Staging the Blues: From Tent Shows to Tourism
Singing was just one element of blues performance in the early twentieth century. Ma Rainey, Bessie Smith, and other classic blues singers also tapped, joked, and flaunted extravagant costumes on tent show and black vaudeville stages. The press even described these women as "actresses" long before they achieved worldwide fame for their musical recordings. In Staging the Blues (Duke UP, 2014), Paige A. McGinley shows that even though folklorists, record producers, and festival promoters set the theatricality of early blues aside in favor of notions of authenticity, it remained creatively vibrant throughout the twentieth century. Highlighting performances by Rainey, Smith, Lead Belly, Sister Rosetta Tharpe, Sonny Terry, and Brownie McGhee in small Mississippi towns, Harlem theaters, and the industrial British North, this pioneering study foregrounds virtuoso blues artists who used the conventions of the theater, including dance, comedy, and costume, to stage black mobility, to challenge narratives of racial authenticity, and to fight for racial and economic justice.
Staging the Blues has won two major awards: the American Society for Theatre Research’s 2015 Errol Hill Award, which recognizes outstanding scholarship in the field of African American theatre and performance; and the American Theatre and Drama Society’s 2015 John W. Frick Book Award, which recognizes the best book published in American theatre and performance. The book was a finalist for the Theatre Library Association’s 2015 George Freedly Memorial Award, and received an honorable mention for the American Society for Theatre Research’s 2015 Barnard Hewitt Award for outstanding research in theatre history. Reviews have appeared in African American Review, American Studies, Arkansas Review, Callaloo, Journal of American Ethnic History, The Journal of American History, Journal of Popular Music Studies, The Journal of Southern History, Library Journal, Modern Drama, Studies in Theatre and Performance, TDR: The Drama Review, Theatre Journal, Theatre Research International, Theatre Survey, Women and Performance.