From Publishers Weekly
Originally conceived as a U.C.-Berkeley doctoral dissertation, this thoughtful, fluent book contends that female blues singers, through their creative innovations, artistic successes and unconventional lifestyles, have inspired American women to express their individuality for decades. Jackson shows how high-spirited blues exponents Ma Rainey (later deemed the "Godmother of the Blues") and Bessie Smith ("a legend in her own time") set the stage in the early 20th century by celebrating their unconventionality, bisexuality, and racial pride; they were also instrumental in opening up the recording industry to African-Americans. Then came Billie Holiday, who radiated a darker but equally rebellious persona; Etta James, who flaunted her sexuality and reveled in scandalous behavior; Aretha Franklin, who championed the rights of women and minorities; and Janis Joplin and Tina Turner, who carried the blues idiom into the world of rock 'n' roll. Other singers Jackson discusses (Joni Mitchell, Lucinda Williams, Whitney Houston, Patti Smith, Lauryn Hill, Courtney Love) are not necessarily blues singers in the traditional sense, but they are, she says, the inheritors of the blues women's legacy of female empowerment. By celebrating the genre's "bad women" as forces for positive social change, Jackson gives blues fans a refreshing new perspective. Illus. not seen by PW
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The blues is about a feeling, it is often said. It's also about a way of looking at the world steeped in sorrow yet overflowing with life. Jackson traces the lives and influence of female blues singers, black and white, and celebrates the power of their music, which has been overlooked, she says. The women she limns, including pioneers Mamie Desdoumes, Ma Rainey, and Bessie Smith, jazz singers Billie Holiday and Etta James, and eventually pop singers Tina Turner, Aretha Franklin, and Janis Joplin, refused to follow the rules about how women should behave in society. The blues allowed women to express emotions and points of view to general American culture when women had little say outside the home, and women's blues constitute a commentary about the often-complicated lives of women in an era of great social change. In conclusion, Jackson insists that the legacy of the blues lives on in contemporary performers' music and attitude toward life. Hence, she finds a blues sensibility--a struggle for emotional freedom--even in Joni Mitchell. June SawyersCopyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved