The Final Revival of Opal & Nev by Dawnie Walton is an engaging oral history about Opal Jewel, a singer who for a short time in the 1970s was the duet partner of Nev Charles. Nev is a skinny red-headed Brit and gifted songwriter. His studio, Rivington Records, feels something is missing and decides he should have a female partner. Nev discovers Opal at an open mike in her hometown of Detroit and is immediately smitten by her. Even though she has never been in a studio, Opal manages to get a good contract and moves to New York. Opal is a tall, proud black woman with a gay friend, Virgil, who dresses her in outlandish clothes. She suffers from alopecia and either goes bald or wears big wigs, turbans, or other headdresses.
Together Opal & Nev struggle to find rock-n-roll success after their first album was a flop. A tragic event fueled by racism causes the death of their drummer, Jimmy Curtis. This finally puts the duet in the limelight. Opal becomes very politically outspoken during national television interviews. The duet has some success but they soon go their separate ways. Nev finds long-term fame and fortune as a solo artist. Opal does not, and eventually retires from the music scene.
The oral history is recorded by S. Sunny Shelton, the first African American and first female editor of Aural, a rock magazine. Sunny is also the daughter of Opal and Nev’s aforementioned drummer, who died before her birth. Soon after she gets appointed editor, Sunny literally runs into Opal. Of course the more we learn about Opal, we know that was not an accidental meeting. Opal tells Sunny that she is seriously considering doing a revival show with Nev at the 2016 Derringdo Festival even though it had been more than 25 years since she has performed. Opal wants Sunny, through her editorial position at Aural, to write a book about Opal & Nev’s career so it can be sold at the Festival. Aural will also have the exclusive right to announce the reunion tour. Of course, Sunny jumps at the chance to learn even more about the duo.
The interviews are done with Opal, Nev, Virgil, Rivington Record’s owner and employees, other recording artists, band members, photographers, Pearl’s family members, Sunny’s Aural employees, and so forth. What is revealed is the portrait of a strong, independent African American woman struggling to make it in the music business run by white males. She remains true to her political beliefs and is always willing to make a statement against racism. Years later, Opal is still seen as a heroine and a role model for African Americans. When the possible truth of what caused the tragic accident is revealed, Sunny is placed in the uncomfortable position of telling Opal. Opal must then decide whether to go ahead with the Opal & Nev Revival and once again be on center stage.
4-plus stars. I was surprised to learn that this is Dawnie Walton’s first novel. She is a gifted writer. Thank you to Simon & Schuster for my advanced reader copy in exchange for an honest review. This book will be published next week on March 30, 2020. The hardcover is 368 pages.