Between 1800 and 1863 – the years of the Emancipation Proclamation – many travellers from Europe or the North of the United States visited the Southern States and provided particular descriptions of the socio-geographic of that land. Many of their stories included descriptions of musical practices – and in particular singing performances – of Afro American slaves. The trips continued long after the end of the civil war, although in different forms. A philanthropic endeavour seemed to be the main driver for such explorers, whose reports often included pictures that visually supported the descriptions of the musical performances observed.
The aim of this contribute is to analyze the relationship between literary descriptions and visual images that describe African-American vocal performances during slavery. What emerges is a conflation of exotic sentiments towards musical practices, memories of sonic landscapes, and a somewhat nostalgic imagination. Then, the focus will be on the ex-slave narratives and how they have constructed a memory and an imagination later defined as blues aesthetic. In conclusion, extracts from the exhibition When the Stars Begin to Fall (Studium Museum, Harlem, 2014) will be discussed in order to prove that the dialectic between exoticism and blues aesthetic is still active in the representations of the South of Uniterd States that move between sonic memories and imagination.
Gianpaolo Chiriacò 2016, “When the Stars begins to fall. Exoticism, Blues Aesthetic and Representations of Singing in the American South”, in Idomeneo (2016), n. 21, pp. 115-126 – ISSN 2038-0313 – DOI 10.1285/i20380313v21p115.