Black is Beautiful: Annotated Playlist

For my final project, I wanted to find songs from the past 50 years that are by black female singers. All these songs have a common theme of woman empowerment. I looked up different songs from different musicians and picked a song from each decade to represent the female empowerment of the time. Starting with  Aretha Franklin’s RESPECT in 1967 to Beyonce’s Formation in 2016. I was particularly interested in the music industry because it has been notorious for representing women as easy sexual objects for men. In Rana Emerson’s article, “Where My Girls At: Negotiating Black Womanhood in Music Videos,” she states that there has been a recent appearance of black female performers, songwriters, and producers in popular culture that has called attention to the ways in which they negotiate social existence and attempt to express independence, self-reliance, and agency. The songs I chose in this playlist represent exactly that.

However, black women in the music industry is not something new. They have been in the industry since the early 1900’s with the evolution of jazz which has greatly impacted music today. For example, Bessie Smith is a famous black jazz singer that we studied in class. Angela Davis discusses a plethora of different jazz singers and the themes that centralized their songs. For example, she discusses a song called “Yes, Indeed He Do” which criticizes the household work women are compelled to do for men.


1967 Aretha Franklin – Respect

“What you want, Baby I got it” are the first lyrics of the song. Franklin commented on the meaning behind those lyrics in a recent interview. “As women, we do have it. We have the power. We are very resourceful. Women absolutely deserve respect. I think women, children, and older people are the three least-respected groups in our society.”

1978 Gloria Gaynor – I Will Survive 

In this timeless song, Gloria Gaynor sings about being a strong woman and letting go of her significant other due to his neglect. Women are portrayed as passive and lack the ability to stand up for themselves, but this song debunks that notion. They are also viewed to be dependent on men. But “I Will Survive” proves that a woman doesn’t need a man to live.

1986 Janet Jackson – Control

Janet Jackson starts off this hit with “This is a story about control, my control.” Janet was 19 when she released this song. It shows how women don’t need to be tied down by anyone, whether it be a spouse, or family, they are in control of who they are.

1999 TLC – No Scrubs

TLC’s No Scrubs undoubtedly made this the most hated song by men in the 90s. The hook “So no, I don’t want your number, No I don’t want to give you mine and No, I don’t want to meet you nowehere.” is basically what goes through every female’s head when a sleazy guy harasses them on the street; which happens way too often. TLC sings exactly what’s on our minds.

2006 Indie Arie – I Am Not My Hair

Black females are often criticized for their hair. Some call is unprofessional, untamed, etc. India Arie reflects back on all her hardships regarding her hair and says that she is not her hair, or her skin, and she is not you expectations. It is the ultimate black girl anthem of the 2000s.

2016 Beyonce – Formation




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