Co-workers in the Kingdom of Culture, by Davis Suisman

Teaching the Article
Exercise 3

Uplift and the Politics of Cultural Hierarchy

Black Swan's commitment to cultural and economic progress drew on two distinct but complementary ideas about uplift, one musical, the other racial. The first held that music--especially music of "quality"--was a "universal language" that could bring people together and elevate them spiritually. The second held that the social and political standing of Afro-America at large would improve if the black working classes conformed to middle-class goals and standards.

The following excerpts explain and illustrate these two kinds of uplift:

Consider how the goals of universal improvement could clash with the aspirations of those to be "uplifted"--if, for example, there emerged a difference of opinion about what constituted "quality" music. (Remember that blues and jazz were not considered "quality" music in the early 1920s.)

The Black Swan experiment sought to combine the two ideological strategies: to pursue racial uplift through musical uplift. The result, however, suggested that people of different classes could disagree about cultural expression.

How are those ideas expressed in the following sources? What conflicts emerge? What problems do they pose for Black Swan's lofty goals? Was there any way to reconcile the conflicts?

What was at stake in Black Swan's issuing of classical records? How is cultural hierarchy used to express class politics?