From one of the preeminent cultural critics of her generation, a radiant weave of memoir, criticism, and biography that tells the story of black women in music–from the Dixie Cups to Gladys Knight to Janet Jackson, Whitney Houston, and Mariah Carey–as the foundational story of American pop.
Black women have borne a double burden of oppression in the United States from its founding–but from the bottom of the country’s punishing social hierarchy they have created perhaps its greatest cultural contribution to the world: pop music. This book is a vibrant music history that tells the interconnected stories of the poets, divas, and icons whose creative work shaped our world and lives inside every one of us.
Based on her own original reporting and analysis as a long-time music critic, essayist, and editor, Smith weaves together a story that begins with Phyllis Wheatly, an enslaved woman who sang her poems and became one of the country’s first literary stars, winds its way through girl groups (The Dixie Cups) and opera singers (Leontyne Price), chanteuses (Dionne Warwick) and rock-and-rollers (Tina Turner), and finally arrives at the pop goddesses who became global superstars: Diana and Janet, Mariah and Whitney, Beyoncé and Rihanna. But more than telling the fascinating stories of their life and work, Smith answers why music history has resisted their canonization. Why is pop considered a lesser form than rock or hip-hop? Why are women never recognized as creators and connecters and musical geniuses? And how have these women reflected and shaped their eras–and each of our lives?
Shine Bright is an overdue paean to these musical masters whose true stories and genius has been hidden in plain sight. Smith’s vibrant, sassy, spiritual storytelling echoes the ecstasy and enthrallment of these sisters’ songs.