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1- They Did It for Love: Charity, Disability, and Show Biz in 1950s Britain - Christina Baade, McMaster University

4:00 PM, Saturday 25 May 2019 (2 hours)
Guided tour "Montréal in jazz"   06:00 PM to 08:00 PM (2 hours)

On 19 December 1956, Vera Lynn gave a talk on the BBC’s Woman’s Hour.Despite being a hit recording artist, television personality, and wartime forces sweetheart, Lynn’s subject was her experiences organizing a charity ball. After describing how she arranged the menu, raffle, and cabaret with a host of stars “you could not have bought for money—but they did for love,” she explained the fundraiser’s purpose: “to help start a seaside holiday home for spastic children.” The charity was the (regrettably named) Stars Organization for Spastics, which started in 1953 to address the gaping shortfalls in welfare state support for people with disabilities. A founding member, Lynn even now heads her own charity for children with cerebral palsy.

In this paper, I explore the triangle of “show-business,” charity, and celebrity that formed the background for Lynn’s Women’s Hourtalk. My working premise is that it was in the 1950s that she became established as an iconic entertainer—and that the engines driving this new style of celebrity was her visibility on both the West End stage and the entertainment industry’s charity circuit. Drawing on Longmore, Clare, and other disability scholars, I consider how such charities rendered visible (and audible) both disabled people and their benefactors. Finally, recalling that Dame Vera was named a Dame of the British Empire for her charity work, not her contributions as an artist, I reflect on the gendered, raced, and classed ways in which musical labor, care work, and stardom are understood and valued.
McMaster University
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