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Cross the Water Blues

African American Music in Europe

Publication Year: 2007

This unique collection of essays examines the flow of African American music and musicians across the Atlantic to Europe from the time of slavery to the twentieth century. In a sweeping examination of different musical forms--spirituals, blues, jazz, skiffle, and orchestral music--the contributors consider the reception and influence of black music on a number of different European audiences, particularly in Britain, but also France, Germany, and the Netherlands. The essayists approach the subject through diverse historical, musicological, and philosophical perspectives. A number of essays document little-known performances and recordings of African American musicians in Europe. Several pieces, including one by Paul Oliver, focus on the appeal of the blues to British listeners. At the same time, these considerations often reveal the ambiguous nature of European responses to black music and in so doing add to our knowledge of transatlantic race relations. Contributions from Christopher G. Bakriges, Sean Creighton, Jeffrey Green, Leighton Grist, Bob Groom, Rainer E. Lotz, Paul Oliver, Catherine Parsonage, Iris Schmeisser, Roberta Freund Schwartz, Robert Springer, Rupert Till, Guido van Rijn, David Webster, Jen Wilson, and Neil A. Wynn Neil A. Wynn is professor of twentieth-century American history at the University of Gloucestershire. He is the author of Historical Dictionary from Great War to Great Depression, From Progressivism to Prosperity: American Society and the First World War, and The Afro-American and the Second World War.

Published by: University Press of Mississippi

CONTENTS

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pp. v-vii

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PREFACE

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pp. ix-xii

The centenary celebrations of W. C. Handy’s “discovery” of the blues in 20031 included considerable recognition of the influence of the classic African American music beyond America’s shores. Much attention was given particularly to the inspirational effects of the...

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1. “Why I Sing the Blues”: AFRICAN AMERICAN CULTURE IN THE TRANSATLANTIC WORLD

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pp. 3-22

As everyone knows, blues, and then rhythm & blues, provided the inspiration not just for early rock ’n’ roll in the 1950s, but later for much of the explosion of British popular music in the 1960s and its spread to the European continent. The impact African American....

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2. Taking the Measure of the Blues

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pp. 23-38

That’s how I remember the beginning of a poem with which I, and my friend Jimmy Gribble, opened our first recital of jazz and blues at Harrow College of Art, close on six decades ago. Some of our fellow students were amused, a few were shocked, many were puzzled, but...

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3. Even Philosophers Get the Blues: FEELING BAD FOR NO REASON

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pp. 39-50

Let me begin with a disclaimer: I am not a specialist in music, never mind the blues. I have very limited knowledge of the blues, but do enjoy listening to them. My background is as a philosopher—usually in a religious context. However, here I want to consider why it is...

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4. Spirituals to (Nearly) Swing, 1873–1938

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pp. 51-65

In December 1938 at Carnegie Hall, New York City, various artists presented the black musical styles of gospel, blues, and jazz. This From Spirituals to Swing concert charted a route from Christian songs of uplift and protest, through folk music, to the sophistication...

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5. Black Music Prior to the First World War: AMERICAN ORIGINS AND GERMAN PERSPECTIVES

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pp. 66-88

The presence of African American entertainers in Europe and the impact of African American music in Europe around the end of the nineteenth century, as well as aspects of cross-fertilization, remain largely unresearched. Most of the early authors of scholarly...

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6. Fascination and Fear: RESPONSES TO EARLY JAZZ IN BRITAIN

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pp. 89-105

The “Jazz Age” of the 1920s has become romanticized in retrospect, and indicative of the supposedly universal appeal of jazz on both sides of the Atlantic. Although jazz, both as a specific musical style and an abstract idea, was omnipresent in British society at this time, its obvious popularity was balanced by the correspondingly strong..

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7. “Un Saxophone en Mouvement”?: JOSEPHINE BAKER AND THE PRIMITIVIST RECEPTION OF JAZZ IN PARIS IN THE 1920S

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pp. 106-124

The metropolis of Paris was particularly receptive to the influence of African American jazz in the arts and popular culture in the 1920s for two reasons that are integral to its history as a center of transatlantic modernism: French consumer culture was, on the one hand, increasingly shaped by American entertainment culture, a result of increasing commercial exchange in the ...

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8. Paul Robeson’s British Journey

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pp. 125-144

One of the great inspirational figures of the twentieth century, the African American actor, singer, and political activist Paul Robeson was a frequent visitor and resident in Britain, and in turn..

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9. Preaching the Gospel of the Blues: BLUES EVANGELISTS IN BRITAIN

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pp. 145-166

Before World War II only a handful of blues records were available in Britain, and these had been swept in with the rising tide of American jazz releases in the late 1930s. Parlophone and Brunswick, the two largest record companies of the day, released few contemporary blues discs. The few Bessie Smith songs that appeared on their labels were...

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10. Whose “Rock Island Line”?: ORIGINALITY IN THE COMPOSITION OF BLUES AND BRITISH SKIFFLE

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pp. 167-182

Airplay has always been the major key to creating a hit record, particularly in the era before television exposure, celebrity reputations, and wider media coverage became significant. Over the years DJs have made hits out of the most unlikely records—David Seville’s “Witch Doctor” and Chipmunks’ records in America, “Happy Wanderer” by the...

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11. The Blues Blueprint: THE BLUES IN THE MUSIC OF THE BEATLES, THE ROLLING STONES, AND LED ZEPPELIN

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pp. 183-201

Contemporary British popular music owes much to the blues. Within blues a blueprint developed for pop and rock musicians in England, that has become integrated into Western popular music in general and British pop music in particular. Musicians like Charlie...

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12. “The Blues Is the Truth”: THE BLUES, MODERNITY, AND THE BRITISH BLUES BOOM

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pp. 202-217

Directed by Mike Figgis, Red, White & Blues is one of the seven, mainly documentary films that comprise the series Martin Scorsese Presents the Blues: A Musical Journey that was produced for the American Public Broadcasting Service as part of the United States’ centenary celebration of the blues in 2003.1 The series also enjoyed some...

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13. Lowland Blues: THE RECEPTION OF AFRICAN AMERICAN BLUES AND GOSPEL MUSIC IN THE NETHERLANDS

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pp. 218-234

In the 1950s European popular music was transformed by the rise of rock ’n’ roll. The huge success in Europe of Elvis Presley, a white American boy who started out by covering black artists like Arthur “Big Boy” Crudup and “Big Mama” Thornton, led to the creation...

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14. The Blues in France

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pp. 235-249

France and African American music have had a relationship whose beginning has generally been placed at the end of World War I with the arrival of James Reese Europe and his military band, the Harlem Hellfighters.1 During that war, France had acquired a reputation of freedom from racial prejudice among African American..

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15. Cultural Displacement, Cultural Creation: AFRICAN AMERICAN JAZZ MUSICIANS IN EUROPE FROM BECHET TO BRAXTON

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pp. 250-265

A number of contemporary African American artists have spoken musically and extra-musically about how they both use “the tradition” and add to its further evolution. If tradition means the continuity of culture, then these artists deliberately muddy the definition. For example, they...

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CONTRIBUTORS

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pp. 266-270

Pianist and composer Christopher G. Bakriges is lecturer and artist-inresidence at Elms College in Massachusetts and has written on jazz and world culture. His recent publications appear in The Source: Challenging Jazz Criticism, published by...

INDEX

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pp. 271-289


E-ISBN-13: 9781604735475
E-ISBN-10: 1604735473
Print-ISBN-13: 9781578069606
Print-ISBN-10: 1578069602

Publication Year: 2007

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