Let Us Begin

It should go without saying the place of prominence that Danyel Smith rightfully occupies in this culture of music. I often state that the point of view of someone who was/is there is informed in a way that you just don’t get when your connection to your subject is of a more speculative nature. In Shine Bright: A Very Personal History Of Black Women In Pop Smith weaves her personal history and the personal histories of the artists featured herein in a way that is not only relatable but important for music history.

This reviewer has to put a few caveats out here at the outset:

1. From the reading of the title I was all in.

2. For me, the best history is personal.

3. I often smile at the intersection of my personal history and the personal history of Danyel Smith indulging my corny responses to her tweets when she would often state that she was “BK Bound” on Twitter.[Hint: It had to do with the other BK that’s not Brooklyn.]

4. Did I mention that this book for all intents and purposes is a celebration, a recognition of the musical power and prowess of Black Women in Pop? It’s not all lollipops and rainbows but the triumph is in the telling of the stories.

Let’s Get Personal

Smith masterfully weaves her personal story with the stories of the women featured here. But it’s much, much more than just a binary telling. There is so much context that emanates from the pen whereby you are transported to the specific time and place that the profile is set. It is clear from the very beginning that Smith is an astute student of Pop Music and by extension Pop Culture. What is strikingly clear is that the importance of this book has a lot to do with the dismissive nature of so many white male journalists when it comes to how they have historically dealt with Black Women as subjects.

Often I use the obviousness of let’s begin at the beginning to drive home a search for the profound. At the outset of the book Smith posits “Despite what contemporary documentaries about 1970s culture will have you believing, Black music, even big hits like “Groove Me” and “Mr. Big Stuff”, were not just always wafting from grocery-store speakers…” this is what I was referring to when I talked about the difference between being there and well, not. Smith traversed grocery-stores during the time those songs were hits and I’m sure she experienced their absence from the soundtrack.

I Know Her

An aspect of the book that continually pulled me in is the vivid experiences that are detailed. Experiences that I often found myself remarking “I know her.” In the chapter entitled Leontyne + Dionne + Cissy The Drinkard Family Dynasty, Smith chronicles some of the personal history of Leontyne Price: “Young Leontyne was a drum majorette. She sang at funerals for money. She sang at weddings. She sang Tchaikovsky, she sang Boogie Woogie Bugle Boy…” I know that woman. I love that woman if you know what I mean? What I mean is that there is often a reduction and a distancing from origins for artists of Leontyne’s caliber. Smith is able to present Price with all the down home seasoning that puts into perspective from whence she came and the ties that bind between her, Dionne Warwick and Cissy Houston.

The parallels between how Smith navigates her entry into womanhood and the travails of the artists in life and song are terra firma. The beauty, the vulnerability, exploitation, triumph, and resolute nature of I’m here rings true.

I found myself rooting for not only Smith but every woman profiled in Shine Bright. Not to trot out any tired tropes, but these are Queens. Smith wields her pen in a manner to let us know the regard we should hold these women in. I believe that you will find yourself just as compelled when you are privy to Smith’s honest and open narrative of her life. The connection that you will find with your own life when you consider the music and artists that are a part of your personal narrative should be immediately apparent. So much Pop Culture and Music context and I am here for every bit of it.


But enough about me, let’s talk about you the music fan who needs this book in your collection. This is a reframing with a perspective that will not only affirm but also generate plenty of questions about the why of widely accepted thoughts that surround Black Women In Pop. Spoiler: Black Women have always been vitally important to Pop. We’re just fortunate that in 2022 we have the voice of Danyel Smith to give the propers that are long overdue.

Shine Bright: A Very Personal History Of Black Women In Pop by Danyel Smith, out now.