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Brittnay Proctor

Brittnay Proctor is a doctoral candidate in the Department of African American Studies at Northwestern University. Her dissertation, “They Say I’m Different: Theories of Black Gender and the Grammatologies of Funk,” uses the work of Black funk musicians of the 1970s to consider how Black musicians theorized the ways that Black subjects precariously embody and perform their gender.

“‘Shout It Out:’ Patrice Rushen as Polyphonist and the Sounding of Black Women’s Racialized Gender Affectability”
Patrice Rushen’s Shout It Out was released in February of 1977. A follow-up to Before the Dawn (1975), it would be her last release on Prestige Records. Providing more than the soul/funk and “crossover jazz” sounds indicative of the time, Shout It Out showcases a range of styles that would be known as “fusion,” or more particularly, jazz-funk. The album, according to Rushen was “a little on the funk side, what I liked to do.” This paper examines Shout it Out to better understand how Black women’s production of sonic modalities of being indexes their precarious position in the world. This precarity allows for Black women to be governed as racialized affectable subjects, as well as provides the conditions of possibility for the producing a “break” in this affectability. While this break does not dismantle the loop that is Black women’s racialized gender subjugation, it shows the ways that Black women have historically and sonically “clapped back” in response to this subjugation, all while employing the tools that are most readily available to them. More particularly, this paper argues that Rushen’s use of the clavinet; a modernized baroque keyboard instrument, as well as the albums investment in improvisation, vocalizes the precarity that produces Black women as “affectable (subaltern) subjects.”

Additionally, I argue that this work of Rushen, which is situated in jazz-funk, sounds the imposing force that is quintessential gender by taking modernized baroque instruments that discursively played to the universal human, “man” and ties them to the “lowlier” and “Blacker” sounds of funk. Thus, I argue that the use of improvisation allows Rushen to become a polyphonist, a producer of multiples voices that sound the calamity of being Black and woman.


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