In its continuing exploration and celebration of the popular music of African Americans, the Music Division of the Library of Congress presents Dr. Suzanne Smith, who will discuss and sign her newly published book, Dancing in the Street: Motown and the Cultural Politics of Detroit (Harvard University Press). The lecture will take place in the Mumford Room, sixth floor of the Madison Building, at 7:30 p.m., on February 23, 2000. The event is free and no tickets are required.
Detroit in the 1960s was a city with a pulse: people were marching in step with Martin Luther King Jr., dancing in the street with Martha and the Vandellas, and facing off with city police. Through it all, Motown provided the beat. This book tells the story of Motown — both as musical style and entrepreneurial phenomenon — and of its intrinsic relationship to the politics and culture of Motor Town, USA.
As Dr. Smith traces the evolution of Motown from a small record company firmly rooted in Detroit's black community to an international music industry giant, she gives us a clear look at cultural politics at the grassroots level. Here, we see Motown's music not only as the soundtrack for its historical moment but also as an active agent in the politics of the time. In this story, Motown Records had a distinct role to play in the city's black community as it promoted its social, cultural, and political agendas. Dr. Smith describes in her new book how these local agendas, which reflected the unique concerns of African Americans living in the urban North, both responded to and reconfigured the national civil rights campaign.
Against a background of events on the national scene, featuring Martin Luther King Jr., Langston Hughes, Nat King Cole, and Malcolm X, Dancing in the Street presents a vivid picture of the civil rights movement in Detroit, with Motown at its heart. This is a lively and vital history, peopled with a host of major and minor figures in black politics, culture and the arts, and full of the passions of a momentous era. It offers a critical new perspective on the role that popular culture can play in the process of political change.
Dr. Suzanne E. Smith completed her Ph.D. in American Studies at Yale University in 1996. Her research interests include the relationship of popular culture, music and art to social protest; the study of film and collective memory; and grassroots political organizing in the urban North. She has also contributed to various public history projects, including the films "Rachel Carson's Silent Spring," for the American Experience series on PBS, and "I'll Make Me A World: African American Arts in the Twentieth Century," from Blackside Productions. Dr. Smith is assistant professor of history at George Mason University.
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