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Jump for Joy

Jazz, Basketball, and Black Culture in 1930s America

Gena Caponi-Tabery

Publication Year: 2008

If the 1930s was the Swing Era, then the years from 1937 on might well be called the Jump Era. That summer Count Basie recorded “Jumping at the Woodside,” and suddenly jump tunes seemed to be everywhere. Along with the bouncy beat came a new dance step—the high-flying aerials of the jitterbuggers—and the basketball games that took place in the dance halls of African America became faster, higher, and flashier. Duke Ellington and a cast of hundreds put the buoyant spirit of the era on stage with their 1941 musical revue, Jump for Joy, a title that captured the momentum and direction of the new culture of exuberance. Several high-profile public victories accompanied this increasing optimism: the spectacular successes of African American athletes at the 1936 Olympics, the 1937 union victory of the Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Porters, and Joe Louis's 1937 and 1938 heavyweight championship fights. For the first time in history, black Americans emerged as cultural heroes and ambassadors, and many felt a new pride in citizenship. In this book, Gena Caponi-Tabery chronicles these triumphs and shows how they shaped American music, sports, and dance of the 1930s and beyond. But she also shows how they emboldened ordinary African Americans to push for greater recognition and civil liberties—how cultural change preceded and catalyzed political action. Tracing the path of one symbolic gesture—the jump—across cultural and disciplinary boundaries, Caponi-Tabery provides a unique political, intellectual, and artistic analysis of the years immediately preceding World War II.

Published by: University of Massachusetts Press

Title Page

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Copyright Page

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Table of Contents

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pp. xi-xx

In 1932 Duke Ellington made history with a recording that captured the feel of the entire swing era. “It Don’t Mean a Thing (If It Ain’t Got That Swing)” represented an energetic defiance of a depressingly downward spiral in national and world events. Nine years later, in 1941, the Duke brought to the stage a musical revue that likewise called on a style of music and dance that had rapidly escalated in popularity in the United States and was about ...

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Chapter 1 - Sneakers and Tuxes

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pp. 1-20

Former Boston Celtics player and coach Bill Russell wrote: “People in all kinds of cultures are known to ‘jump for joy’ in moments of supreme happiness. Jumping is an internationally recognized expression of joy, and basketball is a sport organized around jumping. . . . It’s possible for a player to jump because he’s happy, but it’s more likely that he’s happy because ...

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Chapter 2 - Up, Up, and Away

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pp. 21-34

In a 1937 article titled “What Is This Thing Called Swing?” Billy Rowe, writing for the Pittsburgh Courier, declared, “Swing is the blues on roller skates, the old fox trot in the heat lap of a marathon; it’s dance time TNT.” 1 The upbeat tempo of swing music and jump blues reflected and embodied the newer, faster tempo of urban, mechanized twentieth- century American life. ...

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Chapter 3 - The 1936 Olympics

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pp. 35-50

The performances of America’s black athletes at the 1936 Olympics was unprecedented in world history. No country before had taken so many black competitors to the games, and to take such a team to Berlin, home of a new social and political system built on the presumption of racial purity, was audacious on an international scale. Many believed that with this ...

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Chapter 4 - The Lindy Hop Takes to the Air

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pp. 51-67

One of the earliest descriptions of the Lindy Hop appears in Carl Van Vechten’s novel Parties: Scenes from Contemporary New York Life. In the 1930 novel Van Vechten states that the “first official appearance” of the Lindy Hop was at the Negro Marathon staged at the Manhattan Casino in 1928. Van Vechten, an active socialite and keen cultural observer, claims that by 1929 ...

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Chapter 5 - The Joint Is Jumping

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pp. 68-80

The new social dances of the 1920s led to a nationwide demand for dancing and dance music. Bands that had previously specialized in ragtime or country- fiddle dance music, in brass band music, or even in supplying music for minstrel or carnival shows began to include jazz in their repertoire. Traveling territory bands brought dance music to small towns but also provided jobs and experience to young musicians and served as nomadic ...

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Chapter 6 - “That’s Not Basketball”: Fast Breaks, Jump Shots, and Slam Dunks [Includes Image Plates]

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pp. 81-112

Basketball originated under city conditions—at a YMCA in Springfield, Massachusetts. It quickly became a game for all kinds of people and was played all over the United States—in small towns, in barnyards, on Indian reservations. Gymnasiums, schoolyards, and playgrounds put up hoops, and if they didn’t, players could make their own by nailing a tire rim ...

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Chapter 7 - The Brown Bomber: Joe Louis

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pp. 113-134

Compared to the high- flying Lindy Hoppers or the fast- breaking, jump- shooting, flashy-passing, slam-dunking basketball players of the previous chapters, Joe Louis was positively ground- bound. Solid, soft-spoken, and powerful, as a representative figure Joe Louis seems to defy the airborne aesthetic of the late 1930s. But while Louis kept his feet on the ...

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Chapter 8 - Racial Uplift and Cultural Permission

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pp. 135-144

Triumphs in African America must be measured against contemporary attitudes toward achievement. Sadly, a series of community riots in the United States formed a national pattern of white retaliation against black success. Riots from 1898 to 1906 resulted in several hundred lynchings. The tensions that erupted in those communities were sparked by fears of African ...

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Chapter 9 - Jump Jim Crow

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pp. 145-159

African American secular music is full of words that mean different things on different levels in different arenas that are somehow all connected. “Ragtime” may refer to a genre of music, to the “ragged time” (syncopation) characteristic of the music, to African American clog dancing, to the head rags dancers often wore, to the rags that were hoisted outside a ...

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Chapter 10 - Upward Mobility: Pullman Porters, A. Philip Randolph, and Political Change

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pp. 160-174

The same year Joe Louis leveled James Braddock to win a world championship, an unspectacular group of men, known more for their deference than for their power or political prowess, won a victory of no less historic proportions. The 1937 contract between the Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Porters and the Pullman Company was the first ever signed by a black union in the United States. With that contract, railroad porters became the most ...

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Chapter 11 - Jump for Joy!

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pp. 175-186

Randolph scheduled his 1941 march on Washington for July 1. The next day, on the other side of the country, tickets went on sale at the Mayan Theatre in Los Angeles for a musical revue, one that tried to do on stage what Randolph had partially accomplished with his threatened march—to bury Jim Crow. In the title song of this show, “Jump for Joy,” creator- composer Duke ...

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Afterword: Jumping as Play: An Aesthetic and Theoretical Perspective

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pp. 187-199

In his introduction to the monumentally significant volume of essays, stories, and poetry titled The New Negro (1925), Alain Locke, the public voice of the Harlem Renaissance, wrote about a “new spirit awake in the masses,” and said that a generation of African Americans was on the verge of a “spiritual emancipation.” Locke spoke of a community entering “a new dynamic phase, the buoyancy from within compensating for whatever ...


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pp. 201-238


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pp. 239-260

Back Cover

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p. 304-304

E-ISBN-13: 9781613760772
E-ISBN-10: 1613760779
Print-ISBN-13: 9781558496620
Print-ISBN-10: 1558496629

Page Count: 304
Publication Year: 2008

Research Areas


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Subject Headings

  • United States -- Race relations -- History -- 20th century
  • African Americans -- Intellectual life -- 20th century.
  • Sports -- Social aspects -- United States -- History -- 20th century.
  • African Americans -- History -- 1877-1964.
  • Social change -- United States -- History -- 20th century.
  • Jazz -- Social aspects -- United States -- History -- 20th century
  • African Americans -- Politics and government -- 20th century.
  • African Americans -- Civil rights -- History -- 20th century.
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