Of the Sorrow Songs and the Politics of Culture

White Americans' appetite for blackness created limited and often demeaning roles for African Americans in the new culture industries—but also a measure of renown and power. This tension was managed by corporations large and small that began to experiment with new designs of blackness to capitalize on white desires for "real" African American culture, especially in ragtime, blues, and jazz music. As this music was commodified and mass produced to reach larger and larger audiences, African American musicians, entrepreneurs, and designers cultivated power within the system to redefine the terms by which black culture would be sold. They hazarded the color line to profit from white appetites for black music—while creatively establishing new institutions and a new set of racial iconography to sell the race and themselves.