2023 Ralph J. Gleason Music Book Award for Francesca T. Royster's Black Country Music

Francesca Royster wins the 2023 Ralph J. Gleason Music Book Award!

UT Press is pleased to announce that Black Country Music: Listening for Revolutions by Francesca Royster has been awarded 1st Place for the 2023 Ralph J. Gleason Music Book Award, given by the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame. Margo Price’s memoir Maybe We’ll Make It made the shortlist, among other excellent titles like Her Country by Marissa Moss. Congratulations to Dr. Royster and Margo Price!

The Ralph J. Gleason award honors the finest books from around the world, showcasing the exciting and diverse landscape of writing on popular music. The Rock & Roll Hall of Fame, New York University’s Clive Davis Institute of Recorded Music, and The Pop Conference awarded the following books as the winners of the 2023 Ralph J. Gleason Music Book Award:

  • 1st Place: Black Country Music: Listening for Revolutions by Francesca T. Royster (University of Texas Press)
  • 2nd Place: Dilla Time: The Life and Afterlife of J Dilla, The Hip-Hop Producer Who Reinvented Rhythm by Dan Charnas (MCD/FSG)
  • 3rd Place: Live Music in America – A History from Jenny Lind to Beyoncé by Steve Waksman (Oxford University Press) 

The award aims to encourage more publishing and reading of books about popular music from all over the world and to showcase the combination of passionate writing and scholarship across journalism and academia, which marked pioneer music critic Ralph J. Gleason’s work.

Francesca T. Royster
Photo by Ann Russo and Vidura Jang Bahadur

“I am thrilled to receive the 2023 Ralph J. Gleason Music Book Award for Black Country Music: Listening for Revolutions,” says Francesca T. Royster. “It’s such an honor to be in the company of writers and journalists like Gleason and past recipients of this award who dedicate their work to exploring the powerful role of music to create social change in our everyday lives–to honor our ancestors; to challenge outworn narratives of the past; to chronicle our struggles and our pleasures; to connect to one another’s humanity; and in the process, to imagine new futures.”

A prize of $10,000 has been distributed among the winners, underwritten through the Wenner Journalism Fund, overseen by Jann S. Wenner, founder and editor of Rolling Stone and author of the 2022 New York Times bestseller, Like a Rolling Stone: A Memoir

A virtual event honoring Royster will be hosted by the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame this fall with details forthcoming. Information about nominating music books published in 2023 as candidates for next year’s Ralph J. Gleason Music Book Awards can be found on rockhall.com. 

Over 60 books were submitted for consideration. They are now available to read as part of the permanent collection at the Rock Hall’s Library & Archives. 

Ralph Gleason was a highly perceptive critic of jazz, pop, and rock music whose words withstand the passage of time and perceived the importance of artists like Bob Dylan, Janis Joplin, and Miles Davis. He co-founded Rolling Stone magazine, was one of the first mainstream writers to cover the mid-1960’s San Francisco music scene, pushed the San Francisco Chronicle into the rock era, and cofounded the Monterey Jazz Festival.

The Ralph J. Gleason Music Book Award advisory board is chaired by writer Holly George-Warren, and includes writer/editor RJ Smith (Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum); writer Carl Wilson (Slate); Dean of the Thornton School of Music/University of Southern California Jason King; Rock & Roll Hall of Fame Vice President of Education and Visitor Engagement Jason Hanley; and academics Kimberly Mack (University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign) and Eric Weisbard (University of Alabama). Judges will rotate yearly. This year’s judges were Anthony DeCurtis, Sasha Geffen, Daniel Goldmark, Tammy Kernodle, and Kira Thurman (author of the 2nd place winner of the 2022 Gleason awards, Singing Like Germans: Black Musicians in the Land of Bach, Beethoven, and Brahms).

About Black Country Music: Listening for Revolutions 
After a century of racist whitewashing, country music is finally reckoning with its relationship to Black people. In this timely work—the first book on Black country music by a Black writer—Francesca Royster uncovers the Black performers and fans, including herself, who are exploring the pleasures and possibilities of the genre. Informed by queer theory and Black feminist scholarship, Royster’s book elucidates the roots of the current moment found in records like Tina Turner’s first solo album, Tina Turns the Country On! She reckons with Black “bros” Charley Pride and Darius Rucker, then chases ghosts into the future with Valerie June. Indeed, it is the imagination of Royster and her artists that make this music so exciting for a genre that has long been obsessed with the past. The futures conjured by June and others can be melancholy, and are not free of racism, but by centering Black folk Royster begins to understand what her daughter hears in the banjo music of Our Native Daughters and the trap beat of Lil Nas X’s “Old Town Road.” A Black person claiming country music may still feel a bit like a queer person coming out, but, collectively, Black artists and fans are changing what country music looks and sounds like—and who gets to love it.

These winners were selected from a shortlist of twelve books that were revealed at the 2023 Pop Conference hosted by the Clive Davis Institute of Recorded Music, which—in addition to the aforementioned books—includes:

  • Chuck Berry: An American Life by RJ Smith
  • Her Country: How the Women of Country Music Became the Success They Were Never Supposed to Be by Marissa Moss
  • Hip Hop Heresies: Queer Aesthetics in New York City by Shanté Paradigm Smalls
  • Holy Ghost: The Life & Death of Free Jazz Pioneer Albert Ayler by Richard Koloda
  • Living Genres in Late Modernity: American Music of the Long 1970s by Charles Kronengold
  • Maybe We’ll Make It by Margo Price
  • Menergy – San Francisco’s Gay Disco Sound by Louis Niebur
  • Rap Capital: An Atlanta Story by Joe Coscarelli
  • Shine Bright: A Very Personal History of Black Women in Pop by Danyel Smith