Charlie McGovern

Charlie McGovern teaches American Studies and History at William and Mary.  A PopCon attendee from the beginning, he is at work on Body & Soul, a book tracing race, citizenship, and capitalism in mid century American music.  He wrote Sold American Consumption and Citizenship, 1890-1945 and co-founded the Duke series Refiguring American Music. He plays in a roots group called the B-Sides and a jazz trio, The Pretensions.

 "'We Don’t Need Another Dinah Washington!': Johnnie Ray  and American Pop "        
Fans, critics and scholars have for years named Johnnie Ray (1927-1990) an important influence on the music we know as rock & roll.  His emotion-laden and energetic singing modeled the abandon and emotion that hinted at the R&R just around the corner when Ray found stardom in the early 1950s.  This essay argues that Ray’ queered performances and persona united and blurred genres, racial practices, sacred and secular.  Ray opened spaces that few queer crooners before him had done: he was disabled, publicly and proudly deaf, open about the influence of African American women on his sound, and queer.  His unorthodox song structures and operatic performances veered from standard vocal practice and destroyed supper-club politesse.  In an age of cover records Ray imported material far from the channels of major label publishing. He made gospel a staple of his sound at a time when pop music was strictly non denominational. And no other singer of his time enjoyed the intense and co-dependent relationship that existed between his fan clubs around the world and Ray. These innovations and deviations originated in Ray’s own fundamentally queer life.  Deafened at a young age, bi-sexual even as a young man, he created queer families of choice while scuffling, bringing together styles, genres and audiences separated by caste and taste.  He influenced many, even as he worked against many grains.  Using press sources, images, film and musical excerpts, along with Jonny Whiteside’s biography and Alison McCracken’s indispensable work, this essay traces Ray’ permanent queering of American pop.