The Games Black Girls Play
Learning the Ropes from Double-Dutch to Hip-Hop
2007 Alan Merriam Prize presented by the Society for Ethnomusicology
2007 PEN/Beyond Margins Book Award Finalist
When we think of African American popular music, our first thought is probably not of double-dutch: girls bouncing between two twirling ropes, keeping time to the tick-tat under their toes. But this book argues that the games black girls play —handclapping songs, cheers, and double-dutch jump rope—both reflect and inspire the principles of black popular musicmaking.
The Games Black Girls Play illustrates how black musical styles are incorporated into the earliest games African American girls learn—how, in effect, these games contain the DNA of black music. Drawing on interviews, recordings of handclapping games and cheers, and her own observation and memories of gameplaying, Kyra D. Gaunt argues that black girls' games are connected to long traditions of African and African American musicmaking, and that they teach vital musical and social lessons that are carried into adulthood. In this celebration of playground poetry and childhood choreography, she uncovers the surprisingly rich contributions of girls’ play to black popular culture.
“The Games Black Girls Play is beautifully and passionately written. This book presents an engaging reflexive narrative that ranges from childhood memories to involvement with ethnomusicological scholarship. Gaunt makes a convincing argument that the playsongs of African American girls is the foundation of African diasporic popular music-making. In a radical counter-history, she shows how African American girls-interlocutors who are triply minoritized through race, gender, and age-are producing music culture that has profound influences on popular music and the popular imagination. She calls for an engaged ethnomusicology and moves gracefully through an array of anti-essentialist perspectives on race and gender. She argues that “kinetic orality’ is key to African American musicking and that the body is always a locus of memory and communality. From somatic historiography to serious cross-talk with girls, Gaunt offers new methodologies for ethnomusicological work. The reader is pulled into a world in which Black girls are masters of musical knowledge, and in emerging from the book, we can't see the world of American popular music in the same way. When we chant Miss Mary Mack, Mack, Mack is dressed in black, black, black, with silver buttons, buttons, buttons, all down her back, back, back, we suddenly see how musical play and embodied knowledge generates a world of raced and gendered sociality. Oo-lay oo-lay! Congratulations, Kyra!”
—President Elect Professor Deborah Wong, Society for Ethnomusicology
“Gaunt provides a layered and rich analysis of a cultural form that has been all but ignored by scholars far and wide.”
—Gender and Society
“The Games Black Girls Play is an insightful inquiry into a frequently overlooked and influential site of cultural production.”
̶-;Fusing academic prose with vividly rendered memories, Gaunt’s journey is refreshing. . . . Gaunt successfully lifts ignored girls from obscurity to center stage. . . . With The Games Black Girls Play, Gaunt has created a necessary space for translating black girls’ joy in a society that typically overlooks it. Hopefully, others will take their turn and jump in to keep the games going.”
“In thoughtful and affectionate prose, Gaunt makes plain how the schoolyard syncopations of body and voice are both oral-kinetic play and improvised lessons in socializing girls into the unique social practices of black urban life. . . . The Games Black Girls Play is a smart, delightful and witty polemic of attributions; a cultural benchmark of the complex web of history, race and gender to suggest a ‘gendered musical blackness’ and an ‘ethnographic truth’ linking the ‘intergenerational cultures of black musical expression’ as embodied in the infectious playfulness of black girls.”
—Black Issues Book Review
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