By Jeffrey Melnick
All too usually an incident or twist of fate, comparable 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 is often how issues will stay till we substantially revise the best way we predict concerning the complicated interactions among African americans and Jews. A correct to Sing the Blues deals simply this type of revision. "Black-Jewish relations," Jeffrey Melnick argues, has normally been a fashion for American Jews to discuss their ambivalent racial prestige, a story jointly built at serious moments, while specific conflicts call for a proof. 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" song within the first few many years of this century. He exhibits 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" song as a made of their Jewishness whereas concurrently depicting Jewishness as a strong white identification. Melnick additionally contends that this cultural task competed at once with Harlem Renaissance makes an attempt to outline Blackness. relocating past the slim concentration of advocacy workforce 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 resources for A Right to Sing the Blues: African Americans, Jews, and American Popular Song
Jewish minstrelsy, then, contributed important terms for a comparison of African American and Jew which would have growing power in the 1910s and 1920s. Stage minstrelsy did not only lead to the creation of metaphors connecting African Americans and Jews. It also served, for a time, as a switchboard connecting a loose network of Jewish businesspeople and artists. Jolson stands as a peerless example of the support Jews in various branches of the entertainment industry could offer one another. Jolson’s key career breaks relied equally on his popular representations of Blackness and the backing and promotion he received from Jewish theater owners, managers, and so on—not to mention the songs written for him by Jewish songwriters.
94 Jolson’s appearance in this movie would, of course, help ratify the logic of these analogies. Jewish minstrelsy, then, contributed important terms for a comparison of African American and Jew which would have growing power in the 1910s and 1920s. Stage minstrelsy did not only lead to the creation of metaphors connecting African Americans and Jews. It also served, for a time, as a switchboard connecting a loose network of Jewish businesspeople and artists. Jolson stands as a peerless example of the support Jews in various branches of the entertainment industry could offer one another.
An early full expression of this position came with two articles in Henry Ford’s Dearborn Independent printed in the summer of 1921. The hysterical argument made here was that Jewish ingenuity was masking the sexu- Copyright © 1999 The President and Fellows of Harvard College 26 “Yiddle on Your Fiddle” Ex am Co py ality of African American music, thus making it easy to smuggle the dangerous stuff into proper homes. 34 While the anti-Semitic tone here is predictable and banal, what is most interesting is that the vertical scheme imagined—raw African American materials being “improved” by the attention of Jews—is no different from that depicted by many of the most avid partisans of ragtime and jazz.
A Right to Sing the Blues: African Americans, Jews, and American Popular Song by Jeffrey Melnick