Rock Your Giving

2022 Ralph J. Gleason Music Book Award

Honoring the finest books on popular music from around the world, the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame, New York University’s Clive Davis Institute of Recorded Music, and The Pop Conference have announced the 2022 Ralph J. Gleason Music Book Award Winners.

Fifteen works were selected showcasing the exciting and diverse landscape of writing on popular music from books on blues, hip-hop, and rock to historical analysis, a biography, and two autobiographies.  From this shortlist, 3 winners were selected and honored. 

The Winners

First Place

Liner Notes for the Revolution: The Intellectual Life of Black Feminist Sound by Daphne A. Brooks 

“It’s a real honor to receive the 2022 Ralph J. Gleason Music Book Award for Liner Notes for the Revolution: The Intellectual Life of Black Feminist Sound,” said first-place winner Daphne A. Brooks. “This is a book that, in many ways, owes much to the inroads in journalism forged by the pioneering Gleason and a generation of critics who wrote with color, character, passion, and rigor about popular music culture’s riveting complexity, its promise, and its prodigious power."

Daphne A. Brooks explores more than a century of music archives to examine the critics, collectors, and listeners who have determined perceptions of Black women on stage and in the recording studio. How is it possible, she asks, that iconic artists such as Aretha Franklin and Beyoncé exist simultaneously at the center and on the fringe of the culture industry? Liner Notes for the Revolution offers a startling new perspective on these acclaimed figures—a perspective informed by the overlooked contributions of other Black women concerned with the work of their musical peers. Zora Neale Hurston appears as a sound archivist and a performer, Lorraine Hansberry as a queer Black feminist critic of modern culture, and Pauline Hopkins as America’s first Black female cultural commentator. Brooks tackles the complicated racial politics of blues music recording, song collecting, and rock and roll criticism. She makes lyrical forays into the blues pioneers Bessie Smith and Mamie Smith, as well as fans who became critics, like the record-label entrepreneur and writer Rosetta Reitz. In the twenty-first century, pop superstar Janelle Monae’s liner notes are recognized for their innovations, while celebrated singers Cécile McLorin Salvant, Rhiannon Giddens, and Valerie June take their place as cultural historians. With an innovative perspective on the story of Black women in popular music—and who should rightly tell it—Liner Notes for the Revolution pioneers a long overdue recognition and celebration of Black women musicians as radical intellectuals.

 

Second Place

Singing Like Germans: Black Musicians in the Land of Bach, Beethoven, and Brahms by Kira Thurman 

In Singing Like Germans, Kira Thurman tells the sweeping story of Black musicians in German-speaking Europe over more than a century. Thurman brings to life the incredible musical interactions and transnational collaborations among people of African descent and white Germans and Austrians. Through this compelling history, she explores how people reinforced or challenged racial identities in the concert hall. Throughout the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, audiences assumed the categories of Blackness and Germanness were mutually exclusive. Yet on attending a performance of German music by a Black musician, many listeners were surprised to discover that German identity is not a biological marker but something that could be learned, performed, and mastered. While Germans and Austrians located their national identity in music, championing composers such as Bach, Beethoven, and Brahms as national heroes, the performance of their works by Black musicians complicated the public's understanding of who had the right to play them. Audiences wavered between seeing these musicians as the rightful heirs of Austro-German musical culture and dangerous outsiders to it. Thurman explores the tension between the supposedly transcendental powers of classical music and the global conversations that developed about who could perform it. An interdisciplinary and transatlantic history, Singing Like Germans suggests that listening to music is not a passive experience, but an active process where racial and gendered categories are constantly made and unmade.

 

Third Place 

Songbooks: The Literature of American Popular Music by Eric Weisbard 

In Songbooks, critic and scholar Eric Weisbard offers a critical guide to books on American popular music from William Billings's 1770 New-England Psalm-Singer to Jay-Z's 2010 memoir Decoded. Drawing on his background editing the Village Voice music section, coediting the Journal of Popular Music Studies, and organizing the Pop Conference, Weisbard connects American music writing from memoirs, biographies, and song compilations to blues novels, magazine essays, and academic studies. The authors of these works are as diverse as the music itself: women, people of color, queer writers, self-educated scholars, poets, musicians, and elites discarding their social norms. Whether analyzing books on Louis Armstrong, the Beatles, and Madonna; the novels of Theodore Dreiser, Gayl Jones, and Jennifer Egan; or varying takes on blackface minstrelsy, Weisbard charts an alternative history of American music as told through its writing. As Weisbard demonstrates, the most enduring work pursues questions that linger across time period and genre—cultural studies in the form of notes on the fly, on sounds that never cease to change meaning.

The Shortlist

Chosen from nearly 70 works, the 2022 shortlist was comprised of fifteen books that are diverse in scope and range from books on blues and rock to historical analysis, a biography, and two autobiographies. The shortlist revealed at the Pop Conference “When I Think of Home: Race & Borders in Popular Music” (hosted by the Clive Davis Institute of Recorded Music) includes: 

  • The Blues: The Authentic Narrative of My Music and Culture by Chris Thomas King 

  • Chronicling Stankonia: The Rise of the Hip-Hop South by Regina N. Bradley 

  • Freedom Girls: Voicing Femininity in 1960s British Pop by Alexandra M. Apolloni 

  • God Rock, Inc.: The Business of Niche Music by Andrew Mall 

  • Last Chance Texaco: Chronicles of an American Troubadour by Rickie Lee Jones  

  • Liner Notes for the Revolution: The Intellectual Life of Black Feminist Sound by Daphne A. Brooks 

  • Roadrunner by Joshua Clover  

  • Singing Like Germans: Black Musicians in the Land of Bach, Beethoven, and Brahms by Kira Thurman 

  • Songbooks: The Literature of American Popular Music by Eric Weisbard 

  • Soundies and the Changing Image of Black Americans on Screen: One Dime at a Time by Susan Delson  

  • Soundscapes of Liberation: African American Music in Postwar France by Celeste Day Moore 

  • The Storyteller: Tales of Life and Music by Dave Grohl 

  • 'Turn Me Loose, White Man,' or: Appropriating Culture: How to Listen to American Music, 1900-1960, Volume 2 by Allen Lowe 

  • Who Got the Camera? A History of Rap and Reality by Eric Harvey 

  • You Are Beautiful and You Are Alone: The Biography of Nico by Jennifer Otter Bickerdike

about the award

The award aims to encourage more publishing and reading of books about popular music from all over the world and to showcase the combination of passionate writing and scholarship across journalism and academia, which marked pioneer music critic Ralph J. Gleason’s work. A prize of $10,000 will be shared by the winners, underwritten through the Wenner Journalism Fund. 

Ralph Gleason was a highly perceptive critic of jazz, pop, and rock music whose words withstand the passage of time and perceived the importance of artists like Bob Dylan and Miles Davis. He cofounded Rolling Stone magazine, was one of the first mainstream writers to cover the mid-1960’s San Francisco music scene, pushed the San Francisco Chronicle into the rock era, and cofounded the Monterey Jazz Festival. 
 
In 1990 the award’s original sponsors were Rolling Stone, BMI, and New York University. Its new incarnation is administered by an advisory board representing the Pop Conference, in conjunction with the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame and NYU’s Clive Davis Institute.

A shortlist of the best music books of 2021 has been unveiled at the Pop Conference in New York City (see above), with winners to be announced in June. A prize of $10,000 will be shared by the winners, underwritten through the generosity of the Wenner Journalism Fund. 

An event honoring this year’s winners will be hosted by the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame this fall with details forthcoming. Information about nominating music books published in 2022 as candidates for next year’s Ralph J. Gleason Music Book Awards will be shared later this year. 

about the advisory board

The Ralph J. Gleason Music Book Award advisory board is chaired by writer Holly George-Warren, and includes writers RJ Smith, Carl Wilson (Slate), Clive Davis Institute of Recorded Music/NYU Chair Jason King, Rock & Roll Hall of Fame VP of Education Jason Hanley, and academics Kimberly Mack (University of Toledo) and Eric Weisbard (University of Alabama). Judges will rotate yearly. This year’s judges are:

Laina Dawes
Nelson George
Alisha Lola Jones
Greil Marcus
Amanda Petrusich

The advisory board would also like to acknowledge the passing of Greg Tate – writer, musician, and co-founder of the Black Rock Coalition – who was part of this project and had agreed to serve as one of the inaugural judges. His powerful writing reminds us that music matters and is always in dialogue with the world around us.

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