Enter your mobile number or email address below and we'll send you a link to download the free Kindle App. Then you can start reading Kindle books on your smartphone, tablet, or computer - no Kindle device required.
To get the free app, enter your mobile phone number.
A Right to Sing the Blues: African Americans, Jews, and American Popular Song Hardcover – April 1, 1999
"Rebound" by Kwame Alexander
Don't miss best-selling author Kwame Alexander's "Rebound," a new companion novel to his Newbery Award-winner, "The Crossover,"" illustrated with striking graphic novel panels. Pre-order today
Customers who bought this item also bought
From Library Journal
The relationship between Jews and African Americans has been one of the most complex for sociologists and cultural anthropologists to understand. The suffering that both groups have endured is similar in many ways, yet there is antipathy between the two that dates back at least to the immigration of European Jews in the first part of the 20th century. Melnick (American studies, Babson Coll.) uses the music industry to examine closely the nature of this ambivalent relationship. Focusing on Jewish Tin Pan Alley song writers and performers such as George Gershwin, Irving Berlin, and Al Jolson, Melnick explores how they balanced an affinity for black music with the conscious effort to show how they were transforming what was seen as a lower form of culture into something more palatable for mass white audiences. The extensive notes and scholarly approach make this more appropriate for sociology collections than popular music collections.ADan Bogey, Clearfield Cty. P.L. Federation, Curwensville, PA
Copyright 1999 Reed Business Information, Inc.
Did Jews embrace the blackface masks and popular song of minstrel shows--the style, language, and nuance of black culture--as a means of establishing their own status as whites? Melnick answers that provocative question with this wide-angle view, through the lens of popular American music, of black-Jewish relationships. (Booklist, an "Editor's Choice 1999" selection)
In his complex and challenging book, A Right to Sing the Blues, Jeffrey Melnick seeks to interpret the narrative of 'Black-Jewish relations' within the context of the efforts of Jews in the American entertainment business to 'reorganize Jewishness as a species of whiteness'...Melnick's analysis is intriguing and provocative. (James C. Cobb Times Literary Supplement)
Links between blacks, Jews and American popular music are the focus in a title which examines Jewish songwriters, composers and performers who made black music popular in the first few decades of this century. The focus on shared experiences between Afro-Americans and Jews draws some important connections between ethnic groups often at odds with one another. (Bookwatch)
This is fascinating reading for those interested in music history, relationships between blacks and Jews, and American popular culture. (Vernon Ford Booklist)
At the core of this inventive and entertaining examination of black-Jewish relationships is Melnick's theory that Jews embraced the blackface masks and popular song of minstrel shows--the style, language, and nuance of black culture--as a means of establishing their own status as whites. (Booklist)
Melnick's well-researched book explores Black-Jewish relations through the lens of US popular music in the 'age of ragtime and jazz,' when Jews became consummate minstrel and vaudeville interpreters, Tin Pan Alley songsmiths, and song publishers...Melnick argues that Jews used their black musical forms for popular consumption and in the process to 'reorganize Jewishness as a species of whiteness.' (G. Averill Choice)
Melnick uses the music industry to examine closely the nature of [the] ambivalent relationship [between Jews and African Americans]. Focusing on Jewish Tin Pan Alley song writers and performers such as George Gershwin, Irving Berlin, and Al Jolson, Melnick explores how they balanced an affinity for black music with the conscious effort to show how they were transforming what was seen as a lower form of culture into something more palatable for mass white audiences. (Dan Bogey Library Journal)
Author interviews, book reviews, editors picks, and more. Read it now
Top customer reviews
There was a problem filtering reviews right now. Please try again later.
So, instead of writing argumentative sociology, contemporary cultural analysis (Slavoj Zizek, for example) connects ideas in a way worthy of the best modernist fiction writers or even poets...
While I am suspicious of the author's method, I think he applies it very well: his method is consistent and the richness of data is great.
The thing I miss are mostly caused by my own slant: I like jazz, and whether Gershwin, Goodman, Shaw and Mezzrow are Jews or not, I'm interested in their direct or indirect contribution to the development of this multicultural artistic form.
Not being American (nor African nor Jewish), I find this book very interesting as a clarification of an interesting side issue of my general interest in American art, culture and popular culture and my particular interest in jazz.
So, here are only a few "culturological" quibbles I have with this interesting and insightful book:
I miss a short paragraph on Sammy Davis Jr. (he was too popular and intriguing public figure to be missing from this sort of book) and, also, the relation of African American artists and their Jewish promotors, impressarios etc. needs more elaboration (wasn't Norman Granz Jewish? What about Joe Glaser?). Also, I'm not really comfortable with the way "queer" issues creep into this political and racial discussion; the connection could have been better explained (or illustrated); otherwise it seems only fashionable spice to the thesis (digression: once asked whether his computer HAL from 2001 Space Odyssey had homosexual undertone in his voice, Stanley Kubrick answered that HAL is absolutely heterosexual computer).
"A Right to Sing the Blues" might have been far more compelling or provocative if it had been a magazine article, or a piece for the New York Review of Books. It really doesn't stand up as a scholarly monograph -- the "research" consists largely of fairly wide reading in secondary sources, coupled with a number of anecdotes that get repeated and repeated and repeated until you get the feeling that what you're reading is not a "book" at all, but rather discarded paragraphs from Melnick's dissertation.
This is probably the kind of trendy, jargon-filled claptrap that gets tenure at less-than-front-rank colleges; but, as scholarship it degenerates into a kind of poorly expressed ideological horse-beating for the easily impressed. No one, for example, not even George Gershwin has a "career" -- everyone has a "project." You get the idea.
Melnick does not seem to understand, or care very much about, the art forms or the artists he's writing about, but he's damn-sure going to indict every Jew in show business who ever dared to write a pop song or appear onstage. I thought we were over Jewish self-loathing. Well, maybe most Jews are, but Jeffrey Melnick defintely ain't one of them.
I was prepared to like this book; and I have to say there are moments of genuine insight. However, you have to slog through more than 200 pages of vacuous "argument" to find them. Not a very good deal.
In addition to the Jew-bashing noted by another reviewer, I found the book to be boring. Although I purchased it over a year ago, I have been uninspired to complete more than half the book. I suppose I'll get around to it at some point, but I'm in no hurry.