Prove It on Me: New Negroes, Sex, and Popular Culture in the 1920s

By Erin D. Chapman | Go to book overview

NOTES

INTRODUCTION

1. A native of Columbus, Georgia, where she began performing in minstrel shows in 1900 at the age of fourteen, Rainey is said to have never performed in New York City. Her music was nevertheless familiar and well-loved throughout the nation. She is known as the “Mother of the Blues” for her fusion of older, rural styles with more urban, classic blues. Rainey made her first recording with Paramount Records in 1923 and toured with her own band, Madame Gertrude Rainey and Her Georgia Smart Sets, from 1917 until about 1924. She was one of Bessie Smith’s mentors, and insiders knew that she often engaged in lesbian relationships with her band members and others. This is one of the socially subversive practices she acknowledges through her “Prove It On Me Blues.” See Kellner, The Harlem Renaissance, 293-294, and Albertson, Bessie.

2. Gertrude Rainey, “Prove It On Me Blues,” Paramount Records 12668, June 1928.

3. E. Franklin Frazier, “Three Scourges of the Negro Family,” Opportunity 4, no. 7 (July 1926): 210.

4. For more on the rationales of the new KKK, see MacLean, Behind the Mask of Chivalry.

5. The freedmen were the generation of African American adults made free by the initiatives they took during the upheavals of the Civil War, the Emancipation Proclamation, and finally the Thirteenth Amendment to the Constitution. “Reconstruction generation” is used here to identify the freedmen’s children, those African Americans born, roughly, between 1865 and 1885, while the New Negroes were born between about 1885 and 1905. Generally, the members of the Reconstruction generation were the parents of the New Negroes. Anthony M. Platt in E. Franklin Frazier, Reconsidered also uses this generational periodization.

6. Deborah Gray White, Too Heavy a Load, 114-115.

7. For more on the racial consequences of urban progressivism, see Kevin Mumford, Interzones.

8. Mumford, Interzones, xviii. In addition, James R. Grossman calculates that 56,442 migrants over the age of ten years settled in Chicago between 1910 and 1920. See Grossman, Land of Hope, Appendix A.

9. Although the primary evidence suggests the New Negro ethos rose in Southern cities as it rose in Northern and Midwestern ones, the secondary information on African American popular culture and the developments in African American politics in Southern cities during the interwar years is only just emerging.

10. See Mumford, Interzones, xviii. Emphasis added.

11. The use of the term “discourse” in this book signals an analytical reliance on Michel Foucault’s theories of social relations, knowledge, and power and the use cultural historians and literary critics have made of them. See Michel Foucault, The History of Sexuality, Volume I and, particularly, Foucault, “Two Lectures, January 1976” in Power/Knowledge.

-153-

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