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Amplifiers from Fender's so-called Tweed era (1948–60) are among the most valuable instruments in all popular music. Inside most Fender Tweed amplifiers is a piece of masking tape bearing the signature of the worker who hand-wired the amplifier's circuit. Today, collectors have elevated several of Fender's previously unknown Latina employees into legendary figures with near cultlike followings. In the absence of biographical information about these women, however, the contemporary discourse about them is often highly romanticized. In this article, I present novel historical information about Fender's Tweed-era employees to counter the misinformation surrounding them and Fender's mid-century Fullerton, California factory system more broadly. Analyzing contemporary discourses surrounding Fender's earliest employees, I also critique the persistence of gendered and racialized stereotypes about Fender's female employees being naturally equipped for labor-intensive assembly work due to their supposedly “nimble fingers.” This article also details the social processes through which Fender's Tweed amplifiers have been made “vintage,” and the company's mid-century mass-production techniques have since been attributed the same artisanal values associated with vintage string instrument making. Ultimately, I show how the builder-signatures contained within Fender's Tweed-era amplifiers have been central to the discursive production of value among collectors.
During World War II, Japanese nationals and U.S. residents Shigezo Iwata and Masaru Ben Akahori were arrested and interned while their wives and children were incarcerated separately. Though wartime correspondence sent from Mr. Akahori to his wife and daughter and from Mrs. Iwata to her husband clearly identifies the United States as “home,” the primary emphasis on home is as a marker of familial reunification. This article posits that the memories and sounds imaginatively recollected and conveyed within the correspondence sent from Sonoko Iwata to her husband, Shigezo, and from Masaru Ben Akahori to his wife, Kiku, and their daughter, served to signify and nurture an ongoing sense of belonging to and togetherness with their respective family members with whom they hoped to once again be home, together.
The prevailing white racial frame surrounding discourse on the sailor work songs called chanties (popularly, “sea shanties”) means that discussions tend to ignore or minimize these songs’ African American heritage. Articulating revised and more just historical narratives of chanties is additionally challenged by the normative approach of setting discussions within the spatial frame of the sea. We may overcome these challenges by recentering the frame of discussion on an adjacently situated space of shoreside labor and its actors, cotton screwmen. Throughout the nineteenth century, the United States’ cotton export trade depended upon screwmen's work of stowing cotton bales aboard ships in port. Although all screwmen were Black men during the profession's formative period, by mid-century, white men had joined the profession in complementary proportion. This created an unusual case, not only of both racial groups performing the same labor but also of white men entering and accommodating to an already-established “Black” labor environment. Importantly, from the advent of their profession, screwmen practiced singing to coordinate their labor. I argue that white sailors who came to work seasonally as screwmen were compelled to acculturate to existing African American work singing, and thus acquired the material and conceptual bases to develop the shipboard work songs best remembered as “chanties.” As the first ever sustained exposition of screwmen's forgotten singing, this essay contests both popular narratives’ granting of exclusive agency to white seafaring and academic discussions that tokenize African American heritage as an “influence” rather than the chanty genre's foundation.
Religious music served a political function in the southern United States during the antebellum period. This article examines catechisms and hymnbooks used by white evangelical missionaries and slaveowners in the antebellum South, arguing that the planter elite deployed hymns as a medium to assert white supremacy. The term sonic domination identifies processes whereby sound functioned as a social tool to maintain discipline and order among the enslaved population. Black and white people sang hymns in church, at interracial revivals, and during civic services; they were also heard on bells and cited in poetry. English texts and tunes included in slave catechisms and white portrayals of Black singing highlight the role of evangelical hymns in maintaining plantation order in the Old South. At the same time, enslaved Black Christians found creative ways to circumvent the oppressive power of the white elite through song. African Americans employed English hymns in their own religious rituals and used them to convey hidden meanings on the plantation. Both genres, which interacted and ultimately influenced each other, contributed to an eventual codification of American evangelical hymnody.