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Myth, Memory, & the Historiography of Black Jazz Musicians in the Third Reich


This dissertation is a study of the Black musicians who remained in Nazi occupied territory between 1933 and 1945, and it analyzes the ways in which racism and misogyny shaped both the social consciousness and scholarly discourse alike. While jazz was banned in many contexts, it was simultaneously appropriated by the state for its mass appeal to serve as propaganda music. Due to this, little to no documentation of jazz during wartime exists, and consequently, what was preserved is highly curated by a few individuals. Many accounts of jazz during the war claim that little to no Black musicians remained in occupied territories, yet there is evidence of the contrary. Therefore, this work examines traces left in state archives, and it locates lesser-known spaces in which evidence of their lives and careers remain. I argue that even famous artists who were recorded, photographed, and celebrated extensively were still stripped of their voice.

Much of my research focuses on Dietrich Schulz-Köhn, fondly remembered merely as “Dr. Jazz.” Schulz-Köhn was a Oberleutnant in the Luftwaffe. Heralded as the man who covertly saved jazz from the Third Reich, his collections hold innumerable records banned by the Reich, personal candid photographs with famous musicians, as well as dark tokens of his fascist history. The second major figure in my dissertation is that of Joséphine Baker, whose image has been incessantly reproduced as the icon of the Jazz Age, yet whose autonomy and vocal virtuosity are often dismissed by jazz collectors and music scholars. I examine the legend surrounding Baker through primary and secondary source material, and I analyze the perceptions of “Black” rhythm, vocal quality, and vocal timbres of early jazz, the technologies that disseminated and documented the music, the visual representations of the musicians, as well as the public discourse and archival practices surrounding them. All these factors converge to create a representation of the musicians and their significance, which are frequently and uncritically reproduced in archives, canons, curricula, and public discourse.

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