach vital musical and social lessons that are carried into adulthood. In this celebration of playground poetry and childhood choreography, she uncovers the surprisingly rich contributions of girls’ play to black popular culture.

Published by: NYU Press


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pp. ix-x

List of Musical Figures

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p. xi

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pp. xiii-xv

This book is the product of various collaborations with friends, colleagues, mentors, coaches, and the social memory and lived experiences of African Americans, both female and male. It has been full of ups and downs, but it is a privilege to bring this work forth to the world....

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pp. 1-18

When we think of the music that drives the popular culture of African Americans, our first thought is not of double-dutch: girls bouncing between two twirling ropes, keeping time to the tick-tat under their toes, stepping out with snatches of song and dance that animate their torsos and release their tongues with laughter. Instead, what comes to mind...

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1. Slide: Games as Lessons in Black Musical Style

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pp. 19-36

What if black girls’ musical play was a training ground for learning not only how to embody specific approaches to black musical expression, but also learning to be socially black? When I was trying to pin down a topic for my dissertation, I wanted to find a way to privilege women’s musical participation in African American popular music. I didn’t...

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2. Education, Liberation: Learning the Ropes of a Musical Blackness

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pp. 37-55

How can we talk about a musical blackness when the very notion of “race” is currently contested? While it is assumed that Western classical music is learned through disciplined practice, many still assume that for African Americans musical practice is “natural” (or unlearned). This belief afflicts many musics that rely on dance and other embodiment...

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3. Mary Mack Dressed in Black: The Earliest Formation of a Popular Music

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pp. 56-88

Studies of handclapping games, cheers, and double-dutch have documented African American play in major urban cities in the Northeast (Philadelphia, D.C., and New York City), in the South (Texas and Alabama), and in the West (Los Angeles). Black girls as young as three and as old as fourteen practice these games, which dominated urban...

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4. Saw You With Your Boyfriend: Music between the Sexes

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pp. 89-110

In this chapter, I explore the hidden connections between girls’ musical game-songs and popular songs recorded by male artists. These separate, gendered spheres of musical activity are in conversation with one another, forming a bridge between children and adult culture, and vernacular and popular culture. Here, I will unveil these connections...

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5. Who’s Got Next Game? Women, Hip-Hop, and the Power of Language

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pp. 111-132

When it comes to gender and power, language plays a critical role in defining the context of the games girls play, whether in their youthful activities or in their participation in musics such as hip-hop. It shapes how we interpret who dominates and who is dominated: we use language, consciously and unconsciously, to evoke and reinforce certain differences between the sexes. We also use language to limit or encourage...

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6. Double Forces Has Got the Beat: Reclaiming Girls’ Music in the Sport of Double-Dutch

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pp. 133-157

One could divorce double-dutch from the stylistic innovations of black popular music, but if one understands mass popular music as a derivation of black vernacular expression and performance, the relationship is undeniable. This chapter introduces the musical performance of double-dutch and discusses its transition from public street play to the...

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7. Let a Woman Jump: Dancing with the Double Dutch Divas

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pp. 158-180

Though she was long past the age of playing double-dutch, an African American student in the School of Music at Michigan whose voice reminded me of Jessye Norman’s, once shared with me a nostalgic lament she had about the game. I had told Kim a few stories about my trip to the double-dutch competitions in Charleston, South Carolina,...

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pp. 181-187

In the spring of 2003, I was invited to present a chapter of this work at the Institute for Research in African American Studies at Columbia University. One of the most distinguished and renowned African American historians and political scientists Manning Marable was present, as were a host of graduate students and scholars—many of them...

Appendix: Musical Transcriptions of Game-Songs Studied

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pp. 188-196


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pp. 197-210


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pp. 211-220

About the Author

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p. 221

E-ISBN-13: 9780814732731
E-ISBN-10: 0814732739
Print-ISBN-13: 9780814731192
Print-ISBN-10: 0814731198

Page Count: 238
Publication Year: 2006

OCLC Number: 173511432
MUSE Marc Record: Download for The Games Black Girls Play

Research Areas


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Subject Headings

  • Double dutch (Rope skipping) -- United States.
  • Rap (Music) -- History and criticism.
  • Singing games -- United States.
  • African Americans -- Music -- History and criticism.
  • African American girls -- Social life and customs.
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