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Title:Mobilizing jazz communities: the dynamic use of jazz as a political resource in the Black Liberation Struggle, 1925-1965
Author(s):Gaffney, Nicholas
Director of Research:Cha-Jua, Sundiata K.
Doctoral Committee Chair(s):Cha-Jua, Sundiata K.; Burton, Orville Vernon
Doctoral Committee Member(s):Barrett, James R.; Solis, Gabriel
Department / Program:History
Degree Granting Institution:University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign
Subject(s):civil rights movement
culture and social movements
jazz and politics
Abstract:“Mobilizing Jazz Communities” presents a historical examination of the role culture has played in developing and sustaining African American socio-political movements during the twentieth century, and has a particular emphasis on the New Negro and Civil Rights Movements. Informed by the perspectives of social movement theorists describing culture’s significance in the development of sustained collective activism, this study demonstrates how culture, through the example of jazz music, was transformed into an invaluable political resource, and was effectively mobilized by African American political activists as they successfully worked to accomplish a variety of goals. The historical examples that this study highlights chronicle the political work that jazz performed as movement participants mobilized the music to help fulfill the objectives of the movements in which they were active. I explain, for instance, how New Negro era political organizations including the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP), the American Communist Party (CPUSA), and the Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Porters (BSCP) took advantage of jazz’s rapidly exploding commercial appeal during the early 1920s and staged lucrative benefit concerts featuring jazz music as a way to generate financial resources that could fund their respective political activities. During the 1930s the NAACP sought to capitalize on the elevated social perception of jazz music and transform jazz musicians into celebrated emblems of New Negro advancement. The politically repressive McCarthyist climate of early Cold War America significantly transformed activists’ approaches toward the political mobilization of jazz. As jazz musicians consciously tried to distance themselves from the communist and the allegedly communist organizations they once openly supported, activists’ ability to mobilize jazz music narrowed during the early 1950s. At the same time, Cold War America created the opportunity for a new wave of grass-roots activists, which included jazz musicians, to come to the forefront of black political activism and begin to mobilize jazz music in new and imaginative ways. Jazz music became a way to inspire activists’ participation in non-violent, direct action protests. Civil Rights activists mobilized jazz to broaden the scope and scale of the movement by circulating politically outspoken jazz albums within the marketplace for recorded music. Those politically conscious albums spread the reach of the movement by transforming spaces traditionally reserved for entertainment and leisure into forums for discussions of the philosophies and goals driving Civil Rights era black political activism. Jazz and the music’s artistic performance philosophy additionally provided activists with a means of critiquing American democracy, especially during the critical 1963/1964 United States Presidential Election. The evolving political mobilization of jazz music between the mid-1920s and mid-1960s, as evidenced within the sequence of historical examples detailed in this study, offers a new vantage point in the examination of African American political history. Specifically, by examining shifting trends within the political mobilization of jazz this study introduces a new opportunity to explore the themes of “continuity” and “rupture” within the context of the Long Civil Rights Movement thesis. While recognizing the long movement thesis’ ability to seamlessly join different moments within African-American political history through activists’ similar ideological focus, this study reasserts the transformative influences that the Cold War’s emergence had upon the strategic and tactical direction of African American collective political activism. An entirely new and unique set of political behaviors appeared during the Cold War era in regard to the political mobilization of jazz, behaviors that allowed activists to successfully maneuver Cold War America’s repressive climate. Finally, “Mobilizing Jazz Communities” illuminates the effects that overt political expression within jazz music had on its audiences, and the ramifications it had within the social discourses defining the music’s meaning.
Issue Date:2012-09-18
Rights Information:Copyright 2012 Nicholas Gaffney
Date Available in IDEALS:2012-09-18
Date Deposited:2012-08

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