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Imani Perry

Imani Perry is professor of African American Studies at Princeton University. She is the author of Prophets of the Hood: Politics and Poetics in Hip Hop (Duke University Press, 2004), More Beautiful and More Terrible: The Embrace and Transcendence of Racial Inequality in the United States (New York University Press, 2011), as well as numerous articles. Her current projects include a cultural exploration of “Lift Every Voice and Sing.”

 

Abstract:

""Silver City Bound": Black Women Musicians & the Urban Avant Garde"

“Take me by the hand oh babe/And lead me to the promises land”

--Nina Simone, “Silver City Bound”

During her legendary 1963 Carnegie Hall concert, Nina Simone offered a little slip of a blues song, “Silver City Bound,” a tune she described as having learned by listening to Leadbelly sing about his friend Blind Lemon Jefferson and their ode to “riding back and forth on a train from somewhere to Texas.” In Simone’s world, the “silver city” is a land of “promises” and possibility, camaraderie and potential collaboration. This panel takes Simone’s rolling, romantic elsewhere as a point of departure in order to examine the ways that a range of black women music artists have navigated urban spaces—New York, Philadelphia, Atlantic City and the Afrofuturist space beyond—as a means to sounding out aesthetic experimentalism and articulating the heterogeneous dimensions of modern black womanhood. From the classically-trained vocalists, actresses, jazz musicians and pop stars who transformed the Broadway opera of Porgy and Bess into sonic cosmopolitanism to genius BeBop pioneer pianist Mary Lou Williams who innovated a style of musicianship that folded together the dynamic cultural diversity of Manhattan cartography, from Nina Simone’s journeywoman craftsmanship, developing her chops in Philly and Atlantic City supper clubs, to Sun Ra compatriot June Tyson’s new frontier vocal ruminations of the “what might yet be,” this session seeks to generate and promote critical conversations about black women musicians’ relationships to cities and about the ways that cities have absorbed their sounds.