It may be that the song most baby boomers identify from July 1956 is a simple twelve-bar blues, hyped on national television by a twenty-one-year-old Elvis Presley and his handlers. But it is a very different song, with its elongated fourteen-bar choruses of rhythm and dissonance, played on the night of July 7, 1956, by a fifty-seven-year-old Duke Ellington and his big band that got everybody on their feet and moving as one. More than fifty years later, “Diminuendo and Crescendo in Blue,” recorded at the 1956 Newport Jazz Festival, still makes a profound statement about postwar America—how we got there and where it all went.
Backstory in Blue is a behind-the-scenes look at this epic moment in American cultural history. It is the story of who and what made Ellington’s composition so compelling and how one piece of music reflected the feelings and shaped the sensibilities of the postwar generation. As John Fass Morton explains, it was music expressed as much by those who performed offstage as by those who performed on.
Written from the point of view of the audience, this unique account draws on interviews with fans and music professionals of all kinds who were there and whose lives were touched, and in some cases changed, by the experience. Included are profiles of George Avakian, who recorded and produced Ellington at Newport 1956; Paul Gonsalves, the tenor sax player responsible for the legendary twenty-seven choruses that enabled the rebirth of Ellington’s career; and the “Bedford Blonde,” Elaine Anderson, whose dance ignited both the band and the crowd.
Duke Ellington once remarked, “I was born at Newport.” Here we learn that Newport was much more than the turning point for Ellington’s career. It was the tipping point for a generation and a musical genre.
In December 1981, when the American Civil Liberties Union challenged the Nativity scene in the Christmas display put on by the city of Pawtucket, Rhode Island, an emotional controversy erupted. Two federal courts disallowed the crèche because its religious impact in the taxpayer-supported display overstepped the constitutional boundary between church and state. In March 1984, the United States Supreme Court by a 5-4 vote in Lynch V. Donnelly overruled the lower courts, deciding that in the predominantly secular context of Pawtucket’s display, the purpose and effect of the Nativity scene was not to promote religion, but only to acknowledge the spirit of the holiday season. The Christ Child Goes to Court traces the judicial history of a case that lasted more than two years and explores its implications for future issues concerning the relationship between religion and government.
Wayne R. Swanson describes how this compelling constitutional issue polarized public opinion in Rhode Island and generated "unimaginable vilification" of the Roman Catholic judge who first ordered the crèche removed. He reports the reactions of local citizens, which echoed the national debate on this issue. By carefully documenting the case’s trek through the judiciary, Swanson illustrates the workings of the judicial process in the United States, the political nature of the courts, and how their interpretation of the Constitution helps to shape the development of public policy.
An important conclusion of this critical examination of the courts’ approach to a controversial church-state question is that judicial decisions are usually interim in nature and often lead to imperfect solutions. Lynch V. Donnelly did not solve the problems posed by government-supported Nativity scenes or other religious symbols. The controversy lives on and the courts continue to struggle with one of the most difficult First Amendment problems.
As an undergraduate at Brown University, Tyler Denmead founded New Urban Arts, a nationally recognized arts and humanities program primarily for young people of color in Providence, Rhode Island. Along with its positive impact, New Urban Arts, under his leadership, became entangled in Providence's urban renewal efforts that harmed the very youth it served. As in many deindustrialized cities, Providence's leaders viewed arts, culture, and creativity as a means to drive property development and attract young, educated, and affluent white people, such as Denmead, to economically and culturally kick-start the city. In The Creative Underclass, Denmead critically examines how New Urban Arts and similar organizations can become enmeshed in circumstances where young people, including himself, become visible once the city can leverage their creativity to benefit economic revitalization and gentrification. He points to the creative cultural practices that young people of color from low-income communities use to resist their subjectification as members of an underclass, which, along with redistributive economic policies, can be deployed as an effective means with which to both oppose gentrification and better serve the youth who have become emblematic of urban creativity.
The descendents of twentieth-century southern and central European immigrants successfully assimilated into mainstream American culture and generally achieved economic parity with other Americans within several generations. So far, that is not the case with recent immigrants from Latin America and the Caribbean. A compelling case study of first- and second-generation Dominicans in Providence, Rhode Island, Encountering American Faultlines suggests that even as immigrants and their children increasingly participate in American life and culture, racialization and social polarization remain key obstacles to further progress. Encountering American Faultlines uses occupational and socioeconomic data and in-depth interviews to address key questions about the challenges Dominicans encounter in American society. What is their position in the American socioeconomic structure? What occupations do first- and second-generation Dominicans hold as they enter the workforce? How do Dominican families fare economically? How do Dominicans identify themselves in the American racial and ethnic landscape? The first generation works largely in what is left of Providence's declining manufacturing industry. Second-generation Dominicans do better than their parents economically, but even as some are able to enter middle-class occupations, the majority remains in the service-sector working class. José Itzigsohn suggests that the third generation will likely continue this pattern of stratification, and he worries that the chances for further economic advancement in the next generation may be seriously in doubt. While transnational involvement is important to first-generation Dominicans, the second generation concentrates more on life in the United States and empowering their local communities. Itzigsohn ties this to the second generation's tendency to embrace panethnic identities. Panethnic identity provides Dominicans with choices that defy strict American racial categories and enables them to build political coalitions across multiple ethnicities. This intimate study of the Dominican immigrant experience proposes an innovative theoretical approach to look at the contemporary forms and meanings of becoming American. José Itzigsohn acknowledges the social exclusion and racialization encountered by the Dominican population, but he observes that, by developing their own group identities and engaging in collective action and institution building at the local level, Dominicans can distinguish themselves and make inroads into American society. But Encountering American Faultlines also finds that hard work and hope have less to do with their social mobility than the existing economic and racial structures of U.S. society.
Errands into the Metropolis offers a dramatic new interpretation of the texts and contexts of early New England literature. Jonathan Beecher Field inverts the familiar paradigm of colonization as an errand into the wilderness to demonstrate, instead, that New England was shaped and re-shaped by a series of return trips to a metropolitan London convulsed with political turmoil. In London, dissidents and their more orthodox antagonists contended for colonial power through competing narratives of their experiences in the New World. Dissidents showed a greater willingness to construct their narratives in terms that were legible to a metropolitan reader than did Massachusetts Bay’s apologists. As a result, representatives of a variety of marginal religious groups were able to secure a remarkable level of political autonomy, visible in the survival of Rhode Island as an independent colony. Through chapters focusing on John Cotton, Roger Williams, Samuel Gorton, John Clarke, and the Quaker martyrs, Field traces an evolving discourse on the past, present, and future of colonial New England that revises the canon of colonial New England literature and the contours of New England history. In the broader field of early American studies, Field’s work demonstrates the benefits of an Atlantic perspective on the material cultures of print. In the context of religious freedom, Errands into the Metropolis shows Rhode Island’s famous culture of toleration emerging as a pragmatic response to the conditions of colonial life, rather than as an idealistic principle. Errands into the Metropolis offers new understanding of familiar texts and events from colonial New England, and reveals the significance of less familiar texts and events.
The bitter and public court battle waged between Nina and James Walker of Newport, Rhode Island from 1909 to 1916 created a sensation throughout the nation with lurid accounts of—and gossip about—their marital troubles. The ordeal of this high-society couple, who wed as much for status as for love, is one of the prime examples of the growing trend of women seeking divorce during the early twentieth century.
Gross Misbehavior and Wickedness—the charges Nina levied at James for his adultery (with the family governess) and extreme cruelty—recounts the protracted legal proceedings in juicy detail.
Jean Elson uses court documents, correspondence, journals, and interviews with descendants to recount the salacious case. In the process, she underscores how divorce—in an era when women needed husbands for economic support—was associated with women’s aspirations for independence and rights. The Walkers’ dispute, replete with plot twists and memorable characters, sheds light on a critical period in the evolution of American culture.
On February 20, 2003, the deadliest rock concert in U.S. history took place at a roadhouse called The Station in West Warwick, Rhode Island. That night, in the few minutes it takes to play a hard-rock standard, the fate of many of the unsuspecting nightclub patrons was determined with awful certainty. The blaze was ignited when pyrotechnics set off by Great White, a 1980s heavy-metal band, lit flammable polyurethane “egg crate” foam sound insulation on the club’s walls. In less than 10 minutes, 96 people were dead and 200 more were injured, many catastrophically. The final death toll topped out, three months later, at the eerily unlikely round number of 100. The story of the fire, its causes, and its legal and human aftermath is one of lives put at risk by petty economic decisions—by a band, club owners, promoters, building inspectors, and product manufacturers. Any one of those decisions, made differently, might have averted the tragedy. Together, however, they reached a fatal critical mass. Killer Show is the first comprehensive exploration of the chain of events leading up to the fire, the conflagration itself, and the painstaking search for evidence to hold the guilty to account and obtain justice for the victims. Anyone who has entered an entertainment venue and wondered, “Could I get out of here in a hurry?” will identify with concertgoers at The Station. Fans of disaster nonfiction and forensic thrillers will find ample elements of both genres in Killer Show.
In the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, northern resort towns were in their heyday as celebrated retreats for America's wealthy. "Lord, Please Don't Take Me in August" documents the experiences of African Americans in Saratoga Springs, New York, and Newport, Rhode Island--towns that provided a recurring season of expanded employment opportunities, enhanced social life, cosmopolitan experience, and, in a good year, enough money to last through the winter.
Affirming that the decision to live in their tiny resort communities was conscious and deliberate, Myra B. Young Armstead shows how Afro-Saratogians and Afro-Newporters organized their rhythms, their routines, and their communities to create meaningful identities for themselves.
Living on streets close to their churches, developing social organizations that promoted their standards of gentility and respectability, and lobbying for wider opportunities, these African Americans actively shaped their lives within the structures and limitations imposed on them.
Armstead situates the resort town between the poles of the rural South and the large industrial cities of the North. She shows how these small northern towns, with their seasonal economic rhythms and domestic wage work, permitted an important continuity between rural and urban lifestyles and a path from rural South to urban North besides the jarring, disruptive journey that often ended in the ghetto.
"Lord, Please Don't Take Me in August" tells a story that is at once American and uniquely African American: a story of economic imperatives and enlarged social aspirations culminating in a season--June, July, and August--that brought blacks as close as they could get to the American Dream.
Memoirs of Elleanor Eldridge
Frances H. Whipple West Virginia University Press, 2013 Library of Congress F89.P99N44 2013 | Dewey Decimal 974.5203092
Elleanor Eldridge, born of African and US indigenous descent in 1794, operated a lucrative domestic services business in nineteenth century Providence, Rhode Island. In defiance of her gender and racial background, she purchased land and built rental property from the wealth she gained as a business owner. In the 1830s, Eldridge was defrauded of her property by a white lender. In a series of common court cases as alternately defendant and plaintiff, she managed to recover it through the Rhode Island judicial system. In order to raise funds to carry out this litigation, her memoir, which includes statements from employers endorsing her respectable character, was published in 1838. Frances Harriet Whipple, an aspiring white writer in Rhode Island, narrated and co-authored Eldridge’s story, expressing a proto-feminist outrage at the male “extortioners” who caused Eldridge’s loss and distress.
With the rarity of Eldridge’s material achievements aside, Memoirs of Elleanor Eldridge forms an exceptional antebellum biography, chronicling Eldridge’s life from her birth through the first publication of almost yearly editions of the text between 1838 and 1847. Because of Eldridge’s exceptional life as a freeborn woman of color entrepreneur, it constitutes a counter-narrative to slave narratives of early 19th-century New England, changing the literary landscape of conventional American Renaissance studies and interpretations of American Transcendentalism.
With an introduction by Joycelyn K. Moody, this new edition contextualizes the extraordinary life of Elleanor Eldridge—from her acquisition of wealth and property to the publication of her biography and her legal struggles to regain stolen property. Because of her mixed-race identity, relative wealth, local and regional renown, and her efficacy in establishing a collective of white women patrons, this biography challenges typical African and indigenous women’s literary production of the early national period and resituates Elleanor Eldridge as an important cultural and historical figure of the nineteenth century.
Two days after Christmas in 1738, a British merchant ship traveling from Rotterdam to Philadelphia grounded in a blizzard on the northern tip of Block Island, twelve miles off the Rhode Island coast. The ship carried emigrants from the Palatinate and its neighboring territories in what is now southwest Germany. The 105 passengers and crew on board—sick, frozen, and starving—were all that remained of the 340 men, women, and children who had left their homeland the previous spring. They now found themselves castaways, on the verge of death, and at the mercy of a community of strangers whose language they did not speak. Shortly after the wreck, rumors began to circulate that the passengers had been mistreated by the ship’s crew and by some of the islanders. The stories persisted, transforming over time as stories do and, in less than a hundred years, two terrifying versions of the event had emerged. In one account, the crew murdered the captain, extorted money from the passengers by prolonging the voyage and withholding food, then abandoned ship. In the other, the islanders lured the ship ashore with a false signal light, then murdered and robbed all on board. Some claimed the ship was set ablaze to hide evidence of these crimes, their stories fueled by reports of a fiery ghost ship first seen drifting in Block Island Sound on the one-year anniversary of the wreck. These tales became known as the legend of the Palatine, the name given to the ship in later years, when its original name had been long forgotten. The flaming apparition was nicknamed the Palatine Light. The eerie phenomenon has been witnessed by hundreds of people over the centuries, and numerous scientific theories have been offered as to its origin. Its continued reappearances, along with the attention of some of nineteenth-century America’s most notable writers—among them Richard Henry Dana Sr., John Greenleaf Whittier, Edward Everett Hale, and Thomas Wentworth Higginson—has helped keep the legend alive. This despite evidence that the vessel, whose actual name was the Princess Augusta, was never abandoned, lured ashore, or destroyed by fire. So how did the rumors begin? What really happened to the Princess Augusta and the passengers she carried on her final, fatal voyage? Through years of painstaking research, Jill Farinelli reconstructs the origins of one of New England’s most chilling maritime mysteries.
Departing from traditional approaches to colonial legal history, Mary Sarah Bilder argues that American law and legal culture developed within the framework of an evolving, unwritten transatlantic constitution that lawyers, legislators, and litigants on both sides of the Atlantic understood. The central tenet of this constitution--that colonial laws and customs could not be repugnant to the laws of England but could diverge for local circumstances--shaped the legal development of the colonial world.