Music, Gender, and Black Modernisms” by Alexander W. Corey

Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)


“Beyond the Blues” explains how the gendering of sound led into and emerged out of the problem of the color line in twentieth-century American musical culture. Studying figures such as James Weldon Johnson, Ralph Ellison, Philippa Schuyler, and John Coltrane, this dissertation challenges today’s dominant vision of a black modernism that coheres primarily around the explanatory power of the blues. These artists remind us that the hopeful melancholy of Langston Hughes’s “The Weary Blues” is but one of many black modernist moods. Beyond the blues, African Americans listened across the color line and into the past, taking up musical traditions that were sonically vibrant if also tied up in Jim Crow racism. This dissertation teases out the now-forgotten gendered connotations of this repertoire, from fictional depictions of classical piano performance to annotations on Beethoven scores, from literary invocations of Louis Armstrong to improvisations on The Sound of Music. Shrouded behind more familiar racial implications, undertones of masculinity and femininity resounded through genres such as the nocturne, the sonata, the blues song, and the showtune. “Beyond the Blues” argues that concerns about a permeable boundary between masculine and feminine spheres become audible as a motivating force, not a secondary effect, in the organization of American musical culture along racial lines.

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