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Paris Blues

African American Music and French Popular Culture, 1920-1960

Paris Blues

African American Music and French Popular Culture, 1920-1960

The Jazz Age. The phrase conjures images of Louis Armstrong holding court at the Sunset Cafe in Chicago, Duke Ellington dazzling crowds at the Cotton Club in Harlem, and star singers like Bessie Smith and Ma Rainey. But the Jazz Age was every bit as much of a Paris phenomenon as it was a Chicago and New York scene.

In Paris Blues, Andy Fry provides an alternative history of African American music and musicians in France, one that looks beyond familiar personalities and well-rehearsed stories. He pinpoints key issues of race and nation in France’s complicated jazz history from the 1920s through the 1950s. While he deals with many of the traditional icons—such as Josephine Baker, Django Reinhardt, and Sidney Bechet, among others—what he asks is how they came to be so iconic, and what their stories hide as well as what they preserve. Fry focuses throughout on early jazz and swing but includes its re-creation—reinvention—in the 1950s. Along the way, he pays tribute to forgotten traditions such as black musical theater, white show bands, and French wartime swing. Paris Blues provides a nuanced account of the French reception of African Americans and their music and contributes greatly to a growing literature on jazz, race, and nation in France.

304 pages | 39 halftones, 17 line drawings | 6 x 9 | © 2014

Black Studies

Film Studies

History: American History, European History

Music: General Music


"What a pleasure to encounter this astute rethinking of the first forty years of jazz in France.  Fry’s perceptive reading of the complex discourse network shaping the reception and practice of a broadly construed Parisian jazz is informed by an equally impressive command of a wide and deep historiography.  The author’s engagingly written portrait not only upends some of the familiar narrations of Parisian jazz and its place in a wider jazz history; it also urges us to be a little smarter about how we talk and write about the place of jazz in the world today." 

Ronald Radano | University of Wisconsin-Madison

“Fry has combined meticulous research with careful and creative use of sources from the worlds of music, film, history and popular culture more generally to produce an account that might, finally, bury the perennial (and perennially misguided) idea that Europeans and especially the French understood and appreciated jazz before Americans did. The story is false not only because African American and other U.S.-based supporters of jazz seem not to be ‘Americans’ in that version of history, but also because, as Fry eloquently argues, the French at times tried to claim jazz as their own creation, because ethnocentrism and paternalism were rarely absent from what they wrote, because the music and the musicians were often proxies in debates over national culture, and because musicians had reasons for living in France that previous scholars have failed to describe completely.” 

Travis Jackson | University of Chicago

Paris Blues is a rich, thoughtful, and diligently argued account of the African American muse’s great adventures in France during the twentieth century.  Fry’s illuminating case studies--including from Josephine Baker, Django Reinhardt, Sidney Bechet, and more--revisit many of our preciously held views about modernism, black music, and French culture and teases out the complexities and pleasures that have made this intercontinental dance such a delight to revisit again and again.”

Guthrie P. Ramsey Jr., author of The Amazing Bud Powell: Black Genius, Jazz History, and the Challenge of Bebop

"Andy Fry’s ardently interdisciplinary set of historical analyses of the ongoing importance of African American music in the cultural life of France introduces innovative perspectives on Josephine Baker, Django Reinhardt, and other major musical figures.  This book incontrovertibly confirms the power of the new critical improvisation studies by affirming the centered place of music in any understanding of the human condition."

George E. Lewis, author of A Power Stronger Than Itself: The AACM and American Experimental Music

"Intelligently illustrated by carefully chosen photos, contemporary cartoons and playbills, and the odd musical example, Paris Blues throws valuable new light on a still contested area of jazz (and social) history, and – as one reviewer states – it ‘urges us to be a little smarter about how we talk and write about the place of jazz in the world today.’"

London Jazz News

“I find his writing and research to be exemplary. . . . He has shown that there is much work still to be done in clarifying the stories about the Parisian jazz scene of the past century.”

Jazz History Online

Table of Contents



Black Musical Theatre after Josephine Baker

Jazz Bands in Black and White

Josephine Baker Sings Offenbach

Django Reinhardt’s Occupation Blouze

Sidney Bechet in France




American Musicological Society: Lewis Lockwood Award

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