“Ray Charles in Paris: Race, Protest, and the Soundscape of the Algerian War,” by Assistant Professor of History Celeste Day Moore, was recently published in the journal American Quarterly. The article details the events surrounding a concert series by Ray Charles at Paris’ Palais des Sports in October 1961.
Until the day before the first concert, Palais des Sports was being used as a temporary detainment facility for 7,000 North African demonstrators who had been arrested as they attempted a peaceful protest in the city center on Oct. 17. Moore says “this historical convergence, which brought the commercial triumph of African American music and the state’s abuse of its minority population into the same physical space, has long been a curious footnote in histories of October 17, 1961.”
She notes that “while convenient shorthand for French racism, this stark juxtaposition has a tendency to oversimplify the racial meaning and symbolic value of Charles’s music in this historical moment.”
Instead, Moore contends in her article, “the Charles concert series should be understood on its own terms: a strange coincidence that nevertheless transformed the terms through which race, empire, and music were understood and deployed in France.”