‘Black Girl Songbook’ Celebrates the Undeniable Impact of Black Women in Music

Christina M. Tapper
ZORA
Published in
2 min readFeb 4, 2021

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Whitney Houston sings the national anthem before the start of Super Bowl XXV on January 27, 1991.

“I want every Black woman to receive the confirmation of resilience and brilliance she rightfully deserves,” wrote Danyel Smith in her stunning opening essay for the ZORA Music Canon last year. This isn’t just a desire. Smith put this into action.

Today, the seasoned and highly-decorated music and culture journalist launched Black Girl Songbook, a Spotify Original show celebrating Black women in the music industry, produced by The Ringer. Each episode will deliver deep-dive discussions with artists, songwriters, and producers paired with personal anecdotes from Smith, who has attended more than 1,000 concerts and covered many of our faves for Vibe, Billboard, and ESPN (she’s got stories for days).

For the inaugural episode, Smith focuses on Whitney Houston’s magnificent 1991 Star-Spangled Banner performance at Super Bowl XXV. It’s a story she wrote about in 2016, in detail, right down to the recording — “Yes, Whitney Houston’s version of ‘The Star-Spangled Banner’ was pre-recorded” (get over it) — and the request that it be re-recorded because NFL suits weren’t satisfied (the NFL is gonna NFL, y’all).

Smith is a sharp and connective storyteller, on the page and in the audio space. In the debut episode of Black Girl Songbook, she serves up nostalgia while chatting with her listeners like homegirls. Reminiscing and kickin’ it. Keeping us honest about the moment back then, and the moment we find ourselves in right now.

“At Super Bowl XXV, it’s like Whitney Houston broke down the National Anthem and put it back together as something we could all unite under. And here we are now. At another Super Bowl. We’re in the middle of a pandemic. And we’re at the same Tampa arena. We are trying as a country to unite again,” Smith says on the show. “But there’s no Whitney. There’s just us.”

The episode, which features commentary from singer Deborah Cox, also highlights the undeniable indelibility of Houston’s voice and body of work. We hear her in Beyoncé, Alicia Keys, and Jazmine Sullivan. “She has the most… influential voice in the history of American pop. And it needs to be said more often. It needs to be on T-shirts. It needs to be screamed from the rooftops,” Smith says in the outro. “But that’s why we’re here.”

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Christina M. Tapper
ZORA
Writer for

Rule breaker, champion of women and education, and recovering sports journalist.