Cover image for A change is gonna come : music, race & the soul of America
A change is gonna come : music, race & the soul of America
Werner, Craig Hansen, 1952-
Personal Author:
Publication Information:
New York, N.Y. : Plume, [1998]

Physical Description:
xviii, 430 pages ; 23 cm
Format :


Call Number
Material Type
Home Location
Item Holds
ML3479 .W47 1998 Adult Non-Fiction Non-Fiction Area
ML3479 .W47 1998 Adult Non-Fiction Open Shelf
ML3479 .W47 1998 Adult Non-Fiction Black History Non-Circ

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Chronicles more than 40 years of contemporary black music, from the hopeful, angry refrains of the freedom movement to the slick pop of Motown; from Woodstock to the war in Vietnam and the race riots that inspired Marvin Gaye to write What's Going On'; from the disco inferno to the Million Man March. 'This book is urgently needed: a comprehensive look at the various forms of black popular music, both as music and as seen in a larger social context. No one can do this better than Craig Werner.' - Henry Louis Gates Jr'

Reviews 3

Booklist Review

Werner's essays are wide-ranging but not scattered, at worst blurring details, such as the precise meaning of the Rastafarian phrase "I and I," in the interests of conciseness and flow. His observations and semiotic connections prove insightful. He maintains that "black music provides a clear vision of how we might begin to come to terms with the burdens of our shared history" and "the best way to get a sense of what black music offers is to follow its story through the decades that have shaped the world we live in today." So he examines various musicians and styles in topical chapters: "Motown: Money, Magic, and the Mask," "Sly in the Smoke," "P-Funkentelechy," "Disco Sucks" (of course), etc. Occasionally esoteric, the book is still an excellent aid in placing figures as different as Mahalia Jackson, James Brown, Jimi Hendrix, and Tupac Shakur in social and historical context. Werner's exceptional "playlist" of recommended songs continues the main text's focus by considering even the Righteous Brothers in terms of black music and social change. --Mike Tribby

Publisher's Weekly Review

An ambitious and comprehensive look at the deep connection between race and music in America, Werner's book is filled with provocative insights. Why, for instance, did "funkateers and feminists, progressives and puritans, rockers and reactionaries" band together in an "unholy alliance" against disco, destroying "the last remaining musical scene that was in any sense racially mixed"Äa scene that made crossover stars of women, African-Americans and gay men? Werner (Up Around the Bend), a professor of Afro-American Studies at the University of Wisconsin, Madison, is enlightening without being overwhelming. Tracing the gospel, blues and jazz "impulses" through American, English and Jamaican music, he shows how the threads of music spun under the oppression of slavery and inequality have been woven into all types of popular and innovative music. One of the high notes of the book is his vivid description of how, as disco petered out, hip-hop and rap emerged in the burnt-out, battle-scarred terrain of the South Bronx. Cut off from the increasingly "upwardly mobile" Studio 54 scene, the locals developed their own dance music, drawing on snippets from the history of popular music and particularly on the techniques of Jamaican street-party DJs. Werner's breadth of knowledge is impressive. He writes with equal clarity aboutÄand respect forÄgospel icon Mahalia Jackson (who "placed black women and their voices at the center of the freedom struggle") and Public Enemy (who expressed a "combination of political intelligence and street realism"). In America, where most people live in spaces rigidly defined by race and ethnicity, Werner shows how music still has the power to bring people together. (Apr.) (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved

Library Journal Review

Werner (Playing the Changes: From Afro-Modernism to the Jazz Impulse, Univ. of Illinois, 1994) charts the integrative influence of African American-based music on race relations in the United States from the 1950s to the present. Generally following a chronological approach, he divides the book into 65 brief chapters that loosely relate to three major musical themes: a redemptive gospel strain, jazz innovation, and blues realism. Werner most clearly explores the link between music and race in chapters on soul, disco, funk, house, and rap, explaining the connections between Motown and the dream of Martin Luther King Jr., Public Enemy's rap against a Reaganized America, and Aretha Franklin's place in the late 1960s black power movement. At his worst, Werner drifts into academic overintellectualizations of straightforward artists and their songs and overambitiously tries to deal with the scope of African American music while ignoring most of postwar jazz. Although it sometimes resembles an uneven, disjointed series of lectures revolving around opinion rather than research, this book still offers academics and lay readers a provocative, passionate glimpse at the core meaning and effects of postwar American popular music.‘David P. Szatmary, Univ. of Washington, Seattle (c) Copyright 2010. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.