American Music and Racial Fantasy, Past and Present (1)
RHAE LYNN BARNES and GLENDA GOODMAN
An ideology of racial difference is baked into American music history. The staggering diversity of music heard in the sixteenth through nineteenth
This colloquy began as an interdisciplinary workshop held at the University of Pennsylvania, October 11-12, 2019, sponsored by the McNeil Center for Early American Studies, the University of Pennsylvania Vice Provost Office, and the School of Arts and Sciences. Two participants published their essays elsewhere: Moriah, "'Greater Compass,'" and Fulton, "'Year of Jubilee.'" centuries, as waves of colonization, forced migration, enslavement, expulsion, and immigration brought different peoples into prolonged and often violent contact with each other, created lasting ideas and praxes of musical alterity. This holds true across genres and contexts. Native peoples and European colonists heard each other's music foremost as indicators of indelible difference and secondarily as signs of friendliness or danger. Enslavers perceived threats and conspiracy in African and African American singing, drumming, and dancing, and regulated against them. Belief in Euro-Americans' racial superiority found support in the pious and genteel repertoire that was popular among white citizens in the early United States. Nineteenth-century blackface minstrelsy, which promoted white supremacy and has been held up as a paragon of US musical ingenuity and US racism, reflects racialized musical fantasies, ideologies, and practices that had been coalescing for centuries. This colloquy aims to advance the conversation about music and the construction of race by foregrounding case studies of marginalized music makers in America before the advent of recorded sound. The prominence of the color line ca. 1900 has made recognizing the diversity and fluidity of prior American racializations difficult. (2) Take the much-studied phenomenon of blackface minstrelsy: before the racially reductive Lost Cause narratives that erroneously reframed the Civil War as a valiant fight for states' rights (rather than the expansion of a white supremacist empire), before the legal and psychic perversions of Jim Crow, before the racialized market segmentation of the recording industry and the incomplete triumphs of the Civil Rights Movement, there was a pan-racial and ethnic minstrel culture in the sheet music, newspaper advertisements, sporting print culture, broadsheets, and commercial photography that constituted the era's mass media. (3) In their live performances, minstrel troupes burlesqued in blackface, redface, and yellow-face to exert social control not only by playing off against each other caricatures of Black Americans, Chinese Americans, and Indigenous peoples, but also...