This essay examines two live performance events—the opera singer Marian Anderson’s historic 1939 concert on the National Mall, and “Soul at the Center,” a little-remembered but significant 1972 festival at New York’s Lincoln Center—to examine how sound works as a cultural practice of resignifying the meaning and feeling of racially exclusive spaces. Drawing on the sonic philosophies of musicians Sun Ra and Rahsaan Roland Kirk (in their concern with musical “vibrations”) and John Cage (in his experiments in with the sonic environment of the anechoic chamber), it argues that these sites are sonically saturated, and that the history of twentieth- century black musical performance in culturally and nationally significant places/spaces constitutes the use of sound to “make room” for black presence.


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pp. 673-696
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