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

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

Hardcover

$39.95

Overview

All too often an incident or accident, such as the eruption in Crown Heights with its legacy of bitterness and recrimination, thrusts Black-Jewish relations into the news. A volley of discussion follows, but little in the way of progress or enlightenment results—and this is how things will remain until we radically revise the way we think about the complex interactions between African Americans and Jews. A Right to Sing the Blues offers just such a revision.

"Black-Jewish relations," Jeffrey Melnick argues, has mostly been a way for American Jews to talk about their ambivalent racial status, a narrative collectively constructed at critical moments, when particular conflicts demand an explanation. Remarkably flexible, this narrative can organize diffuse materials into a coherent story that has a powerful hold on our imagination. Melnick elaborates this idea through an in-depth look at Jewish songwriters, composers, and perfomers who made "Black" music in the first few decades of this century. He shows how Jews such as George Gershwin, Irving Berlin, Al Jolson, and others were able to portray their "natural" affinity for producing "Black" music as a product of their Jewishness while simultaneously depicting Jewishness as a stable white identity. Melnick also contends that this cultural activity competed directly with Harlem Renaissance attempts to define Blackness.

Moving beyond the narrow focus of advocacy group politics, this book complicates and enriches our understanding of the cultural terrain shared by African Americans and Jews.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780674769762
Publisher: Harvard University Press
Publication date: 04/28/1999
Pages: 277
Product dimensions: 6.39(w) x 9.47(h) x 0.96(d)

About the Author

Jeffrey Melnick is Associate Professor of American Studies at University of Massachusetts Boston.

Table of Contents

Introduction: The Languages of Black-Jewish Relations

"Yiddle on Your Fiddle": The Culture of Black-Jewish Relations

"I Used to Be Color Blind": The Racialness of Jewish Men

"Swanee Ripples": From Blackface to White Negro

"Lift Ev'ry Voice": African American Music and the Nation

"Melancholy Blues": Making Jews Sacred in African American Music

Epilogue: The Lasting Power of "Black-Jewish Relations"

Notes

Index

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