American pop music is arguably this country’s greatest cultural contribution to the world, and its singular voice and virtuosity were created by a shining thread of Black women geniuses stretching back to the country’s founding. This is their surprising, heartbreaking, soaring story—from “one of the generation’s greatest, most insightful, most nuanced writers in pop culture” (Shea Serrano)
“Sparkling . . . the overdue singing of a Black girl’s song, with perfect pitch . . . delicious to read.”—Oprah Daily
ONE OF THE BEST BOOKS OF THE YEAR: San Francisco Chronicle, NPR, The Root, Variety, Esquire, The Guardian, Newsweek, Pitchfork, She Reads, Publishers Weekly
SHORTLISTED FOR THE PORCHLIGHT BUSINESS BOOK AWARD
A weave of biography, criticism, and memoir, Shine Bright is Danyel Smith’s intimate history of Black women’s music as the foundational story of American pop. Smith has been writing this history for more than five years. But as a music fan, and then as an essayist, editor (Vibe, Billboard), and podcast host (Black Girl Songbook), she has been living this history since she was a latchkey kid listening to “Midnight Train to Georgia” on the family stereo.
Smith’s detailed narrative begins with Phillis Wheatley, an enslaved woman who sang her poems, and continues through the stories of Mahalia Jackson, Dionne Warwick, Aretha Franklin, Gladys Knight, and Mariah Carey, as well as the under-considered careers of Marilyn McCoo, Deniece Williams, and Jody Watley.
Shine Bright is an overdue paean to musical masters whose true stories and genius have been hidden in plain sight—and the book Danyel Smith was born to write.
APPLE BOOKS REVIEW
Some pop critics seem to ignore the crucial figures who shaped the genre into what it is today, but journalist Danyel Smith knows what’s up. As a lifelong fan of Top 40 radio—and former editor in chief of influential ’90s music mag Vibe—Smith knows that the unspoken heroines of pop are Black women, whose pivotal contributions to modern music have often been ignored. Smith takes a hard look at that erasure while also celebrating generations of Black women, from ’60s stars like Dionne Warwick (who had to change her last name from Warrick after her label carelessly misspelled it on her first single) to latter-day powerhouses like Janet Jackson and Mariah Carey. In parallel, she also tells her own story, from growing up with an abusive, alcoholic stepfather to facing down sexism as a journalist. Personal and pointed, this book is a game changer in the world of pop criticism.
Smith (Bliss), host of the music podcast Black Girl Songbook, combines memoir, cultural history, and criticism in this masterful examination of the Black women artists who've indelibly shaped American popular music. Paying tribute to the music that "fortified" her through her toughest times growing up in L.A. in the 1970s all the way to her career as a music journalist, Smith offers a sharply written survey of the Black women who blazed the trail for the "whole of my creative life." She transports readers back to 1773, to highlight the poetry of the enslaved Phillis Wheatley—"who spoke truths in the language of her oppressors"—and cites the "brief and hot stardom" of the Dixie Cups in 1964 and the "unheralded" work of the Sweet Inspirations later that decade to point out the ways in which Black voices were "the very genes of popular American soul, R&B, and rock 'n' roll" yet often went uncredited. Legends such as Aretha Franklin, Whitney Houston, and Janet Jackson make appearances, too, as stirring figures who represent the struggles Black women continue to face in the music industry (despite "dominating the cultural landscape") and, by the same token, the ways in which they reclaim it to fuel their musical works of art. This lyrical and whip-smart work is a cause for celebration.