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Just My Soul Responding: Rhythm and Blues, Black Consciousness, and Race Relations Paperback – July 6, 1998

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Addressing a gathering of black DJs in Atlanta in 1967, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. said: "In a real sense you have paved the way for social and political change by creating a powerful, cultural bridge between black and white.... You introduced youth to that music and created a language of soul and promoted the dances which now sweep across race, class and nation." "That music" was rhythm and blues, and Brian Ward uses King's quote to further the premise of his fascinating book, Just My Soul Responding: Rhythm and Blues, Black Consciousness, and Race Relations: that the music moved not only the feet of listeners, but their hearts and minds as well.

But as with nearly anything associated with race relations in the U.S., there is a flip side to this record, and Ward offers ample evidence that suggests R&B also served to reinforce white stereotypes of blacks and promoted continued segregation. As he points out, many of the same white fans who packed venues to see Chuck Berry, Ray Charles, and Aretha Franklin never supported the notion of equal rights or integration. In other words, entertainment was fine as long as it didn't challenge the status quo. It is precisely this lack of acceptance--combined with the snail's pace of civil rights legislation--that led to the emergence of the Black Power movement and the concurrent rise of funk and soul, the self-consciously inclusive offspring of R&B originally geared specifically for black audiences. Of course, the fact that James Brown's "Say it Loud, I'm Black and I'm Proud" or Curtis Mayfield's "People Get Ready" carried undeniably political messages for blacks didn't mean the average white music fan couldn't "get up, get into it and get involved." Ward's insistence on this point clearly suggests, despite his attempt at objectivity, that he believes the music made a difference.

Ward's coverage of R&B stretches from the release of the Chords' single "Sh-Boom" in 1954 through the mid-1970s, so it is far from a complete history of the genre, but his work is to be applauded for both its ambition and enthusiasm. Though his theorizing may wear thin at times, Just My Soul Responding is exhaustively researched (the notes and sources stretch nearly 100 pages) and packed with the kind of anecdotes that music lovers will savor. Particularly adept coverage of Chuck Berry, James Brown, Parliament-Funkadelic, Motown founder Berry Gordy, and the roles of many other prominent artists who either supported and avoided the civil rights cause stand out as some of the book's highlights. In all, a rousing hybrid of history, social commentary, and the literate liner notes of an ardent fan. --Shawn Carkonen

Review

...an account that is evenhanded and common-sensical but also committed and felt ... an uncommonly comprehensive introduction to the formative decades of black rock-and-roll... -- The New York Times Book Review, Robert Christgau
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Product Details

  • Paperback: 576 pages
  • Publisher: University of California Press (July 6, 1998)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0520212983
  • ISBN-13: 978-0520212985
  • Product Dimensions: 6 x 1.5 x 9 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.2 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 5.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (6 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,099,266 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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8 of 8 people found the following review helpful By Soulboogiealex on May 6, 2006
Format: Paperback
Brian Ward is currently teaching "The Southern Civil Rights Movement" at the University of Florida. As a scholar his knowledge on the civil rights movement is exhaustive. Not only that, Ward knows his music. In Just My Soul responding Ward displays extensive knowledge of black music ranging from fifties R&B and Doo Wop to seventies Funk & Soul. Not surprisingly Ward has written several publications on the relation between mass media and the civil rights struggle.

"Just My Soul Responding" focuses on the relation between the struggle and Black music, and black popular music to be precise. Ward doesn't take Jazz into his analyses by stating that this was music for the intellectual crowd. Ward is more interested in the influence popular music had on the advance of the movement and what it meant for race relations.

The strength of this publication lies in the fact that it's not burdened by a drive to prove cultural imperialism. Some scholars on the subject of black music at times tend to get blinded in their effort to show how the white co operations tried to steal or destroy black music. Although Ward acknowledges such mechanisms, he paints a much more subtle picture. Ward shows us how black and white music influenced each other, that the lines weren't always as sharp as they seemed. Most tellingly is his analysis of Southern Soul, now often seen as the epiphany of black music. Ward dissect Southern Soul and shows how much of it is actually a multi-racial effort. A lot of the music was backed by integrated bands. White musicians brought Country into Soul and vice versa. Ward doesn't take the road of easy analyses but tries to pierce the way segregation worked, and how far it extended.
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8 of 8 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on September 28, 2000
Format: Paperback
I found this book informative and readable; a thoroughly documented guide to black music in the 50s, 60s and 70s by someone who is evidently a fan yet who does not allow his passion for the music to lead him into simplification or wishful thinking. Some parts of the book are a very useful corrective to this tendency in other books I have read - for example his treatment of black consumption of white music. He is particularly interesting on the subject of the sexual politics of the music and its relation to the social and political background. An accessible and entertaining book which maintains scholastic rigour throughout and is never guilty of sloppiness or turgidity.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful By James V. Holton on August 9, 2004
Format: Paperback
Dr. Ward's work adds much needed academic perspective on America's cultural history. This is not a book you can just breeze through, but the payoff is high. Dr. Ward writes with a true passion for the music as well as a subtle wit.
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