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

By Jeffrey Melnick

All too frequently an incident or twist of fate, comparable to the eruption in Crown Heights with its legacy of bitterness and recrimination, thrusts Black-Jewish family into the scoop. A volley of debate follows, yet little within the method of growth or enlightenment results--and this is often how issues will stay until eventually we substantially revise the best way we predict concerning the complicated interactions among African americans and Jews. A correct to Sing the Blues bargains simply the 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 an evidence. 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" track within the first few a long time of this century. He indicates how Jews akin to George Gershwin, Irving Berlin, Al Jolson, and others have been capable of painting their "natural" affinity for generating "Black" tune as a made of their Jewishness whereas at the same time depicting Jewishness as a strong 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 workforce 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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20 “Yiddle on Your Fiddle” Ex am Co py mechanism? But these are really two sides of the same coin—the catastrophe of modern American city life. Modern music was at once redolent of a racialness frequently imaged in sexual terms, while it was also produced and marketed in urban centers, with the attendant images of standardization and mechanization. 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.

This complex relation of songwriter and song suggests a paradigm of Jewish involvement with African American forms from minstrelsy on: in Berlin’s “Alexander,” George Gershwin’s Porgy and Bess, and so many other signi~cant productions, Jews capitalized on their ability to convey both closeness to the cultural stuff of “Blackness” and distance from actual African Americans. Closeness was marked by performance context, Copyright © 1999 The President and Fellows of Harvard College 44 “Yiddle on Your Fiddle” Ex am Co py general tone (“raciness”), and so on.

64 The privileged place Jews achieved in the business sphere of the culture industry, especially in connection with African American–identi~ed forms, has always been a discom~ting subject. One response, popular with putative alliance builders and Jewish partisans especially, has been to erase the commercial taint. 66 Even so, it cannot be gainsaid that by the mid-1930s Jews had attained positions of shaping in_uence in virtually every branch of the entertainment complex. In the music business the move toward power began relatively early, even though the cornerstones for the culture industries had been laid well before the mass immigration of Jews to the United States had even taken place.

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