Opening Riff: Jelly Roll Morton's Stars and Stripes

in Subversive Sounds

Published by University of Chicago Press

Published in print March 2008 | ISBN: 9780226328676
Published online March 2013 | e-ISBN: 9780226328690 | DOI:
Opening Riff: Jelly Roll Morton's Stars and Stripes

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Recalling his youth in early-twentieth-century New Orleans, Ferdinand Lamothe sits down at the piano to play that most American of marches, John Philip Sousa's “The Stars and Stripes Forever.” Lamothe is a mixed-race, Afro-French Creole of Color, though he has abandoned his Gallic surname in favor of Morton. Like many in the underworld of the red light district, the sometime pimp Morton has a nickname: Jelly Roll. Adopting such a nickname created a new identity that placed him beyond the role whites had assigned people of color. Such “bad men” frequented the “disrespectable” saloons and honky-tonks from which jazz emerged. Jelly Roll Morton, playing “Stars and Stripes”: Creole by birth, black thanks to Jim Crow, playing a “white” song straight out of Americana. One can only imagine what it meant to Morton at the height of America's love affair with racial segregation to celebrate his country in song. Morton's “Stars and Stripes” thus exemplifies jazz's Africanization of American music, a process that had begun with ragtime and, with rock and hip-hop, continues to this day.

Keywords: jazz; Jelly Roll Morton; Stars and Stripes Forever; America; Africanization; racial segregation; people of color; New Orleans

Chapter.  577 words.  Illustrated.

Subjects: American Music

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