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Blog Entries by Mark Anthony Neal

Left of Black: Greg Tate on Black Sci-Fi and Consuming Black Culture

(0) Comments | Posted March 15, 2013 | 3:44 PM

Left of Black S2:E20 | Critic Greg Tate Talks Black Science Fiction, Consuming Black Culture & the Late Butch Morris

To understand the impact of Greg Tate, one need only consult the words of fellow critic Michael Gonzales, who on the occasion of Tate's 50th birthday wrote: "For better or worse, if it were not for Greg Tate, there would be no Bonz Malone, Harry Allen, Joan Morgan, Kris Ex, Scott Poulson Bryant, Toure, Danyel Smith, Michael Eric Dyson, Karen R. Goode, Selwyn Seyfu Hinds, Smokey Fontaine, Jon Caramanica, Jeff Chang, Amy Linden, Tom Terrell, Mark Anthony Neal, Tricia Rose, Sasha Jenkins, DJ Spooky (aka Paul Miller), Dream Hampton, Miles Marshall Lewis, Aliya King, SekouWrites, Kenji Jasper, Oliver Wang, Cheo Hodari Coker, Keith Murphy or myself." Gonzales offers high praise for one of the singular critical voices of the last 30 years.

The author of several books including the classic Flyboy in the Buttermilk: Essays on Contemporary America (1993) and the edited volume Everything But the Burden: What White People Are Taking From Black Culture (2003), Greg Tate joins Left of Black host Mark Anthony Neal (via Skype) in a rousing discussion of Black Science Fiction, being a "gourmand" of Black Culture and the significance of the late musical conductor Butch Morris.

Tate is the longtime conductor of Burnt Sugar the Arkestra Chamber, a former Village Voice Staff Writer and currently Visiting Professor of Africana Studies at Brown University. Duke University Press will publish Flyboy 2: The Greg Tate Reader next year.


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Left of Black is a weekly Webcast hosted by Mark Anthony Neal and produced in collaboration with the John Hope Franklin Center at Duke...

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Sex, Power and Desire in an Age of 'Scandal'

(2) Comments | Posted March 6, 2013 | 12:54 PM

Left of Black S2:E21 | Sex, Power & Desire in an Age of 'Scandal'

In 1968 Bronx-born actress Dianne Carroll helped transition a new era in network television starring in the sitcom Julia. Premiering during the height of the Civil Rights movement and only months after the assassination of Martin Luther King, Jr., Julia broke new ground in its depiction of a Black female lead who was a professional and not simply a domestic.

Forty-four years after the premiere of Julia, Kerry Washington, another Bronx-born actress, debuted in the role of "Olivia Pope" on the hour-long drama Scandal, created and executive produced by, Shonda Rhimes, an African American woman.

The vastly different worlds that "Julia" and "Olivia Pope" inhabit are an index of the visibility of the interior lives of Black women in the public sphere. If Black women are perceived as a site of visual excess in mainstream culture, as Nicole Fleetwood argues in her recent book Troubling Vision: Performance, Visuality, and Blackness, than the fictional "Olivia Pope" (based on the real Judy Smith) is the embodiment of that excess on network television.

Professor Brittney Cooper, Assistant Professor of Women's and Gender Studies and Africana Studies at Rutgers University and Professor Treva Blaine Lindsey, Assistant Professor of Women and Gender Studies at the University of Missouri at Columbia join Left of Black host and Duke University Professor Mark Anthony Neal in a spirited conversation about sex, power and desire in Scandal and the lives of Black women.

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Left of Black is a weekly Webcast hosted by Mark Anthony Neal and produced in collaboration with the John Hope Franklin Center at Duke...

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The 'D' Is Not Silent: Free Angela and All Political Prisoners

(1) Comments | Posted March 5, 2013 | 2:12 PM

The opening scene of the new documentary Free Angela and All Political Prisoners, directed by Shola Lynch, features a silhouetted image of what is unmistakably Angela Davis -- the Angela Davis that we think we know circa 1972. For Lynch this is a fitting way to introduce a film about...

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Left of Black: The Black Revolution on Campus and the Roots of Black Studies

(1) Comments | Posted March 5, 2013 | 2:02 PM

In January of 1969, WCBS-TV in New York City began to broadcast a series of half-hour lectures under the banner of Black Heritage: A History of Afro-Americans. The series, which ran six days a week until June of 1969 (108 episodes in all), was produced by historians John Henrik Clarke, Vincent Harding and political scientist William Strickland -- the later two who were founding members of the Institute of the Black World, a groundbreaking thinking tank that was based at the Atlanta University Center. According to historian Martha Biondi, by providing "ordinary Americans access to the Black history courses beginning to be offered on college campuses... these men personally bridged the gap between scholarship and activism."

Left of Black is proud to be of the many progeny of this visionary project, born during an era in which Black student activism on American college campuses helped transform institutions that less than a generation earlier, Black students were largely denied access to. This moment is chronicled in Martha Biondi's new book The Black Revolution on Campus (University of California Press). A historian at Northwestern University, Biondi joins Left of Black via Skype to talk about what she describes as "an extraordinary chapter in the modern Black freedom struggle." Biondi is also the author of To Stand and Fight: the Struggle for Civil Rights in Postwar New York City (Harvard University Press, 2003).

Left of Black is a weekly Webcast hosted by Mark Anthony Neal and produced in collaboration with the John Hope Franklin Center at Duke...

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Reflections: The Supremes and the Politics of Image

(4) Comments | Posted February 21, 2013 | 1:26 PM

The meteoric rise of The Supremes in the 1960s can be best measured in the context of singular tragic events in American history: When President John F. Kennedy was murdered in Dallas in November of 1963, few knew who The Supremes were, yet when Dr. Martin Luther King was murdered...

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Love in the Stacks: Some Thoughts on Black History Month

(2) Comments | Posted February 4, 2013 | 5:19 PM

Feb. 1 marked the start of another Black History Month, an event that began, humbly enough, as Negro History Month in 1926 at the behest of historian Carter G. Woodson, also the founder of the Association for the Study of African American (Negro) Life and History (ASALH). Eighty-seven...

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Left of Black: Dr. Luke Powery Discusses Preaching, Death and Hope

(0) Comments | Posted January 30, 2013 | 9:23 AM

In a year marked by no less than sixteen mass shootings in the United States, including shootings at a movie theater in Aurora, Colorado and a Sikh Temple in Oak Creek, Wisconsin, the murder of twenty children and six adults at the Sandy Hook Elementary School in Connecticut was perhaps...

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Left of Black: Filmmaker Byron Hurt Discusses His New Film 'Soul Food Junkies' and 'Django Unchained'

(0) Comments | Posted January 17, 2013 | 5:04 PM

Byron Hurt's late father was like the many Americans whose unhealthy diets led to a shortened lifespan. Alarmed by what he saw as a problem among African Americans, Byron Hurt, whose last film was the award-winning Hip-Hop: Beyond Beats and Rhymes decided to take a more intimate look at eating...

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Bennu Unchained: The 'Black Moses Barbie' Series

(1) Comments | Posted January 15, 2013 | 1:00 PM

The seemingly endless media spectacle that is Quentin Tarantino's Django Unchained, was given a new burst of energy with the recent revelation that the National Entertainment Collectables Association (NECA) had developed a line of "slave action figures" based on characters from the film. To be fair, NECA has had a...

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Left of Black: Cable News, 'Scary' Black People and Black Nerds

(18) Comments | Posted December 14, 2012 | 12:38 PM



Left of Black S3:E13 | Cable News, 'Scary' Black People and Black Nerds

Journalist Eric Deggans, Television and Media Critic for the Tampa Bay Times, is one of a handful of black journalists working in such positions at major newspapers in the United States. From his perch, Deggans has a unique vantage to gauge the role of mainstream corporate media. Many of those insights are contained in Deggans's new book Race Baiter: How the Media Wields Dangerous Words to Divide a Nation (Palgrave McMillian).

A long time contributor to National Public Radio and The Huffington Post, Deggans talks with Left of Black host and Duke University Professor Mark Anthony Neal, about the politics of cable news networks, the proliferation of 'Scary' Black people in the media and Black Nerds.

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Left of Black is a weekly Webcast hosted by Mark Anthony Neal and produced in collaboration with the John Hope Franklin Center at Duke...

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Remembering Sam Cooke and the Sound of Young America

(7) Comments | Posted December 11, 2012 | 5:45 PM

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On Dec. 11, 1964, singer Sam Cooke, aged 33, was murdered under questionable circumstances inside a Los Angeles motel. Weeks after his death, Sam Cooke became one of the many martyrs of the Civil Rights Movement, when "A Change is Gonna Come," a song...

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Color-Blind Racism in the Obama Era

(15) Comments | Posted November 1, 2012 | 9:43 AM


Left of Black host and Duke Professor Mark Anthony Neal is joined in the Left of Black studios by Eduardo Bonilla Silva, Professor of Sociology and Chair of the Sociology Department at Duke University. Neal and Bonilla-Silva, the author of the now classic Racism without Racists: Color-Blind Racism and the Persistence of Racial Inequality in the United States, discuss the Obama Presidency, the importance of a social justice politics, and the insidiousness of "color-blind" racism.

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Left of Black is a weekly Webcast hosted by Mark Anthony Neal and produced in collaboration with the John Hope Franklin Center at Duke...

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'Revolutionary' Black Women & the Musical Life & Death of a Chocolate City

(0) Comments | Posted October 15, 2012 | 6:22 PM



Left of Black S3:E4 | October 8, 2012

'Revolutionary' Black Women & the Musical Life & Death of a Chocolate City

Left of Black, host and Duke Professor Mark Anthony Neal is joined via Skype by Professor Lakesia D. Johnson, author of Iconic: Decoding Images of the Revolutionary Black Woman (Baylor University Press) and longtime Washington, D.C. based journalist, Dr. Natalie Hopkinson, author of Go-Go Live: The Musical Life and Death of a Chocolate City (Duke University Pres,...

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Where Are the Discussions About Poverty and Youth Violence in the 2012 Presidential Race?

(0) Comments | Posted October 3, 2012 | 7:38 AM

Left of Black S3:E3 | October 1, 2012

Where Are the Discussions About Poverty and Youth Violence in the 2012 Presidential Race?

Left of Black host and Duke University Professor Mark Anthony Neal is joined via Skype  journalists Rahiel Tesfamariam and Mychal Denzel Smith in a discussion of youth violence and poverty in the United States and the lack attention given to these issues in the 2012 Presidential Election.

Tesfamariam is founder & Editorial Director of the on-line magazine Urban Cusp and a blogger and columnist for The Washington Post and The Root DC, and Smith is a freelance writer, social commentator, and mental health advocate whose work has been seen at The AtlanticThe NationThe Guardian, EbonyHuffington Post, The Root and The Grio.

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Left of Black is a weekly Webcast hosted by Mark Anthony Neal and produced in collaboration with the John Hope Franklin Center at Duke University.

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Episodes of Left of Black are also available for free download in  @ iTunes...

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The Imagery of African American Identity and Raising Black Daughters in the Obama Era

(0) Comments | Posted September 28, 2012 | 5:02 PM

Left of Black S3:E2 | September 24, 2012

Host and Duke University Professor Mark Anthony Neal is joined in the Left of Black Studios by Maurice O. Wallace, Associate Professor of English and African-American Studies at Duke University.

Neal and Wallace discuss his new book Pictures and Progress: Early Photography and the Making of African American Identity (co-edited with Shawn Michelle Smith), raising Black daughters in the Obama era and the politics of "Professorial Style" in the contemporary academy.

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Left of Black is a weekly Webcast hosted by Mark Anthony Neal and produced in collaboration with the John Hope Franklin Center at Duke...

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Left of Black Season 3, Episode 1 | Race and the Digital Humanities

(0) Comments | Posted September 26, 2012 | 11:03 AM

Host and Duke University Professor Mark Anthony Neal is joined via Skype by Howard Rambsy II, Associate Professor of English Language and Literature and Director of the Black Studies Program at Southern Illinois University at Edwardsville, and Jessica Marie Johnson, a Post-Doctoral Fellow in the Richards Civil War Era Center and African Research Center at Penn State University.

Neal, Rambsy and Johnson discuss the "Digital Humanities," one of the current academic buzzwords, and the double-bind that the Digital Humanities can present for scholars working within the context of Race, particularly within Black Studies.

Rambsy is the author of The Black Arts Enterprise and the Production of African-American Poetry (University of Michigan Press) and the curator of SIUE Black Studies. Johnson is the curator of Diaspora Hypertext & African Diaspora,...

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An Old School Kind of Love: Leela James Tributes Etta James

(3) Comments | Posted August 7, 2012 | 10:33 AM

Part of Etta James' legacy, besides her singular voice, was her transgressive spirit. James did much on her own terms, even until her death, and it is that spirit that vocalist Leela James' taps into for her latest recording Loving You More (In the Spirit of Etta James).

Like her 2009 "cover" recording Let's Do It Again, Loving You More (Shanichie) is less a collection of remakes and more an example of James' own original (and yes transgressive) interpretation of the music of an iconic figure such as Etta James. The best indication of James' intent is the opening track, in which the hard driving Rhythm & Blues of Something's Got a Hold on Me, one of Etta James' signature tunes, is featured as modern jump-beat replete with hand-claps. Minus the brass instruments, Leela James' version almost feels like it belongs in a Second Line.

Something Gotta Hold on Me is one of the tracks on Loving You More, that will forever be linked to Etta James in the popular imagination. The younger James might have been forgiven if she simply played it straight on some of these tunes -- with her own unique vocal style -- but to her credit, she apparently thinks more of Etta James' legacy, and trusted that her own artistry would stand on its own.

With the help of producers Drew Ramsey and Shannon Sanders (Heather Headley's In My Mind), James sounds assured and original on tracks like I'd Rather Go Blind and At Last, (she's joined by Sanders on both.) The two songs where staples on two of Etta James' most popular early albums -- her debut At Last (1961) and her "comeback" Tell Mama (1967) -- and both feature piano lines reminiscent of classic Doo-Wop. The songs are a nice gesture to Etta James' early development as lead singer of The Peaches (Roll with Me Henry), working with band leader Johnny Otis.

On the equally well known Etta James ballad, A Sunday Kind of Love, James is every bit as laid back, as her version recalls some of the recent work of Meshell Ndegeocello on recordings like Devil Halo (2009) and Weather (2011). Etta James would likely find Leela James' version unrecognizable, but in many ways that is the point. The largesse of the late James' vocal gifts has inspired artists (musical and otherwise), far beyond the Chess Records studios where she built her reputation.

One of the strengths of Loving You More, is that Leela James was not simply content to delve into the most recognizable Etta James, and spends as much time on the later decades of James' career, when she, like so many of her generation, were re-branded as two-fisted Blues singers. It was a period when much of the nuance of James' voice had been lost, but it still possessed its power. It's also a period where James earned nearly a dozen Grammy nominations and won the award on three occasions in three different categories.

Audiences were re-introduced to James with the release of her live recording Seven Year Itch (1989), from which Leela James offers a version of Etta James' Damn Your Eyes. In the spirit of the era that it was recorded, Leela James performs the song in a style that immediately recalls mid-1980s synth-R&B like Cherrelle and Alexander O'Neal's Saturday Love, while the background vocals feature the refrain "damn, damn, damn" in a pop culture reference to Good Times.

Leela James draws from Etta James' own collection of covers--1998's Life, Love and the Blues --performing I Want to Ta-Ta You Baby, a song originally recorded by the late Johnny Guitar Watson for his classic Ain't That a Bitch (1976). Leela James version is closer to the Watson original than James' cover. Ain't That a Bitch also features Watson's Superman Lover, which became a favored hip-hop sample in the 1990s. Leela James makes those connections to Hip-hop with her version of James' It Hurts Me So Much (1961), featuring a sample of Dr. Dre's Still Dre, as the song serves as a homage to the city of Los Angeles, of which both of the James women and Dr. Dre are some of the city's native children.

Leela James' willingness to re-imagine the music of Etta James through many musical and historical contexts, speaks to the ways that the older James' music was a constant inspiration for the younger James, regardless of what kinds of musical styles might have been catching her fancy at any given time. Fittingly, one of the highlights of the recording is the Leela James original, An Old School Kind of Love, which is a simple reminder of the place that Etta James will always have in the hearts of her...

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Hearing Trayvon Die

(17) Comments | Posted March 21, 2012 | 5:07 PM

There is dramatic moment in the film Cadillac Records, when musician Muddy Waters, portrayed by Jeffrey Wright, has just watched the body of fellow musician Little Walter (Columbus Short) taken away to the morgue. Little Walter was more than Waters' wingman -- he was critical to how Waters literally heard...

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Liberating Black Radio: The Robert Glasper Experiment

(1) Comments | Posted March 9, 2012 | 1:10 PM

As a medium, black radio was historically critical to the black freedom struggle. The infusion of black thought and musical expression onto the radio airwaves, particularly after Memphis's WDIA, broke the color barrier and...

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Don Cornelius and the Legacy of Black Independent Media

(2) Comments | Posted February 6, 2012 | 9:58 AM

The recent death of Don Cornelius, founder and host of the long-running syndicated series Soul Train, brought back into the focus the role of black independent media.

Though Soul Train stopped production more than five years ago, the show remains one of the most resonant black brands in American...

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