Daphne A. Brooks is professor of English and African American Studies at Princeton University. She is the author of Bodies in Dissent: Spectacular Performances of Race and Freedom (Duke UP, 2006), Jeff Buckley’s Grace (Continuum, 2005), as well as the liner notes for Take A Look: Aretha Franklin Complete on Columbia and Come On and See Me: The Complete Tammi Terrell. She is currently at work on Subterranean Blues: Black Women and Sound Subcultures (Harvard UP, forthcoming).
"'One of these mornings, you're gonna rise up singing': The Secret Black Feminist History of the Gershwins' Porgy and Bess "
What has slipped through the cracks of current Porgy and Bess debates is a serious consideration of the central role that black women artists have played in the making of this classic “American opera.” Thus, this paper seeks to reveal how the show has functioned as a unique and crucial avenue for black female vocalists to craft historically dense, slyly avant-garde and radically dissonant sounds of (New York) city at the crossroads of racial modernity.
This paper aims to listen carefully to the aesthetics of sonic cosmopolitanism and the diverse forms of sound(ed) diplomacy coursing through black female stage, cinema and recording artists’ global performances of Porgy and Bess, and it sets out to explore how black female artists have used Porgy and Bess to score a poetics of modern black womanhood. It focuses on recuperating the archival thickness of a musical with roots that stretch from minstrel revues, the primitivist vogue of Harlem Renaissance cabarets and Broadway black theater to musical encounters between lower east side Jewish immigrant composers and migrant African American women performers interpreting, improvising and (re)arranging Gershwin’s text. How did actresses—from 1935 star Anne Brown to 1942 revival lead Etta Moten, from 1952’s opera diva Leontyne Price to 1959’s glammed up and cinematic Dorothy Dandridge—navigate the still-thick in the air afterlife of blackface minstrelsy as well as the contemporary racialized American pastoralism coursing through the show? And what are the ways that some of American pop music’s most fiercely renegade voices—from Billie Holiday, Sarah Vaughan, Ella Fitzgerald and Nina Simone to Audra McDonald, Alicia Hall Moran, Jill Scott and Fantasia—traverse the show's signature tune, "Summertime" and, in the process, generate an historical compendium for black women's sonic modernity?
""Do You Want More?" The Time and Space of Alternative Sonic Blackness"
In 1961’s “Your Mama: 12 Moods for Jazz,” Langston Hughes sprawled and stretched his blues across space and time, using the poem as a portal to move from “the quarter of the Negroes” to Leontyne Price on the concert hall stage, from rural blues cultures to bebop cosmopolitan enclaves, from Cuban dance halls to jazz funeral marching bands. Hughes traced an electrifying cartography of diverse black sounds that shaped global cities in distinct and varying ways.
“Do You Want More?” takes up Hughes charge to explore the diversity of black sonic forms emerging from diverse cultural regions. In this roundtable, participants will explore music at a moment when regions are becoming nodes in a global network. The migration of sounds and ideas across time and place encourages synthesis; giving rise to avant garde, radical, and futurist voices. What (other) worlds open up and what (outer)spaces are formed? How do regional sites remix global flows? What factors/forces enable or prohibit certain voices from finding an audience in the national, global or cyber scene? In our celebration of the global reach and range of music today, what ways do we need to recognize the specificity and histories of place? Has glo