Minstrelsy / Jazz / Rap: Shakespearean Legitimation and African-American Culture


Even though, it must be conceded at the start, Shakespeare has made no more than marginal appearances in blues, jazz, R&B, and hip-hop, the potential for their conjunction has had a particular symbolic resonance. Sketching out the history of that conjunction — my purpose here — offers us one way of understanding African American music's pursuit of artistic status and cultural respectability, and in particular a means for reevaluating the hybridizing of Shakespeare and jazz. My argument here will be that mid-century jazz adaptations of Shakespeare serve as an ambivalent middle-term between Shakespearean minstrelsy of the nineteenth century, where the relationship between Shakespeare and African American music was first codified, and contemporary hip-hop, where musicians have reclaimed Shakespeare as a minor yet symbolically significant point of reference for African American music.

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Journal Title

Borrowers and Lenders: An Electronic Journal of Shakespearean Appropriation


University of Georgia

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© Borrowers and Lenders 2005