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The Arts of the Prima Donna in the Long Nineteenth Century$
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Rachel Cowgill and Hilary Poriss

Print publication date: 2012

Print ISBN-13: 9780195365870

Published to Oxford Scholarship Online: September 2012

DOI: 10.1093/acprof:oso/9780195365870.001.0001

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“In Imitation of My Negro Mammy”

“In Imitation of My Negro Mammy”

Alma Gluck and the American Prima Donna1

(p.290) Chapter 14 “In Imitation of My Negro Mammy”
The Arts of the Prima Donna in the Long Nineteenth Century

Susan C. Cook

Oxford University Press

This chapter looks at the dialogics between opera, art song and parlor ballads, blackface minstrelsy, spirituals, and crooning in the art and identity of the early twentieth-century prima donna. Singing mammy songs enabled Alma Gluck to comply with a pervasive American Africanism in the United States, while mitigating her alterity both as a woman of Romanian Jewish ancestry and as a professional opera singer. But it also acknowledged the intimate, symbiotic relationship between the mammy and the high-born Southern lady, which shaped ideas of female vocality, domesticity, and maternalism profoundly in the American imagination. In addition, this chapter’s discussion highlights how radically the development of commercial recording unsettled the categories of “high art” and “popular art,” and exposed perceptions of “color” and “class” in vocal performance to manipulation and renegotiation.

Keywords:   art song, popular art, commercial recording, parlor ballad, blackface minstrelsy, spirituals, crooning, mammy, Alma Gluck, American Africanism, Southern lady, maternalism, color, class

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