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  • Songs in Black and Lavender: Race, Sexual Politics, and Women's Music
  • Monica Hairston O'Connell (bio)
Songs in Black and Lavender: Race, Sexual Politics, and Women's Music. By Eileen Hayes. Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 2010. 248 pp.

I was fortunate enough to have been able to take an excellent seminar on women and music in graduate school. At some point during the segment on women's music and music festivals, I distinctly remember asking "where the black women were" in relation to this scene. My sage professor pointed me to Eileen Hayes's informative dissertation. Based in part on that work, Hayes's Songs in Black and Lavender: Race, Sexual Politics, and Women's Music remains the only in-depth examination of "the manifestations of black feminist consciousness" and "black women's collective presence" as performers, festival participants, and organizers in "women's music" (1-2). It is a richly documented and thoughtful account.

The term "women's music" calls to mind for many the guitar-dominated folk-based styles associated with early women's music figures such as Holly [End Page 143] Near, Chris Williamson, and Alix Dobson and, to be sure, for some, black legends such as Linda Tillery, Judith Casselberry, and Sweet Honey in the Rock. Hayes's book reminds us, happily, that we can also look beyond these foundational figures at a scene that is rich and diversified. Women's music is less a specific genre or single musical approach and more a way of referencing a political stance (broadly configured) and a cultural network that adheres around it. The stance comes out of (largely lesbian, largely radical) feminist activism of the early 1970s that believed social change would occur only to the extent that capitalist patriarchy was decentered or destroyed. Musicians and activists worked to create music and musical spaces that were "by, for, about, and financially controlled by women" (2). The network evolved and continues to evolve to include a diverse array of performers and performance approaches, related women-owned businesses such as production companies and record labels, and music festivals and cultural events. Women's music and its attendant festivals created opportunities in areas such as sound engineering and stage management that were previously male-dominated.

As Hayes states, "Neither dead nor what it used to be, the changing face of women's music is a barometer of where a movement has been and its ability to reinvent itself in the aftermath" (177). We cannot fully understand this history and its various trajectories without first gleaning the extent and nature of black women's participation in a cultural scene in which white women are the majority and examining women's music as a "site for the emergence of black feminist consciousness" (177). Hayes's cross-sector and interdisciplinary experience is up to the challenge presented by such a task. Currently associate professor of ethnomusicology and chair of the Department of Music History, Theory, and Ethnomusicology at North Texas State University, Hayes is a self-identified "straight, black, . . . old-school feminist activist" (10) with roots in Washington, DC, around women of color reproductive rights advocacy and antisterilization abuse. Her status as a veteran of women's music festivals and her desire to capture the complex, myriad ways in which issues of gender, sexuality, class, race, and other political identities or issues affect black women's experiences of the scene lead her to organize the book by theme instead of chronology or festival site.

The title of chapter 1, "Diary of a Mad Black Woman Festigoer," riffs on Tyler Perry's play (and later feature film) Diary of a Mad Black Woman as a frame for the first-person, observational entries that make up the chapter and as a way to insert consciously African American humor and signifying, both of which Hayes and her interviewees used to interpret the experiences they discuss. Reference to "the arrival story" in this chapter as a "familiar aspect of traditional ethnography" simultaneously underscores her training and positionality while also poking self-conscious holes in the presumed authority of the Ethnographer and seeming transparency of such narrative approaches. Hayes also nods here to the diary...


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pp. 143-146
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