An exploration of the history of African American musicians in Chicago during the mid-20th century
Amy Absher’s The Black Musician and the White City tells the story of African American musicians in Chicago during the mid-twentieth century. While depicting the segregated city before World War II, Absher traces the migration of black musicians, both men and women and both classical and vernacular performers, from the American South to Chicago during the 1930s to 1950s.
Absher’s work diverges from existing studies in three ways: First, she takes the history beyond the study of jazz and blues by examining the significant role that classically trained black musicians played in building the Chicago South Side community. By acknowledging the presence and importance of classical musicians, Absher argues that black migrants in Chicago had diverse education and economic backgrounds but found common cause in the city’s music community. Second, Absher brings numerous maps to the history, illustrating the relationship between Chicago’s physical lines of segregation and the geography of black music in the city over the years. Third, Absher’s use of archival sources is both extensive and original, drawing on manuscript and oral history collections at the Center for Black Music Research in Chicago, Columbia University, Rutgers’s Institute of Jazz Studies, and Tulane’s Hogan Jazz Archive. By approaching the Chicago black musical community from these previously untapped angles, Absher offers a history that goes beyond the retelling of the achievements of the famous musicians by discussing musicians as a group. In The Black Musician and the White City, black musicians are the leading actors, thinkers, organizers, and critics of their own story.
Amy Absher is a SAGES Fellow at Case Western Reserve University in Cleveland, Ohio, where she teaches history and writing.
“Absher is at her best and most useful on the racial history of Chicago’s musicians unions… Recommended .”- F.J. Hay
"Absher impressively incoproates these...fascinating stories into a lager framework that clearly demonstrates the role of segregation in the lives of Chicago's Black musicians, and her study represents a valuable addition to the historiography on urbanization, segregation, and cultural history in the early to mid-twentieth century."- Dale Moler
--Dale Moler, Michigan Historical Review
"Absher’s book adds significantly to the historiography of black musicians in Chicago and nationally."- Tony Gass
--Tony Gass, Oxford University Press Journal of American History
"...a lively, well-written overview of a perennially fascinating subject. The author convincingly demonstrates how black musical lives mattered then as they do now, not only for the aesthetic delights they produce and the pleasure and inspiration they bring, but also for what African American musicians have contributed to Chicago and the nation as members of larger communities and collectives striving to prevail despite challenging conditions of discrimination and limited opportunity."- Derek W. Vaillant
--Derek W. Vaillant, American Historical Review
"This is an important addition to the growing shelf of books on the musical contributions of Chicago’s African American community."- perry duis
--Journal of the Illinois State Historical Society