College of Liberal Arts & Social Sciences Theses and Dissertations

Graduation Date

7-2019

Document Type

Thesis

Department/Program Conferring Degree

Liberal Studies

Keywords

piano accordion, vaudeville, Guido Deiro, taste culture, middle ground

Abstract

My thesis considers the influence of vaudeville on the popularization of the accordion in America between the 1910s and 1920s. Scholarship on the accordion has tended to echo historical caricatures of the instrument as a consequence of folkloric, lowbrow, and even indecent class mores. In this paper, I explore the accordion as a thoroughly modern and complex cultural symbol through the locus of Guido Deiro (1886–1950), an Italian accordionist who first introduced the piano accordion to the American vaudeville in 1910. To reconstruct and contrast various facets of Guido’s vaudeville career, I use archival materials, historical sources, and recordings that reveal the trajectory and reception of his performances in the early twentieth century. I examine two related but conflicting perspectives conducive to the general acceptance of Guido’s accordion: the promotion of commercialized decency that stabilized vaudeville as a nationwide mass entertainment and its inherent instability that reflected shifting and contradictory interests within the vaudeville industry. While Guido inducted the accordion into mainstream culture as a form of respectable entertainment, his accordion aligned and misaligned with the cultural standards set by vaudeville administrators. It was the tension between Guido’s accordion and vaudeville’s unstable taste rhetoric that inscribed the popular, commercial, and cultural significance of the instrument. By showing the linkage between the rise of the accordion in vaudeville and its cultural contradictions, I will provide new ways to conceptualize Guido Deiro and the emergence of the accordion in early-twentieth-century America.

Available for download on Saturday, July 30, 2022

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