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Danyel Smith at the Wale #CRWN Talk

Source: Johnny Nunez / Getty


On April 19, world-renowned pop culture and music writer Danyel Smith finally released her new memoir Shine Bright: A Personal History of Black Women in Pop.

The riveting book details the intimate history of Black women’s foundational role in innovating the American pop genre. The longtime music reporter highlights the historic careers of influential pop icons like Gladys Knight, Mahalia Jackson and Whitney Houston, as she explores how the stars impacted her life personally along with fans around the world. Smith, who previously served as the editor-in-chief at both Billboard and Vibe magazines, also weaves together some aspects of her life story within the page-turning memoir.

Shine Bright is an overdue paean to musical masters whose true stories and genius have been hidden in plain sight,” a bio for the book reads.

On Tuesday, Smith sat down with NPR’s IT’S BEEN A MINUTE podcast to share more about the exciting memoir along with a loaded playlist that pays homage to a number of pop powerhouses like Jean Knight and the R&B group Honey Cone.

“The main inspiration is I just literally never feel like Black women in music receive the credit they are due. I also just feel like Black women’s lives and, to some degree also, Black people’s artistic and genius – the genius side of their lives is written about so often in summary,” she explained of the book’s significance.

“I think their lives are written about so often as like a moment of Black History Month or written about as a moment of a first being accomplished,” Smith continued. “And all of these things are smart, and all of these things are important, but I wanted to very much write about the details of the genius of Black women’s lives, everything from what the material of their dresses was to what wigs they decided to put on to the decor at the clubs they most often performed at to their actual births, their mothers, you know, giving birth to them, and what were the circumstances of those birth moments? I think all of this kind of stuff is important.”

On Tuesday, the Black Girl Songbook podcast host took to Instagram to celebrate the big release with an essay she wrote for the Los Angeles Times that gives her take on why Glady’s Knight and the Pips’ 1973 classic “Midnight Train to Georgia” is the “perfect pop song.”

“In my new SHINE BRIGHT: A VERY PERSONAL HISTORY OF BLACK WOMEN IN POP, i write a lot about ‘70s/‘80s Black #California and about how #GladysKnight & the Pips’ perfect ‘Midnight Train to Georgia’ is really a CA song,” she teased of the article in her caption.


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What makes the classic tune a hit for Smith, you ask? The pop music enthusiast pointed to Knight’s determination in the lyrics.

“…Knight is forthright — I got to go / I got to go — about leaving, she also sounds like she’s convincing herself. Even when I was a kid, Gladys Knight sounded to me like she was singing one thing and wanting another. In my mind, she gets him to the station, but when the train pulls off, Knight is still on the platform,” she writes in the op-ed piece, adding:

“Even in her glowing, tiny-waisted, full-throated prime, Gladys Knight was underrated. She is often under-appreciated even now. Part of this is because she came of age in the shadow of Diana Ross, whose anime eyes had seduced the world. But it is equally because though she has sold millions of records, toured globally, been nominated by her peers for 22 Grammys and won 7, and was inducted in 1996 into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame — Gladys is almost always a part of a group or collaboration.”



Grab a copy of Shine Bright: A Personal History of Black Women in Pop here.

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