Introduction
disintegrating the musical
‘‘What’s your work?’’ the negro asked Stahr.
‘‘I work for the pictures.’’
‘‘Oh.’’ After a moment he added, ‘‘I never go to movies.’’
‘‘Why not?’’ asked Stahr sharply.
‘‘There’s no profit. I never let my children go.’’
—f. scott fitzgerald (1941)
I loved the tough guys, the action, Humphrey Bogart in
Casablanca, and I loved all that dancing and carrying on
in such films as Stormy Weather and Cabin in the Sky.
—malcolm x (1964)
I asked the stranger . . . , ‘‘Mister, that paper [the Chicago
Defender] got musicianers in it?’’ . . . [He] flipped the page
to a picture of Jimmie Lunceford’s entire band. Facing it . . .
was a picture story of Ethel Waters, whose movie Cabin
in the Sky we’d seen the week before from the ‘‘colored
section’’ in the balcony of the Ritz picture show on Third
Street. That did it! I said, ‘‘Gimme one.’’—willie ruff
(1991)
Beginning with the popularization of synchronized sound, Hollywood
movies have emphatically linked African Americans with music and
musical performance. This link does not have a necessary or direct re-
lation to film genre. Black musicians turn up, play a song or two, and
disappear in comedies, melodramas, and films noir or, to note some
familiar nonmusical classics, in Jezebel (1938), Citizen Kane (1941), and
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