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While a large number of Yalies attended the Women’s March in Washington, D.C., this past weekend, many more will attend a discussion with musical artist Solange Knowles on activism in pop music later this week.
At Yale, renewed interest in activism, particularly in the context of popular culture, has spurred the creation of the discussion titled “Everybody Still Wants To Fly: Activism in Pop from Prince and Solange” and will take place at the Levinson Auditorium in Yale Law School this Thursday evening. The event is co-sponsored by 15 Yale departments and organizations, including the African American Studies Department, the Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library and the Yale College Dean’s Office, and is a part of a larger series called “Blackstar Rising and the Purple Reign: Celebrating the Legacies of David Bowie and Prince.”
The event will begin with a keynote speech delivered by Knowles, whose 2016 album, “A Seat at the Table,” is regularly listed among the best albums of 2016 and features such political songs as “Don’t Touch My Hair.” It will be followed by a conversation between authors Alan Light and Kandia Crazy Horse, moderated by Yale African American Studies professor Daphne Brooks and Sherae Rimpsey, a lecturer at the Art Institute of Chicago.
“The idea for this conference came to me in the wake of David Bowie’s death followed by Prince’s last year,” Brooks said. “Both artists imagined and created freer and more inclusive worlds through their music and their spectacular performance repertoires. We need them now more than ever.”
In addition to “Everybody Still Wants To Fly,” the title of which is taken from Prince’s 1987 studio album “Sign o’ the Times,” the series will features events regarding the impact of Bowie’s legacy on activism. The series seeks to celebrate the legacies of the two named artists, with other events including concerts with Questlove and TV On The Radio as well as conferences and roundtable discussions. All events are free and open to the public, with no tickets required unless otherwise noted.
However, initial interest in “Everybody Still Wants To Fly” was so high that tickets were deemed necessary, and the event sold out last week despite the venue’s 450-person capacity.
Light, former editor-in-chief of both Vibe and Spin and a music critic for Rolling Stone, is the author of “Let’s Go Crazy: Prince and the Making of Purple Rain,” a book that details the making of Prince’s iconic album “Purple Rain” and his subsequent rise to fame. Crazy Horse is a country music artist and rock critic, in addition to being the author of “Rip It Up: The Black Experience in Rock ‘n’ Roll.”
“Prince and Solange have given me hope that more celebrities will use their social standings to take place in important conversations surrounding our current state, whether that be racial, gendered or socio-economic,” said Ashia Ajani ’19, outreach coordinator of the Yale Women’s Center.
Ajani pointed out that both Prince and Solange each individually have a comprehensive history of political activism, making them suited for the series. In the past, Prince donated money to Trayvon Martin’s family and helped establish #YesWeCode, an initiative to increase job opportunities for minorities in the technology sector. Similarly, Solange has said in the past that she views her music as a form of activism.
To some attendees, the intersection of pop music and activism serves as a reminder that activism can be incorporated into daily life. Chair of Yale’s African American Studies Department Jacqueline Goldsby said that it is important that Solange is speaking almost right after the Martin Luther King Jr. Week keynote lecture by Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee co-founder and Freedom Rider Diane Nash. If pop music emanates from and about everyday life, Goldsby said, so too did the activism of the Civil Rights Movement.
Other undergraduate activists expressed similar views, stating that it gives them hope to see major celebrities increase their political involvement. However, while students have said Solange and Prince’s activist involvement is heartening, some still express skepticism in seeing pop culture artists take on political themes through their work.
“It gives me pause because you never really know when someone is just [expressing views] for the fan base,” Ajani said. “So much misinformation can be spread through pop media. I suppose I’d venture on the side of cautious optimism.”
Solange released her first album, “Solo Stars,” at the age of 16 in 2002.