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Lena Horne’s Jamaica: Cold War Masculinity, the Popular Caribbean, and Mock Transnational Performance

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Abstract:

Lena Horne almost didn’t star in the Broadway production of Jamaica. The 1957 folk musical was staged to capitalize on the calypso craze that swept New York City in the late 1950s. Originally conceived to showcase Jamaican-American performer Harry Belafonte, the script was hastily retooled for Horne when Belafonte became ill and dropped out of the production. With Horne taking Belafonte’s place, the show opened to huge popular—though not critical—success. This paper takes the production of Jamaica as a starting point to examine the intersections between the emergent Civil Rights Movement, postwar black internationalism, and the residual cultural project of the Old Left. In numbers like “Hooray for de Yankee Dollar,” “Push de Button,” and “Leave the Atom Alone” (written by the Jewish blacklisted lyricist Yip Harburg), Jamaica staged a popular performance of black Caribbeanness that protested American imperialism, crass commodity consumption, and Cold War international relations.

Jamaica, however, had little to do with Jamaica or with actual Caribbean politics. As such, it represents an example of what I call “mock transnationalism”—a strategic misuse of diasporic cultural indices to expose and critique the politics of the nation state. As in Bert Williams and George Walker’s 1903 black Broadway musical In Dahomey (an earlier example of Broadway’s mock transnationalism) Horne’s embodied and sonic performance in Jamaica—as a surrogate for Belafonte’s own body and sound—invokes a black diasporic consciousness in order to advance a socialist critique of U.S. cultural imperialism and Cold War masculinity. I substantiate these claims not only by examining the production history and critical reviews of the performance in their larger cultural context, but also by looking at successive drafts of the show’s script, which went through at least five revisions as it was reimagined for a female lead. Tracing additions, subtractions, and rearrangements of the book and score as it was rewritten, I show how Horne used Jamaica’s mock transnationalism to disrupt narratives of masculinity that shaped popular representations of the calypso craze and Caribbean cultural politics more generally in the U.S.
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Name: American Studies Association Annual Meeting
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URL: http://citation.allacademic.com/meta/p244548_index.html
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MLA Citation:

Vogel, Shane. "Lena Horne’s Jamaica: Cold War Masculinity, the Popular Caribbean, and Mock Transnational Performance" Paper presented at the annual meeting of the American Studies Association Annual Meeting, Hyatt Regency, Albuquerque, New Mexico, <Not Available>. 2014-11-30 <http://citation.allacademic.com/meta/p244548_index.html>

APA Citation:

Vogel, S. "Lena Horne’s Jamaica: Cold War Masculinity, the Popular Caribbean, and Mock Transnational Performance" Paper presented at the annual meeting of the American Studies Association Annual Meeting, Hyatt Regency, Albuquerque, New Mexico <Not Available>. 2014-11-30 from http://citation.allacademic.com/meta/p244548_index.html

Publication Type: Invited Paper
Abstract: Lena Horne almost didn’t star in the Broadway production of Jamaica. The 1957 folk musical was staged to capitalize on the calypso craze that swept New York City in the late 1950s. Originally conceived to showcase Jamaican-American performer Harry Belafonte, the script was hastily retooled for Horne when Belafonte became ill and dropped out of the production. With Horne taking Belafonte’s place, the show opened to huge popular—though not critical—success. This paper takes the production of Jamaica as a starting point to examine the intersections between the emergent Civil Rights Movement, postwar black internationalism, and the residual cultural project of the Old Left. In numbers like “Hooray for de Yankee Dollar,” “Push de Button,” and “Leave the Atom Alone” (written by the Jewish blacklisted lyricist Yip Harburg), Jamaica staged a popular performance of black Caribbeanness that protested American imperialism, crass commodity consumption, and Cold War international relations.

Jamaica, however, had little to do with Jamaica or with actual Caribbean politics. As such, it represents an example of what I call “mock transnationalism”—a strategic misuse of diasporic cultural indices to expose and critique the politics of the nation state. As in Bert Williams and George Walker’s 1903 black Broadway musical In Dahomey (an earlier example of Broadway’s mock transnationalism) Horne’s embodied and sonic performance in Jamaica—as a surrogate for Belafonte’s own body and sound—invokes a black diasporic consciousness in order to advance a socialist critique of U.S. cultural imperialism and Cold War masculinity. I substantiate these claims not only by examining the production history and critical reviews of the performance in their larger cultural context, but also by looking at successive drafts of the show’s script, which went through at least five revisions as it was reimagined for a female lead. Tracing additions, subtractions, and rearrangements of the book and score as it was rewritten, I show how Horne used Jamaica’s mock transnationalism to disrupt narratives of masculinity that shaped popular representations of the calypso craze and Caribbean cultural politics more generally in the U.S.


Similar Titles:
Forced Transnationalism: Transnational Practices among Deportees in Kingston, Jamaica

Performing the Dynamic Interplay of Masculinities: Self, Other, Society, and Masculinity


 
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