Archive for the ‘Music of the Black Atlantic’ Category

My exam is THURSDAY! Today is Monday! Aaaaah.


My advisor advised that I choose a study method less in-depth than blog posts, so I stopped writing. However, I’m going to do a quick one today on a music tradition that I find so POWERFUL to listen to. I’m not going to edit this and I’m not going to go in-depth and find sources to back up my sources, so take everything with a grain of salt. It’s crunch time. Let’s go.

In the 17th century, British churches introduced a new style of worship singing that would allow parishioners who could not read to still participate. This new style was called lining out, or hymn lining. Some say this actually originated in Scotland, but more widely, England is considered the country of origin.

Ancient Hackney: Abney Park - Isaac Watts - Ley Vortex
Dr. Isaac Watts, “the Godfather of English Hymnody”

Lining out is exactly what it sounds like: A leader lines out a hymn, literally by chanting the line of the hymn that the congregation will sing. There are two main versions; in one the line is chanted by the leader, then the congregation joins the leader to sing the line together, all stretched out. In another version called long-meter or Dr. Watts (after Dr. Isaac Watts, “the Godfather of English Hymnody,” an English Christian minister whose hymns were adopted by slave communities), the leader does not chant the line in advance but just sings it in a very long, drawn out style, allowing parishioners to join in and add their own individual expression to the line. This makes worship singing very accessible – anyone can add any notes to the line and it doesn’t matter if you’re in time or singing the exact same note as the leader.

Lining out is an example of that very important element of music that has become so central to Black music styles in the US and elsewhere: call and response. Leader chants a line, everyone responds. We see this in music so often, sometimes with voices doing the call and response and sometimes with instruments. Important note: Call and response is present in many styles of music from African countries in different forms than we see in this lining out example. It is those African influences combined with some European influences brought over to the US that helped form the base of much of “American” music.

From Europe to the 13 Colonies

The practice of hymn lining was brought to the US by English and Scottish settlers. In the 1740s it began to spread through slave communities; slaves heard this style at their masters’ church services and began to alter it in their own way, incorporating it into their own spirituals and building their communal and individual identities through music practice as ritual. This style of singing went on to influence slave spirituals, prison songs, blues, Gospel music and, since the blues in turn influenced a huge majority of music styles popular today, we can say that lining out influenced a huge amount of the music we listen to now.

#Lentspiration for March 5 | Lee's Notes
(photo source)

Lining out is still practiced in some (mainly) Baptist churches today, and it is powerful to be a part of and powerful to listen to. It’s also a part of popular culture. Aretha Franklin, Mahalia Jackson, and Ornette Coleman are just a few famous examples of performers who have “lined out” their music. Here are some examples of lining out in worship:

Long-meter style: “A Charge to Keep I Have” performed by Candace Heggs at The Meeting Place Church of Greater Columbia:

Call and response style: “I Am A Poor Pilgrim of Sorrow” performed by members of the Indian Bottom Association, Old Regular Baptists, at Defeated Creek Church in Linefork, KY:

Works Cited

Dargan, William. 2006. Lining Out the Word: Dr. Watts Hymn Singing in the Music of Black Americans. Berkeley: University of California Press.

Reseña de: Percy Jackson y la Maldición del Titán. - HIJO ...

I’m sitting in the park right now and Camp Half-Blood (a LARP, D&D-inspired summer camp) is nearby. I’m sitting by the lair of Echidna, Mother of Monsters. She’s upset because her monster children are playing in the public park, training for the fight for good and minding their business, but the Woodsmen keep attacking them unprovoked. She’s getting frustrated and angry – no one wants to talk and understand the monsters’ perspective, they just fight them and she’s fed up! She explains this to each camp group that approaches and an interesting scene plays out; sometimes a bunch of kids immediately decide to fight her, with one or two shouting that they shouldn’t fight, they should talk! Sometimes the groups have a fight with Echidna and then decide to talk, sometimes one or two kids advocating for conversation convince the group to talk instead of fighting, and in just two groups all the kids decided to side with Echidna without a fight. Then they talk: Some other monsters the kids met have attacked campers and they want to understand why. Echidna tells them that the monsters don’t want to fight, but those monsters are really frustrated. In the end they decide that just because monsters are different than the demigod campers doesn’t make them bad and that they can co-exist. Good on you for a timely and clever way to approach discrimination, Camp Half-Blood


Extraordinary Bodies: Figuring Physical Disability in ...

Given what we’ve learned in this series about the history of disability rights, it comes as no surprise that in comparison to similar disciplines, Disability Studies is a fairly young field, and Music and Disability Studies is even younger. The Society for Disability Studies was founded in the 1980s with academic disciplines slowly taking notice; Rosemary Garland-Thomson’s Extraordinary Bodies (1996) is considered a seminal study of disability studies in literature, and The Disability Studies Reader (2006) brought (non-musical) disability studies further into the scholarly ring.

Oxford Handbook of Music and Disability Studies, Paperback ...

Music joined in the next decade; Joseph Straus’ 2004 presentation “Disability Studies in Music” is often cited as a catalyst for the flurry of music/disability publications that have emerged in the past decade, and The Oxford Handbook of Music and Disability Studies (Oxford Handbooks are typically perceived as indicators of when a field is blossoming) was released in 2016.

The majority (but not all) of scholars who have studied disability-related topics thus far are Caucasian, either American or European, and have focused primarily on disability-related research in Western countries, mostly with white disabled individuals or groups. Given that this blog series is devoted to exploring race-related topics, today’s entry will dive into what scholar Chris Bell calls “White Disability Studies.” Is that label an overreaction or an accurate depiction of the field? How much of scholarship on disability is produced through a white lens, and what perspectives are lacking? What can be done to ensure that racial diversity is taken into account when considering disability?

Disability and Blackness

This post draws from two sources on my exam list. “Disability and Blackness” by Josh Lukin is Chapter 22 in The Disability Studies Reader, followed directly by Chris Bell’s “Introducing White Disability Studies: A Modest Proposal.” Bear in mind that more recent publications on disability and race do exist, but I either don’t have them on my reading list and/or haven’t gotten to them yet…still a lot to read before this exam!
(note: I couldn’t find images of either scholar under Google’s “Free to use or share” filter, hence the lack of photos)

Josh Lukin will start us off today with some stats (from 2006):

Although African Americans constitute twelve percent of the population in general, they make up eighteen percent of Americans with disabilities; so one might reasonably ask why the appearance of Black Disability Studies has taken so long considering that a greater percentage of black people appear to be disabled? And what role can literary scholars have in developing black disability studies? The answers to those two questions are connected, and relate to the tensions between black activism and disability advocacy going back to the earlier days of the disability movement.

Lukin 2006: 308.
Johnnie Lacy - DRILM - University of California, Berkeley
The only non-copyrighted photo I found of activist Johnnie Lacy
(photo source)

Lukin highlights some of the history I’ve covered regarding oppression of people with disabilities even by those who supported racial and gender equality. He mentions Black, disabled activist Johnnie Lacy, who recounted in a 1998 interview her experience as an activist from the 1960s onward. In the 1960s and 70s she observed “that many African-Americans consider being black as having a disability, and so they didn’t really identify with disability as a disability but just as one other kind of inequity that black people had to deal with” (309). As the 1970s progressed and the “504 Demonstration” (“the Stonewall Inn of the disability rights movement”) led to advances in the disability movement, Lacy “became a kind of ethnographic guide to the largely white disability community, trying to educate its members who had no clue as to how to approach the black community” (ibid).

Lacy and other Black advocates for disability rights largely felt as if there was a gap between the black community and the disabled community, resulting in disability rights largely being pursued from a white perspective. This created an “us” vs. “them” mentality not just by race, but also between Black people and disabled Black people. As Lukin explains, “whenever one group said ‘We are the same,’ the other group said, with some insight, ‘No. You are exploiting my group’s experience just so that you can have a metaphor for your own.’ And individuals who occupied both groups at once were caught in the crossfire” (311).

This reminds me of the Black Lives Matter protests recently; a lot of (well-deserved) attention has been given to George Floyd and Brianna Taylor, but Black trans people who were killed around the same time such as Iyanna Dior are largely missing from the conversation and protests. For this reason, separate protests were organized to remember the lives of Iyanna Dior, Nina Pop, Tony McDade, and other Black trans people killed. As journalist Imara Jones, a Black trans woman, said in a recent episode of the podcast Nancy, “We can’t prioritize the death of Black men and at the same time ignore — and even encourage — the death of Black trans women, and somehow believe that we’re going to build a just society for everyone.”

History of Oppression

Thomas Wentworth Higginson - Wikipedia
Thomas Wentworth Higginson
(photo source)

So why this othering? Why were many Black activists in the 60s, 70s, 80s, and even 90s dismissive of the experiences of disabled people? Lukin helps make sense of it: “Simply put, from the beginnings of the United States, the claim that ‘Blackness is like disability’ was not used as an expression of how black Americans suffered but as a tool of their oppression” (311). During the American Revolution, blackness was treated as a deformity; “lunatics, idiots, and Negroes” were said to have mental deficiencies making them unfit for war. 1860s abolitionist Thomas Wentworth Higginson, who commanded the first African American regiment of the Civil War, submitted a progress report about his black subordinates: They “were growing more like white men—less grotesque” (312).

Nursing Clio Stop Rape: A WWII Chaplain’s Advice
African American soldiers, WWII
(photo source)

Jennifer James, a literary scholar at George Washington University, helps tie this together: In “post-Civil War African American literature particularly, it was imperative that the black body and the black mind be portrayed as uninjured . . . in order to disprove one of the main anti-black arguments that surfaced after emancipation—that slavery had made blacks ‘unfit’ for citizenship.” This attitude persisted for decades; in World War II black soldiers got to fight, but those with war-derived physical and mental disabilities were often denied discharge, and “the pressure to convey the public message that ‘The Negro is just like you,’ with ‘you’ being an imagined able-bodied, empowered, white audience who could aid in the liberation struggle, led to strange silences and distortions on the subject of disabled black veterans” (312). To integrate into society, black bodies had to prove their sameness to white ones.

Disability Essentialism

Given the ways in which the history of advocacy for marginalized groups has progressed, it is no surprise that the majority of scholarship on disability is produced by and about (and for?) white people. It is critical to avoid “disability essentialism,” recognizing that the experiences, needs, desires, and aims of disabled people are not uniform. Disabled people of color navigate oppression-tainted layers of identities that white disabled people do not, and their voices and perspectives need to be considered and amplified in order for disability studies to be truly inclusive.

Introducing White Disability Studies

Lukin’s historical perspective is a great segue to Chris Bell’s “Introducing White Disability Studies: A Modest Proposal.” Bell is straightforward: “I would like to concede the failure of Disability Studies to engage issues of race and ethnicity in a substantive capacity, thereby entrenching whiteness as its constitutive underpinning” (275). He suggests the name of White Disability Studies:

In contradistinction to Disability Studies, White Disability Studies recognizes its tendency to whitewash disability history, ontology and phenomenology. White Disability Studies, while not wholeheartedly excluding people of color from its critique, by and large focuses on the work of white individuals and is itself largely produced by a corps of white scholars and activists. White Disability Studies envisions nothing ill-advised with this leaning because it is innocently done and far too difficult to remedy. (275)

Bell’s most poignant critiques of Disability Studies are in line with what Lukin’s piece: Disability scholars often fail to recognize that experiences with disability are not uniform and can be informed by other factors such as race, ethnicity, etc. Bell cites a number of well-respected publications from Disability Studies that he calls out for disability essentialism, then offers a snarky ten-point scheme to “keep White Disability Studies in vogue.” His reasoning for framing it this way:

Given the fact that well-intentioned individuals are inclined to ask what can be done to ‘make things more diverse,’ I have purposely crafted the following as a series of “do nots.” By doing so, I hope to shore up how presumptuous it is to position the subaltern as the all-knowing savant insofar as issues of diversity; requesting definitive answers from that person when the answers might best come from within, following an extended period of rumination” (278).

In other words, stop asking Black people what can be done to support diversity – do your own research!

Here are the points, with excerpts from each point’s description:

  1. Do not change a thing: Continue to fetishize and exoticize people of color as subalterns by constantly focusing on their race and ethnicity, but not that of the white subject.
  2. Do not address ethnicity, rather continually focus on race. Race and ethnicity are two distinct concepts.
  3. Do not consider that, as Stuart Hall has explained, “Cultural identity is not an essence but a positioning” (229). It does not matter that whiteness is not an essentialist prerequisite for a disability identity. We can just pretend that it is.
  4. Pay no attention to Ann duCille’s recognition that “[O]ne of the dangers of standing at an intersection . . . is the likelihood of being run over” (593). When you come across a non-white disabled person, focus on the disability, eliding the race and ethnicity, letting them be run over, forgotten. Do not consider how the intersection in which this subject lives influences her actions and the way she is seen. Choose not to see that intersection and quickly move on down the road of disability, away from the “perpendicular” roads of race and ethnicity.
  5. Disregard Evelynn Hammonds’s idea that “visibility in and of itself does not erase a history of silence nor does it challenge the structure of power and domination, symbolic and material, that determines what can and cannot be seen” (141). Do not forgot to revel in the idea that as more and more disabled people enter the mainstream, all disabled people, irrespective of their racial and ethnic subjectivity, occupy the same place at the table. Equate visibility with inclusivity. Sit back and be satisfied, and do not allow yourself to be troubled by those who carp about their invisibility within disability communities.
  6. Ignore Horkheimer and Adorno’s augury that failure to conform to the culture industry results in the individual being “left behind” (37). The two theorists warn of the perils of living in a culture industry whereby one must subscribe to the right magazines and watch the correct films in order to be accepted in the culture…if you enter a room that purports to gather together those interested and engaged in Disability Studies and see not a single person of color present, those people have been left behind or otherwise disinvited.
  7. Make no allowances for liminality and hybridity. Instead, continue the pretence of normality, the idea that everything’s just fine and that the disability community is one happy family with no diversity, no multivalence, only a collective sameness.Do not conceive of the concerted efforts to counter those silences, to advocate for liminality and hybridity, as described, in a different context.
  8. Do whatever you can not to discuss those texts rife with possibilities insofar as parsing out intersections between disability, race, and ethnicity, namely: The Souls of Black Folk (Du Bois), Up From Slavery (Washington), Invisible Man (Ellison), Roots (Kinte), Beauty: When the Other Dancer Is The Self (Walker), The Cure (Kamani), “The Adventures of Felix” (???), “Birth of a Nation, or The Clansmen” (???).
  9. Do not note how odd “White Disability Studies” looks on this page, how much effort it requires (or does it?) to contort one’s tongue in order to articulate it. Do not take into account how foreign a phrase it seems (although just because something is foreign doesn’t necessarily mean that it is incomprehensible…).
  10. Do not change a thing. Keep doing what you’re doing. Do so because what you’re doing is fine, more than enough to keep White Disability Studies firmly instantiated as the norm. Make no effort to be more inclusive in your scholarship. Do not start today, do not start tomorrow. Wait for someone else to do inclusive work. Wait for however long it takes.

Bell’s approach to this list of “do-nots” is certainly snarky, but he chooses this tone with intention. Other scholars have supported his re-labeling of disability studies and expanded on his work. In 2017 for instance, Miles et. al. published an open letter in Disability Studies Quarterly challenging higher education institutions to address the interests of a full range of people with disabilities, not just the experience of those in the white majority. They call for a “critical intersectional disability studies” that strives for social change, informs and empowers marginalized people with disability about DS, etc. (Miles et. al., 2017). Sounds reasonable to me!

I will let Bell close out this blog today with his own words:

I want to stress that Disability Studies is not the only field of inquiry wherein individuals of color are treated as second-class citizens. If anything, Disability Studies is merely aping the ideology of the vast majority of academic disciplines and ways of thinking that preceded it and which it now sits alongside of…
White Disability Studies, even in the form of a tongue-in-cheek modest proposal, is bound to unnerve many of the individuals who consider themselves engaged in Disability Studies. White Disability Studies will most likely strike these individuals as a hyperbolic and counterintuitive claim. Perhaps my actions might be deemed impolitic and offensive. That is the point. I think it is tactless to dismiss a message solely because of its ostensible unpopularity or because the individual bearing the message seems undesirable. Such a process is itself counterintuitive, intended to draw attention away from a message that, while perhaps unpopular, might contain more than a modicum of validity. Because Disability Studies in its current incarnation is White Disability Studies, proposing we honor that creates no crisis of conscience for me. If anything, I take heart in remembering what Bubba Gump declared to Dorian Gray on “Check, Please!”: “If it looks like a shrimp, and it smells and tastes like a shrimp, it’s a shrimp.”

Bell 2006: 281
Shrimp marketing - Wikipedia
“If it looks like a shrimp, and it smells and tastes like a shrimp, it’s a shrimp.”
(photo source)

Works Cited

Bell, Chris. 2006. “Introducing White Disability Studies: A Modest Proposal.” In The Disability Studies Reader, 2nd ed., edited by Lennard J. Davis, 275–82. New York: Routledge.

Lukin, Josh. 2006. “Disability and Blackness.” In The Disability Studies Reader, 2nd ed., edited by Lennard J. Davis, 275–82. New York: Routledge.

Miles et. al. 2017. “An open letter to White disability studies and ableist institutions of higher education.” Disability Studies Quarterly. Vol 37, No. 3.

Nancy. 2020. “Black Trans Lives Matter.” Nancy. WNYC Studios.

We may gaze at what we desire, but we stare at what astonishes us.

Garland-Thomson 2009: 13

The body may be different, strange, even unusual, but it is the mechanism of representation that renders this body a “freak.”

Hevey 1992

Today is July 14th. My exam is August 13th. I have less than one month left to prepare. If I had a month for other things in life that would seem long, but holy moly I am not ready!

Remembering Amiri Baraka | Special Collections Blog

A few posts ago I wrote about Amiri Baraka’s 1963 book Blues People and got caught up in his description of Benny Goodman (a white bandleader) hiring Black musicians like Lionel Hampton as a “spectacle” to draw a crowd. I’m still not convinced by Baraka’s perspective; I align more with Stanley Crouch’s interpretation of the situation.

Regardless, the idea of people being showcased because of physical difference (in this case, skin color) is common in disability studies. I’ve only read 1/4 of the sources on my Music and Disability Studies exam list so far and out of those twenty sources, nine directly mention “enfreakment,” “freakery,” “spectacle,” staring, and/or freak shows. In disability studies the differences explored extend far beyond skin color, but I see an overlap between what authors on this list and my Black Atlantic list are concerned with.

Freaks, Freak Shows

Freak show - Wikipedia
A freak show in Rutland, VT, 1941
(photo source)

“Freak” is a social construction, not a person but “the enactment of a tradition, the performance of a stylized presentation” (Bogdan 1988). Normalcy is likewise a social construction, one which is fluid and non-absolute (Davis 1995: 23). The rise and fall of freak shows (aka sideshows) parallels the 19th/early 20th century timeline for when disability was used as an argument for/against equality, as described in my last entry (re:disability’s role in the women’s suffrage movement, African American freedom and civil rights, and immigration in the the 19th/early 20th centuries). People with disabilities were perceived as inferior, unable to handle the rights and freedoms afforded to “normate” individuals. Thus, disability could be used to garner pity or contempt depending whether someone was arguing for or against equality for women, African Americans, immigrants, etc. One side argued that those groups were worthy of more rights than disabled people, the other argued that, like disabled people, women/immigrants/African Americans could not handle the same responsibilities as “normate” white men.

Along the same timeline, in the 1840s P.T. Barnum took over the American Museum in New York City and began displaying “human curiosities,” strongly contributing to the growing popularity of “freak shows” in the US. Freak shows remained popular until 1940, when they began to be viewed as distasteful (though they continued to exist with some regularity until the 1950s/60s). At that time, the concept of eugenics was gaining traction and people with disabilities were beginning to be seen as “sick.”

Before that period, people with disabilities were seen as somewhat inhuman, exotic, odd, or even superhuman, able to do things that “normal” people couldn’t because of their differences and simultaneously unable to do what normates could do, hence not being considered worthy of equal rights. They were not presented as handicapped, but different in a divisive way. As the concept of sickness gained traction, disability began to garner pity; people with disabilities were still not equal, but now it was distasteful to highlight their differences. As Robert Bogdan notes, “presentations are artifacts of changing social institutions, organizational formations, and world views” (Bogdan 1988: 35).

“General Tom Thumb” was one of the “attractions” at Barnum’s museum. He is an example of intentional misrepresentation; 11-y/o English-born Tom Thumb was actually 5-y/o, Connecticut-born Charles Sherwood Stratton when Barnum began exhibiting him. Later in life when he married, he and his wife were presented with a baby that was not theirs in the hopes that a third “Thumb” would attract a larger audience (Bogdan 1988: 25).


In this blog series we’ve reviewed many events happening in the same period (19th/early 20th century): Freak shows were popular, disability was not yet seen as a sickness but rather as a dividing difference, and white bandleaders such as Benny Goodman were hiring Black musicians for their groups. Other events I won’t cover in depth can also can be added to the timeline. In 1893 for instance, Fanwood, New York School for the Deaf (previously known as New York Institution for the Instruction of the Deaf and Dumb until 1856 and now called the New York School for the Deaf) established a military curriculum, adding what is likely the world’s first deaf marching band to the school in the early 1900s.

The Fanwood Band
(photo taken by Carolyn Stallard at the New York School for the Deaf, 2017)

The marching band, consisting entirely of deaf students, drew large crowds not only for competitions but also for practices and drills. One report states: “Every Sunday afternoon in good weather dress parade is held on the lawn in front of the Institution, and the fence is always lined with interested spectators who have heard of the fame of these ‘silent cadets’” (Dobyns 1908:19). Was it the cadets’ musical prowess that drew crowds, or the spectacle of deaf people playing instruments? It is interesting to note that the military school and its marching ensemble existed from 1893-1952, disbanding just as attitudes toward freak shows and disabilities were changing in the United States.

So what does this mean? Does it make sense to link Baraka’s idea of spectacle in regards to race with the concept of spectacle in regards to disability? Both refer to marginalized groups perceived by/through an identity-defining characteristic that does not match societal norms. I’m linking these ideas to help myself prepare for this exam but I do feel as if there is overlap in a broader context.

Many Terms

A number of terms related to the concept of individuals defined by difference have been coined within disability studies. Here are some that relate to performing arts that can possibly be reinterpreted with race in mind instead of disability. These terms could also be applied to gender. For instance, female bands in the late 19th/early 20th centuries were often viewed as entertainment rather than as groups of competent musicians. I have not included all terms related to this concept, just the ones I’ve been reading about in my studies so far:

  • Freak: A social construction, not a person but “the enactment of a tradition, the performance of a stylized presentation” (Bogdan 1988).
    • Social attitudes toward anatomical difference inform the creation of the “freak.”
  • Enfreakment: The societal creation of the freak; the marginalization and “othering” of a non-normative body.
    • “Enfreakment emerges from cultural rituals that stylize, silence, differentiate, and distance the persons whose bodies [are deemed different through repeated public spectacle]” (Garland-Thomson 1996: 10).
    • Enfreakment is a “process of stylizing and, most importantly, marketing the non-normative body” (Hevey).
  • Engulfment: Process where a person is reduced to their disability; “stripped of normalizing contexts and engulfed by a single stigmatizing trait” (Garland-Thomson 1997: 11).
  • Staring: The dominant mode of looking at disability in American culture; “the normative stare constructs the disabled” (Garland-Thomson 2005).
    • Four elemental qualities of staring: It is a physiological response; it is monitored by social rules, with culture determining its meaning and practice; it is a natural human response that establishes a social relationship between starer and staree; it is a conduit to knowledge, an urgent response to make the unknown known.
  • Disability as masquerade: Embracing disability rather than hiding it to “pass.” This embrace marks someone as a target but also exposes and resists prejudices of society (Siebers 2008).

Enfreaking Popular Culture

Freak shows still exist today but are nowhere near as common as they were in the 19th/early 20th centuries. Today they are not seen so much as distasteful as “fringe,” outside the realm of popular culture. However, some artists work to bring the freak show concept into normate spaces. Perhaps most notable is Lady Gaga, who reappropriates the freak show and uses terms such as “freak” and “monster” to refer to her fan base. She says she wants her fans to have a “freak in me to hang out with” so “they don’t feel alone” (Ellis 2015). She focuses on transgression, identity politics, and otherness, which Ellis says position her as a key figure in popular social change discourse.

Hot Shots: Lady GaGa Performs At Elton John's White Tie ...
Lady Gaga’s performances in wheelchairs are a point of debate in disability forums, according to scholar Katie Ellis (2015).
(photo source)

Her focus on otherness makes me think of Kevin Gaines’ description of artistic othering, a response to social othering. In his examples, Black artists create spaces for music outside of the realm of “normal” popular culture, producing sounds free of influence from white, dominant culture. Could a form of artistic othering be applied to disability and music? I don’t think we can say that Lady Gaga herself practices artistic othering, since she is not disabled, but when someone with a disability creates music in a unique way through their disability that enhances and celebrates their difference, is that artistic othering? Similarly, Lady Gaga’s song “Born This Way” has become an anthem for the disability rights agenda. Does that make it an example of artistic othering?


There is a lot more to process about all these ideas. What do you think? Through the frame of 19th/early 20th century perspectives and societal norms, can terms like artistic othering, enfreakment, staring, etc. be used for multiple marginalized groups, or are they unique to the group they were originally intended for? Am I performing a form of appropriation by suggesting that they might be applicable in different contexts? Something to think about…

Works Cited

Bogdan, Robert. 1988. “The Social Construction of Freaks.” Freakery: Cultural Spectacles of the Extraordinary Body. Ed. Rosemary Garland Thomson. New York University Press. 23-37.

Davis, L. 1995. Enforcing Normalcy: Disability, Deafness, and the Body. London and New York: Verso.

Dobyns, A. Webster. 1908. American Annals of the Deaf, Volumes 52-53.

Ellis, Katie. 2015. “Enfreaking Popular Music: Making Us Think by Making Us Feel.” In Disability and Popular Culture: Focusing Passion, Creating Community, and Expressing Defiance, 101–118. Surrey, UK: Ashgate.

Garland-Thomson, Rosemarie. 2005. “Dares to Stare: Disabled Women Performance Artists and the Dynamics of Staring.” In Bodies in Commotion: Disability and Performance, edited by Carrie Sandahl and Philip Auslander, 30–41. Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press.

—–. 1997. Extraordinary Bodies: Figuring Physical Disability in American Culture and Literature. New York: Columbia University Press.

—–, ed. 1996. Freakery: Cultural spectacles of the extraordinary body. NYU Press.

Hevey, David. 1992. The creatures time forgot: Photography and disability imagery. Taylor & Francis.

Lipenga, KJ. 2019. “The New Normal: Enfreakment in Saga.”
The Comics Grid: Journal of Comics Scholarship, 9(1): 2, pp. 1–17.

Siebers, Tobin. 2008. Disability Theory. Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press.

36 days until my exam. This week I’m switching from my “Music of the Black Atlantic” list to the other hundred sources I need to know, from my “Music and Disability Studies” list. I started this blog series to motivate myself to study while simultaneously providing content for friends interested in learning about racism, so this will continue to be a “Music of the Black Atlantic” blog. There are plenty of sources on my disability list that focus on race, so I will write about those in this series as well as others that don’t make race their cornerstone but tie to concepts I’ve covered.

The Disability Studies Reader: Davis, Lennard J.: 9781138930230 ...

Today’s entry will be the first to feature a chapter from The Disability Studies Reader (Davis 2013), a seminal text in the field of Disability Studies which I will return to in future entries. The Disability Studies Reader is interdisciplinary, with works by authors from many fields. None of the authors I’m reading about from this book are music researchers, but their work is nonetheless relevant, hence being included on my exam list. Douglas Baynton’s piece, featured today, is written from an historical perspective. It was originally published in The New Disability History: American Perspectives (2001).

Disability and the Justification of Inequality in American History

Marchers with signs at the 1963 March on Washington
Marchers with signs at the March on Washington, 1963
Image: Library of Congress LC-U9- 10344-16
Marion S. Trikosko, photographer
(photo source)

Douglas Baynton’s work is featured as chapter one in The New Disability History and chapter two in The Disability Studies Reader – preceded only by an introduction from researcher/editor Lennard Davis. There is a reason for its prominent position in both books. Baynton steps back through American history to demonstrate how race, ethnicity, gender, and disability have been tied together in struggles for equality and how disability has been central to each of “the three great citizenship debates” of the 19th and early 20th century. Not only was disability used to justify inequality for disabled people themselves (“they can’t do X so they are not equal”), but also the concept of disability was used to justify inequality for other marginalized groups. In debates over women’s suffrage, African American freedom and civil rights, and the restrictions of immigrants, disability was brought to the table in arguments both for and against inequality.

1904 World’s Fair, St. Louis, MO
(photo source)

In each situation, “normalcy,” a western notion of progress, is highlighted in the case against equality; if someone is not “normal” they are not fully functional and cannot handle the rights given to normate [white male] Americans. By the mid-19th century this notion had grown in popularity, with anyone non-white or disabled considered to be evolutionary laggard, pulling humanity back toward its animal origins. The 1904 World’s Fair featured “defectives” and “primitives” side by side on display for [mostly white, “normal”] fairgoers to stare at, as did other events such as the freak shows of the 19th century.


Social science textbooks were no better; in his 1873 textbook Physical Geography, under the heading “The White Race the Normal, or Typical Race,” Arnold Guyot compared the “harmony in all the proportions of the figure” of the white race with those who had “gradually deviated” from normalcy.

Disability and Slavery

The concept of disability was cited frequently in the justification of slavery. One common argument: African Americans are less intelligent than white people and therefore cannot compete on an equal basis in society. This argument prevailed even after emancipation, with quotes such as this one from the New Orleans Medical and Surgical Journal:

It is this defective hematosis, or atmospherization of the blood, conjoined with a deficiency of cerebral matter in the cranium, and an excess of nervous matter distributed to the organs of sensation and assimilation, that is the true cause of that debasement of mind, which has rendered the people of Africa unable to take care of themselves.

Mixed race children were said to have a deterioration of “moral and intellectual endowments,” and “mulattos” were referenced by medical practitioners as having greater intelligence than “pure” blacks. African Americans were also “prone to become disabled under conditions of freedom and equality” because of supposed physical and mental weakness. One New York medical journal reported that deafness was three times as common and blindness twice as common in free African Americans in the North than slaves in the South. Thus, slavery was best for their health (21).

Scientific Racism: The Drapetomania Diagnosis
Drapetomania was invented by Dr. Samuel A. Cartwright
(photo source)

There were also debilitating “diseases” and “conditions” supposedly affecting mental health. Drapetomania, a so-called disease of the mind that caused slaves to run away, was diagnosed when masters “made themselves too familiar with them, treating them as equals.” Dysaesthesia Aechiopis was another supposed mental disease, causing slaves to become mischievous and avoid work. Freed slaves commonly carried these “conditions,” resulting in “a beautiful harvest of mental and physical degeneration” (21). Through the white perspective of the 19th and early 20th centuries, freedom was disabling for Black people.

Damage Imagery

Daryl Michael Scott’s book on damage imagery

Even after the Emancipation Proclamation of 1862, the concept of disability featured prominently in arguments for and against equality. Liberals and conservatives both used what Daryl Michael Scott calls “damage imagery” in their arguments regarding African American freedom and equality. Conservatives used a biological framework (citing “diseases” such as those described above) to defend their position on social and political exclusion, while liberals argued that social conditions were responsible for racial inferiority, using damage imagery to defend inclusion and rehabilitation. As Scott and Baynton demonstrate, damage imagery is dangerous, reinforcing “the belief system that made whites feel superior in the first place” (Baynton 2013: 22-23). Whether through contempt or through pity (two perspectives commonly applied to people with disabilities as well), intentionally or not, both sides reinforced notions of racial defectivity and white supremacy.

Women’s Suffrage and Immigration

Antifeminism - Wikipedia
Headquarters of the National Association Opposed to Woman Suffrage
(photo source)

African Americans were framed as defective in order to defend inequality. Similar arguments were made regarding women’s suffrage and immigration. Opponents of gender equality cited women’s “frail” physicality and “feeble-mindedness” as reasons why political participation could be harmful; women wouldn’t be able to handle all that responsibility and could become disabled because of it. Proponents of equality likewise used disability in their arguments, stating that women were not disabled and therefore deserved to vote. Many believed that women were erroneously classed with disabled people, who at that time were considered unfit for voting (and unworthy of many other rights). Women were not naturally disabled but were made disabled by inequality; suffrage could cure their disabilities. In 1920, it finally did (at least for white women).

Immigrants Arriving at Ellis Island 1911 | Chris | Flickr
Immigrants arriving at Ellis Island, 1911
(photo source)

Disability was likewise connected with immigration in the 19th/early 20th century. Any immigrant with a “normal” appearance was allowed quick entry into the United States, while anyone with an “abnormal” appearance was stamped with a letter on their back (for lameness, hernia, goiter, mental illness, etc.) and subject to in-depth examination before consideration for entry. An able-bodied immigrant would not have the same rights as a white American in the United States but would be granted access of entry, while anyone showing signs of physical or mental disability could be sent back to their country of origin.

“All Lives Matter?”

In the past month there have been some outlandish arguments for why “all lives matter” and why we don’t need to say “Black Lives Matter.” I find those arguments absurd, but learning about the narratives of disability in this country’s history does give a sense of how such ignorances develop. In the late 19th and early 20th century even well-meaning proponents of equality for Black people, women, and immigrants wound up “othering” people with disabilities while fighting for civil rights. I’d like to think that those activists may not have realized how their words and actions for one group marginalized another, but it’s more likely it didn’t occur to them that people with disabilities should be included in the fight for equal rights, given societal norms (it wasn’t until 1990 that the Americans with Disabilities Act was passed to prohibit discrimination based on disability. 1990!).

With that in mind, I can see how seeds of discrimination can be planted for any group, intentionally or not. Even something as simple as a well-meaning grandparent sharing memories of attending a World’s Fair can sow seeds of difference. Exhibits such as the “primitives” and “defectives” from 1904 were minimal or removed completely from future fairs, but showcases still enforced ideas of “normalcy” through exhibit choice and presentation. The 1939 “World of Tomorrow” World’s Fair in New York was divided into seven regional and thematic zones featuring mainly European and American innovations and cultural traditions, with a few displays thrown in from other parts of the world. The minimal inclusion of innovations from non-Western regions and the lack of African countries present in the “pavilion” section of the fair speak loudly through absence.

Finally, it’s important to note the ways in which both conservatives and liberals argued their cases for equality/inequality in the 19th and early 20th centuries, with disability as the common factor. We must learn from the past to ensure that our own activism for marginalized groups is not framed with a perspective of pity that “others” anyone but rather from a stance of empowerment; we must be inclusive rather than exclusionary.

Works Cited

Baynton, Douglas C. “Disability and the justification of inequality in American history.” The disability studies reader 17, no. 33 (2013): 57-59.

Meldon, Perri. “Disability History: The Disability Rights Movement.” National Park Service.

Wikipedia. “1939 New York World’s Fair.” Wikipedia. The Black Atlantic: Modernity and Double-Consciousness ...

Five weeks until my exam…better speed up on studying and unpacking ideas in this blog!

Today’s post dives into “the Black Atlantic” – the very source of the name of my reading list! I know I need to understand this term inside and out but have been avoiding it because it feels so large. But…with only five weeks to go, it’s time to dive in.

What is the Black Atlantic?

File:PaulGilroy2.jpg - Wikipedia
Paul Gilroy
(photo source)

The Black Atlantic is a term coined by British historian/writer Paul Gilroy, made famous in his book The Black Atlantic: Modernity and Double Consciousness (1993). This book is crucial to cultural studies and helped push forward studies of diasporas. Some considerations:

  • Black Diasporic Identity:
    • The Black Diaspora is transnational, and before this there was no term to consider the politics of this diaspora beyond national borders.
    • Relying on nationalism to consider the experiences of Black people in the Caribbean, the Americas, Europe, or Africa is limiting; blackness goes beyond national borders
    • Gilroy uses the image of the slave ship to explain why Black identities are transnational: Black bodies are historically and socially positioned between two (or more) lands, identities, cultures, etc. and are unable to be defined by borders because of the Atlantic slave trade, which often stifled the possibility of connections to a homeland.
      • Quote: “Historians of ideas and movements have generally preferred to stay within the boundaries of nationality and ethnicity and have shown little enthusiasm for connecting the life of one movement with that of another” (186).
  • Double Consciousness
    • Black identities are unstable, unfinished, mutable, and always responding to a double consciousness (W.E.B. DuBois’ term) regarding race and nationalism.
    • Double consciousness is the internal conflict that oppressed groups experience in societies; “always looking at one’s self through the eyes of others, of measuring one’s soul by the tape of a world that looks on in amused contempt and pity” (Du Bois).
    • There are many marginalized groups who experience double consciousness, but Gilroy’s use relates to the experiences of Black people in white-dominated societies, such as African Americans experiencing racial oppression in the United States (both historically and presently). Black people experience double consciousness constantly. Some examples:
      1. President Obama having to choose how to respond about his birth certificate (his blackness was at odds with his American-ness according to the white, public gaze).
      2. A Black kindergartener figuring out how to approach a family history project when there are few or no records of family lineage because of the Atlantic slave trade.
      3. Black men who enjoy birdwatching worrying about their binoculars being mistaken for guns and taking extra precautions such as creating signs to assure fellow park-goers that they are not dangerous and are just birders.
      4. If that article linked above isn’t enough, let me emphasize the “birding while black” perspective with this episode of the podcast Short Wave.
      5. Parents worrying about what toys their Black children play with, the snacks their teens carry, and whether they’ll wind up as the next Tamir Rice or Trayvon Martin for playing with a toy gun or holding a pack of Skittles.
black, range finder, top, book, binoculars, birdwatching, spy ...
(photo source)

Sure, people of all races have things they worry about, but when skin color or another aspect of marginalized identity is the reason for worrying, for choosing to act a certain way, wear certain clothing, etc. in order to appease members of the dominant culture, it becomes an example of double consciousness. In many cases in the United States, double consciousness happens when “blackness” is at odds with what is expected for “American-ness.” Only white people are birdwatchers, right?

  • Artistic Expression
    • Music of Black diasporic communities is a means of exploring the transient nature of Blackness
    • Gilroy mentions the song “Keep On Movin'” by the British R&B band Soul II Soul as an example of “the restlessness of spirit which makes that diaspora culture vital.”
      • Quote: “Black music is so often the principal symbol of racial authenticity” (34). Why is that? Maybe because music is a safe space (for the most part) to express identity that matches cultural expectations; as seen in a previous post, the modern music industry was built out of Black artistic expression (even if that expression was coming partially through imitation and blackface in minstrel shows), so it was acceptable for Black people to also express themselves musically. Music performance is not a norm-defying physical action in the same way that holding binoculars to view birds is; it’s difficult for song to be interpreted as physically threatening (although music is used as a torture device in war, but that’s another story…). Even during slavery, slaves were not allowed to have instruments but they could usually sing in the fields. American society has underestimated the power music can have right from the start.
      • “Keep on Movin” is a truly transnational song; it was produced in England by the children of Caribbean settlers, includes samples of Jamaican and American records, and was re-mixed in a Jamaican dub format in the United States by Teddy Riley, who is African American.
Soul II Soul - Keep On Movin (1989, Dolby, Cassette) | Discogs
  • Modernity
    • Gilroy believes that a new definition of modernism is needed and that the Atlantic is part of that.
    • Historians’ lack of focus on the subordination of Blacks and other non-Europeans thwarts a full understanding of modernism. Simultaneously, need to avoid the possibility of achieving “tidy, holistic conception of modernity.”
    • New “center” of modernism are constructs such as master and slave. Gilroy stresses that we need to revisit modernism with the existence of racism in mind, both historically and presently (even twenty-seven years later, we still need to work on that…).

The term “Black Atlantic” opened the door for a new way of exploring ideas about race, culture, and how location and human identity are related beyond just Africa and the “New World.” It expanded the limitations of thinking within national borders and challenged scholars to consider how Black experiences resulting from racism, slavery, etc. affect modernity.


Gilroy’s ideas were impactful; his concept is referenced extremely frequently in the sources I’m reading. Here are some stand-out responses:

Where are the women?
In a review of the book, Renée R. Curry mentions that Gilroy analyzes masculinity in his writing but seems to only minimally consider feminist theory. Curry considers this to be an erasure of Black women from modern culture.

In a 1996 article, Ntongela Masilela argues that Gilroy has decentered Africa from the Black Atlantic, creating a Eurocentric vision of modernity, cultural and national identities.

Too focused on African Americans?
There are six chapters in Gilroy’s book, and despite his effort to focus on transatlantic Black experiences, four of those chapters focus on African American authors. A few reviews I read considered this to be a flaw that limits the book to African American experiences.

Limited by the term “black?”
One author on my list, Nolan Warden, feels that using the terms “African Diaspora” and “black” are limiting in his personal area of study, Afro-Cuban religious music, especially for studies of Afro-Cuban religious music practiced in the United States (outside of the music’s region of origin). Gilroy states that “black music is so often the principal symbol of racial authenticity” (1993:34). Warden responds: “This is particularly troublesome in that the use of terms such as black, white, and even the word Africa, shows how difficult it is to avoid using a lexicon ingrained during the height of European imperialism and the era of Atlantic slavery…it seems we are nearly incapable of speaking about such cultural phenomena with anything other than terms developed with divisive intent” (Warden 2010). I understand Warden’s angle, but he doesn’t offer a solution.

Privileging the Atlantic?
Paul Tiyembe Zeleza recognizes the importance of Gilroy’s work but also finds it limiting, giving preference to the Atlantic and not to other parts of the African diaspora. Rather than transatlantic, Zeleza wants African diaspora studies to have a global framework.

Do away with Diaspora?
Kamari Maxine Clarke and Deborah A. Thomas think that Gilroy’s use of the term diaspora is limiting. They appreciate his work but choose to approach their own without the term diaspora, creating what they call “a critical, historical, and place-specific approach to globalization in order to foreground an analysis of the circulations and hierarchies contextualizing black communities at particular times in particular locations and in particular relations of power vis-à-vis one another.” (2006)

Respect and Appreciation
Many scholars respect Gilroy for his concept and have expanded on his work. For instance, Shana Redmond, whose work I wrote about in my first entry in this series, follows Gilroy’s idea of Black identities being defined more by “routes” than “roots.” There are too many authors to name who use Gilroy’s work as a jumping off point; his name comes up more than any other as inspiration in the things I’ve been reading for this exam.

I could go on with this post but for the sake of time and studying, I’ll stop here. If anyone reading this thinks I’ve missed anything crucial about Gilroy’s work or his term, please leave a comment. I’ve been reading so much for this exam that a lot of it just goes right out of my head!

Works Cited

Clarke, Kamari Maxine and Deborah A. Thomas. 2006. Globalization and Race: Transformations in the Cultural Production of Blackness. Durham, NC: Duke University Press.

Du Bois, W. E. B. 1994. The Souls of Black Folk. New York, Avenel, NJ: Gramercy Books.

Gilroy, Paul. 1993. The Black Atlantic: Modernity and Double Consciousness. Cambridge: Harvard University Press.

Masilela, Ntongela. 1996. “The ‘Black Atlantic’ and African Modernity in South Africa.” Research in African Literatures 27 (4): 88–96.

Warden, Nolan. 2010. “Crossing Diaspora’s Borders: Musical Roots Experiences and the Euro-American Presence in Afro-Cuban Music.” African Music 8 (4): 101–9.

Zeleza, Paul Tiyambe. 2005. “Rewriting the African Diaspora: Beyond the Black Atlantic.” African Affairs 104 (414): 35–68.

Poet-playwright Amiri Baraka (LeRoi Jones) published a book in 1963 entitled Blues People: Negro Music in White America. It’s an important text, the first book on the blues written by an African American, and is widely considered a major influencer for future studies on relations between African American music and culture.

It is important to note when this book was written. In 1963 Baraka was a young intellectual discovering his voice as Citizen-Poet in the midst of the Civil Rights Movement. To Baraka, the fight for equality did not mean assimilation and sameness, but rather the celebration of culture, creativity, etc. It is no surprise then, that he focused on music as the critical factor for African American cultural identity formation in the US. Baraka’s work was popular with leaders of the Black Power Generation, including Malcolm X who Baraka met in January 1965, one month before Malcom X was assassinated. That experience and meetings with similar changemakers had an influence on Baraka, who dedicated his energy to the Black Arts Movement.

BLUES PEOPLE: Negro Music in White America: L Jones ...

As I read all these sources (I’m up to 56/107 on the Music of the Black Atlantic list), Baraka’s work is mentioned many times. Ethnomusicologist Travis Jackson considers it to be “perhaps the first booklength study to attempt sustained theoretical argument about the relations between African American culture and African American musical forms” (Jackson 2000). Ethnomusicologist Ingrid Monson has a similar stance: “Baraka ought to be recognized for his contributions to theorizing the relationship between music and race…it is a mistake to view Blues People as simply an artifact of cultural nationalism” (Monson 2007). Other scholars agree, though it is important to note criticisms as well. In 1964, Writer and jazz performer Ralph Ellison published a now-famous review of the book, taking issue with a statement from the introduction – “Blues is the parent of all legitimate jazz” – which he believes puts “the tremendous burden of sociology” on the blues. He also thinks there is too heavy a link placed between social status, racial purity, and musical expression: “One would get the impression that there was a rigid correlation between color, education, income and the Negro’s preference in music” (Ellison 1964). Other critics have mentioned Baraka’s lack of experience as a musician, a possible reason for errors in his explanation of the elements of varieties of African music that were key ingredients for early blues and jazz.

This is a small but telling sample of how the book was received; the work is largely considered influential and widely praised with some criticisms. Nothing like this had been published before; this was new territory, so scholars have largely forgiven the musical errors for the book’s ingenuity.

Music and Culture

At a time when scholars were not typically writing about music and race in a theoretical manner, Baraka set out to prove a hypothesis: Music can reveal much about the cultural significance of African American existence in America, and by extension the culture of American society as a whole. His aim was to explore the emergence of “African American” as a race and as a culture through music development. We’ve seen this idea supported by other scholars I’ve blogged about. Matthew D. Morrison’s work on Blacksound and the work of authors he referenced demonstrated how Black musical forms defined (and continue to define) popular music in America and abroad, which seeped (and continues to seep) over into popular (non-musical) culture in general. Assumptions are made about who makes certain musical sounds, how those sounds are perceived, what is considered “sophisticated,” “authentic,” “primal,” etc. and how those factors influence societal norms and expectations within and outside of music.

Blues and Jazz

Amiri Baraka considers jazz performance to be a blues-based, ritual activity. His focus is on the path from slavery to “citizenship” in the United States, the music of slavery, and the development of blues and later of jazz. As he explains, “it seems to me that if the Negro represents, or is symbolic of, something in and about the nature of American culture, this certainly should be revealed by his characteristic music.”

Robert Johnson - Wikipedia
Robert Johnson, Delta blues guitarist
(photo source)

Baraka believes that the musical experience of slaves in the US is different than that of African Americans. “The weight of the blues for the slave, the completely disenfranchised individual, differs radically from the weight of that same music in the psyches of most contemporary American Negroes…The one peculiar referent to the drastic change in the Negro from slavery to ‘citizenship’ is his music.”

Baraka couples the beginning of the blues with the beginning of African Americans. He uses an analogy to explain what he means:

If you are taken to Mongolia as a slave and work there seventy-five years and learn twenty words of Mongolian and live in a small house from which you leave only to work, I don’t think we can call you a Mongolian. It is only when you begin to accept the idea that you are part of that country that you can be said to be a permanent resident. I mean, that until the time when you have sufficient ideas about this new country to begin making some lasting moral generalizations about it -relating your experience, in some lasting form, in the language of that country, with whatever subtleties and obliqueness you bring to it -you are merely a transient.

The development of the blues, in Baraka’s opinion, signified that transition from visitor to permanent resident; the blues is heavily influenced by various African musical forms but fuse with the language and culture of America, making it an African American musical form.

Function of Blues Music

This notion of a difference in the function of blues music for slaves vs. African Americans is one of the reasons author Ralph Ellison, a musician himself, so heavily critiques Baraka’s book. Ellison feels that this explanation rejects blues as an art form and discounts the role of music for slaves:

“A slave was, to the extent that he was a musician, one who expressed himself in music…from the days of their introduction into the colonies, Negroes have taken, with the ruthlessness of those without articulate investments in cultural styles, whatever they could of European music, making of it that which would, when blended with the cultural tendencies inherited from Africa, express their own sense of life” (Ellison 1964: 254-255).

From Ellison’s perspective, Baraka did not recognize the role of music – and the development of the blues – as a critical part of identity formation and artistic/cultural expression for not only free African Americans but also for slaves.

Blues to Jazz

Baraka’s book moves from slavery to blues to jazz over the course of a dozen chapters. As we’ve seen from other authors featured in this blog series, jazz music has the ability to act as socio-political commentary and reflection of African American culture while simultaneously articulating actual and idealized visions of existence. Baraka too recognizes jazz as a powerful tool for communicating African American views of the world and ways of organizing and responding to experience through both performance and listening practices.

Baraka presents a detailed jazz history in his book, starting with the first jazz (or “jass”) recording, made by the Original Dixieland Jass Band in 1917. The ODJB was a group of white Italian-American musicians who were inspired by King Oliver’s band in New Orleans. As Baraka writes, “They had a profound influence upon America, and because they, rather than the actual black innovators, were heard by the great majority of Americans first, the cultural lag had won again.”

Jasbo Brown (Bálsamo de tigre) | Las píldoras del DR. BRASS
(photo source)

Freddie Keppard’s Original Creoles – a band whose members were black – was invited to record the first “jass” album a few months prior to the ODJB. Keppard supposedly turned down the offer, believing others would imitate his style. Baraka notes, “that is probably true, but it is doubtful that Keppard’s band would have caught as much national attention as the smoother O. D. J. B. anyway.” Thus, an African American art form spread across the country through a recording by white musicians.

LA MÚSICA ES MI AMANTE: La mayor forma de expresión americana
Freddie Keppard’s band (photo source)
Historias Swing – Cotton Tales
“The Four Horsemen” (L to R): Lionel Hampton, Gene Krupa, Benny Goodman, Teddy Wilson (1955)
(photo source)

As the chapters develop, Baraka demonstrates how black jazz music was appropriated by white culture time and again, and how that dynamic affected musical developments in jazz. As we’ve learned in this series, the development of bebop was a response to frustration with swing music. Baraka emphasizes the ironies of the swing era, calling out Benny Goodman for the “spectacle” of hiring Black musicians such as Teddy Wilson, Lionel Hampton, Charlie Christian, and Cootie Williams in his band in order to make them “big names” in the swing world. He finds this “fantastically amusing,” along with the fact that Black musicians hardly won polls won by jazz magazines in the late thirties and early forties. “Swing music…had very little to do with black America, though that is certainly where it had come from.”

Benny and Hamp

Jazz great made the vibraphone famous
Vibraphonist Lionel Hampton with bandleader/clarinetist Benny Goodman
(photo source)

The rest of Baraka’s book continues to go through various jazz eras and point out ways that instances of appropriation, segregation, discrimination, etc. affected music development. However, I want to pause and unpack this statement about Benny Goodman. As a vibraphonist myself, Lionel Hampton’s legacy is very important to me – I’ve played his tunes, read his books, learned about his commitment to jazz education, etc. I was taken aback when Baraka called Goodman and Hamp’s relationship a “spectacle.” I recalled reading in multiple places that Goodman hired musicians for their talent rather than skin color and that Hamp and Goodman had a good professional and personal relationship. But is this my own white ignorance talking in defense of Goodman?

Flying Home Lionel Hampton: Celebrating 100 Years of Good ...

To check, I pulled a book by jazz critic Stanley Crouch off my shelf called Flying Home: Lionel Hampton: Celebrating 100 Years of Good Vibes. I’ve read this book many times, so I immediately flipped to the section on “The Four Horsemen,” the nickname given to Benny Goodman’s quartet: Goodman, Hamp, Teddy Wilson, and Gene Krupa. In that section, Stanley Crouch writes about Goodman’s perspective on racism and segregation (11):

He viewed the color barrier as merely a pebble to kick out of his path toward the music he wanted to create. He would do what he had to do or take whatever chances he had to take in order to create the best possible music – and Hampton was integral to his quest…Goodman did as much as he could to protect Hampton and Wilson from the prongs of racism. He would insist on contracts that allowed them to stay with the band in hotels. He would even go so far as to hire men to escort them to and from their rooms. While in New York, Goodman would hire a limo to take Hampton and Wilson to Harlem since taxi drivers wouldn’t pick up black men, much less drive into Harlem at night.

Crouch positions the quartet as an important force for desegregation, calling them “the harbingers of the end of segregated jazz.” He writes that the Benny Goodman Quartet was “the first band to put both black and white musicians on the same stage as part of the regular act. Nervous promoters were warned of race riots during the inaugural tour, but those fears faded as hundreds of thousands of people came out to see the band play without incident.” (12)

Those hundreds of thousands of people…did they come for the music, or for seeing a mixed band? If the latter, Baraka’s label of “spectacle” may be correct. Perhaps even if Goodman’s intentions were mostly good ones, he understood the stir that a mixed band would cause. Baraka’s description is harsh, Crouch’s is softer. Both Baraka and Crouch are Black Americans, both are writers, both are jazz critics, both were activists in the Civil Rights Movement, and Crouch is a jazz musician himself. How to work through these differing viewpoints? As a white person I don’t have the right to decide, and thus have to believe that both perspectives are valid.

Lionel Hampton was a bandleader on the West Coast before meeting Benny Goodman but faced frustration and disappointment due to segregation and discrimination. After a stint playing a steady gig at the Paradise Nightclub in LA he joined Goodman’s group and then, propelled by his new fame and popularity, tried his hand leading again in 1940 with the Lionel Hampton Orchestra. This time he was successful, establishing a legacy that has influenced countless musicians, myself included. Would he have had the same legacy and impact if not for his time in the Benny Goodman Quartet? That’s not for me to decide.

Works Cited

Baraka, Amiri [LeRoi Jones]. 1963. Blues People: Negro Music in White America. New York: Harper Perennial.

Crouch, Stanley. 2008. Fying Home: Lionel Hampton: 100 Years of Good Vibes. Ann Arbor, MI: State Street Press.

Ellison, Ralph. 1964. Shadow and Act. New York: Random House.

Jazz Performance as Ritual: The Blues Aesthetic and the African Diaspora.Jackson, Travis. 2000. “Jazz Performance as Ritual: The Blues Aesthetic and the African Diaspora.” In The African Diaspora: A Musical Perspective, ed. Ingrid Monson. New York: Garland Publishing.

Monson, Ingrid. 2007. Freedom Sounds: Civil Rights Call Out to Jazz and Africa. New York: Oxford University Press.

Woodard, Komozi. “Amiri Baraka and the music of life: blues people fifty years later.” Transition: An International Review, July 2013. Gale Academic OneFile (accessed July 2, 2020).

Today’s blog post is jargon-y, but these seem like worthy terms to know for my exam. Here are quick definitions for the concepts I will cover:

  • Blackface: A performance tradition of non-blacks in American theater to display Blackness for white audiences, mostly through theatrical make-up. Originating in the 1820s and remaining popular for a century, blackface is highly offensive but is recognized historically as perhaps the first “original” form of US popular music and helped to establish the modern music industry.
  • Blacksound: The sonic complement of blackface; the embodiment of blackface performance as the origin of all popular music, entertainment, and culture in the United States.
32nd Annual Sojourner Truth Lecture: Saidiya Hartman ...
Saidiya Hartman, English and Comparative Literature professor at Columbia University.
(photo credit here)
  • “Terror and Enjoyment:” A concept created by Saidiya Hartman to describe the racial subjugation and commodification of cultural practices of black people in the US during and after slavery, and to explore forms of terror and enjoyment that shaped black identity.
  • Sonic color line: Describes the process of racializing sound (making assumptions about who makes and prefers certain sounds) and the result of that process (creating division between “whiteness” and “blackness”). Coined by sound-studies scholar Jennifer Lynn Stoever (2016).
  • Authenticity/sincerity: Used here as cultural concepts. Authenticity is the primary way race is understood in the US, sincerity relates to how race actually functions in society.
  • Sonic blue(s)face: The embodiment of sounds from the African Diaspora by non-black performers to achieve stardom (ie: bluesy elements of the music of Amy Winehouse). Coined by Daphne Brooks.
Matthew Morrison
Matthew D. Morrison
(photo credit)

These terms are central to two articles by musicologist Matthew D. Morrison, Assistant Professor in the Clive Davis Institute of Recorded Music at New York University’s Tisch School of the Arts. The first is called “The Sound(s) of Subjection: Constructing American Popular Music and Racial Identity through Blacksound” (2017) and the second is “Race, Blacksound, and the (Re)Making of Musicological Discourse” (2019).

Morrison uses the term Blacksound to bring attention to “how performance, (racial) identity, and (intellectual) property relations have been tethered to the making of popular music and its commercialization since the early nineteenth century” (2019). As has hopefully been apparent from these blog posts, the culture of music has always been exclusionary in one way or another. Shana Redmond demonstrated how societal and musical exclusion led Black individuals like Nina Simone, Paul Robeson, and the women of the 1945 Charleston tobacco industry strike to become activists through the creation and amplification of Black anthems. Kevin Gaines and Nathaniel Mackey introduced the concept of artistic othering, explaining how Black jazz artists like Sun Ra and Dizzy Gillespie highlighted their cultural identity through music in ways that didn’t conform to white-established norms and expectations.

Matthew D. Morrison’s term Blacksound (which he calls a “race-based epistemology”1) helps strengthen the tie between these other works. If I’m understanding this correctly, Black anthems are forms of artistic othering that amplify Black cultural practices through music, while Blacksound is a way to analyze the political (racial) implications connected to popular music in the US. Black anthems are Black-owned, while Blacksound is tied to blackface…not so great.

Blackface and Blacksound

Blackface - Wikipedia
The blackface Wikipedia page (where this image is from) is a good starting point if you are unfamiliar with blackface minstrelsy. also has a good introductory article.

I won’t go deep into the history of blackface since it has been covered so often (even a quick Google search can teach you a bit about it). I will mention that blackface does not only exist in terms of black/white; blackface performance can also include burlesquing ethnicity, gender, sexual orientation, class, etc. (sidenote: This relates to what I’m reading for my Music and Disability Studies list for this exam. Maybe I’ll write a a future post on “disability drag” in music to link these concepts). Morrison explains in his writing: “Blacksound seeks not to erase other ethnic and racial groups from the process of popular music making in the United States, but rather to put blackness—as the aesthetic basis of American popular music since its founding in blackface—at the center of considering what is at stake as varied communities engage in popular music making on their own terms and in relation to one another within society’s complex and often unequal structures.” The “Black Lives Matter” movement’s goal is not to suggest that *only* Black lives matter, and similarly, the concept of Blacksound does not suggest that *only* the black/white paradigm should be considered in music studies. The purpose of the Blacksound concept is to challenge general notions of racial authenticity in music and to analyze the ways that the US contemporary music industry is built with blackface as its foundation.

Sounding the Color Line

The Sonic Color Line: Race and the Cultural Politics of ...

What sounds are certain bodies “supposed” to produce, and what makes music “authentically” black, white, or something else? Societal expectations establish assumptions: If a singer adds “blue” notes, interjections, hollers, moans, groans, hand clapping, etc. into a performance, these aspects are usually considered “black.” This “sonic color line,” as Jennifer Lynn Stoever calls it, originated in blackface, when artists tried to “sound black” in performance, enacting what Erich Nunn describes as “sounding the color line.” Racial sounds, norms, and expectations were scripted through blackface performance, and those scripts carried over into popular music culture.

But so what? Why does the sonic color line matter? If the music is good, people will listen, right? Who cares if someone is sounding the color line? One reason is that listeners may racialize sounds they hear, enforcing dominant culture by deciding which sounds are primitive, sophisticated, authentic, etc. and possibly reinforcing pre-existing stereotypes. Some assumptions may be real – a listener who studies West African music may be able to say with certainty when a sound has West African characteristics – and others imaginary – someone may decide that a sound is “tribal” or “unsophisticated” because of stereotypes they’ve heard and reinforce.

Scholars have coined many terms to explain the sounds of the sonic color line (I did warn this entry would be jargony!). These terms help to break down the sounds that make up the sonic color line. Here are some that Morrison mentions:

  • Jayna Brown’s “racial mimicry” (forms of racial delineation with and without cork make-up)
  • Mendi Obadike’s “acousmatic blackness” (a “sonic skin” that enables stereotypes of blackness to be articulated and understood when no blackness is visualized)
  • Nina Eidsheim’s “sonic blackness” (the perceptual phantom of a vocal timbre, projected by the listener, which happens to match current expectations about blackness, or the shaping of a vocal timbre to match ideas about blackness)
  • Barbara Savage’s “aural blackface” (“sounding” black by performing what might be recognized as black dialect)
  • Kristin Moriah’s “sounding blackness” (black performance, singing, and listening as a political act)
  • Daphne A. Brooks’s “sonic blue(s)face” (“a palimpsest of spectacular aural racial and gendered iterations” developed out of minstrelsy by black and white women performers).

So…what is Blacksound?

In his 2017 piece, Morrison defines Blacksound in two ways. It is “the legacies, sounds, and movements of African American bodies – both real and imagined – on which blackface performance and popular entertainment was based.” Simultaneously, “the concept suggests the scripting, commodification, and embodiment of these sonic performances by both black and non-black bodies as a vehicle for self-imagination and the construction of race.” It’s easy enough to consider appropriation in music, but as Morrison explains, considerations of blackness in popular culture often assume that the sounds being appropriated are “an ‘authentic’ racialized sonic self” (2017). Morrison coined the term Blacksound to amplify the less perceptible ways that a “racially audible past” informs contemporary popular culture and its development.

[ Okeh Race Records Form No. 2566] | Library of Congress
“Race records” were popular in the 1920s
(image credit)

Morrison mentions many styles of music that emerged out of blackface performance, forming the base of popular music culture in the US. Those styles include Tin Pan Alley pop, vaudeville, “hillbilly”/bluegrass/country, jazz, race music/blues, gospel, rhythm and blues, rock, and hip-hop. As he explains, the diversity of these styles and their histories “continue to reflect the social, economic, political, and geographic relationships that inform how these genres have been created, commodified, and experienced through Blacksound.”


This was a hard concept to unpack and I’m not sure I have completely succeeded. What I do understand is that race and other forms of identity are “imagined, constructed, and negotiated through the embodiment and performance of popular music in and beyond the United States” and that societal structures and assumptions affect individual and collective identities through music. We can only move past stereotypes and deconstruct white-dominant cultural norms if we acknowledge the effect they have on musical identity formation. Blacksound is a concept designed to help do just that.

1 Shana Almeida has a definition to help understand race-based epistemology. In her words, it “challenge[s] the epistemological practices and activities that naturalize western ways of thinking. Race-based epistemologies serve to de-center and contextualize western ways of thinking and knowing, to define their limits” (Almeida 2015:83).

Works Cited

Almeida, Shana. “Race-Based Epistemologies: The Role of Race and Dominance in Knowledge Production.” Wagadu: A Journal of Transnational Women and Gender Studies 13 (Summer 2015): 79–105.
Google Scholar

Brown, Jayna. Babylon Girls: Black Women Performers and the Shaping of the Modern. Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 2008.

Brooks, Daphne A. Bodies in Dissent: Spectacular Performances of Race and Freedom: 1850–1910. Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 2006.

Brooks, Daphne A. “‘This Voice Which Is Not One’: Amy Winehouse Sings the Ballad of Sonic Blue(s)face Culture.” Women and Performance: A Journal of Feminist Theory 20, no. 1 (March 2010): 37–60.
Google Scholar Crossref

Eidsheim, Nina Sun. “Marian Anderson and ‘Sonic Blackness’ in American Opera.” American Quarterly 63, no. 3 (September 2011): 641–71.
Google ScholarCrossref

Hartman, Saidiya. 1997. Scenes of Subjection: Terror, Slavery, and Self-Making in Nineteenth Century America. New York: Oxford University Press. 

Morrison, Matthew D. “Race, Blacksound, and the (Re)Making of Musicological Discourse.” Journal of the American Musicological Society 1 December 2019; 72 (3): 781–823.

—–. 2017. “The sound(s) of subjection: Constructing American popular music and racial identity through Blacksound.” Women & Performance: a journal of feminist theory. 27:1. 13-24.

Obadike, Mendi. “Low Fidelity: Stereotyped Blackness in the Field of Sound.” PhD diss., Duke University, 2005.
Google Scholar

Savage, Barbara Dianne. Broadcasting Freedom: Radio, War, and the Politics of Race, 1938–1948. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1999.

Stoever, Jennifer Lynn. 2016. The Sonic Color Line: Race and the Cultural Politics of Listening. New York: NYU Press. 

Goodness gracious time is FLYING. How I am going to not just read but also become an expert on 200+ academic sources for this exam is beyond me. Seven weeks to go…

The College Welcomes New Faculty | Cornell University ...
Kevin Gaines
(photo credit here)

Today I’m writing about artistic othering in jazz music. My focus is a chapter by Kevin Gaines, W.E.B. Du Bois professor of Africana Studies and History at Cornell University, from the book Uptown Conversation: The New Jazz Studies (O’Meally et al 2004). Gaines’ chapter is entitled “Artistic Othering in Black Diaspora Musics: Preliminary Thoughts on Time, Culture, and Politics.” His chapter is sixteen years old yet still relevant.

The purpose of Gaines’ chapter is to explore the relationship between cultural practice and historical consciousness in jazz music. In other words, rhythm and history; the connection between what jazz artists play and the history and memories linked to that playing. By this definition, jazz music is art intended for universal(?) consumption that also acts as political commentary rebelling against systems of racial oppression; an “artistic act of othering.”

The artistic act of othering

The Archive's Poetry Salon, November 2014 | Nathaniel ...
Nathaniel Mackey
(photo credit here)

Coined by literary scholar-poet Nathaniel Mackey, this term transforms “other” from a noun/adjective into a verb – something people do.1 It is a response to social othering. In Mackey’s words, “artistic othering has to do with innovation, invention, and change, upon which cultural health and diversity depend and thrive. Social othering has to do with power, exclusion, and privilege, the centralizing of a norm against which otherness is measured, meted out, marginalized” (Mackey 1992:51). Social othering creates an “us vs. them” mentality while artistic othering says “Okay, groups are marginalized and excluded in mainstream society, let’s highlight their culture and history through artistic endeavors.”

Artistic othering is a response to social othering and disempowerment within the music industry, an antidote to “the oppressive commodification and objectification of African Americans within a U.S. society shaped by institutionalized racism” (Gaines 2004:205). Artistic othering is rebellion; it’s a way for Black artists to express cultural identity through music without adhering to the norms and expectations of a system established by dominant, white culture.

Gaines defines artistic othering in two ways:
1. As an “affirmative othering,” a dialogue that takes places between black artists and audiences and creates a “musically-enacted community.” (208)
2. As a form of othering that provides refuge from the white world for Black artists and audiences, offering creative spaces where white-enacted boundaries can’t reach.

Artistic Othering in Practice

Gaines explores the careers of Black diaspora musicians2 to unpack the idea of artistic othering, demonstrating how Black artists’ music practices “oppose racist attempts to circumscribe black bodies and beings.” (206) A few examples are described below and, as Gaines notes, “the musicians discussed here are just a few of numerous possible examples…they embody the apparent tension between music as universal expression and as historically situated practice that, in its aesthetics and performance, claims and constitutes an autonomous refusal of the dynamics of racial domination.” (206)

1. The Birth of Bebop

What brought about the emergence of bebop in 1940s New York City? My understanding of jazz history allows me to provide a few answers:
-Musicians were tired of the structured arrangements of big band music, designed for swing dancers over individual musical expression.
-After playing swing gigs, musicians met after hours at clubs like Minton’s Playhouse in Harlem (where bebop is said to have been born) to hone their individual skills and try things musically that they couldn’t in big bands.
-WWII drafts meant that there were less musicians to play with, leading to smaller combos than the typical swing band needed.

 Thelonious Monk, Howard McGhee, Roy Eldridge, Teddy Hill at Minton’s Playhouse, New York, September 1947
(photo credit here)
Dizzy Gillespie on Spotify
Dizzy Gillespie
(photo credit here)

Those are some of the reasons for bebop’s formation, but Gaines encourages a more critical examination. Who were the pioneers of bebop? Although not all, the majority were African Americans: Dizzy Gillespie, Charlie Parker, Thelonious Monk, Mary Lou Williams, Bud Powell, Max Roach, etc. Why? As we’ll see later in this blog, big bands were some of the more racially inclusive spaces of the 1920s and 1930s (with exceptions, of course), but Black musicians still experienced some exclusion. Bandleaders like Benny Goodman had Black artists in their bands and/or hired them as arrangers, but they were rarely bandleaders (with exceptions), didn’t fully profit from arrangements and compositions they wrote, and often played for all-white audiences (again, with exceptions). Having Black musicians in a band could also complicate a band’s ability to procure gigs. I don’t remember the source, but a book I once read described the experience of an entire swing band sleeping in a bus because the hotel they were staying at wouldn’t allow their African American band member – I think it was Melba Liston? – entry. There are many instances of clubs, hotels, etc. not letting a group enter with a Black band member. For musicians making a living through gigs, what to do? Cancel the gig? Play without that band member? Avoid hiring Black musicians when possible? Gaines also references Dizzy Gillespie, who freelanced as a big band arranger for white bandleaders but was rarely hired. As bandleader Woody Herman confessed, “he would have loved to have hired Gillespie in his band if he weren’t so dark.” (211)

Experiences like this give new perspective to the late night jam sessions of the 1940s that led to bebop’s formation. Jam sessions were spaces of shared cultural values and mutual encouragement where (mostly) Black artists could express themselves musically without adhering to norms and expectations of white-established society. Thus, the birth of bebop is politically charged; it is a form of artistic othering responding to social othering of the time.

Let’s go, Revolution: Jazz poet Langston Hughes ...
Langston Hughes
(photo credit here)

Langston Hughes had his own politically charged explanation of the birth of bebop, shared by his character Jesse B. Simple:

“Every time a cop hits a Negro with his billy club, that old club say, ‘BOP! BOP! . . . BE-BOP! . . . MOP! . . . BOP!’
That Negro hollers, ‘Ooool-ya-koo! Ou-o-o!’
Old cop just keeps on, ‘MOP! MOP! . . . BE-BOP! MOP!’ That’s where Be-Bop came from, beaten right out of some Negro’s head into them horns and saxophones and piano keys that plays it. . . . That’s why so many white folks don’t dig Bop,” said Simple. “White folks do not get their heads beat just for being white. But me–a cop is liable to grab me almost any time and beat my head–just for being colored.
In some part of this American country as soon as the polices see me, they say, ‘Boy, what are you doing in this neighborhood?’
I say, ‘coming from work, sir.’ . . .
Then I have to go into my whole pedigree because I am a black man in a white neighborhood. And if my answers do not satisfy them, BOP! MOP! . . . BE-BOP! . . . If they do not hit me, they have already hurt my soul. A dark man shall see dark days. Bop comes out of them dark days.”

Langston Hughes, “Bop,” in Abraham Chapman, ed., Black Voices: An Anthology of
Afro-American Literature (New York: New American Library, 1968), pp. 104–5.

2. Space Is The Place

Jazz musician, composer, and bandleader Sun Ra (1914-1993), born Herman Poole Blount (nicknamed “Sonny”) in Birmingham, AL, insisted that he came to Earth by way of Saturn. In his lyrics and in statements throughout his later life, Sun Ra described outer space as a realm of freedom. When asked about his lyrics, Sun Ra replied:

It’s all about space. . . . I didn’t find being black in America a very pleasant experience, but I had to have something, and where was that something? It was being creative. Something that nobody owned but us….Now I [have] a treasure house of music that no one has…..I have music from the creator which is more valuable than anything.

Taken from a 1987 interview with Sun Ra conducted by Phil Schaap, rebroadcast in March 1993 on 89.9 mhz, WKCR-FM, New York.

Sun Ra experienced segregation, racism, and poverty throughout his life, first while growing up in the Jim Crow South and later while living and working in Chicago and Philadelphia. In 1952 he legally changed his name to Le Sony’r Ra, claiming that Blount was a slave name. As a black man he was socially othered regularly, and he responded by recording over 100 full-length albums, producing one of the largest discographies in music history, and becoming one of the pioneers of Afrofuturism.

One example of Sun Ra’s artistic othering is his musical collective, The Arkestra (which still exists today). Established in the mid-1950s, The Arkestra features musicians and dancers dressed in elaborate costumes inspired by ancient Egypt and the “Space Age.” In addition to the content of his music, Ra’s costumes allowed him and his band to demonstrate black nationalism visually as a counter-narrative to mainstream American culture.

The Sun Ra Arkestra
(photo credit here)

As stated earlier, despite some exclusion, big bands were valuable spaces for cultural aspiration and freedom for Black musicians. Sun Ra agreed, citing the culture of big bands as “the nearest temporal approximation of the utopian possibilities of outer space” (Gaines 2004: 216). At a time when procuring employment was difficult for Black Americans, big bands simultaneously offered income, expression of cultural heritage, and “collective ideals and aspirations to dignity, organization, and power” (ibid). It is no surprise then, that the Arkestra was formed as and remains a big band rather than a smaller combo. As Gaines writes, “the band was not unlike a church for its members, and Sun Ra was no less than a spiritual leader for his musicians, who lived and rehearsed with total commitment
in a communal situation.” Further, the focus on space is important: “Outer space functioned symbolically as a pastoral refuge from the dangers of urban poverty and alienation facing African American migrants from the South” (ibid).


I’ll end this blog post here because, frankly, I just spent half a day writing it and still need to study other sources. This concept of artistic othering is one that I will keep in mind as I learn about the music of other Black artists. I don’t think it’s a stretch to conclude that all the music discussed in my last blog post on Shana Redmond’s book are also examples of artistic othering. One question I am left with: Can artistic othering only be accomplished by members of a socially othered group? If a white musician plays politically charged Black jazz music knowing the history and cultural memory that it carries, can that performance also function as artistic othering? I don’t think I need to know the answer for my exam, but just something to think about. Thanks for reading!

1 Mackey credits this noun-to-verb othering concept to Amiri Baraka, who transforms the word “swing” to describe white appropriation of black musical innovation in his book Blues People. He also mentions Zora Neale Hurston who, thirty years earlier, was a pioneering practitioner of “resistant othering” in black vernacular culture.

2 Gaines uses this term because “to call them African American would obscure the broader, black diaspora identities they claimed for themselves” (206). He uses a lowercase b, but as of June 2020 “Black” as an identity is now written with a capital B, recognized by the Associated Press.

Alright. I said I’d blog about what I’m reading, time to start.

I’m beginning today with an extremely relevant book by Dr. Shana L. Redmond called Anthem: Social Movements and the Sound of Solidarity in the African Diaspora. Now is an especially important time to amplify black voices, so I’ll have Dr. Redmond start us off in her own words:

Music is a method. Beyond its many pleasures, music allows us to do and imagine things that may otherwise be unimaginable or seem impossible. It is more than sound; it is a complex system of mean(ing)s and ends that mediate our relationships to one another, to space, to our histories and historical moment…Within the African diaspora, music functions as a method of rebellion, revolution, and future visions that disrupt and challenge the manufactured differences used to dismiss, detain, and destroy communities. The anthems developed and deployed by these communities served as articulations of defense and were so powerful that they took flight and were adopted by others…Listening to Black anthems is a political act in performance because it mobilizes communal engagements that speak to misrecognition, false histories, violence, and radical exclusion.

Redmond, Shana L. 2013. “Introduction.” Anthem: Social Movements and the Sound of Solidarity in the African Diaspora. New York: NYU Press. 1.

Note: In this book, “diaspora” refers to Africans no longer in their country of birth. One reviewer, Mareli Stolp, thinks “pan-Africanist” is a more appropriate term than “diasporic” but agrees that these songs are anthems (Stolp 2016).

Dr. Redmond’s book focuses primarily on six Black anthems, each of which she describes as a transnational text with a set of musical forms and a set of organizing strategies. She pins the starting point for Black anthems as 1920, when Mamie Smith became the first black artist featured on a “race record,” creating commercial investment in Black music.1, 2 Race records were driven by financial gain, and Black movement anthems emerged as a sort of counterpoint built not on commercialism but on what Robin Kelley calls “freedom dreams.” Black anthems “publicly grappled with how the ‘race’ of ‘race records’ was (and should be) constituted” (Redmond 8). They aimed to liberate what Redmond calls the collapsed Black identity through race (“a different way of living”) and sound (“a different way of hearing”).

Mamie Smith & Her Jazz Hounds "Crazy Blues" LYRICS (song ...

1 Okeh Records, the studio that recorded Mamie Smith, also had a line of “foreign” records for immigrant communities prior to the “race records” produced from the 1920s-1940s. (source)
2 Mamie Smith’s recording was extremely popular among black audiences despite the fact that it cost the equivalent of roughly two hours of work at an average black person’s salary. Her “Crazy Blues” record sold over 100,000 copies! (source)

When someone sings an anthem they become part of a collective, amplifying a message and its associated struggles and refusing the limitations of an “audience,” choosing instead to merge into a “public.” Singing an anthem is an act of what Christopher Small calls “musicking,” an active engagement with music rather than a passive one (9).

Anthems cross borders, carrying musical traditions, performance techniques, history, politics, and associated struggles across the world. More than just casual songs, anthems construct what Redmond terms sound franchises.

Sound franchise: An organized melodic challenge utilized by the African descended to announce their collectivity and to what political ends they would be mobilized (4-5).

Here are six anthems mentioned in Redmond’s book and the sound franchises they construct:

  1. “Ethiopia (Thou Land of Our Fathers):” Composed in 1918 by E. Burrell (coauthor of lyrics) and Arnold J. Ford (composer, coauthor of lyrics).
    • Anthem of the UNIA (Universal Negro Improvement Association).
    • 1920: In a manifesto titled Declaration of Rights of the Negro Peoples of the World, UNIA president Marcus Garvey announced a human rights platform for the protection of the Black race. Members of the UNIA sang this anthem after the manifesto was read, marking ” their moment of exultation and collective advance, signaling the introductory chapter of their ascent into the world corps of nations” (21).
    • “Ethiopia” set the stage for the use of anthems for global community building and mobilization.
    • 1927: Marcus Garvey’s deportation led to the rapid decline of the UNIA and its anthem.
    • “Ethiopia” enforces notions of male superiority and power but is nonetheless historically important as what might be the first example of a Black anthem.
  2. “Lift Ev’ry Voice and Sing:” Composed by James W. Johnson and James R. Johnson. Based on a poem by James Weldon.
    • Anthem of the NAACP (National Association for the Advancement of Colored People).
    • 1933: Request to translate it into Japanese. Example of the global reach of a tool of representation for blackness.
    • Widely considered to be one of the most important Black anthems of all time, though it is not as popular today due to non-performance (276).
  3. “Ol’ Man River:” Composed by Jerome Kern (melody) and Oscar Hammerstein II (lyrics) for the 1927 musical Show Boat.
    • Singer/actor/activist Paul Robeson rewrote the words and transformed the song into a personal anthem for his work in Civil Rights Movement, the Spanish Civil War, movements against fascism, movements for social justice, etc.
    • 1950-58: Robeson’s passport was revoked under McCarthyism, but his message spread across the globe through his performances.
    • “Ol’ Man River” became Robeson’s signature performance in crusade for civil and human rights, creating an association with freedom struggles in US and abroad.
    • According to historian Mark Naison, Robeson is the “most complex and challenging African-American cultural figure of the twentieth century,” yet “within a span of ten years, 1947–1957, [he] was virtually erased from historic memory.” (278)
    • 2004: The American Film Institute named “Ol’ Man River” one of the “top movie songs of all time.” (276)
  4. “We Shall Overcome:” Known by many previous names and versions. One possible origin is Charles Albert Tindley’s gospel hymn “I’ll Overcome Some Day,” published in 1900. Melodically, “We Shall Overcome” is similar to the spiritual “I’ll Be Alright.” Although I don’t have a source to back this up, I learned from Rev. Robert B. Jones that “I’ll Be Alright” was a code song used by slaves to signify who was staying behind when an escape was planned.
    • 1938: Under the leadership of the Congress of Industrial Organizations, African American tobacco workers in Richmond, VA went on strike and sang the spiritual “We Shall Not Be Moved.”
    • 1945-1946: First documented singing of the “modern” version of Tindley’s hymn. Became the anthem of Black women industrial workers in Charleston in the CIO (Congress of Industrial Organization) who lead strike action against the tobacco industry.
      • Regarding the song’s importance for the Charleston strike, Local 15 member Isiah Bennett said: “Everytime [sic] we opened up a meeting we would sing a song. ‘We Shall Overcome,’ ‘We Shall Not Be Moved.’. . . The song ‘We Shall Overcome’ originated on the picket lines, in the union halls and in the churches where we would meet” (164).
    • 1947: Zilphia Horton (music director of the Highlander Folk School) taught the song to Pete Seeger and it was published as “We Will Overcome” in the People’s Songs Bulletin (directed by Seeger). Seeger began singing the song in performances.
    • 1959: Guy Carawan became song leader at Highlander and spread his and Seeger’s version. Other folk singers picked it up and started singing it at rallies, protests, etc.
    • The song grew from a locally-situated protest song to become the rallying cry and unofficial anthem for the Civil Rights Movement and a universally recognized protest anthem.
    • Malcolm X didn’t share the general enthusiasm for this anthem. In his speech “The Ballot or the Bullet” he stated: “Uncle Sam’s hands are dripping with blood, dripping with the blood of the black man in this country. He’s the earth’s number-one hypocrite. He has the audacity—yes, he has—imagine him posing as the leader of the free world. The free world!—and you over here singing ‘We Shall Overcome.’ Expand the civil-rights struggle to the level of human rights, take it to the United Nations.” (280). Similarly, he said: “Revolution is never based on begging someone for an integrated cup of coffee. Revolutions are never fought by turning the other cheek. Revolutions are never based upon love-your-enemy and pray-for-those-who-spitefully-use-you. And revolutions are never waged singing ‘We Shall Overcome.’” (ibid). Nonetheless, “We Shall Overcome” remains a universal anthem for social change.
  5. “To Be Young, Gifted and Black” by Nina Simone (1969), lyrics by Weldon Irvine.
    • Written in memory of Simone’s mentor, writer Lorraine Hansberry (author of A Raisin in the Sun) who passed away in 1965.
    • Written as “a defiant celebration of and for the young people who through sit-ins, marches, and community organizing continued the fight of the many leaders gone.” (Redmond)
    • 1971: Became the anthem of the Congress of Racial Equality (CORE), which then led to its popularity as an unofficial civil rights anthem.
    • Nina’s voice drew people together. As Redmond writes, “it is necessary to note that often it literally was her voice that put them in the same place at the same time. The power of these acts, then, is not simply as sonic art—as important as that is; it is also pedagogical and organizational in that these performances compelled reactive and proactive engagements and debate, all of which contributed to political alternatives in the present” (14).
  6. “Nkosi Sikilel’ iAfrika” (“God Bless Africa”): Hymn by Xhosa choral music composer Enoch Sontonga
    • 1897: Adopted by African National Congress (ANC), considered to be the most significant political force in the resistance struggle against apartheid in South Africa.
    • Best known version sung by Miriam Makeba
    • Multilingual composition made it an easy choice for a resistance anthem across Africa in the 1960s and 1970s.
    • 1994: Nelson Mandela installed as president of South Africa, gets to choose symbols of post-apartheid. Replaced “Die Stem” with “Nkosi Sikilel’ iAfrika” as South Africa’s national anthem.
  7. Bonus: “Fight the Power” by Public Enemy (1989)
    • Featured in Spike Lee’s film Do The Right Thing
    • Redmond presents “Fight the Power” as possibly the last Black anthem of the 20th century, adopted by various urban communities and uprisings.
    • Its relevance goes beyond Brooklyn to other locations, conditions, and political mobilizations: “The song’s growth from and response to collective Black struggle went beyond reporting to build discourse and debate; it was not simply narrative but was instructive” (261).
    • Long but very relevant quote: “’Fight the Power’ joined in the lexicon of anthemic sound bites like ‘We Shall Overcome,’ becoming an oft-repeated way to signal the Black response to the acquittal of the four white LAPD officers who in 1991 brutally beat Black motorist Rodney King within a few inches of his life. The anthem played in the streets of the Palms neighborhood of west L.A. during the events, becoming a critical voice and strategy within the Black rebellion. ‘Fight the Power’ was the song that marked this last decade of the Black century—the violence of its turning and the innovation of its future. Through their Brooklyn performances, the members of Public Enemy were organizers whose sonic manifesto moved bodies and reconstituted the multiple centers of Black diasporic existence.” (269)

That last quote makes me think. Redmond deemed “Fight the Power” as the last Black anthem of the 20th century. Here in the 21st century, while we wait to see what will happen with another group of four cops involved in the unnecessary murder of George Floyd (among many others), will a new Black anthem emerge? At one of the protests I attended last week, a trumpeter played “We Shall Overcome” and people laid down flowers while the names of black people killed by police was read aloud. That anthem is clearly still a part of the ongoing movements for civil rights, but others have emerged along the way. What’s waiting in the wings now?

It is only fitting to end where we began, with Dr. Redmond’s own words, shared below. I hope this blog post has been useful. I believe it is important to know the history of the songs we sing, and the same can absolutely be said for Black anthems.

The fact that some of these songs have passed the time of their utility in movement cultures does not diminish their importance to the political histories and futures of the diaspora…With every reference to these movements and musicians, with every performance, a conversation continues between the actors of the past and those of the present. The histories that these anthems have helped to build and the present efforts that they condone structure a radical movement timeline for members and actors within diaspora. Anthems, therefore, have a future, even if the nation does not. The project and practice of Black anthems represented here will, with any luck, mobilize another cohort with the talents to remake the world.

Redmond, Shana L. 2013. “Introduction.” Anthem: Social Movements and the Sound of Solidarity in the African Diaspora. New York: NYU Press. 288.
Paul Robeson photo credit here
nina simone
Nina Simone photo credit here
Fight the Power - Wikipedia
Public Enemy photo credit here
The Transatlantic Impact of civil rights anthem “We Shall ...
Photo credit here

I typically use this blog to track my travel adventures, but occasionally I co-opt my own space for other topics, such as back in 2017 when I shared information about music styles to help myself study for a giant ethnomusicology exam.

I failed at posting consistently back then, but now I have another chance. I’ll be taking my 2nd comp exam, the last step (aside from a dissertation proposal defense) before I move from being a PhD student to an ABD (All But Dissertation) PhD candidate. I have two reading lists to study, each composed of 100+ academic sources I need to know inside and out. I chose the topics for my lists last year and gathered hundreds of sources (more than the ~200 that make up the final lists, since I had to submit drafts and add/remove sources based on feedback).

My two lists are “Music and Disability Studies” and “Music of the Black Atlantic.” I chose the first list because it was directly related to my original dissertation project (which has now changed because of COVID-19) and for its relevance to my role as an educator. I chose the second because as a jazz musician and music educator it is critical for me to be familiar with Black music history and accompanying racial injustices. I don’t see this as optional and I will never finish learning.

As you might imagine, right now my focus is on my “Music of the Black Atlantic” list. Never would I have predicted that a public health crisis (COVID-19) paired with another public health crisis (racism) and the national response would motivate me to study, but the events of 2020 have lit a fire. I need to know these sources inside and out, and I intend to.

For the next 10 weeks I will post about what I learn from studying. Although the “Black Atlantic” list focuses on music traditions and experiences in many countries besides the US, I’m going to start with the sources that specifically focus on Black American music experiences. A lot of people are more motivated than usual to learn about race-related topics right now, and I have a unique opportunity to share information while simultaneously helping myself study. I am absolutely not the most important voice in the stream and I do not intend to distract from those sharing important information. This is to help myself study, and I welcome anyone who would like to come along for the ride.

Over the next few weeks I will pick out some of the most relevant and interesting parts of what I’m reading to highlight here. We will learn about protest anthems and freedom songs, “blacksound,” the appropriation of black culture through minstrelsy, what is meant by “Black Atlantic,” etc. I will not share everything I read (maybe one post per week? We’ll see…) and if something is particularly academic and jargon-filled I will do my best to break it down. The intention of this first post is keep myself accountable so that I follow through with this endeavor.

In their 2017 piece entitled “Ethnography, Sound Studies and the Black Atlantic,” Whitney J. Slaten and Michael Veal focus on humanizing aspects of black popular music studies. They write:

African Americans are probably the only culture on planet Earth in which every generation has to essentially reinvent the wheel. And while it’s great for things like artistic creativity, it’s terrible for long-term cultural stability. Only a small number of exceptional people are going to be able to prosper within that paradigm. So until we deal with that reality, we won’t be able to set the proper course into whatever the future may hold.

Slaten, Whitney Jesse, and Michael Veal. 2017. “Ethnography, Sound Studies and the Black Atlantic.” Current Musicology. 99-100 (Spring): 21-36.

Let’s deal with that reality.