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Title:Listening to the Lomax archive: the sonic rhetorics of American vernacular music in the 1930s
Author(s):Stone, Jonathan W
Director of Research:Mortensen, Peter L.; Schaffner, Spencer
Doctoral Committee Chair(s):Mortensen, Peter L.; Schaffner, Spencer
Doctoral Committee Member(s):Finnegan, Cara A.; O'Gorman, Ned
Department / Program:English
Discipline:English
Degree Granting Institution:University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign
Degree:Ph.D.
Genre:Dissertation
Subject(s):Rhetoric
Sound
Music
Folklore
Great Depression
1930s
Abstract:This dissertation brings to rhetoric a study of vernacular music that amplifies what is known about rhythmic practice in the rhetorical tradition. Responding to emergent conversations at the intersection of rhetorical and sound studies, this work engages with questions about sound and music’s rhetorical roles in myth making, racial formation, cultural eloquence, progressive thought, and historiography. While recent scholarship has identified the sonic elements of rhetoric’s classical roots, I argue that vernacular, folk, or “roots” music can be a key element—a sonic rhetoric—for interpreting the ebb and flow of cultural ideals within more contemporary historical moments, particularly during times of crisis. In 1933, folklorists John A. Lomax and his son Alan set out as emissaries for the Library of Congress to record the “folksong of the American Negro” in several Southern African-American prisons. As this dissertation demonstrates, the music they gathered for the Library’s Folklife Archive contributed to a new mythology of “authentic” Americana for a people in financial, social, and identity crisis. During the 1930s, this music had paradoxical effects: even as the songs reified long-held conservative orthodoxies, they also performed as agents for social change and reconstitution. The recordings the Lomaxes made in the prisons, for example, were produced under the coercive auspices of white privilege, yet also provided incarcerated African-American men rhetorical agency they would not otherwise have enjoyed. Similarly, pianist and composer Jelly Roll Morton enjoined Alan Lomax and the Library of Congress in his desire to insert and authenticate himself within the early history of jazz. He did so through deftly articulated sonic rhetorics—virtuosic performances and oral histories—but the recorded sessions brought more fortune and fame to Lomax than Morton, who died soon after. By 1939, Lomax was hosting a national radio program titled Folk Songs of America (one of many programs on CBS’s American School of the Air) where, with a particularly authentic American irony, songs recorded in the prison yard were silently repurposed by professional musicians and broadcast to the country’s white suburban classrooms.
Issue Date:2015-06-23
Type:Thesis
URI:http://hdl.handle.net/2142/87965
Rights Information:Copyright 2015 Jonathan W. Stone
Date Available in IDEALS:2015-09-29
Date Deposited:August 201


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