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The Little Slaves of the Harp: Italian Child Street Musicians in Nineteenth-Century Paris, London, and New York

During the nineteenth century, musicians could be seen playing in the street of cities all across Europe and North America. Although they came from a number of countries, Italian immigrants were the national group most associated with street music. Thousands of Italian children were indentured to padroni as street performers for periods of one to three years. The padroni were often known to the families of the children or were from the same villages. Some were cruel and exploitive; others were no worse than masters in any other trade. The child musicians were part of the mass migration of the nineteenth century and public reactions to them differed in each city, reflecting the host society’s view on the influx of foreign immigrants in general. Zucchi shows that the children’s work was an aspect of the emerging industry in commercial leisure and discusses how their presence in foreign cities raised numerous questions relating to social welfare.

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