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Flavor and Soul

Italian America at Its African American Edge

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Description

In the United States, African American and Italian cultures have been intertwined for more than a hundred years. From as early as nineteenth-century African American opera star Thomas Bowers—“The Colored Mario”—all the way to hip-hop entrepreneur Puff Daddy dubbing himself “the Black Sinatra,” the affinity between black and Italian cultures runs deep and wide. Once you start looking, you’ll find these connections everywhere. Sinatra croons bel canto over the limousine swing of the Count Basie band. Snoop Dogg deftly tosses off the line “I’m Lucky Luciano ’bout to sing soprano.” Like the Brooklyn pizzeria and candy store in Spike Lee’s Do the Right Thing and Jungle Fever, or the basketball sidelines where Italian American coaches Rick Pitino and John Calipari mix it up with their African American players, black/Italian connections are a thing to behold—and to investigate.

In Flavor and Soul, John Gennari spotlights this affinity, calling it “the edge”—now smooth, sometimes serrated—between Italian American and African American culture. He argues that the edge is a space of mutual emulation and suspicion, a joyous cultural meeting sometimes darkened by violent collision. Through studies of music and sound, film and media, sports and foodways, Gennari shows how an Afro-Italian sensibility has nourished and vitalized American culture writ large, even as Italian Americans and African Americans have fought each other for urban space, recognition of overlapping histories of suffering and exclusion, and political and personal rispetto.

Thus, Flavor and Soul is a cultural contact zone—a piazza where people express deep feelings of joy and pleasure, wariness and distrust, amity and enmity. And it is only at such cultural edges, Gennari argues, that America can come to truly understand its racial and ethnic dynamics.

From Publishers Weekly

Jan 09, 2017 – In this thought-provoking, academic, yet often lively study, Gennari, an associate professor of English and ethnic studies at the University of Vermont, explores the intersections between African-American and Italian-American culture. He notes, for instance, how men from both groups have been stigmatized as "dangerous public enemies" while black and Italian-American mothers, epitomized by Aunt Jemima and Mamma Mia, are sentimentalized "as crucial to the mothering' of a nation." Gennari also explores how Italian and black musicians, such as Enrico Caruso and Louis Armstrong, helped replace the U.S.'s Puritan mores with a new, more physically expressive and emotional popular culture. And Frank Sinatra, besides being a "state-sanctioned compulsory experience" for the author's Italian-American New Jersey relatives, was revered by rappers like Puff Daddy and Jay Z for his "stylish virility." In his analysis of Spike Lee's movies, especially Do the Right Thing and Jungle Fever, Gennari convincingly shows how the black film director, who grew up in a multiethnic Brooklyn neighborhood, adroitly captures Italian-American life. Whether he's discussing the relationship between Italian-American basketball coaches and black players or the importance of food to both cultures, Gennari shows that despite tensions between them, black and Italian-Americans have much in common and understand one another better than many outsiders realize.
Flavor and Soul
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  • $17.99
  • Available on iPhone, iPad, iPod touch, and Mac.
  • Category: History
  • Published: Mar 18, 2017
  • Publisher: University of Chicago Press
  • Seller: Chicago Distribution Center
  • Print Length: 296 Pages
  • Language: English
  • Requirements: To view this book, you must have an iOS device with iBooks 1.3.1 or later and iOS 4.3.3 or later, or a Mac with iBooks 1.0 or later and OS X 10.9 or later.

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