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Sounding Like a No-No

Queer Sounds and Eccentric Acts in the Post-Soul Era

Francesca T. Royster

Publication Year: 2012

Sounding Like a No-No traces a rebellious spirit in post-civil rights black music by focusing on a range of offbeat, eccentric, queer, or slippery performances by leading musicians influenced by the cultural changes brought about by the civil rights, black nationalist, feminist, and LGBTQ movements, who through reinvention created a repertoire of performances that have left a lasting mark on popular music. The book's innovative readings of performers including Michael Jackson, Grace Jones, Stevie Wonder, Eartha Kitt, and Meshell Ndegeocello demonstrate how embodied sound and performance became a means for creativity, transgression, and social critique, a way to reclaim imaginative and corporeal freedom from the social death of slavery and its legacy of racism, to engender new sexualities and desires, to escape the sometimes constrictive codes of respectability and uplift from within the black community, and to make space for new futures for their listeners. The book's perspective on music as a form of black corporeality and identity, creativity and political engagement will appeal to those in African American studies, popular music studies, queer theory, and black performance studies; general readers will welcome its engaging, accessible, and sometimes playful writing style, including elements of memoir.

Published by: University of Michigan Press


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p. 1-1

Title Page, Copyright

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pp. 2-9


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pp. 10-11

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Introduction: Eccentric Performance and Embodied Music in the Post-Soul Moment

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pp. 1-33

When Prince arrived in our bedroom via the cover of Right On! magazine some time in 1980, shirtless in suspenders and loose red jogging shorts, a horizon of endless space and stars twinkling behind him, my sister Becky and I hastily replaced our pinup posters of...

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1. Becoming Post-Soul: Eartha Kitt, the Stranger, and the Melancholy Pleasures of Racial Reinvention

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pp. 34-59

I first come across Eartha Kitt in my parents’ record collection when I am six, grouped with other female vocalists of the recent past. I add her to my gallery of “va-va-voom” ladies: glamorous, sequined, sultry performers like Eartha or Dinah Washington or Celia Cruz, women with...

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2. Stevie Wonder’s “Quare” Teachings and Cross-Species Collaboration in Journey through the Secret Life of Plants and Other Songs

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pp. 60-87

I remember watching my father play drums in the park. Sometimes on a Saturday, he’d bring his congas and bongos out, his cowbells, his cuicas and shakares, and play for whoever wanted to come and listen. Other drummers would come, too, and they’d form a circle, and they’d play...

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3. “Here’s a Chance to Dance Our Way Out of Our Constrictions”: P-Funk’s Black Masculinity and the Performance of Imaginative Freedom

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pp. 88-115

Growing up, I took pleasure in and an example from the funky sartorial experimentations of my uncles Kevin and Chip: cutting each other’s hair in my grandmother’s pink bathroom in preparation for a Saturday night and the care they took to shape each other’s muttonchops and...

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4. Michael Jackson, Queer World Making, and the Trans Erotics of Voice, Gender, and Age

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pp. 116-141

Born in the heat of the civil rights movement and coming of age in its transition to the post-civil-rights, postindustrial age, Jackson’s ever shifting voice and body provided a model and soundtrack for a generation of Post-Soul children and their desires for an elsewhere: to both...

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5. “Feeling Like a Woman, Looking Like a Man, Sounding Like a No-No”: Grace Jones and the Performance of “Strangé” in the Post-Soul Moment

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pp. 142-165

Every generation needs a model for how to be strange. For me, that model was Grace Jones. In my teen years, Grace Jones was the soundtrack to my first trips to Chicago’s North Side by myself: to Second Hand Tunes, Wax Trax, the Silver Moon Vintage Store, and the Value Village on Kimball...

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6. Funking toward the Future in Meshell Ndegeocello’s The world has made me the man of my dreams

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pp. 166-185

Harnessing the powers of butch and femme, cosmopolitan and DC go-go, funk, and jazz (and hip-hop and Soul, as well as classical and techno), her albums present a blueprint for sonic, sexual, political, and imaginative freedom, backed up by the insistent throb of her own...

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Epilogue: Janelle Monáe’s Collective Vision

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pp. 186-191

In many of the everyday images of eccentricity that populate our collective consciousness, we see the confirmation of the stereotype of the eccentric as isolated, and even sociopathically single-minded: the slippers-in-the-snow distracted genius of Facebook’s founder Mark Zuckerberg...


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pp. 193-227


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pp. 229-241


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pp. 243-256

E-ISBN-13: 9780472028917
Print-ISBN-13: 9780472051793

Page Count: 272
Publication Year: 2012