Episode 112: White Radicalism and Black Power in 1960s Rock with Patrick Burke

This episode of Across The Margin: The Podcast features an interview with Patrick Burke, associate professor of music at Washington University in St. Louis, Missouri. Burke is the author of Come In and Hear the Truth: Jazz and Race on 52nd Street and also the recently released Tear Down The Walls: White Radicalism and Black Power in 1960s Rock — the focus of this episode. From the earliest days of rock and roll, white artists regularly achieved fame, wealth, and success that eluded the Black artists whose work had preceded and inspired them. This dynamic continued into the 1960s, even as the music and its fans grew to be more engaged with political issues regarding race. In Tear Down the Walls, Burke tells the story of white American and British rock musicians’ engagement with Black Power politics and African American music during the volatile years of 1968 and 1969. The book sheds new light on a significant but overlooked facet of 1960s rock — white musicians and audiences casting themselves as political revolutionaries by enacting a romanticized vision of African American identity. These artists’ attempts to cast themselves as revolutionary were often naïve, misguided, or arrogant, but they could also reflect genuine interest in African American music and culture and sincere investment in anti-racist politics. White musicians such as those in popular rock groups Jefferson Airplane, the Rolling Stones, and the MC5, fascinated with Black performance and rhetoric, simultaneously perpetuated a long history of racial appropriation and misrepresentation and made thoughtful, self-aware attempts to respectfully present African American music in forms that white leftists found politically relevant. In Tear Down the Walls Patrick Burke neither condemns white rock musicians as inauthentic nor elevates them as revolutionary. The result is a fresh look at 1960s rock that provides new insight into how popular music both reflects and informs our ideas about race and how white musicians and activists can engage meaningfully with Black political movements — and you can learn all about these ideas in this informative, music and history-centric episode of Across The Margin: The Podcast.

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