A Bad Woman Feeling Good: Blues and the Women Who Sing Them

A Bad Woman Feeling Good: Blues and the Women Who Sing Them

by Buzzy Jackson
     
 

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The women who broke the rules, creating their own legacy of how to live and sing the blues.

An exciting lineage of women singers—originating with Ma Rainey and her protégée Bessie Smith—shaped the blues, launching it as a powerful, expressive vehicle of emotional liberation. Along with their successors Billie Holiday, Etta James, Aretha

Overview

The women who broke the rules, creating their own legacy of how to live and sing the blues.

An exciting lineage of women singers—originating with Ma Rainey and her protégée Bessie Smith—shaped the blues, launching it as a powerful, expressive vehicle of emotional liberation. Along with their successors Billie Holiday, Etta James, Aretha Franklin, Tina Turner, and Janis Joplin, they injected a dose of reality into the often trivial world of popular song, bringing their message of higher expectations and broader horizons to their audiences. These women passed their image, their rhythms, and their toughness on to the next generation of blues women, which has its contemporary incarnation in singers like Bonnie Raitt and Lucinda Williams (with whom the author has done an in-depth interview). Buzzy Jackson combines biography, an appreciation of music, and a sweeping view of American history to illuminate the pivotal role of blues women in a powerful musical tradition. Musician Thomas Dorsey said, "The blues is a good woman feeling bad." But these women show by their style that he had it backward: The blues is a bad woman feeling good.

Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
Originally conceived as a U.C.-Berkeley doctoral dissertation, this thoughtful, fluent book contends that female blues singers, through their creative innovations, artistic successes and unconventional lifestyles, have inspired American women to express their individuality for decades. Jackson shows how high-spirited blues exponents Ma Rainey (later deemed the "Godmother of the Blues") and Bessie Smith ("a legend in her own time") set the stage in the early 20th century by celebrating their unconventionality, bisexuality, and racial pride; they were also instrumental in opening up the recording industry to African-Americans. Then came Billie Holiday, who radiated a darker but equally rebellious persona; Etta James, who flaunted her sexuality and reveled in scandalous behavior; Aretha Franklin, who championed the rights of women and minorities; and Janis Joplin and Tina Turner, who carried the blues idiom into the world of rock 'n' roll. Other singers Jackson discusses (Joni Mitchell, Lucinda Williams, Whitney Houston, Patti Smith, Lauryn Hill, Courtney Love) are not necessarily blues singers in the traditional sense, but they are, she says, the inheritors of the blues women's legacy of female empowerment. By celebrating the genre's "bad women" as forces for positive social change, Jackson gives blues fans a refreshing new perspective. Illus. not seen by PW. Agent, Gary Morris. (Feb.) Copyright 2004 Reed Business Information.
Library Journal
In this excellent introduction to pioneering women blues singers, first-time author Jackson (Ph.D., history) begins with early superstars like Ma Rainey and Bessie Smith and traces a legacy of artists who inherited their influences, including Billie Holiday, Etta James, Aretha Franklin, Tina Turner, and Janis Joplin. The author's attention to detail and fluid writing style bring to life the personalities that made these dynamic women so influential. We discover how Rainey and Smith, for example, dominated the early African American theater circuit, started recording, and even made significant inroads to reaching a white audience. The latter chapters turn to more recent artists who possess the "blues attitude," e.g., Lucinda Williams and Bonnie Raitt. Toward the end, however, Jackson stretches credibility by including Madonna and Courtney Love, who really have no connection to the blues. Nonetheless, blues fans will be inspired to go out and find biographies and recordings of the seminal artists. Highly recommended for all performing arts collections.-Bill Walker, Stockton-San Joaquin Cty. P.L., CA Copyright 2005 Reed Business Information.
Kirkus Reviews
An enthusiastic, patently feminist history of women who sang or were influenced by the blues-from Mamie Desdoumes to Courtney Love. In this revision of her doctoral dissertation from Univ. of California, Berkeley, Jackson shows a wide, easy familiarity with the history of the blues and, indeed, with the history of American popular culture. Clearly, she has listened to lots of sides, read lots of magazines and books, thought long and hard about the genesis of the blues and of its many later manifestations. She selects those women who have earned their way into the blues pantheon and offers a biographical portrait of each. She spends the most time with Ma Rainey, Bessie Smith, Billie Holiday, Etta James, Aretha Franklin, Tina Turner, Janis Joplin, and Lucinda Williams, but along the way Jackson also offers sketches of others, including Joni Mitchell and Queen Latifah. Jackson also finds time to smudge the shiny reputations of certain singers highly popular with average Americans-Whitney Houston and Celine Dion, for example, finding both of them superficial (much artifice, little art). Jackson has found a number of similarities among the blues divas-and not only artistic ones. Drug use was common, as was a sexuality that, in Joplin's case, is described as "voracious." Many of the singers enjoyed lovers of both sexes and proudly proclaimed their sexual energy (sometimes even their preferences) in lyrics and in the choreography accompanying live performances. Jackson occasionally reaches a bit too far for a generalization (as in declaring that white women in the 1960s, unlike their black counterparts, were coping with the problems of suburbia-but what about Appalachian women? farm women?minimum-wage women?), but for the most part she clearly sees a dark blue thread connecting the music with the lives of the women who sang it. A well-researched analysis of the women who created an enduring cultural phenomenon. (7 b&w photos)Agent: Gary Morris/David Black Literary Agency
Leon F. Litwack
“A stunning achievement....lucid and compelling, much like the eloquent voices Buzzy Jackson manages to capture.”

Product Details

ISBN-13:
9780393346329
Publisher:
Norton, W. W. & Company, Inc.
Publication date:
10/01/2012
Sold by:
Barnes & Noble
Format:
NOOK Book
Pages:
336
File size:
2 MB

Meet the Author

Buzzy Jackson received her Ph.D. in history from the University of California, Berkeley, where she lives. This is her first book.

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