Black Diamond Queens

African American Women and Rock and Roll

Book Pages: 408 Illustrations: 19 illustrations Published: October 2020

Author: Maureen Mahon

African American Studies and Black Diaspora, American Studies, Music

African American women have played a pivotal part in rock and roll—from laying its foundations and singing chart-topping hits to influencing some of the genre's most iconic acts. Despite this, black women's importance to the music's history has been diminished by narratives of rock as a mostly white male enterprise. In Black Diamond Queens, Maureen Mahon draws on recordings, press coverage, archival materials, and interviews to document the history of African American women in rock and roll between the 1950s and the 1980s. Mahon details the musical contributions and cultural impact of Big Mama Thornton, LaVern Baker, Betty Davis, Tina Turner, Merry Clayton, Labelle, the Shirelles, and others, demonstrating how dominant views of gender, race, sexuality, and genre affected their careers. By uncovering this hidden history of black women in rock and roll, Mahon reveals a powerful sonic legacy that continues to reverberate into the twenty-first century.


“We've got to know where we came from in order to get where we want to go, and there's no doubt that Maureen knows where she is headed! You can absolutely feel the passion in every word she speaks, whether in person or on paper, and Black Diamond Queens is no exception.” — Quincy Jones

“I thought I knew the stories of the women who populate this stellar revisioning of rock and roll history. Now I realize how much I had to learn. A revolutionary read that should chasten rock historians and will delight anyone who wants the full picture of how black women shaped a culture that pushed them to the side and how they survived.” — Ann Powers, author of Good Booty: Love and Sex, Black and White, Body and Soul in American Music

"... Mahon has done plenty to expose how Black women rockers have been marginalized by musicians, audiences, historians, and critics. A well-researched, sociologically savvy effort to expand the rock canon." — Kirkus Reviews

“The book that's poised to set rock history free. Maureen Mahon's Black Diamond Queens sets the record straight by offering a meticulously detailed study of the ways in which Black women musicians and entertainers played pivotal roles in the birth of the genre and fearlessly revolutionized the form. Essential reading for anyone who cares about popular music culture.” — Daphne A. Brooks, author of Bodies in Dissent: Spectacular Performances of Race and Freedom, 1850–1910

Starred Review. "With depth and breadth, Mahon’s work centers the many African American women who heavily influence rock and roll, from LaVern Baker to Tina Turner. Rock and roll emerged neither from a vacuum nor from the minds of white, male performers alone. Mahon’s comprehensive research and intelligent thinking are captured in her compelling writing." — Emily Dziuban, Booklist

"If you are curious about music and its development across genres or would like more examples of Black women’s exquisite impact on every aspect of life, Black Diamond Queens is for you. You won’t find many of these queens on the walls of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame or in canonical texts discussing the origins of rock and roll. Still, crucially and inspiringly, you might see yourself in this group of Black women whose manicured fingers are all over rock and roll. At the very least, you will be exposed to some incredible new songs." — Briana Spivey, Women's Review of Books

"A rare gem. . . . this meticulously researched book is a key entry in the ongoing record-correction of 20th-century popular music history, one that recenters women, and most crucially, women of color. . . . The collective telling of their complex stories, within an intersectional feminist framework, is the kind of illuminating scholarship that rock really needs." — Jillian Mapes, Pitchfork

"As I read each page of Black Diamond Queens, learning about the Black women who contributed to not only the sound but the ethos of rock and roll, I felt like I was also learning about myself. In the end, the stories felt less like a permission slip to feel at home in a genre I most resonate with, but a reminder that, like these women, I should never feel the need to ask for permission at all." — Erica Campbell, UPROXX

"Black Diamond Queens does what the best music books do: It urges us to play this music again — or for the first time — and to listen to it. Mahon’s brilliant book repays careful reading and challenges us to think anew about the history of rock and roll and the ways we might have traditionally understood it." — Henry Carrigan, No Depression


Availability: In stock
Price: $29.95

Open Access

Author/Editor Bios Back to Top

Maureen Mahon is Associate Professor of Music at New York University and author of Right To Rock: The Black Rock Coalition and the Cultural Politics of Race, also published by Duke University Press.

Table of Contents Back to Top
Illustrations  ix
Acknowledgments  xi
Introduction  1
1. Rocking and Rolling with Big Mama Thornton  29
2. LaVern Baker, the Incredible Disappearing Queen of Rock and Roll  52
3. Remembering the Shirelles  76
4. Call and Response  105
5. Negotiating "Brown Sugar"  141
6. The Revolutionary Sisterhood of Labelle  182
7. The Fearless Funk of Betty Davis  213
8. Tina Turner's Turn to Rock  240
Epilogue  273
Notes  285
Bibliography  349
Index  375
Sales/Territorial Rights: World

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