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    The voice of the blues

    Hamilton, Marybeth (2002) The voice of the blues. History Workshop Journal 54 (1), pp. 123-143. ISSN 1363-3554.

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    For the last two decades, the Delta blues – envisioned as a music of pain and privation, alienation and anguish - has provided a luminous focus for a revitalised African-American history, one engaged with the experience of the forgotten and faceless black masses. Yet historians' vision of the authentic blues voice bears little resemblance to the music embraced by early black record buyers, a music that was overtly sexual, that pulsed with the rhythm of urban life. This article explores the history of white fascination with ‘uncorrupted’ black singing – a fascination that stretched back to the mid-nineteenth century but that took on new potency after 1920, when the release of Mamie Smith's ‘Crazy Blues’, the first blues recording by an African-American singer, created the so-called ‘race record’ industry virtually overnight. For many early-twentieth-century white intellectuals, those mechanically-reproduced, mass-marketed disks expressed the spirit of an unwelcome new world in which African Americans looked less like a ‘folk’ than ever before. Yet the 1940s saw the emergence of a subculture of white connoisseurs whose search for an ‘uncorrupted’ black voice focused on selected commercially-recorded race records. The article probes the emergence of that subculture, in the process exploring the relation between recording technology and the perceived authenticity of the black voice.


    Item Type: Article
    School: School of Social Sciences, History and Philosophy > History, Classics and Archaeology
    Depositing User: Sandra Plummer
    Date Deposited: 29 Apr 2008 12:24
    Last Modified: 17 Apr 2013 12:16


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