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Soul music and country music propel American popular culture. Using ethnomusicological tools, Shonekan examines their socio-cultural influences and consequences: the perception of and resistance to hegemonic structures from within their respective constituencies, the definition of national identity, and the understanding of the 'American Dream.'



Chapter 1. Introduction: Outside Looking In

In his 1903 seminal work, The Souls of Black Folk, African American scholar W. E. B. DuBois boldly predicted that the problem of the twentieth century would be “the problem of the color line” (3). This pronouncement was made as he was perched on that shaky threshold between the morally tragic nineteenth century and the tentatively hopeful twentieth century. As hope gave way to helplessness in the early twentieth century, in spite of valiant waves of resistance to the most violent racism and bigotry, DuBois’s statement seemed eerily prophetic as the problematic matter of race in America continued to dig its jagged roots into the receptive sociocultural soil of the United States. Once imagined as a contained field of contamination in the Deep South, historical evidence has shown that these divisive roots had spread from sea to shining sea. Discourses that revolve in complicated circles around media representations of American culture, the educational and criminal justice systems, and campaign rhetoric during voting season in the United States reveal the fruit of those racial roots, further reminding observers that DuBois’s statement may be an apt measuring stick for investigating the twenty-first century.
Stephanie Shonekan

Chapter 2. Folk Roots to Pop Masses: An Entangled History

As wide as the chasm between the two musical cultures seems today, a study of their respective aesthetic evolutions and trajectories takes one on a journey to the south, where the music emerged. Like other musical genres, both soul and country music have been shaped by the historical circumstances and the ever-changing American environment. In this chapter, I utilize relevant historical milestones to identify how the sounds of soul and country music developed as a result of the changing American sociopolitical stage.
Stephanie Shonekan

Chapter 3. Money and Media: Radio; Television; Film Representations

Purists of soul and country music often lament the state of contemporary music. They complain that the quality of the music is now so far from the essential aspects, accusing the artists of selling out to such an extent that the music no longer has the integrity that made it special and a uniquely authentic manifestation of an American cultural identity. The fact that acts like Taylor Swift and Lady Antebellum, Janelle Monae and Usher open for major shows like the Grammy Awards and the American Music Awards and reach the precious prime-time viewership signifies the distance of the journey that music has taken from the folk roots. Christmas specials now move beyond the typical quasi-jazzy Michael Buble shows to include country Christmas shows hosted by artists like Sugarland’s Jennifer Nettles. On every major television singing competition, a country star sits comfortably in a judge’s seat: Blake Shelton on The Voice, Keith Urban on American Idol, and Brad Paisley on Rising Star. As rooted as soul and country music are in the folk heritage of the American South, the journey to mass audiences has necessitated a series of consistent compromises and creativity that has landed country and soul artists in the lucrative marketing bins of popular music. Explaining this process, Harper writes that “the ‘pop’ designation is not easy to decode.
Stephanie Shonekan

Chapter 4. Race and Identity: Homies and Hillbillies

In 2013, LL Cool J and Brad Paisley collaborated on a song about the history of race in America. A hip-hop-country collaboration, the song was an attempt to bridge the void that exists in American culture. That they used a song to speak about the historical antecedents of the gap reflects the importance of pop music and its ability to communicate important ideas about race. Paisley’s lyrics explain that although he is a white Southerner, he is more than the stereotype. LL Cool J agrees with the idea that race is much deeper than skin color. He urges folks on the other side to look beyond his doo rag and promises not to judge the red/Confederate flag. There is the hope in these lyrics that in the twenty-first century the American society has reached or should have reached a point at which people are viewed by the content of their character and not by the color of their skin. This is an ideal that is both lovely and lofty, a notion that has dominated the rhetoric of the great twentieth-century civil rights leaders. Within the context of the United States, race is a natural occurrence. Cornel West explains that “without the presence of black people in America, European-Americans would not be “white”—they would be Irish, Italians, Poles, Welsh, and other engaged in class, ethnic, and gender struggles over resources and identity” (Race Matters, 107).
Stephanie Shonekan

Chapter 5. Gender and Relationships: Women and Femininity

Even though men dominate the scene in American popular music, women play an active and important role in creating and disseminating the music that has formed the backdrop of American life, from folk roots to manifestations in pop culture. As with everything else in American culture—and indeed world culture—deeply entrenched patriarchal values impact the appearance of women on the scene. In my fan database, there were twice as many men cited as favorite artists on both soul and country music surveys. In 2013, the Grand Ole Opry listed 18 women on its list of 66 inductees, just 27 percent of the list of artists deemed worthy of the honor. Similarly, the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, a platform for artists who have excelled in several genres including R & B and soul music, lists 53 women out of 681 inductees, roughly 8 percent of the total.
Stephanie Shonekan

Chapter 6. Semiotics and Songs: Visual and Oral Meanings

The adage that music is a universal language, as ideal as it sounds and as grounded in good intentions as it may be, is correct only to the extent that music as a general concept is a language that acts like any other human language. We generally know when we hear music that it is music, but we do not understand what the music truly means unless we are members of the particular culture or have learned the musical language of that unique environment. Different world musics cannot be “universally” understood; instead, they are distinct expressions of the communities that create them. The expression of stories and sentiments in soul and country music is a critical element of communication between artists and audiences who emerge from the specific identities and spaces discussed earlier. There is an expected mode and manner of communication, a proper visual and oral language, that is understood by all shareholders of these musical cultures. That language sprouts from the foundation of the respective cultures, with specific registers that must convey understood messages between all parties concerned. If soul and country music have their specific audiences, the music is framed by a specialized language.
Stephanie Shonekan

Chapter 7. Politics and Power: Left or Right

The argument that popular music has no depth or intent beyond satisfying fickle youth tastes falls flat when the impact of political messages contained in music are considered. Throughout its t enure as the United States’ most defining cultural expression, American popular music has taken on political issues, tones, and campaigns that resonate with each representative market and constituency. The fact that popular music is intended for profitable mass markets means that each genre must meet the specific social, cultural, and political needs of the fans. Anand and Peterson confirm this: “Choosing an appropriate political tone is critical to framing market information, because frames need to make sense to key constituents within organizational fields” (272). Woody Guthrie’s iconic guitar label “This Machine Kills Fascists” was a symbol of one important Americana musician’s intent to tell stories and meet the people’s need for social commentary. Many artists, both black and white, were inspired by Guthrie’s persona that combined musical genius and political punditry. Critiquing the social landscape, which was a central aspect of Americana/folk music, remains critical in soul and country music, even though it may manifest its political leanings and objectives in different ways.
Stephanie Shonekan

Chapter 8. Religion and Faith: Jesus Walks or Takes the Wheel

In 1981, Ray Charles and Johnny Cash collaborated on “Why Me Lord,” a song written by Kris Kristofferson that the two stars soaked in a cross between black gospel and Christian Baptist singing styles. After the playful piano introduction that comes straight out of the black church, the deep clear voice of Cash begins the song, asking God what he has done to deserve the blessings in his life. Then Ray joins him, providing a higher register to result in a beautifully melodious plea to Jesus to explain what they, as sinners, have done to deserve everything they have. Charles throws in heartfelt ad libs to create the spontaneity one might find in a black church. In the interlude that follows, Charles bursts forth with his trademark jazz-blues piano, an exuberant and soulful line that connects each line of each verse. As the song draws to a close, the voices of Charles and Cash are united as they sing of a devotion and resolve to walk forward with the knowledge that they need “Him.” The song is a beautifully produced, simple reminder that one of the shared spaces for soul and country music is the church.
Stephanie Shonekan

Chapter 9. Conclusion: The American Dream

At the beginning of this book, as I began to conceptualize soul and country music, I utilized the metaphor of two rivers leading to a confluence where they join and pour into a delta that leads into a massive ocean. I chose this metaphor because it seemed to fit what I think of as the dynamic journeys of these two musical cultures, each moving along on its own course and meeting at certain points during the journey. The choice was also personal because I have approached this study as an outsider and when I think about my home country, Nigeria, I visualize the two major rivers—the Niger and the Benue—which serve as geographic markers that divide up the country along cultural and ethnic lines. These divisions are both political and physical as historical events have interrupted the dreams of complete unification, an ideal that has been an enduring desire of this multiethnic nation that has had only about 60 years to wrestle with post-colonial identity and independence.
Stephanie Shonekan


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