It's Black Music Month
Let's talk music, but as books.
This month is Black Music Month, and it's a great time to celebrate the paths, contributions, and legacy created by black artists of the past and the present. For the month, here is a synopsis of the celebration via the White House's press release:
Intricately woven into the tapestry of our Nation, Black music enriches our lives and pushes the boundaries of creativity. Throughout the decades and across the country, Black music has fueled a myriad of genres — from rhythm and blues to jazz, gospel, country, rap, and more. This month, we celebrate the extraordinary legacy of Black music on American culture and recognize the indelible impact it continues to have on the world.
For generations, Black music has conveyed the hopes and struggles of a resilient people — spirituals mourning the original sin of slavery and later heralding freedom from bondage, hard truths told through jazz and the sounds of Motown during the Civil Rights movement and hip-hop and rhythm and blues that remind us of the work that still lies ahead. The music created by Black artists continues to influence musicians of all persuasions, entertain people of all backgrounds, and shape the story of our Nation.
During Black Music Appreciation Month, we honor Black musicians, singers, and contributors to the music industry — past and present — whose innovative talents unite us in joy and sorrow and healing. We pay homage to the musical legends whose artistic expressions help build community, generate empathy, and foster a sense of shared identity. And we celebrate Black artists who have used their songs to stand up to injustice, fight for equality, and reflect a mirror on society — reminding us all of our enduring obligations to deliver the promise of America for all Americans.
That being said, I could go down a list of all the black artists that I love, but I wanted to do something different and highlight one of my favorite genres of books: memoirs on musicians. Below, I shared some of my favorite books that I think you should check out. I also did two things because your girl is a little:
I told you a little extra, but both are worthwhile if I say so myself. Nonetheless, let’s get into it. If you have any recs not captured below, please share them in the comments.
After the Dance: My Life with Marvin Gaye by Jan Gaye and David Ritz
As you journey through my list of suggestions, you will see a few books about Marvin Gaye on the list. Marvin is, hands down, my favorite musician to read about. What a beautiful and troubled soul he was. This book chronicles his relationship with ex-wife Jan Gaye and their odd and tumultuous relationship.
Divided Soul: The Life of Marvin Gaye by David Ritz
Honestly, any book written by David Ritz should make its way on your to-read list. David has a way of crafting narratives and weaving together his subject's stories beautifully. Marvin commissioned David to write his memoir for this book, but he passed away. This book speaks to Marvin's life, career, and the odd and fatal relationship between him and his father.
Mercy, Mercy Me: The Art, Loves and Demons of Marvin Gaye by Michael Eric Dyson
Similar to the book above, this book looks at Marvin's rise, fame, and ultimate death at the hands of his father. I remember reading this book and making tons of highlights while reading.
Glow: The Autobiography of Rick James by Rick James
My friend recommended this book to me, and let me tell you, Rick James was a WILD boy. Yes, we all know this iconic moment in time:
Which made a trickle-down of this iconic moment:
BUT you HAVE to read this book. I learned so much about Rick and his musical journey while reading this book, and I loved reading about his songwriting process, escapades, and even the story of "Party All The Time," the Eddie Murphy song, that I had no idea he wrote.
Mo' Metta Blues The World According to Questlove by Questlove
This was a great read from now Oscar winner Questlove. One of the things that I appreciate most about Quest is his love of music and the random stories that he tells. If you don't listen to his podcast Questlove Supreme, I highly recommend it. This book almost reads like the podcast before the podcast, with more personal stories from Quest.
Born to Use Mics: Reading Nas' Illmatic by Michael Eric Dyson
Again a book by Michael Eric Dyson made its place on my list, but I found this book to be pretty interesting. This book includes different perspectives and essays about the iconic album Illmatic from Nas. At parts, I got a little lost in a few essays BUT what I loved about this book was that it made me listen to the album differently. I would recommend this book to any hip-hop lover or music lover.
Coltrane on Coltrane by Chris Devito
This book is a collection of interviews from Coltrane himself, and I loved that it felt almost like a memoir and a lengthy interview mixed.
The Autobiography of Gucci Mane by Gucci Mane
This book was much better than I thought. I will be honest; I wanted to read this book because it was Gucci Mane and because I like the simplicity and flair of the cover. This book was excellent. It talks a lot about his roots, his rise in music, and a lot of his life going to jail, getting out of jail, and trying to start over. This book also made me appreciate him more because I've always been a Jeezy girl more than a Gucci girl, so I think I missed out on a lot of his grind.
The Marathon Don't Stop: The Life & Times of Nipsey Hussle by Rob Kenner
RIP Nipsey Hussle - I loved this book. I may have told this story before, but I once met Nipsey Hussle at Roscoe's. I told my uncle that I loved him, and he got his attention and had him come over. He was so lovely and humble and said to me that he appreciated the support, and since that day, I have remained a fan. This book shines a light on the interactions that Nipsey had with people. The book also looks at his upbringing, thirst for knowledge, impact, investments in the community and people, and ultimately his death.
Will by Will Smith
People have mixed feelings about Will Smith now following his odd Oscar physical, and verbal outburst (it's still not on me, chile), but this book was such a dope read. We learn about Will's family life, relationships, acting career, and music career in the book. Some of his stories about his music journey with Jazzy Jeff made for a great read. From what I heard, I will say that most people said the audiobook version of this was perfect. I liked reading it in print, but if you can, I would suggest listening to it on Audible or B&N's version, which is pretty cheap right now. (also, it's audiobook month too)
The Meaning of Mariah of Carey by Mariah Carey
Keeping up with the theme of audiobooks, Mariah Carey's memoir, The Meaning of Mariah Carey, was a great listen. This was the first audiobook I ever listened to and finished as audiobooks make me feel like Morgan Freeman is reading to me, but this was a great read. I think something about hearing Mariah tell the stories of her life or her friendship with Da Brat and her romantic flings had me sipping my tea. Also, there were parts throughout the audiobook where she sang lyrics from different songs—honestly, chef's kiss.
Dilla Time: The Life & Afterlife of J Dilla, The Hip Hop Producer by Dan Charnas
I read this book a few months ago and highly recommend it. Similar to my review of Born to Use Mics, this book should be necessary reading for any follower of J. Dilla and any hip-hop or music lover in general. There's so much history in this book, and it also shines a light on things about J.Dilla I didn't know, like his upbringing and some of his origin story.
Shine Bright: A Personal History of Black Women in Pop by Danyel Smith
A few additional books that I have on my list that I haven't read yet:
It was All a Dream: Biggie and the World That Made Him by Justin Tinsley
The Butterfly Effect: How Kendrick Lamar Ignited the Soul of Black America by Marcus J. Moore
Let Love Rule by Lenny Kravitz and David Ritz
Luther: The Life and Longing of Luther Vandross by Craig Seymour
That’s it for this week!