Discussing Sonny Sharrock’s “Black Woman”

Louis Barnes
3 min readSep 27, 2022
The album cover of “Black Woman”

Black Woman is an album that I’ve wanted to talk about for a while now, but I’ve struggled putting the words together. Thus, after multiple listens and some outside research, I’ve finally arranged some thoughts. Here they are:

But first, some backstory is needed. Black Woman is Sonny Sharrock’s debut album released in 1969. Sharrock was already an established jazz guitarist by the time this album released, recording with artists such as Herbie Mann and the legendary Pharoah Sanders. This release signified the start of Sharrock’s creative journey.

This album is unapologetically avant-garde: it’s free jazz bordering on what some might even consider “avant-folk”. Despite the label, I would consider this album surpisingly accessible. Black Woman prominently features Sharrock’s wife, Linda Sharrock on vocals. Her singing voice ranges very greatly on this album, from soulful singing to shrieking and moaning. This paired with Sonny’s shredding on the guitar along with percussionist Milford Graves constant assault on his kit really make this album a magical experience to listen to. The first track, “Black Woman” sounds like it would seemingly fit within a movie soundtrack like Django Unchained: soulful singing along with spacey guitar shredding.

The next two tracks “Peanut” and “Bialero” are admittedly less accessible than the title track, delving deep into the uncomfortable world of free jazz. Linda is less present in these two tracks, coming in with the occasional vocal flairs. “Peanut” especially is more drum and guitar heavy, as if the two are locked in a wrestling match with each other. “Bialero” is more laid back, with some light and beautiful singing from Linda.

On Spotify, the most listened-to track on this album is the next track, “Blind Willie.” This song is a tribute to the blues guitarist Blind Willie Johnson. Johnson is very famous for melancholic loneliness themes in his music. In respect to these themes, Sharrock is the only one playing on this song, even overdubbing his own playing. This song is very folk-heavy, repeating the simple melody over and over again with some slight variations. Sometimes when I listen to this song, I can’t help but strum my air guitar along with Sharrock as he’s playing.

The album narratively culminates with the last track: “Portrait of Linda in Three Colors, All Black”. The song starts off slowly with Linda and Sonny singing a simple melody together. As Sonny transitions to his guitar, Linda continues singing. After a brief trumpet solo, she begins shrieking, which over time devolves into moaning and yelling. All of this is happening while Sonny and Graves shred on their instruments. It’s a very high-energy way to end this album.

Linda (L) and Sonny Sharrock (R)

The singing and shrieking of Linda Sharrock is integral to understanding the meaning behind Black Woman. The cries of Linda teeter the lines between pain and pleasure. In one respect, this album could be an uplift of the Black Woman in a sort of moralistic, or even even sexual way. “Black Women are beautiful!” this album may cry.

In another respect, this album could be a lament of the pain that the Black Woman faces in Her daily life, both as a woman and black person. I doubt Sonny Sharrock was pouring over intersectional feminist theory as he was writing and recording this album, but the themes of this album are an interesting commentary on the how gender and race sort of combine to make the life of a Black Woman tougher than others.

No matter how you read into this album, you can definitely tell that a lot of passion and effort went into creating this album. Sonny Sharrock is one of the godfathers of avant-garde jazz, and this album is a genesis for his creative direction. For those looking to get into spiritual/free jazz, this album is a good starting point. Hopefully by the end of this album, you too can understand what it’s like to be in the shoes of a Black Woman.