Accessible Requires Authentication Published by De Gruyter March 15, 2019

Sei a mensch”: Mezz Mezzrow’s Jewish Hipster Autobiography Really The Blues and the Ironies of the Color Line

Daniel Stein
From the journal Anglia

Abstract

Jewish jazz clarinetist Mezz Mezzrow’s autobiography Really the Blues (1946), co-written with Bernard Wolfe, has received some critical attention to date, most of which concerns the book’s depiction of white-to-black passing, its display and discussion of jive, and its construction of the white Jewish hipster as a countercultural figure in postwar America. Building on existing studies, this essay revisits these themes in order to foreground two largely unacknowledged aspects: a) the book’s encapsulation of Whitmanesque “American multitudes”, i. e., its attempt to reflect the internal diversity and multiplicity of U. S. culture, which complicates the autobiography’s frequent compression of the black-white-Jewish triad into a more convenient black-white binary; b) and its significance as one of the earliest extended postwar American Jewish reflections on World War II and the atrocities of Nazi Germany. All of these elements – the passing narrative, the promotion of the hipster ethic, the linguistics of jive, the encapsulation of multiplicity, and the immediate postwar context – must be considered together in order to unravel the autobiography’s investigation of, and simultaneous complicity in, the racial paradoxes that continue to haunt color-conscious America.

Works Cited

Alexander, Michael. 2001. Jazz Age Jews. Princeton: Princeton University Press. Search in Google Scholar

Antin, Mary. 1912. The Promised Land. Boston: Houghton Mifflin. Search in Google Scholar

Armstrong, Louis. 1936/1993. Swing That Music. New York: Da Capo. Search in Google Scholar

Armstrong, Louis. ca. 1944/1999. “The ‘Goffin Notebooks’”. In: Thomas Brothers (ed.). Louis Armstrong, in His Own Words: Selected Writings. New York: Oxford University Press. 82–110. Search in Google Scholar

Boyarin, Daniel and Jonathan Boyarin. 1993. “Diaspora: Generation and the Ground of Jewish Identity”. Critical Inquiry 19.4: 693–725. Search in Google Scholar

Calloway, Cab and Bryant Collins. 1976. Of Minnie the Moocher & Me. New York: Thomas Y. Crowell. Search in Google Scholar

“Case History of an Ex-White Man”. 1946. Ebony (Dec.): 11–16. Search in Google Scholar

Cunard, Nancy. 1934. “Some Negro Slang”. In: Nancy Cunard (ed.). Negro: An Anthology. London: Wishart. Search in Google Scholar

Damon, Maria. 1997. “Jazz-Jews, Jive, and Gender: The Ethnic Politics of Jazz Argot”. In: Jonathan Boyarin and Daniel Boyarin (eds.). Jews and Other Differences: The New Jewish Cultural Studies. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press. 150–175. Search in Google Scholar

Dreisinger, Baz. 2008. Near Black: White-to-Black Passing in American Culture. Amherst: University of Massachusetts Press. Search in Google Scholar

Du Bois, W.E.B. 1996. “The Souls of Black Folk (1903)”. In: Eric J. Sundquist (ed.). The Oxford W. E. B. Du Bois Reader. New York: Oxford University Press. 97–240. Search in Google Scholar

Edwards, Brent Hayes. 2017. Epistrophies: Jazz and the Literary Imagination. Cambridge: Harvard University Press. Search in Google Scholar

Von Eschen, Penny M. 2004. Satchmo Blows Up the World: Jazz Ambassadors Play the Cold War. Cambridge: Harvard University Press. Search in Google Scholar

Goffin, Robert. 1947. Louis Armstrong, le roi du jazz. Paris: P. Seghers. Search in Google Scholar

Goldstein, Eric L. 2006. The Price of Whiteness: Jews, Race, and American Identity. Princeton: Princeton University Press. Search in Google Scholar

Gubar, Susan. 1997. Racechanges: White Skin, Black Face in American Culture. New York: Oxford University Press. Search in Google Scholar

Hersch, Charles. 2017. Jews and Jazz: Improvising Ethnicity. New York: Routledge. Search in Google Scholar

Holiday, Billie and William Dufty. 1956. Lady Sings the Blues. Garden City: Doubleday. Search in Google Scholar

Jacobson, Matthew Frye. 1998. Whiteness of a Different Color: European Immigrants and the Alchemy of Race. Cambridge: Harvard University Press. Search in Google Scholar

Johnson, James Weldon. 1912. The Autobiography of an Ex-Colored Man. Boston: Sherman, French & Co. Search in Google Scholar

Lhamon Jr., W.T. 1998. Raising Cain: Blackface Performance from Jim Crow to Hip Hop. Cambridge: Harvard University Press. Search in Google Scholar

Locke, Alain. 1925. “Enter the New Negro”. In: Alain Locke (ed.). Harlem: Mecca of the New Negro. Special issue of Survey Graphic 6 (March): 631–634. Search in Google Scholar

Lott, Eric. 1993. Love and Theft: Blackface Minstrelsy and the American Working Class. New York: Oxford University Press. Search in Google Scholar

Mailer, Norman. 1957/2007. “The White Negro: Superficial Reflections on the Hipster”. Dissent: <https://www.dissentmagazine.org/online_articles/the-white-negro-fall-1957> [accessed 1 December 2018]. Search in Google Scholar

Marin, Reva. 2015. “Representations of Identity in Jewish Jazz Autobiography”. Canadian Review of American Studies/Revue canadienne d’études américaines 45.3: 323–353. Search in Google Scholar

Melnick, Jeffrey. 1999. A Right to Sing the Blues: African Americans, Jews, and American Popular Song. Cambridge: Harvard University Press. Search in Google Scholar

Mezzrow, Mezz and Bernard Wolfe. 1946/2001. Really the Blues. New York: Citadel Press. Search in Google Scholar

Most, Andrea. 2004. Making Americans: Jews and the Broadway Musical. Cambridge: Harvard University Press. Search in Google Scholar

Panish, Jon. 1997. The Color of Jazz: Race and Representation in Postwar American Culture. Jackson: University Press of Mississippi. Search in Google Scholar

Paul, Heike. 2014. The Myths That Made America: An Introduction to American Studies. Bielefeld: transcript. Search in Google Scholar

Radano, Ronald. 2003. Lying up a Nation: Race and Black Music. Chicago: Chicago University Press. Search in Google Scholar

Saul, Scott. 2003. Freedom Is, Freedom Ain’t: Jazz and the Making of the Sixties. Cambridge: Harvard University Press. Search in Google Scholar

Shaw, Artie. 1952/1992. The Trouble with Cinderella: An Outline of Identity. Santa Barbara: Fithian Press. Search in Google Scholar

Sollors, Werner. 2017. Challenges of Diversity: Essays on America. New Brunswick: Rutgers University Press. Search in Google Scholar

Stein, Daniel. 2011. “Negotiating Primitivist Modernisms: Louis Armstrong, Robert Goffin, and the Transatlantic Jazz Debate”. European Journal of American Studies 6.2. <http://ejas.revues.org/9395> [accessed 1 December 2018]. Search in Google Scholar

Stein, Daniel. 2012. Music Is My Life: Louis Armstrong, Autobiography, and American Jazz. Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press. Search in Google Scholar

Stoever, Jennifer Lynn. 2016. The Sonic Color Line: Race & the Cultural Politics of Listening. New York: New York University Press. Search in Google Scholar

Stratton, Jon. 2009. Jews, Race and Popular Music. Farnham: Ashgate. Search in Google Scholar

Van Vechten, Carl. 1926/2000. Nigger Heaven. Urbana: University of Illinois Press. Search in Google Scholar

Wald, Gayle. 2000. Crossing the Line: Racial Passing in Twentieth-Century U. S. Literature and Culture. Durham: Duke University Press. Search in Google Scholar

Wasson, Kirsten. 1994. “A Geography of Conversion: Dialogical Boundaries of Self in Antin’s Promised Land”. In: Kathleen Ashley, Leigh Gilmore and Gerald Peters (eds.). Autobiography and Postmodernism. Amherst: University of Massachusetts Press. 167–187. Search in Google Scholar

Wolfe, Bernard. 1947–1948/2001. “Ecstatic in Blackface: The Negro as a Song-and-Dance Man.” In: Mezz Mezzrow and Bernard Wolfe. Really the Blues. New York: Citadel Press. 391–404. Search in Google Scholar

Wolfe, Bernard. 2001. “Afterword by Bernard Wolfe.” In: Mezz Mezzrow and Bernard Wolfe. Really the Blues. New York: Citadel Press. 389–391. Search in Google Scholar

Published Online: 2019-03-15
Published in Print: 2019-03-14

© 2019 Walter de Gruyter GmbH, Berlin/Boston