Recorded Music in American Life: The Phonograph and Popular Memory, 1890-1945 / Edition 1

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Have records, compact discs, and other sound reproduction equipment merely provided American listeners with pleasant diversions, or have more important historical and cultural influences flowed through them? Do recording machines simply capture what's already out there, or is the music somehow transformed in the dual process of documentation and dissemination? How would our lives be different without these machines? Such are the questions that arise when we stop taking for granted the phenomenon of recorded music and the phonograph itself.

Now comes an in-depth cultural history of the phonograph in the United States from 1890 to 1945. William Howland Kenney offers a full account of what he calls "the 78 r.p.m. era"—from the formative early decades in which the giants of the record industry reigned supreme in the absence of radio, to the postwar proliferation of independent labels, disk jockeys, and changes in popular taste and opinion. By examining the interplay between recorded music and the key social, political, and economic forces in America during the phonograph's rise and fall as the dominant medium of popular recorded sound, he addresses such vital issues as the place of multiculturalism in the phonograph's history, the roles of women as record-player listeners and performers, the belated commercial legitimacy of rhythm-and-blues recordings, the "hit record" phenomenon in the wake of the Great Depression, the origins of the rock-and-roll revolution, and the shifting place of popular recorded music in America's personal and cultural memories.

Throughout the book, Kenney argues that the phonograph and the recording industry served neither to impose a preference for high culture nor a degraded popular taste, but rather expressed a diverse set of sensibilities in which various sorts of people found a new kind of pleasure. To this end, Recorded Music in American Life effectively illustrates how recorded music provided the focus for active recorded sound cultures, in which listeners shared what they heard, and expressed crucial dimensions of their private lives, by way of their involvement with records and record-players.

Students and scholars of American music, culture, commerce, and history—as well as fans and collectors interested in this phase of our rich artistic past—will find a great deal of thorough research and fresh scholarship to enjoy in these pages.

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Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
"Kenney captures the imagination as he weaves together detail and insight, chronicling strains of elitism within the various recording companies and the adoption of jazz tunes and other popular music....This book is a must read for those interested in the recording industry or the history of popular music. It also sets a high standard for graduate students seeking to read works that incorporate excellent research technique and understanding with superb writing."—Journal of History

"Detailed studies of the phonograph and recorded music are seriously lacking. A book such as this is long overdue, and Kenney's work will open the field of study in a most appropriate and scholarly manner. This is a valuable and useful contribution to the study of American life."—Sam Brylawski; Motion Picture, Broadcasting, and Recorded Sound Division; Library of Congress

"At last someone has attempted to place the phonograph industry in the context of America's cultural life. This book provides the first systematic attempt at integrating the entertainment medium broadly into twentieth-century American life . . . makes claims that have been in need of debate for some time now."—Victor Greene, University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee

"A fascinating exploration of the topic and addition to the literature; highly recommended for all libraries."—Choice

"In this comprehensive study, Kenney provides a long-overdue update of histories such as Roland Gelatt's The Fabulous Phonograph: From Tin Foil to High Fidelity...[he] asks innovative theoretical questions."—American Historical Review

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780195171778
  • Publisher: Oxford University Press, USA
  • Publication date: 11/28/2003
  • Edition description: New Edition
  • Edition number: 1
  • Pages: 288
  • Sales rank: 1,256,116
  • Product dimensions: 9.20 (w) x 6.00 (h) x 0.80 (d)

Meet the Author

William Howland Kenney is Professor of History and American Studies at Kent State University. He is also a jazz clarinetist and the author of Chicago Jazz: A Cultural History (OUP, 1993).

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Table of Contents

Introduction: Recorded Music and Collective Memory
1 Two "Circles of Resonance": Audience Uses of Recorded Music 3
2 "The Coney Island Crowd": The Phonograph and Popular Recordings before World War I 23
3 "His Master's Voice": The Victor Talking Machine Company and the Social Reconstruction of the Phonograph 44
4 The Phonograph and the Evolution of "Foreign" and "Ethnic" Records 65
5 The Gendered Phonograph: Women and Recorded Sound, 1890-1930 88
6 African American Blues and the Phonograph: From Race Records to Rhythm and Blues 109
7 Economics and the Invention of Hillbilly Records in the South 135
8 A Renewed Flow of Memories: The Depression and the Struggle over "Hit Records" 158
9 Popular Recorded Music within the Context of National Life 182
Notes 203
Index 234
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