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Twice As Nice As Paradise? : Changing Representations of the Imagined American South in Barbershop Music Repertoire

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Title: Twice As Nice As Paradise? : Changing Representations of the Imagined American South in Barbershop Music Repertoire
Author(s): Heikkinen, Atte
Contributor: University of Helsinki, Faculty of Arts
Degree program: Master's Programme in Area and Cultural Studies
Specialisation: North American Studies
Language: English
Acceptance year: 2020
This thesis explores the tropes through which the American South is represented in American popular music from the 1910s and 1920s. During the early 20th century, the music publishing industry based in New York City—often referred to as “Tin Pan Alley”—produced hundreds of popular songs whose lyrics romanticized the South as a harmonious paradise free from the troubles associated with living in the urban North. Although popular at the time, these so called “Dixie tunes” have faded into obscurity from the mainstream but continue to be performed in barbershop singing contests around the world. Rather than performing the songs as written in the early 20th century, Barbershop quartets and choruses present audiences with modernized arrangements that often include alterations to song lyrics. The dataset for this thesis consists of 18 “Dixie tunes” that have been used as repertoire by male barbershop groups competing in regional and international contests held by the Barbershop Harmony Society in recent decades. By categorizing the songs thematically, we discuss the most prominent cultural representations they depict. By using copies of original sheet music, we compare the original song lyrics with modern barbershop arrangements in order to understand what types of changes, additions or reductions have been made when these particular songs have been adapted into the barbershop style. We conclude that these songs portray the South through myths and archetypes like the “mammy”, the “happy darkie” and activities such as musical celebrations and performances, while the reality of racial tension in the region is not adressed. These depictions are often preserved in barbershop arrangements. However, lyrics are often altered in order to bowdlerize the racial stereotypes that are present in the original texts.
Keyword(s): Dixie Dixieland American South Old South barbershop Tin Pan Alley representation collective memory antebellum south minstrelsy plantation myths mammy nostalgia

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