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Elizabeth Keenan

Elizabeth K. Keenan completed her doctorate at Columbia University in 2008 with a dissertation on feminist politics, popular music, and the American middle class. Her work has received the Wong Tolbert and Lise Waxer Prizes from the Society for Ethnomusicology and has been published in Women & Music, JPMS, and Current Musicology. She teaches at Fordham University and Columbia University.

 

Abstract:

"Out in the Streets: 1960s Girl Groups and the Imagined Urban Space of New York City"

In the early 1960s, “good girls” didn’t hang out on street corners, they didn’t audition for record producers in smoky clubs, and they certainly didn’t drink, smoke, or have sex. And yet, the music these girls listened to—the Girl Groups—often treads the line ambiguously between the good and the bad, frequently in ways that allow girls a new assertiveness within an urban space—and, most of the time it drew on a particular place, New York City. The music of the Girl Groups, closely aligned with the Brill Building, constructs an urban space in which girls across the country could imagine themselves transgressing those roles from the safety of their bedrooms.

While scholars have investigated the public/private divide between the urban space where idealized boy rebels populate the streets and the private listening girls conducted, the role of urban geography, most especially the construction of New York City as a place of both danger and possibility, has been overlooked. Listening the Crystals’ “Uptown,” they could experience life in Spanish Harlem, or, looking at the Ronettes, imagine themselves as worldly-wise girls with teased hair and thick eyeliner. Essential to these imagined transgressions is the idea of New York City, forged through the music, image, and performance of the Girl Groups. Drawing on urban geography, this paper examines the ways that Girl Groups imagined freedom and danger in New York City’s streets.