By Jeffrey Melnick
All too frequently an incident or coincidence, corresponding to the eruption in Crown Heights with its legacy of bitterness and recrimination, thrusts Black-Jewish relatives into the scoop. A volley of dialogue follows, yet little within the method of development or enlightenment results--and this can be how issues will stay until eventually we significantly revise the best way we expect concerning the complicated 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 usually been a fashion for American Jews to speak about their ambivalent racial prestige, a story jointly developed at serious moments, while specific conflicts call for an evidence. Remarkably versatile, this narrative can arrange 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" tune within the first few many years of this century. He indicates how Jews reminiscent of George Gershwin, Irving Berlin, Al Jolson, and others have been capable of 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 slender concentration of advocacy workforce politics, this publication complicates and enriches our figuring out of the cultural terrain shared via African americans and Jews.
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Additional info for A Right to Sing the Blues: African Americans, Jews, and American Popular Song
The breadth and seeming “naturalness” of these interactions also help us see how the musical relationship could contribute so much energy to a more expansive conception of the relationship of Jews and African Americans. The connection of blackface minstrelsy to Tin Pan Alley expressions of Blackness was especially crucial for con~rming Jewish musical authority. ”113 Although Sanders’s description ignores the entrepreneurial base of the cultural activity he is describing, he is correct to call attention to the way the Jews of Tin Pan Alley—writing on African American themes and in (apparently) “Black” styles—imbued metaphors of relatedness with more energy than they previously had in Jewish blackface performances.
It would not be dif~cult to plot out a mythology of these forms from standard works which hinge on moments of cross-ethnic or interracial contact. 25 These examples bring us to around 1900 and would only multiply if we continued into the succeeding decades. It was axiomatic to most early twentieth-century observers that popular music could not be understood outside the frame of melting pot ideology. 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.
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.
A Right to Sing the Blues: African Americans, Jews, and American Popular Song by Jeffrey Melnick