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Beyond Blackface

African Americans and the Creation of American Popular Culture, 1890-1930

Edited by W. Fitzhugh Brundage

Publication Year: 2011

This manuscript is a collection of thirteen essays looking at the formative decades in the history of modern American mass culture. Bringing together original work from sixteen distinguished scholars in various disciplines, ranging from theater and literature to history and music, this manuscript addresses the complex roles of black performers, entrepreneurs, and consumers in American mass culture. With subjects ranging from representations of race in sheet music illustrations to African American interest in Haitian culture and with topics spanning the end of the nineteenth century to the Great Depression, these essays expand the discussion of both black culture and American popular culture during the early twentieth century. This anthology presents a fresh and multidisciplinary look at the history of African Americans and mass culture.

Published by: The University of North Carolina Press

Cover, Title page, copyright

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pp. i-iv


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pp. v-vi

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p. vii-vii

During the gestation of this volume I have acquired an uncommonly long list of debts. To the contributors, I am grateful for their creativity, generosity, and patience. It has been a pleasure to work with scholars whose work I admire greatly. This volume was also made possible through the generosity of ...

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Working in the “Kingdom of Culture”: African Americans and American Popular Culture, 1890–1930

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pp. 1-42

Ethel Williams’s and Johnny Peters’s exuberant vaudeville interpretation of the Texas Tommy dance, Louis Chauvin’s virtuoso performances of piano rags, Bert Williams’s winsome pantomime in the Ziegfeld Follies, Oscar Micheaux’s brash experiments in cinema, and Hubert Julian’s daredevil stunts in and ...

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First coda: Representations of Blackness in Nineteenth-Century Culture

The boisterous popular culture of the nineteenth century and the technological innovations of the age generated antecedents for the mass culture of the twentieth century. Among the most enduring and potent legacies of the nineteenth century were a storehouse of visual representations of blackness. These two ...

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Black Misrepresentation in Nineteenth-Century Sheet Music Illustration

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pp. 45-65

To appreciate the challenges and expectations that African American entertainers had to contend with in the early era of twentieth- century mass culture, we must initially turn our attention back to the antebellum decades that saw the rise of the blackface minstrel tradition—when white men in black face ...

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Creating an Image in Black: The Power of Abolition Pictures

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pp. 66-94

“One picture is worth ten thousand words,” the adman Frederick R. Barnard said in Printer’s Ink Magazine in 1927. His quip has of course become an adman’s proverb. Indeed, Barnard may have only given authorship to a saying that had already been around for decades. Admen were not the first group to ...

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Second coda: The Marketplace for Black Performance

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pp. 95-97

David Krasner charts the important role that black performers played in the advent of “realism” in American popular culture. That dance provided the opening for black performers to contribute to cultural innovation was a testament to the newfound popularity of social dance in the United States. Before the ...

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The Real Thing

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pp. 99-123

“We finally decided that as white men with blackfaces were billing themselves ‘coons,’” wrote the performer George Walker of the Williams and Walker Theatrical Company in 1906, “Williams and Walker would do well to bill themselves the ‘Two Real Coons,’ and so we did.”1 Walker and his partner, Bert ...

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Black Creativity and Black Stereotype: Rethinking Twentieth-Century Popular Music in America

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pp. 124-146

In 1900, the Etude, a magazine devoted to articles about music and musical performance, lambasted “the insane craze for ‘rag- time’ music” that was then sweeping the country. It editorialized: The counters of the music ...

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Crossing Boundaries: Black Musicians Who Defied Musical Genres

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pp. 147-158

The historian and realist philosopher Herbert Muller, in search of meaningful patterns in golden ages of past societies, once declared, “All human reality is in some sense a spiritual reality, since it perforce includes things which are not seen.”1 The reality of African American popular entertainment over ...

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Our Newcomers to the City: The Great Migration and the Making of Modern Mass Culture

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pp. 159-189

By 1910 the Chicago Defender had already begun to sound the alarm about “a racial amusement problem.” As proof of “boisterousness and defiance of public sentiment,” the Defender described in great detail what it called an act of “Loud Talking in the Pekin.” The Pekin, a nationally famous race theater, had ...

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Buying and Selling with God: African American Religion, Race Records, and the Emerging Culture of Mass Consumption in the South

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pp. 190-212

In 1928, Rev. J. M. Gates of Atlanta caught his friends, family, and especially his record company, Vocalion, by surprise. One of his first- ever recordings, a seventy- eight with the arresting title, “Death’s Black Train Is Coming,” began to fly off the shelves. Thousands of African Americans, mostly southern, were ...

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Third coda: The Meanings and Uses of Popular Culture

Robert Jackson traces the challenges that Oscar Micheaux and other black filmmakers faced during the transitional period in the development of the most influential form of mass culture during the twentieth century. As the focus of filmmaking shifted from one- reel silent spectacles to the multireel epics ...

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The Secret Life of Oscar Micheaux: Race Films, Contested Histories, and Modern American Culture

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pp. 215-238

The year 1884 is hardly remembered as an important one in the history of cinema. Indeed, Edison’s kinetoscope, widely considered the starting point for commercial motion pictures, was still a decade off.1 For historians of American culture, 1884 recalls less the dancing of celluloid images onscreen than the gliding ...

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Hear Me Talking to You: The Blues and the Romance of Rebellion

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pp. 239-258

For the black southerners who made and listened to the music and took it with them as they migrated north, the blues conjured the possibility of change. The earliest blues musicians and fans had lived through the late nineteenth- century era of racial terrorism and the hardening of segregation into a new ...

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At the Feet of Dessalines: Performing Haiti’s Revolution during the New Negro Renaissance

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pp. 259-288

Black Americans during the interwar years expended a remarkable amount of energy describing the history, culture, and current conditions of people in the nearby republic of Haiti. Their efforts went beyond nonfiction, with a diverse bunch of cultural producers turning their hands to the task, including ...

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Fourth coda: Spectacle, Celebrity, and the Black Body

An early twentieth-century black celebrity such as Herbert Julian, the flamboyant pilot, parachutist, and bon vivant, was inconceivable only a few decades earlier. Leaving aside the technological innovations that made his exploits possible, Julian’s fame was inseparable from the glitz and glamour of the ...

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The Black Eagle of Harlem

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pp. 291-314

It was all so much more innocent back then. In the spring of 1923 Americans were still enraptured with the sheer romance of flight, the authorities had not yet taken control of the airspace over cities, and, seemingly, pilots were pretty much free to do as they pleased. Thus it was that late in the ...

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More than a Prizefight: Joe Louis, Max Schmeling, and the Transnational Politics of Boxing

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pp. 315-355

On the evening of June 22, 1938, ex- champion and German national Max Schmeling clashed with sensational American titleholder Joe Louis for the heavyweight crown. This much- anticipated bout between Louis, only the second black heavyweight champion, and Schmeling, Germany’s most successful ...


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pp. 357-360


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pp. 361-373

E-ISBN-13: 9780807878026
E-ISBN-10: 0807878022
Print-ISBN-13: 9780807834626
Print-ISBN-10: 0807834629

Page Count: 384
Illustrations: 2 line drawings, 1 map
Publication Year: 2011