A Right to Sing the Blues: African Americans, Jews, and - download pdf or read online

By Jeffrey Melnick

All too frequently an incident or coincidence, similar to the eruption in Crown Heights with its legacy of bitterness and recrimination, thrusts Black-Jewish family members into the scoop. A volley of dialogue follows, yet little within the approach of growth or enlightenment results--and this can be how issues will stay until eventually we noticeably revise the way in which we expect concerning the complicated interactions among African american citizens and Jews. A correct to Sing the Blues deals simply the sort of revision. "Black-Jewish relations," Jeffrey Melnick argues, has regularly been a manner for American Jews to discuss their ambivalent racial prestige, a story jointly developed at serious moments, while specific conflicts call for a proof. Remarkably versatile, this narrative can set up diffuse fabrics right into a coherent tale that has a strong carry on our mind's eye. Melnick elaborates this concept via an in-depth examine Jewish songwriters, composers, and perfomers who made "Black" tune within the first few a long time of this century. He exhibits how Jews comparable to George Gershwin, Irving Berlin, Al Jolson, and others have been capable of painting their "natural" affinity for generating "Black" track as a made from their Jewishness whereas concurrently depicting Jewishness as a solid white id. Melnick additionally contends that this cultural task competed without delay with Harlem Renaissance makes an attempt to outline Blackness. relocating past the slim concentration of advocacy staff politics, this publication complicates and enriches our knowing of the cultural terrain shared through African american citizens and Jews.

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Extra info for A Right to Sing the Blues: African Americans, Jews, and American Popular Song

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Waldo Frank—one of the minority party of secular Jews hostile to jazz—was also one of the very few contemporary commentators able to articulate a link between the seemingly dissimilar themes of sexual license and modernization. In a 1925 essay for The New Republic, Frank called jazz the “music of a revolt that fails” and insisted that it was “the song of our reaction from the dull throb of the machine . . This song is not an escape from the Machine to the limpid depths of the soul. ”11 This is not the threatening license usually depicted but a vague evocation of pathetic and unsatisfying sexuality—de~ned, it seems, by images of premature ejaculation and postcoital depression.

101 Foster’s song narrates a vague, atemporal tale of the longing an African American singer feels for home. ”104 In the period under consideration here it was Jewish Americans who most successfully merged Blackness and nostalgia for a mythical homeplace: this homeplace, of course, was situated somewhere in a mythical South—a South which has plenty of local color but no race problems. As members of a newer immigrant group, Jewish composers—however long their own families had been in America—were able to draw on the perception that they personally and perpetually experienced the break from a lost homeland.

97 A fuller articulation of Jewish investments in Blackness came with the Jolson show Sinbad, which opened at the Winter Garden in 1918 and ran intermittently there and elsewhere until 1921. As was the custom of the time, the content of the show was un~xed, and open to interpolations of appropriate songs (meaning either songs that ~t the loose plot of the production, or songs that had hit potential and would improve the visibility of show, performer, and songwriter all). Sinbad had room for two numbers in particular, “Swanee” and “My Mammy,” which were to become Jolson signature songs.

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