Harlem Holiday: The Cotton Club, 1925-1940

Malcolm Womack. "Harlem Holiday: The Cotton Club, 1925-1940." Diss. U of Washington, 2013.

This study looks at the Cotton Club, the most famous nightclub in American history, and its position in the histories of the American urban landscape and the white imagination. The Cotton Club is remarkably both very well-known and academically unexplored, and this work both begins that exploration and revises the simple binary that positions the club as either a place of segregated racial misery or unencumbered Jazz Age joy. The floorshows at the club from 1925-1940 both reinscribed a white, heteronormative dominance but these performances also made inroads into subverting that dominance. The shows allowed expression from some of the most highly regarded African American performers of the 1920s and 1930s, as well as specialty acts (dancers, comedians, vocalists) and the chorus line of "copper-colored gals." My dissertation is arranged in a temporally linear fashion, giving a history of the club that has been wholly ignored by academia, and using touristic theory, I investigate how white audiences viewed an evening at the club, a trip to Harlem in the twenties and thirties, and the spectacle of black bodies on stage.

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Completed/published