Document Type


Date of Degree

Spring 2012

Degree Name

PhD (Doctor of Philosophy)

Degree In

American Studies

First Advisor

Stecopoulos, Harilaos

First Committee Member

Mumford, Kevin

Second Committee Member

Rigal, Laura

Third Committee Member

Scruggs, T M

Fourth Committee Member

Whaley, Deborah


This thesis analyzes the construction of racialized notions of authenticity within American popular musical genres across the span of the 20th Century, but especially from a crucial period between the years 1938 and 1965. In these pages I argue that the discursive construction of genres is a narrative act, one intended to provide symbolic resolution to real and felt dilemmas in people's lives. My first chapter focuses on the singer, Nat "King" Cole, arguing that the retrospective construction of the rock and roll genre as an example of a hybrid or crossover musical from by critics in the late 1960s and early 1970s helped fix in the popular imagination a notion of "authentic black music" which effectively marginalized Cole, an important African American musician whose musical style was at odds with this critical construction of racial style. My second chapter argues that jazz trumpeter John Birks "Dizzy" Gillespie's efforts to combine African American and Afro-Caribbean musical forms included a strategic discursive crafting of a narrative of origins which placed jazz as an expression of musical Afro-internationalism. My third chapter argues that critics and audience involved in the blues revival of the early 1960s reconstructed what had been a female-dominated African American popular form as a kind of unpopular popular music: music distinguished in the marketplace by its supposed transcendence of the marketplace via its vernacular roots, and as a musical form dominated by the male figure of the rural bluesman. In conclusion I argue that these efforts to narrate authentic and anti-capitalistic origin for and expressions of popular, commercial forms reveal, within the American public imagination, deep-seated anxieties about the gulf between the cultural influence of African American music and the social and political situation of African American citizens, and, on another level, anxieties about the contradictions inherent in the experience of transcendent pleasure through commercial musical forms.


Authenticity, Discourse, Genre, Performance, Popular Music, Race


iv, 325 pages


Includes bibliographical references (pages 295-325).


Copyright 2012 Eric D. Johnson