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Speech and/in Song

Speech and/in Song

Chapter:
(p.37) 1 Speech and/in Song
Source:
The Voice as Something More
Author(s):
Steven Rings
Publisher:
University of Chicago Press
DOI:10.7208/chicago/9780226656427.003.0002

This chapter focuses on songs in which a single voice both speaks and sings. While speech is unmarked—and singing marked—in our everyday world of social interaction, the reverse holds in the world of song. If singing makes the voice conspicuous as a material phenomenon in quotidian contexts, does speech have the same effect in song? This paper seeks answers through close readings of popular-music examples across genres and eras, from Hank Williams’s recitation songs as Luke the Drifter, to Patti Smith’s literate punk, to hip-hop examples from Chance the Rapper to Beyoncé. These case studies illustrate the diverse affordances of speech-in-song, from the hipster speech-song continuums of the elite folk-revival and punk scenes, which perform their disdain for bourgeois musical decorum; to spoken passages in genres on the margins of elite taste, such as country and R&B, in which speech can index real-world vocal practices, especially those of the church; to the vocal practices of the hip-hop era, in which the boundary between speech and song is ever more permeable. Diverse as they are, the case studies as a whole reveal the ways in which speech-in-song can return opacity to the voice, disclosing its material persistence.

Keywords:   speech, song, Diana Deutsch, Hank Williams, Marvin Gaye, Patti Smith, Laura Marling, Chance the Rapper, Beyoncé

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