Hip%20Like%20Me - David L ChUI)pcll I 105 5 Hlp Like Me...

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5 Hlp Like Me Racial Cross-Dressing in Pop Music Before Elvis David L. Chappell "In her, somelhing miraculous burns ..." -Anna Akhmalova, "Music" (10 Dimhrl Shoslakovich), 195 8 In his biography of Charles Dickens, G. K. Chesterton says, "The true way to overcome the evil in class distinctions is not to denounce them as revo- lutionists denounce them, but to ignore them as children ignore them."1 Feigning naivete to offset the naivete of revolutionists, Chesterton calls attention to one end of a spectrum of subversion, the end that is usually invisible to the scholarly eye. His insight, which applies to racial distinc- tions as well as to class distinctions, provides a key to the mysteries of the civil rights movement. Most historians of that Movement have focused on African American activists, who were revolutionists in the sense that they set out to destroy the political and social distinctions on which an entire region based its identity. Historians have all but ignored the other side, though it is just as important: the more playful, more childlike activity of black and white Americans who broke down racial distinctions without any political program, more or less accidentally, in the name of entertain- ment. l In the decade before mass protests broke out in 1955, black and white musicians bent and permeated racial barriers. They had irresistible' fun doing so, and they appeared to be providing nothing but harmless diversion-or, rather, they made those who worried about the political implications of their fun appear to be tiresome fanatics. Building on a long history of cross-racial mimicry, they shaped Americans' conscious and subconscious attitudes about race and freedom, thus preparing the psy- chological and ideological ground for the changes that protests finally hrought. ' David L ChUI)pcll I 105 Despite the general boom in the U.S. economy after World War II, the music industry was in crisis. There was a growing public aversion to jazz, to bebop in particular, and many blamed this aversion for the industry's failure to grow in the booming postwar consumer market. Louis Arm- strong, still the most popular jazzman in America in the 1940S and 1950S, led what Down Beat magazine called an "anti-bop campaign,"4 saying "bop will kill business unless it kills itself first. "5 Many of the leading jazz performers, including Ella Fitzgerald. Eartha Kitt, and Tommy Dorsey, joined Armstrong in his ca~paign.6 Even "Mr. Bop," Dizzy Gillespie, dis- tanced himself from Charlie Parker and blamed bop musicians' attitude for jaiz's failure to hold the public's attention. 7 Band leaders shook off the bop label as fast as they could. Elliot Lawrence, for example, said, "ours is not a bop band and we don't like boplicity to that effect."8 There was dissatisfaction among black as well as white audiences. The enter- tainment columnist for the Baltimore Afru-American, E. B. Rea, com- plimented rhythm and blues singer Ivory Joe Hunter for purging his band of a "bop cult." If Hunter's idea caught on, as Rea hoped, it would mean
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This note was uploaded on 04/01/2011 for the course HUMN 2124 taught by Professor Staff during the Spring '11 term at Arkansas.

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Hip%20Like%20Me - David L ChUI)pcll I 105 5 Hlp Like Me...

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