Queering Kansas City Jazz


Queering Kansas City Jazz

Gender, Performance, and the History of a Scene

Amber R. Clifford-Napoleone

Expanding Frontiers: Interdisciplinary Approaches to Studies of Women, Gender, and Sexuality Series

234 pages
7 photographs, index


November 2018


$45.00 Add to Cart
eBook (EPUB)
Ebook purchases delivered via Leaf e-Reader

November 2018


$45.00 Add to Cart
eBook (PDF)
Ebook purchases delivered via Leaf e-Reader

November 2018


$45.00 Add to Cart

About the Book

The Jazz Age, a phenomenon that shaped American leisure culture in the early twentieth century, coincided with the growth of Kansas City, Missouri, from frontier town to metropolitan city. Though Kansas City’s music, culture, and stars are well covered, Queering Kansas City Jazz supplements the grand narrative of jazz history by including queer identities in the city’s history while framing the jazz-scene experience in terms of identity and space. Cabarets, gender impressionism clubs, and sites of sex tourism in Kansas City served as world-making spaces for those whose performance of identity transgressed hegemonic notions of gender, sexuality, race, and class. Amber R. Clifford-Napoleone takes an interdisciplinary approach to provide a critical deconstruction of how the jazz scene offered a space for nonnormative gender practice and performance and acted as a site of contested identity and spatial territory.

Few books examine the changing ideas about gender in the turn-of-the-century Great Plains, under the false assumption that people in middle-American places experienced cultural shifts only as an aftershock of events on the coasts. This approach overlooks the region’s contested territories, identities, and memories and fails to adequately explain the social and cultural disruptions experienced on the plains. Clifford-Napoleone rectifies this oversight and shows how Kansas City represents the complexity of the jazz scene in America as a microcosm of all the other people who made the culture, clubs, music, and cabarets of the age possible. 

Author Bio

Amber R. Clifford-Napoleone is an associate professor of anthropology and director of McClure Archives and University Museum at the University of Central Missouri. She is the author of Queerness in Heavy Metal Music: Metal Bent.


"Clifford-Napoleon offers a taste of how much queerer Kansas City's jazz scene was than historian have previously recognized. She shows, too, how intertwined race and class were with gender experimentation. Her study invites readers to dig deeper into this nearly lost history of a jazz scene that historians thought they knew."—Robin C. Henry, Middle West Reviews

"This narrative rights the historical record and adds nuance to our understanding of the intersectionality of race, class, gender, and space in Jazz Age Kansas City."—Kathleen A. Kelly, Kansas History

"Clifford-Napoleone reframes the Kansas City jazz scene as one shaped by otherness, and she focuses on the non musical foundations of jazz. While that is one obvious strength of this slender volume, its greatest contribution entails the resurrection of the marginalized cultural pioneers of scene-making-the gender and sexual nonconformists, the working-class Kansas Citians, women, and the plethora of journeyman entertainers, all of whom nourished this scene. In that regard, Queering Kansas City Jazz is an example of the opportunities that intersectionality provides for the reimagination of cultural phenomena."—Aaron Bachhoffer, Journal of Southern History

Queering Kansas City Jazz offers a new and exciting perspective on the jazz scene that accompanied the growth of Kansas City from frontier town to metropolitan city during the early twentieth century. It will potentially change the way in which we understand regional identity and recognize those who were pushed into the margins of our social histories.”—Tammy Kernodle, professor of musicology at Miami University and author of Soul on Soul: The Life and Music of Mary Lou Williams

Table of Contents

List of Illustrations
1. Rethinking Kansas City’s Jazz Story
2. Kansas City’s Jazz Scene
3. The Myth of the Wide-Open Town
4. Sissy Nights at the Spinning Wheel
5. Crib Girls to Criminals
6. Queering Dante’s Inferno
7. Remembering KC

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