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Black Music Research Journal

Vol. 30 (2010) through current issue

Black Music Research Journal includes articles about the philosophy, aesthetics, history, and criticism of black music. BMRJ is an official journal of the Center for Black Music Research and is published by the University of Illinois Press.

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The Black Musician and the White City

Race and Music in Chicago, 1900-1967

Amy Absher

Amy Absher’s The Black Musician and the White City tells the story of African American musicians in Chicago during the mid-twentieth century. While depicting the segregated city before World War II, Absher traces the migration of black musicians, both men and women and both classical and vernacular performers, from the American South to Chicago during the 1930s to 1950s.Absher’s work diverges from existing studies in three ways: First, she takes the history beyond the study of jazz and blues by examining the significant role that classically trained black musicians played in building the Chicago South Side community. By acknowledging the presence and importance of classical musicians, Absher argues that black migrants in Chicago had diverse education and economic backgrounds but found common cause in the city’s music community. Second, Absher brings numerous maps to the history, illustrating the relationship between Chicago’s physical lines of segregation and the geography of black music in the city over the years. Third, Absher’s use of archival sources is both extensive and original, drawing on manuscript and oral history collections at the Center for Black Music Research in Chicago, Columbia University, Rutgers’s Institute of Jazz Studies, and Tulane’s Hogan Jazz Archive. By approaching the Chicago black musical community from these previously untapped angles, Absher offers a history that goes beyond the retelling of the achievements of the famous musicians by discussing musicians as a group. In The Black Musician and the White City, black musicians are the leading actors, thinkers, organizers, and critics of their own story.

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Black Resonance

Iconic Women Singers and African American Literature

Emily J. Lordi

Ever since Bessie Smith’s powerful voice conspired with the “race records” industry to make her a star in the 1920s, African American writers have memorialized the sounds and theorized the politics of black women’s singing. In Black Resonance, Emily J. Lordi analyzes writings by Richard Wright, Ralph Ellison, James Baldwin, Gayl Jones, and Nikki Giovanni that engage such iconic singers as Bessie Smith, Billie Holiday, Mahalia Jackson, and Aretha Franklin.

Focusing on two generations of artists from the 1920s to the 1970s, Black Resonance reveals a musical-literary tradition in which singers and writers, faced with similar challenges and harboring similar aims, developed comparable expressive techniques. Drawing together such seemingly disparate works as Bessie Smith’s blues and Richard Wright’s neglected film of Native Son, Mahalia Jackson’s gospel music and Ralph Ellison’s Invisible Man, each chapter pairs one writer with one singer to crystallize the artistic practice they share: lyricism, sincerity, understatement, haunting, and the creation of a signature voice. In the process, Lordi demonstrates that popular female singers are not passive muses with raw, natural, or ineffable talent. Rather, they are experimental artists who innovate black expressive possibilities right alongside their literary peers.

The first study of black music and literature to centralize the music of black women, Black Resonance offers new ways of reading and hearing some of the twentieth century’s most beloved and challenging voices.

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Blackness in Opera

Naomi Andre

Blackness in Opera critically examines the intersections of race and music in the multifaceted genre of opera. A diverse cross-section of scholars places well-known operas (Porgy and Bess, Aida, Treemonisha) alongside lesser-known works such as Frederick Delius's Koanga, William Grant Still's Blue Steel, and Clarence Cameron White's Ouanga! to reveal a new historical context for re-imagining race and blackness in opera. The volume brings a wide-ranging, theoretically informed, interdisciplinary approach to questions about how blackness has been represented in these operas, issues surrounding characterization of blacks, interpretation of racialized roles by blacks and whites, controversies over race in the theatre and the use of blackface, and extensions of blackness along the spectrum from grand opera to musical theatre and film. In addition to essays by scholars, the book also features reflections by renowned American tenor George Shirley._x000B__x000B_Contributors are Naomi Andre, Melinda Boyd, Gwynne Kuhner Brown, Karen M. Bryan, Melissa J. de Graaf, Christopher R. Gauthier, Jennifer McFarlane-Harris, Gayle Murchison, Guthrie P. Ramsey Jr., Eric Saylor, Sarah Schmalenberger, Ann Sears, George Shirley, and Jonathan O. Wipplinger.

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Blowin’ the Blues Away

Performance and Meaning on the New York Jazz Scene

Travis Jackson

New York City has always been a mecca in the history of jazz, and in many ways the city’s jazz scene is more important now than ever before. Blowin’ the Blues Away examines how jazz has thrived in New York following its popular resurgence in the 1980s. Using interviews, in-person observation, and analysis of live and recorded events, ethnomusicologist Travis A. Jackson explores both the ways in which various participants in the New York City jazz scene interpret and evaluate performance, and the criteria on which those interpretations and evaluations are based. Through the notes and words of its most accomplished performers and most ardent fans, jazz appears not simply as a musical style, but as a cultural form intimately influenced by and influential upon American concepts of race, place, and spirituality.

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Blue Guitar Highway

Paul Metsa

This is a musician’s tale: the story of a boy growing up on the Iron Range, playing his guitar at family gatherings, coming of age in the psychedelic seventies, and honing his craft as a pro in Minneapolis, ground zero of American popular music in the mid-eighties. “There is a drop of blood behind every note I play and every word I write,” Paul Metsa says. And it’s easy to believe, as he conducts us on a musical journey across time and country, navigating switchbacks, detours, dead ends, and providing us the occasional glimpse of the promised land on the blue guitar highway.

His account captures the thrill of the Twin Cities when acts like the Replacements, Husker Dü, and Prince were remaking pop music. It takes us right onto the stages he shared with stars like Billy Bragg, Pete Seeger, and Bruce Springsteen. And it gives us a close-up, dizzying view of the roller-coaster ride that is the professional musician’s life, played out against the polarizing politics and intimate history of the past few decades of American culture. Written with a songwriter’s sense of detail and ear for poetry, Paul Metsa’s book conveys all the sweet absurdity, dry humor, and passion for the language of music that has made his story sing.

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Bluegrass Bluesman

A Memoir

A pivotal member of the hugely successful bluegrass band Flatt and Scruggs and the Foggy Mountain Boys, Dobro pioneer Josh Graves (1927-2006) was a living link between bluegrass music and the blues. In Bluegrass Bluesman, this influential performer shares the story of his lifelong career in music._x000B__x000B_In lively anecdotes, Graves describes his upbringing in East Tennessee and the climate in which bluegrass music emerged during the 1940s. Deeply influenced by the blues, he adapted Earl Scruggs's revolutionary banjo style to the Dobro resonator slide guitar and gave the Foggy Mountain Boys their distinctive sound. Graves's accounts of daily life on tour through the 1950s and 1960s reveal the band's dedication to musical excellence, Scruggs's leadership, and an often grueling life on the road. He also comments on his later career when he played in Lester Flatt's Nashville Grass and the Earl Scruggs Revue and collaborated with the likes of Boz Scaggs, Charlie McCoy, Kenny Baker, Eddie Adcock, Jesse McReynolds, Marty Stuart, Jerry Douglas, Alison Krauss, and his three musical sons. A colorful storyteller, Graves brings to life the world of an American troubadour and the mountain culture that he never left behind._x000B_

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Blues All Day Long

The Jimmy Rogers Story

Wayne Everett Goins

In Blues All Day Long , Wayne Everett Goins mines seventy-five hours of interviews with Rogers' family, collaborators, and peers to follow a life spent in the blues. Goins' account takes Rogers from recording Chess classics and barnstorming across the South to a late-in-life renaissance that included new music, entry into the Blues Hall of Fame, and high profile tours with Eric Clapton and the Rolling Stones. Informed and definitive, Blues All Day Long fills a gap in twentieth century music history with the story of one of the blues' eminent figures and one of the genre's seminal bands.

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Blues Before Sunrise

The Radio Interviews

Steve Cushing

This collection assembles the best interviews from Steve Cushing's long-running radio program Blues Before Sunrise, the nationally syndicated, award-winning program focusing on vintage blues and R&B. As both an observer and performer, Cushing has been involved with the blues scene in Chicago for decades. His candid, colorful interviews with prominent blues players, producers, and deejays reveal the behind-the-scenes world of the formative years of recorded blues. Many of these oral histories detail the careers of lesser-known but greatly influential blues performers and promoters._x000B__x000B_The book focuses in particular on pre-World War II blues singers, performers active in 1950s Chicago, and nonperformers who contributed to the early blues world. Interviewees include Alberta Hunter, one of the earliest African American singers to transition from Chicago's Bronzeville nightlife to the international spotlight, and Ralph Bass, one of the greatest R&B producers of his era. Blues expert, writer, record producer, and cofounder of Living Blues Magazine Jim O'Neal provides the book's foreword.

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Blues Empress in Black Chattanooga

Bessie Smith and the Emerging Urban South

Michelle R. Scott

As one of the first African American vocalists to be recorded, Bessie Smith is a prominent figure in American popular culture and African American history. Michelle R. Scott uses Smith's life as a lens to investigate broad issues in history, including industrialization, Southern rural to urban migration, black community development in the post-emancipation era, and black working-class gender conventions. Focusing her analysis on Chattanooga, Tennessee, the large industrial and transportation center where Smith was born, Scott explores how the expansion of the Southern railroads and the development of iron foundries, steel mills, and sawmills created vast employment opportunities in the postbellum era, contributing to Chattanooga's African American community and an emergent blues culture.

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