op-ed: i love rock n’ roll: what rock music means to me as a black woman

October 15, 2015

Ten years ago, I listened to my first rock bands, Evanescence and Linkin Park. At that time, I was a nerdy, angry, & depressed black teenager who had no idea who I was. Yet, the lyrics of these bands validated me when no other current musician could.
When I was upset, I would play Linkin Park’s “Numb” or “Faint” or Evanescence’s “Bring Me to Life” or “Imaginary” and feel better. Evanescence was rain and Linkin Park was thunder and lightning. Together, they created a storm that made me feel alive and less alone.
At the same time, there were times that these bands reminded me of my blackness. Since I learned to associate blackness with hip-hop and R&B, I felt like I was “weird” for liking rock. I also found myself wondering why I couldn’t see blacks playing rock music. Then I started college and discovered black people like Chuck Berry and Little Richard invented rock music.

By Latonya Pennington, AFROPUNK Contributor

Realizing that black people invented my number one favorite music genre made me really proud to be black. My perception of the genre changed as well as my music taste. I became a fan of music that came before and after rock n roll, including classic rock, doo- wop, blues, jazz, funk, and soul. In addition to developing an appreciation for veteran black musicians, I did the same with current black musicians.

One of the first current black rock musicians I liked was Tamar-Kali. Her soulful voice paired with electric guitar made songs like “Boot” and “Fire” stir my blood. As someone who felt confined in terms of how I could feel, hearing her angry, sensual vocals and outspoken lyrics was empowering.

Pioneer Sister Rosetta Tharpe

After discovering her & other current black rock musicians like Divinity Roxx and Gary Clark Jr., I started researching more veteran black rock musicians. One of my favorite discoveries was that of Sister Rosetta Tharpe. The fact that an unconventional black woman like her became “The Godmother of Rock n Roll” was so awesome to me.

Eventually I realized how much I loved black female rock musicians. Here were these powerful black women singing, playing guitar, and even drumming in a genre some don’t encourage them to be in. They have to deal with sexism, racism, and sometimes respectability politics. Despite this and the lack of fame they may have, they are still doing the music they love and that sends the best “do you” message ever.

Alexis Brown of metal band Straight Line Stitch

Before I discovered black rock musicians, I thought listening to rock made me less black and that I was the odd one out. Now when I hear black female rockers like Alexis Brown from Straight Line Stitch or Joyce Kennedy from Mother’s Finest, I know that I was never really a misfit. All this time, I was right where I belonged.