The N-Word in Music

An American History


In stock

About the Book

The minstrelsy play, song, and dance “Jump, Jim Crow” did more than enable blackface performers to spread racist stereotypes about Black Americans. This widespread antebellum-era cultural phenomenon was instrumental in normalizing the N-word across several aspects of American life. Material culture, sporting culture, consumer products, house-pets, carnival games and even geographic landmarks obtained the racial slur as a formal and informal appellation. Music, it is argued, was the catalyst for normalizing and disseminating those two ugly syllables throughout society, well beyond the environs of plantation and urban slavery.
This weighty and engaging look at the English language’s most explosive slur, described by scholars as the “atomic bomb” of bigoted words, traces the N-word’s journey through various music genres and across generations. The author uses private letters, newspaper accounts, exclusive interviews and, most importantly, music lyrics from artists in the fields of minstrelsy, folk, country, ragtime, blues, jazz, rock ‘n’ roll and hip hop. The result is a reflective account of how the music industry has channeled linguistic and cultural movements across eras, resulting in changes to the slur’s meaning and spelling.

About the Author(s)

Todd M. Mealy (Ph.D., American studies, Penn State University) is a writer who specializes in 19th and 20th century civil rights history and sports culture. A contributor to Pennsylvania Heritage Magazine, he lives in Lancaster, Pennsylvania.

Bibliographic Details

Todd M. Mealy
Format: softcover (6 x 9)
Pages: 263
Bibliographic Info: notes, bibliography, index
Copyright Date: 2022
pISBN: 978-1-4766-8706-3
eISBN: 978-1-4766-4649-7
Imprint: McFarland

Table of Contents

Author’s Note viii
Acknowledgments ix
Preface 1
One. The N-Word’s Musical Contours 13
Two. Out of Music: The N-Word’s Material, Environmental, and Social Contours 32
Three. John Lennon’s N-Word Moment 45
Four. Interlude: Diverse Opinions 72
Five. Philosorock: John Lennon, Bob Dylan, and Other White Musicians Who Sing the N-Word 101
Six. Black Demystification, White Bewilderment: Transformation and Numbing in Black Comedy and Black Music 117
Seven. Muhammad Ali, Rap, and That Word 136
Eight. A Hip-Hop Icon 145
Nine. A Sensible Rule: A Case Study 174
Ten. Inviting Destruction Beyond the Music 183
Conclusion: Welcome to the Conversation, Country Music 207
Epilogue: Coda 215
Chapter Notes 219
Bibliography 243
Index 251