Wednesday, November 12, 2008


A “juke” or “juke joint,” according to, is “a roadside or rural establishment offering liquor, dancing, and often gambling and prostitution.” “Jookin’” means to play dance music, especially in a juke. The word is derived from the Gullah word juke or jook, meaning “disorderly, wicked,” and is of West African origin; it is akin to the Wolof word dzug, “to live wickedly,” and the Bambara word dzugu, meaning “wicked.” While the multiselection, coin-operated phonograph was invented in the early twentieth century, this particular form of technology was not referred to as a “jukebox” until after the repeal of Prohibition in 1933. Afterwards, companies such as Seeburg, Rowe International (then known as Automated Musical Instruments, or AMI), and Wurlitzer were able to install thousands of these automated, random access machines in various establishments, not only in juke joints but in drugstores furnished with small dance floors. For various reasons, after World War II, teenagers were not as inclined to dance but stand and listen, and jukeboxes were relegated to bars and beauty parlors. In the 1950s, with the rise of the portable phonograph and the vast popularity of the 45-rpm record, teenagers were more inclined to dance at home or at private parties, and the Golden Age of the jukebox was over. Nowadays, these machines have been remotivated as found objects, and hence artworks, and are highly prized by collectors. What was junk to an earlier generation is art to the next, having undergone the transformation into a found object.

Selected Reading:

William Bunch. Jukebox America: Down Back Streets and Blue Highways in Search of the Country's Greatest Jukebox. St. Martin's, 1994.

Katrina Hazzard-Gordon.
Jookin': The Rise of Social Dance Formations in African-American Culture. Temple University Press, 1992.

Frank. W. Hoffman,
The Cash Box Singles Charts, 1950-1981. Scarecrow, 1983.

Vincent Lynch.
Jukebox: The Golden Age. Lancaster-Miller, 1981.

David W. Stowe,
Swing Changes: Big-Band Jazz in New Deal America. Harvard University Press, 1994.

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