Deportation blues: black jazz and white Australia in the 1920s

Bruce Johnson

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1 Citation (Scopus)


The history of popular music in the twentieth century has been regularly intersected by outbreaks of moral panic regarding the debilitating influence of particular genres, for which the association between ‘blackness’ and degradation has provided especially inflammable fuel. In Australia this has been intensified by virtue of a strain of racism and xenophobia, most recently manifested in the government’s refusal of entry to Rapper Snoop Dogg in April 2007 after failing a 'character test'. One case from 1928 resulted in a generic quarantine that affected the evelopment of popular music in Australia for decades. Throughout the 1920s there were vigorous union lobbies against jazz, and especially the importation of bands from the US and England. The complaints drew their authority from the criteria of art and morality and the two obligingly converged when the first African-American jazz band toured with the revue 'The Coloured Idea' in 1928. During its season in Melbourne, collusion between the local yellow press tabloid Truth, the intelligence organization the Commonwealth Investigation Branch, and the local police, led to members of the band being caught in drug and alcohol-fuelled frolics with local women. In a unique act of censorship, the whole band was deported, and proscriptions introduced on black musicians made it the last African American jazz band allowed into the country for decades. This paper provides an account of this episode, and a discussion of the issues regarding popular music, race and gender on which it pivoted.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1-13
Number of pages13
JournalIASPM journal : journal of the International Association for the Study of Popular Music
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - 2010


  • Australian jazz
  • early twentieth century
  • racism

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