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Black Artists and White Space: Race and Political Economy in Louis Armstrong’s Career
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This thesis examines the jazz music industry in the early 20th century through an intensive case study of Louis Armstrong. As one of the seminal figures in jazz music, Armstrong was a link between white popular culture and black popular culture throughout his career. Combining insights from the political economy of communications and cultural industries approaches to examine how Armstrong found success in both the mainstream pop music market and the African-American race music market, I explore the ways in which the structure of the music industry influenced Armstrong’s career, and how he navigated the prejudiced and racist roadblocks that affected the career paths and profits of his contemporaries. This approach emphasizes the ways in which creators like Armstrong are able to exercise creative autonomy within industrial structures. By examining the relationships between race labels and major labels in the twentieth century, and specifically the relationships that encouraged Armstrong to move from the former to the latter, this paper reinforces an argument that the economic factors that drive success in the music industry also, in part, drive our conception of popular culture. This paper finds the synergy of white power structures and Armstrong’s own talent in managing interpersonal relationships influenced the degree to which he was able to succeed.