An architect/artist and a composer/musicologist offer revealing insights into how white people appropriated African-American labor and African-American culture.
“Creation Myths,” a new installation by Hugh Hayden at the Princeton University’ Art Museum’s new Artt@Bainbridge gallery on the corner of Nassau and Vandeventer, “evokes themes of cuisine, leisure and education and explores the intersections of these themes with slavery’s complex legacy.” It will be discussed Thursday, Feb. 20, at 5:30 p.m. in 50 McCosh Hall, followed by a reception at the Museum and is on view now through June 7.
In the “I’m sorry I missed it but at least i now know about it” department was a three-day musicology conference sponsored by the university’s music department: Within and Without: Les Six at 100, where Harvard’s Uri Schreter presented a paper, “‘Snobs
in Search of Exotic Color’: Blackness and Transgression in the Music of Les Six.” With in depth technical analysis of musical scores, he aims to prove that “despite enduring beliefs in French “color-blindness,” French notions about blackness were articulated in nuanced ways that perpetuated long-standing, exoticized representations of the black Other.”
Schreter: In the years after World War One, Les Six rose to fame as the enfants terribles of the French avant-garde. Much of their rebellious image hinged on their appropriation of African American music, which has often been claimed to transgress racial and social boundaries. But were they actually inspired by the so-called “black jazz”? In this paper, I demonstrate that at least in some works, the composers drew on a French, diluted form of “white jazz,” while presenting it as an exotic symbol of blackness. By doing so, they pushed black jazz to the periphery of French culture and reinforced the “sonic color line.”
By comparing the French music-hall with compositions by Les Six and recordings of contemporaneous African American musicians, I demonstrate that several works touted as being influenced by jazz, such as Milhaud’s Caramel mou (1921) and Auric’s Adieu, New-York! (1919), actually drew on French popular music. This study of the reception of jazz in Paris provides a unique vantage point for understanding the crystallization of French perspectives on race. The risqué and modern character of jazz appealed to many audiences, but it also sparked turbulent debates about race, class, and national identity that reflected postwar anxieties.
The political and economic systems that have enabled white supremacy to flourish are relatively easy to trace. But to excavate the cultural systems that spawned white supremacy requires artistic scholarship (Schreter) and creativity (Hayden). To those who try to cut funds from the art and music studies that are part of a liberal education, TAKE NOTE.