Black Resonance, Black Resonance, 081356249X, 0-8135-6249-X, 978-0-8135-6249-0, 9780813562490, , The American Literatures Initiative, Black Resonance, 0813562503, 0-8135-6250-3, 978-0-8135-6250-6, 9780813562506, , The American Literatures Initiative, Black Resonance, 0813562511, 0-8135-6251-1, 978-0-8135-6251-3, 9780813562513, , The American Literatures Initiative, Black Resonance, 0813570336, 0-8135-7033-6, 978-0-8135-7033-4, 9780813570334, , The American Literatures Initiativ
Black Resonance

Iconic Women Singers and African American Literature
Emily J. Lordi (Author)
304 pages, 11 illustrations, 6 x 9
Paper, November 2013 $29.95   ADD TO CART
Cloth, November 2013 $88.00   ADD TO CART
Web PDF, November 2013 $29.95   EBOOK VERSION AVAILABLE
epub, November 2013 $42.95   EBOOK VERSION AVAILABLE
Series: The American Literatures Initiative
Subject Area:
African American Studies, Literary Studies, Art, Music, and Architecture, American Studies, Women's Studies


Ever since Bessie Smith’s powerful voice conspired with the “race records” industry to make her a star in the 1920s, African American writers have memorialized the sounds and theorized the politics of black women’s singing. In Black Resonance, Emily J. Lordi analyzes writings by Richard Wright, Ralph Ellison, James Baldwin, Gayl Jones, and Nikki Giovanni that engage such iconic singers as Bessie Smith, Billie Holiday, Mahalia Jackson, and Aretha Franklin.

Focusing on two generations of artists from the 1920s to the 1970s, Black Resonance reveals a musical-literary tradition in which singers and writers, faced with similar challenges and harboring similar aims, developed comparable expressive techniques. Drawing together such seemingly disparate works as Bessie Smith’s blues and Richard Wright’s neglected film of Native Son, Mahalia Jackson’s gospel music and Ralph Ellison’s Invisible Man, each chapter pairs one writer with one singer to crystallize the artistic practice they share: lyricism, sincerity, understatement, haunting, and the creation of a signature voice. In the process, Lordi demonstrates that popular female singers are not passive muses with raw, natural, or ineffable talent. Rather, they are experimental artists who innovate black expressive possibilities right alongside their literary peers.

The first study of black music and literature to centralize the music of black women, Black Resonance offers new ways of reading and hearing some of the twentieth century’s most beloved and challenging voices.


"Black Resonance is a gem ... The book takes us to school, leaving us with insights and skills, pushing readers and writers, singers and dreamers to think about the ways we engage the literary and sonic works of the next generation of black artists and writers."
—The Journal of American Culture

"Black Resonance is a tremendously innovative, illuminating, and eloquent study that promises to break important new ground in twentieth-century African American literature and literary criticism, black feminist cultural criticism, and popular music and performance studies. Lordi couples her analytical rigor with elegant and imaginative prose that helps us to hear more clearly the resounding voices of women singers in black letters." 
—Daphne A. Brooks, Princeton University

“In language that sparkles and gains momentum, Black Resonance refreshes the conversation about how black music, from the slave songs to hip hop, and literature speak to one another. Offering a brilliant new lexicon for black American cultural analysis, Lordi’s book is very welcome required reading for those charting new directions in the field.”
—Robert G. O'Meally, author of Lady Day: The Many Faces of Billie Holiday

"Lordi explodes assumptions about the relationship between black writers and black musicians. By blending insightful cultural history, magnificent close readings, and superb archival research, she refines recent scholarship that reevaluates civil rights era African American literature, the Black Arts Movement, and 21st-century poetry. Her argument's elegant intertwining of cutting-edge theory, enrapturing descriptions of vocal practice, and clear commentary on literature reminds readers of how much rigorous interdisciplinary inquiry can explain about black creativity. Highly recommended."

"In chapters that pair Richard Wright, Ralph Ellison, and James Baldwin with female singers, Lordi works to destabilize the ways black women have been (passively) represented as muses of male writers or as vessels of racialized feeling … What makes Lordi's book feel fresh is its exemplary attentiveness to the literature and the music."
—American Literature

"Lordi engages the luminaries of African-American literary criticism (Henry Louis Gates Jr., Claudia Tate, Barbara Johnson, Hortense Spillers, Paul Gilroy, and others), while never muting her own 'signature voice.' This study makes us see—and especially hear—both black female singers and major modern black writers anew ... It blew me away."
—ALH Online Review

Author / Editor Bio

EMILY J. LORDI is an assistant professor of English at the University of Massachusetts, Amherst.

Table Of Contents


Introduction: Black Resonance
1. Vivid Lyricism: Richard Wright and Bessie Smith's Blues
2. The Timbre of Sincerity: Mahalia Jackson's Gospel Sound and Ralph Ellison's Invisible Man
Understatement: James Baldwin, Bessie Smith, and Billie Holiday
4. Haunting: Gayl Jones's Corregidora and Billie Holiday's "Strange Fruit"
5. Signature Voices: Nikki Giovanni, Aretha Franklin, and the Black Arts Movement
Epilogue: "At Last": Etta James, Poetry, Hip Hop



Nan Bauer-Maglin
Life and Times of Grandfather Alonso
Blanca Muratorio
American Melancholy
Laura D. Hirshbein
White Scholars/African American Texts
Lisa Long