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"The Crossroads of the World": A Social and Cultural History of Jazz in Pittsburgh's Hill District, 1920-1970

Harper, Colter (2011) "The Crossroads of the World": A Social and Cultural History of Jazz in Pittsburgh's Hill District, 1920-1970. Doctoral Dissertation, University of Pittsburgh. (Unpublished)

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This study examines the social life and cultural history of jazz in Pittsburgh's Hill District. Comprised of the city's third and fifth wards, the Hill is located on the upward sloping eastern border of downtown that, in the first half of the twentieth century, fostered a thriving social life marked by the intersection of music, entrepreneurship, and a shifting demographic landscape. The scope of this study includes the decades between WWI and the 1968 riots sparked by the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King—a period that encapsulates the emergence of jazz as an American cultural practice and the development of the urban African American neighborhood. Focusing on the lives of performers, venues, as well as the social contexts of the neighborhood's nightlife, I examine jazz as spatial practice, i.e., as both born from and a force in constructing the social spaces, physical places, and economic contexts in which it was performed. The lower Hill—particularly the intersection of Wylie and Fullerton—represented for the majority of white society a place of poverty, vice, violence, and crime. For this area to be embraced publicly by black print and radio media as a symbol of the neighborhood's identity demonstrates the ability of the Hill's African American community to construct understandings of black lives, social spaces, and places that reflected the black cultural autonomy from white society. Paradoxically, the Lower Hill—the city's poorest neighborhood—was able to develop a space that, for many, was "the crossroads of world." This study employs the visual studies methodology known as "photo elicitation," in which images are used to draw forth data in the context of semi-structured interviews. The images used in my interviews with local musicians and audience members were taken from the Charles "Teenie" Harris archive and depict a range of musical activity in the Hill between the mid-1930s to the late 1960s.


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Item Type: University of Pittsburgh ETD
Status: Unpublished
CreatorsEmailPitt UsernameORCID
ETD Committee:
TitleMemberEmail AddressPitt UsernameORCID
Committee ChairDavis, Nathanndavis@pitt.eduNDAVIS
Committee MemberWeintraub, Andrewanwein@pitt.eduANWEIN
Committee MemberYung, Bellbyung@pitt.eduBYUNG
Committee MemberGlasco, Laurencelag1@pitt.eduLAG1
Date: 29 June 2011
Date Type: Completion
Defense Date: 24 March 2011
Approval Date: 29 June 2011
Submission Date: 20 April 2011
Access Restriction: 5 year -- Restrict access to University of Pittsburgh for a period of 5 years.
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: African American History; Charles "Teenie" Harris; Jazz Studies; Pittsburgh History; Race; Space and Place
Other ID:, etd-04202011-180153
Date Deposited: 10 Nov 2011 19:39
Last Modified: 15 Nov 2016 13:41


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