Academic journal article American Studies

SEGREGATING SOUND: Inventing Folk and Pop Music in the Age of Jim Crow

Academic journal article American Studies

SEGREGATING SOUND: Inventing Folk and Pop Music in the Age of Jim Crow

Article excerpt

SEGREGATING SOUND: Inventing Folk and Pop Music in the Age of Jim Crow. By Karl Hagstrom Miller. Durham, NC: Duke University Press. 2010.

"African American musicians lefta remarkable and rich musical legacy on race records, but their recorded blues did not begin to chronicle the diverse and complex body of music with which they had forged their earlier careers as live musicians. White southern artists faced a different challenge. They had to paint the pop tunes they loved with a patina of down-home credibility" (227).

Isolation, naturalness, authenticity: in this thorough study, Miller argues that these ideas, among others, were used to narrate and to set into fact a false image of the musical lives of Southerners in the US at the turn of the 20th century. Situating his work firmly within the bounds of popular music in that epoch, Miller delivers a challenging exploration of the intertwined histories of non-commercial and commercialized musical cultures, showing that "southern musicians performed a staggering variety of music in the early twentieth century" (1). With pointed questions-did "chroniclers of southern music dismiss commercial pop as immaterial to southern culture"(7); did folklorists and the academy establish a musical color line in the beginning of the 20th century; did the commercial recording industry enforce marketing techniques to control what types of music musicians played and what types audiences heard; did these pressures come together in the early 20th century to redefine musical tastes as we know and experience them today?-Miller examines the forces that influenced the identities and perceptions of these musicians and their audiences, including the politics of segregation and emerging academic folklore as well as the commercial imperatives of the music industry. Accentuating comparisons of similarity rather than difference, Miller draws on the perspectives and repertoires of working musicians, narratives of record label agents and the catalogs they represented, and the discourse of nascent folklorists. …

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