Birth of Genre

The divisiveness of racism ran so deep that even music and art was segregated. Why? Was this because every element of society was needed to be separate no matter how arbitrary, in order to keep racial social lines clearly divided? Or were black musicians seen as so subpar (as musicians or humans) that their music needed to be dealt with in a completely separate sphere than white music was? I wonder what black and white musicians back then thought about this separation. Was it separate but equal? I’m sure it wasn’t. This “birth of genre” was a way to subcategorize black music away from mainstream aka white culture and society; the same way schools, neighborhoods and water fountains were. Because what is “other” and “them” is against “us” and therefore bad.

The separation really just existed on paper though, not in practice. The labeling of the music did not sway the vast majority of either race of people from listening to it; although this probably varied greatly from north to south.  But even though mainstream white culture enjoyed what black culture had produced, they still did not want the makers of that music to be treated the same way as white artists. I am reminded of stories of two of my favorite jazz singers; Ella Fitzgerald and Billie Holiday.  Both of these women were considered as some of the greatest popular artists in their time, leading ladies of jazz.  Despite their talent and commercial success, these women were treated as second class.  

There is a famous and true story about how Ella Fitzgerald was told by the owner of the famous jazz club, Mocambo, that she was not “glamorous” enough to pull in a crowd.  When one of Ella’s biggest fans heard of this, Marilyn Monroe, she called the owner and told him if he booked Ella, then she would book a table in the front row every night Ella performs.  The owner immediately agreed, knowing the scores of photographers and people who flocked Marilyn wherever she went.  Marilyn kept her word and came everynight and the club sold out.  Ella later stated that she owed Monroe a “real debt” and that “after that, I never had to play a small jazz club again.”  

One of my favorite stories is about Billie Holiday, I saw this on the internet and I am unable to validify it but it is in line with other things I have read about Lady Day and her toughness.

“Billie Holiday was performing in a Manhattan club in 1943, and between sets she took a seat at a table and ordered her usual Top and Bottom (a mixture of gin and port wine). Two white sailors from the South, on leave in the Big Apple, approached her, wanting to know where a “darkie” got off wearing a mink coat. When Lady told them to get lost they snuffed out their cigarettes in her mink. Without pause, Holiday told them to meet her outside, if they had any balls. At which point Holiday proceeded to beat them both unconscious with her fists. It was a bad idea to mess with Lady Day.”

— Rich English on the toughness of Billie Holiday

Posted: February 28th, 2018
Categories: Uncategorized
Comments: 1 Comment.
    Comment fromonMason Team - February 27, 2018 at 5:32 pm      Reply

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