Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Next Stop Connecticut

Rather than actual blogging, this space threatens to devolve into nothing but publicity for my conference papers. (Part of my World Domination Tour '08, with stops in Virgina, Connecticut, Los Angeles, and Nashville.)

Happen to be in Connecticut this Sunday? At this year's annual meeting of the Society for Ethnomusicology, I am giving a paper on the Orioles. It's part of a panel organized by my friend and fellow blogger Kariann on "Popular Music History and the Body." Kariann is speaking about the 1960s bossa nova dance craze, and Rachel DeWitt will be discussing burlesque dancing. The panel is co-sponsored by the Gender and Sexualities Taskforce, and by the Popular Music Section. It's from 8:30 am - 10:00 am on Sunday, October 26, on the campus of Wesleyan University. The best part is that we are scheduled to do this in Memorial Chapel, so you needn't feel guilty about missing church to attend.
Choreographing the Black Bourgeoisie: Masculinity and Sincerity in Live Performances of the Orioles

The early R&B vocal group the Orioles is often credited with launching the musical style later known as doo-wop, especially with their 1949 crossover hit “It’s Too Soon to Know.” A smooth romantic ballad featuring the hugely popular Sonny Til as the lead vocalist, the song turned the Orioles into objects of adoration for African American teenagers, and their live performances often became frenzied scenes of adulation. This paper will analyze these early performances, looking at them in the context of the emerging African American middle-class after World War II, the so-called “black bourgeoisie” famously critiqued by E. Franklin Frazier in the mid-1950s. Crucial to the success of the Orioles within this environment was their performance of masculinity, which in turn hinged upon creating a convincing affect of “sincerity.” Drawing upon methodologies from Performance Studies, I use interviews, recordings, and contemporary coverage in the black press to examine this affect through various artifacts of their embodied performances: hairstyles, costumes, stage choreography, and vocal gestures. In a historical moment where the newly-invented category of “rhythm and blues” had yet to coalesce into a coherent musical style, the Orioles helped create an alternative to the more aggressively sexual masculinities emerging out of jump blues. Their choreography of masculinity would become highly influential on popular music of the later 1950s and 1960s, in musical scenes such as that of Motown.

Dear god, I think I misspelled "bourgeoisie" when I submitted this abstract.


KG said...

Too bad we didn't have a larger turnout... Ah well. See you again tomorrow!

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