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Birth of An Industry: Blackface Minstrelsy and the Rise of American Animation

Nicholas Sammond, Author

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Space, Page 138

In the finale of what is often considered the first "talkie", The Jazz Singer (1927), Al Jolson performs the song "Mammy" in blackface. His mother sits in the audience as he sings about his devotion to her, his "Mammy." His performance attempts to reconcile his desire to be a famous singer, his devotion to his family, and his Jewish faith.

Jolson uses blackface and the sentimental caricature of the black Mammy who contentedly accepted slavery and happily nurtured the white family, thus conflating his love for his own mother with that of a Mammy. Jolson's signature blackface performance points out the essential place of sentimentality and nostalgia in racial formations of the 1930s. 

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