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Black Sexual EconomiesRace and Sex in a Culture of Capital$
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Adrienne D. Davis and BSE Collective

Print publication date: 2019

Print ISBN-13: 9780252042645

Published to Illinois Scholarship Online: May 2020

DOI: 10.5622/illinois/9780252042645.001.0001

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No Bodily Rights Worth Protecting

No Bodily Rights Worth Protecting

Transnational Circulations of Black Hypersexuality in Brazil

(p.89) Chapter 5 No Bodily Rights Worth Protecting
Black Sexual Economies

Erica Lorraine Williams

University of Illinois Press

The sexual labor of music making began, in earnest, with the classic Blues women of the 1920s who epitomized the turn to a national Black popular culture. Gertrude “Ma” Rainey was one of the most prolific of her cohort and made a career describing, in intimate detail, the interior lives of Black women and working class communities. Her popularity was a testament to her talents as a singer and performer but also to the skill of those around her, including the “Father of the Gospel Blues,” composer Thomas Dorsey and his wife, seamstress Nettie Dorsey. The materiality of the relationship shared between Mrs. Dorsey and Rainey is found in the dresses painstakingly sewn by Dorsey and glamorously displayed on stage by Rainey. While pleasant for the eye, these dresses also carry sounds—the music of its making as well as its performative display, making this object a text. In this examination, Redmond exposes the close proximities that exist within the costumes sewn by Mrs. Dorsey and worn by Rainey—namely the relationship between pious respectability and working-class nonheternomativity, laboring femininity and sonorous vocalities. Mrs. Dorsey’s work documents dressmaking as a sonic production capable of facilitating the growth of new industries and challenging the normative practices within the early twentieth century Black public sphere. Microreadings of these items, laborers, and artists expose some of the detail of Black political cultures in this moment and highlight the intertextual and multimedia enterprise of Black women’s sexual economies.

Keywords:   Blues, labor, dress, race, sexuality, Nettie Dorsey, Ma Rainey

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