Race, sexuality and popular culture: Joni Mitchell and Elvis Presley

Ann Powers examines the 1970s moment when Joni Mitchell created her blackface character Art Nouveau; Eric Weisbard explores the whiteness of Elvis Presley’s wail on “Hound Dog.”

This event brings together two major figures in the analysis of popular music to discuss issues of race and sexuality in popular culture: one of the world’s leading pop critics, Ann Powers and music historian and critic Eric Weisbard. It will be Chaired by Professor David Hesmondhalgh.

Ann Powers will present a portion of her forthcoming book ‘Traveling: On the Path of Joni Mitchell’.

The focus will be the 1970s moment when Mitchell inhabited the persona of the Black hustler Art Nouveau.

We can see this unforgivable sequence as a "broken middle," a time and place where every possibility leads to conflict and every conflict gives birth to a different future.

Eric Weisbard will present material from his book Hound Dog, about the single originated by Big Mama Thornton and covered by Elvis Presley as a different act of racial splintering.

How did the version of "Hound Dog" that Presley came to record, different than Thornton's but also from the one he shook his hips to on television, come to embody the essence of a white man rocking? 

About the speakers

Prior to her appointment as NPR Music’s critic and correspondent, Ann Powers worked as chief pop music critic for the Los Angeles Times, pop critic at the New York Times and music editor at the Village Voice.

Her books include ‘Traveling: On the Path of Joni Mitchell’ (June, 2024) and ‘Good Booty: Love and Sex, Black and White, Body and Soul in American Music.’ She coauthored ‘Tori Amos Piece By Piece’ and coedited ‘Rock She Wrote: Women Write About Rock, Pop and Rap.’

Eric Weisbard is Professor of American Studies at the University of Alabama and the current Fulbright Chair in American Studies at Uppsala University (2023-24).

The cofounder of the annual Pop Conference, he has edited three conference collections, ‘the Spin Alternative Record Guide’ and ‘The Journal of Popular Music Studies.’

His books include ‘Hound Dog,’ ‘Songbooks: The Literature of American Popular Music’ and ‘Top 40 Democracy: The Rival Mainstreams of American Music.’