Black Female Voices Make Us Fall

The love song “All the King’s Horses” by Aretha Franklin that is referenced in Jason King’s “Which way is down?” encompasses the metaphor of falling as well as acts as an example of the black female singer’s desire to be heard. King’s article uses the metaphor of the act of falling and climbing a ladder to illustrate how social mobility that built upon the expectations of white supremacy. There is the assumption made by the whiteness of society that to be black means that you have already fallen. And so, there is an opportunity for self-improvement. King writes that they have been trying to “shake” the ladder to make those on the higher rungs fall. King utilizes “All the King’s Horses” by Aretha Franklin as an example of discusses how to be in love is a foundational experience that encompasses the notion of falling and rising up.

While listening to the recording of the song, it is notable that it begins softly and slowly, but as she sings the line “The walls started shakin’ her love right out,” the pace of the drums and the volume of Franklin’s vocals pick up in an energetic crescendo. It audibly creates a sense of shaking and instability, like a wall crumbling down. This is a trend that I have noticed in the Blues Ladies Multimedia Packet. The performances begin in a fragile manner but gradually grow stronger as the layers of vocals and instruments build. Furthermore, as the crescendo takes place, the percussions play notes rapidly to further articulate the augmentation. Although it takes many different forms, many of the artists employ this trope in their songs. For example, it is notable in Abbey Lincoln’s performances of “Prayer” and “Protest” in her Tryptic with Max Roach, and Etta James’ live performance of “Something’s Got A Hold On Me.”

Considering this trope, it relates to Danielle Goldman’s article “Sound Gestures,” that explains that woman is historically associated by the physical art of dance; She is seen, but not heard. These black female singers change the notion of masculinity that is tied with music through their strong climactic cadences in their performances. At the same time, their songs also work simultaneously to reorient blackness via their lyrics. In other words, the songs are counteracting the expectations of black individuals that whiteness have employed. King talks about how blackness “performs the direction of indirection… the reorientation of disorientation,” (28). Displaying, or performing, one’s “blackness” then shakes the stability of society and goes against the status quo. The female singers do this by raising their vocals to loud belts when they want to convey the lyrics that have the strongest message. It is as though the soft beginning builds the momentum and then the women strike the audience with the incredible power of their vocals and words. Thus, the vocals strike down the audience so that they experience the disorientated feeling of falling.

Critical Discussion Question: How does King’s concept of falling and rising up relate to the “Get Down” media packet for our next class? In what other performances that we have examined does the idea of “shaking the ladder” apply?

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