Impression of racism / "Puttin' on Ritz" and "Bojangles of Harlem" (Re: Was Jolson's persona racist?)

From: David P. Hayes
Newsgroups: rec.arts.movies.past-films
Date: Tuesday, April 07, 1998 3:21 PM

FRAJM wrote in message <>…
>The history of the Irving Berlin song, "Putting on the Ritz", is a suggestive
>one about changing sensitivities, if nothing else. It was the title song of a
>1930 musical and was sung by Fred Astaire in _Blue Skies_ and a revised
>version recorded by Astaire in the 50s.
>The original version is about the what the colored folk -- the maids and
>chauffeurs -- do on their day off "spending every dime for a wonderful time";
>the song advises us that if we're blue we should go to Harlem and watch the
>overdressed having fun. In the revised version, we're advised to go to Park
>Avenue for the same entertainment. The song was rewritten by Berlin because it
>sounded racist in a era was becoming charged with racial tensions.
>Now whether this was revisionism or growth I don't want to get into mainly
>because I wouldn't presume to know.

Might the change have been to avoid the atmosphere of controversy, and therefore neither a sign of revisionism nor growth? Berlin may merely have acknowledged that the population at large had changed its sentiments even as Berlin himself had no change in his own responses.

>I do know that enjoy both of Astaire's versions and the racial allusions sound
>to me as historic anachronisms not embarrassing like Astaire's "Bojangles of
>Harlem" number I referred to a few days ago.

"Bojangles of Harlem" (in the Astaire-Rogers musical "Swing Time," 1936) is said to be a well-intended tribute by one master of dance to another, the latter being Bill "Bojangles" Robinson, whose image and talent is evoked in several ways during this number.

David Hayes


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