Study Guide Introduction

SISTAS uses popular music sung by African-American women from 1919 through the present time, in order to show social change for Black women and society in general. The story features five women: (four Black, one white) coming together in an attic after Grandma dies, to go over all her things. They must choose one song to sing at the Memorial that night, and while sifting through memories and confronting one another, songs are introduced going back to the time of the Black Blues singers all the way up to modern hip-hop. The music’s trajectory is revealed to go from “Naming the Pain” (A Good Man is Hard to Find) to “Framing the Problem” (I am Not My Hair), to “Proclaiming the Joy” (Just Fine and Golden). This parallels the story of African-American women and their emerging sense of empowerment.

SISTAS began in 2005 as a way to investigate how African-American women are depicted in Top-40 music, and was part of extensive research that examined lyrics of all Top-40 music since 1900. Some of this research was reported in the book, RESPECT: Women and Popular Music, and other parts of the research have been presented as “Don’t Fall in Love with a Leader: How Music and Management Converge.”

The research for SISTAS did content-analysis of the lyrics of all Top-40 songs African-American women sang since 1900. What this means is that lyrics from all these songs were analyzed for the messages they communicated. Categories were developed, and then those categories were traced from the early 20th Century to the present.

This study guide will enhance your learning of the history and context from which SISTAS has emerged. You will see the progression of how women are depicted in the songs from the early Blues singers to the present.

The “jukebox” musical has been around for decades and the often provide a great deal of fun and nostalgia. What makes SISTAS different is that it also brings new awarenesses, new insights, because it is based on history and research. Being able to put Ma Rainey’s A Good Man is Hard to Find in the context of how freedom was expressed in music 100 years ago brings a new appreciation to that and other songs of the era. Consider how songs such as I Will Survive and Control came at the same time women were gaining more equality. It shows how popular music can be used to track social change.