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Wilson, James F
Bulldaggers, pansies, and chocolate babies : performance, race and sexuality in the Harlem Renaissance / James F. Wilson
1st pbk. ed
Ann Arbor : University of Michigan Press, 2011
book jacket
Location Call Number Status
 4th Floor  PS338.N4 W555 2011    AVAILABLE
Subject(s) American drama -- African American authors -- History and criticism
American drama -- 20th century -- History and criticism
African Americans in the performing arts -- New York (State) -- New York -- History -- 20th century
Theater -- New York (State) -- New York -- History -- 20th century
African Americans -- New York (State) -- New York -- Intellectual life
Subject Harlem (New York, N.Y.) -- Intellectual life -- 20th century
Subject(s) Harlem Renaissance
African Americans in literature
Race in literature
Sex in the theater
Physical Description ix, 260 p. : ill. ; 23 cm
Note Originally published 2010
Includes bibliographical references (p. 231-248) and index
Summary This work shines the spotlight on historically neglected plays and performances that challenged early twentieth-century notions of the stratification of race, gender, class, and sexual orientation. On Broadway stages, in Harlem nightclubs and dance halls, and within private homes sponsoring rent parties, African American performers of the 1920s and early 1930s teased the limits of white middle-class morality. Blues-singing lesbians, popularly known as "bulldaggers," performed bawdy songs; cross-dressing men vied for the top prizes in lavish drag balls; and black and white women flaunted their sexuality in scandalous melodramas and musical revues. Race leaders, preachers, and theater critics spoke out against these performances that threatened to undermine social and political progress, but to no avail: mainstream audiences could not get enough of the riotous entertainment. Many of the plays and performances explored here, central to the cultural debates of their time, had been previously overlooked by theater historians. Among the performances discussed are David Belasco's controversial production of Edward Sheldon and Charles MacArthur's Lulu Belle (1926), with its raucous, libidinous view of Harlem. The title character, as performed by a white woman in blackface, became a symbol of defiance for the gay subculture and was simultaneously held up as a symbol of supposedly immoral black women. African Americans Florence Mills and Ethel Waters, two of the most famous performers of the 1920s, countered the Lulu Belle stereotype in written statements and through parody, thereby reflecting the powerful effect this fictional character had on the popular imagination. This work is based on historical archival research including readings of eyewitness accounts, newspaper reports, songs, and playscripts. Employing a cultural studies framework that incorporates queer and critical race theory, it argues against the widely held belief that the stereotypical forms of black, lesbian, and gay show business of the 1920s prohibited the emergence of distinctive new voices
Contents Introduction: "It's getting dark on old Broadway" -- "Gimme a pigfoot and a bottle of beer": parties, performances, and privacy in the "other" Harlem Renaissance(s) -- "Harlem on my mind": New York's black belt on the Great White Way -- "That's the kind of gal I am": drag balls, "sexual perversion," and David Belasco's Lulu Belle -- "Hottentot potentates": the potent and hot performances of Florence Mills and Ethel Waters -- "In my well of loneliness": Gladys Bentley's Bulldykin' blues -- Conclusion: "you've seen Harlem at its best"
Series Triangulations

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