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The Death of Rhythm and Blues Paperback – August 15, 2003


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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Slicing through the main layers of the world of R & B, George, music critic for Billboard and Playboy , profiles his personal heroes in the recent history of black musicespecially in the evolution of black radio, the growth of independent record labels and the development of retail outlets for R & B records. Here are perceptive summations of the contributions of such star creative performers as Chuck Berry, James Brown, Aretha Franklin and Michael Jackson, as well as of lesser-known musicians, and of the links between black social and economic affairs and the changes in contemporary black culture. Above all, George examines the business of black music and probes the ways in which it has affected the "symptoms of illness" in R & B. He is convinced that "black America's assimilationist obsession is heading it straight toward cultural suicide." Photos not seen by PW.
Copyright 1988 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

From Library Journal

George, music editor at Billboard and contributor to Playboy and the Village Voice , has written a provocative book describing how white society has changed black music. Providing as much a cultural as a musical history, he takes the extreme view that black music has become so assimilated into white culture that it is near destruction. In response, he urges blacks to achieve integration and practical power by becoming more self-sufficient, politically and economically. An important and perceptive book. Daniel J. Lombardo, Jones Lib., Inc., Amherst, Mass.
Copyright 1988 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
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Product Details

  • Paperback: 256 pages
  • Publisher: Penguin Books; Reprint edition (August 15, 2003)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0142004081
  • ISBN-13: 978-0142004081
  • Product Dimensions: 6 x 0.5 x 9 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 9.6 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 3.9 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (15 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #160,087 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

Nelson George is an author/filmmaker who specializes in documenting and celebrating African-American culture. As an author he's written several classic black music histories, including Where Did Our Love Go?: The Rise and Fall of the Motown Sound, The Death of Rhythm & Blues and Hip Hop America. He also edited The James Brown Reader, an anthology of articles about the late Godfather of Soul. His current novel, The Plot Against Hip Hop, has a musical theme. He contributed major articles on the films The Help and Pariah to The New York Times Arts & Leisure section in 2011. As a filmmaker George has directed the HBO film Life Support, and has two documentaries debuting in 2012: Brooklyn Boheme on Showtime and The Announcement: Magic Johnson on ESPN. George's web site is www.nelsondgeorge.net.

Customer Reviews

3.9 out of 5 stars

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

38 of 40 people found the following review helpful By Drew Hammond on March 2, 2000
Format: Mass Market Paperback
Nelson George's arguments are clear, well-organized, and powerful. While reading, I was forced to look at things differently than I ever had before. The ideological vision of integration is an honorable one, but the simple fact demonstrated in The Death of Rhythm & Blues is that integration is forever indebted to black utility for white profit. It is likely that race relations in this country would be quite different if whites had not benefited from the talent and ingenuity of black athletes and performers in such a profitable fashion. This is ground that history teachers rarely, if ever, tread on. It is quite tragic to know that the unique and powerful black culture from which basically all popular music is derived, can be so easily forgotten or ignored. George's position is most intriguing in that it reminded me that history may belong to the teller, but there are many stories to be told. I consider myself fortunate to have heard this one.
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21 of 26 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on August 22, 1998
Format: Mass Market Paperback
I've read a lot of books on musical roots in the last 30 years...to understand what really happened in the history of black music in America you have to understand what went down for the African-American in a white controlled enviroment. Mr. George holds nothing back and lets true history smack us all in the face. I would like to comment on a couple of points relating to white men playing black-roots music. Nelson commented that although Elvis was totally involved in black music ( and hair styles, clothe,etc.) that he essentially became a "wimp". I feel his material got wimpy, because of the white-music-machine & Tom Parker..but,I beleive the inner Elvis had "soul" in it's truest form. Then Nelsons examples of white boys who actually could play the blues 1. Eric Clapton, who I find leaves me cold with the text-book perfect licks pumped out with computer accuracy & 2. Johnny Winter, who to my ear does the classic wanna-be style playing of "more- notes-faster"...typical of the white boy trying so hard to over compensate, that it loses what it was all about in the first place, FEELING! These are just small things that bugged me a bit...the book is not about white boys wanting to play black music...it has a much deeper and more important message...a very eye openning look at reality in the music buisness and the black experience...I will continue to read Nelson George, he is saying things I'd like my children to understand. People deserve to here the truth.
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25 of 33 people found the following review helpful By snaredrumfan on December 22, 2010
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
The thing that bothers me about books like this is, disco gets ALL the blame for the demise of "black music" but rap/hiphop always gets a free pass.
No I don't like it that disco seemed to take over & knock the superior Funk genre out of the way but at least in disco, people were still playing INSTRUMENTS.
What is considered R&B,since the mid 90s is basically just beats & nothing more.
There is nothing in this book expressing dismay at the thought of DJs & sampling replacing LIVE BANDS,which is the true death of R&B.
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6 of 7 people found the following review helpful By Jerry on February 26, 2011
Format: Paperback
Nelson George's best work, the book he was born to write. His most sincere and true book, everything else he has done seems experimental. I read somewhere that he was influenced by Leroi Jones. His admiration of Leroi Jones' Blues People shows through and through. If you enjoyed The Death of Rhythm and Blues, then you would enjoy Blues People: it reads like a prequel to the Death of Rhythm and Blues.

Sadly both writers were content in becoming 'black writers' and perhaps it couldn't have been avoided. One wishes that Nelson George and Leroi Jones (since calling himself Amiri Baraka) would have followed up with biographies of some of the great musicians.
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2 of 3 people found the following review helpful By Da6cents on March 14, 2010
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
Great and informative book on the pre and post world war I history of Black music. It is said that 'history repeats itself for those who refuse to study it'. Thus, this book actually gave me a historical understanding as to why Hip Hop is in the state it's currently in (dying). The only issue I had with it is that Nelson ends the book on the issue of Hip Hop when its obvious he hasn't quite done the proper homework. There was no mention of Kool Herc or Bambaata as the originators of the art form and instead the credit is given to DJ Hollywood declaring the "rap started in the discos" (it actually started in the STREETS of the bronx at least 10 years before it found it's way into the discos). HOWEVER, roughly 10 years later, Nelson authors 'Hip Hop America' (which I'm currently reading) and (so far) totally redeems himself. He has used the time wisely to reflect on his own historical relationship with the art form (having been one of the first, if not THE first, journalists to cover Hip Hop in 1979 - not to mention his monumental Source interview with 'the 3 Fathers of Hip Hop', Kool Herc, Afrika Bambaata and Grand Master Flash) and accurately depicts Hip Hop's organic and humble beginnings.

Still 'The Death of Rhythm and Blues' is a MUST-READ for anyone seriously concerned about the future of Black music as well as the the Black community for, as Nelson bluntly puts it, "it is clear that Black America's assimilationist obsession is heading it straight towards cultural suicide" .
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