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Gayle Wald

Gayle Wald teaches at George Washington University, where she presently chairs the American Studies department. Her books include Shout, Sister, Shout! (Beacon Press, 2007) and It’s Been Beautiful: Soul! and Black Power Television (Duke University Press, 2015). Outside the academy, she has written about the evergreen appeal of boy bands, the TV show Empire, the film Beyond the Lights, the musician Rhiannon Giddens, and liner notes for the reissue of Songs of Faith (Cameo, 1962).

"The Devil's Music: Reviving Blues Women on the Contemporary Stage"
This paper considers contemporary theatrical representations of blues women as an important expression of blues “revivalism,” one that—as with any form of revival—reconstructs and refigures blues history for new and evolving ends. My central texts are The Devil’s Music: The Life and Blues of Bessie Smith, a popular show that has played off-Broadway and has toured regionally for a decade, and Shout, Sister, Shout!, a Rosetta Tharpe musical produced and directed by Randy Johnson, whose previous work, A Night With Janis Joplin, appeared on Broadway and now tours regionally. I am interested in the ways these popular shows memorialize and construct their black female subjects, and how historically distant black women’s musicking is re-presented for contemporary audiences. What sorts of theatrical pleasures are produced by these shows, which invite audiences to imagine they are seeing and hearing the blues woman herself magically revived on the stage?