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The Songs of Blind Folk

African American Musicians and the Cultures of Blindness
Terry Rowden

How America has constructed the figure of the visually impaired black performer over the last 150 years


Description

The Songs of Blind Folk explores the ways that the lives and careers of blind and visually impaired African American musicians and singers have mirrored the changes in America's image of African Americans and the social positioning and possibilities of the entire black community. The book offers a historically grounded consideration of African American performers and their audiences, and the ways that blindness, like blackness, has affected the way the music has been produced and received. Author Terry Rowden considers the controversial nineteenth-century prodigy Blind Tom Bethune; blues singers and songwriters such as Blind Lemon Jefferson, who achieved an unprecedented degree of visibility and acceptance in the 1920s and '30s; spiritual and gospel musicians such as the Blind Boys of Alabama; celebrated jazz and rhythm and blues artists Art Tatum, Rahsaan Roland Kirk, and Ray Charles; and finally, perhaps the best known of all blind performers, Stevie Wonder.

"Rowden has wedded ethnomusicology and disability studies to offer a fresh approach to the study of African American popular music. The Songs of Blind Folk undermines many of the defining mythologies and tropes of blind musicians, including the perception that they are successful because they compensate for the loss of vision."
---Mark Anthony Neal, Duke University

"Illuminates how the enduring phenomenon of blind African American musicians emerged from brutal conditions, how these musicians were deployed in the burgeoning American iconography of race and 'freakdom,' and how they negotiated this hazardous cultural terrain . . . the book is timely, well-historicized, and rich in insight."
---Kari Winter, University at Buffalo

Terry Rowden is Assistant Professor of English at the City University of New York, Staten Island. He is coeditor of Transnational Cinema: The Film Reader.

Praise / Awards

  • "Rowden has wedded ethnomusicology and disability studies to offer a fresh approach to the study of African-American popular music. The Songs of Blind Folk undermines many of the defining mythologies and tropes of blind musicians, including the perception that they are successful because they compensate for the loss of vision."
    —Mark Anthony Neal, Duke University

  • "Illuminates how the enduring phenomenon of blind African American musicians emerged from brutal conditions, how these musicians were deployed in the burgeoning American iconography of race and 'freakdom,' and how they negotiated this hazardous cultural terrain . . . the book is timely, well-historicized, and rich in insight."
    —Kari Winter, University at Buffalo, SUNY

  • "Terry Rowden's book is that rarest of gems, a work of critical theory that should appeal to a broad audience and that contributes simultaneously, in an original and exciting way, to the fields of Disability Studies, Ethnomusicology, and African American Studies."
    —Rick Taylor, The Feminist Review

  • "This is a very useful and highly readable contribution to cultural disability studies, of real value also to popular music and American cultural history scholars, covering popular piano and ragtime, blues and gospel, jazz and soul since the 19th Century."
    —George McKay, Times Higher Education Supplement

  • "The Songs of Blind Folk is an invaluable scholastic resource for a number of disciplines. This text should become a resource for graduate and undergraduate classes on black folklore, black music, disablility studies, and theoretical approaches to black popular culture."
    —L. H. Stallings, Indiana University, Bloomington

Look Inside

Copyright © 2009, University of Michigan. All rights reserved. Posted August 2009.

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Product Details

  • 6 x 9.
  • 184pp.
  • 13 B&W photographs.
Available for sale worldwide

  • Hardcover
  • 2009
  • Available
  • 978-0-472-07064-0

Add to Cart
  • $70.00 U.S.

  • Paper
  • 2009
  • Available
  • 978-0-472-05064-2

Add to Cart
  • $25.95 U.S.

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Keywords

  • Blind musicians, Blind African American musicians, Blind Black musicians, Music and blindness, American blind musicians, Blind singers, Blind African American singers, Blindness and music, Blind American singers, Disability and music

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