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Long before Edith Piaf sang "La vie en rose," her predecessors took to the stage of the belle epoque music hall, singing of female desire, the treachery of men, the harshness of working-class life, and the rough neighborhoods of Paris. Icon of working-class femininity and the underworld, the realist singer signaled the emergence of new cultural roles for women as well as shifts in the nature of popular entertainment. Chanteuse in the City provides a genealogy of realist performance through analysis of the music hall careers and film roles of Mistinguett, Josephine Baker, Frehel, and Damia. Above all, Conway offers a fresh interpretation of 1930s French cinema, emphasizing its love affair with popular song and its close connections to the music hall and the cafe-concert.
Kelley Conway is Assistant Professor of Communication Arts at the University of Wisconsin, Madison.