Deadly Woman Blues (Clinton Walker, NewSouth)
Spanning over 150 years and featuring more than 100 artists, Clinton Walker’s Deadly Woman Blues explores how the intricacies of gender, race and genre shaped a musical history in Australia that often went unrecorded or misrepresented. As a journalist and fan, Walker aims to be inclusive. As well as profiling many Indigenous Australian women, the representation of black women also extends to artists of Māori and African descent who contributed to the Australian music industry The book is split into three chapters, spanning traditional music and gospel, vaudeville, jazz, blues, soul, country, rock and hip-hop. Walker’s profile of female-led acts in each genre gives these women an opportunity to shine as the main act, rather than as an obscure B-side. Alongside celebrating success stories, Walker also calls attention to lost opportunities and unfulfilled promise—‘less about superstars than shooting stars’—and he doesn’t shy away from detailing the double standards and disadvantages black women faced, and still face today. The brightly coloured illustrated portraits inspired by Popswops trading cards (also by Walker) offer an alternative view to the historically male-centric imagery of popular blues music and culture. Offered as a companion to Walker’s earlier book, Buried Country: The story of Aboriginal country music, this accessible yet unflinching collectible anthology will appeal to art and music history fans looking for stories that centre the female experience.
Nathania Gilson is a Melbourne-based writer and editor