Craig Doughty - Graduate Teaching Assistant

Boston, Massachusetts is not the first place that comes to mind when one thinks about jazz music in the nineteen twenties. While the city claimed pre-eminence as a place of cultural distinction during the decade, having been endowed in the late nineteenth-century with theatres, concert halls and museums that rivalled the finest in Europe, its relationship with jazz music and its players was often fractured. The city’s Anglo-American upper-class (Brahmins) selectively contributed to the high arts in an effort to thwart jazz’s growth in the city, promoting an aesthetic hierarchy of distinction from which the working class and poor, groups from which many jazz musicians originated, were essentially excluded.

But while the city offered ‘no crystal stair’ to aspiring black musicians, upwardly mobile African-American women pursued their own advancement in the arts via a process of cultural entrepreneurship. By incorporating the organisational practices and aesthetic sensibilities of Boston’s Anglo-American (cultural) elites, some of Boston’s aspirational women - Maria Louise Baldwin, Josephine St. Pierre Ruffin, Wilhelmina Crosson – purposefully pandered to Brahmin practices and tastes during the Jazz Age. In this respect, they advocated and promoted a brand of high culture stewardship that, as Paul DiMaggio states, equated to ‘black cultural capitalism’, albeit within a context of rigid racial boundaries during an era of widespread discrimination.[1]

By revealing the processes by which Boston’s African-American women introduced aspects of black culture into the city’s mainstream, this study analyses their impact on the shaping of mass cultural production and developing arenas for black musical and dramatic performance. These aspects often served as vectors for social mobility during times of racism, discrimination, and segregation, and in certain circumstances provided the impetus for social integration.

[1] P. DiMaggio., Cultural entrepreneurship in nineteenth-century. Boston: the creation of an organizational base for high culture in America (London: Academic Press, 1982). 33-50.

Craig's staff profile can be found here