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Grant number: FT-249421-16

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Matthew Willard Butterfield
Franklin and Marshall College (Lancaster, PA 17603-2802)

The Swing Phenomenon: A History of Meaning

Preparation of an article on the term "swing" and African American music, 1890s-1930s.

The mysterious rhythmic quality known as “swing” is taken by many today to be one of the essential characteristics of jazz. However, it has never been entirely clear what exactly the term means: it has been used to designate everything from a particular way of dividing the beat (i.e., swing eighth notes) to a general rhythmic ethos characterized by a sense of forward propulsion. As a manifestation of what was called “hot rhythm,” swing is also inextricably bound up with the modern American discourse of race. This project traces the early genealogy of the term as it was applied to rhythm in black music, specifically Negro spirituals, ragtime, and jazz. It draws on a variety of early jazz history books as well as newspaper and magazine articles published in the first decades of the twentieth century to explore how “swing” came to be understood as the defining essence of jazz rhythm by the late 1930s--an essence that was explicitly racialized as an expression of black identity in music.

Project fields:
Music History and Criticism

Summer Stipends

Research Programs

Total amounts:
$6,000 (approved)
$6,000 (awarded)

Grant period:
7/1/2016 – 8/31/2016