The Sound of Ethnic America: Prewar "Foreign-Language" Recordings and the Sonics of US Citizenship Public Deposited

Downloadable Content

Download PDF
Last Modified
  • March 22, 2019
  • Swiatlowski, Mathew
    • Affiliation: College of Arts and Sciences, Department of American Studies
  • This dissertation explores the juncture of sound and citizenship to consider how the boundaries of nation are maintained at both geospatial and cultural borders. Specifically, the project concerns “foreign-language” recordings made by US recording companies prior to World War II (hereafter, prewar). With the onset of war in Europe in 1914, “foreign-language” recordings were increasingly cut domestically, featuring vernacular performers of the Great Wave of immigration that brought Hungarian, Syrian, Ukrainian, Turkish, Polish, Mexican, Chinese, and Japanese peoples, alongside a host of other nationalities, to the US beginning in the latter half of the nineteenth century. Initially marketed to specific immigrant populations in the US, these recordings eventually became the province of postwar record collectors and the reissue music market by the 1970s. The narrative of the project draws much of its power by connecting their discrete moments of circulation with the political realities that shaped their audition. As such, the project examines the interplay between, what I call, the “national vernacular imaginary” and state policy in regards to immigration and citizenship. At its most basic, The Sound of Ethnic America is a media history of “foreign-language” recordings at prewar, mid-century, and bicentennial intervals. At its most critical, the project is a study of U.S. “roots music,” centered not on the early country and blues recordings principal to the American folk canon, but instead, on the proximal ethnic vernacular recordings of the same acoustic and early electrical recording periods. Major case studies in this dissertation include: articles, editorials, and advertisements related to the “foreign-language” market in Talking Machine World; Folkways’ Anthology of American Folk Music edited by Harry Smith; Library of Congress’ Folk Music in America edited by Richard Spottswood; and Folklyric Records’ Texas-Mexican Border Music edited by Chris Strachwitz.
Date of publication
Resource type
  • Palm, Michael
  • Neal, Jocelyn
  • Holland, Sharon
  • Bohlman, Andrea
  • Marr, Timothy
  • Doctor of Philosophy
Degree granting institution
  • University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill Graduate School
Graduation year
  • 2018

This work has no parents.