valerie june

WORKIN’ WOMAN BLUES

Trouble Town - Jake Bugg // Workin’ Woman Blues - Valerie June // Ain’t it a Shame - Lightnin’ Hopkins // I Can’t Wait - The White Stripes // Can’t Afford to Lose my Man - Memphis Minnie // Dog House Boogie - Seasick Steve // Taste It - Jake Bugg // 32 - 20 Blues - Robert Johnson // Shotgun - Valerie June // Black Cat Bone - Lightnin’ Hopkins // Poor Howard - Leadbelly // Your Southern Can is Mine - The White Stripes //  Honey Skippin’ - The Hot Sprockets // Devil’s Got the Blues - Lonnie Johnson

Listen here

2

you are terrifying
and strange and beautiful
something not everyone knows how to love.

Odetta - Ain’t No Grave / Ibeyi - Oya / Cold Specks - Blank Maps / Chloe x Halle - Drop / Warsan Shire - For Women Who Are Difficult to Love / Mirel Wagner - Ellipsis / Elizabeth Cotten - Honey Babe Your Papa Cares for You / Valerie June - Trials, Troubles, Tribulations / Beyonce - Daddy Lessons

The Sweetheart compilations adhere to a simple concept in which well-liked contemporary artists cover well-liked classic love songs just in time for Valentine’s Day. This year’s participants include Fiona Apple, Vampire Weekend, Sharon Jones, Ben Harper, Jim James, Beck, Valerie June and more.

Stream Sweetheart 2014 from NPR Music’s First Listen

Seven Sisters For Brittany Howard

The first time I saw Jimi Hendrix on a magazine cover, I was 14 years old. I had never seen anyone who looked the way I felt. Like a passionate freak, part alien, part monster, part lover, part messiah. But black. I didn’t know such a thing was possible, much less in the public eye. I promptly shoplifted the issue from a 7-Eleven in Van Nuys and read for three days about how many white people not only accepted this mercurial weirdness but praised Hendrix for it. It was the opposite of what I learned growing up, which always came down to: If you want white people to treat you decently, don’t challenge them. Don’t make them uncomfortable, don’t have too many feelings, don’t be too weird. If you want to survive, you have to keep white people feeling safe.

It is an immensely frustrating proposition: that your ability to successfully navigate oppression depends entirely on your ability to meet the completely arbitrary definition the oppressor sets for your worth. It is, in fact, a no-win proposition, which is the reason why the most revolutionary cultural acts black people have undertaken in 2016 have involved the unapologetic expression of oneself and one’s blackness. From Beyoncé’s white-terror-inducing announcement that she has hot sauce in her bag to Kanye’s Dalí-esque live gospel performance on SNL, it’s become clear that the only way to survive the obsessive and overbearing demand of white oppression is to stop worrying about it altogether. The only way to win is not to play. This kind of spiritual freedom is by no means a new idea, but it is a state of being that requires daily maintenance. And black folks today are collectively engaged, perhaps more than at any time since the early 1970s, in this daily maintenance.

Alabama Shakes frontwoman Brittany Howard represents this spiritual freedom in that she does what’s true and what has been considered to be, up until fairly recently, unusual. She is a black woman playing blues rock. And she does so with the kind of force and fearlessness of vulnerability that makes people uncomfortable. But when I showed videos of her to my 10-year-old daughter, who shares Howard’s skin color and hair texture, and whose pantheon of black female artists consists only of Beyoncé and Rihanna, she was mesmerized; trying to understand, it seemed, the decidedly real image of a big-bodied woman of color singing, trembling, quaking, and shivering her truth. This is not the perfect pop star from central casting surrounded by a dozen meticulously urban backup dancers.

As a parent, all you want for your kids is that they feel free to be themselves and be loved. But the problem, especially raising a girl and most especially raising a girl of color, is that you can say you love and accept them until you are unable to speak anymore, but this will eventually be drowned out by a world that tells them in thundering and certain terms: “There are a lot of parts of you — honest, beautiful, and vulnerable parts — that we don’t have any place for.” The limits placed on a person’s humanity are already great by the time that person is a 10-year-old girl.

Brittany Howard playing guitar, making those ugly, honest faces, and belting out such unapologetic power does the kind of parenting for my daughter that I can’t do alone. I can tell my daughter it’s OK to be something that no one else has given her permission to be. But Brittany Howard can show her.

No matter what anyone says, blues and rock are our music as much as they are anyone else’s, and Brittany Howard is only the latest in a long line of black women who have owned them. She is not out there alone. 

And because seven is the lucky number of the blues, here are seven other sisters who have come along before, or in some cases alongside, her. [Read More]