Wednesday, September 08, 2010

The Changes in Music: From the End of the Jazz Era

After reading Billie Holiday's biography and thinking about the life and career of artists such as Nina Simone, I began to think about the social and political changes in music that took place mid20tth Century. The jazz era, of which Billie Holiday was a part of, was a transitional era, but was definitely an era in which singers, specifically female singers, were to stand on stage, look pretty and sing hetero-normative syrupy songs about love, unrequited love, and how much they needed men for white men in business suits. Change number one with Billie Holiday-"Strangefruit" introduced a new kind of polemic into the mix with the first protest song sung by a female singer and introduced into popular music. Change number two-consider Nina Simone who was soo loved at the beginning of her career because sang prettily and made coquettish gestures (if still, very much aware and still carrying a sting) towards the white male, capitalist patriarchal system. The 1950s and the early 60s were still a time of romance and dainty had Nancy Wilson asking "Guess Who I Saw Today?" and Diahann Carroll humming about the hypnotic qualities of a Sleeping Bee lying in the palm of your hand....but came 1963 and the 16th Street Baptist Church bombing and you saw Nina Simone sit down at her piano at Carnegie Hall and tell her white patrons exactly where they were going,why they were going there and railing her damnation of Mississippi, Tennessee, and Alabama. I think that, perhaps more than any other moment, signaled the end of the Jazz era and the rushing in of radical and angry music makers, both male and female, lashing out at the power structure and leading the way towards revolution and change throughout society. It also signaled the liberation of the songstress/coquette who stood still with little movement to look pretty and sing songs for men in business suits...many lashed out at this-including Abbey Lincoln who spoke of her disdain for the art form and how she, a farm girl from Michigan didn't fit into such a "pretty, feminine" world as was created by the masters of the Jazz era. The late sixties forward signaled movement....and liberation..and a new mode, method, and message, for the female singer especially.

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