Sounds of Reform: Progressivism and Music in Chicago, 1873-1935

By Cusic, Don | Journal of American Culture (Malden, MA), March 2005 | Go to article overview

Sounds of Reform: Progressivism and Music in Chicago, 1873-1935


Cusic, Don, Journal of American Culture (Malden, MA)


Sounds of Reform: Progressivism and Music in Chicago, 1873-1935 Derek Vaillant. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2003.

Chicago was been a primordial soup of music during the first half of the twentieth century. The histories of jazz, blues, rhythm and blues, and even country music (Chicago was the "center" of country music before World War II) have all been nurtured in Chicago. Chicago was also a center for social reform, or "progressivism," because of Jane Addams and Hull House. This book by Derek Vaillant looks at the progressive era at the turn of the century and examines the efforts of progressives to use music to engage ethnics and the working class in efforts to "improve" themselves. In the end, the masses embraced commercial music, and the city's establishment tended to ride that horse where it was already headed.

The big question, Do music and songs reflect society, or does society change because of music (and the arts)? is one for endless debate. The progressives m Chicago attempted to use music as a vehicle to change society and uplift the working class. In the end, the progressives lost, and Vaillant places the blame on the fact that government and radio ignored the rich ethnic mixture - particularly the African-American community-m favor of "whiteness" in the arts and entertainment. …

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