While historians, musicologists, and cultural critics have long acknowledged the widespread and enduring appeal of US black music, few have grappled with the problem of its enormous cultural and aesthetic value. This essay proposes a material understanding of black musical value that locates its origins in the peculiar economy of race and capitalism under US slavery. It argues that black music's value accrues from the anomaly of musical production within the context of slave labor, which brought to form a cultural property that was owned as it was embodied by another property, a property-in-slaves. The article traces the emergence of “Negro music” as an anomalous form extending from the body of a sounding property, slave, whose status as a living thing owning a viable audibility served to heighten the sense of an unobtainable musicality. This unobtainability is part and parcel of what I call here black music's “secret animation.”

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