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Allison McCracken: America’s First Pop Idol: The Rise and Fall of Rudy Vallée
April 27 @ 3:00 pm - 4:30 pm
The C21 Media Studies Research Collaboratory is excited to host a talk with Professor Allison McCracken from DePaul University based on her book, Real Mean Don’t Sing: Crooning in American Culture (Duke UP, 2015). American pop singing did not begin gently with the smooth baritone of Bing Crosby. While the history of jazz music in the 1920s has been told many times, the beginning of pop music during this decade has not. With Real Men Don’t Sing, McCracken offers an introduction to the surprisingly fraught origins of this genre in the U.S., and this talk will focus in particular on the spectacular rise and fall of America’s first pop idol, the largely forgotten crooning tenor Rudy Vallée. Vallée’s popularity as a radio and recording star in the late 1920s and early 1930s was unprecedented, as was the backlash against him. Because of the perceived effeminacy of his voice and persona in relation to shifting norms of white middle class masculinity, Vallée’s popularity prompted a national backlash, and he and other romantic crooners were branded by church leaders, educators, psychologists and other cultural authorities as “immoral,” “artlessly commercial,” “pathological” and “not true men.” Romantic crooners fans were likewise narrowly categorized and dismissed as “mindless, hysterical women.”
In order to address the reasons for romantic crooning’s cultural significance, McCracken’s work situates Vallée in relation to social anxieties about proliferating new sound technologies, narrowing gender and sexual roles, growing white ethnic nationalism, and the increasing visibility and power of the “mass” vs “class” media consumer. In doing so, she exposes the cultural and industrial tensions around gender, sexuality, class and ethnicity that are at the root of American pop music and that continue to shape the way pop stars and their fans are perceived today.
Allison McCracken is Associate Professor of American Studies at DePaul University in Chicago, where she teaches classes in American popular culture and social media, gender and sexuality studies, and American Studies methods. In addition to her award-winning book about romantic crooners in the mass media, Real Men Don’t Sing: Crooning in American Culture (Duke UP, 2015), her work about voices in television and radio has appeared in The Radio Reader (Routledge, 2002) and several online scholarly sites such as FLOW and Antenna. She is currently researching and writing about The Voice television show, the 1930s child singing star Bobby Breen, and co-editing a book on the social media platform Tumblr. Her essay on the history of fandom in U.S. broadcasting is forthcoming later this year in Wiley-Blackwell’s Companion to the History of American Broadcasting.