Theses Doctoral

Sound in the Construction of Race: From Blackface to Blacksound in Nineteenth-Century America

Morrison, Matthew D.

This dissertation examines sound, and its embodied articulation through music and movement, as I consider pivotal ways in which race has been constructed through the history of blackface minstrelsy in the United States. I contend that the racialized sounds developed out of early blackface performance have both persisted and shifted throughout the history of American popular music, even after the disappearance of the blackface mask. I have neologized the concept of Blacksound to denote the racially coded sonic scripts that have developed out of the history of blackface performance. Blacksound refers to the histories and movements of the African American bodies, both real and imagined, on which its performance is based. The concept also suggests the scripting, manipulation, and absorption of these sonic performances by both black and non-black bodies as vehicles for imagining and self-expression, understood in relation to how ideals of citizenship vis-a-vis whiteness developed along the emerging color line throughout the long nineteenth century. Because Blacksound emerges out of the contexts of chattel slavery and minstrelsy, its commodified nature is always central to understanding how it sonically functions within the construction of identity in U.S. history. I examine how the masked receding of the sonic and corporeal tropes of blackface into Blacksound became the basis of contemporary popular sound and central to constructions of civic and racial identity in the United States. This approach is primarily developed through a comparative analysis of sheet music, imagery, and primary and secondary accounts of blackface performance rituals throughout the long nineteenth century.

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More About This Work

Academic Units
Thesis Advisors
Lewis, George E.
Ph.D., Columbia University
Published Here
October 1, 2014