40 Inspiring Icons: Black Music Greats contains forty double spread pages about some of our favourite musicians. We can follow the evolution of the blues, and its associated African American work songs, all the way through to the modern-day world of hip-hop bubble-gum electro-pop created by Nick Minaj.
Each double-page contains a small biography. We are also provided with the artist’s key dates, musical influences, a synopsis of their greatest hit, inspirational quotations and other historical or political facts. Each spread comes with a beautifully illustrated picture of the artist or group. The image is often them at their most iconic. This alone makes for utterly fascinating ‘reading’. You see the styles change to either suit the times or otherwise push the status quo. For example, Nina’s Simone’s afro hair, Flavor Flav’s giant clock necklace, Missy Elliot’s Dr Martin boots and the Egyptology of Earth Wind and Fire.
There are also highlighted ‘scandals’, and so this book doesn’t come without its difficulties. Many of the musicians represented have a political edge and look to comment on their lives through their music. This is dealt with beautifully in Marvin Gaye’s profile which comments on his album What’s Going On discussing themes of drugs, poverty and the Vietnam War. However, it would be all too easy to only focus on the themes that would have to be navigated carefully within the context of a primary classroom. For example, the flaunting of wealth and the promotion of consumerism, body as a commodity, domestic abuse, homophobia, gangs, guns and murder. It should be noted that you also have in print the use of the N-word.
This shouldn’t distract the reader from the positive examples of ‘activism’ also contained within the book. For example, the peace movement, feminism, black lives matter, working your way out of poverty and, through the inclusion of Sly & The Family Stone, the idea of equality and diversity. All are discussed and championed here.
40 Inspiring Icons: Black Music Greats is certainly a book which could spark delight, wonder, anger, sadness and debate in equal measure.
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