Electronic Theses and Dissertations





Date of Award


Document Type

Dissertation (Access Restricted)

Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy



Committee Chair

Beverly G. Bond

Committee Member

Aram Goudsouzian

Committee Member

Sarah Potter

Committee Member

Margaret Caffrey


Popular debates about African American womanhood in the twentieth century have generated a primarily bifurcated discourse, an approach that leaves little room for exploring ways in which black women navigated the contested terrain of gender roles and sexual expression. The life of Alberta Hunter, an internationally known blues and cabaret singer from Memphis, Tennessee, complicated the two-pronged approach to analyzing these models of black womanhood. This dissertation seeks to provide the most comprehensive study to date on the life of Alberta Hunter. Her multifaceted response to pressures facing African American women tells us that the dominant historical models of black womanhood are insufficient explanations for the range of possibilities for some women during the twentieth century. Hunter intentionally used a blues aesthetic as well as respectability politics to assert herself as an entertainer and advocate for racial justice. An examination of how she envisioned and presented herself on and offstage challenges the accepted division between middle-class values and a working-class blues aesthetic and offers new paths toward understanding ways in which African American women accepted, challenged, and manipulated conventional gender roles throughout much of the twentieth century. Literature about the impact of global travel on African American men's racial consciousness has increased recently. Perspectives of their female counterparts, however, remain limited. Alberta Hunter's story is useful in filling in some historiographical gaos. As a woman who traveled extensively throughout the twentieth century, she was uniquely positioned to form a critique of American racism that transcended domestic borders. Hunter's ideas shifted from a North-versus-South perspective to one that encompassed a global understanding of how systems of racial inequality impacted people of color throughout the world. Hunter's international experiences serve as a privileged look into African American women's traveles and perspectives of global injustice based on race. An examination of how Hunter contested inequality throughout her personal life and singing career offers insight into analyses of how African American women survived and challenged systems of oppression both in the United States and abroad.


Data is provided by the student.

Library Comment

Dissertation or thesis originally submitted to the local University of Memphis Electronic Theses & dissertation (ETD) Repository.