Jazz in Black and White: Race, Culture, and Identity in the Jazz Community

By Charley Gerard | Go to book overview

9
The Right of Swing

[T]he blues is black man's music, and whites diminish it at best or steal it at worst. In any case they have no moral right to use it. --Jazz criticRalph J. Gleason1

Joel Rudinow, a philosophy professor at Sonoma State University, has written an essay titled "Race, Ethnicity, Expressive Authenticity: Can White People Sing the Blues?" that grew out of a course in the philosophy of art and contemporary rock and soul music. His students quickly dismissed the question: Can white people sing the blues? For them, the white blues guitarist Stevie Ray Vaughn had made it a non-issue. They had little respect for jazz and rock critic Ralph Gleason's opinion that white people can't play the blues and have no right to perform a musical idiom closely tied to African-American culture.

In the face of large numbers of white blues artists--a long list including Mike Bloomfield, Paul Butterfield, Nick Gravenites, Rory Block, and Charlie Musselwhite--and white sidemen closely affiliated with black artists--Jesse Edwin Davis with Taj Mahal and Albert Gianquinto with James Cotton--the blues appears to Rudinow to be an idiom that knows no racial boundaries. The question is thus one of credibility. What does it take to be recognized as an authentic blues musician? Rudinow describes

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