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Stereotypes in Black Music: The African-American Crossover Compromise

Updated on December 17, 2010

A match in the powder keg.

A convenient reference for popular music history and a seemingly endless source of topics for discuss and debate.
A convenient reference for popular music history and a seemingly endless source of topics for discuss and debate.

The Dawn of (Jungle) Man

The theme is explained by a paraphrasing of one of Dr. Martin Luther King's more well known quotes.  Kurtz says, "Artists are often judged not only by the color of their skin but by the content of their caricature."  He asks, why would the African American music establishment (and the  artists themselves) persist in the perpetuation of these putrid images?  

Is it simply pandering to the desires of caucasians to make fun of Negroes?  Or is it something deeper?

Evidence is presented to show that, as demeaning as blackface minstrelsy was, it was also the "first formal public acknowledgement by whites of black culture."

Focus on the "jungle savage" was (and still is) prevalent and appeared in as unlikely a place as the Cotton Club, complete with jungle and plantation motifs.  Duke Ellington's "Echoes of the Jungle" was the central piece of a popular theatrical experience.

"The Greatest Living Master of Jungle Music"

Buy it now!

Stereotypes in Black Music: The African-American Crossover Compromise
Stereotypes in Black Music: The African-American Crossover Compromise

Alan Kurtz's erudite inspection of a concerning trend.


A reign begins and a genre is born.

Wynonie Harris's hit heralds two beginnings

Kurtz reports that by the time Billboard magazine officially began using the label, "Rhythm and Blues" to define a genre, a "raunchier, take-no-prisoners subgenre was already redefining R & B. This was back-alley bad and roadhouse rough."

Harris's hit record, "Good Rocking Tonight" was one of the first song titles in a new era of music that would be more clearly named by another blues singer's song, Trixie Smith's "My Man Rocks Me (With One Steady Roll)".

The jump blues hit by Harris also made the music world acutely aware that the alto saxophone had been replaced by the tenor sax as the "alpha male of R & B instruments." Long live the tenor!


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    • dallas93444 profile image

      Dallas W Thompson 

      7 years ago from Bakersfield, CA

      Great insights. Reflective... Rated up and aaaahsome.


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