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A Right to Sing the Blues
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Table of Contents

Introduction: The Languages of Black-Jewish Relations "Yiddle on Your Fiddle": The Culture of Black-Jewish Relations "I Used to Be Color Blind": The Racialness of Jewish Men "Swanee Ripples": From Blackface to White Negro "Lift Ev'ry Voice": African American Music and the Nation "Melancholy Blues": Making Jews Sacred in African American Music Epilogue: The Lasting Power of "Black-Jewish Relations" Notes Index

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Melnick argues that we need to rethink the cultural narratives of 'Black-Jewish relations' and examine the ways in which these narratives tell stories about class and articulate concerns about masculinity and sexuality. In a compelling account of the music industry, in particular, and the culture industry, in general, he examines how Jews and African Americans were not just objects of a sexualized discourse around jazz and ragtime but how the musical world was a terrain in which they spoke to and about each other. A Right to Sing the Blues is an absolutely fascinating and original account of the role of Jewish cultural work in the production of African American culture. -- Hazel V. Carby, author of Race Men A Right to Sing the Blues will be indispensable to any further discussion of 'Black-Jewish relations,' debunking many of the assumptions underlying that discussion in its past form and thus making possible far more productive ones. I learned a great deal from this book. -- George Hutchinson, author of The Harlem Renaissance in Black and White Jeff Melnick means to displace the narrative of a Black-Jewish political alliance as the central, mythicized way of understanding the relations between Blacks and Jews in the United States. He goes back instead to the central role of Jews vis-a-vis African Americans and African-American music in popular culture, and how, finally, Jews developed new identities as American Jews through their relation to real and imaginary African Americans and their music. Filled with terrific material that is unfailingly analyzed in a smart, lively, and often brilliant way, A Right to Sing the Blues is a major book on a major and timely subject. This volume is going to cause quite a stir. -- Michael P. Rogin, author of Blackface, White Noise

About the Author

Jeffrey Melnick is Associate Professor of American Studies at University of Massachusetts Boston.

Reviews

The relationship between Jews and African Americans has been one of the most complex for sociologists and cultural anthropologists to understand. The suffering that both groups have endured is similar in many ways, yet there is antipathy between the two that dates back at least to the immigration of European Jews in the first part of the 20th century. Melnick (American studies, Babson Coll.) uses the music industry to examine closely the nature of this ambivalent relationship. Focusing on Jewish Tin Pan Alley song writers and performers such as George Gershwin, Irving Berlin, and Al Jolson, Melnick explores how they balanced an affinity for black music with the conscious effort to show how they were transforming what was seen as a lower form of culture into something more palatable for mass white audiences. The extensive notes and scholarly approach make this more appropriate for sociology collections than popular music collections.√ĄDan Bogey, Clearfield Cty. P.L. Federation, Curwensville, PA

Did Jews embrace the blackface masks and popular song of minstrel shows--the style, language, and nuance of black culture--as a means of establishing their own status as whites? Melnick answers that provocative question with this wide-angle view, through the lens of popular American music, of black-Jewish relationships. * Booklist, an "Editor's Choice 1999" selection *
In his complex and challenging book, A Right to Sing the Blues, Jeffrey Melnick seeks to interpret the narrative of 'Black-Jewish relations' within the context of the efforts of Jews in the American entertainment business to 'reorganize Jewishness as a species of whiteness'...Melnick's analysis is intriguing and provocative. -- James C. Cobb * Times Literary Supplement *
Links between blacks, Jews and American popular music are the focus in a title which examines Jewish songwriters, composers and performers who made black music popular in the first few decades of this century. The focus on shared experiences between Afro-Americans and Jews draws some important connections between ethnic groups often at odds with one another. * Bookwatch *
This is fascinating reading for those interested in music history, relationships between blacks and Jews, and American popular culture. -- Vernon Ford * Booklist *
At the core of this inventive and entertaining examination of black-Jewish relationships is Melnick's theory that Jews embraced the blackface masks and popular song of minstrel shows--the style, language, and nuance of black culture--as a means of establishing their own status as whites. * Booklist *
Melnick's well-researched book explores Black-Jewish relations through the lens of US popular music in the 'age of ragtime and jazz,' when Jews became consummate minstrel and vaudeville interpreters, Tin Pan Alley songsmiths, and song publishers...Melnick argues that Jews used their black musical forms for popular consumption and in the process to 'reorganize Jewishness as a species of whiteness.' -- G. Averill * Choice *
Melnick uses the music industry to examine closely the nature of [the] ambivalent relationship [between Jews and African Americans]. Focusing on Jewish Tin Pan Alley song writers and performers such as George Gershwin, Irving Berlin, and Al Jolson, Melnick explores how they balanced an affinity for black music with the conscious effort to show how they were transforming what was seen as a lower form of culture into something more palatable for mass white audiences. -- Dan Bogey * Library Journal *
Melnick argues that we need to rethink the cultural narratives of 'Black-Jewish relations' and examine the ways in which these narratives tell stories about class and articulate concerns about masculinity and sexuality. In a compelling account of the music industry, in particular, and the culture industry, in general, he examines how Jews and African Americans were not just objects of a sexualized discourse around jazz and ragtime but how the musical world was a terrain in which they spoke to and about each other. A Right to Sing the Blues is an absolutely fascinating and original account of the role of Jewish cultural work in the production of African American culture. -- Hazel V. Carby, author of Race Men
A Right to Sing the Blues will be indispensable to any further discussion of 'Black-Jewish relations,' debunking many of the assumptions underlying that discussion in its past form and thus making possible far more productive ones. I learned a great deal from this book. -- George Hutchinson, author of The Harlem Renaissance in Black and White
Jeff Melnick means to displace the narrative of a Black-Jewish political alliance as the central, mythicized way of understanding the relations between Blacks and Jews in the United States. He goes back instead to the central role of Jews vis-a-vis African Americans and African-American music in popular culture, and how, finally, Jews developed new identities as American Jews through their relation to real and imaginary African Americans and their music. Filled with terrific material that is unfailingly analyzed in a smart, lively, and often brilliant way, A Right to Sing the Blues is a major book on a major and timely subject. This volume is going to cause quite a stir. -- Michael P. Rogin, author of Blackface, White Noise

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