Right to Rock

The Black Rock Coalition and the Cultural Politics of Race

Right to Rock

Book Pages: 336 Illustrations: 39 b&w illus. Published: June 2004

Author: Maureen Mahon

African American Studies and Black Diaspora, Anthropology > Cultural Anthropology, Music > Popular Music

The original architects of rock ’n’ roll were black musicians including Little Richard, Etta James, and Chuck Berry. Jimi Hendrix electrified rock with his explosive guitar in the late 1960s. Yet by the 1980s, rock music produced by African Americans no longer seemed to be “authentically black.” Particularly within the music industry, the prevailing view was that no one—not black audiences, not white audiences, and not black musicians—had an interest in black rock. In 1985 New York-based black musicians and writers formed the Black Rock Coalition (brc) to challenge that notion and create outlets for black rock music. A second branch of the coalition started in Los Angeles in 1989. Under the auspices of the brc, musicians organized performances and produced recordings and radio and television shows featuring black rock. The first book to focus on the brc, Right to Rock is, like the coalition itself, about the connections between race and music, identity and authenticity, art and politics, and power and change. Maureen Mahon observed and participated in brc activities in New York and Los Angeles, and she conducted interviews with more than two dozen brc members. In Right to Rock she offers an in-depth account of how, for nearly twenty years, members of the brc have broadened understandings of black identity and black culture through rock music.


Right to Rock is a tightly researched, rich, and insightful study. Mahon’s voice is engaging and honest; she is clearly fascinated by and deeply invested in her topic, which makes reading her book all the more rewarding.” — Elizabeth L. Wollman , Ethnomusicology

Right to Rock is a wonderfully written and wonderfully argued work; it comes highly recommended.” — Hasse Huss , Ethnos

Right to Rock provides popular music scholars with a very useful wealth of ethnographic detail regarding African Americans’ cultural struggles with the politics of race in the production and distribution of American popular music.” — Matt Stahl , International Association for Popular Music Studies News

“[I]nteresting, important, and well worth reading.” — Henry T. Brownlee Jr. , Journal of African American History

“Maureen Mahon’s ethnographic study of the BRC is a jewel of a read, providing a poignant and sensitive picture of contemporary African American musicians and their struggle to create boundary-free rock music.” — Harriet Joseph Ottenheimer , American Anthropologist

"[I]nformative. . . . [Mahon's] approach sheds new light on the black rock phenomenon. . . . [She broadens] our analysis of the working conditions of blacks in the entertainment industry, and exposes its continuing structural inequity." — Tavia Nyong'o, TDR: The Drama Review

"Mahon offers an up-close look at the performers who formed the Black Rock Coalition, and she discusses the connections between music, race, and identity." — , Black Issues Book Review

"Mahon's book contributes to the field by providing both a methodological example for research into different groups within music culture . . . and by introducing threads of research for others to follow. Mahon's fondness for her subject and her devotion to the cause of the BRC contribute to the success of this study." — Norma Coates , Women and Music

"Mahon, a black associate professor of anthropology at UCLA, describes the dilemmas faced by black rock musicians who are told that 'black rock won't sell to whites because it's black and it won't sell to blacks because it's rock.' . . . [B]lack rockers face peculiar problems of perception and acceptance. . . [and] the BRC has done smart and resourceful things to combat preconceptions. Mahon ably documents both." — John Strausbaugh , Washington Post Book World

"Maureen Mahon has written an eloquent ethnography that adds to a limited but growing rebuttal of monolithic and essentialist representations of people of African descent, in general, and of Black cultural production, in particular. . . . Right to Rock is a timely and excellent choice for use in classes in cultural anthropology and cultural studies, American studies, and music. It is also a valuable resource for professors and students interested in an interdisciplinary approach that integrates theory into a rich ethnography with an approach that elevates the discussion of the relationship between race, gender, and class and their mutual impact on aesthetic representations and cultural productions." — Katya Gibel Azoulay , American Ethnologist

“In clear, concise, and immensely readable prose, Right to Rock asks important—often uncomfortable but always necessary—questions about the power and limits of racially identified aesthetics in social, artistic, political, and economic contexts. In looking at the triumphs and struggles of rock ’n’ roll bands such as Screaming Headless Torsos, Bad Brains, Living Colour, and Fishbone, Maureen Mahon opens a window on to an American music and culture that has historically sought to disenfranchise, marginalize, and even deny the existence of the vital contributions of African American musical artists from Blind Tom to Me’Shell NdegéOcello. Anyone seeking to understand the ideas behind ‘Black Rock’—whether one hears that phrase as divisive or inclusive—would do well to pick up a copy of Right to Rock and read it.” — Vernon Reid, guitarist, founder of the band Living Colour, and cofounder of the Black Rock Coalition

“Maureen Mahon’s Right to Rock presents a fascinating description of the meaning of rock music for black artists and audiences. Devoted to a form of commercialized leisure for which they are not the target demographic, these committed musicians and listeners write themselves into a story from which they have largely been excluded. Important as a study of a fascinating cultural practice, Right to Rock also makes indispensable contributions to our understanding of larger issues about both the fixity and the fluidity of market categories and social identities.” — George Lipsitz, author of American Studies in a Moment of Danger


Availability: In stock
Price: $27.95

Open Access

Author/Editor Bios Back to Top

Maureen Mahon is Assistant Professor in the Department of Anthropology and the African American Studies Program at the University of California, Los Angeles.

Table of Contents Back to Top
Acknowledgments ix

1. Reclaiming the Right to Rock 1

2. The “Postliberated Generation” 33

3. Saturday Go to Meeting 59

4. Black Rock Manifesting 86

5. Black Rock Aesthetics 113

6. Living Colored in the Music Industry 142

7. Media Interventions 176

8. Playing Rock, Playing Roles 204

9. Jimi Hendrix Experiences 231

10. Until the Levee Breaks 257

Discography 267

Notes 273

Bibliography 285

Index 299
Sales/Territorial Rights: World

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Additional InformationBack to Top
Paper ISBN: 978-0-8223-3317-3 / Cloth ISBN: 978-0-8223-3305-0
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