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Title:American pseudo-realism: the subversion of black agency in George Gershwin's Porgy and Bess (1935)
Author(s):Jefferson, Max
Advisor(s):Sherwood Magee, Gayle
Contributor(s):Ramírez, Carlos Roberto
Department / Program:Music
Degree Granting Institution:University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign
Subject(s):George Gershwin
Black Agency
Porgy and Bess
Abstract:This thesis interrogates George Gershwin’s Porgy and Bess (1935) as propaganda that has shaped the dominant historical narrative regarding American opera and the representation of blackness therein. Considering the opera both in its premiere iteration and as an institution of tokenization that has supplanted the equitable representation of black artists and narratives within this genre, I consider how this work has come to be marketed and known as the ‘Great American Opera’ by the ‘Great American Composer.’ Part I of this thesis considers the socio-political context of the 1935 premiere, an overview of the problematic archetypes present on stage, and how the concept of what I view as “the New American Exotic” set precedence for the usage of the perceived cultural practices and sounds of the coastal North Carolina Gullah community as both narrative and musical content. Part II specifically looks at George Gershwin and playwright Dubose Heyward, situating them within the social and racial construct of the United States in the early-twentieth century and deconstructing the reductive binary of white vs. black. Part III presents the false depiction of black identities in the dominant historical narrative vis-à-vis blackface minstrelsy and black folk music. The aim of this study is not to prescribe definitive answers to the problematics of racial representation in opera, but rather to open meaningful discourse regarding contextual specificity, socio-cultural consideration, and a retrospective musicological listening that will hopefully lend to the rightful and equitable inclusion, representation, and agency of marginalized voices both on the operatic stage and in a broadened historical narrative.
Issue Date:2021-04-30
Rights Information:Copyright 2021 Max Jefferson
Date Available in IDEALS:2021-09-17
Date Deposited:2021-05

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