Harlem Nights

The Secret History of Australia’s Jazz Age

Deirdre O'Connell
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Harlem Nights

Published

2 November 2021

ISBN

9780522877656

Imprint

Melbourne University Press

Harlem Nights

The Secret History of Australia’s Jazz Age

Deirdre O'Connell
The untold story of race and power in Australia's Jazz Age
The 1920s were a time of wonder and flux, when Australians sensed a world growing smaller, turning faster-and, for some, skittering off balance. American movies, music and dance brought together what racial lines kept apart. A spirit of youthful rebellion collided with the promise of racial perfectibility, stirring deep anxieties in white nationalists and moral reformers. African-American jazz represented the type of modernism that cosmopolitan Australians craved-and the champions of White Australia feared Enter Sonny Clay's Colored Idea. Snuck in under the wire by an astute promoter, the Harlem-style revue broke from the usual blackface minstrel fare, delivering sophisticated, liberating rhythms. The story of their Australian tour is a tale of conspiracy-a secret plan to kick out and keep out 'undesirable' expressions of modernism, music and race. From the wild jazz clubs of Prohibition-era LA to Indigenous women discovering a new world of black resistance, this anatomy of a scandal-fuelled…
The 1920s were a time of wonder and flux, when Australians sensed a world growing smaller, turning faster-and, for some, skittering off balance. American movies, music and dance brought together what racial lines kept apart. A spirit of youthful rebellion collided with the promise of racial perfectibility, stirring deep anxieties in white nationalists and moral reformers. African-American jazz represented the type of modernism that cosmopolitan Australians craved-and the champions of White Australia feared. Enter Sonny Clay's Colored Idea. Snuck in under the wire by an astute promoter, the Harlem-style revue broke from the usual blackface minstrel fare, delivering sophisticated, liberating rhythms. The story of their Australian tour is a tale of conspiracy-a secret plan to kick out and keep out 'undesirable' expressions of modernism, music and race. From the wild jazz clubs of Prohibition-era LA to Indigenous women discovering a new world of black resistance, this anatomy of a scandal-fuelled frame-up brings into focus a vibrant cast of characters from Australia's Jazz Age.

Deirdre O'Connell

Deirdre O'Connell

Deirdre O'Connell is a historian, teacher and author of The Ballad of Blind Tom. She has a background in environmental journalism and music documentary and lives in the Blue Mountains on Gundungurra land.

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