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Mormons, Musical Theater, and Belonging in America$
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Jake Johnson

Print publication date: 2019

Print ISBN-13: 9780252042515

Published to Illinois Scholarship Online: January 2020

DOI: 10.5622/illinois/9780252042515.001.0001

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Promised Valley, Integration, and the Singing Voice

Promised Valley, Integration, and the Singing Voice

(p.55) 2 Promised Valley, Integration, and the Singing Voice
Mormons, Musical Theater, and Belonging in America

Jake Johnson

University of Illinois Press

While Mormons as a group have always been distinctly white, practicing polygamy and forming quasi-socialist communities made them seem more in line with problematic races and ethnic groups than with respectable white Americans. Mormons consequently were characterized as an ethnic minority in musical comedies throughout the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. This chapter documents the remarkable path Mormons took to gain white, middle-class acceptability in the mid-twentieth century, using musical theater to transition from fringe polygamist sect to quintessential Americans. In examining the 1947 Mormon musical Promised Valley, which was modeled on the integrated musical model of Rodgers and Hammerstein’s Oklahoma! from three years earlier and the vocal ideology inscribed within Kurt Weill’s musical Lady in the Dark, this chapter shows how Mormon leaders used the concept of singing to position themselves as exemplars of American ideals of discipline, community, and family values. Collective and disciplined singing, therefore, becomes a metaphor for unity in postwar America. Mormons proved themselves American using what had by that time become a bastion of white, middle-class respectability in America--musical theater.

Keywords:   integrated musical, singing, Rodgers and Hammerstein, Kurt Weill, middle-class acceptance, ethnic minority, polygamy

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