The Feminization of Mass Culture and the Novelty of All-Girl Bands: The Case of the Ingenues

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Abstract:

The internationally acclaimed all-girl jazz band of the 1920s and 1930s, the Ingenues, became one of the most popular featured attractions of the multi-faceted stage-show performances showcased in combination with the new sound-films. The Ingenues, like other mass-mediated white all-girl jazz performances, remained intimately connected to the mediums of film, vaudeville, and variety revue as well as the controversial chorus-girl spectacles. During the Jazz Age, the seemingly remarkable appearance of all-girl jazz bands was not unprecedented but rather culturally prepared by a particular consumerist presentation of gender and sexuality promoted during these highly transformative decades. By connecting the various discourses surrounding all-girl jazz bands to the earlier and more commodified spectacles of “girl acts” introduced in variety revues and vaudeville, this article reveals how the immense popularity of the Ingenues in the transformative vaudeville/film combinations was facilitated in part through the careful construction of a “feminine novelty” which codified notions of innovation, versatility, sexuality and musical amateurism. Ultimately, women's unexpected musical success became implicated in modernist debates about the deleterious effects of a feminized “jazz culture” which threatened notions of an autonomous male musical culture and also destabilized proscribed gender relations.

Document Type: Research Article

DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.1080/03007760802188454

Publication date: December 1, 2008

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