FUNK leads folks to my website more than any other search term–not Art History, not family, not anything else! The truth of the matter is that I haven’t even written much here on it because I haven’t wanted to give away too many of my pearls (tiny pearls, but pearls) of wisdom too soon. Thanks to Dr. Tony Bolden, editor of The Funk Era and Beyond: New Perspectives on Black Popular Culture, my essay “The Feminist Funk Power of Betty Davis and Renée Stout” will be published this fall in the American Studies Journal in a special funk issue, edited by Bolden. A few of the contributors, including me, will be presenting at the American Studies Association Annual Meeting in Washington, DC on Saturday, November 23 on the panel, “Groove Thang: Funk, Feminism, and Afro Beat.” I’m bringing fine art to the table, but music will be at the center of our discussions. I. Cannot. Wait.
Here is a description of our panel:
This panel, sponsored by AMSJ, seeks to address a lacuna in American music criticism. Funk music was popular between the late 1960s and early 1980s, and has been crucial to the aesthetics of hip hop and afrobeat. But despite influencing two global forms, funk has been largely ignored by scholars of American culture. The critical invisibility of funk is especially curious because the funk music epitomizes collective dissent…In his paper “Funky Drummer: Fela Kuti, James Brown, and the Invention of Afrobeat,” musicologist Alex Stewart examines the manner in which Nigerian band leader Kuti reconfigured Brown’s rhythmic patterns, modal jazz, and black nationalist politics to fashion a postcolonial aesthetic that became known as afrobeat. Key to Stewart’s concern is how Kuti synthesized elements of funk and soul to construct, albeit ironically, a form that express uniquely Pan-African ethos. Art historian Nikki Greene presents a layered discussion in which she reads feminist visual artist Renée Stout’s rewriting of feminist funk diva Betty Davis’s music. Greene argues that Davis and Stout exhibit black feminist ambitions, deliberately or not, and that both artists demonstrate in music and art, respectively, what Greene calls a “feminist funk power,” which she defines as an expressive capacity to compel viewers to rethink and reinvent conceptualizations of black female agency. Finally, Tony Bolden completes the panel by framing funk music as a locus of black vernacular epistemology. Combining research and/or methodologies from literary criticism, dance, and musicology, Bolden examines the role of the body in relation to what he calls the funk principle—the interplay between motion and emotion. He argues that this dynamism constitutes a psychosomatic method of formulating and expressing musical ideas, and demonstrates that this unique epistemological modality is essential to the music-making process in funk.
For more on Renée Stout, see her website: reneestout.com. If you want to get your hands on an LP (yes, an actual record), go to Light in the Attic Records. In 2007, the label reissued Davis’ previous three albums and a previously unreleased album (CD’s and mp3s are also available). Check out this video with the 1975 song, F.U.N.K. It aptly pays homage to the best funk rockers of all time.