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By Jeffrey Melnick

All too usually an incident or twist of fate, akin to the eruption in Crown Heights with its legacy of bitterness and recrimination, thrusts Black-Jewish family members into the scoop. A volley of debate follows, yet little within the means of growth or enlightenment results--and this can be how issues will stay till we substantially revise the best way we predict in regards to the advanced interactions among African americans and Jews. A correct to Sing the Blues deals simply one of these revision. "Black-Jewish relations," Jeffrey Melnick argues, has usually been a manner for American Jews to discuss their ambivalent racial prestige, a story jointly developed at severe moments, whilst specific conflicts call for an evidence. Remarkably versatile, this narrative can set up diffuse fabrics right into a coherent tale that has a strong carry on our mind's eye. Melnick elaborates this concept via an in-depth examine Jewish songwriters, composers, and perfomers who made "Black" song within the first few a long time of this century. He indicates how Jews similar to George Gershwin, Irving Berlin, Al Jolson, and others have been in a position to painting their "natural" affinity for generating "Black" track as a manufactured from their Jewishness whereas at the same time depicting Jewishness as a strong white id. Melnick additionally contends that this cultural task competed without delay with Harlem Renaissance makes an attempt to outline Blackness. relocating past the slim concentration of advocacy crew politics, this publication complicates and enriches our realizing of the cultural terrain shared by way of African americans and Jews.

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

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For all the talk about alliances between African Americans and Jews, little has been said about the power dynamics and implications of this early expression of intergroup contact, perhaps primarily because it is a less reassuring story than, say, the one about the founding of the NAACP. But still, this musical activity speaks loudly to the willingness of Jews and African Americans, with varying degrees of choice, to be de~ned in terms of each other. 58 If the two groups faced some similar expressions of prejudice—college quotas, exclusion from certain hotels, and so on—these points of intersection tell us very little about the overall status of each group.

72 The boundary between publisher and songwriters was not ~rm. ”77 An affronted Witmark assured Cook that the Witmarks would never again publish one of his songs. This anecdote points up painfully that African Americans were at the whim of white publishers—~rst to get their music disseminated, and then to get a fair accounting of their success after publication. The Copyright Act of 1909 gave music publishers and songwriters permission to license their materials for pro~t, but the American Society of Composers, Authors, and Publishers (ASCAP), a collective which was founded in 1914 to oversee the payment of royalties, did little to protect African Americans.

This suppleness was caused by and was in the service of many extramusical concerns. 42 Musical developments, in short, could never remain untouched by market concerns, racial ideologies, and urban demographics, to name but three shaping in_uences. It was clear to most contemporary observers that whatever constituted ragtime, it somehow generated jazz—even if few could describe this relationship with anything like certainty. The apparently inevitable transformation of ragtime into jazz supported the idea that African Americans were no longer wholly (or even primarily) responsible for the musical forms based on their own folk materials.

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