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Who Should Sing Ol' Man River?The Lives of an American Song$
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Todd Decker

Print publication date: 2014

Print ISBN-13: 9780199389186

Published to Oxford Scholarship Online: March 2015

DOI: 10.1093/acprof:oso/9780199389186.001.0001

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Sons and Daughters of Joe

Sons and Daughters of Joe

(p.176) 10 Sons and Daughters of Joe
Who Should Sing Ol' Man River?

Todd Decker

Oxford University Press

The final chapter considers African American performers of the rock and roll era who chose to sing “Ol’ Man River.” Several key black musical styles are represented: black pop vocal groups (the Flamingos, the Temptations, the Persuasions), jazz (Mae Barnes), blues (Abner Jay), comedy (Jackie “Moms” Mabley), gospel (the Caravans, Aretha Franklin), and soul (Ray Charles). Many of these artists emphasized political themes in the song, either by making changes to the lyrics, in their choices of musical arranging, or by way of pointed spoken introductions. The most extreme example of this practice is a full parody version titled “Old Pig Nixon” performed by the Lumpen, a singing cadre of the Black Panther Party. These performances all manage to critique “Ol’ Man River” while also keeping the song alive in America’s musical life.

Keywords:   doo-wop, soul, gospel, Ray Charles, Aretha Franklin, the Temptations, Jackie Moms Mabley, Black Panther Party

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