This study unearths 20th-century U.S. music histories to demonstrate that racism accompanied the entry of yoga into American “belonging” and domestication, while “Indians” were excluded. There are three yoga song sites in this study; each presents a composite of racial constructions that utilize Othering tropes long deployed to affirm White supremacy and legitimize colonial power. I analyze the sound world, lyrics, and films of (1) the 1941 popular song “The Yogi Who Lost His Will Power,” by Orrin Tucker and His Orchestra; (2) the 1960 chart-topper “Yogi,” which catapulted the Ivy Three to one-hit-wonder status; and, (3) the 1967 Elvis Presley song “Yoga Is as Yoga Does, ” from the movie Easy Come, Easy Go. Questions that guide this study include: How does racist displacement appear in historic contexts of sonic productions and U.S. proliferation in yoga? What racial stereotypes accompanied yoga’s entry into American cultural discourse? I argue the evidence supports three key findings: (1) yoga’s movement into American popular culture is inextricably tied to racism and Othering; (2) widely circulating stereotypes of Indians, yoga, and yogis in American popular music include classic racist tropes, such as the grinning Sambo, and (3) the logic of elimination operates to hide U.S. music histories of racialized yoga. I conclude that U.S. yoga and its musical and cultural productions, branded as peaceful and flexible, camouflage the settler nation and White supremacy. The article concludes with a forecast for the importance of music studies to the nascent field of critical yoga studies.
Yoga’s Entry Into American Popular Music Is Racialized (1941–67): A Critical Yoga Studies Analysis of Race, Othering, and “Belonging”
Roopa Bala Singh (“Yoga’s Entry Into American Popular Music Is Racialized, 1941–67”) is from a lineage of musicians, including those in her immediate family who are nationally recognized, gharana trained Indian classical musicians and artists. Dr. Singh is a musician as well as a licensed attorney (UC Berkeley) with a master’s in cinema (NYU) and a PhD in justice studies (ASU). She completed training in audio engineering from the Institute of Audio Research (NYC, 2011). Dr. Singh is an assistant professor of law and civic engagement at California State University, Monterey Bay (2020). She leads continuing education workshops for Yoga Alliance and was the organization’s first South Asian American standards adviser (2016–present). In 2020, Dr. Singh launched the Critical Yoga Studies podcast, as part of The New School’s Social Movements + Innovation Lab. The podcast uses yoga as a jumping-off point to center Black and Brown relations. She spent a year in Kerala engaged in a groundbreaking ethnographic study of yoga tourism and the lives of Indian yoga teachers (2018–19). She launched the first-ever public panel discussions centering South Asian diasporic voices in yoga (SAAPYA, 2013). She keynoted UC Berkeley’s Race and Yoga Conference (2016). Dr. Singh is published in the book Yoga, the Body, and Embodied Social Change (2016). Her forthcoming book, Yoga Is Not “White": Critical Yoga Studies Essays on 100 Years of U.S. Yoga, lays the groundwork for an emergent intersectional field. Website: www.roopabalasingh.com; newsletter and podcast: www.roopa.substack.com; Instagram: @roopabalasingh; Twitter: @DrRoopaSingh; email: firstname.lastname@example.org.
Roopa Bala Singh; Yoga’s Entry Into American Popular Music Is Racialized (1941–67): A Critical Yoga Studies Analysis of Race, Othering, and “Belonging”. Resonance 27 July 2020; 1 (2): 132–162. doi: https://doi.org/10.1525/res.2020.1.2.132
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