A knotty but worthy attempt to stoke new conversations about a genre sometimes dismissed as moribund.



An outline for an alternative history of soul music that emphasizes the intersection of blackness, struggle, and femininity.

As Vanderbilt English professor Lordi argues in this academic but spirited book, too much recent writing about soul music treats the genre as if it were trapped in amber. Though the music had a relatively brief moment of prominence on the charts in the late 1960s and early ’70s, it speaks to enduring elements of black experience that were often suppressed. To that end, the author’s guiding lights aren’t James Brown or Stax and Motown legends; rather, she spotlights the likes of Nina Simone, Gladys Knight, and Minnie Riperton, less-appreciated artists for whom “stylization of survival is conditioned by pain, often led by women, and driven by imagination, innovation, and craft.” Lordi shows how this attitude manifests through the artists’ song choices (often reinterpretations of pop hits by white artists), live ad-libs and false endings, and falsetto singing, which explores “how vulnerable it is permissible to be—how sexy, how extravagant, how cool and effervescent.” The author’s use of jargon is sometimes overly thick, especially when she tussles with the “post-soul” theorists who downplay the music’s themes of femininity and struggle. However, Lordi’s distinct takes on the genre are refreshing, built on close listening to artists like Riperton and Donny Hathaway and explorations of albums that reside outside the soul canon. (Isaac Hayes’ Hot Buttered Soul and Aretha Frankin’s live gospel album Amazing Grace draw special attention.) The author’s argument for soul’s continuing relevance would be stronger with more contemporary examples, but she concludes with some brief but thought-provoking commentaries on artists like Erykah Badu and Janelle Monáe. They are, she writes, representative of what she calls “Afropresentism,” a mindset that is beholden neither to the past nor Afrofuturist fantasias but instead speaks to black struggles in the moment.

A knotty but worthy attempt to stoke new conversations about a genre sometimes dismissed as moribund.

Pub Date: Aug. 14, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-4780-0959-7

Page Count: 224

Publisher: Duke Univ.

Review Posted Online: April 21, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 1, 2020

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Everything about Sabathia is larger than life, yet he tells his story with honesty and humility.


One of the best pitchers of his generation—and often the only Black man on his team—shares an extraordinary life in baseball.

A high school star in several sports, Sabathia was being furiously recruited by both colleges and professional teams when the death of his grandmother, whose Social Security checks supported the family, meant that he couldn't go to college even with a full scholarship. He recounts how he learned he had been drafted by the Cleveland Indians in the first round over the PA system at his high school. In 2001, after three seasons in the minor leagues, Sabathia became the youngest player in MLB (age 20). His career took off from there, and in 2008, he signed with the New York Yankees for seven years and $161 million, at the time the largest contract ever for a pitcher. With the help of Vanity Fair contributor Smith, Sabathia tells the entertaining story of his 19 seasons on and off the field. The first 14 ran in tandem with a poorly hidden alcohol problem and a propensity for destructive bar brawls. His high school sweetheart, Amber, who became his wife and the mother of his children, did her best to help him manage his repressed fury and grief about the deaths of two beloved cousins and his father, but Sabathia pursued drinking with the same "till the end" mentality as everything else. Finally, a series of disasters led to a month of rehab in 2015. Leading a sober life was necessary, but it did not tame Sabathia's trademark feistiness. He continued to fiercely rile his opponents and foment the fighting spirit in his teammates until debilitating injuries to his knees and pitching arm led to his retirement in 2019. This book represents an excellent launching point for Jay-Z’s new imprint, Roc Lit 101.

Everything about Sabathia is larger than life, yet he tells his story with honesty and humility.

Pub Date: July 6, 2021

ISBN: 978-0-593-13375-0

Page Count: 288

Publisher: Roc Lit 101

Review Posted Online: May 12, 2021

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 1, 2021

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For Howard Zinn, long-time civil rights and anti-war activist, history and ideology have a lot in common. Since he thinks that everything is in someone's interest, the historian—Zinn posits—has to figure out whose interests he or she is defining/defending/reconstructing (hence one of his previous books, The Politics of History). Zinn has no doubts about where he stands in this "people's history": "it is a history disrespectful of governments and respectful of people's movements of resistance." So what we get here, instead of the usual survey of wars, presidents, and institutions, is a survey of the usual rebellions, strikes, and protest movements. Zinn starts out by depicting the arrival of Columbus in North America from the standpoint of the Indians (which amounts to their standpoint as constructed from the observations of the Europeans); and, after easily establishing the cultural disharmony that ensued, he goes on to the importation of slaves into the colonies. Add the laborers and indentured servants that followed, plus women and later immigrants, and you have Zinn's amorphous constituency. To hear Zinn tell it, all anyone did in America at any time was to oppress or be oppressed; and so he obscures as much as his hated mainstream historical foes do—only in Zinn's case there is that absurd presumption that virtually everything that came to pass was the work of ruling-class planning: this amounts to one great indictment for conspiracy. Despite surface similarities, this is not a social history, since we get no sense of the fabric of life. Instead of negating the one-sided histories he detests, Zinn has merely reversed the image; the distortion remains.

Pub Date: Jan. 1, 1979

ISBN: 0061965588

Page Count: 772

Publisher: Harper & Row

Review Posted Online: May 26, 2012

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 1, 1979

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