Musical Echoes

South African Women Thinking in Jazz

Musical Echoes

Refiguring American Music

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Book Pages: 384 Illustrations: 32 illustrations Published: November 2011

African Studies, Gender and Sexuality > Feminism and Women’s Studies, Music > Jazz

Musical Echoes tells the life story of the South African jazz vocalist Sathima Bea Benjamin. Born in Cape Town in the 1930s, Benjamin came to know American jazz and popular music through the radio, movies, records, and live stage and dance band performances. She was especially moved by the voice of Billie Holiday. In 1962 she and Dollar Brand (Abdullah Ibrahim) left South Africa together for Europe, where they met and recorded with Duke Ellington. Benjamin and Ibrahim spent their lives on the move between Europe, the United States, and South Africa until 1977, when they left Africa for New York City and declared their support for the African National Congress. In New York, Benjamin established her own record company and recorded her music independently from Ibrahim. Musical Echoes reflects twenty years of archival research and conversation between this extraordinary jazz singer and the South African musicologist Carol Ann Muller. The narrative of Benjamin’s life and times is interspersed with Muller’s reflections on the vocalist’s story and its implications for jazz history.


Musical Echoes is a wide reaching and important missing link in the development of late twentieth-century jazz. This book needed to be written and deserves to be read with the same patient attention to detail as was poured into it by the author.” — Gregg Akkerman, Journal of Jazz Studies

“We get frank and rich recollections by Benjamin of her early life. . . . The sections on Benjamin’s childhood and early adulthood double as something of a social history of coloured cultural and social life in Cape Town before the National Party came to power in 1948. The book contains a rich description of talent concerts, dance bands, jazz clubs, and the impact of radio, records, and cinema on Benjamin’s imagination and musical education. It also deals with Benjamin’s complex racial politics.” — Sean Jacobs, International Journal of African Historical Studies

“[A] fascinating biography. . . .” — Bobbi Booker, Philadelphia Tribune

“Ibrahim has cited the loss of information as one legacy of apartheid, and the broader context—filling in those gaps—is also key to the appeal of Muller’s meticulously researched book.” — Marcus O'Dair, Jazzwise

“Muller . . . does a remarkable job in piecing together Benjamin’s life, work, and significance within the context of post-apartheid history.” — Brian Morton, The Wire

“Muller examines Benjamin's experiences with apartheid, her exile from South Africa, and how these experiences helped form her career as a jazz musician. Benjamin's life story is quite colorful, and Muller effectively captures the essence of that story with this call-and-response nature of the presentation and with a writing style that is both engaging and highly descriptive. Recommended. All readers.” — D. J. Schmalenberger, Choice

“Muller's biography-plus, of and with Sathima Bea Benjamin, is welcome for many reasons; first and foremost because it spotlights a brilliant architect of song who is far less well known than she should be. But Muller goes further. She challenges still dominant androcentric and Amerocentric jazz discourses, offering alternative frameworks that allow us to consider the dynamics of race, class and gender within whose maelstrom Benjamin shaped her sound.” — Gwen Ansell, Mail & Guardian

Musical Echoes not only introduces a very important vocalist, Sathima Bea Benjamin, to audiences who may not know of her. It also makes a great contribution to scholarship on jazz, world music, cultural theory, and the African diaspora. It challenges us to reconsider and revise the nationalist narratives that characterize much writing on jazz, and it provides a new framework for discussing the production, circulation, and transformation of musical cultures.” — Farah Jasmine Griffin, author of If You Can’t Be Free, Be a Mystery: In Search of Billie Holiday

“Sathima Bea Benjamin ought to share company with the likes of Sarah Vaughan, Billie Holiday, Dinah Washington, Ella Fitzgerald, and Betty Carter. . . . [She] never compromis[es] her own musical vision, refusing to either remake herself into an ‘American’ jazz singer or into what the world imagines to be authentically ‘African.’ She is who she is, Sathima Bea Benjamin, South Africa’s greatest jazz singer and one of the best the world has ever known.” — Robin D. G. Kelley, JazzTimes


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Price: $29.95

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Author/Editor Bios Back to Top

Carol Ann Muller is Professor of Music at the University of Pennsylvania. She is the author of Focus: Music of South Africa and South African Music: A Century of Traditions in Transformation.

The South African jazz vocalist and composer Sathima Bea Benjamin is the founder of Ekapa Records and a Grammy-nominated musician who has released a dozen recordings, including Dedications, Cape Town Love, and Musical Echoes. In 2004, South Africa’s president, Thabo Mbeki, honored her with the Order of Ikhamanga Silver Award in recognition of her musical artistry and antiapartheid activism. Benjamin lives in New York City.

Table of Contents Back to Top
List of Figures ix

Preface xiii

Acknowledgments xxiii

A Tribute by Abdullah Ibrahim: "Sathima" xxxi

Sathima: My Life's Journey as a Jazz Singer xxxiii

1. Beginnings 1

2. A Home Within 11

Call: Recollecting a Musical Past 11

Response: Entanglement in Race and Music 33

3. Cape Jazz 53

Call: Popular Music, Dance Bands, and Jazz 53

Response: Imagining Musical Lineage through Duke and Billie 95

4. Jazz Migrancy 128

Call: Musicians Abroad 128

Response: A New African Diaspora 167

5. A New York Embrace 189

Call: Coming to the City 189

Response: Women Thinking in Jazz, or the Poetics of a Musical Self 217

6. Returning Home? 242

Call: Cape Town Love / An Archeology of Popular Song 242

Response: Jazz History as Living History 260

7. Musical Echoes 271

Call: Sathima's Musical Echo 271

Response: Reflections on Echo 274

8. Outcomes—Jazz in the World 283

Notes 297

Selected References 325

Index 337
Sales/Territorial Rights: World

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Honorable Mention, Alan Merriam Award (presented by the Society for Ethnomusicology)

Additional InformationBack to Top
Paper ISBN: 978-0-8223-4914-3 / Cloth ISBN: 978-0-8223-4891-7
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