In "Songs in the Key of Black Life," acclaimed cultural critic Mark Anthony Neal turns his attention to Rhythm and Blues. He argues that R&B-often dismissed as "just a bunch of love songs," yet the second most popular genre in terms of sales-can tell us much about the dynamic joys, apprehensions, tensions, and contradictions of contemporary black life, if we listen closely. With a voice as heartfelt and compelling as the best music, Neal guides us through the work of classic and contemporary artists ranging from Marvin Gaye to Macy Gray. In the first section of the book, "Rhythm," he uses the music of Meshell N'degeocello, Patti Labelle, Jill Scott, Alicia Keys, and others as guideposts to the major concerns of contemporary black life-issues such as gender, feminist politics, political activism, black masculinity, celebrity, and the fluidity of racial and sexual identity. The second part of the book, "Blues," uses the improvisational rhythms of black music as a metaphor to examine currents in black lifeincluding the public dispute between Cornel West and Harvard President Lawrence Summers and the firing of BET's talk-show host Tavis Smiley. "Songs in the Key of Black Life" is a remarkable contribution to the study of black popular music, and valuable reading for anyone interested in how race is lived in America.
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