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Subversive SoundsRace and the Birth of Jazz in New Orleans$
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Charles B. Hersch

Print publication date: 2008

Print ISBN-13: 9780226328676

Published to Chicago Scholarship Online: March 2013

DOI: 10.7208/chicago/9780226328690.001.0001

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(p.124) Four Music
Subversive Sounds

Charles B. Hersch

University of Chicago Press

When Africans were kidnapped and taken to North America, they were thrust into a world of monologue. To teach a slave to read or write was illegal in many states. Yet these Africans, and then African Americans, expressed themselves through music. This chapter examines how African Americans rejected America through black ballads and altered American and European musical sources through “signifying.” Signifying is an African American trope, usually understood as a literary device, that draws on a source but changes it, somewhat like satire but not necessarily derisive. Jazz musicians signified upon American music using African-influenced devices like syncopation, polyphony, call and response, and blues inflections. This led to the Africanization of American culture, making more porous the boundaries between black and white. This chapter also looks at New Orleans's culture of satire, the black church and the African American aesthetic, and religious Creole music.

Keywords:   African Americans, black ballads, signifying, satire, jazz, blues, polyphony, black church, Creole, religious music

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