Race, Ethnicity, Performance

Todd Decker

in The Oxford Handbook of The American Musical

Published in print November 2011 | ISBN: 9780195385946
Published online September 2012 | | DOI:

Series: Oxford Handbooks

 Race, Ethnicity, Performance

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The racial and ethnic masks in musical terms take the form of a melody that sounds foreign, such as the pentatonic “Oriental” sound of Richard Rodgers's “March of the Siamese Children” from The King and I. The racial and ethnic stereotypes are most often added to a show or film otherwise populated by ethnically and racially unmarked “white” characters with which the broadest audience in a majority white nation can identify. Latin-inspired music has not affected the sound of the musical beyond its use as an exotic component and Asian-derived sounds have had little to no presence outside of “oriental” tropes drawn from European classical music and American popular song. Asian stereotypes, comic or serious, have never been staples of the American musical and there has never been a sizable group of Asian American musical theater professionals. The identifiably African American musical styles have had, and continue to have, a formative impact on the sound of the musical. Hammerstein collaborated with composer Richard Rodgers on a series of musicals in the postwar decades that brought Asians and Asian Americans into the Broadway musical in a substantial way for the first time.

Keywords: racial and ethnic masks; white characters; coon songs; Latin-inspired music; Asian stereotypes; African American musical styles; Broadway musical

Article.  6133 words. 

Subjects: Music ; Musicology and Music History

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