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By Jeffrey Melnick

All too frequently an incident or twist of fate, similar to the eruption in Crown Heights with its legacy of bitterness and recrimination, thrusts Black-Jewish family members into the inside track. A volley of dialogue follows, yet little within the approach of growth or enlightenment results--and this is often how issues will stay till we significantly revise the best way we predict in regards to the advanced interactions among African americans and Jews. A correct to Sing the Blues bargains simply this sort of revision. "Black-Jewish relations," Jeffrey Melnick argues, has in most cases been a fashion for American Jews to speak about their ambivalent racial prestige, a story jointly built at severe moments, whilst specific conflicts call for a proof. Remarkably versatile, this narrative can manage diffuse fabrics right into a coherent tale that has a robust carry on our mind's eye. Melnick elaborates this concept via an in-depth examine Jewish songwriters, composers, and perfomers who made "Black" tune within the first few a long time of this century. He exhibits how Jews resembling George Gershwin, Irving Berlin, Al Jolson, and others have been in a position to painting their "natural" affinity for generating "Black" song as a fabricated from their Jewishness whereas concurrently depicting Jewishness as a good white id. Melnick additionally contends that this cultural job competed without delay with Harlem Renaissance makes an attempt to outline Blackness. relocating past the slender concentration of advocacy workforce politics, this booklet complicates and enriches our figuring out of the cultural terrain shared through African americans and Jews.

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Additional resources for A Right to Sing the Blues: African Americans, Jews, and American Popular Song

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25 These examples bring us to around 1900 and would only multiply if we continued into the succeeding decades. It was axiomatic to most early twentieth-century observers that popular music could not be understood outside the frame of melting pot ideology. In fact, American music stood as Exhibit A for enthusiasts. But it is important to remember that moments of material contact were able to produce fears and hopes of so much force because they operated within a symbolic system deeply engaged in issues of racial and ethnic mixture.

The usual design for this cultural plotting, as MacDonald Moore makes clear, was to acknowledge that while African American music had a “primitive” sensuality distasteful in its own right, Jews pathologized this apparently natural affect by making it conscious and, worst of all, not instantly recognizable. An early full expression of this position came with two articles in Henry Ford’s Dearborn Independent printed in the summer of 1921. The hysterical argument made here was that Jewish ingenuity was masking the sexu- Copyright © 1999 The President and Fellows of Harvard College 26 “Yiddle on Your Fiddle” Ex am Co py ality of African American music, thus making it easy to smuggle the dangerous stuff into proper homes.

Distance could be implied in any number of ways: the non-ragtime musical form of “Alexander’s Ragtime Band,” or the evocation of a temporally and geographically remote folk world in Porgy and Bess, for instance. 117 Previously Berlin had worked as a busker, as a guide for a blind pianist named Sol, and brie_y as a song plugger at Tony Pastor’s music hall on Fourteenth Street. ”119 This is a prime example of a Jewish performer translating nearness to African Americans into a cultural metaphor about the Jewish man’s special access to Black forms.

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