Whole lot of shakin' going on: An ethnography of race relations and crossover audiences for rhythm and blues and rock and roll in 1950s Memphis
Marcus, George E.
Doctor of Philosophy
This dissertation, an ethnographic history of urban segregation and popular culture in the 1950s, is based on sixteen months of field research in Memphis and a year's archival work at the Smithsonian's National Museum of American History. I show that Memphians lived both race and music as part of specific urban rhythms and in changing urban spaces, creating and responding to a rich musical scene and new mass media. The music and its distribution crossed lines of class and race, and black and white people of different classes lived next to each other in many neighborhoods. My research makes clear that residential and musical juxtapositions almost never led to friendships or equal relationships of any sort across racial lines; I turn instead to detail the rich strangeness of this geography of juxtaposition and segregation, and the central place of music within it. Setting in motion a Memphis idiom of call and response, I take ethnography not only as a methodology but a theoretical concern, exploring the interrelations of theory and experience in both music and geography. Similarly, the dissertation attends to both production and reception, not only of music but of local meanings, including how white elites legitimized and in fact increased residential segregation in the postwar era by describing black and poor people as dirty, infectious, and polluting. Thus "culture" in my work denotes not simply music and dancing but the social construction of racial codes, as well as of bodies, ideals of citizenship, and styles of movement.
American studies; Cultural anthropology; Music; Sociology; Ethnic studies