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James Baldwin and the 1980sWitnessing the Reagan Era$
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Joseph Vogel

Print publication date: 2018

Print ISBN-13: 9780252041747

Published to Illinois Scholarship Online: September 2018

DOI: 10.5622/illinois/9780252041747.001.0001

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The Price of the Beat

The Price of the Beat

Black Popular Music and the Crossover Dream

(p.25) 1 The Price of the Beat
James Baldwin and the 1980s

Joseph Vogel

University of Illinois Press

This chapter draws on James Baldwin’s final novel, Just Above My Head, to explore the complex role of the black “crossover” artist in America. How have black popular artists been read, represented, and evaluated in American media and culture? What was the price of “crossing over,” of playing to increasingly mass, cross-racial audiences, of working for white labels, of conforming to the demands of a white industry? Why was black success so often accompanied by tragedy? This chapter explores why black music—and the black popular artist—were so important to Baldwin, and what his final novel suggests about its paradoxical power and vulnerabilities.

Keywords:   James Baldwin, Popular Music, Crossover, Just Above My Head, 1970s, 1980s

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