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Brassroots Democracy and the Birth of Jazz: Hearing the Counter-Plantation in Black Atlantic Sonic Culture, 1791-1928

Barson, Benjamin (2021) Brassroots Democracy and the Birth of Jazz: Hearing the Counter-Plantation in Black Atlantic Sonic Culture, 1791-1928. Doctoral Dissertation, University of Pittsburgh. (Unpublished)

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This dissertation is both a comparative cultural history and a social history of early New Orleans jazz. While twentieth-century paradigms tend to examine jazz as a product of a self-contained African American culture or of African-European interaction, I argue that we would be better served understanding jazz’s syncretism within the Afro-Atlantic social movements which contested slavery, colonization, and capitalism in the Caribbean basin. From the Haitian revolution to Radical Reconstruction, new musical forms were an important tool to communicate political developments abroad as well as to generate an aestheticized political consciousness that imagined, built, and martialed the collective will to defend a new commons. Part one explores intra-Caribbean influences on the music and political organizing of Louisiana’s Black communities, particularly highlighting the impact of the Haitian Revolution. I explore the life of bandleader and freedom-rider Daniel Desdunes, and his influential sister, the Stroyville blues pioneer Mamie Desdunes, arguing that their Haitian identities and connection to counter-plantation legacies influenced the development of their practice of jazz as activism. I also trace the family of clarinetists Lorenzo and Louis Tio whose connections to revolutionary Mexico allowed them safe passage to build an agricultural commune in the mid-19th century to escape the racial oppression of antebellum New Orleans. Part two explores the prominence of brass bands within Black American social movements in the south, including during the Civil War, at dockworkers’ union parades in New Orleans, and on plantations themselves. Tracing the bands’ institutional history opens up new connections between the collectivist structures heard in early jazz and the practice of grassroots democracy and communal economics among African Americans in both rural and urban Louisiana. In tune with the counter-plantation, these forms of social organization were recreated and resurrected in the music, performing the world they struggled to see.


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Item Type: University of Pittsburgh ETD
Status: Unpublished
CreatorsEmailPitt UsernameORCID
Barson, Benjaminbmb119@pitt.edubmb1190000-0002-4509-2194
ETD Committee:
TitleMemberEmail AddressPitt UsernameORCID
Committee ChairHeller, Michaelmichael.heller@pitt.eduMichael.Heller
Committee MemberRediker, Marcusmarcusrediker@fastmail.comred1
Committee MemberJohnson, Aarondraj@pitt.edudraj
Committee MemberWeintraub, Andrewanwein@pitt.eduanwein
Committee MemberFujino,
Date: 3 May 2021
Date Type: Publication
Defense Date: 30 November 2020
Approval Date: 3 May 2021
Submission Date: 9 April 2021
Access Restriction: No restriction; Release the ETD for access worldwide immediately.
Number of Pages: 797
Institution: University of Pittsburgh
Schools and Programs: Dietrich School of Arts and Sciences > Music
Degree: PhD - Doctor of Philosophy
Thesis Type: Doctoral Dissertation
Refereed: Yes
Uncontrolled Keywords: Jazz Haiti Social Movements Reconstruction
Date Deposited: 03 May 2021 15:16
Last Modified: 03 May 2021 15:16


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