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Reds, Whites, and Blues

Reds, Whites, and Blues: Social Movements, Folk Music, and Race in the United States

William G. Roy
Copyright Date: 2010
Pages: 310
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  • Book Info
    Reds, Whites, and Blues
    Book Description:

    Music, and folk music in particular, is often embraced as a form of political expression, a vehicle for bridging or reinforcing social boundaries, and a valuable tool for movements reconfiguring the social landscape.Reds, Whites, and Bluesexamines the political force of folk music, not through the meaning of its lyrics, but through the concrete social activities that make up movements. Drawing from rich archival material, William Roy shows that the People's Songs movement of the 1930s and 40s, and the Civil Rights Movement of the 1950s and 60s implemented folk music's social relationships--specifically between those who sang and those who listened--in different ways, achieving different outcomes.

    Roy explores how the People's Songsters envisioned uniting people in song, but made little headway beyond leftist activists. In contrast, the Civil Rights Movement successfully integrated music into collective action, and used music on the picket lines, at sit-ins, on freedom rides, and in jails. Roy considers how the movement's Freedom Songs never gained commercial success, yet contributed to the wider achievements of the Civil Rights struggle. Roy also traces the history of folk music, revealing the complex debates surrounding who or what qualified as "folk" and how the music's status as racially inclusive was not always a given.

    Examining folk music's galvanizing and unifying power,Reds, Whites, and Bluescasts new light on the relationship between cultural forms and social activity.

    eISBN: 978-1-4008-3516-4
    Subjects: Sociology, Music, Political Science

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. Preface
    (pp. ix-xiv)
  4. CHAPTER ONE Social Movements, Music, and Race
    (pp. 1-27)

    On December 23, 1938, the left-wing magazineNew Massessponsored a concert in New York’s Carnegie Hall titled “From Spirituals to Swing,” featuring some of America’s now-legendary African American performers, including Count Basie, Sister Rosetta Tharp, Sonny Terry, and the Golden Gate Quartet. The program notes put the music in social context: “It expresses America so clearly that its readiest recognition here has come from the masses, particularly youth. While the intelligentsia has been busy trying to water our scrawny cultural tree with European art and literary movements, this thing has come to maturity unnoticed” (“From Spirituals to Swing” program)....

  5. CHAPTER TWO Music and Boundaries: Race and Folk
    (pp. 28-48)

    Though unremarkable to contemporary ears, the claim that “this is surely a real folk song” would have been esoteric, even academically insolent, when penned by sociologist Howard Odum in the early twentieth century. The concept of folk music was little known outside elite universities and antiquarian societies, a European import borrowed by intellectuals to “discover” the national soul in America’s quasi-peasantry. In this quotation can be found the basic contours of a social-musical model that would be later appropriated by the American political left. Unlike the polish of classical music and the cultured class who appreciate it, folk music is...

  6. CHAPTER THREE The Original Folk Project
    (pp. 49-78)

    How can a musical project founded to authorize and celebrate a nationality be transformed into a cultural impetus empowering a movement for radical inclusivity? The literary elites who decided to valorize the music sung by rural commoners as the essence of nationhood could scarcely have imagined the genre they invented being used as the anthems of insurgency against the homogeneous national community of their imagination. The theme of this chapter is the early history of the concept “folk,” as it developed from an assertion of national identity into a site of contention over who belonged to the nation.

    How did...

  7. CHAPTER FOUR White and Black Reds: Building an Infrastructure
    (pp. 79-99)

    As America entered the age of commercial recording, few people other than scholars and antiquarians would have recognized folk music as a meaningful category in the cultural landscape. The establishment of classical symphonies in large cities around the turn of the century solidified the nascent boundary between highbrow and lowbrow music (DiMaggio 1982a, 1982b; Levine 1988). Minstrelsy had given way to vaudeville as the most popular form of live entertainment. And the business of music revolved around the publication of sheet music as middle-class families in every region displayed respectability with a piano in the parlor. And while many Americans...

  8. CHAPTER FIVE Movement Entrepreneurs and Activists
    (pp. 100-125)

    Structures, social or otherwise, do not do things. Agents do. The infrastructure developed in the last chapter did not transform folk music or give it a political connotation. This chapter focuses on the cultural entrepreneurs who used and altered structures to metamorphose folk music from an esoteric concern of academics and antiquarians into a politically charged expression of “the people.” The sociological literature on social movements often reads as though social movements were autonomous entities acting within a context of opportunities and constraints and occasionally entering into coalitions with like-minded political actors. But rarely are social movements political actors sui...

  9. CHAPTER SIX Organizing Music: The Fruits of Entrepreneurship
    (pp. 126-154)

    The vibrant energy, ceaseless networking, and long-term vision of the Lomaxes and Seegers, refracted through the methodical discipline of the party and the creative spirit of other leaders and artists, gave rise to new organizational forms of music in the service of activism. Though part of a social movement, they were not social movements as ordinarily conceptualized—groups of activists making claims, recruiting new members, and raising consciousness. Rather they facilitated music-making.

    The musical activists of the Old Left pioneered in the creation of four new kinds of creative organizations. The Almanacs invented a form that fully blossomed in the...

  10. Illustrations
    (pp. None)
    (pp. 155-180)

    Though activists within the communist-influenced left led the most visible, most consequential political project for American folk music, the roots were sprouting for a very different site of musical activism. Far removed both geographically and socially from the people’s songsters, the Highlander School of Monteagle, Tennessee, a small, struggling center of union and community-organizing workshops, succeeded in a different way. They never sponsored commercially successful singers or hit songs but helped make music a central activity of social movements, culminating in the freedom songs of the 1960s. The Highlander, along with similar institutions such as Commonwealth College, the John C....

  12. CHAPTER EIGHT Music at the Heart of the Quintessential Social Movement
    (pp. 181-212)

    The mid-century American civil rights movement was the quintessential social movement, forming the image of the social movement against which others have been compared. The paradigm now called the “classic” theory of social movements (McAdam, Tarrow, and Tilly 2001) was developed by analyzing it. More important, perhaps, it was the spring from which flowed virtually all American social movements since then. Other ethnic-racial movements, the women’s movement, the Vietnam antiwar movement, the environmental movement, the gay rights movement, and the student movement were direct offshoots. Many of the early leaders of those movements were first radicalized by their experience in...

  13. CHAPTER NINE A Movement Splintered
    (pp. 213-233)

    After 1965, the American left splintered and its music changed in both social context and content. The civil rights movement endorsed the rallying cry of “Black Power,” asserting independence from white allies who turned to other issues in which they could take the role of the aggrieved. But where other American movements sprang from the root of the civil rights movement, there was a consequential difference between the primogenitor and the offspring. A united movement to eradicate the most glaring and immediate instance of injustice in American society evolved into a loose and sometimes contentious amalgam of constituent-based movements. In...

  14. CHAPTER TEN How Social Movements Do Culture
    (pp. 234-250)

    Social movements do culture. Not just in the sense of culture as a shared orientation toward the world but in the more vernacular sense of art, music, drama, literature, and dance. People joining together to right social wrongs and weaken abusive power create posters, music, murals, plays, poetry, and fiction, and orchestrate gala celebrations. In the 1920s, John Reed Clubs and their offshoots attracted groups of poets, novelists, painters, sculptors, actors, photographers, filmmakers, ballet dancers, labor balladeers, classical musicians, and composers. The Harlem Renaissance of the same period included some of America’s most creative minds—writers such as Langston Hughes...

  15. APPENDIX Coding of Songbooks and Song Anthologies
    (pp. 251-252)
  16. Notes
    (pp. 253-262)
  17. References
    (pp. 263-276)
  18. Index
    (pp. 277-286)
  19. Back Matter
    (pp. 287-288)