American Culture Studies Ph.D. Dissertations

Title

I'm Every (Black) Woman: Negotiating Intersectionality in the Music Industry

Date of Award

2021

Document Type

Dissertation

Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (Ph.D.)

Department

American Culture Studies

First Advisor

Katherine Meizel (Advisor)

Second Advisor

Lee Nickoson (Other)

Third Advisor

Radhika Gajjala (Committee Member)

Fourth Advisor

Angela M. Nelson (Committee Member)

Abstract

Black women singers have often been lauded and emulated for their musical talents, but also have been regulated to the lower level of societal hierarchy in the music industry. They had to endure racialized and gendered power structures in the field that positioned white men at the top where they had the authority to make music-industry related decisions, white women who achieved success often on the backs of black women’s labor, and black men who took credit in the music-creating process. While this is standard in the music industry for quite some time, there has been long history of this hierarchy in social phenomena such as the institution of slavery, the women’s suffrage movement, the Civil Rights Movement, and the second/third/fourth-wave feminist movement. In both the music industry and social history, black women had to create and maintain agency against these power structures. This dissertation explores how the concept of intersectionality, coined by critical race theorist Kimberle Crenshaw in 1989, informs the way black women singers navigated their identity through the music industry. Incorporating historical context of the social phenomena that was mentioned above, this dissertation also takes a cross section of black women singers from both different eras and genres of music (Willie Mae “Big Mama” Thornton, Nina Simone, Janet Jackson, Janelle Monae, and Lizzo) in illustrating the narrative on how that they used their personal intersectional experiences in the music industry to fight against racism and sexism in the music industry.

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