Music and food share quite a few things: they are both created through intricate work, bring diverse groups of people together, and are often judged within the first few seconds. The artistic processes behind cooking and creating music also run parallel: artists work long hours to perfect a recipe or song, and often collaborate with others to get things just right; they use their ingredients and instruments to create something fresh and appealing; and they often present their final product for others to consume and critique. Music is often a backdrop for both cooking and eating. It’s very rare for a restaurant not to have music playing; most events with food are accompanied by a playlist of some sort. Cleverly and smoothly, Katori Hall integrates these musical expectations into her play The Hot Wing King.
Numerous chefs believe that music can determine the food quality and their kitchen’s rhythm. When completing tedious prep work like chopping, peeling, and coring, music that is driven and motivating, such as rock, can help pass the time. In The Hot Wing King, Big Charles prepares the chicken for marination by chopping, disjointing, and splitting the wings. As he does so, he creates a rhythm that’s similar to what one might hear in a rock song, and he completes the task in record time. When it comes to cooking food, genres like rap and hip-hop can help keep both spirits high and chefs moving quickly. Our cast of characters rely on trap music, an offshoot of hip-hop, to elevate their energy and have fun with one another as they whip up new creations.
The music played when presenting food differs vastly based on cuisine type, location of where the food is served, and the area’s culture. For example, people often connect the traditional image of fine dining with classical music, or southern barbecue with country or folk. The Hot Wing King, set in Memphis and thematically centered around Black joy—and more specifically, Black gay joy—is peppered with references to Aretha Franklin, Nicki Minaj, Donny Hathaway, and more. The show notably features a piano in the house that sparks beautiful, poignant moments of togetherness and singing. The characters prepare for Memphis’ annual “Hot Wang Festival,” a cooking competition to find the city’s king of fried wings. The event plays out like a cookout—plates being passed around, line dances and music for the whole family playing, and the sound of laughter being spread. Pop and R&B perfectly set the mood for this occasion, and it’s safe to assume that a playlist of these genres could be heard at the festival.
Check out the playlist below to experience the music referenced and inspired by characters in The Hot Wing King, from Kirk Franklin to Saweetie. Give it a play in your own kitchen and see what it inspires you to create!
—Maya Louise Shed