Sounding the Color Line: Race, Music, and American Modernism

Nunn, Erich Thomas, Department of English Language and Literature, University of Virginia
Lott, Eric, Department of English, University of Virginia
Wicke, Jennifer, Department of English, University of Virginia
Brickhouse, Anna, Department of English, University of Virginia
Will, Richard, Department of Music, University of Virginia

"Sounding the Color Line: Race, Music, and American Modernism" examines the ways that discourses of racial identity and musical authenticity structure literary and cultural production in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. I read major texts by such writers as Jean Toomer, William Faulkner, Alain Locke, and James Weldon Johnson alongside a range of other media. In these literary texts and in the contemporaneous and often competing discourses of musicology, ethnography, and cultural criticism, concepts of the folk and the vernacular embody the equation of race and culture. My analysis focuses in part on the effects of the culture industry's commodification and mass mediation of vernacular musical productions-in the form of phonograph records, radio broadcasts, and sheet music, for example-on understandings of racial whiteness and blackness. The proliferation of musical forms facilitated by the culture industry reveals a complex set of dualities: black and white, rural and urban, commercial and folk. Distinctions between racially delimited cultures of the folk prove chimerical, as folk forms are mediated and recombined even as they are pressed into the service of racialist cultural ideologies. I argue that these productions worked both to subvert and to reproduce racial hierarchies, simultaneously effacing and reinscribing the color line. Bringing an interdisciplinary cultural studies methodology to bear on literary texts, musical recordings, and critical artifacts, my project situates modernist literary and cultural production within a conceptual field defined by the intersections of race, music, and media.

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PHD (Doctor of Philosophy)
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