By Jeffrey Melnick
All too usually an incident or coincidence, equivalent to the eruption in Crown Heights with its legacy of bitterness and recrimination, thrusts Black-Jewish relatives into the inside track. A volley of debate follows, yet little within the approach of growth or enlightenment results--and this can be how issues will stay until eventually we extensively revise the best way we predict in regards to the advanced interactions among African american citizens and Jews. A correct to Sing the Blues bargains simply the sort of revision. "Black-Jewish relations," Jeffrey Melnick argues, has as a rule been a fashion for American Jews to speak about their ambivalent racial prestige, a story jointly developed at severe moments, while specific conflicts call for a proof. Remarkably versatile, this narrative can set up diffuse fabrics right into a coherent tale that has a robust carry on our mind's eye. Melnick elaborates this concept via an in-depth examine Jewish songwriters, composers, and perfomers who made "Black" song within the first few many years of this century. He exhibits how Jews corresponding to George Gershwin, Irving Berlin, Al Jolson, and others have been in a position to painting their "natural" affinity for generating "Black" song as a made from their Jewishness whereas concurrently depicting Jewishness as a sturdy white identification. Melnick additionally contends that this cultural task competed without delay with Harlem Renaissance makes an attempt to outline Blackness. relocating past the slender concentration of advocacy team politics, this booklet complicates and enriches our knowing of the cultural terrain shared by way of African american citizens and Jews.
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Additional info for A Right to Sing the Blues: African Americans, Jews, and American Popular Song
According to Wooding it was quite common for an Alley songwriter laboring over a dif~cult number to “go and get one of those spades to come in here” and ~x it. Wooding goes on to describe the situation with a thinly veiled reference to the Jewish presence on Tin Copyright © 1999 The President and Fellows of Harvard College The Culture of Black-Jewish Relations 35 Ex am Co py Pan Alley: “A lot of those white composers, they were fresh off the boat, they didn’t know what America was. ”80 Here is a valuable complication of “middleman” theories of Black-Jewish relations: Wooding aptly notes that it is impossible to imagine that Jews simply took African American materials and “repackaged” or “interpreted” them for other Americans.
In fact, American music stood as Exhibit A for enthusiasts. But it is important to remember that moments of material contact were able to produce fears and hopes of so much force because they operated within a symbolic system deeply engaged in issues of racial and ethnic mixture. One of the earliest full statements on the hybridity of American culture came in a 1914 afterword which Israel Zangwill attached to his foundational play The Melting Pot (1909). ”26 What is clear from this is the belief that while the African American would never literally disappear into the larger population as the Jew might, the cultural productions of the “ex-Africans” were coming to de~ne Americanness itself.
One prime indicator of the _exibility of musical categories comes from the information on printed versions of popular songs, particularly those which marked the “blues craze” of the middle to late teens. Edward Berlin calls attention to the signi~cant example of W. C. ” Copyright © 1999 The President and Fellows of Harvard College The Culture of Black-Jewish Relations 27 Ex am Co py Handy’s “Yellow Dog Blues” was ~rst titled “Yellow Dog Rag” (1914). Gunther Schuller observes that Artie Matthews’s standard “Weary Blues” (1915) is actually closer to ragtime than blues.
A Right to Sing the Blues: African Americans, Jews, and American Popular Song by Jeffrey Melnick