Rami Stucky

William and Carolyn Polk Jefferson Fellow
Wichita, Kansas
B.A. Bowdoin College (2013) with Honors
M.M. New England Conservatory (2016)
Graduate School of Arts & Sciences


Rami Stucky focuses on Brazilian bossa nova’s impact on American popular music during the 1960’s. He was a 2020 Public Humanities Fellow in South Atlantic Studies with the Virginia Foundation for the Humanities and is a current fellow with the UVA Americas Center/Centro de las Américas. He was a 2020 nominee for the Graduate Teaching Award and specializes in teaching jazz history and jazz composition at UVA.

Thesis Description:

Bossa Nova and the American Musical Imagination
This dissertation is a study of the bossa nova boom that occurred in the United States during the 1960s. The boom began in 1962 after Charlie Byrd, Keter Betts, and Buddy Deppenschmidt returned from a State Department tour of Latin America and recorded Jazz Samba, a bossa nova album which stayed atop Billboard’s pop charts for seventy weeks. But the bossa nova boom did not rely on the success of Jazz Samba alone. Instead, I argue that a diverse cast of doo-wop ensembles, soul-jazz groups, adult contemporary artists, Latin-Caribbean mambo bands, and bossa nova’s Brazilian originators themselves all played their own version of the “bossa nova” throughout the 1960s. By recording music that drew upon the same novel influence of Brazilian bossa nova rhythms and instrumentation, but employing these sounds in a diverse range of styles, these musicians created heterogenous “imagined communities” populated by vast swaths of American audiences. Labels like Command and Audio Fidelity released bossa nova albums recorded in stereophonic sound that appealed to mostly white and middle-class men interested in hi-fi stereo equipment. Meanwhile, labels like Argo and Blue Note released bossa nova albums that catered to predominately African American listeners in inner cities who preferred the sounds of soul-jazz and rhythm and blues. Concurrently, the rhythms of bossa nova found themselves in the music of rock, funk, soul, and rhythm and blues - music that was never marketed as bossa nova but nevertheless indebted to the innovations of its progenitors. But this bossa nova boom did not last forever. Frank Sinatra and Antônio Carlos Jobim’s self-titled album seemed absolutely destined to win Album of the Year in 1968. Sinatra had won it the previous two years for his albums September of My Years and A Man and his Music. But The Beatles’ Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band stepped in and beat out Francis Albert Sinatra & Antônio Carlos Jobim for Album of the Year. Rock music undoubtedly began to eclipse bossa nova music as magazines like Hi-Fi/Stereo Review and Playboy began to give more attention to Woodstock than bossa nova star Astrud Gilberto. But I also argue rely on the scholarship of Penny von Eschen, Ingrid Monson, and Robin D.G. Kelly in order to show that Black jazz musicians began to look less to Afro-Brazil as a musical source of inspiration as the African continent itself became a much more powerful symbol. As African-American musicians shifted their interest away from Afro-Brazil, forging transnational links with Black musicians in Rio de Janeiro became less important than forging transnational links with musicians in Ghana and Nigeria. At the same time, I also argue that executives on Madison Avenue began to invoke bossa nova as a marketing term to sell consumer goods targeted mostly to white upper-class males. By the end of the 1960s, the advertising industry had transformed bossa nova into a term that no longer referred to a diverse coalition of audiences and musicians, but instead to white middlebrow blandness. These two factors not only caused bossa nova music to fall out of favor with American audiences but also help explain why historians and musicologists have overlooked period of history and its influence on American popular music.1 My dissertation thus builds on previous scholarship by scholars such as Karl Hagstrom Miller and Jack Hamilton who have noted that white and black musicians played folk and rock music to the same extent during the 1910s and 1960s, but that over time these genres became equated with certain races. Record executives invented the terms “hillbilly” and “blues” in order to “segregate” the early twentieth-century folk music while the popular press of the 1960s helped turn rock into the “natural province of whites” by devoting all their attention to Bob Dylan instead of Sam Cooke. My dissertation shows that a similar transformation occurred within the history of bossa nova music. Robin Moore, K. E. Goldschmitt, and Francesco Adinolfi have implied that only white upper-class audiences enjoyed bossa nova by labeling it “pre-civil rights music” and “music of the jet set.” The history of the bossa nova has thus been forgotten, much like the multifaceted histories of rock and folk music. My dissertation offers a corrective by showing its multifaceted history while spotlighting its influence on a diverse range of American popular music.2

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