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Jazz InternationalismLiterary Afro-Modernism and the Cultural Politics of Black Music$
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John Lowney

Print publication date: 2017

Print ISBN-13: 9780252041334

Published to Illinois Scholarship Online: May 2018

DOI: 10.5622/illinois/9780252041334.001.0001

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“Do You Sing for a Living?”

“Do You Sing for a Living?”

Ann Petry, The Street, and the Gender Politics of World War II Jazz

(p.89) 3 “Do You Sing for a Living?”
Jazz Internationalism

John Lowney

University of Illinois Press

This chapter addresses the significance of jazz in Ann Petry’s 1940s writing, especially The Street. Widely recognized as an influential black feminist novel, The Street is also an important jazz novel, in its characterization of its female protagonist as a jazz singer as well as its inventive dramatic structure. This chapter investigates Petry’s critical engagement with the racial and gender politics of jazz, and specifically swing, during the World War II years, as a radical journalist with the Harlem People’s Voice as well as a novelist. The Street dramatically exemplifies her engagement with jazz as a distinctively African American musical form and a presumed vehicle for black upward mobility, but also as a commercial form subject to the economic and racial politics that limit the novel’s female working-class protagonist. Petry underscores how the nationalist ideology of “the American dream” obscures the recognition of a meaningful African heritage as well as any internationalist vision of working-class solidarity.

Keywords:   Petry, Ann, The Street, jazz, swing, feminism, World War II, People’s Voice, working-class, internationalism

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