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"Finding Otira: On the Geopolitics of Black Celebrity, 1770-1930"

Thursday, September 13, 2012
12:00 AM
1014 Tisch Hall

Deep in the Ohio rust belt there is an old mansion called “Otira”—loaded with historical secrets. Few would suspect that this late Victorian showpiece was first commissioned by black musicians, financed by global capital, and conceived as a political statement. Nor would one imagine that the home’s original owner, Frederick J. Loudin, was among the world’s most famous men, a figure who once sang for Queen Victoria, dined with Kaiser Wilhelm, performed at the Taj Mahal. Following his story backward, this talk will explore the geopolitics of black celebrity, 1770-1920. On the one hand, it will seek to recover the Loudins’ world: global black celebrities many years before the Jazz Age. But it will also develop a broader historical argument about the significance of their circulation. What if the Loudins’ remarkable story were part of a much older black pattern, one that began not with ragtime and records, but at the very dawn of emancipation? What if there were dozens of lost Otiras scattered around the world?