Born in the U.S.A. / Made in the G.D.R.: Anglo-American Popular Music and the Westernization of a Communist Record Market

Document Type



Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)



First Advisor's Name

Kenneth Lipartito

First Advisor's Committee Title

Committee Co-Chair

Second Advisor's Name

Jenna M. Gibbs

Second Advisor's Committee Title

Committee Co-Chair

Third Advisor's Name

Victoria de Grazia

Third Advisor's Committee Title

Committee Member

Fourth Advisor's Name

Peter Hanns Reill

Fourth Advisor's Committee Title

Committee Member

Fifth Advisor's Name

David J. Park

Fifth Advisor's Committee Title

Committee Member


Cold War, Popular Culture, Music, Record Industry, America, Europe, Germany, Transatlantic, History, Cultural Diplomacy, Cultural Commerce

Date of Defense



Scholars from various disciplines have demonstrated that popular culture factored significantly in Cold War contestation. As a pervasive form of cultural content and unifying medium for baby boomers worldwide, pop music played an important part in the power struggle between the era’s two adversarial camps. Historical studies of the past thirty years have identified initiatives of cultural diplomacy, from radio broadcasting to live concert tours, as key to disseminating Western music in Eastern Bloc societies. This project explains how cultural commerce across the divide of the Iron Curtain familiarized millions of music fans in the German Democratic Republic (GDR) with popular sounds from the United States, the United Kingdom, and other Western democracies. Detailing a process that affected all Bloc states in similar ways, it seeks to enrich the scholarly discourse on the role of pop culture in the twentieth century’s defining ideological conflict.

Through analysis of previously unavailable or inaccessible sources, the dissertation reconstructs the economic development of a communist culture industry and measures the commercial significance of Western commodities in one Eastern Bloc marketplace. Drawing on untapped archival files, it traces the evolution of Deutsche Schallplatten (German Records) from a small private firm into a flagship enterprise on the GDR’s cultural circuit. It illuminates how dependency on technology and resources from capitalist countries prompted East Germany’s managers to prioritize the westward export of classical recordings for the purpose of earning hard currencies. Based on oral histories of contemporary witnesses, it documents how the Amiga label through the parent company’s business ties to capitalist partners advanced the import of Western jazz, blues, rock, pop, and dance music to exhaust the purchasing power of the home audience. Empirically evaluating formerly classified production data for a total of 143 million records, it reveals how the state-owned monopolist engineered a de facto takeover of the domestic marketplace by American, British, and West German performers to achieve high profitability. The dissertation argues that intensifying Westernization of its walled-in music market exemplified the GDR’s decision to concede the Cold War battle over cultural preferences and political loyalties of its citizens out of economic necessity.



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