Tracks on the Trail

Popular Music, Race, and the US Presidency

Subjects: Music, Popular Music, American Studies, Political Science, American Politics
Series: Tracking Pop
Paperback : 9780472056163, 226 pages, 18 illustrations, 1 table, 6 x 9, October 2023
Hardcover : 9780472076161, 226 pages, 18 illustrations, 1 table, 6 x 9, October 2023
Open Access : 9780472903504, 226 pages, 18 illustrations, 1 table, 6 x 9, October 2023
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How music defines US presidential campaigns

Table of contents


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

Chapter One: Keepin’ It Real (Respectable): Barack Obama’s Music Strategy and the Formation of Presidential Identity

Chapter Two: Anatomy of a Campaign Launch: Heal, Inspire, Revive, Erase with Ben Carson

Chapter Three: Kamala Harris Rap Genius?

Chapter Four: Girls “Make America Great”: Singing the White Stuff for Donald Trump

Chapter Five: Settling the Score: Pop Songs, Protest, and Punishment





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.

Dana Gorzelany-Mostak is Associate Professor of Music at Georgia College & State University.

"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

- Charles D. Carson

"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

- Tammy Kernodle

Read: Author Q&A | October 23, 2023
Listen: Interview with New Books Network Podcast | 04/26/2024