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Drawing on Pierre Macherey’s location of ‘real history’ in the silences and gaps of the historical record, this paper studies the changing role of the paid singer in England. Although singers and musicians in England have been rewarded for their performances at all periods, more attention has been given in recent years to traditional singing as a recreational, even domestic activity than as a means of livelihood. Because of their constantly changing social status, the position of the paid singer has been ambiguous and frequently oppositional. A recent book sees their status as one of continuous decline. However, the process was not a continuous and inevitable one: the singer adapted to changes in society and found new sources of support.

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