Date of Degree


Document Type


Degree Name



Liberal Studies


David Humphries

Subject Categories

African American Studies | American Popular Culture | American Studies | Music Performance | Other Music | Performance Studies


Performance, Aloofness, Refusal, Lena Horne, Billie Holiday


“Aloof: Black Divas of Refusal” studies performers Lena Horne and Billie Holiday as the progenitors of a new tradition of authentic representation of Black female interiority in the entertainment arts. As interiority denotes the wide-ranging amalgamation of human expression, these divas equipped themselves with a sense of refusal and aloofness to strategically posture themselves in conditions that suited their personal predilections best and considered their status as representatives of the Black community. Lena Horne’s evolution as an aloof diva successfully saw the singer and actress escape classist thought of racial uplift to the full embracing of the totality of Black experience, and she was successful on the merits of her performative choice to withhold her interiority, and talents, from an oppressive gaze. Jazz icon Billie Holiday refused the simultaneous logistical arrangements of racism with an aloofness to law and an unapologetically candid interiority. By rejecting pervasive stereotypes of Black women in their art and lifework, I come to recognize, honor, and venerate these divas for their contributions to Black female performance.