Emily J. Lordi

Emily Lordi is an assistant professor of English at the University of Massachusetts, Amherst. Her book, Black Resonance (forthcoming from Rutgers UP), re-examines the work of African American writers like Richard Wright and Nikki Giovanni through their engagements with classic black women singers. She has served as a book review editor for Callaloo and is currently the editor of exhibitions at Jazz at Lincoln Center. Her next book will be a cultural history of the concept of “soul.”



"Moving Out: White Flight and Sly and the Family Stone's 'Stand!'"

What does it mean when a pop song fades out just moments after it really gets good? We might think of the gone-too-soon powerhouse endings of Aretha Franklin’s “Never Loved a Man” (1967) and the Beatles’ “Hello Goodbye” (1967). This paper will examine this phenomenon through the work of Sly and the Family Stone—the group which, according to George Clinton, “made funk the new pop” in the late 1960s. Specifically, I will examine the sonic politics of the group’s 1969 hit, “Stand!” with regard to contemporaneous “white flight” from U.S. cities.

Sly Stone reportedly brought the unreleased single of “Stand!” to San Francisco’s Rickshaw Club, gave it to the DJ, and, upon seeing the dancers’ lukewarm reactions, added a funky breakdown to the end of the track. The song consequently shifts, after three mid-tempo verses and choruses, into a soul-clapping party that lasts only 30 seconds before fading out. At a moment when white flight was reshaping American cities, “Stand!” countered dominant narratives of black urban blight by sounding a tantalizingly elusive celebration one had to imagine was going on elsewhere—a celebration that those who had left U.S. cities were missing out on, and which their absence may indeed have facilitated. I will trace this sonic strategy from “Stand!” to Stevie Wonder’s brilliant use of the funky pre-fadeout vamp on the album-closing “I Believe” (1972), and ask how it changes as hip hop artists loop such moments to exploit the listener’s desire for extended play.

This paper revises the post-1973 declension narrative so common to discussions of Sly and the FS by highlighting one of the band’s lasting musical innovations. It also complicates the cheerful integrative vision that Sly Stone’s interracial, male-and-female band is thought to represent by reading “Stand!” as a defiant response to the re-segregation of urban space.

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Friday, March 23

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