A Right to Sing the Blues: African Americans, Jews, and by Jeffrey Melnick

By Jeffrey Melnick

All too usually an incident or twist of fate, reminiscent of the eruption in Crown Heights with its legacy of bitterness and recrimination, thrusts Black-Jewish relatives into the scoop. A volley of debate follows, yet little within the method of development or enlightenment results--and this can be how issues will stay until eventually we considerably revise the best way we predict in regards to the complicated interactions among African americans and Jews. A correct to Sing the Blues deals simply this sort of revision. "Black-Jewish relations," Jeffrey Melnick argues, has commonly 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 arrange diffuse fabrics right into a coherent tale that has a robust 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 reminiscent of George Gershwin, Irving Berlin, Al Jolson, and others have been in a position to painting their "natural" affinity for generating "Black" track as a manufactured from their Jewishness whereas concurrently depicting Jewishness as a good white id. Melnick additionally contends that this cultural task competed at once with Harlem Renaissance makes an attempt to outline Blackness. relocating past the slender concentration of advocacy team politics, this booklet complicates and enriches our realizing of the cultural terrain shared through African american citizens and Jews.

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

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110 By the time Gershwin broke big with “Swanee,” Berlin (with the help of Jewish performers such as Fanny Brice and Al Jolson) had already cleared a path for the Jewish composer interested in adapting African American sounds and images for broad popular consumption. As a result, Gershwin and his cowriter Irving Caesar could take the chance of using “The Old Folks at Home” as an object for parody rather than homage. 111 Berlin and Gershwin (and Jolson and so on) needed African Americans as both source of musical inspiration and object of representation.

The Copyright Act of 1909 gave music publishers and songwriters permission to license their materials for pro~t, but the American Society of Composers, Authors, and Publishers (ASCAP), a collective which was founded in 1914 to oversee the payment of royalties, did little to protect African Americans. 78 The putative protection of law and ASCAP did not stop African American songwriters from being exploited. Writers without steady jobs often sold songs—complete with the rights to them—to well-capitalized publishers who could afford to wait for deferred payments.

15 Also important in this equation is the assumption that whatever men were involved with such a sordid business were likely to be racial or sexual outsiders of one sort or another. Jazz and ragtime, as many people understood them, owed their existence to the sordid environment of the brothel. ”17 It is tempting to explain the focus on brothels as a simple case of white people projecting their own sexual impulses onto Black music. Even so, brothels did play some role in the dissemination of African American popular music.

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