Date of Degree
African American Studies | American Popular Culture | Slavic Languages and Societies | Theatre History
In the first half of the twentieth century, a significant number of African Americans left the United States for the promise of racial and economic equality in the supposedly class-less society of a post-Revolution Soviet Union. This dissertation uses a series of interrelated case studies to contextualize the theatrical work of Paul Robeson, jazz dancer Henry Scott, actor Wayland Rudd, and the 1955-56 international tour of Porgy and Bess within the overlapping social, political, and aesthetic landscapes of African American and Soviet performance in Moscow during the rise and height of Stalinism.
Starting with an overview of race in the Stalinist era through Paul Robeson’s experiences in the 1930s and ’40s, this dissertation reads Robeson as an interpretive structure for African Americans in the Soviet Union. It then looks at the racial ambivalence and suspicions of cultural loyalty apparent in the experiences of Henry Scott and Wayland Rudd. As an embodied representation of American jazz in the growing Stalinism of the 1920s and ’30s, Scott’s experiences intersect the trajectories of coloniality, antiracism, popular entertainment, and political cultural policy under Stalin. Wayland Rudd’s career, which began in the American theatre before the actor left for the Soviet Union in 1932, spans cultures and can help to highlight the differences in performances for the same actor in the United States and the Soviet Union. Rudd constantly negotiated and renegotiated his identity as an American, African American, and Soviet throughout his career in Russia during the 1930s and ’40s. Ending with the Soviet interpretations of Porgy and Bess, the final case study examines failures of both US and Soviet propaganda to completely turn this transcultural performance to either nation’s political purpose.
Silsby, Christopher E., "African American Performers in Stalin’s Soviet Union: Between Political Promise and Racial Propaganda" (2018). CUNY Academic Works.