Cross the Water Blues

Cross the Water Blues: African American Music in Europe

Edited by Neil A. Wynn
Christopher G. Bakriges
Sean Creighton
Jeffrey Green
Leighton Grist
Bob Groom
Rainer E. Lotz
Paul Oliver
Catherine Parsonage
Iris Schmeisser
Roberta Freund Schwartz
Robert Springer
Rupert Till
Guido van Rijn
David Webster
Neil A. Wynn
Copyright Date: 2007
https://www.jstor.org/stable/j.ctt2tvbm7
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    Cross the Water Blues
    Book Description:

    This unique collection of essays examines the flow of African American music and musicians across the Atlantic to Europe from the time of slavery to the twentieth century. In a sweeping examination of different musical forms--spirituals, blues, jazz, skiffle, and orchestral music--the contributors consider the reception and influence of black music on a number of different European audiences, particularly in Britain, but also France, Germany, and the Netherlands.

    The essayists approach the subject through diverse historical, musicological, and philosophical perspectives. A number of essays document little-known performances and recordings of African American musicians in Europe. Several pieces, including one by Paul Oliver, focus on the appeal of the blues to British listeners. At the same time, these considerations often reveal the ambiguous nature of European responses to black music and in so doing add to our knowledge of transatlantic race relations.

    Contributions from Christopher G. Bakriges, Sean Creighton, Jeffrey Green, Leighton Grist, Bob Groom, Rainer E. Lotz, Paul Oliver, Catherine Parsonage, Iris Schmeisser, Roberta Freund Schwartz, Robert Springer, Rupert Till, Guido van Rijn, David Webster, Jen Wilson, and Neil A. Wynn

    Neil A. Wynn is professor of twentieth-century American history at the University of Gloucestershire. He is the author ofHistorical Dictionary from Great War to Great Depression,From Progressivism to Prosperity: American Society and the First World War, andThe Afro-American and the Second World War.

    eISBN: 978-1-60473-547-5
    Subjects: Music

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-viii)
  3. Preface
    (pp. ix-2)
    Neil A. Wynn
  4. 1 “Why I Sing the Blues” AFRICAN AMERICAN CULTURE IN THE TRANSATLANTIC WORLD
    (pp. 3-22)
    NEIL A. WYNN

    As everyone knows, blues, and then rhythm & blues, provided the inspiration not just for early rock ’n’ roll in the 1950s, but later for much of the explosion of British popular music in the 1960s and its spread to the European continent. The impact African American music had on specifically British popular culture was celebrated in the widely shown television documentaryRed, White and Blues, directed by Mike Figgis as one of the seven-part seriesMartin Scorsese Presents the Bluesmade to celebrate the “centenary” of the blues in 2003.² In the course of the documentary well-known British performers...

  5. 2 Taking the Measure of the Blues
    (pp. 23-38)
    PAUL OLIVER

    That’s how I remember the beginning of a poem with which I, and my friend Jimmy Gribble, opened our first recital of jazz and blues at Harrow College of Art, close on six decades ago. Some of our fellow students were amused, a few were shocked, many were puzzled, but we used it to draw attention to the originality of a contemporary American poet, William Carlos Williams, as well as to the mistakes, misconceptions, and stereotypes which the poem conveyed, if it were taken literally. Nostalgically, I even thought of using it to open my talk at the conference in...

  6. 3 Even Philosophers Get the Blues FEELING BAD FOR NO REASON
    (pp. 39-50)
    DAVID WEBSTER

    Let me begin with a disclaimer: I am not a specialist in music, never mind the blues. I have very limited knowledge of the blues, but do enjoy listening to them. My background is as a philosopher—usually in a religious context. However, here I want to consider why it is that the blues can seem to speak across such vast chasms of time and space. I want to investigate the seeming ability of the blues to transcend those very features which make it so distinctive.

    When I woke up this morning, my woman hadn’t gone and left me. I...

  7. 4 Spirituals to (Nearly) Swing, 1873–1938
    (pp. 51-65)
    JEFFREY GREEN

    In December 1938 at Carnegie Hall, New York City, various artists presented the black musical styles of gospel, blues, and jazz. ThisFrom Spirituals to Swingconcert charted a route from Christian songs of uplift and protest, through folk music, to the sophistication of instrumental dance music.¹ The music of black Americans has tended to be seen in that progression ever since.

    In Britain, where access to black American music was dominated by recordings into the 1950s, enthusiasts copied records of those genres they so admired, and produced skiffle, trad jazz, and—notably in the case of the Beatles and...

  8. 5 Black Music Prior to the First World War AMERICAN ORIGINS AND GERMAN PERSPECTIVES
    (pp. 66-88)
    RAINER E. LOTZ

    The presence of African American entertainers in Europe and the impact of African American music in Europe around the end of the nineteenth century, as well as aspects of cross-fertilization, remain largely unresearched. Most of the early authors of scholarly books and discographies on blues and jazz were Europeans, who had little or no first-hand impressions of Sedalia, or New Orleans, or Clarksdale, or Chicago. Their only contact with the music was through recordings available to them in Europe from the 1920s up to the 1960s. And they did not have access to recording ledgers, black papers, and other such...

  9. 6 Fascination and Fear RESPONSES TO EARLY JAZZ IN BRITAIN
    (pp. 89-105)
    CATHERINE PARSONAGE

    The “Jazz Age” of the 1920s has become romanticized in retrospect, and indicative of the supposedly universal appeal of jazz on both sides of the Atlantic. Although jazz, both as a specific musical style and an abstract idea, was omnipresent in British society at this time, its obvious popularity was balanced by the correspondingly strong outrage and antipathy that it provoked among some quarters in Britain. Indeed, R. W. S. Mendl thought it necessary to include a chapter on the dislike of jazz inThe Appeal of Jazz,the first British book on the subject (1927).¹ While jazz represented a...

  10. 7 “Un Saxophone en Mouvement”? JOSEPHINE BAKER AND THE PRIMITIVIST RECEPTION OF JAZZ IN PARIS IN THE 1920S
    (pp. 106-124)
    IRIS SCHMEISSER

    The metropolis of Paris was particularly receptive to the influence of African American jazz in the arts and popular culture in the 1920s for two reasons that are integral to its history as a center of transatlantic modernism: French consumer culture was, on the one hand, increasingly shaped by American entertainment culture, a result of increasing commercial exchange in the postwar period, and on the other hand, by cultural forms to which one attributed African origins, a result of colonialism. “Jazz” was associated with cultural modernity, such as an urban lifestyle, technological progress, mobility, etc., and, at the same time,...

  11. 8 Paul Robeson’s British Journey
    (pp. 125-144)
    SEAN CREIGHTON

    One of the great inspirational figures of the twentieth century, the African American actor, singer, and political activist Paul Robeson was a frequent visitor and resident in Britain, and in turn Britain was an important influence on Robeson’s singing, acting, and politics. He linked politics and culture in support of 1930s political campaigns against fascism and colonialism which then set the ground back in the United States for his political campaigning for black rights and colonial freedom during and after the Second World War. In the period of the Cold War he was victimized for these and his peace and...

  12. 9 Preaching the Gospel of the Blues BLUES EVANGELISTS IN BRITAIN
    (pp. 145-166)
    ROBERTA FREUND SCHWARTZ

    Before World War II only a handful of blues records were available in Britain, and these had been swept in with the rising tide of American jazz releases in the late 1930s. Parlophone and Brunswick, the two largest record companies of the day, released few contemporary blues discs. The few Bessie Smith songs that appeared on their labels were perhaps initially issued (and subsequently purchased) because of the noted jazz musicians that accompanied her, but her rich contralto voice and expressive style of delivery soon earned her many devoted followers. James Asman advised, “Learn to enjoy Bessie Smith’s kind of...

  13. 10 Whose “Rock Island Line”? ORIGINALITY IN THE COMPOSITION OF BLUES AND BRITISH SKIFFLE
    (pp. 167-182)
    BOB GROOM

    Airplay has always been the major key to creating a hit record, particularly in the era before television exposure, celebrity reputations, and wider media coverage became significant. Over the years DJs have made hits out of the most unlikely records—David Seville’s “Witch Doctor” and Chipmunks’ records in America, “Happy Wanderer” by the Obernkirchen Children’s choir and three hits by the Royal Scots Dragoon Guards Military Band in Britain are just a few examples that spring to mind. Surely at the time it first became popular, before it spearheaded a whole popular music phenomenon, “Rock Island Line” must have been...

  14. 11 The Blues Blueprint THE BLUES IN THE MUSIC OF THE BEATLES, THE ROLLING STONES, AND LED ZEPPELIN
    (pp. 183-201)
    RUPERT TILL

    Contemporary British popular music owes much to the blues. Within blues a blueprint developed for pop and rock musicians in England, that has become integrated into Western popular music in general and British pop music in particular. Musicians like Charlie Patton, Blind Lemon Jefferson, Leadbelly, B.B. King, Muddy Waters, Big Joe Turner, Sonny Boy Williamson, and Robert Johnson created this blueprint. British popular music today often features a group of musicians focused around a singer and a guitarist with a drum kit and bass player playing a lesser role. Sometimes this includes a keyboard player, a brass section, and occasionally...

  15. 12 “The Blues Is the Truth” THE BLUES, MODERNITY, AND THE BRITISH BLUES BOOM
    (pp. 202-217)
    LEIGHTON GRIST

    Directed by Mike Figgis,Red, White & Bluesis one of the seven, mainly documentary films that comprise the seriesMartin Scorsese Presents the Blues: A Musical Journeythat was produced for the American Public Broadcasting Service as part of the United States’ centenary celebration of the blues in 2003.¹ The series also enjoyed some theatrical exhibition, and was broadcast in the United Kingdom on the subscription channel BBC4 in 2004.² Combining interviews with relevant personages with archive material and footage of specially organized sessions held at London’s Abbey Road studios,Red, White & Bluesis concerned with and traces...

  16. 13 Lowland Blues THE RECEPTION OF AFRICAN AMERICAN BLUES AND GOSPEL MUSIC IN THE NETHERLANDS
    (pp. 218-234)
    GUIDO VAN RIJN

    In the 1950s European popular music was transformed by the rise of rock ’n’ roll. The huge success in Europe of Elvis Presley, a white American boy who started out by covering black artists like Arthur “Big Boy” Crudup and “Big Mama” Thornton, led to the creation of a great many rock ’n’ roll groups. Many of their fans became interested in the black artists that had inspired their heroes. As a result African American blues music became very popular in Europe in the sixties. The Beatles and the Rolling Stones were avid collectors of blues records and imitated the...

  17. 14 The Blues in France
    (pp. 235-249)
    ROBERT SPRINGER

    France and African American music have had a relationship whose beginning has generally been placed at the end of World War I with the arrival of James Reese Europe and his military band, the Harlem Hellfighters.¹ During that war, France had acquired a reputation of freedom from racial prejudice among African American troops² and many of the soldiers in New York’s 15th Heavy Foot Infantry Regiment “decided to remain . . . after mustering out of the service. Other former soldiers, especially those who had been members of James Reese Europe’s military band, returned” to Paris to meet the demand...

  18. 15 Cultural Displacement, Cultural Creation AFRICAN AMERICAN JAZZ MUSICIANS IN EUROPE FROM BECHET TO BRAXTON
    (pp. 250-265)
    CHRISTOPHER G. BAKRIGES

    A number of contemporary African American artists have spoken musically and extra-musically about how they both use “the tradition” and add to its further evolution. If tradition means the continuity of culture, then these artists deliberately muddy the definition. For example, they dislike the wordjazz, a term they feel is ambiguous, a misnomer and, by some definitions, demeaning, to describe their work yet they insist they come from a black music tradition that informs them. Moreover, the vanguard have a heightened sense of aesthetics developed in various formats, including published treatises, essays, interviews, record liner notes, scores, poetry, painting,...

  19. Contributors
    (pp. 266-270)
  20. Index
    (pp. 271-289)