Book Review: “Keep on Pushing”

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I was scanning the new shelf at my local, friendly public library the other day and ran across a book by Denise Sullivan, called Keep on Pushing: Black Power Music from Blues to Hip-hop (2011, Chicago Review Press). I can honestly say that it will dictate my music purchasing for the next several months.

You must hear these songs and that’s the problem with books like this: they seldom come with soundtracks.

Actually, they do, but it’s all in your head. Ideally you’d pop in a disc and listen to “Strange Fruit” while Sullivan is discussing the back story and fallout of the Billie Holiday classic. If you don’t know what Nina Simone sounds like, then no description of “Mississippi Goddam” is going to help. You have to hear it while you’re reading.

My other problem with this book is the subtitle: Black Power Music from Blues to Hip-hop. While that isn’t an inaccurate title, it also doesn’t tell the whole story. It may be the starting point, but it doesn’t encompass the evolution of folk to punk to disco(!).

Black power music is present in all those other genres, but it isn’t immediately obvious to the causal listener. If you don’t pick the book, you won’t see the interviews with Phranc, Yoko Ono and Buffy Saint-Marie. Sullivan gives an overview of nearly every unique musician to challenge pop culture in the past 75 years. Phil Ochs is
here; so is Michael Franti, Pete Seeger, etc. This book is bigger than the title suggests.

If you’re wondering what inspired that song or what an Odetta is, check this book out. You’ll be singing along in no time.

When James Hill isn't working for Athens County Public Libraries, he can be heard Saturday mornings on WOUB AM's Radio Free Athens from 6 a.m. to 9 a.m. For more information about "Keep on Pushing: Black Power Music from Blues to Hip-hop," visit Denise Sullivan's Facebook page, or check the book's availability at the Athens County Public Library at