BHM:Black Women Songstresses And Social Commentary

I am so cranky today, I needed some music and so today’s black herstory month post goes out to some of the female musicians who spoke out about oppression:

Ertha Kitt – I wanna be evil

Refusing to accept gender boxes, Miss Kitt sang the truth of most of us “good girls” who know that femme is not synonymous with vanilla and who work our good girl outsides with are little evil girls dancing in our hearts.

Alicia Keys – Superwoman

This beautiful song turns the idea of superwomen on its head by celebrating hardworking mothers, working class women, black women scientists, queens, survivors, etc. rather than praising a woman for sacrificing herself and her dreams for the success of others. Keys reminds us that we have always been superwomen and part of our heroism is survival, the strength to follow our dreams, and to choose to care for those around us.

Ethel Waters – Miss Otis Regrets

This song was written by Cole Porter and performed by Ethel Waters in 1936 it is about an upperclasswoman who fails to get help to stop her violent husband, so she stops him herself.

Jill Scott – Hate on Me

This powerful big black woman said it better than I can “You cannot hate on me ‘cos my mind is free.” Jill Scott reminds us that as long as you know who you are and you are being real that no one tearing you down matters.

Nina Simone – Mississippi Goddam

Simone wrote this song in 1964 after a series of critical moments in the Civil Rights movement that pushed her to the point of breaking. She cited the Alabama bombing that killed 4 little girls in a church, the killing of Medger Evers, and the ongoing struggles in Mississippi and she said “I suddenly realized what it was like to be black in America in 1963 . . . it came as a rush of fury, hatred, and determination.” What I love about that quote is that she, lke Lorde after her, understood that rage can be productive if channeled into social justice action. To me this is one of the major differences between radicals and liberals (as well as sell outs) b/c we neither suppress nor apologize for our rage, instead harnessing it, and riding it to a better place.

Zap mama & Erykah Badu – Bandy Bandy

While this may appear to miss the mark in terms of social commentary, I would argue that women, especially women of color, are taught to be disassociated from their bodies and that many black women’s empowerment circles (be they bloggers on walks, collectives arising from sexist events on campus, or cultural centers and/or libraries, or retreat centers around this country) all have getting back in touch with your body and what it is telling you as part of the healing work we must do. So does this song talk about the oppressions that cause disasociation? Nope. But it does remind you that in the place where wind blows over sand, we used to know.

Aretha Franklin – RESPECT

This song was an anthem to women everywhere as well as a motto for so many who struggled from the margins.  It was recorded in 1967 and has been sung, recorded, and featured in concerts, films, documentaries, etc. well into the present.

India Arie – I am Not My Hair

Arie breaks down the connections between beauty, colonialism, and hair and its legacy for the African American community. It came to mind today partially because of a moment last night when my mother called and said “I found a picture of the Obama girls with their real hair!  I’m sending it to you!” and this morning in class when one of my radical black students walked in with a t-shirt that said “No you can’t touch it!” which made several of us laugh outloud while others in the room shifted uncomfortably in their seats.

Bob Andy & Marcia – Young, Gifted, and Black

I loved this song. My sister and I used to sing this one while bopping down the street on errands. It wasn’t until much later that I learned Nina Simone had written the song after seeing A Raisin in the Sun.  All I knew was that it made me feel happy about the world and about myself.

Janet Jackson and Missy Elliot – Son of Gun

Me and the boys used to rock this one.  It was a song about female empowerment and kicking players to the curb.

Billy Holiday – Ain’t Nobody’s Business if I do

Lady Day told everyone that she could do what she wanted and nobody talkin’ about her was going to change it. If she didn’t want to chase middle class respectability it did not make her any less powerful a woman. She championed love, freedom, and happiness in this song and it became the anthem for coming into ones own for many women.

Lauryn Hill – I Get Out

Decrying the power of women to get out of systems of oppression ranging from sexism to racism to classism and colonialism, Lauryn reminded us all no matter how tightly crossed the wires of the cage are we can all sing. (This is also one of the most powerful songs against DSV I have heard in the last 3-5 years.)

So what are your black herstory songs?

One thought on “BHM:Black Women Songstresses And Social Commentary

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