The Games Black Girls Play: Learning the Ropes from Double-Dutch to Hip-Hop

The Games Black Girls Play: Learning the Ropes from Double-Dutch to Hip-Hop

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2007 Alan Merriam Prize presented by the Society for Ethnomusicology

2007 PEN/Beyond Margins Book Award Finalist

When we think of African American popular music, our first thought is probably not of double-dutch: girls bouncing between two twirling ropes, keeping time to the tick-tat under their toes. But this book argues that the games black girls play —handclapping songs, cheers, and double-dutch jump rope—both reflect and inspire the principles of black popular musicmaking.

The Games Black Girls Play illustrates how black musical styles are incorporated into the earliest games African American girls learn—how, in effect, these games contain the DNA of black music. Drawing on interviews, recordings of handclapping games and cheers, and her own observation and memories of gameplaying, Kyra D. Gaunt argues that black girls' games are connected to long traditions of African and African American musicmaking, and that they teach vital musical and social lessons that are carried into adulthood. In this celebration of playground poetry and childhood choreography, she uncovers the surprisingly rich contributions of girls’ play to black popular culture.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780814731208
Publisher: New York University Press
Publication date: 02/06/2006
Edition description: New Edition
Pages: 238
Sales rank: 1,207,938
Product dimensions: 6.00(w) x 9.00(h) x 0.70(d)

About the Author

Kyra D. Gaunt is associate professor of ethnomusicology at Baruch College-CUNY. She lectures nationally and internationally on African Americans and Africans in the U.S. She is also a jazz vocalist, songwriter and recording artist.

Table of Contents

List of Musical Figures
1 Slide: Games as Lessons in Black Musical Style
2 Education, Liberation: Learning the Ropes of a Musical Blackness
3 Mary Mack Dressed in Black: The Earliest Formation of a Popular Music
4 Saw You With Your Boyfriend: Music between the Sexes
5 Who’s Got Next Game? Women, Hip-Hop, and the Power of Language
6 Double Forces Has Got the Beat: Reclaiming Girls’ Music in the Sport of Double-Dutch
7 Let a Woman Jump: Dancing with the Double Dutch Divas
Appendix: Musical Transcriptions of Game-Songs Studied
About the Author

What People are Saying About This

From the Publisher

The Games Black Girls Play is beautifully and passionately written. This book presents an engaging reflexive narrative that ranges from childhood memories to involvement with ethnomusicological scholarship. Gaunt makes a convincing argument that the playsongs of African American girls is the foundation of African diasporic popular music-making. In a radical counter-history, she shows how African American girls-interlocutors who are triply minoritized through race, gender, and age-are producing music culture that has profound influences on popular music and the popular imagination. She calls for an engaged ethnomusicology and moves gracefully through an array of anti-essentialist perspectives on race and gender. She argues that “kinetic orality’ is key to African American musicking and that the body is always a locus of memory and communality. From somatic historiography to serious cross-talk with girls, Gaunt offers new methodologies for ethnomusicological work. The reader is pulled into a world in which Black girls are masters of musical knowledge, and in emerging from the book, we can't see the world of American popular music in the same way. When we chant Miss Mary Mack, Mack, Mack is dressed in black, black, black, with silver buttons, buttons, buttons, all down her back, back, back, we suddenly see how musical play and embodied knowledge generates a world of raced and gendered sociality. Oo-lay oo-lay! Congratulations, Kyra!”
-President Elect Professor Deborah Wong,Society for Ethnomusicology

“Gaunt provides a layered and rich analysis of a cultural form that has been all but ignored by scholars far and wide.”
-Gender and Society


The Games Black Girls Play is an insightful inquiry into a frequently overlooked and influential site of cultural production.”
-Popular Music


̶-;Fusing academic prose with vividly rendered memories, Gaunt’s journey is refreshing. . . . Gaunt successfully lifts ignored girls from obscurity to center stage. . . . With The Games Black Girls Play, Gaunt has created a necessary space for translating black girls’ joy in a society that typically overlooks it. Hopefully, others will take their turn and jump in to keep the games going.”


“In thoughtful and affectionate prose, Gaunt makes plain how the schoolyard syncopations of body and voice are both oral-kinetic play and improvised lessons in socializing girls into the unique social practices of black urban life. . . . The Games Black Girls Play is a smart, delightful and witty polemic of attributions; a cultural benchmark of the complex web of history, race and gender to suggest a ‘gendered musical blackness’ and an ‘ethnographic truth’ linking the ‘intergenerational cultures of black musical expression’ as embodied in the infectious playfulness of black girls.”
-Black Issues Book Review

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The Games Black Girls Play: Learning the Ropes from Double-Dutch to Hip-Hop 4.8 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 4 reviews.
Rebeccaclosure More than 1 year ago
I'm a school music teacher in London. I teach all ages of children. I've been reading this book, Games that Black Girls play, and it's opened up a whole world and made sense of anything I felt uncomfortable about, but not known where to get answers. Namely gender bias histories of black music, and the huge wrestlings we have between black and White music - authenticity and the cultural assumptions. Miss Mary Mac is one song I've always taught  to everyone, kids love it! We both sing it with clapping patterns and use sign language too. I'm extremely excited by the book, and just wanted to say that it's the kind of book I have wanted to read for some time as a woman, musician and as a music teacher.
Guest More than 1 year ago
Professor Kyra Gaunt's study of young black girl's games unveils an often overlooked paradigm in the history of both modern music and black cultural studies, tracing not only the influence of this practice in today's popular music, but also as an extension of the kinetic orality that is inherent to black music making. This engaging, personable read opens spheres of dialogue around the relevance of these girl's games from a personal, developmental, and community standpoint by addressing and unpacking the integral questions of race, gender, and identity.
Guest More than 1 year ago
'By placing black girls at the center of her analysis, Kyra Gaunt challenges us to be ever mindful of the importance of gender, the body, and the everyday in our discussions of black music. The Games Black Girls Play is an exciting and original work that should forever transform the way we think about the sources of black, indeed American, populat music. This is a bold, brilliant, and beautifully written book.'¿Farah Jasmine Griffin, Columbia University 'The Games Black Girls Play not only makes the point that black girls matter, but that the games, thoughts, and passions of black girls matter in a world that regularly renders black girls invisible and silent. Gaunt brilliantly argues that the culture of black girls is a critical influence on contemporary black popular culture.' ¿ Mark Anthony Neal, author of New Black Man: Rethinking Black Masculinity
Anonymous More than 1 year ago