September 4, 2013

Who Should Sing "Ol' Man River"?

American Identities: Episode #2

In his upcoming book Who Should Sing 'Ol' Man River'?: The Lives of an American Song, Todd Decker, associate professor of musicology at Washington University in St. Louis, reveals how one song has been shaped and reshaped over time. From Paul Robeson to Frank Sinatra - from the era of big bands to the civil rights movement - every performance of "Ol' Man River" has a political dimension involving the evolution of race relations in the United States. Whether performed as a dance ditty or a means of protest, the seemingly endless malleability of this 1927 Broadway tune provides a window onto the many ways that American music has been used to express both personal and cultural identity.

Who Should Sing "Ol' Man River"? by Hold That Thought. image flickr: piano piano! audio "Ol' Man River": Cher, 1966; Tito Rodriguez, 1958; Frank Sinatra, 1963; Ravens, 1947; internet archive: Paul Robeson, 1932; Kenn Sisson Orchestra, 1927.