Synopses & Reviews
—the synonym of choice among the cognoscenti for rhythm and blues—is a stylish and profound meditation on the art, influence, and commerce of black American popular music. At once deeply knowing and keenly observant, Arthur Kempton reveals the tensions between the sacred and the profane at the heart of “soul music,” and the complex centrality of “Aframericans” in the evolution of our mass musical culture. What that culture is all about, who owns it, and who gets paid—these are issues of moment in his epic narrative.
Kempton brilliantly traces the interconnections among a century’s worth of signal personalities, events, and achievements: from Thomas A. Dorsey, the so-called Father of Gospel Music, whose career (“Got to Know How to Work Your Show”) sheds light on Mahalia Jackson, Aretha Franklin, and James Brown, among
others, to the rise of that “handsome Negro lad,” Sam Cooke (perhaps the greatest of soul singers) and his definitive crossover dreams; from Berry Gordy Jr.’s infatuation with Doris Day and his sharp business plan to capture and exploit the sounds of young America through Motown (“It’s What’s in the Grooves That Counts”) to the founding of Stax Records and Memphis Soul by a white farm kid who grew up dreaming of being a country fiddler; from the visionary funk of George Clinton to the ascendancy of hip hop (“Sharecropping in Wonderland”), the murders of Tupac Shakur and Biggie Smalls, and the story of Death Row Records.
Boogaloo is a monumental work, informed by a rare fierceness of intellect, which debunks many a myth and canard about our popular music heritage even as it enlarges our understanding of its quintessence.
"[A] grand and sweeping survey....[Kempton] masterfully narrates the careers of several musicians who played key roles in establishing the legacy of boogaloo." Publishers Weekly
"There are no photos or discography, and a companion CD would have been wonderful. Yet the text, in its way, is significant. Funky, detailed, and, with elbows thrust out, it's all rock-and-roll." Kirkus Reviews
"Kempton...believes the black church has been disgracefully shortchanged by pop historiography in favor of blues and, ultimately, rock. One of Boogaloo's reasons for being is to right this wrong." Robert Christgau, The Los Angeles Times
"Kempton is not unlike a jazz musician, riffing on familiar melodies while looking to make original statements about great 'Aframerican' music...and its continuing struggle for respect and fair pay..." Richard Harrington, The Washington Post
"Though relying heavily on a few secondary sources...[Kempton] successfully offers informed and detailed accounts of the importance of several key African American musicians and the world in which they lived. Recommended." Library Journal
"Kempton...delivers an astute and witty account of his subject, with a particular emphasis on the business machinations that dominated the creation of boogaloo....[T]here is plenty in Boogaloo
to set the mind and heart alight, as well as some flashes of brilliance and originality rare in music writing today." Mark Kidel, Times Literary Supplement
(read the entire Times Literary Supplement review
Boogaloo: of course, a popular dance of the late sixties, but really the synonym of choice for soul music or rhythm and blues among the cognoscenti; the word sweetly conjures the miscegenetic essence of American culture.
A stylish and profound scholar of African-American popular culture, among other accomplishments, Arthur Kempton gives us a book that, in form and substance, is unlike any other. To tell the story of black Americans in the 20th century, he deftly interweaves in Boogaloo five narrative strands by turns, his contrapuntal themes being the lives and times of Thomas Dorsey, "the Father of Gospel Music"; Sam Cooke, perhaps the greatest soul singer ever; Berry Gordy, creator of Motown and popular music entrepreneur par excellence; funk visionary George Clinton; and the "slim shady" triumph of hip-hop.
Engaging and sharp, Boogaloo offers a refreshing, cliche-free perspective on the relationship between blacks and whites in the Formation of a common American culture.
"Boogaloo" is the synonym of choice for soul music, or rhythm-and-blues, among the cognoscenti. In this far-reaching study, Kempton reveals the tensions between the sacred and profane at the heart of soul music and the centrality of blacks in America's popular music and culture. 40 illustrations.
About the Author
Arthur Kempton was born in Princeton, New Jersey, and received a B. A. in English from Harvard. He has been a radio disk jockey, deputy superintendent of Boston's public school system, and an educational consultant. A frequent contributor to The New York Review of Books, he lives in Brooklyn, New York.
Table of Contents
Pt. I Sightseers in Beulah: Original Soul - Thomas A. Dorsey, Sam Cooke, and the Classic Age of Boogaloo 1
1 Rock in a Weary Land 3
2 Got to Know How to Work Your Show 28
3 A Handsome Negro Lad 64
4 Feet Strike Zion 98
5 Both Ends Against the Middle 122
6 Star Time at the Regal 145
7 B Movie Souled Out 166
Pt. II First I Look at the Purse: Motown and Memphis 191
8 Family Values 193
9 Tall Cotton 227
10 It's What's in the Grooves That Counts 253
11 Crackers and Flies 287
12 The Further You Look the Less You See 319
Pt. III Negribusiness: Sharecropping in Wonderland: George Clinton and Hip-Hop 353
13 Urban Legends 355
14 Ready to Spread 382
15 Two Tears in a Bucket 415
Selected Bibliography 465