Week 7: The White Man is the Devil!

This week we only had one class and were supposed to read Miller’s Segregating Sound. I’m not sure is Professor O’Malley is purposely trying to make me suffer or prove his superiority that he can understand what Miller is talking about but, regardless, the book has been read and my suffering has ended.

What I find really interesting is the theme of white people profiting off of black people. The topic was underlying in the discussion as well as Miller’s book. White people like John Lomax used black men such as, Ledbetter and Black Sampson, to make money and a name for himself. Miller writes, “the folklorist [Lomax] noted the profit potential of Ledbetter’s songs as soon as he met the singer” (269). This comes to show that Lomax really only cared about money. One could argue that Ledbetter was only in it for the money too but, comparing Ledbetter’s prison, discriminated life to Lomax’s privileged life seems to be unfair. I feel like Ledbetter would have not been able to make a decent living if it wasn’t for his singing. He saw his shot and took it. Lomax could have become rich a lot easier. I’m not saying becoming rich was easy but, when comparing Lomax and Ledbetter, Ledbetter was never going to make decent money without singing. Miller even referred to Ledbetter as Lomax’s “loyal servant” (269). As humans we tend to justify our behavior to match our beliefs so, in Ledbetter’s mind, I am sure he justified being a servant to Lomax as his way out to a better life.

Another example of Lomax’s scrooge-like ways was when Ledbetter wanted to portray himself in a more professional manner and try new songs but, Lomax was not having it. Lomax believed the money was with Ledbetter’s “repertoire” as a folk singer rather than a commercial artist. Lomax also forced Black Sampson, a man of religion, to sing to him and sing songs that were against his beliefs. We can see Lomax’s bullying to Black Sampson as Miller writes, “Lomax extracted songs and styles that… were morally repugnant and consciously avoided” (262). These examples are evidence that Lomax did not care for the wellbeing or interests of his Black artists, but rather his own pleasure and success.

Those who want to be the annoying devil’s advocate may say that Ledbetter and Black Sampson made good money and should owe their success to Lomax. And to that I say although they made a good fortune at the time, I am sure they knew they weren’t going treated as an equal but, rather as a loyal servant who weren’t portraying themselves and “under the watchful eye of Lomax.” Another annoying argument could be artists don’t always portray themselves and that is the point of an artist; to deceive and not being able to tell what is real and what is fake. And to that I say, WHITE artists, then and now, had the ability and the CHOICE to portray what can and can’t be shown. Black artists on the other hand were under the whips of the white man, aka masters.

I wrote more than I expected on this blog and it’s most likely because I firmly believe black people were, and are, subject to inferiority. Their culture and identity has been snatched by white people. Of course, not all white people are horrible. Professor O’Malley is awesome and is also, in modern terms, woke. Although the book seemed like a boring dissertation, I can appreciate and respect Miller’s attention to race within the musical field.

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