A Right to Sing the Blues: African Americans, Jews, and by Jeffrey Melnick

By Jeffrey Melnick

All too usually an incident or twist of fate, akin 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 means of development or enlightenment results--and this can be how issues will stay till we noticeably revise the way in which we predict concerning the advanced interactions among African american citizens and Jews. A correct to Sing the Blues bargains simply this type of revision. "Black-Jewish relations," Jeffrey Melnick argues, has quite often been a fashion for American Jews to discuss their ambivalent racial prestige, a story jointly developed at severe moments, while specific conflicts call for an evidence. Remarkably versatile, this narrative can arrange diffuse fabrics right into a coherent tale that has a strong 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 resembling George Gershwin, Irving Berlin, Al Jolson, and others have been in a position to painting their "natural" affinity for generating "Black" song as a manufactured from their Jewishness whereas concurrently depicting Jewishness as a solid 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 crew politics, this e-book complicates and enriches our knowing of the cultural terrain shared through 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

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As members of a newer immigrant group, Jewish composers—however long their own families had been in America—were able to draw on the perception that they personally and perpetually experienced the break from a lost homeland. At the same time, Jews were also quite successful at selling the idea that they bore a special relationship to African Americans which prepared them to interpret the sounds of Blackness. 105 Of course Dixie songs generally, and “Swanee” songs in particular, were not the exclusive trademark of Jewish songwriters.

58 If the two groups faced some similar expressions of prejudice—college quotas, exclusion from certain hotels, and so on—these points of intersection tell us very little about the overall status of each group. Leo Frank’s lynching notwithstanding, Jews were generally safe in America by the turn of the century. From this position of physical and economic safety, Jews were poised to re~ne their social status. At the same time, African Americans were involved in a continuing battle for basic human rights.

The Copyright Act of 1909 gave music publishers and songwriters permission to license their materials for pro~t, but the American Society of Composers, Authors, and Publishers (ASCAP), a collective which was founded in 1914 to oversee the payment of royalties, did little to protect African Americans. 78 The putative protection of law and ASCAP did not stop African American songwriters from being exploited. Writers without steady jobs often sold songs—complete with the rights to them—to well-capitalized publishers who could afford to wait for deferred payments.

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