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Catherine Haworth (University of Huddersfield) - “What the voodoos do”: Reading Identity in the All-Singing, All-Dancing Body of Ann Miller

Wednesday 9 March 2022, 4.00PM to 5:30 PM

Attend the seminar in-person, or online via zoom (Meeting ID: 998 9220 5308; Passcode: 390939).

Abstract: Texan tap dancer and self-described ‘star lady’, Ann Miller, enjoyed a long and consistent career in Hollywood musicals. Rarely cast as romantic lead, and instead appearing as vamp or comedienne, Miller tended to feature in speciality roles designed to explore her own star persona as one of the fastest tappers in the business. With her legs reportedly insured for a million dollars, Miller’s strong association with the Black-identified form of tap and her energetic physical and vocal performance style formed the basis of both her appeal to casting executives and her disruption of typical constructions of white femininity. Her numbers, including notable appearances in Hey, Rookie (1944), On The Town (1949), Small Town Girl (1953), and Hit The Deck (1955), frequently incorporated deliberate musical signifiers of 'non-white' ethnicity to further codify Miller’s presence as liminal.

This paper explores the ways in which Miller’s onscreen musical numbers both promote and disguise the ‘problems’ of her offscreen stardom, focusing in particular on often explicitly racist discourses of exoticism and authenticity. The dual threat and attraction that Miller’s virtuosic body held for Hollywood – and its strategies to exploit and efface her star presence – typify the musical’s celebration of spectacular, individualised virtuosity and its intense anxieties around difference.

About the speaker: Catherine Haworth is Course Leader for Music at the University of Huddersfield. Her research focuses on musical practices of representation and identity across various media, with a particular interest in film and television music. Catherine has published on topics including the female detective in 1940s Hollywood; music, gender, and medical discourse; women and music in James Bond; film music and celebrity culture; and film and television musicals. Her editorial work includes a special edition of Music, Sound and the Moving Image on gender, sexuality, and the soundtrack; Gender, Age and Musical Creativity (Ashgate, 2015); and Singing Out: The Musical Voice in Audiovisual Media (forthcoming with EUP).

Location: Music Department, Room D003, Sally Baldwin Buildings, Wentworth Way

Email: rachel.cowgill@york.ac.uk