Exploration of Race in the Musical Show Boat

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Exploration of Race in the Musical Show Boat

San Francisco Opera General Director David Gockley and Professor Ethel Walker from San Jose State University will discuss themes of racism related to a classic musical, Jerome Kern’s Show Boat, being presented by San Francisco Opera in Summer 2014.  Show Boat is a true classic of American musical theater; a tale of life on the Mississippi from the 1880s to the 1920s that is both a poignant love story and a powerful reminder of the bitter legacy of racism.

Dr. Walker will place Show Boat in the cultural and historical context of the 1920's. She will include reviews from white and back press and explore connections to the Harlem Renaissance, race films, and other Broadway shows of the time.  General Director Gockley will discuss how it came about that San Francisco Opera chose to present, in a Company premiere, Show Boat, and the importance of presenting musicals in grand opera fashion.   

Show Boat was progressive in that it boldly portrayed racial issues and was the first racially integrated musical, in that both black and white performers appeared and sang on stage together.  It was also the first Broadway musical to seriously depict an interracial marriage and to feature a character of mixed race who was "passing" for white.  However, Show Boat has been the frequent object of controversy as well, primarily because of the use of the “n” word in the lyrics and also the historical portrayal of blacks serving as passive laborers and servants.

A question and answer period will follow.

This program is co-presented by the Museum of the African Diaspora and San Francisco Opera.

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