Document Type


Date of Degree


Degree Name

PhD (Doctor of Philosophy)

Degree In

American Studies

First Advisor

Jane Desmond


My dissertation is a foray into blues music's intricate web of racial taxonomies, an aspect that has been neglected by most existing studies of the genre. In particular, I am interested in significant changes that took place in the 1960s under which blues was reconfigured from "black" to "white" in its production and reception while simultaneously retaining a notion of authenticity that remained deeply connected with constructions of "blackness." In the larger context of the Civil Rights Movement and the burgeoning counterculture, audiences for blues music became increasingly "white" and European. In their romantic embrace of a poverty of choice, "white" audiences and performers engaged in discourses of authenticity and in the commodification, racialization and gendering of sounds and images as well as in the confluence of blues music's class origins. I argue that as "white" people started to listen to "black" blues, essentialist notions about "race" remained unchallenged and were even solidified in the process. By the end of the 1960s, moments of cross-racial communication and a more flexible approach to racialized sounds had been thwarted by nostalgia for and a reification of essentialist categories. This marked the emergence of a conservative blues culture that has continued into the present. Individual chapters focus on key figures, events and institutions that exemplify blues music's racial politics and transnational movements of the 1960s.


blues, racial politics, 1960s, whiteness studies, black studies, African American music


vi, 224




Copyright 2007 Ulrich Adelt