I have had the privilege and honor to present, Black Female Rockers from Betty Davis to Joi, at both the BLACK PORTRAITURE[S] II: Imaging the Black Body and Restaging Histories conference in Florence, Italy, and BLACK PORTRAITURE[S] II: Revisited conference in New York. The video above showcases this talk at BLACK PORTRAITURE[S] II.
“To be invisible will be my claim to fame.” – Gladys Knight & The Pips
While Carrie Mae Weems’ “Slow Fade to Black” (2010) commands you to consider how the images of famous black female performers like Eartha Kitt, Nina Simone, Lena Horne, and Josephine Baker are receding from cultural memory and prominence, the series also sparks a deeper question of why the images of black female rockers such as (and most notably) Betty Davis, Joyce Kennedy, and Joi are still sadly mostly unknown, uncredited, or ignored. We can not reduce their invisibility to just race. Because their images directly confront the relationship between gender and sexuality, their reclamation of power and freedom is undeniable, refuting stereotypes and, ultimately, rewriting music’s history and culture.