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Pauline Black: The Queen Of Ska

Friday, January 24, 2014

Pauline Black (center) with her band, The Selecter. (Courtesy of the artist)

The influential British band called The Selecter formed in the late 1970s, around a style of music called 2 Tone ska -- a hi octane blend of rock, jazz and roots reggae, often with a socially conscious message. The group’s frontwoman, Pauline Black, was hailed as “The Queen of Ska” -- and she still is. Black tells her story in a recent memoir called Black By Design, and a new album, called String Theory.

This segment originally aired on Sept. 24, 2013.

    Interview Highlights

    Pauline Black, on how being adopted shaped her:

    I do still consider myself, to a certain extent, to be an outsider. I'm mixed-race. My father was Nigerian, my mother was Jewish. I was adopted by working-class white parents in London. By the time I was four years old I was ready to go to school so they had to tell me something because, you know, kids always point out the elephant in the room. I was definitely the elephant in the room in the school I went to. It didn't come as a a shock necessarily. It did make me think. Obviously, it gives you identity issues I suppose as you grow into teenage years. Everybody has identity problems at that time. Not knowing your mother or your father - your real mother or father- it does tend to make you a little more insecure than you would normally be.

    On how Motown appealed to her as a teenager:

    It was like the information was coming from America about what it meant to be Black. I mean, James Brown named the nation Black and I thought, 'Yep, that's for me.' .... The video of [Aretha Franklin] strutting down the street singing ["Respect"] at full voice to a little Black kid in Britain, that meant a lot.



    On The Selecter's new album String Theory:

    On Made In Britain [we were] saying 'whatever color you are, we're here. Somehow we have to deal with each other, and that is the future, and what comes out of that.' String Theory is really just taking it on and thinking about my scientific background. String Theory would suggest that we're all made of the same stuff, these little vibrating strings are all the way through the universe. That's what connects us. It seemed to be this lovely connect with our past, this string that we were following from 1979 to present day. Really saying, that we are all the same. All we have to do is embrace the fact that at the end of the day we all are human beings and the best thing we can do is stop ourselves from messing this planet up more than we have already.



    Pauline Black

    Comments [3]


    oh stop.... Madonna is an important pop-culture figure ; and, like her or not, she's part of the musical fabric, of American, and the world's, pop-culture DNA. why pit one artist against the other. it's silly and obnoxious...!

    Jan. 25 2014 09:07 AM

    Pauline Black (!) being on the show for even 5 minutes makes up for all the Madonna week-long worship from last week and other blah guests or topics over the year. Would've been brilliant to have on the wonderful Poly Styrene too had she not passed away last year...

    More more more old school gals please! There were so many smart gals of mixed race roots who came out of hugely influential new wave/punk/ska bands from the UK & US. Like us, they aren't getting any younger and somehow haven't received their due credit. Let's bridge the knowledge gap between this (pretty clueless) young musical audience and the more savvy listeners that know better.

    Thanks again for having Pauline on- usually book hype tours bore me I'm genuinely interested in her book. As far as her musical past, wow, the Selector is deeply ingrained in my DNA. I not only still have their records (love their LP cover artwork and inner sleeve info) but have very fond memories driving around Montclair circa '90-'93 with my best pal, driving to nowhere in particular but having a blast playing their music cranked up... filled us with a joy music today just can't. And was SO POSITIVE compared to the awful, negative, boring, all-male and 99% white hardcore music popular then. It was easy to make friends just by wearing their t-shirt... you knew the other person was just decent, because the Selector was about good things. Other bands like them too of course.

    One reason I started hanging out with the Riot Grrrls in NYC after moving to the city, to meet others to form a band with, to perhaps form a band a tenth as good as Selector. My luck ran short but friends ended up doing just that and ended up making history... great music always inspires. Thank you Pauline!!!!

    Sep. 24 2013 09:29 PM
    suzinne from Bronx

    The Specials, Madness and The Selector. Loved them all, loved the Two Tone styles, dancing to the music in the clubs and playing the vinyl on my turntable at home.

    Will definitely check out Pauline Black's book. Thanks for bringing it to our attention.

    Sep. 24 2013 09:13 PM

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