The composer Leonard Bernstein once wrote that his now-famous "West Side Story" of 1957 included a plea for racial tolerance as materials reveal in the Bernstein Collection in the Music Division of the Library of Congress. This lecture traces Bernstein's composer-activism back to "On the Town" of 1944, which was his first Broadway show and grew out of a fruitful collaboration with Betty Comden, Adolph Green, and Jerome Robbins. Produced with a racially integrated cast during WWII, On the Town crossed race lines boldly, and it did so in an era when racial segregation held firm yet faced increasing resistance. In the historical literature about Broadway, the show's racial advances have been ignored. Fusing musical and cultural history, this lecture draws upon manuscripts for "On the Town" in the Bernstein Collection to explore political activism embedded in the show, as well as to consider Bernstein's early fascination with the blues. Carol J. Oja is William Powell Mason Professor of Music at Harvard and on the faculty of its program in the History of American Civilization. Her "Making Music Modern: New York in the 1920s" (2000) won the Lowens Book Award from the Society for American Music and an ASCAP-Deems Taylor Award. She has also published "Copland and his World" (co-edited with Judith Tick) and "Colin McPhee: Composer in Two Worlds." She is past president of the Society for American Music, and she is currently completing a book tentatively titled "Bernstein Meets Broadway: Collaborative Art in a Time of War."
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