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Tracks on the Trail: Popular Music, Race, and the US Presidency

by Dana Gorzelany-Mostak

University of Michigan Press, 2023


Cloth: 978-0-472-07616-1

Paper: 978-0-472-05616-3

eISBN: 978-0-472-90350-4

About the Book

From Bill Clinton playing his saxophone on The Arsenio Hall Show to Barack Obama referencing Jay-Z’s song “Dirt Off Your Shoulder,” politicians have used music not only to construct their personal presidential identities but to create the broader identity of the American presidency. Through music, candidates can appear relatable, show cultural competency, communicate values and ideas, or connect with a specific constituency. On a less explicit level, episodes such as Clinton’s sax-playing and Obama’s shoulder brush operate as aural and visual articulations of race and racial identity. But why do candidates choose to engage with race in this manner? And why do supporters and detractors on YouTube and the Twittersphere similarly engage with race when they create music videos or remixes in homage to their favorite candidates?

With Barack Obama, Ben Carson, Kamala Harris, and Donald Trump as case studies, Tracks on the Trail: Popular Music, Race, and the US Presidency sheds light on the factors that motivate candidates and constituents alike to articulate race through music on the campaign trail and shows how the racialization of sound intersects with other markers of difference and ultimately shapes the public discourse surrounding candidates, popular music, and the meanings attached to race in the 21st century. Gorzelany-Mostak explores musical engagement broadly, including official music in the form of candidate playlists and launch event setlists, as well as unofficial music in the form of newly composed campaign songs, mashups, parodies, and remixes.

About the Author
Dana Gorzelany-Mostak is Associate Professor of Music at Georgia College & State University.
"Tracks on the Trail ​​explores the changing nature of political engagement through a tangential analysis of how the emergence of social media and streaming platforms widened possibilities of garnering new constituents for political candidates. It is a timely study of the ways in which music has been engaged as a means of projecting identity, policy, and ideology during presidential campaigns and administrations." 
— Tammy Kernodle, Miami University

"Taking a critical look at the musical choices and genres used by candidates, Gorzelany-Mostak has surveyed the election trail from 1990 to 2020, examining materials ranging from popular songs, both pre-existing and newly composed, to multimedia materials and candidate literature that share information about playlists. it is a critical evaluation of the music in these election campaigns and of how using a particular genre or lyric can shape public perceptions of a candidate. Rated: Recommended"— J.K. Matthews, Rowan Universty, Choice

"Tracks on the Trail is a virtuosic exploration of the relationship between race, music, and our understanding of the (re)presentation(s) of power within the realm of the public discourse surrounding the US presidency. This book not only theorizes race, but looks at how it has made a direct impact in the everyday lives of individuals (of all races) within the US context. As such, this book is perfectly positioned to speak to the musicologies in a wholly unique way. At the same time, it eschews overly complicated musical discussions and jargon in favor of language that is approachable for those outside of music, as well. It is a consummate example of public musicology."— Charles D. Carson, University of Texas at Austin

Tracking Pop, Trail, Tracks, Political Process, Race, Music, Political Science, United States, History
Open Access Information

License: CC BY-NC-ND