Date Awarded


Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (Ph.D.)


American Studies


Hermine Pinson


Learning How to Listen': Analyzing Style and Meaning in the Music of Abbey Lincoln, Nina Simone and Cassandra Wilson examines the similarities of singing styles and core narrative traits in the original songs of three African American women vocalist-composers celebrated within the jazz idiom. Drawing on years of ethnographic research, including over 150 hours of personal interviews with musicians, attendance of jazz concerts and festivals both domestic and abroad, and a three-year listening journal (based on live performances and recordings), 'Learning How to Listen' is an Africana cultural studies product informed by vibrant multidisciplinary scholarship that bridges Jazz studies, Linguistics and African American history and literary studies. The latter especially extends the project's close relationship to twentieth-century black literary traditions found in poetry, prose, and as witnessed here, also song lyrics. The introduction highlights the significance of Lincoln (1930-2010), Simone (1933-2003) and Wilson (b. 1955) to the American music canon, and articulates the dissertation's distinctive contribution to the field of black music studies, addressing the work's methodology and the scope of primary chapters which provide an analysis of the: a) singing voice; b) philosophical authorial voice and c) performance style specifically in relation to 'Re-memory' songs which bear witness to an African heritage. Chapter Two engages two distinct modes of discourse generated on Lincoln, Simone and Wilson by jazz critics and jazz musicians. Chapter Three proves the applicability and efficacy of linguistics to the music of Lincoln, Simone and Wilson by examining the collective approach to melorhythm and tonal semantics and the phonological style markers employed by each: Lincoln's phonosemantics; Simone's microtonality; and Wilson's polytonality. Since a significant portion of the original songs by these artists engage a plethora of black women's socio-political issues, Chapter Four analyzes lyrics that demonstrate a gendered philosophical outlook I refer to as womanist autoethno-graphy. Chapters Five and Six examines the creative impulse shared by these artists to bear witness to their African heritage in 'Re-memory' (a term coined by Nobel laureate Toni Morrison) songs that both invoke and re-imagine an African past and celebrate an African present and future. It is my contention that the cultural study of black music is uniquely positioned to delineate the principles and mechanisms by which African diasporic music is connected by similar aesthetic philosophies. Thus, in the seventh and final chapter my project ultimately suggests a model for expanding discourses about black women's music. My term Afrodiasporic 'Voicing,' introduced in the conclusion, is shorthand for the aural and authorial cultural elements that uniquely characterize black women's music across genres and nations. It implies that black American women singer-songwriters and their musical sisters in the African diaspora share conceptual approaches to music-making processes in spite of geographic or linguistic differences.



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