What the Music Said is a book about communities under siege, but also communities engaged in various forms of resistance, institution-building and everyday pleasures. Beginning with the Be-Bop era, Mark Anthony Neal reads the story of "black communities" through the black tradition in popular music. Exploring the broad range of black cultural experience and expression, Neal locates a history that challenges the view that hip-hop was the first black cultural movement to "speak truth to power."
For a large number of African Americans, black popular music was as much about history, sociology, and politics as it was about entertainment. As radio overtook the jukebox as a hit-making force and records became a recreational option affordable to even the poorest households, rhythm and blues and bebop gave the African American community a language of its own and a medium to communicate throughout the nation. Neal (African studies, SUNY Albany) explores how music reflected the evolution of a race as its members migrated from the rural areas of the South to the industrial centers of the North, and how singer Sam Cooke's defection from gospel music mirrored the declining influence of the black church. As much as anything, music was the force that both contained the stories of a people and offered them the forum to express their ideas to one another and the world. Not for the casual fan who wants to know how Motown got started, this is a scholarly work that may be more at home in the sociology than the music section.--Dan Bogey, Clearfield Cty. P.L. Federation, Curwensville, PA