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Pop go the myths about disabled musicians

THE first in-depth study of the relationship between popular music and disability has been written by an academic from the University of Salford.

Shakin’ All Over: Popular Music and Disability, by Professor George McKay, seeks to dispel the perception that musicians must meet certain aesthetic ideals to succeed in the business.

In the book, Professor McKay looks at well-known artists such as Blockheads frontman Ian Dury, Joni Mitchell, Neil Young and Steve Harley, all of whom are childhood polio survivors who have made an extraordinary mark on the music scene.

He discusses how disability influenced the careers of artists across a broad range of genres, including the Sex Pistols’ Johnny Rotten, Ian Curtis of Joy Division, The Who’s Pete Townshend, along with soul music’s Stevie Wonder.

Professor McKay also explores how soul legends Teddy Pendergrass and Curtis Mayfield coped with becoming physically disabled as a result of accidents, while continuing to make music.

Another of the book’s most poignant stories is that of 1980s pop singer Kata Kolbert, whose demo tapes were rejected when the record companies found out she used a wheelchair.

An acclaimed author of many books on alternative cultures, festivals, and music from jazz to punk and rave, Professor McKay first became interested the history of disability in music 35 years ago when he saw Ian Dury perform live on the punk rock circuit. He began to wonder how many disabled artists have made a significant impact in popular music.

He said: “Dury walked on sage uncertainly, his body looked curious – we knew he was disabled because of childhood polio, but I don’t think we were prepared for the impact of his presence, his attitude, let alone his uncompromising songs about disability.

“The moment we begin to look for, or discuss, disability – whether in popular music or elsewhere in culture and society – we find it everywhere.”

Shakin’ All Over: Popular Music and Disability. Ann Arbor MI: University of Michigan Press, 2013. Pb: ISBN 9780472052097 hb: ISBN 9780472072095 e-book ISBN 9780472120048.

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