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Louis Armstrong And Racism Essay

1186 words - 5 pages

Louis Armstrong, or “Satchmo”, was among the most influential American jazz artists, and was titled by many the “Master of Modernism”. This jazz trumpeter from New Orleans, Louisiana was known for high quality music, as well as the complexity of the social environments in which his music was performed. His experiences reveal much about how African-American music functioned and evolved during the first half of the twentieth century. As a result of his profound stage performances and the complexity of the social context, Armstrong became the ultimate representative of African-American musical history. Although he was widely popular among black critics, the twentieth century American ...view middle of the document...

The cartoon shows Betty Boop and her companions, Bimbo and Koko the clown, as they explore the depths of the African jungle and are chased by natives. Koko the Clown is revealed to be white when he runs out of his clown suit, but his race is complicated by his Jewish identity, which is ironically disclosed by the Hebrew phrase for “white”. As they run deeper into the jungle, Betty’s complexion darkens, and her wink becomes an apparent indication of a secret between her and the audience. The secret appears to be that she is actually black because her Boop-Boop-A-Doop singing was based off of Baby Esther, a black singer. Armstrong agrees to make this cartoon in order to promote his band and its recordings, but it seems that he also advertises a concealed point of view. His performance is perceived as a representation of the blues perspective of the black artist on American culture.
Like Charles Chesnutt’s “Uncle Julius” tales, Armstrong masks his motives of anger and revenge through musical and literary forms, defying the degraded conventions of racial representation. His smiling face and humorous surface veil the sophistication and taste of the obscure expression of his ulterior meaning, a sophistication that beyond the intellectual level of his audience’s comprehension. Armstrong expresses one of the most intense tragedies, racism, through an ironic comedic performance. His point of view seems to regard this tragedy with an attitude of the blues, or a basic and complex attitude towards human experience. This attitude toward life looks pretty coldly and realistically at the human predicament, and expresses the individual’s insistence upon enduring in the face of his limitations, becoming a kind of triumph over self and circumstance. In his song, Armstrong sings, “You bought my wife a bottle of Coca-Cola, so you could play on her victrola”, which equates sexual context with an access to recording technology. This presents the stereotyped black native’s sexuality that even a genial persona such as Armstrong might engender.
In The Autobiography of an Ex-Colored Man, James Weldon Johnson describes a black performer, “Here was a man who made people laugh at the size of his mouth, while he carried in his heart a burning ambition to be a tragedian; and so after all he did play a part in a tragedy” (Johnson, 77). Johnson’s description of the black performer parallels Armstrong’s endeavor to find himself within the cartoon, or rather tragedy. While he seeks to move beyond comedy, his physical appearance is the foundation of his comic appeal. His facial expressions and actions provoke his white and black audiences into laughter, which makes him...

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