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Performing (in) the African American West

Performing (in) the African American West

Minstrel Shows, Brass Bands, Hoo-Doo Cowboys, and Other Musical Tricksters

(p.16) 1 Performing (in) the African American West
Hoo-Doo Cowboys and Bronze Buckaroos
Michael K. Johnson
University Press of Mississippi

Focused on memoirs (W. C. Handy’s Father of the Blues) and other writing by turn-of-the-century African American performers who toured or lived in the American West, this chapter argues that African Americans used musical performance to make themselves at home in the West. Looking at Handy’s memoir, bandleader P. G. Lowery’s and minstrel show performer Salem Tutt Whitney’s newspaper letters, and singer Taylor Gordon’s Born to Be, this chapter argues that taking possession of the stage became a means of claiming space in the public sphere. Whereas contemporary African American writers such as Ishmael Reed explicitly allude to black folklore in their western writing, Handy, Lowery, Whitney, and Gordon do so more covertly. The allusions to black folklore in these texts suggests the existence of a continuing tradition of shared imagery and themes in African American literature of the American West that stretches from the late nineteenth-century to the present.

Keywords:   W. C. Handy, Minstrel Show, Trickster, Ishmael Reed, African American Performers

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