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Segregating Sound: Inventing Folk and Pop Music in the Age of Jim Crow

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In Segregating Sound, Karl Hagstrom Miller argues that the categories that we have inherited to think and talk about southern music bear little relation to the ways that southerners long played and heard music. Focusing on the late nineteenth century and the early twentieth, Miller chronicles how southern music—a fluid complex of sounds and styles in practice—was reduced t In Segregating Sound, Karl Hagstrom Miller argues that the categories that we have inherited to think and talk about southern music bear little relation to the ways that southerners long played and heard music. Focusing on the late nineteenth century and the early twentieth, Miller chronicles how southern music—a fluid complex of sounds and styles in practice—was reduced to a series of distinct genres linked to particular racial and ethnic identities. The blues were African American. Rural white southerners played country music. By the 1920s, these depictions were touted in folk song collections and the catalogs of “race” and “hillbilly” records produced by the phonograph industry. Such links among race, region, and music were new. Black and white artists alike had played not only blues, ballads, ragtime, and string band music, but also nationally popular sentimental ballads, minstrel songs, Tin Pan Alley tunes, and Broadway hits. In a cultural history filled with musicians, listeners, scholars, and business people, Miller describes how folklore studies and the music industry helped to create a “musical color line,” a cultural parallel to the physical color line that came to define the Jim Crow South. Segregated sound emerged slowly through the interactions of southern and northern musicians, record companies that sought to penetrate new markets across the South and the globe, and academic folklorists who attempted to tap southern music for evidence about the history of human civilization. Contending that people’s musical worlds were defined less by who they were than by the music that they heard, Miller challenges assumptions about the relation of race, music, and the market.


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In Segregating Sound, Karl Hagstrom Miller argues that the categories that we have inherited to think and talk about southern music bear little relation to the ways that southerners long played and heard music. Focusing on the late nineteenth century and the early twentieth, Miller chronicles how southern music—a fluid complex of sounds and styles in practice—was reduced t In Segregating Sound, Karl Hagstrom Miller argues that the categories that we have inherited to think and talk about southern music bear little relation to the ways that southerners long played and heard music. Focusing on the late nineteenth century and the early twentieth, Miller chronicles how southern music—a fluid complex of sounds and styles in practice—was reduced to a series of distinct genres linked to particular racial and ethnic identities. The blues were African American. Rural white southerners played country music. By the 1920s, these depictions were touted in folk song collections and the catalogs of “race” and “hillbilly” records produced by the phonograph industry. Such links among race, region, and music were new. Black and white artists alike had played not only blues, ballads, ragtime, and string band music, but also nationally popular sentimental ballads, minstrel songs, Tin Pan Alley tunes, and Broadway hits. In a cultural history filled with musicians, listeners, scholars, and business people, Miller describes how folklore studies and the music industry helped to create a “musical color line,” a cultural parallel to the physical color line that came to define the Jim Crow South. Segregated sound emerged slowly through the interactions of southern and northern musicians, record companies that sought to penetrate new markets across the South and the globe, and academic folklorists who attempted to tap southern music for evidence about the history of human civilization. Contending that people’s musical worlds were defined less by who they were than by the music that they heard, Miller challenges assumptions about the relation of race, music, and the market.

30 review for Segregating Sound: Inventing Folk and Pop Music in the Age of Jim Crow

  1. 4 out of 5

    Carol

    I really loved this book: it was quite fascinating. Miller looks at Southern music in the late 19th and early 20th centuries and examines how the musical color line was largely constructed by folklorists and the music business, creating a cultural segregation that did not reflect the real musical lives of southerners both black and white during this period. Miller shows that these southerners played all types of music - folk songs, blues, Tin Pan Alley tunes, ragtime, ballads, and popular hits - I really loved this book: it was quite fascinating. Miller looks at Southern music in the late 19th and early 20th centuries and examines how the musical color line was largely constructed by folklorists and the music business, creating a cultural segregation that did not reflect the real musical lives of southerners both black and white during this period. Miller shows that these southerners played all types of music - folk songs, blues, Tin Pan Alley tunes, ragtime, ballads, and popular hits - and that black and white repertoires were similar, reflecting a shared musical world. Miller also provides a strong critique of the motivations and practices of early folklorists and song-collectors. He argues that their desire to find isolated and idealized folk cultures caused them to distort and misunderstand the musical repertoires and practices of their informants. Miller's information and thesis kept me engaged in and even glued to this book throughout its 368 pages. I gained a new and illuminating perspective on the history and practice of categorizing music into "Black" and "White", and learned a lot about how segregation affected art and culture in the Jim Crow era. I also finally have a grip on what minstrel shows were all about, and even acquired a new (and kind of head-exploding) understanding of what was up with that old country-themed variety show Hee Haw. I highly recommend this book to any one interested in American music and culture.

  2. 5 out of 5

    Afrasiab

    Folk music album for freedom https://www.reverbnation.com/6165594/... #anti war #peace #persian #sadeq chubak Folk music album for freedom https://www.reverbnation.com/6165594/... #anti war #peace #persian #sadeq chubak

  3. 4 out of 5

    Christym

    This book was a little difficult for me to get into because the language seemed like that of a dissertation. That's not to say that it is not well-written or an important piece of work. I think it's both of those things -- and it's packed with fascinating insights about American music history. For example, I had no idea that sheet music was as wildly marketed and sought after in the days before recorded music, as CDs, etc., are today. Of course, the subject of the book goes way beyond such thing This book was a little difficult for me to get into because the language seemed like that of a dissertation. That's not to say that it is not well-written or an important piece of work. I think it's both of those things -- and it's packed with fascinating insights about American music history. For example, I had no idea that sheet music was as wildly marketed and sought after in the days before recorded music, as CDs, etc., are today. Of course, the subject of the book goes way beyond such things; however, since I only got through four chapters, that's about all I can offer at this time.

  4. 5 out of 5

    Chi Chi

    Good book by my favorite professor at UT. Miller discusses how the seperation of musical genres in America didn't begin until publishers and record labels and booking agents tried to market everything. It's a bit dry and academic, but it's pretty fascinating, at least to this moi.

  5. 4 out of 5

    Chandler Moore

    What is genre?

  6. 4 out of 5

    Zeb Larson

    The best explanation I've found for the development of country and blues music into recorded forms. Refreshing because it doesn't carry tired notions of musical authenticity.

  7. 5 out of 5

    Amanda Vercruysse

  8. 5 out of 5

    Emily Borchardt

  9. 4 out of 5

    Todd

  10. 4 out of 5

    Erik

  11. 4 out of 5

    Paul

  12. 4 out of 5

    Jude

  13. 4 out of 5

    Julius Brown

  14. 5 out of 5

    Mina baş Ejderha

  15. 4 out of 5

    Christina

  16. 4 out of 5

    Elise Brown

  17. 4 out of 5

    Bob Cat

  18. 5 out of 5

    John Vanek

  19. 4 out of 5

    Dave

  20. 5 out of 5

    Michelle Brenner

  21. 4 out of 5

    Rose Pruiksma

  22. 5 out of 5

    Emily

  23. 5 out of 5

    Jessica Dauterive

  24. 4 out of 5

    Willis

  25. 4 out of 5

    Katherine Rampley

  26. 5 out of 5

    Charles Heath

  27. 4 out of 5

    Michael D.

  28. 4 out of 5

    Nina Wilson

  29. 4 out of 5

    Huilen S.

  30. 5 out of 5

    Sara

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