Songbirds: Pioneering Women in Jamaican Music by Heather Augustyn is a comprehensive look at Jamaican vocalists, instrumentalists, record producers, dancers, wives, mothers, and deejays who helped to shape the course of Jamaican music on the island and worldwide. Songbirds: Pioneering Women in Jamaican Music is the fourth book from Augustyn on Jamaican music and culture. The book features dozens of interviews with women who found a way share their talent in a culture and industry that was marked by brazen displays of masculinity. They endured harassment and received little or no pay to perform as backup or alongside or in front of the male musicians. They sacrificed family and home for a life in the spotlight, or they brought their babies with them on the road. They took over the studio and made it their own, or they suffered unimaginable violence, even murder. They changed the course of music all over the world. The book also features over 100 exclusive photographs and memorabilia that supplements personal narratives and archival material.
In this engaging, well-researched book, Augustyn (Ska: An Oral History) states that women had almost no chance in the male-dominated Jamaican music industry in the 1940s–1980s; it was all “overt power and testosterone.” In the songs, women were “the playground for men” or “wrongdoers,” and the lyrics were “misogynistic and thus not very appropriate for female consumption, must less creation.” She shows that the women who pursued music careers in this setting were trailblazers. Augustyn profiles dozens of women who persevered through tough times, juggling child rearing, gender discrimination, and low pay. She includes Louise Bennett, who “brought the Jamaican patois, folklore, and culture to the stage [and] her talents to Harlem”; Millie Small, whose “bubbling” voice made her cover version of “My Boy Lollipop” an international hit; and Susan Cadogan, who went from “quiet library assistant to... superstar.” This is an exhaustive, if overlong, history of Jamaican music. (BookLife)