Sister Rosetta Tharpe: A Gospel Great

I have decided to dedicate my last blog post to Sister Rosetta Tharpe because she was mentioned in class the other day and she is just so very cool. She was born Rosetta Nubin and was a famous blues guitar player who would go on to become the first successful crossover acts who played both gospel and pop songs with a career spanning the 1940s and 50s.She started playing publicly in front of her church at the age of four but went on to pursue a career in the music industry, first as a gospel singer and then also as a popular singer.

She was an incredibly talented singer and guitar player. She was one of the foremost talents on guitar and used to regularly challenge and subsequently beat male guitar players. She disrupted both the expectations of the musical genre (gospel) and her gender with her skill.

If you watch the video, you notice her incredible gift of playing the guitar. She plays it like it is an extension of herself, especially at that moment when she stops playing for a few seconds to clap but then goes right back to it like nothing happened. What is of note is the fact that she was commonly referred to being able to “play the guitar like a man”. While it is good that people can recognize and celebrate her talent, it implies that she can only be skilled by taking on a male trait like proficiency at the guitar. She has somehow become an unusual point in a trend that has existed in American history that women cannot be skilled and still retain their identity as a female. Yet, she never shied away from the supposed dichotomy that others saw in her. She claimed her ability and embraced her identity as a female without issue.2

Of note, is the fact that she was so popular that she was one of two black gospel acts who cut a V-Disc for American soldiers overseas in WWII. Later she, alongside Sammy Price (a pianist), would crack the race records top ten- a rare feat for a gospel act with her song “Strange Things Are Happening Every Day”. 3

She was so widely known that (as you can see in the review below) people would call her things like “the greatest individual personality in religious singing history”. This happens to be an announcement promoting an event she is headlining in Kansas but is not an advertisement so there is a greater likelihood that the feeling is true.

Announcement of Tharpe’s performance.

What does interest me is the fact that she was able to achieve fame as a gospel singer. Is there any significance behind the fact that she is known and celebrated predominantly as a gospel singer rather than as an early rock and roll star? Can you name any early female rock and rollers? Or is it possible they are all placed in other genres (as their primary identifier? What could this mean?)

Regardless of the answer to those questions, Sister Rosetta Tharpe was an incredible woman and deserves to be better known in our time in any capacity. She was both enormously talented and influential and should be better known. (#herstory)

 

1.Sanjek, David. “Tharpe [née Nubin], Sister Rosetta.” Grove Music Online. 1 May. 2018.http://www.oxfordmusiconline.com/grovemusic/view/10.1093/gmo/9781561592630.001.0001/omo-9781561592630-e-1002258519.

2. Wald, Gayle. Shout, Sister, Shout! : The Untold Story of Rock-and-roll Trailblazer Sister Rosetta Tharpe. African American Music Reference. Boston: Beacon Press, 2007.

3. “Tharpe, Sister Rosetta, 1915-1973, by Jason Ankeny, All Music Guide.” In All Music Guide: The Definitive Guide to Popular Music, 1. San Francisco, CA: Backbeat Books, 2001.https://search.alexanderstreet.com/view/work/bibliographic_entity%7Cbiography%7C591347. 

4. “Sister Rosetta Tharpe to Appear in KCK Monday Nite”. Plaindealer (Kansas City, KS), Aug. 16, 1946. Found in America’s Historical Newspapers. http://infoweb.newsbank.com/iw-search/we/HistArchive/?p_product=EANX&p_theme=ahnp&p_nbid=T5FM5BIVMTUyNTg5Nzc0NC42Nzk5NDk6MToxNDoxMzAuNzEuMjQxLjIwNA&p_action=doc&d_viewref=search&s_lastnonissuequeryname=2&p_queryname=2&p_docnum=32&p_docref=v2:12ACD7C7734164EC@EANX-12CFEEF4B0A35310@2432049-12CFEEF4D6E4C760@4-12CFEEF59D7F9ED8@Sister%20Rosetta%20Tharpe%20to%20Appear%20in%20KCK%20Monday%20Nite.

 

1980’s Music Censorship: NWA vs. FBI

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0pu3ByHBeU0

“So police think they have the authority to kill a minority.” -Ice Cube

NWA

In 1988, the famous rap group called NWA received a letter written by Milt Ahlerich, assistant director of the FBI office of public affairs. The letter enveloped the idea that NWA was advocating for violence against local police officers. Later, NWA clarified that their music was not advocating for action, rather reflecting on their personal experiences with police brutality. This letter was perceived by many as a means of artistic censorship, which caused much controversy across the nation. Many people felt that their amendment of free speech was being threatened by the FBI. According to Ahlerich, he felt that he was representing the sentiment of all the police departments across the nation, stating, “I believe my views reflect the opinion of the entire law enforcement community.” Ahlerich was specifically referring to the censorship of the song, “Fuck The Police” which was written by rapper Ice Cube from NWA.

The entire incident reflected the oppression of expression at the hand of the government. Whether the claim was racialized or not, the FBI’s decision to write such a letter actually worsened attitudes among minorities because it showed that the government will censor any form of personal expression. It created an “us vs. them” feeling among many people.

Los Angeles Times journalist Steve Hochman writes this particular article from a 3rd person perspective. When you read the article, you get to hear all sides of the story, including the FBI member, Milt Ahlerich. Ultimately, Hochman does end up including an argument that music should not be censored by government entities by utilizing quotes stated by Danny Goldberg, chairman of the Southern California affiliate of the American Civil Liberties Union and a recording industry executive. The article was written in 1989, which gave the writer some time for more information on the incident to arise, since the letter was sent to Priority Records, the label that represented NWA, in August 1988.

Although this source highlights the overall story from all angles of the issue, there are more articles that may highlight or focus on the controversy that immediately followed the publication of the FBI letter to NWA. This incident surely created some heated debates across the United States, and only brought NWA more recognition for their art. Hearing from those sides would be paired well with this primary source.

 

Sources Cited:

1973eazyme. “N.W.A. vs. the FBI [1989].” YouTube. March 20, 2010. Accessed May 01, 2018. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0pu3ByHBeU0.

 

Hochman, Steve. “Compton Rappers Versus the Letter of the Law: FBI Claims Song by N.W.A. Advocates Violence on Police.” Los Angeles Times. October 05, 1989. Accessed April 29, 2018. http://articles.latimes.com/1989-10-05/entertainment/ca-1046_1_law-enforcement.

 

Jimi Hendrix: Balancing identity and talent

Jimi Hendrix made a lasting impact on the rock music scene of the late 1960’s. He revolutionized the way key elements of the genre, like the electric guitar, were played but also how they were understood.Despite his short life and even shorter career, the impression he created on American music and culture is palpable even today. You can see him on t-shirts, skateboards, and every throwback playlist on Spotify. His voice, image, and identity are something people gravitated towards during the late ’60’s and early 70’s, just as they do now.

Trap Skateboard Company advertisement influenced by a famous Jimi Hendrix portrait

As a black man he stood out against his white peers, like Jim Morrison, The Rolling Stones, and Bob Dylan. Many believe that his exceptional musical performances stood out because of the uniqueness as his position as a black man. Though there is a great amount of evidence to support this I contend that his significant musical abilities and his position as a powerful black man worked in tandem to elevate his position as an influential black musician. His race was something deeply rooted in his music and his career. Though he catered to mostly white audiences at his more popular venues, like Woodstock, he continually made attempts to perform to black audiences as well. 2 The pain and power that went into his music was also something that was deeply influenced by his identity and his experiences. His first songwriting success, “Stone Free” talks about breaking free of societal pressures, which for him would have included the oppression he faced due to racial prejudice and backlash.

Jimi Hendrix poster housed in the National Portrait Gallery

The elements of his music that stemmed from his personal life are what made his music so unique. The creative elements of his music encouraged freedom and persistence but, in contrast, the pressure of the music industry ended up being Hendrix’s tipping point. He died from side effects of his drug use. His influence in the music industry lives beyond him and he will forever be remembered as one of the most influential black musicians ever.

Message in the Music: More Narrowly Defined than We Think?

The music of New York-based hip hop group Public Enemy regularly created intense criticism from mainstream audiences. The uncensored, sometimes vile lyrics explicitly challenge social systems and raise awareness of race relations in the 1980s and 90s. One of the group’s most well known songs, “Fight the Power” is famous for addressing racism in a post-Civil Rights society. The video criticizes the peaceful protests of the MLK era and, instead, urges people of color to loudly defend their rights, sometimes at any cost. The video, and Public Enemy’s music and politics more broadly, were widely successful and, at the same time, widely controversial. Ethnomusicologist Robert Walser quotes the group’s frontman, Chuck D, saying that his “job is to write shocking lyrics that will wake people up.”[1] This idea is evident in any analysis of Chuck D’s interviews or lyrics, sometimes going so far as to pit black artists against each other. In my search for primary source material for this post, I came across one particular newspaper article that, a bit to my surprise, exemplified this perfectly.[2]

“Message in the Music” – Black Networking News, 1989

The article centers on an analysis of Tracy Chapman, an African American folk/acoustic singer, and whether her music carries the same social weight as that of Public Enemy. The author of the article highlights a 1989 quote from Chuck D, saying: “Black people cannot feel Tracy Chapman if they got beat over the head with it thirty thousand times.” The author goes on to discuss the implications of this statement and how he disagreed with the idea that there is a certain type of music that appeals to black people and can create social change. As a white student in the 21st century, I recognize that I’m in no position to comment on what constitutes an activist song for people of color in the late 20th century. But, like the author, I was struck by Chuck D’s assertion that there might be a right way to create social change through music. What is it about hip-hop that makes Chuck D think that’s the only music that can appeal to black people? Conversely, what is it about Chapman’s music that makes certain hip-hop artists skeptical of its merit?

Tracy Chapman

Reflecting on these questions reminds me of earlier topics we’ve discussed in this course, such as the origins and authenticity of different genres. Chuck D’s comments suggest to me that he might view hip-hop as an authentically “black” genre, and therefore one of the few that’s able to reach African American listeners and become a true symbol of struggle and resistance. Along these same lines, does this also suggest that he thinks folk/acoustic music is inherently not “black,” or, more provocatively, inherently white? I certainly don’t mean to suggest that Chuck D was guilty of racializing genres, but I do think his comments pose interesting questions about the message behind the music. He suggests a very narrow definition which, the author of this article would suggest, creates more problems than it does answers.

Public Enemy

[1] Walser, Robert. (1995). Rhythm, Rhyme, and Rhetoric in the Music of Public Enemy. Ethnomusicology: Journal of the Society for Ethnomusicology, 39(2), 193-217.

[2] Brown, Keith. “Message in the Music” Black Networking News, November 1, 1989. Accessed April 30, 2018 from the African American Historical Newspaper Collection. SQN: 12BA6659726F6850.

Marian Anderson and Double Consciousness: Why did Marian Anderson not consider herself an activist?

Marian Anderson (1897-1993)

After hearing Carol Oja give a lecture on Marian Anderson, a black woman and arguably one of the greatest opera singers of the 20th century, one thing that stood out to me is that Marian Anderson did not consider herself an activist. It is easy to question Marian Anderson’s hesitancy in this description of herself, especially from a contemporary standpoint when celebrity political activism is not so taboo. After all, Marian Anderson’s time of popularity was during the pre-civil rights era. She was still a black singer in an overtly racist society, and this placed limitations on her. Despite the overwhelmingly white field of opera and classical music, she gained popularity among greater American society. She had great vocal talent, but her “palatable” performances and public presentation of self likely contributed to her success as a black singer in a racist society. She appealed to common western society through things such as her western vocal training, western repertoire (although she did sing spirituals along with European repertoire), and western dress. This is not to say she did all of these things purposely to appeal to a greater, white audience. She was also extremely popular among black communities, and her pure vocal talent leading to much of her success cannot be denied. This point is also not implying that appealing to these traditionally western ways was necessarily against her nature. However, as one of the first famous black opera singers, her appeal to white, “traditional” opera culture likely aided her popularity gain on such a mass scale.

Although Marian Anderson in many ways appealed to white operatic tradition, she also acted in a variety of ways to show resistance against the racism present in her life as a vocalist. She had performance contracts that prohibited segregated audiences, gave her famous Easter concert at the Lincoln Memorial (video clip shown above) in response to the DAR denying her performance at the Constitution Hall, and was the first black singer to debut with the Met. Marian Anderson’s impact on the Civil Rights movement was indeed significant. The newspaper clipping on the right, published in 1991, discusses the struggle for equality for black people over the past 200 years, and mentions Marian Anderson in the fourth full paragraph in the far right column. The impact Anderson’s Lincoln Memorial performance had in “reactivating the NAACP in Washington” is acknowledged, thus emphasizing her important role in the Civil Rights movement as a whole. Some may question Anderson’s denial of an activist label, and even criticize her for not going “all the way” in terms of her activism. Although Anderson’s true motivations behind this statement cannot be clear, one can give her the benefit of the doubt when appealing to Du Bois’ idea of “double consciousness.” W. E. B. Du Bois coined the term “double consciousness” as a phenomenon in which a person’s conception of self manifests under conditions of racialization. Thus, there are different types of self formation depending on one’s racial group and societal context. Du Bois argues that the “self” develops from others’ conceptions of us. For black people and other people of color, Du Bois believes a sense of “two-ness” forms due to their dual positions: one in the “dominant community that denies their humanity and [one in] their own community which is a source of support and an arena of agency” (Itzigsohn). There is constant tension between these two versions of the self that is manifested within people of color living in a racist society.

Marian Anderson Singing at the Lincoln Memorial

Marian Anderson’s double consciousness manifests as her “self” that had to survive as a black singer in a white society and her “self” that was a black woman outside of a white context. It is possible that Marian Anderson resisted the label of activist because of tension between her two selves. She lived in a racist society and likely would have been criticized even more than she already was if she had been more explicit about her activism. At the same time, she acted in ways to resist the racism within society, as mentioned earlier. Double consciousness and tension of the two selves may not have been at the root of Anderson not considering herself an activist. However, it is important to note that Marian Anderson’s lived experiences likely shaped her perception of self and the way she acted as a public figure nonetheless.

Sources:

“Black History Month Special.” The National Chronicle, February 22 (1991): Database: America’s Historical Newspapers, SQN: 12BE222679916188.

Feman, Seth. “Marian Anderson’s Presence.” American Art 28, no. 1 (2014): 104-17.

Itzigsohn, José, and Karida Brown. “Sociology and the Theory of Double Consciousness.” 12, no. 2 (2015): 231-48.

Marian Anderson singing at Lincoln Memorial in Washington, D.C., April 9 before 75,000 persons. Washington D.C, 1939. Print. https://www.loc.gov/item/2009633558/.

My Country Tis of Thee. Performance at Lincoln Memorial. Video. Performed by Marian Anderson. 1939. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mAONYTMf2pk.

Oja, Carol. “Marian Anderson and the Desegregation of the American Concert Stage.” 2016-2017 Fellows’ Presentation Series at the Radcliffe Institute for Advanced Study, Cambridge, MA, October 20, 2016.

Van Vechten, Carl. “Portrait of Marian Anderson.” Van Vechten Collection. Jan. 14, 1940. Print.

Rich, Famous, and Loved by Her Fans: Sister Rosetta Tharpe

Sister Rosetta Tharpe seems to be the unsung hero of Rock and Roll. While sadly forgotten today, she served as a great musical influence to many great names we now know and love, such as Elvis Presley and Johnny Cash. In a few days, she will finally claim her rightful place among the greats in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.

Born in rural Arkansas in 1915, Rosetta was exposed to music from the outset of life. Little is known about her father other than that he was an amazing singer, which may be where Rosetta’s phenomenal pipes came from. Her mother was a devout Christian who would sit out and play on the guitar or tambourine, singing and playing for people and encouraging them to convert and see the wonder of Jesus. This is where Rosetta learned to play and to love religion.

At the age of six, Rosetta’s mother left her husband, taking her child North to Chicago where they joined Robert’s Temple Church of God in Christ. Not only did the move expose the young girl to the urban music scene of jazz and blues, but the congregation gave her a stage to perform on. She played and sang for the congregation, quickly becoming a sensational musician and show-woman. Over time, she became a famous church performer, her mother taking around to different cities and congregations, building her name and reputation. In the 1930s, the pair moved to New York City and Rosetta entered the world of commercial music.

At first, she lost the devotion of churches because of her definitely-not-about-God singing in nightclubs and her questionable song productions after signing with Decca Records in 1938. Her first major hit was the single, “Rock Me,” which pushed the boundaries of spiritual music, her deep growl asking to be “rocked” insinuating something a little different than the religious meaning.

Under a contractual obligation to sing whatever the label wanted her to sing, Rosetta released the song, “Tall Skinny Papa”–an undeniably raunchy lyric–and shortly after returned to singing gospel songs, the music she truly loved. Soon, the church liked her again, as did everyone else. By the age of 25, she was rated as among the finest musicians of the day.

Rosetta was loved for a variety of reasons. She was an amazing performer, putting her heart and soul into her performances, singing not simply to the people, but to the Lord himself. A clergyman from one of the churches she performed at said that her gospel songs often spoke of suffering, but her singing expressed a freedom which awoke the congregations and revived the people.

Her gorgeous voice and unique, lively plucking style on the electric guitar, paired with her religious zeal made Sister Rosetta Tharpe gospel’s first superstar. As mentioned before, she was incredibly influential to many of the great rock and roll artists, so why is she only being inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame now? She was nominated for the first time in 2018 and will be inducted posthumously on May 5th. Why is it that she has been more or less forgotten up until now? What issues are at play here?

Let’s listen to some more of good ol’ Sister Rosetta Tharpe.

Bibliography:

  1. Sister Rosetta Tharpe-Documentary 2011, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=W_n0vkzc8PU.
  2. Rock & Roll Hall of Fame, https://www.rockhall.com/nominee/sister-rosetta-tharpe.
  3. NPR, https://www.npr.org/sections/world-cafe/2018/04/12/601808069/sister-rosetta-tharpe-gets-her-day-in-the-rock-roll-hall-of-fame.

Abolition, Music, and the Imagined Slave

When I set out to write this post, it was supposed to be about a review of the Hutchinson Family Singers that was printed in an abolitionist newspaper in Boston on December 30th, 1842. While exploring that issue of the newspaper, however, I discovered a reprinting of Henry Wadsworth Longfellow’s poem “The Slave Singing at Midnight.”1 The poem is such a good example of some of the issues we discussed in class earlier this semester that I could not pass it by.

Henry Wadsworth Longfellow’s “The Slave Sings at Midnight,” as published in the Boston newspaper the Liberator in 1842.

From the first line, “Loud he sang the psalm of David,” Longfellow establishes that the music of slaves was Christian. He repeats these Old Testament themes throughout the poem, likening African slaves to the Israelites fleeing Egypt. Whether or not Longfellow actually thought that the slaves songs were only Biblical, or if it was a metaphor, this association of slave music with Christian (meaning at this time European) themes is reminiscent of George Pullen Jackson’s problematic argument that slave spirituals are only of European origin.2 By placing the black slave in a European Christian context, Longfellow was telling readers not only to think of slaves as melancholic and noble, but also to think of their music within a European framework. While this is not surprising for a white New Englander at the time, is shows a consciousness for the genre of music that slaves were thought to sing.

Another theme in this poem is that of secrecy. For example, “in this hour, when night is calmest,” or in the dead of night, the slave sings “in a voice so sweet and clear/That I could not choose but hear,” showing that Longfellow may have been aware of the tradition among slaves to sing and worship under the cover of darkness so as to avoid the eyes of slaveholders. It is within this shroud of privacy that the slave is able to sing out clearly about the pain of slavery, and the desire to escape.

An excerpt from a review of a concert by the Hutchinson Family Singers in late 1842. The review was generally positive, but the author, Parker Pillsbury, hoped for more focus on abolition in the future.

At the end of the poem, Longfellow alludes to the abolitionist cause, asking the question so often repeated in abolitionist music: who will fight for the downtrodden slave? Returning to the review I originally planned to write about, we can see common thread between Longfellow’s question, and the reviewer’s wish that the Hutchinsons would take abolitionism up with more fervor.3 While the Hutchinsons were known abolitionists, their repertoire did not include any specifically abolitionist songs in 1842 (those would be added less than a year later.)4 Through both the poem and the review, we can see the abolitionist movement calling for more devoted action, and realizing that music would be important for both inspiring an empathy vision of slaves, and creating excitement for the cause.

1 Henry Wadsworth Longfellow. “The Slave Singing at Midnight.” From Poems on Slavery. Liberator. Boston, Dec. 30, 1842.

2 George Pullen Jackson. White and Negro Spirituals: Their Lifespan and Kinship. Locust Valley, New York: Augustin Publisher, 1943.

3 Parker Pillsbury. “The Hutchinson Singers.” Liberator. Boston, Dec. 30, 1842.

4 Dale Cockrell, ed. Excelsior: Journals of the Hutchinson Family Singers 1842-1846. Pendragon Press: 1989, 94.

“We’ll Never Turn Back”: Gaining Sympathy and Forcing Intervention in the Voter Registration Struggle

John Poppy, “The South’s War Against Negro Votes” in Look vol. 27, no. 10. May 21, 1963, http://content.wisconsinhistory.org/cdm/ref/collection/p15932coll2/id/5401, accessed April 29, 2018.

Discouraged by the violence and disappointment, a 21-year-old woman sings with tears in her eyes. She sings of the horrors she has witnessed. She sings of the friends and leaders she has lost. She sings of her hopes for the future. Bertha Gober’s singing of “We’ll Never Turn Back” in the Student Non-violent Coordinating Committee Atlanta field office exemplifies the struggle and dedication of the fieldworkers trying to register black voters in the Deep South. Furthermore, the news article featuring the description of her performance works to gain the sympathies of readers.

John Poppy opens his article with the emotional scene of Gober singing. He uses her singing to usher in his discussion of the hardships and barriers, such as violence and withdrawal of aid, which fieldworkers and anyone who talks to them face in the Deep South. Poppy then inserts the question: “Why does Bertha Gober sing, ‘We’ve had to walk all by ourselves’”.1 He uses this lyric to emphasize the fieldworkers’ demand and need for federal intervention and their frustration that they have not received help at this point.

As an article published in Look, a popular magazine covering anything from sports and fashion to “social issues such as the Civil Rights Movement and women’s changing roles,”2
it had the power to reach people across the United States. The use of music in the article demonstrates how SNCC and their demonstrators utilized music as a tool of propaganda. Poppy illustrates the students’ determination and passion through describing a young woman’s performance of a freedom song. The poignant account of Gober singing “We’ll Never Turn Back” and working alongside her fellow young volunteers to gain equality, worked to gain the sympathies of readers, shifting popular opinion and eventually forcing the federal government to intervene.

1John Poppy, “The South’s War Against Negro Votes” in Look vol. 27, no. 10. May 21, 1963, http://content.wisconsinhistory.org/cdm/ref/collection/p15932coll2/id/5401, accessed April 29, 2018.

2 Library of Congress, “About This Collection,”  Look Collection, https://www.loc.gov/collections/look-magazine/about-this-collection/, accessed April 30, 2018.

The Road to Cultural Appropriation

Road to Singapore. 1939. Retrieved from the Digital Public Library of America, http://cdm16786.contentdm.oclc.org/cdm/ref/collection/sayre/id/17768. Dorothy Lamour, Bing Crosby, and Bob Hope (left to right) in The Road to Singapore. Lamour performs ‘womanly’ tasks while the men relax.

Bing Crosby and Bob Hope made many films together, the most well-known being their Road pictures, of which the duo made seven between 1940 and 1947.1 It isn’t much of a series, as the characters’ names are different in every movie, but their characters and friendship are always the same types–one conniving yet charming businessman (Crosby) and one sucker (Hope). They’re always fighting over the same type of girl, played by Dorothy Lamour, and she always ends up with Crosby’s character. The only differences among these films are the locations. The first picture they made was The Road to Singapore (Schertzinger, 1940), and a still from the film is featured above. These movies are hilarious and remain classics because of the duo’s constant banter, sarcasm, breaking of the fourth wall, self-mockery, and all-around ridiculous shenanigans. However, what Singapore and the others that followed are guilty of is cultural appropriation.

Kenan Malik describes cultural appropriation as “not theft but messy interaction.”2 These films interact with several different cultures in problematic ways. Just watching the trailers illustrates some of the manners with which Hollywood has engaged with and represented other cultures.

All the films exoticize the ‘Other,’ especially the women. The Road pictures depict foreign locations as paradises of simplistic living, where women are either sex objects or homemakers. Singapore features a quite misogynistic view of Lamour’s native-Singaporean character and some quasi-blackface; Zanzibar depicts a typically-stereotyped, cannibalistic, superstitious, unintelligent African tribe; Morocco plays on stereotypes of the Middle East and pokes fun at the mentally disabled; the list goes on, I’m afraid.

I don’t believe these films intended to be super sexist and racist. It was another time, after all. Also, they don’t exactly ask to be taken seriously. I think it’s pretty obvious they aren’t attempting to give an accurate portrayal of other cultures. They are just trying to entertain audiences with some escapism from war time. The focus isn’t really on educating viewers; it’s more about the snappy dialogue between Hope and Crosby. The exotic locations only provided a ridiculous backdrop. Granted, the films added to stereotypes of the day and didn’t necessarily help matters, but they could have been worse.

As long as people know not to take these films seriously, Hope and Crosby are a classic duo and are worth a watch.

2 Malik, Kenan. “In Defense of Cultural Appropriation.” The New York Times. https://www.nytimes.com/2017/06/14/opinion/in-defense-of-cultural-appropriation.html?smid=pl-share&_r=0.

Type Characters and Tap Dance

In doing research about tap dancing in film, I can across a little article titled “Topical Types… in Filmland”, which appeared on page four of The Plaindealer on May 24, 1935.1 Although initially attracted by the mention of the Nicholas Brothers and Bill Robinson, the article’s subheadings kept me hooked:

Title and subheadings from article in The Plaindealer (Kansas City, Kansas), 1935.

Not only did it connect to the question of authenticity, which is another theme we’ve heavily discussed in class, but it also connected to another article I had recently read about Bill ‘Bojangles’ Robinson and the persistence of stereotyping roles in Hollywood film.

Jackson, a correspondent for the Associated Negro Press Hollywood begins by remarking about how “Negro film critics and fans” are often deemed too “squeamish” to discuss “what is and what is not an authentic portrayal of the Negro”, specifically in Hollywood film. So, Jackson states that she has decided to conduct a “symposium” with well-known white critics instead. In this article, she recounts her conversation with W. E. Oliver who was the Los Angeles Herald Express’s dramatic editor and screen reviewer.

Throughout the interview, Oliver makes several interesting claims about the silver screen’s portrayal of black people, but the most interesting of Oliver’s insights come in the form of the examples he draws upon. Oliver praises the Nicholas Brothers’ performances with Eddie Cantor in “Kid Millions”. This illustrates his claim that the trend in Hollywood seems to be using black performers as talent rather than “type”. An advertisement for the movie in the New York times in 1934 makes no mention of the brothers, even in its cast list.2 In fact, the Nicholas Brothers really don’t play roles in the plot line, they really only serve as dancers in one scene.

Poster for the film “Kid Millions” mentioning the Nicholas Brothers and depicting them with Eddie Cantor in blackface.

Additionally, especially from a modern standpoint, the content of their performance is very problematic. The scene that the brother appear in is the scene where the characters are putting on a minstrel show for the entertainment of the passengers on a cruise. Opening the scene is Harold, the younger of the brothers, sings “Minstrel Night”, which begins with the phrase “I want to be a minstrel man”. Furthermore, when both brothers dance, it is only with Cantor in blackface, which is interesting and problematic because this is essentially the only time when the brothers interact with any of the main characters on screen.3

But the Nicholas Brothers are praised for their work in the film which “brought them to the fore in that picture”. This was their first screen appearance and their exceptional dancing got them noticed. During the song “Mandy”, they effectively tap circles around Cantor and the other film stars who can’t seem to execute the steps together or in time. Ultimately, the scene seems to demonstrate that while Cantor may be able to appropriate blackness by putting on his face paint, he cannot match “black artistry”.4

The second example that Oliver provides is Bill Robinson’s performance in the “Little Colonel”. This is “one of the latest films featuring a Negro character” and it provides an example of the black “type” characters. Robinson plays a butler in the romanticized post-Civil War south and fulfills the archetypal role as a sort of “other” adult for the young Shirley Temple’s character.5

Although the type-character is bemoaned, Robinson’s performance itself is praised. Jackson writes that “his dancing made up for whatever lacks on may find with his characterization”. Notably, this is the film in which Robinson performs one of his most famous stair dances, effortlessly leaping up and down a flight of stairs while tapping.

Again, while the actual role and subject matter may be troublesome, the actual performance of tap is regarded as a redeeming factor. In this way, the black dancers demonstrate agency even within the confines of their roles. Hollywood may be trying to keep them in their place, but they are tap dancing on the boundary.

1Jackson, Fay M. “Topical Types… in Filmland”. Plaindealer (Kansas City, KS), May 24, 1935.

2 Sennwald, Andre. “‘Kid Millions,’ Mr. Goldwyn’s New Screen Comedy, With Eddie Cantor, at the Rivoli.” New York Times, Nov. 12, 1934.

3 Hill, Constance Valis. Brotherhood in Rhythm: The Jazz Tap Dancing of the Nicholas Brothers. New York: University Press, 2000. 86-87.

4 Ibid, pg 90-91.

5 Vered, Karen Orr. “White and Black in Black and White: Management of Race and Sexuality in the Coupling of Child-Star Shirley Temple and Bill Robinson.” The Velvet Light Trap – A Critical Journal of Film and Television (Spring, 1997): 52-65. 

Activism Through Song: The Freedom Singers

Robert Shelton, “Negro Songs Here and Rights Drive: Mahalia Jackson, Freedom Group at Carnegie Hall.”  New York Times (New York), June 23, 1963. Digital Public Library of America. http://content.wisconsinhistory.org/cdm/ref/collection/p15932coll2/id/21078.

The Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC) gained national attention in 1960through staging sit-ins at Nashville lunch counters, igniting a sit-in movement across the country. They continued to lead the Movement in the Freedom Rides of 1961 as well as a number of other protests, marches, and voter drives across the South. In the midst of their protesting, SNCC members sang songs that reflected their passion for the cause, lifted their spirits, and stood as a symbol of resistance against segregationists.

SNCC protestors Bernice Johnson, Ruth Harris, Cordell Hull Reagan and Charles Neblett emerged from the Albany Movement in 1962 to form the Freedom Singers. This quartet of singers, all between the ages of 19 and 21, sought to draw attention to and raise money for SNCC’s fight for racial equality through performing the songs of the Movement. 1 The young singers captured the hearts of people across the country with their musical ability and passion for social change. Performing songs composed in jail cells, on the Freedom Rides, or in other protests,2 the Freedom Singers traveled thousands of miles and shared their music and message to audiences at over 100 concerts.

This newspaper clipping from the New York Times reviews the Freedom Singers’ performance at the esteemed Carnegie Hall in New York City. The Freedom Singers collaborated with renowned gospel singer Mahalia Jackson, but the reviewer Robert Shelton reveals, “There was perhaps even greater interest in the Freedom Singers and their songs, which echoed with the immediacy of today’s headlines, the integration battle in the South”. 3 Shelton goes on not only to praise the singers’ passion for their cause but their musical ability as well. He further commends their performance: “Even if the quartet were not dealing in matters so urgent as the topical freedom songs of the integration movement, it would be outstanding for its singing…. The Freedom Singers [are] in the top level of American folk groups” 4 Shelton’s review indicates that the Freedom Singers were successful in gaining the sympathies of audiences across the country through their passionate and impressive musical talent.

In many ways, the Freedom Singers resemble the Fisk Jubilee Singers. Both groups sing music intimately connected to the black culture of the past and their present. This is problematic in that they are performing for predominantly white audiences in order to raise money for their causes. Both groups experience the pressure of upholding something important at a young age: a newly founded black college and a student movement fighting for racial equality. Like the Jubilee Singers, the Freedom Singers’ commitment to their cause is admirable. They demonstrate how the power of music can bring people together in one common cause.

1 Robert Shelton, “Negro Songs Here and Rights Drive: Mahalia Jackson, Freedom Group at Carnegie Hall.”  New York Times (New York), June 23, 1963. Digital Public Library of America. http://content.wisconsinhistory.org/cdm/ref/collection/p15932coll2/id/21078.

2 “The Freedom Singers.” Werner-SNCC Documents, Articles and Clippings. Box 2, Folder 5. (Atlanta, GA), 1962-1965. Digital Public Library of America. http://content.wisconsinhistory.or g/cdm/ref/collection/p15932coll2/id/21078, 48.

3 Shelton,“Negro Songs Here and Rights Drive.

4 Ibid.

A Black Choral Group in a White World

Today’s post is about is the Samuel Coleridge-Taylor Choral Society founded in Washington D.C. in 1903.

Samuel Coleridge-Taylor Choral Society

Samuel Coleridge-Taylor choral society founded by black singers in Washington DC (1906)1

This society was explicitly dedicated, as you may expect given the name, to Samuel Coleridge-Taylor (not the guy who wrote The Rime of the Ancient Mariner) a popular English composer. As you may notice, this choral society is made up of all African Americans (the orchestra was not a part of the society). Their express purpose was to practice and then perform the works of Coleridge-Taylor.

In November of 1906, they put on a public performance of some of the works this composer had written a few years before. Of particular note to us as individuals studying American music and race, was the piece performed called “Hiawatha’s Wedding”. As you may expect, this piece had problematic aspects to it that must be critically evaluated. Also of note however, is the fact that the concert was attended by many including a substantial white audience of which part were members of President Roosevelt’s cabinet.2 This concert had been preceded by a buzz of excitement within Washington DC because of the composer’s visit and Coleridge-Taylor would even be invited to meet the President at the White House.

This choral festival performance of his work is notable because of the notoriety it received especially when we consider the generally racist attitude of white America. Also of note is the fact that this performance was a part of a trend in America that included many white choral societies who had sung his work around the country pretty much right after its debut in London.Samuel Coleridge-Taylor was celebrated as an exceptional composer of an excellent piece of Western choral music by these choral groups. Simultaneously, he was held up as an exemplar of black excellence by leading African American intellectuals like WEB DuBois and he saw himself as a part of that movement to prove the true ability of black people. 4

Now, we return to the piece “Hiawatha’s Wedding” itself.

If you listen to it, it sounds like one would expect it to as a Western choral piece. But let us look at a sample of the lyrics:

To the sound of flutes and singing
To the sound of drums and voices
Rose the handsome Pau-Puk-Keewis
And began his mystic dances

Now, this may not seem so bad but the vernacular used is important. For instance, the name “Pau-Puk-Keewis” is something that was made up, probably because it “sounds” Native American. Also, this use of the world ‘mystic’ is a marker of this idea that is constantly maintained about Native Americans as some kind of “exotic other”. Yet this piece was accepted into the mainstream (white) culture enthusiastically.

On one hand, this work should be celebrated because it was an unprecedented in terms of reception by a still segregated country of a black composer. It caused some white Americans to re-evaluate their racist assumptions about the abilities of black people because they were so impressed with his work. It is also another example of how artistic work in the United States is more integrated than it is separate.

Yet the work has problems. It still had stereotypical portrayals of the Native Americans and reinforced the idea of the “Vanishing Indian” Blim articulated. 5 It falls back on the sonic indicators of Native Americans, specifically that of a beating drum, again and again. It can be understood as racist because this image has an element of nostalgia that often allows the writers to distance themselves from issues of race, or in some cases address it by not addressing it, as identified by Carol Oja.6 It has a reductionist perspective about its subjects because it describes them only in a way that was normalized at the time, as people who were prone to singing and dancing. Not to mention the fact that in order for these black people to be respected and celebrated they had to assimilate to Western culture by composing and performing in this Western choral tradition.

One last note: although this piece may have been written by an English composer, it remains well within the realm of what we are talking about in American music because it deals with the same subjects, has the same problems, and remains a part of American culture.

Works Cited

  1. The Samuel Coleridge-Taylor Society November 1906. Pan africanism, race and the USA. British Library. http://www.bl.uk/onlinegallery/features/blackeuro/choralsocietylge.html.
  2. Janifer, Ellsworth. “Samuel Coleridge-Taylor in Washington.” Phylon (1960-) 28, no. 2 (1967): 185-96. doi:10.2307/273562.
  3. McGinty, Doris Evans. “”That You Came so Far to See Us”: Coleridge-Taylor in America.” Black Music Research Journal 21, no. 2 (2001): 197-234. doi:10.2307/3181603.

  4. Banfield, Stephen, Jeremy Dibble, and Anya Laurence. “Coleridge-Taylor, Samuel.” Grove Music Online. 17 Apr. 2018. http://www.oxfordmusiconline.com/grovemusic/view/10.1093/gmo/9781561592630.001.0001/omo-9781561592630-e-1002248993.
  5. Blim, Daniel. “MacDowell’s Vanishing Indian”. paper delivered at the annual meeting of the American Musicological Society, Vancouver, BC, November 4, 2016.
  6.  Oja, Carol. “West Side Story and The Music Man: whiteness, immigration, and race in the US during the late 1950s”. Studies in Musical Theatre 3, no. 1 (2009). https://music.fas.harvard.edu/WSS&MM2009.pdf.

K-Pop’s EXO: Can Music End the War Between the South & North?

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9bZkp7q19f0

 

Oh, does this song ring a bell? Welcome to K-Pop Music and it’s global takeover.

 

Did you know that Korean Artists are hand-picked by entertainment companies and created into full-time, untouchable, superstars? No other country in the world takes their pop music more seriously than South Korea, sorry USA. According to VOX.com, South Korea’s music industry is a $5 billion industry, and is one of the most significant exports from the country. SM is the largest entertainment company in South Korea, and is responsible for growth of some of the most famous K-Pop superstar music acts in the world.

 

In the United States, and everywhere else in the world, an artist needs to work their way up to proving themselves worthy of the attention of either a record label or their own fanbase. Although this happens in South Korea as well, it does not stop there. South Korea has institutions that train the artists to perfect their performances, essentially grooming them to be performing machines. This business model is not utilized anywhere else by any other entertainment industry.

 

Picture of EXO

 

Just to begin, one major artist group from South Korea is EXO, which is a Korean-Chinese boy band. The band 2018 Winter Olympics was the first time that North Korea opened its doors to influence from entertainers outside of their country. EXO was chosen to perform for the 2018 Winter Olympics. How is this significant? Some may argue that having a South Korean band performing in North Korea allows the two nations to relieve a bit of tension. The band is essentially in a position of sociopolitical influence to an extent.

 

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UKCKn5RhbAw

 

This leaves me to ask the question: can music heal the tension between two nations at war with one another?

 

After reading up on our history of war, I am left with the impression that it is impossible for music to end war. However, music has played a huge role in empowering people and regenerating cultures of unity in a time of segregation. An example of music uniting a culture amongst the horrors of war was during the Vietnam era. Artists such as Bob Dylan and Phil Ochs helped to develop morality for Americans. Moreover, this particular generation of artists was unique in that they did not aspire to unite American against their wartime rivals, rather to establish harmony and a peace of mind in the midst of confusion, disappointment, and devastation. Music alleviated a culture of people who needed answers.

 

Here is a picture of EXO taken with North Korean dictator: Kim Jong Un

 

Now that South Korean artists EXO, have expelled some of their influence in the Communist North Korea, the culture of entertainment has planted a seed for acceptance of change. EXO has new fans in North Korea. However, will things truly change simply because of a boy band’s historic performance in a Communist country that’s blocked all forms of outside entertainment for over 20 years?

 

Sources:

Officialpsy. “PSY – GANGNAM STYLE(강남스타일) M/V.” YouTube. July 15, 2012. Accessed April 17, 2018. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9bZkp7q19f0.

 

Olympic. “EXO at the Winter Olympics – FULL Performance – PyeongChang 2018 Closing Ceremony | Music Monday.” YouTube. March 13, 2018. Accessed April 17, 2018. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UKCKn5RhbAw.

 

Romano, Aja. “How K-pop Became a Global Phenomenon.” Vox. February 16, 2018. Accessed April 17, 2018. https://www.vox.com/culture/2018/2/16/16915672/what-is-kpop-history-explained.

 

Sklaroff, Lauren Rebecca. “During Vietnam War, Music Spoke to Both Sides of a Divided Nation.” The Conversation. September 13, 2017. Accessed April 17, 2018. http://theconversation.com/during-vietnam-war-music-spoke-to-both-sides-of-a-divided-nation-83702.

 

Exploring the Minstrel Show

For my final project, I am writing a children’s book on blackface minstrelsy. To better understand what minstrel shows actually looked like, so that I can more accurately discuss them, I found a book called Minstrel Breezes by Arthur Kaser, a “collection of up-to-the-minute first-parts, sketches, skits, monologues and afterpieces.” The book was published in 1937 and was essentially a collection of scripts meant for amateur minstrels to use in their own minstrel shows. Reading through the scripts, I found that most of the humor comes from highlighting the dim-wittedness of the “black” characters, especially through pun and complicated faulty logic. For example, here is a selection from a conventional minstrel first-part, with an interlocutor and an Endman named Sideswipe:

INTERLOCUTOR: …you bragged to me the other day that you were the smartest pupil in school.

SIDESWIPE: I was de smartes’.

INTERLOCUTOR: Your sister told me this morning that you couldn’t even get out of the fourth grade.

SIDESWIPE: Dat was account of mah report card. Everything on dat report card was “A” except one.

INTERLOCUTOR: And that?

SIDESWIPE: Just one “B” on dat card, an’ dat’s what stung me.

I also found some videos on Youtube from a  1951 film, “Yes Sir, Mr. Bones,” in which popular minstrel performances are reproduced. This clip (Content Warning: Blackface) was a popular comedy routine called “28.”

The comedy routines in their contexts are quite disturbing; the blackface, the gross caricatures, the belittling of black folk all culminate into a disappointing picture. However, I raise a question: could these sort of routines be funny today if the blackface and racism was removed? Many of the jokes are puns and general silliness. Perhaps this is a controversial question, and by no means am I arguing in favor of minstrelsy, but it does make me wonder what are the limits of humor? When is a joke going too far? Is there any comedy from minstrel shows that can have any value, or do the implications mean too much? I suppose I am also thinking along the lines of the old minstrel tunes and that we know from childhood, that we know are from that tradition, but still hold onto. What do you think?

 

Feminist or Fraud: The Authenticity of Bessie Smith’s Music

Though her rein took place during the 1920’s the “Empress of the Blues,” Bessie Smith, is still a household name.1 Blues queens, like Bessie Smith, had a huge impact on the music scene of the time but they also made considerable contributions to the cultural environment of the time. Their songs, often times characterized by their themes of love and loss, talked about the struggles of being a black woman and the consequences of the cross section between race, gender, and class. One example of this is Bessie Smith’s “A Good Man is Hard To Find” which talks about a cheating husband but also the difficulty of leaving a relationship due to outside forces.

The authenticity of the stories within blues queens’ music is something that has been continually questioned.2 The success of these women put them in the spotlight and made them someone to critique as well as a figure to look up to. This popularity is exhibited through the numerous radio spots, advertisements for sold out performances, and music endorsements, like the one below.3

“Chirpin’ the Blues” sheet music with endorsement by Bessie Smith

Though the music was the main event of a Blues queen’s career, if the authenticity of their music and the narrative surrounding them was questioned then they could lose support and ultimately those gigs would go away. This is not a singular issue, though, rather it is a societal issue rooted in sexism and racism. Bessie Smith is not exempt from this kind of critique.She was very rich and very famous, and sometimes its hard to think that a figure like that could experience things like cheating, addiction, or poverty. Bessie Smith was not exempt from critique but she was a much more complicated woman than met the eye. In “A Good Man is Hard to Find” Bessie Smith sings about a rather specific situation in which a man cheats on a woman and the woman wishes she could go back in time and fix the situation. Bessie Smith may, or may not have experienced this specific situation but she did experience love and loss, and could relate to the feelings exhibited in the song. Her parents passed away when she was very young and she supported herself by singing on street corners. She was married twice, the first marriage ending in the death of her husband and the second ending in a painful divorce.5 In Bessie Smith’s case, her music is a reflection of her experiences. There are a lot of scenarios in her songs that she may not have lived through but she experienced the kind of pain and loss that permeated many of them. Ultimately, bringing attention to these experiences and showing the resilience and ingenuity of women she should be lauded as a feminist and a positive role model.

1 Lordi, Emily J.. Black Resonance: Iconic Women Singers and African American Literature. New Brunswick: Rutgers University Press, 2013.

2 Suisman, David. “Was Bessie Smith a feminist?.” Souls, vol. 1 iss. 1, 1999.

3 Austin, Lovie adn Alberta Hunter. “Chripin’ the Blues.” New York: Jack Mills, Inc, 1923.

4 Blackwell, Amy Hackney. “Ma Rainey.” In The American Mosaic: The African American Experience, ABC-CLIO, 2018.

5 “Bessie Smith.” In The American Mosaic: The African American Experience, ABC-CLIO, 2018.

Some Jazzy Blues… And Also Ragtime?

Sheet music is always super exciting. Well, maybe not always. But, that statement probably would have fit popular sentiment in the late 19th and early 20th century as evidenced by all Tin Pan Alley composers, lyrists, and producers who churned an exorbitant amount of music. Looking through the Sheet Music Consortium, one such piece caught my eye because it not only seemed connected to our class discussions on Tin Pan Alley, but also our classes on Jazz and the Blues.

Tom Delaney (1889-1963). Jazz and blues composer.

“The Jazz-Me Blues” were published by Palmetto Music Publishing Company in New York in 1921, and were written by Tom Delaney, who surprisingly, seems to be a bit of an enigma in my academic research sources.1 What I did find was that he lived from 1889 to 1963, was an African American composer, and he wrote a lot of jazz and blues songs that were popular in the 20’s and later.2 “The Jazz-Me Blues” are one of his songs for which there are many later recordings, a lot of them include a full band and exclude the vocal line.3 Maybe this is the way that Delaney meant for the piece to eventually be performed, as the cover of the music pictures what appears to be an all-black jazz band, and the piano arrangement was just for individual household consumption.

The cover of “The Jazz-Me Blues” by Tom Delaney, published in 1921.

Something else that is interesting about the cover is that it differs from the sheet music covers we looked at and talked about in class. Most of those depicted fictional scenes or characters, a famous singer or performer, or racial caricatures if depicting black people. Perhaps this is a notable band, and separated from the time, we don’t know that. But what is important is that the fame of the band is not what is being used to sell the music unlike the ones in class. It also is worth noting that this is a positive portrayal of black Americans; not a caricature. Is that only because right above are the words “Jazz” and “Blues”, which were connected to blackness? Or, was this music written for a different audience and purpose than what we looked at in class?

Turning the page to look at the actual provides other examples of the coupling of certain music and race, albeit in a perhaps more covert manner. The melody relies on syncopation, even mentioning the word “syncopation” in conjunction with what jazz is. This is one of the sonic markers of blackness that we spoke about in class. Additionally, the lyrics talk about jazz and “jazz-time”, as well as “ragtime” and, of course, “blues”. Again, these are all musical genres that at the time were considered black.

Another interesting portrait is painted by the lyrics:

Down in Louisiana in that sunny clime,

They play a class of music that is super-fine,

And it makes no difference if it’s rain or shine,

You can hear that jazz-in music playing all the time.

It is almost as if the people in Louisiana do nothing but sing, dance, and play jazz. Yet, this also can be read in conjunction with the last line: “I’ve got those dog-gone low-down jazz me, jazz me blues”, implying that life is really is great as long as you have jazz, which seems to thus celebrate jazz.

The first page of sheet music for “The Jazz-Me Blues“.

Ultimately, in thinking about how Rydell argued that sheet music was responsible for normalizing public attitudes, I wonder about what message this song spread.4 I’m not sure. On the one hand, it seems to reinforce a lot of the musical black stereotyping we have talked about in class. Yet, on the other hand, it does come across a celebration of jazz, and, according to some sources, it was this composition, among others, that helped Delaney get out of poverty. Perhaps, like much of life, the answers are not as clear as they may at first appear.

 

 

Delaney, Tom. “Jazz me blues”. New York: Palmetto Music Co., 1921. Retrieved from: http://webapp1.dlib.indiana.edu/metsnav/inharmony/navigate.do?oid=http://fedora.dlib.indiana.edu/fedora/get/iudl:338252/METADATA&pn=3&size=screen.

2 The Commodore Master Takes. Recorded February 28, 2006. Universal Classics & Jazz, 2006, Streaming Audio. https://search.alexanderstreet.com/view/work/bibliographic_entity%7Crecorded_cd%7C695030. (Delaney birth and death dates)

Harris, Sheldon. “Thomas Henry ‘Tom’ Delaney.” In Thomas Henry ‘Tom’ Delaney, 877. New Rochelle, NY: Da Capo Press, 1994. https://search.alexanderstreet.com/view/work/bibliographic_entity%7Creference_article%7C1004410925.

3 Search for “Tom Delaney” and “Jazz-Me Blues” in Alexander Street. https://search.alexanderstreet.com/jazz/search?searchstring=tom%20delaney&is_lti_search=&term%5B0%5D=jazz%20me%20blues.

4 Robert W. Rydell, “Soundtracks of Empire: ‘The White Man’s Burden,’ the War in the Philippines, the ‘Ideals of America,’ and Tin Pan Alley”, European journal of American studies [Online], 7-2 (2012). Accessed on March 22 2018. DOI : 10.4000/ejas.9712.

Ending On a Question

Last Fourth of July weekend, I attended church with some family friends. After the service everyone gathered in back to sing some patriotic songs together. One of those songs, I remember, was “This Land Is Your Land” by Woody Guthrie. I didn’t find anything curious about it at the time–the lyrics were fitting for the occasion. But then I learned when the song was written and what the original lyrics were. (Spoiler alert: We were not singing all the original lyrics.)

Post-1944 lyrics taken from the official website of Woody Guthrie

During the Great Depression, Irving Berlin’s “God Bless America” became an optimistic anthem for the hard times. In 1940, Woody Guthrie wrote “God Blessed America for Me”, with the phrase repeated at the end of each verse, in response to Berlin’s hit song.1 The lyrics were meant to capture a more accurate image of the United States, still celebrating the land but “without glossing over its imperfections or pretending that all in America were blessed equally.”2 The last couple verses were especially overt in their political protest, and–what I find most fascinating–the song ended on a question: “I stood there wondering, if God blessed America for me.”3

When Woody Guthrie changed the title to “This Land Is Your Land” in 1944, he altered the repeated lyric to “This land was made for you and me.”4 Thus, his message became a lot more inclusive. This turned the ending question into “I stood there asking, Is this land made for you and me?” However, in his 1947 recording, he left out the two protest verses but added another verse (“Nobody living can ever stop me…”). While previous versions have been very difficult to find, this is the version that has become most well-known.5

Despite the changes it has undergone, the lyrics of “This Land Is Your Land” still promote inclusivity–a land for you and me, where no one should be left out. The song was even adopted as a campaign song for the NAACP in the 1950s.6 Because Guthrie supported the Civil Rights Movement, I’m sure he would be proud to know his words were used in the fight for equal rights. On the other hand, his words have also been adopted by military bands, big corporations, and presidential campaigns for the purpose of eliciting patriotic sentiments.7 (I even sang it in a church around Independence Day.)

It’s incredible how one song, originally intended to question the ‘blessed’ nature of this country, has become known today as an optimistic, patriotic tune, alongside “God Bless America”. I’m not saying this is a good or bad thing, but I do believe it is important to keep in mind what this song originally stood for and what it asks: was this land blessed for you and me?

1 “This Land is Your Land.” Library of Congress. https://www.loc.gov/item/ihas.200000022/.

2 Galyean, Crystal. “‘This Machine Kills Fascists’: The Life and Music of Woody Guthrie.” U.S. History Scene. http://ushistoryscene.com/article/woody-guthrie/.

3 Songs 1, Box 3, Folder 27, Woody Guthrie Archives, 250 West 57th Street, New York, N.Y.

4 Ibid.

5 Ibid.

6 Ibid.

7 Ibid.

Jamaica: Exploring the Caribbean on Broadway

After reading Carol Oja’s article “West Side Story and The Music Man: Whiteness, Immigration, and Race in the U.S. During the Late 1950s” for class, I found myself wondering what other musicals premiered on Broadway during the 1957-1958 season.1
A quick google search revealed that, along with West Side Story and The Music Man, three other shows were nominated for the Tony Award for Best Musical in 1958: New Girl in Town, and Oh, Captain, as well as one name that stuck out to me: Jamaica. Knowing nothing about Jamaica, I was immediately intrigued by the idea that another musical dealing with American-Caribbean relations was on Broadway at the same time as West Side Story.

Cover of the opening night program for Jamaica, which opened at the Majestic Theater on October 31st, 1957.

Using a modified Calypso musical style that was popular in New York, Jamaica (book by E.Y. Harburg and Fred Saidy, music by Harold Arlen, and lyrics by E.Y. Harburg) tells the story of a Caribbean island community and its experience with tourism and other current events of the late 1950s. The musical was not a critical success, but became “the longest running black-cast Broadway musical up to that time.”2
Theater scholar Shane Vogel remarked that “Jamaica parodied the colonial system, Caribbean tourist economies, and the ideological struggles that subtended a cold war that was never very cold. It may be the only Broadway musical to stage, just before intermission, a mushroom cloud.”3 Through a variety of artistic changes made just before opening (including replacing the original Jamaican star Harry Belafonte with Lena Horne) the political critique of the show was somewhat watered down. (It is also interesting to note that Alvin Ailey appeared in the ensemble.)

West Side Story and Jamaica uses similar themes of connection between Caribbean islands and the United States, but in dramatically different ways. While West Side Story focused on the trials of racial and cultural integration of white and Puerto Rican American youth in New York City, Jamaica emphasized the detrimental effects of colonialism on the inhabitants of the fictional Pigeon Island, at least at first. By the time it got to Broadway,

Advertisements frame the list of scenes in Jamaica.

and despite the intentions of the writers, “the show appeared as a typical instance of mid-century Broadway Caribbeana: a tourist production that traded on notions of an undifferentiated Caribbean landscape and a tropical aesthetic of “calypso” rhythms, moonlight romance, and folk simplicity” “where blackness was staged as a site and possibility for diasporic political consciousness,” according to Vogel.4 Reflecting this change, advertisements that appeared in the opening night playbill were for cruise ships, clothes, and alcohol.5
While the songs still contained critiques of American intervention (for example “Yankee Dollar,” and “Leave the Atom Alone”), the Playbill synopsis now reads “A Jamaican woman dreams of moving to New York City, despite her boyfriend’s contentment with the island life.”6
Despite giving a platform to black artists, many of whom became involved with the Civil Rights Movement, Jamaica was a far cry from giving a unique political voice to black island communities. For further reflection on the evolution of musicals with Caribbean themes, it would be interesting to compare Jamaica to the current Broadway musicals that take place on Caribbean islands, such as Once On This Island, and Escape to Margaritaville.

1 Oja, Carol. “West Side Story and The Music Man: Whiteness, Immigration, and Race in the U.S. During the Late 1950s” Studies in Musical Theatre 3, no. 1 (2009): 13-20.

2 Oja, Carol. “West Side Story and The Music Man: Whiteness, Immigration, and Race in the U.S. During the Late 1950s” Studies in Musical Theatre 3, no. 1 (2009): 2. ProQuest. Accessed April 15, 2018.

3 Oja, “Jamaica on Broadway,” 1.

4 Oja, “Jamaica on Broadway,” 2, 18.

5 “Jamaica,” Playbill Vault. http://www.playbill.com/production/jamaica-imperial-theatre-vault-0000006056.

6 Ibid.

Racial Colorblindness, Privilege, and the Monterey Pop Festival

The Monterey International Pop Festival in June of 1967 stands as a revolutionary musical event in which new and diverse performers captivated audiences and defined a new genre. The festival is notorious, even today, for providing an escape from the tumultuous socio-political climate and spreading messages of peace and togetherness. If we truly want to study these historical events with integrity, though, it is essential to challenge the notion that Monterey Pop transcended race in the way people say it did.

Monterey International Pop Festival, 1967

One way to analyze this idea is through an in-depth look at Otis Redding and his groundbreaking performance at the festival. An African American soul and blues singer from Georgia, Redding was relatively unknown at the time of his performance. For this reason, the universal praise from mostly-white audiences appears to be a win for African American culture – a true transcendence of race through music. On some level, this might be true; it’s likely that audiences genuinely enjoyed Redding’s performance, and Redding seemed to be all in on the hippie culture. What often gets swept under the rug, though, is that this reflects a larger phenomenon of neglecting to appreciate the rich and complex cultural history from which Redding and his soulful music emerged. A newspaper article written in August of 1967 subtly hints at this idea. 

“Memphis Sound, a Western Smash” from Milwaukee Star, 1967

The article from the Milwaukee Star describes the early beginnings of Memphis soul/blues music in the San Francisco “hippie” culture. The author(s) attribute this to the popularity of Otis Redding’s performance at Monterey. Much like other literature on the festival, there is no explicit mention of race or how it was diminished. However, a close reading of the article, in my opinion, highlights an overall lack of appreciation for the black folk origins of Redding’s music. Furthermore, the author(s) speak with an optimism that suggests these black origins will now be recognized and understood by hippies in the West. Though soul and blues music definitely gained a larger audience because of Redding’s performance, I would be hesitant to say that this appreciation came to fruition in a complete and integral way.

Two present-day articles about the festival highlight this lack of understanding. First, one account from Consequence of Sound addresses Redding’s surprising catapult to fame, placing special emphasis on the peaceful nature of the festival that allowed hippie audiences to appreciate a performer like Redding. Yet, the article neglects to mention race, further negating Redding’s complete story and the history from which he emerged. More explicitly, one retrospective article from Billboard features written testimonies from who were at the festival 50 years ago. One account, talking about Redding’s performance, writes: “This whole audience of white, middle-class kids started screaming and acting like they were black. ‘Lord have mercy! Right on brotha!’ It was a little bit racist.” It’s likely that those white kids at the festival thought they were spreading love and acceptance, but this nevertheless demonstrates the racial colorblindness and privilege associated with the festival. The fact that this is one of few sources that mentions race highlights the erasure that did, and still does, occur. The festival was groundbreaking and peaceful, and did many wonderful things for Redding and music like his. Regardless, it’s important to acknowledge this lack of complete understanding, and work towards a more thorough appreciation of the origins of black soul music.

Sources:

Author Unknown. “‘Memphis Sound:’” A Western Smash.’” Milwaukee Star, August 12, 1967. Accessed April 4, 2018 from the African American Historical Newspaper Collection. SQN: 12CCE7DB1A225690.

Flynn, John, Randall Colburn, and Tyler Clark. “How Janis Joplin and Otis Redding Conquered Monterey Pop Festival.” Consequence of Sound. June 18, 2017. Accessed April 04, 2018. https://consequenceofsound.net/2017/06/how-janis-joplin-and-otis-redding-conquered-monterey-pop-festival/

Tannenbaum, Rob. “The Oral History of Monterey Pop, Where Jimi Torched His Ax & Janis Became a Star: Art Garfunkel, Steve Miller, Lou Adler & More.” Billboard. May 26, 2017. Accessed April 16, 2018. https://www.billboard.com/articles/news/magazine-feature/7809491/monterey-pop-oral-history-jimi-hendrix-janis-joplin.

Broadway Musicals, Mixed Race Identity, and Internalized Racism

Up until 1967 and the Loving vs. Virginia court case, interracial marriages were deemed illegal in the United States. This does not mean that interracial relations did not occur prior to this time. There is in fact a long history of interracial relations in the United States, many of which come along with much trauma, particularly in the history of white, male slave masters raping their black female slaves. That being said, views supporting anti-miscegenation are what allowed for interracial marriages to remain illegal until so recently. As seen in the newspaper article below, anti-miscegenation groups with the soul purpose of preventing interracial marriages were not uncommon. Much of anti-miscegenation is based in the idea of white supremacy and the sentiment that white racial purity must be upheld.

Segment from the San Francisco Bulletin in 1886

Living in a society rooted in white supremacy has enormous effects on mixed race individuals, particularly in contributing towards feelings of internalized racism. Internalized racism is when an individual feels a sense of low self worth and negative attitudes about their own race as a consequence of being a part of a racist society. This feeling is particularly prominent among mixed race individuals, especially those of both a minority and non-minority racial group. Combining this with the history of anti-miscegenation beliefs and laws contributes to a prevalence of internalized racism within mixed race individuals.

Anna and King Mongkut of Siam in “The King and I”

Chris and Kim in “Miss Saigon”

There are a variety of Broadway shows that highlight relationships between a white individual and a person of color. These shows include, but are not limited to, Miss Saigon, The King and I, Hairspray, and South Pacific. Interracial relationships within these musicals are consistently portrayed as “unconventional.” Additionally, the white individual is usually portrayed in an idealized manner whereas the person of color is portrayed as the “other”. In both Miss Saigon and The King and I, the interracial relationships occur because the white individual travels to either Vietnam or Siam. What is not acknowledged, however, is that this global connectedness occurs because of colonial/imperialist history. In Miss Saigon, Chris goes to Vietnam because of the U.S involvement in the Vietnam war. In The King and I,  Anna goes to Siam to give the King’s children a European education, something that would not be necessary if it were not for the history of colonialism. Thus from the beginning of the relationships, there is a power dynamic created. There is a sense of superiority established of the white person in the relationship merely because of their white identity. It is possible that mixed race people relate to these relationships because they parents of differing races. These relationship portrayals would likely have a negative effect upon these individuals’ psyches, particularly if one of their parents is white. This is because it emphasizes the superiority of the white parent, which has a strong likelihood of contributing to feelings of internalized racism against their non-white race. The fact that these issues are augmented even in Broadway musicals shows how normal it is for mixed race individuals to be bombarded with reminders of white superiority, making internalized racism seem almost inescapable. 

Sources:

“Anti-Miscegenation Movement. Organization in Louisiana to Prevent the Intermarriage of Whites and Blacks.” San Francisco Bulletin (San Francisco, CA), September 30, 1886.

“Loving vs. Virginia: A Documentary Novel of the Landmark Civil Rights Case.” Publishers Weekly 263, no. 46 (2016): 57.

Matthew Murphy, Alistair Brammer and Eva Noblezada, print, 2017. http://www.playbill.com/article/enter-for-your-chance-to-see-miss-saigons-last-performance-on-broadway.

McDowell, T., Ingoglia, L., Serizawa, T., Holland, C. (2005). Raising Multiracial Awareness in Family Therapy Through Critical Conversations. Journal of Marital and Family Therapy, 31(4), 399-411.

The King and I, print, 2017. http://www.broadwaysd.com/upcoming-events/rodgers-hammerstein-king-and-i/.

The History and Reception of “Roll Jordan, Roll”

After a discussion on the origins of black spirituals I was left questioning the origins of specific spirituals like “Roll Jordan, Roll”. I found, although not very surprising, that “Roll Jordan, Roll” was created by an european man by the name of Charles Wesley in the eighteenth century. He was a methodist preacher and after reading the articles by Jackson and Krehbiel, which have the goal of tackling this question of origin, I was not at all surprised that the origins of the song came from a white, protestant background. What I am left wondering is how “Roll Jordan, Roll” made it’s way to the slave south of the mid to late nineteenth century.
What I have found through my search in pursuit of answering my wonder is that the song may have been used as an effort to christianize the slaves. What I mean is the song wasn’t the sole proprietor in christianizing but was apart of a curriculum in doing so. It seems that the song had gone through an evolution and rather than being a christianizing song to the slaves, it was turned into a song of sorrow or conduit for abolitionism.
The religious allegories of the song had become a story of escaping slavery. There are many adaptations of the song, but the idea of the song being one of being delivered from slavery remains. The photo below is a documentation of one adaptation of the song. It was recorded into the Slave Songs of the United States (1867). 

Slave Songs of the United States by William Francis Allen

“Roll Jordan, Roll” was eventually widely accepted as a former slave song rather than methodist spiritual. Below is a excerpt from a newspaper article from 1880. Whomever wrote it acknowledges that the songs sung by the Jubilee Singers, included “Roll Jordan, Roll” originated from “slavery times”, not the old English Methodists.
I suppose for me “Roll Jordan, Roll” can not be owned by any race. It is a black spiritual as well as a Methodist hymn.
Works Cited and Consulted:
“The National Capital. Wether–Society–The Jubilee Singers.” Weekly Louisianian (New Orleans), March 20, 1880. Accessed March 20, 2018. African American Newspapers.
“Roll Jordan Roll: A Community in Song and Sound.” The Black Atlantic. March 18, 2014. Accessed March 20, 2018. https://sites.duke.edu/blackatlantic/2014/03/18/roll-jordan-roll-a-community-in-song-and-sound/.
“The River Jordan in Early African American Spirituals by Daniel L. Smith-Christopher.” River Jordan in Early African American Spirituals. Accessed March 20, 2018. http://www.bibleodyssey.org/places/related-articles/river-jordan-in-early-african-american-spirituals.
“Slave Songs of the United South.” William Francis Allen, 1830-1889, Charles Pickard Ware, 1840-1921, and Lucy McKim Garrison, 1842-1877. Slave Songs of the United States. Accessed March 20, 2018. http://docsouth.unc.edu/church/allen/allen.html#slsong1.

What Makes a Spiritual?

In combing through the archives to find documents that would be valid proof for my blog post, the problem of preservation and what counts as music that should be highlighted as an authentic expression of what it means to be a black American in the late 1800s kept bothering me and continues to do so.

Epstein notes the fact that the songs that were created by black Americans in the lat 1800s were not recorded for posterity, like corn songs.1
We know that there are a number of songs that failed to be preserved and passed down that told the experience of slaves, perhaps in a way that we will never know as present day audiences, far removed from that experience ourselves. However, in thinking about all of this and in looking through the archive, a question arose: how would a song like the one below fit in?

Clime up de Ladder to de Clouds. Composed by Gussie Davis. 1891. 2

This so-called ‘Ethiopian Song’ was written as a minstrel song but it retains the same elements of a spiritual. Furthermore, it was written by a black composer Gussie Davis. It arguably is at the very least inspired by the spirituals that were an established form of music by this time. Does this mean that it can be seen as a part of that tradition?

The lyrics themselves are the puzzle. As one can probably deduce, the song is about someone climbing up to heaven. There are multiple references to biblical objects like New Jerusalem and Satan which were also common in spirituals. Would it then fit the criteria of a spiritual?

If the answer to the question of whether or not it is a spiritual is that no, because it is a constructed form of music that is not an authentic experience, then why do the songs performed by slaves for their white owners for entertainment, documented by Southern, not fall into the same category? It has the same aspects of being a learned form, of falling into the “black entertainer with a white audience” category and placed the entertainer in a hazy sphere of identity.3
Does this change the perspective we have about “Clime up de ladder to de clouds”?

What about when we learn that Gussie Davis (who composed the song) grew up in Ohio and never experienced slavery?4 No I could not find a source for this, but would things be viewed differently if we found out that his parents had been former slaves? Or that he could directly point to a spiritual that had inspired this song?

Even though we may not agree that despite all of this, this song still does not have a place in the the spiritual tradition, it is still important to think about the questions this example raises. How do we understand what makes a black spiritual? Who gets to make it up? Does direct influence of spirituals or experience have to be explicitly affirmed or can we find other ways to hint at it? What would it mean if we included minstrel songs into the spiritual repertoire?

I don’t know if there are answers to those questions but they are worth thinking about.

Works Cited

1.Epstein, Dena J. Sinful Tunes and Spirituals : Black Folk Music to the Civil War. Music in American Life. Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 1977.

2. Davis, Gussie L., 1863-1899. Clime up de ladder to de clouds : Ethiopean song. New York: Hitchcock and McCargo Publishing Co., L’td.1891. http://digitalcollections.baylor.edu/cdm/ref/collection/fa-spnc/id/129736

3. Southern, E. (1971). “Entertainment for the Masters” inThe music of black Americans : A history. (1st ed.), 173-175. New York: W. W. Norton.

4. Saffle, Michael. “Davis, Gussie Lord.” International Dictionary of Black Composers, Vol. 1: Abrams-Jenkins. 374-78. https://search.alexanderstreet.com/view/work/bibliographic_entity%7Creference_article%7C1000081424. 

Politics and Music: Reconciliation Through Celebration

1865 was one of the biggest years in the history of the United States of America. The end of the American Civil War was fast approaching and the 13th amendment was ratified early that year. Celebrations, both public and private, erupted all over the country. With these celebrations came some historic national firsts. One particular first came in a religious celebration that took place in the Capitol soon after the completion of the 13th Amendment. Reverend Henry Highland Garnet was invited by The Chaplain of the House of Representatives, Reverend William H. Channing to speak and perform religious ceremonies to honor this historic moment. 1

Rev. H. H. Garnet

It was not only the first time that an African American preacher had performed a religious ceremony in the Capitol but, according to public letters, it was also the first time a black man had spoken there. 2 The significance of this event was not lost on Washington residents and both white and black men came to hear him speak. To further the momentous occasion congregants of the local black Methodist church, joined by a variety of members of nearby white churches, sang for the occasion. This interracial choir showcased both an ideological and political commitment to the expansion of rights for African Americans.

Article reflecting on Rev. Garnett’s appearance in the Capitol

Spirituals are such an integral part of the African American experience, in many cases they represent hope and strength in times of strife. 3 It’s fitting that they would be included in such a historically important moment. The combination of politics, religion, and music symbolize the progressive and creative changes happening in the United States at this time. This celebration is ultimately representative of how music and ceremony can provide an outlet for people to come together and represent the multi-faceted nature of change. This moment in time shows how music can help to bring people together and how it can provide a platform for the celebration of progress.

Cultural Appropriation: Is It Bad?

From pop sensations Bruno Mars to Iggy Azalea to old school entertainers like Elsie Janis, musical cultural appropriation has always been and is still a problem to many people. Is music appropriation a bad thing? Here is some background to understanding why musical cultural appropriation is a problem.

Cultural Appropriation

First, before we get to it, we need to understand what “appropriation” means. According to TheFreeDictionary.com the definition of music appropriation is: “the use of borrowed elements (aspects or techniques) in the creation of a new piece,” (TheFreeDictionary.com).

Now, appropriation of music styles in itself is not bad. However, once those music styles are being re-interpreted by people who didn’t originally create that particular genre or song style, we start to find problems. This is called “Cultural Appropriation”. According to The Free Dictionary, “Cultural appropriation is the adoption or use of elements of one culture by members of another culture.[1] Cultural appropriation may be perceived[2] as controversial, even harmful, notably when the cultural property of a minority group is used by members of the dominant culture without the consent of the members of the originating culture; this is seen as misappropriation and a violation of intellectual property rights” (TheFreeDictionary.com).

An example of cultural appropriation is when someone who is not Mexican throws on a Charro suit as a costume for Halloween.

Mexican Cultural Appropriation

It is completely misrepresenting its origins. Cultural appropriation in music has been an issue in the Western world, especially in the United States. The reason is most, if not, all music that is “American” is originally black music. Most jazz, blues, ragtime, hip-hop, country, spirituals, and other songs we have discussed in class have found their origins in African-American culture.

 

 

Today, artists such as Bruno Mars and Iggy Azalea are being criticized for creating music in genres that originated from black musicians. Even after Bruno acknowledged his influences at the 2018 Grammy’s for example,

[Bruno Mars Acknowledges His Influences in 2018 Grammys]

an article was written about his role as a racially ambiguous artist in today’s music industry. Even Seren Sensei posted a video on Twitter defending her argument that Bruno Mars is using his racial ambiguity to further his credit in creating black music.

[Seren Sensei]

However, this issue is a bit more complex than it seems. To understand why, we must allude back to the cultural music appropriation of black music by white artists in the early 20th century United States.

[Elsie Janis – Anti Rag-Time Girl (Audio)]

2nd: Elsie Bierbower, aka: “Elsie Janis” was a singer, songwriter, actress and screenwriter from Columbus, Ohio. She moved to Los Angeles to live her dreams in the entertainment industry, and travelled around the world performing for vaudeville, Broadway and Hollywood. She was immortalized by her nickname, “the sweetheart of the AEF” when she would entertain the troops during World War I.

Elsie Janis – Anti-Ragtime Girl Sheet Music

Elsie Janis could be described as a someone who made it in Hollywood. She was very famous in her time. However, as with everything that seems to good to be true, Elsie utilized ragtime, an African-American genre, to write her 1913 song “Anti-Ragtime Girl”. By 1913, Ragtime was in its prime as a popular American genre, similar to how hip-hop is dominant in mainstream culture today. It is clear that she uses ragtime to create this piece. Are her actions considered cultural appropriation? Yes and no. Yes, because she did not invent ragtime music, and it is clear that she is living lavishly for herself based off the income of her music’s success. Some may argue that it is not moral for one to use another’s culture to re-interpret in another perspective. It is still very complicated.

That leaves us with today. Eminem, Iggy Azalea, Bruno Mars, and Macklemore have all won Grammys for their success in performing music that is arguably black music. However, differences in opinion leaves us with an open-ended question: Where does the line between creating original art and committing cultural appropriation sit?

Sources:

Collins English Dictionary – Complete and Unabridged, 12th Edition 2014. S.v. “appropriation.” Retrieved March 19 2018 from https://www.thefreedictionary.com/appropriation

Harriot, Michael. “The Bruno Mars Controversy Proves People Don’t Understand Cultural Appropriation.” The Grapevine. Retrieved March 19 2018 from https://thegrapevine.theroot.com/the-bruno-mars-controversy-proves-people-don-t-understa-1823709412

Janis, Elsie. “Anti Rag-Time Girl.” Oregon Digital. Retrived March 19 2018 from https://oregondigital.org/catalog/oregondigital:w66343646#page/1/mode/1up

Sheet Music Singer. “Anti-Ragtime Girl (1913).” YouTube. Retrieved March 19 2018 from https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=anQzoJQZerk

Wikipedia.org. S.v. “Appropriation (music).” Retrieved March 19 2018 from https://encyclopedia.thefreedictionary.com/Appropriation+(music)

 

Harry Burleigh–A Nice Post for Once

We have been tackling some difficult ethical issues in this class regarding how we should feel and respond to the shameful reality of minstrelsy and its related veins. One conclusion we have come to is to acknowledge the past, recognize (white) America’s shortcomings, and point ourselves and others in the direction of something better. In my research for this post, I feel I have found that something better.

Sheet music for “Steal Away” arr. by H.T. Burleigh.
Complete sheet music here.

I came across the spiritual, “Steal Away,”1 the name of which I recognized as a song Viking Chorus sang during my freshman year. I found that the spiritual was arranged by Harry T. Burleigh, and reading about him was a little shining star in this (at times) depressing class. A rendition of the spiritual can be found on Youtube, among several others.

Harry Thacker Burleigh (b. 1866) is recognized as the first and among the most influential African American composers in post-Civil War America. He studied at the New York National Conservatory of Music where he became friends with Antonín Dvorák, who was the school’s director. They spent ample time together, Burleigh sharing with Dvorák the black spirituals and plantation songs that he had heard from his grandfather. Dvorák encouraged Burleigh to save these songs, to arrange them as his work.2 Thankfully, he did. “Steal Away” is one of the hundreds of pieces he arranged and composed. His most successful song is likely his arrangement of “Deep River” (1917), a song many people today recognize.3

Photograph of Harry T. Burleigh by Carl Van Vechten

In the booklet of “Negro Spirituals” from which I found “Steal Away,” one of the first pages is a single page note from Burleigh on spirituals. Similar to the descriptions of spirituals Eileen Southern provides in Antebellum Rural Life,4 Burleigh outlines them as “spontaneous outbursts of intense religious fervor, and had their origin chiefly in camp meetings, revivals and other religious exercises”. He goes on to condemn the portrayals of blacks and their music in minstrel shows, declaring that the attempted humorous mimicry of “the manner of the Negro in singing them” is a “serious misconception of their meaning and value”.5

It is my belief that, with the knowledge of the shortcomings of American culture in our hearts, we should look to and celebrate those who do not fall into the questionable traditions we have encountered. I think Harry T. Burleigh is a splendid example. Thus, I would like to end this post with the ending words of Burleigh’s note in the booklet. He speaks of that value mentioned above, the true value of spirituals.

Their worth is weakened unless they are done impressively, for through all these songs breathes a hope, a faith in the ultimate justice and brotherhood of man. The cadences of sorrow invariably turn to joy, the message is ever manifest that eventually deliverance from all that hinders and oppresses the soul will come, and man–every man–will be free.

–H.T.B.

Let My People Go: Moses in African American Spirituals

The traditional lyrics and melody. Burleigh, H.T. “Go Down, Moses (Let My People Go!),” in Negro Spirituals (New York: G. Ricordi, 1917),https://library.duke.edu/dig italcollections/hasm_n0708/.

After relentless, long and hard days working in the fields, enslaved black people had little in forms of comfort. Singing spirituals was one way for enslaved people to come together, to sing about their hardships, to praise God, and to lift their spirits. Although some scholars, such as George Pullen Jackson,1 have argued that spirituals stem directly from white Protestant music, spiritual songs centered on Moses and the Israelites’ escape from Egyptian slavery, such as “Go Down, Moses”, highlight how the slave experience distinctly shaped African American spirituals.

In the numerous songs featuring the biblical character of Moses, “Go Down, Moses” is the most popular. This as well as other Moses songs directly reflects enslaved people’s longing for freedom. For many enslaved people, Moses was representative of the brave “conductors” of the Underground Railroad, such as Harriet Tubman, that guided enslaved people to freedom.2 The lyrics of “Go Down Moses” indicating that Moses, someone who did not have as much power as the Pharaoh, could defy him and demand “to let [his] people go!” was incredibly powerful for enslaved people who dreamed of defying their master. In many ways it became a way of defying their master even if they did not run away.3

Although this version of “Go Down Moses” remains the most popular, other versions also highlight connections between the African-American slaves and the Israelites. In John Davis’s version of “Go Down, Moses”, he reveals that the chariot symbolizes the Underground Railroad and the “rivers rolling” as the rivers that runaway slaves would cross though to lose their scent.4 Although the lyrics are different, the message remains the same: a dream and a reflection on the fight for freedom.

Krehbiel’s assertion that “Nowhere save on the plantations of the south could the emotional life which is essential to the development of true folksong be developed”5 rings true in “Go Down, Moses”. Although whites may have shared Christianity with enslaved blacks, they could not emote the same connection with the enslaved Israelites. The emotion present in the slow, melancholy song in the video and sheet music above reveals the deep sadness of living in slavery and a longing for freedom that only enslaved people could understand.

1 Jackson, George Pullen. “Negro-Borrowed Tunes are Traced Back to Britain: Did the Black Man Compose Religious Songs?,” in White and Negro Spirituals, Their Life Span and Kinship: Tracing 200 Years of Untrammeled Song Making and Singing Among Our Country Folk, (New York: J.J. Augustin, 1943): 264-289.

2 “Georgia islands: Biblical Songs and Spirituals,” Southern Journey 12 (1998): 14.

3 Ibid.

4 Ibid.

5 Krehbiel, Henry Edward. “Songs of the American Slaves,” in Afro-American Foksongs: A Study in Racial and National Music, (1914): 22.

“The Voice is not nearly so important as the Spirit”

After reading Eileen Southern and Dena Epstein’s accounts of American slave songs and particularly spirituals, my curiosity was piqued. I set out to see what sheet music for spirituals looked like from the days of the sheet music craze and naturally ran across something I wasn’t really expecting.

What I found was H. T. Burleigh’s arrangement of “Sometimes I feel like a motherless child” for low voice and piano.1 One thing that initially struck me about the song was that it fit with what Epstein wrote about as a common theme in slave songs, that is the repetition of the same line of text several times in a row. Another common characteristic was syncopation, which is also an important driving characteristic of this song.2

The cover of the sheet music for “Sometimes I feel like a motherless child”. A recording of this arrangement can be found here.

However, arrangement is also interesting because it has been written in the style of arias and art songs. The melody is written out clearly, omitting some of the vocalizations that perhaps would have been sung by slaves. It is also made clear that the song does not perhaps fully fit a European method of transcription by the footnote on the first page which offers an alternate rhythm for one of the measures. Additionally, the arrangement contains a simple piano accompaniment consisting mainly of repetitive chords on the beats. This makes sense as the arranger, H. T. Burleigh studied on scholarship at the National Conservatory of Music in New York and ultimately became famous for being the first to arrange spirituals in the style of art songs, allowing for their entry into recital repertoire.3

The other interesting aspect of this sheet music is the arranger’s note that precedes it. In it, Burleigh gives a brief history of spirituals and claims that they are “practically the only music in America which meets the scientific definition of Folk Song”. He then goes on to advise the would-be singer that “the voice is not nearly so important as the spirit” when preforming, and that rhythm is the critical element. He admonishes that spirituals should not be linked with “minstrel” songs and that one should not try to imitate “Negro” accent or mannerisms in performance.

Ultimately, this got me thinking again about our discussion question of who gets to sing these songs and who gets to decide who gets to sing them? This arrangement was obviously originally intended for a white audience because of its warning about trying to perform them imitating the ways that are “natural to the colored people”. Written as it is in the style of an art song, means it caters to recitalists. Most recitalists of the time were white, as Burleigh himself is regarded as one of the first African American recitalists. Can white performers sing these songs that came out of the deep anguish of slavery and do them justice?

H. T. Burleigh (1866-1949).

Burleigh also adds an interesting dimension to the puzzle. As a black man born after the abolition of slavery, does he still have a right and connection to these songs? After all, he came from a poor family and learned many of his spirituals from his grandfather, who had been a slave.4 Furthermore, Burleigh still lived in a time of deep racial inequality and probably experienced ugly racism and discrimination in his own life.

Perhaps Burleigh, in is own way, provides a bit of an answer to this quandary in his performance notes when he remarks that spirituals’ “worth is weakened unless they are done impressively, for through all these songs there breathes a hope, a faith in the ultimate justice and brotherhood of man”. It may not be a perfect answer, but it is something.

1Burleigh, H. T. “Sometimes I feel like a motherless child” from Negro Spirituals. New York: G. Ricordi, 1918. http://digital.library.temple.edu/cdm/ref/collection/p15037coll1/id/5400. Accessed March 19, 2018.

2Epstein, Dena J. Sinful Tunes and Spirituals: Black Folk Music to the Civil War. Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 1977.

3““Harry” Burleigh (1866–1949).” In African American Almanac, by Lean’tin Bracks. Visible Ink Press, 2012. https://ezproxy.stolaf.edu/login?url=https://search.credoreference.com/content/entry/vipaaalm/harry_burleigh_1866_1949/0?institutionId=4959. Accessed March 19, 2018.

4Snyder, Jean. “Burleigh, Henry [Harry] T(hacker).” Grove Music Online. http://www.oxfordmusiconline.com/grovemusic/view/10.1093/gmo/9781561592630.001.0001/omo-9781561592630-e-1002248537. Accessed March 19, 2018.

Lullabies and Mother-Child Relationships in Slavery

The focus on slave songs this past week provided important insights into the lives of slaves in the late eighteenth and early nineteenth century. In Eileen Southern’s book The Music of Black Americans, she details the ways in which the growing slave population in the South experienced music in their everyday lives.[1] It’s fascinating to learn not only about the songs’ significance, but also how this music has been recorded and preserved over time.

Southern briefly touched on the role of song in dance in recreation. This piqued my interest in one element of slave culture touched upon less in the readings for the week: slave family life. Those with only minimal knowledge of slavery in the United States understand that stable and cohesive families were rare. It was not uncommon for children and their mothers to be separated from their fathers.[2] Nevertheless, recreation and resilient familial relationships were an enduring silver lining.

Letter to President Taylor – The North Star – Mar 1850

While perusing the African American Historical Newspaper Collection, I came across one especially intriguing article that reflected this theme and, in particular, the mother-child relationship in slavery.[3] The excerpt displays a letter from Francis Jackson to President Zachary Taylor, calling for him to abolish slavery. In the letter, Jackson appeals to President Taylor by referencing the bond between slave mothers and their children.

Letter to President Taylor – The North Star – Mar 1850

He questions the President’s morals if he continues to permit slavery after acknowledging its cruelty, as evidenced in part by the separation of mothers and their children. This led me to wonder: in what ways did the mother-child relationship in slavery intersect with the music created and preserved on the plantation? Did parents, and more specifically – mothers – have a distinct way of connecting through music?

My research led me to an online feminism project from Brandeis University, which features a collection of information about slave lullabies.[4] Lullabies are typically thought of as soothing melodies sung to calm children. The authors here describe the ways in which slave mothers cared for and nurtured their children through lullabies, despite the lack of agency associated with their motherhood. One excerpt reads:

“Slave songs about mothering open a window into these women’s hearts. Many of these lullabies have come down to us as words only—their tunes are lost—but they resonate nevertheless. Their lyrics reveal an ever-present sense of danger and pain; they whisper sweet promises of a brighter future; and, as lullabies have always done, they serve the practical purpose of making children ‘sleep good, feel better and have something to hope for.'”

This project website includes several original texts written by slave mothers, many of which have been adapted and are recognizable today. Included below is believed to be one of these adaptation: a recording of a song from the 2000 film O Brother Where Art Thou. These lyrics are similar to a poem entitled “Go to Sleepy,” written by Annie Little, who, reportedly, sang her 10 enslaved children to sleep with these lyrics.

Understanding the origins of songs and lullabies we know today, such as those derived from texts documented in this project, can go a long way in preserving slave songs. Lullabies were one way slave mothers could use music to provide comfort, and reflecting on this history allows us to appreciate how music played a part in the complexities of the slave familial relationships.

[1] Southern, Eileen. “Antebellum Rural Life.” In The Music of Black Americans: A History, 151-204. New York: W. W. Norton & Company, 2006.

[2] Williams, Heather A. “How Slavery Affected African American Families.” Freedom’s Story, TeacherServe®, National Humanities Center. Accessed March 20, 2018. http://nationalhumanitiescenter.org/tserve/freedom/1609-1865/essays/aafamilies.htm.

[3] Jackson, Francis. “Letter to President Taylor.” The North Star (African American Historical Newspaper Collection), March 22, 1850.

[4] Tick, Judith, and Melissa J. De Graaf. “Slave Lullabies in the American South: Mothers’ Voices Recovered.” The Feminist Sexual Ethics Project. Accessed March 20, 2018. https://www.brandeis.edu/projects/fse/slavery/lullabies/index.html.

 

Understanding Abolitionism in Music: The Hutchinson Family Singers and Frederick Douglass

While looking through the database “African American Newspapers” for references to music, I came across a letter regarding a recent concert by the Hutchinson Family Singers for Henry Clay that included music thought to be abolitionist in nature.1 Published on in New York on March 22, 1848, this letter, from “L.P.” is addressed to Frederick Douglass, politely suggesting an alternate account of a performance Clay that Douglass had criticized.

The Hutcherson Family Singers. From left John, Abby, Judson and Asa Hutchinson c. 1846.

According to L.P., the Hutchinsons sang rousing abolitionist music, some of which had been added to in order to be more abolitionist. Douglass’s complaint was that the traditionally abolitionist Hutchinsons2 had gone over to the other side, singing in honor of Henry Clay, an American legislator who owned slaves but supported gradual emancipation.3 L.P., however, wished that “would to God that the Hutchinson Family might sing before every slaveholder in the land; the effect would be to greatly hasten on the ‘good time coming,’ when every slave should be emancipated, and mankind should love each other.” While the controversy of this performance is fascinating, diving into the songs mentioned in the article as abolitionist songs unearths an interesting contrast between these “abolition” songs and contemporaneous slave songs that yearned for freedom.

Sheet music for “The Old Granite State” from 1843. Verses about abolitionism and temperance were later added.

Once song mentioned in the 1848 article is “The Old Granite State.” Referencing 1843 sheet music for the song, repetitive lyrics suggest abolitionist themes such as refuge in the mountains, and feelings of  brotherhood.4 For a song meant to persuade the country to support emancipation and learn to love one another, however, the song falls short in retrospect. Upon further research however, it appears that the additional abolitionist verses mentioned by L.P. had not been added in 1843. As heard in a 2006 recording, additional verses dealt with the subject of slavery and emancipation.5

Liberty is our motto, (3x)

In the Old Granite State,

We despise oppression,

And we cannot be enslaved.

 

Yes we’re friends of Emancipation

And we’ll sing the Proclamation

Till it echoes through our nation

From the Old Granite State.

That the tribe of Jesse,

That the tribe of Jesse,

That the tribe of Jesse

Are the friends of equal rights.6

It is quite evident from these verses that the Hutchinson’s demonstration of abolitionism was tightly tied to their New England pride. For example, this song that the article’s author claims could persuade slaveholders to support emancipation is named “The Old Granite State,” a nickname for New Hampshire.

A portrait of the Huchinson Family Singers from the 1843 sheet music of “The Old Granite State”

The Hutchinsons’ and L.P.’s understanding of emancipation and the need for freedom as expressed through song appear to be quite different that of the slaves themselves. Instead, many slave songs dealt with themes of Christianity, and the need to hold onto God’s love in order to get to a better place, spiritually and physically.  Songs like “Go in the Wilderness” were rooted in the reality of slavery, and the need to escape through faith, hope and perseverance. Singing was a way of survival.7 The Hutchinsons, however, chose to use music to express their belief in abolition and temperance through the lense of their New Hampshire pride. While there is no reason that the Hutchinson’s song for emancipation and slave songs should be exactly the same, it is important to note the different tones that each take, as it is reminiscent of parallel differences between African Americans and white northerners about the importance of freedom and equality in comparison to other social issues.

Perhaps, then, Douglass was right to chide the Hutchinson’s for their mild claim to abolitionism. Could a family of white New Englanders be adequate ambassadors for abolition to Henry Clay? Or perhaps there was something truly special about the way the Hutchinson Family Singers performed on that night, as the author of the article claimed.

1 L.P. “The Hutchinsons.” The North Star (Rochester, New York). March 22, 1848. America’s Historical Newspapers. Accessed March 19, 2018.

2 “Hutchinson Family.” In The Harvard Biographical Dictionary of Music, edited by Don Michael Randel. Harvard University Press, 2003. https://ezproxy.stolaf.edu/login?url=https://search.credoreference.com/content/entry/harvbiodictmusic/hutchinson_family/0?institutionId=4959.

3 Gigliotti-Gordon, Kate. “Clay, Henry.” In Encyclopedia of African American History, 1619–1895: From the Colonial Period to the Age of Frederick Douglass. : Oxford University Press, 2006. http://www.oxfordreference.com/view/10.1093/acref/9780195167771.001.0001/acref-9780195167771-e-0122.

4 Hutchinson, Edward L White, and Charles Mackay. There’s a Good Time Coming, Ballad. Oliver Ditson, Boston, monographic, 1846. Notated Music. Retrieved from the Library of Congress, Accessed March 19, 2018. https://www.loc.gov/item/sm1846.420050/.

5 Saletan, Tony and Irene Kassoy. “The Old Granite State” Folk-Legacy Records, Inc. 2006. Post to YouTube Oct. 11, 2014. Accessed March 19, 2018. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=IZgl6kzlztU.

6 Hutchinson Family. “The Old Granite State” The Mudcat Café. Accessed March 19, 2018. https://mudcat.org/@displaysong.cfm?SongID=6775.

7 Southern, Eileen. The Music of Black Americans. New York: W.W. Norton & Company, Inc., 1971. Pg. 106.

Who gets to be American?

People of color are often treated as as outsiders and struggle to be viewed as fully American, rather than a hyphenated version of it. Much of this is rooted in the fact that it was not until relatively recently that people of color in the United States were even considered citizens. Now, even those who are American citizens constantly have to prove that they are “American” enough. A key characteristic of a “normal” American that is implied but never explicitly stated is that one must be white. Without whiteness, loyalty to the United States as well as true “Americanness” is always questioned.

The assumption that one must be white to be American is visible in the history of black spirituals. In Afro-American Folksongs: A Study in Racial and National Music by Henry Edward Krehbiel, the exclusion of black spirituals within the label of “American folk music” is highlighted. Krehibel explains how many writers acknowledge the “interesting character of the songs, but refuse them the right to be called American” (Krehibel, 1962). This denial of “American” status is continually brought up throughout Krehibel’s writing. After all, “they were created in America with American influences and by people who are Americans in the same sense that any other element in our population is American” (Krehibel, 1962). Well, all except one thing: they weren’t white.

“Travelling Scraps” from the Freedom’s Journal in 1828

 

Creating boundaries to determine who is and is not really American is evident in this article from a newspaper from the Freedom’s Journal written in 1828. This was written by a black man educated in the North about his travel experience to Maryland, a state where slavery was still widely present at the time. When describing his experience in Baltimore he states that a black man from the north can never feel at home because:

 

 

“when we come to talk of liberty – of the rights of citizenship – of his evidence in a court of justice against his fairer brethren, we cannot but perceive that there is little justice doled out to [a man of colour]”

It does not matter that this man is from the north and educated. He still will not be treated as having the same rights of citizenship as a white man. This history around citizenship and rights of black people contributes to the modern conception of who is “American”. The deeply embedded racism in slavery and later in determining citizenship status caused black people to struggle to gain American citizenship. This contributes to the reason why the default race of an American is white. This notion, however, is not only attributed to citizenship status, as even currently, people of color who are American citizens since birth still have to prove that they belong. Maintaining whiteness as the norm prevents people of color from being included in the status of “American” just as black spirituals were excluded from being considered American folk music. This exclusion helps to maintain the unjust treatment of people of color in the United States by pinning them as outsiders and not truly American.

 

Sources:

Fort Dearborn Publishing Co. Map of the United States of America. 1901. Retrieved from the Digital Public Library of America, http://ark.digitalcommonwealth.org/ark:/50959/3f4636795.

Henry Edward Krehbiel. Afro-American Folksongs: A Study in Racial and National Music. New York: Frederick Ungar Publishing Co., 1962.

“Travelling Scraps.” Freedom’s Journal (New York, NY), August 15, 1828.

Different Times, Different Troubles (Same Song)

“Nobody Knows de Trouble I’ve Seen”, arranged by H.T. Burleigh.

It’s hard to definitely say someone should not sing certain music. When it comes to spirituals, we wonder if the music was supposed to be passed down the generations, or if it was supposed to be left behind, where it could only be associated with slavery and sorrow.

H.T. Burleigh thought such music should be remembered, as he is famous for having arranged the music for many spirituals, including “Nobody Knows de Trouble I’ve Seen”. Burleigh and others published a variety of other arrangements for “mixed chorus, men’s chorus, and women’s chorus”.1
Therefore, it is clear he intended these songs to be sung by a variety of people for generations to come. He believed that spirituals have worth to anyone and everyone. He even made a statement on the second page of this sheet music, warning not to sing these songs as if a “minstrel” performance, mocking the mannerisms of African Americans while singing the song, but instead to respect the value of such musical works:

“Their worth is weakened unless they are done impressively, for through all these songs there breathes a hope, a faith in the ultimate justice and brotherhood of man. The cadences of sorrow invariably turn to joy, and the message is ever manifest that eventually deliverance from all that hinders and oppresses the soul will come, and man–every man–will be free.”2

If a choir of white people gave a lively and vigorous performance of this spiritual or any kind like it, it would come across as disrespectful. Slaves were not allowed to sing work songs mournfully, even though the songs were of sorrow and of trouble.3  “Douglass observed in the 1845 edition of his autobiography that slaves sang most when they were unhappy”.4 A smiley performance of such music seems inappropriate. People today cannot properly fathom the hardships that slaves endured back then, so for anyone other than slaves to sing these songs does not feel right. However, Burleigh might argue that spirituals transcend the history. The music can mean a lot to a lot of people, even if for different reasons.

Perhaps it would help to imagine slaves’ reactions to performances of their songs today. They could think it beautiful that their music has survived so long and that their time is not forgotten or brushed aside as insignificant in history. However, their reaction would probably depend on what performances they see–whose singing for whom and for what reason. They could definitely find it disturbing that their music is occasionally sung out of context for the pleasure of white people listening. But what would they think if they saw a choir in Taiwan singing one of their songs?

We can’t know for sure what they would think, but perhaps if the music is performed in a respectful manner, it can mean more for more people.

1 “H. T. Burleigh (1866-1949).” Library of Congress. https://www.loc.gov/item/ihas.200035730.

2 Burleigh, H.T. Nobody knows de trouble I’ve seen. New York: G. Ricordi & Co., Inc., 1917. Retrieved from Sheet Music Consortium, http://digitalcollections.baylor.edu/cdm/ref/collection/fa-spnc/id/23714.

3 Eileen Southern, The Music of Black Americans: A History (New York: W.W. Norton & Company, Inc., 1971), 161.

4 Eileen Southern, The Music of Black Americans: A History (New York: W.W. Norton & Company, Inc., 1971), 177.

Amos ‘n Andy: An American Legacy

In trying to come up with this blog post, I decided to take my inspiration for a research topic from the readings for class about the legacy of minstrel shows. The one I found the most striking and complex was a popular radio show (and short lived TV show) called Amos ‘n Andy.

Charles Correll and Freeman Gosden in blackface as “Amos” and “Andy”. Circa 1931  1

Written and performed by two white actors, Amos ‘n’ Andy started as a regional Chicago radio show named Sam ‘n’ Henry. Within a few years and a name change the show was broadcasted nationally and eventually became the most popular show of its kind. Other shows were called Burnt Cork Review, Aunt Jemima and Plantation Party. 2 which should give a hint to the idea that these shows were the offspring of the minstrel tradition. All told, the radio show ran in some form (nightly or weekly) for a total of 32 years from 1928 to 1960. There were a number of other plays and even at least one movie that I found inspired by those characters along with a number of commercial items like toys and buttons.

Amos ‘n’ Andy relied on the humor and formula that had worked in the not-so-distant past in minstrel shows. It was a direct legacy of minstrel shows in more ways than one. It was an immensely popular show that ran for years, even through the Great Depression. In fact, the two actors on the show were two of the highest people paid in the years of the Depression. The clearest example of the legacy of minstrelsy in the show was the way humor was manufactured: the actors used dialect and slapstick comedy for laughs, the two main characters were two forms of the stereotypical characters that had appeared on so many minstrel shows. They were both naive bumpkins who were prone to mishaps and general buffoonery.

Amos ’n’ Andy

Cast of Amos ’n’ Andy. Alvin Childress as Amos Jones (left), Tim Moore as George “Kingfish” Stevens (center), and Spencer Williams as Andrew Hogg Brown (right)

The TV show that was on air from 1951-1953 featured an African American cast who, although they may not have been using actual blackface but were instructed to keep to the dialect and voices of the original actors thus creating a form of virtual blackface. The show was short lived because of a formal protest by the NAACP who felt the show was a series of racist portrayals that were contributing to a negative opinion of African Americans. This is direct evidence of the changing role and acceptance outlined in our readings and seen in the culture as mentioned by Stephen Johnson when he talks about the blackface appearance of Pat Paulsen that never aired.3

Amos ‘n Andy was a good example of the legacy minstrelsy has left behind in this country. It also reflected the shifting dynamics of the country because of the way the NAACP was able to successfully protest against the TV show and get the network to cancel it. Yet, while the TV show was protested against and cancelled, the radio show continued to play in the background. The ambiguity of the minstrel show is left behind too because like you can see in the picture at the top, the actors would appear in blackface as their characters like the minstrel shows but would later go on to comment that they felt their show did not a negative depictions of African Americans. Not to mention the fact that the show was an extremely popular American phenomenon demonstrating the enduring appeal of the minstrel shows even though the format of the it changed.

1 Unidentified Artist. Amos ‘n’ Andy. c. 1935. Retrieved from the Digital Public Library of America, http://collections.si.edu/search/results.htm?q=record_ID%3Anpg_NPG.96.205&repo=DPLA. (Accessed March 8, 2018.)

Dobson, Frank E. “Amos ’n’ Andy.” In Encyclopedia of African American History 1896 to the Present. : Oxford University Press, 2009. http://www.oxfordreference.com/view/10.1093/acref/9780195167795.001.0001/acref-9780195167795-e-0056.

3 Johnson, Stephen, ed. Burnt Cork: Traditions and Legacies of Blackface Minstrelsy. University of Massachusetts Press, 2012. http://www.jstor.org/stable/j.ctt5vk2wm.

Young, William H. “Amos ‘N’ Andy (Radio and Tv, 1928).” In The American Mosaic: The African American Experience, ABC-CLIO, 2018. Accessed March 8, 2018. https://africanamerican2.abc-clio.com/Search/Display/1483015.

Activism: A Rant on Music, Minstrelsy, New Orleans, and Today’s Racism

“Minstrelsy is thing of the past!” my old high school teacher once told me. Is it actually a thing of the past? Just because it is no longer featured and accepted in mainstream media it does not mean that the racism in the United States has ended. It has only evolved. We still hear remnants of this racist entertainment culture in sing-along songs that have been played to many children growing up. There are still references made to minstrelsy through the use of costumes in cartoons such as Mickey Mouse. Have African-Americans, or minorities in general, ever been put first when it comes to economic and emergency aid from the United States government or population? If so, why did Cesar Chavez or Martin Luther King, Jr. ever have to step on that soapbox to put minorities first themselves?

Martin Luther King. Jr. Quote

Is it a cultural norm for the United States to be considered a nation that puts their people last? Unlike the Swiss and Germans, who have helped their people in times of need, New Orleans says a lot about the reality of the United States and the government’s attitude towards affirmative action aimed at minorities, specifically African Americans.

“While Swiss and German governments have paid reparations to Holocaust survivors and those killed in the Holocaust, black intellectuals have pointed out that there has been no such concentrated effort by the United States to repay African Americans for the unpaid labor required under slavery” (The American Mosaic: The African American Experience).

Looters make their way into and out of a grocery store in New Orleans on Tuesday, Aug. 30, 2005. Flood waters continue to rise in New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina did extensive damage when it made landfall on Monday. (AP Photo/Dave Martin)

In 2005, Hurricane Katrina killed over 1,800 people and changed the lives over millions of others. One of the cities most affected by this hurricane was New Orleans, LA. The majority of the people affected by this disaster were African-Americans. According to DataUSA.io, the 75.8% of the New Orleans population is Black, 18.9% is White, and 5.3% is Hispanic.

New Orleans, LA Population Bar Chart of Ethnicity

“The problems that plague the urban poor, who are disproportionately African American, were tangible throughout Louisiana—especially in New Orleans, which sustained the most damage—and in Mississippi near where the storm made landfall. The catastrophic storm only amplified ways the black urban and rural poor in the American South had been ignored” (The American Mosaic: The African American Experience).

It is clear that a disproportionate amount of African-Americans in this part of the South were left without sufficient aid by the US Government emergency systems. According to the article about “New Leadership,” Sanders states that there are many African American intellectuals today drawing on evolving conversations about black identity to “reignite a debate on the need for reparations to African Americans” (Sanders). This debate is similar to that of minstrelsy in the context of African American reparations. What can the United States offer to African Americans as reparations in a post-slavery world? Does the United States do enough for African Americans today? This question is complicated because we must define “United States”. The United States as in: government, citizens, immigrants, and companies. There are many different ways the United States can act as an entity.

The Black Law in Missouri, 1861

Minstrelsy poses the same concerns because it requires reparations in its own context. The question posed with regard to minstrelsy is, “Should minstrel songs and culture be erased from history or should we educate our following generations on its history?” For lack of a better way to state this, I will say it as it is: The United States as a whole is not doing everything it can do to owe reparations to African Americans today.

 

Sources:

  1. Sanders, Joshunda. “New Leadership, 2001–2008.” In The American Mosaic: The African American Experience, ABC-CLIO, 2018. Accessed March 7, 2018. https://africanamerican2.abc-clio.com/Topics/Display/39.
  2. The Black Law in Missouri. The National Era (Washington D. C., United States), Thursday, January 26, 1860; pg. 15; Issue 682 (224 words (1860/01/26/): https://goo.gl/P7Ahw6
  3.  https://datausa.io/profile/geo/new-orleans-la/#ethnicity
  4. Simpson, George. “Disney race shock: Mickey Mouse ‘was based on blackface minstrels’.” Express.co.uk. February 3, 2017. Accessed March 7, 2018. https://www.express.co.uk/entertainment/films/762722/Disney-racist-Mickey-Mouse-gloves-blackface-minstrels-Vaudeville-The-Opry-House.

“Carry Me Back to Old Virginny”–how should we feel about it?

In our readings and listenings on minstrelsy, we have come across the minstrel song, “Carry Me Back to Old Virginny,” a sentimental tune seeming to long for simpler slave life back in the South. In an address to the State Legislature of Missouri, Dr. Joseph McDowell mentions this song as “the song of the old African,” arguing that it holds such a special place in the hearts and minds of former slaves because “no negro over left her soil but carried in his bosom a desire to return, and a vivid recollection of her hospitality and kindess”.1 The lyrics, pictured below, begin “Carry me back to old Virginny, There’s where the cotton and the corn and tatoes grow…. There’s where the old darkey’s heart am long’d to go.”

“Carry Me Back to Old Virginny” notated music, composed by James Bland. https://www.loc.gov/item/ihas. 200000735/

“Carry Me Back to Old Virginny” notated music, composed by James Bland. https://www.loc.gov/item/ihas. 200000735/

Written in 1878, the song was a “longtime staple” of minstrel shows2, a renowned favorite, bearing what we would deem now to be controversial lyrics. It was performed by many minstrel troupes, notably by the Georgia Minstrels, the “first successful all-black minstrel company,” of which the composer of this song was a prolific member.3 Furthermore, in 1940, the song was adopted by the state of Virginia as the official state song, and remained as such until 1997 when it was withdrawn due to complaints that the lyrics were racist, and was instead made the state song emeritus (an honorary state song).4

James Bland’s 3 Great Songs
http://www.blackpast.org/files/ blackpast_images/James_A__Bland __public_domain_.jpg

The element of this that I find most intriguing and complex is that the song was written by a black man, James Bland, to be performed in blackface minstrelsy. As we discussed in class, white people performing in blackface is an inappropriate and, quite frankly, a disgusting practice, but the morals get a bit trickier when it comes to black people performing in blackface. Bland used minstrel shows to his professional and financial benefit, using the stage as a platform to broadcast his musical compositions.5 In light of this, should we reconsider his song, “Carry Me Back to Old Virginny”? Is this a racist song? Or could it be a satire, “illustrating Southern white slaveholders’ longing for the past when they were masters and African Americans were under their subjugation”?6 Either way, is it wrong to discount a song that was a prominent feature of a man’s career that likely would not have come to fruition if it wasn’t for the popularity of minstrel shows, for better or for worse, blurring the color line and giving blacks the opportunity to participate in American popular culture?

Jim Crow: Song, Character, and Symbol

The character of “Jim Crow” has had a long and varied life. Most commonly known as the term for racism and segregation in the American south post-emancipation, the Jim crow was first popularized in the early nineteenth century through song and minstrelsy. Coming out of the song “Jump Jim Crow,” the character was physically manifested in blackface minstrelsy by white male performers. The exact origins of Jim Crow within the song are fuzzy, yet that did not seem to matter to Thomas Rice, the “father of minstrelsy,” who created a caricature out of Jim Crow.1

Although there are variations on the tale, the story goes that Thomas Rice, a white actor originally from New York City, had the idea to create the blackface character of Jim Crow after hearing a black man singing “Jump Jim Crow.”2 In a grotesque impression, Rice integrated the song and character into his traveling show. This early version of Jim Crow had one primary purpose: to make a profit for Thomas Rice by capitalizing on the willingness of white Americans to laugh at racist stereotypes. Despite the role that Jim Crow, and the song “Jump Jim Crow” played in perpetuating stereotypes by becoming the face and name of racism, the original intent was to make money by capitalizing on the social situation that already existed.

As a song written before Emancipation, Thomas Rice’s version of “Jump Jim Crow” is not especially remarkable in terms of its stance on race. Sung in a stereotypical “black” dialect, it tells the story of Jim Crow’s journey through the south from his perspective. He is presented as a violent man, who hits other people at least twice, and as a crazy man, who sits on sits on a hornet’s nest, and eats an alligator.3 The tune is jaunty and catchy, and the chorus is repeated frequently. Typical of its portrayal of black men by white men for the time, “Jump Jim Crow” provided an effective combination of catchy tune with an easily replicable character, making both the song and the blackface character financially profitable for Thomas Rice. Due to the success of this song and persona, Rice became one of the first blackface minstrels, touring the country with other productions such as “Ginger Blue” and “Jim Crow in London.” Rice commercialized and standardized the transfer of a little-known song into a profitable product that radicalized the racial stereotypes already present, and set the precedent for blackface minstrelsy characters and songs to come. From a character in a song, Jim Crow grew into a cultural marker of all that was wrong with white Americans’ attitudes and treatment of black Americans. Today, “Jump Jim Crow” is being re-appropriated without blackface. In the first clip, above, a man sings “Jump Jim Crow” without any “dialect” and without some verses. This version is much more languid than a modern instrumental version, linked below. The question remains of how much weight should be given to the connection between the song, the character, and the legacy of blackface minstrelsy.

“Jump Jim Crow.” History of Minstrelsy: From “Jump Jim Crow” to “The Jazz Singer.” http://exhibits.lib.usf.edu/exhibits/show/minstrelsy/jimcrow-to-jolson/jump-jim-crow/

2  Burns, James. “Thomas Rice.” In The American Mosaic: The African American Experience, ABC-CLIO, 2018. Accessed March 8, 2018. https://africanamerican2.abc-clio.com/Search/Display/1606088.

3 Jump Jim Crow, C Major. Viking Press, 1937. https://search.alexanderstreet.com/view/work/bibliographic_entity%7Cscore%7C771896. 

Masculinity and Minstrelsy: Intersectional Issues in Blackface Performances

As long as the entertainment industry has sought to reach the masses it has caused controversy. Minstrel shows, the first form of mass entertainment in the United States,1 is one of the most prolific examples of this. Minstrelsy relied heavily on songs and dances performed in blackface, the act of covering one’s face in burnt cork to give the illusion that the actor or actress is black themselves. Characters that were in blackface were played as caricatures of stereotypes in the African American community.

Thomas Rice as the original Jim Crow

These performances not only relied on racist notions of identity but also gendered ones. White male performers could experiment with identity and commodify it by playing on the entertainment quality of challenging racial and gendered notions of identity.2 Thomas Rice, the actor who created the Jim Crow character, is one example of these performers.3 The Jim Crow character was modeled as a former slave who wished to return to the way things had been during the antebellum years. During and after reconstruction real, living, breathing black American men lived in fear and persecution due to racist beliefs that created a scary and wild image of them. Minstrel shows furthered these images by showcasing them as stupid and brutish. The Jim Crow character was an emasculating and oftentimes pitiful version of the African American man.4 This portrayal stood as a stark contrast from the expectations of white men during this time period. A poster from a five person minstrel show shows this contrast. In it you can see through their difference in posture, clothing, and personality the inferiority of their African American characters.

The cover to sheet music for a five part piece designed for a blackface minstrel show

Jokes at the expense of the African American men were the real cherry on top. For example, the Jim Crow character’s wish to return to plantation life also included his desire for the protection of his master. This falsely portrayed wish for domination says more about white men than it does about their black counterparts. It exhibits the racist and sexist values of the United States and the too slow change in societal acceptance. Minstrelsy was a popular and important part of the American entertainment industry. Like many forms of entertainment, though, it helped to fuel the fire of hate a prejudice and that cannot be forgotten.

1 Weiner, Melissa F. “Minstrelsy.” In The American Mosaic: The African American Experience, ABC-CLIO, 2018.

2  Locke, Joseph. “Blackface.” In The American Mosaic: The African American Experience, ABC-CLIO, 2018.

3 Burns, James. “Thomas Rice.” In The American Mosaic: The African American Experience, ABC-CLIO, 2018.

4 Nuruddin, Yusuf. “Jim Crow Racial Stereotypes.” In The American Mosaic: The African American Experience, ABC-CLIO, 2018.

Minstrelsy Today: What It Looks Like and What We Do About It

Minstrelsy refers to the form of musical stage entertainment in the 19th and early 20th century that sought to parody black slave culture. The hallmark feature of minstrel shows was the use of blackface – white actors covering their faces with burnt cork to appear as and make fun of African Americans. Today, white Americans hear the words “minstrel show” and cringe with embarrassment. How could something seemingly so racist have been such a popular form of entertainment? Despite a more thorough acknowledgement of the ways in which racism has plagued our country for centuries, it would be a crime to ignore remnants of minstrelsy in our society today, and subsequently, to dismiss the conversation surrounding whether we reclaim or ignore elements of minstrelsy today.

Advertisement for the Morris Brothers minstrels from Boston, c. 1869.

When exploring minstrel-related themes on the African American Experience database, I was struck by one particular image. The image (left) depicts an advertisement for the Morris Brothers Minstrel group.[1] The figure’s blackface and bright, big red lips are obvious features, and his banjo emphasizes the theatrical portion of the traditional minstrel show.

The costume is striking when compared side-by-side with an image of the Harlem Globetrotters (below), an exhibition basketball team who combine athletic ability, comedy, and theater on their wildly successful tours. The Harlem Globetrotters represent a prime example of contemporary form of minstrelsy: an all-black performance troupe, using showmanship and comedy to entertain primarily white audiences.

For obvious reasons, the Harlem Globetrotters are not problematic in the same way as traditional minstrel shows, but it nonetheless begs the question: how do white Americans appreciate these forms of entertainment, while simultaneously acknowledging the troubled history to which they are intrinsically related?

Harlem Globetrotters performers today.

This question led me to think of other popular forms of entertainment in the 20th and 21st centuries that reflect minstrel themes, and there are countless. For example, towards the tail-end of minstrel show’s run, the 1920s/30s-radio program Amos ‘n’ Andy featured white actors portraying black characters, a sort of auditory blackface.[2] More broadly, hip hop altogether also walks this fine line: a popular genre of music with primarily African American origins. In its near 50-year history, hip hop has been commercialized to meet the demands of white audiences, and many feel that the prevalence of white rappers in the industry represents a metaphorical blackface.[3]

How do we interpret these similarities today? Are they successful attempts at reclaiming minstrelsy themes, or do they gloss-over and ignore the racism associated with minstrel shows? Sheryl Kaskowitz touches on this struggle in her article on reclaiming the songs of blackface minstrelsy.[4]  Ultimately, these questions are difficult to answer, and the truth likely lies somewhere in the middle. But, I would argue, successful reclamation – as evidenced by the popularity of the Harlem Globetrotters or the powerful minstrel song performances by Rhiannon Giddens – might go a long way in addressing these historical wrongdoings, while simultaneously preserving them for future generations. Certainly, not an easy task, but an important one at that.

 

[1] “Minstrel Show Advertisement.” In The American Mosaic: The African American Experience, ABC-CLIO, 2018. Image. Accessed March 7, 2018. https://africanamerican2.abc-clio.com/Search/Display/1612307.

[2] Watkins, Mel. “What Was It About ‘Amos ‘n’ Andy’?” The New York Times. July 06, 1991. Accessed March 08, 2018. http://www.nytimes.com/1991/07/07/books/what-was-it-about-amos-n-andy.html?pagewanted=all.

[3] Taylor, Yuval, and Jake Austen. Darkest America: Black Minstrelsy from Slavery to Hip Hop. New York: W.W. Norton & Company, 2012.

[4] Kaskowitz, Sheryl. “Before It Goes Away: Performance and Reclamation of Songs from Blackface Minstrelsy.” The Avid Listener. Accessed March 08, 2018. http://www.theavidlistener.com/2017/07/before-it-goes-away-performance-and-reclamation-of-songs-from-blackface-minstrelsy.html.

Minstrelsy and the Impermeable Permeable Color Line

In the first chapter of his book, Love and Theft: Blackface Minstrelsy and the American Working Class, Eric Lott argues that although “cultural appropriation was the minstrel show’s central fact”, there may be more to the story than first meets the eye. Despite being blatantly racist and demeaning towards African Americans, Lott argues that minstrelsy potentially served more positive roles that are often overlooked.1

The first page of The Anti-Slavery Bugle, February 18, 1980.

One example of Lott’s argument comes from a little article that appeared in a New-Lisbon, Ohio abolitionist paper, The Anti-Slavery Bugle, on February 18, 1860. The newspaper’s self-proclaimed role was to “sound the bugle-note of Freedom over the hills and through the valleys” and it therefore contained a mixture of news about the anti-slavery movement, opinion pieces, essays, and stories like this one.2 Perhaps unsurprisingly, the article bears the dramatic title “A Negro Minstrel Sold into Slavery” and recounts a trial that took place in Galveston, Texas.3 Both the events that unfold in the story and they way that they are described suggest that perhaps minstrelsy and its music could provide a means by which a black man might gain better opportunities in the Antebellum South.

Ultimately the story tells of an affidavit and the subsequent rulings pertaining to “a free negro” who came to town, “calling himself Joseph Vincent Suarez, and passing himself for a white man”. This plays into another point of Lott’s, the idea that many Americans did not really know whether the minstrels entertaining them were black or white. In fact, the article describes that for the trial to commence, multiple doctors were called upon verify that Suarez was, indeed, a person of color. Suarez was therefore able to effectively blur the color line because his race was not immediately apparent.

Additionally, it is probably a fair assumption to say that Suarez’s minstrel act afforded him a better opportunity than would have otherwise been available. Suarez was able to capitalize on a popular form of music at the time and therefore advance himself economically and potentially socially.4

A caricature of a blackface minstrel performer around 1850-1860. 

Furthermore, it is important to discuss Suarez’s punishment. While it is undoubtedly strict to modern readers, it is not as dramatic as the article’s headline makes it out to be and not as severe as what punishments could be for black men in the slave-holding South. Suarez was sentenced to be hired out for labor for six months, the profits from which were to go to his expenses during the time and then to his departure from Texas at the end of the term. What also bears consideration is the last line of the article: “It is proper to remark that this Suarez came to this city as a negro minstrel, and he has, therefore, the merit of passing himself off in his professional character for precisely what he is”. Again, Suarez’s minstrel profession furnishes him with benefits he might not otherwise gain. In this case, an excuse for a lower sentence.

Minstrelsy is certainly one of American history’s more embarrassing artifacts. But, as Lott discusses, perhaps even this very negative aspect of the popular culture provided some individuals with positive opportunities. If nothing else, like other forms of American music, minstrelsy helped in some places to blur the color line and throw into question the notion of separate racial cultures.

1Lott, Eric. Love and Theft: Blackface Minstrelsy and the American Working Class. Introduction and Chapter 1. New York: Oxford University Press, 1993.

2Harris, Glen Anthony. “Anti-Slavery Bugle.” In Encyclopedia of Emancipation and Abolition in the Transatlantic World, by Junius Rodriguez. Routledge, 2007. Accessed March 7, 2018. https://ezproxy.stolaf.edu/login?url=https://search.credoreference.com/content/entry/sharpeeman/anti_slavery_bugle/0?institutionId=4959.

3From the Galveston (Texas) News. “A NEGRO MINSTREL SOLD INTO SLAVERY.” The Anti-Slavery Bugle, Issue 27 (1860). Accessed March 7, 2018.
<http://find.galegroup.com/sas/infomark.do?&source=gale&prodId=SAS&userGroupName=mnastolaf&tabID=T003&docPage=article&searchType=&docId=GB2500047906&type=multipage&contentSet=LTO&version=1.0&relevancePageBatch=&docLevel=FASCIMILE>.

4Henderson, Clayton W. “Minstrelsy, American.” Grove Music Online. Accessed March 7, 2018. http://www.oxfordmusiconline.com/grovemusic/view/10.1093/gmo/9781561592630.001.0001/omo-9781561592630-e-0000018749.

Minstrelsy: Connecting Blackness to the Body and Whiteness to the Mind

White people putting on blackface and dressing up as black people for entertainment and comedic purposes is disturbing and upsetting on many levels. To me, an aspect of this that is particularly horrific is the effect it had on the body, particularly the black body, that is so often deemed invisible, expendable, dangerous, or hypersexual. Minstrelsy contributed to these stereotypes and beliefs about the black body by controlling how others perceived it. Minstrelsy allowed white people to take ownership over the black body by literally putting it on as a costume through blackface. They were then able to “prove” an amount of stereotypes through this, especially on account that many of the audience members did not know whether the people on stage were actually black or not.

Tying blackness to the body is something that has been done to justify colonialism as well as slavery. Much of this ties back to ideas that began to form during the Enlightenment. The Enlightenment marked the mind, reason, and individualism as core values; values that were used to distinguish between the “savage man” and “civilized man”. This was then used as reason to justify that the “savage” individual’s ideal role is physical labor, thus justifying slavery. The savage man was also believed to lack the intellect that the civilized man had. This idea was used justify the belief that people of differing races were of different species, and was also used to prove the need for savages to be “civilized” by Western/white society. These ideas reduced black people to merely a body, and deemed whites to be better because of their supposedly superior intellectual capabilities. It must be noted that this idea of connecting blackness to the body is deeply rooted in the belief that the body is sinful and dirty, as opposed to the purity of the mind. This is an idea which certainly can, and should, be questioned. But for the purpose of this blog post, it will be assumed that association with the body is going to be perceived by people as a negative thing.

Minstrelsy further emphasized this association of blackness with the body. This is particularly evident in this advertisement for a Minstrel Show in 1899. This ad depicts black women as hyper-sexualized and alludes to the “Jezebel” stereotype, an idea rooted in slavery which labels black women as promiscuous and sexually aggressive. Referring to a black woman as a jezebel has often been used to blame the infidelity of white men on the black women they had relations with. This hyper-sexualization further associates black people to the body, and implies an inability to control bodily instincts. The men depicted in the advertisement also emphasizes the association of blackness with the body as opposed to the mind. This is done through their childlike reaction to the woman in the advertisement. Their facial expressions mimic childlike amusement with the female body, while simultaneously depicting black men as out of control of their sexual desires. By connecting blackness with sexualization and desire, it again implies that black people are not capable of putting mind over matter, thus emphasizing the dichotomy of whiteness as associated with the mind, and blackness with the body.

Between the use of blackface, contributing to stereotypes, mockery, and misrepresentation of black culture, minstrel performances clearly have a a lot of racist elements within them. That being said, there are nuances to it. After all, it did allow black performers to have their first opportunity to perform in front of a white audience, and it could be argued that it helped popularize a variety of black music including spirituals. However even with these nuances, most aspects within minstrelsy perpetuated racism, sometimes in ways that are not as explicit as blackface, specifically strengthening the association of blackness with the body. Through this, minstrelsy reasserted this underlying justification behind treating black people as lesser that dates back to slavery and colonial times. 

Sources:

  • “Gideon’s Big Minstrel Carnival Advertisement.” In The American Mosaic: The African American Experience, ABC-CLIO, 2018. Image. https://africanamerican2.abc-clio.com/Search/Display/1612309.
  • Marisa J. Fuentes, “Jezebel.” In The American Mosaic: The African American Experience, ABC-CLIO, 2018. https://africanamerican2.abc-clio.com/Search/Display/1750376.
  • “Minstrel Music with African American Jim Crow Caricatures.” In The American Mosaic: The African American Experience, ABC-CLIO, 2018. https://africanamerican2.abc-clio.com/Search/Display/1612304.
  • Peter A. Schrom, “The Enlightenment and the Origins of Racism” State University of New York at Albany, ProQuest Dissertations Publishing, 2016.

Performing Jim Crow: Stereotyping a People

Williams Clay, Edward. “Mr. T. Rice as the Original Jim Crow”. In Jump Jim Crow: Lost Plays, Lyrics, and Street Prose of the First Atlantic Popular Culture by W. T. Lhamon, Jr. (Cambridge, Massachusetts: Harvard University Press, 2003).

In 1828 a New York City native, Thomas Rice, created the character of Jim Crow while performing in Louisville Kentucky. Performing in blackface, Rice presented the character of Jim Crow as a ragged, lazy, child-like, and irresponsible black man. Rice’s performance turned him into a celebrity, igniting the popularity of blackface minstrelsy throughout the United States.1

Blackface minstrelsy perpetuated and exaggerated stereotypes of blacks and thus served as a means of justifying slavery. Jim Crow was no exception. Jim Crow or the Sambo character quickly became the stereotype of black men. Depicted as ignorant, lazy, childish, and completely dependent on their master, minstrel performers justified slavery by implying that blacks were incapable of taking care of themselves. Spectators preferred this depiction of black men as loyal to their masters rather than the alternative stereotype of the Savage who was rebellious and would attack white women.2

“Minstrel Music with African American Jim Crow Caricatures.” In The American Mosaic: The African American Experience, ABC-CLIO, 2018. Image. Accessed March 6, 2018. https://africanamerican2.abc-clio.com/Search/Display/1612304.

Published in 1847, the cover of the Jim Crow Jubilee sheet music, “a collection of Negro melodies” promotes the Jim Crow caricature and blackface minstrelsy. The cover mirrors the staging of a minstrel show: one central figure surrounded by three other performers with a fiddle, mandolin, and bones. The crowd of people in the background also suggests that this image is set on a plantation and that this characterization of black people’s appearance and behavior is representative of the black population.

The central figure of Jim Crow greatly resembles the original image of Jim Crow that advertised for Rice’s performances. Both feature a smiling black man with exaggerated and comical facial features and ragged clothing, including torn pants and shoes. While we discussed in class that performers often wore fantastical clothing on stage, the earlier characterizations of Jim Crow highlighted this disheveled appearance. In both images, the Jim Crows also strike a similar pose as if they are in the middle of dancing to the blackface minstrel music.

The origins of Jim Crow in black face minstrelsy highlight how a character’s name came to be a symbol of black people as a whole, discrimination, and institutional segregation across the South. Depictions of Jim Crow and other black characters demonstrated to audience members that blacks were inferior to whites in their appearance, speech, intellect, and general behavior and personality. This characterization reaffirmed color boundaries and led to the establishment of Jim Crow segregation laws.

Burns, James. “Thomas Rice.” In The American Mosaic: The African American Experience, ABC-CLIO, 2018. Accessed March 6, 2018. https://africanamerican2.abc-clio.com/Sear ch/Display/1606088.

Nuruddin, Yusuf. “Jim Crow Racial Stereotypes.” In The American Mosaic: The African American Experience, ABC-CLIO, 2018. Accessed March 6, 2018. https://africaname ri can2.abc-clio.com/Search/Display/1407153.

The Catchy Past: Separating the Song from the History

“Zip Coon.” In The American Mosaic: The African American Experience, ABC-CLIO, 2018. Image. Accessed March 7, 2018. https://africanamerican2.abc-clio.com/Search/Display/1612306.

Most children grow up learning songs by Stephen Collins Foster, and the melodies are quite catchy. However, if one thinks of the background of such tunes, and how they are mostly minstrel songs, they can seem problematic. Minstrel shows incorporated blackface: when white people would use burnt cork to give themselves the appearance of an African American with exaggerated features.1 While in this getup, they would portray racial stereotypes that are very offensive. This sheet music cover depicts one of the stock characters white men would portray in their minstrel performances.

The songs of minstrel shows inspired Stephen Foster into writing more of these popular tunes.2 He is famous for many memorable melodies, including “Oh, Susanna!” and “Old Folks at Home”. These songs remained popular well passed the 1920s, and we all know them today. If one watches a scene from Riding High (Frank Capra, 1950), one can hear the legendary Bing Crosby singing one of Foster’s hits, “Camptown Races”.

It sure is catchy! However, if one listens closely and reads the original lyrics, one can see where this song becomes problematic. First of all, the actual title is “De Camptown Races”, and the words are written in a way that portrays the dialect of a stereotypically, ill-educated, African American; for example: the use of “de” and “gwine”. This little ditty was originally written with the intention of white performers painting their faces black and singing the song in order to mock African Americans.3 Despite the racist nature of this tune, it lives on as an American folk classic, as many of Foster’s songs have.

I’m not saying it’s horrible to enjoy this song or others like it. Many people do. No matter if people still find the melody catchy today, it is important to remember the history, whether or not they associate the song with the disturbing truth of the past.

1 “Minstrel Songs – The Library of Congress Celebrates the Songs of America.” The Library of Congress. www.loc.gov/collections/songs-of-america/articles-and-essays/musical-styles/popular-songs-of-the-day/minstrel-songs/.

2 “Stephen Collins Foster, 1826-1864.” The Library of Congress. www.loc.gov/item/ihas.200035701/.

3 Ruehl, Kim. “The ‘Doo Dah’ Song: ‘Camptown Races’ by Stephen Foster.” ThoughtCo. October 25, 2017. www.thoughtco.com/camptown-races-stephen-foster-1322494.

William Henry Lane “Master Juba”

William Henry Lane, know as “Master Juba” on stage, was the most renowned black stage performer prior to the 1850’s. William performed with minstrel shows (Ethiopian Serenaders) and toured not only in the U.S. but to Europe. He was the first African American to perform in England. He was a famous performer and is arguably a main attributer and constituent to what we now call tap dance.

1848 Portrait of William Lane.

From Eric Lott’s Love and Theft: Blackface Minstrelsy and the American Working Class we know that African Americans dressing up and putting cork on their faces was a known thing, but Lane had done this in a time that was a prequel to thus. Lane had seemingly found success in the minstrel circuit.

Lane was a huge success over in England and the rest of Europe. An English critic after seeing Lane perform said:

Juba’s whirlwind style [was] executed with ease and “natural grace.” “[Such] mobility of muscles, such flexibility of joints, such boundings, such slidings, such gyrations, such toes and heelings, such backwardings and forwardings, such posturings, such firmness of foot, such elasticity of tendon, such mutation of movement, such vigor, such variety . . . such powers of endurance, such potency of ankle. (Conway)

Lane Performing in England.

Many viewers had a difficult time describing Lane’s style of dancing. It was upbeat and followed closely to the percussion of the music. It is argued whether the inability of others to describe his dancing style was do to his African background and whether he brought pieces of African dance into his style or not. Regardless, Lane became a sensation.

Lane and his style of dancing was so renowned that he had been mentioned in the works of Charles Dickens. He lived a hectic and short life, “records indicate Master Juba lived the intense life of a touring performer, giving shows every night. He also opened a dance school in London” (Peters). Unfortunately, Lane passed away in his late 20s in England.

Works Cited:

Conway, Cecelia. “William Henry ‘Master Juba’ Lane.” The American Mosaic: The African American Experience, ABC-CLIO, 2018, africanamerican2.abc-clio.com/Search/Display/1591808. Accessed 7 Mar. 2018. 

Lott, Eric. Love and theft: blackface minstrelsy and the American working class. Oxford University Press, 2013.

Peters, Paula. “Lane, William Henry/Master Juba (1825-c. 1852).” Lane, William Henry/Master Juba (1825-c. 1852) | The Black Past: Remembered and Reclaimed.

 

But it Was Only a Dream: the White Myth of “Southern” Music

Sunny Side Boys, two youngsters, one of whom is on his back playing the fiddle, with an older man playing guitar. Bascom Lamar Lunsford is probably the man to the right of the picture holding a microphone above the fiddler. 1

This picture attempts to capture part of a tradition of country music that sums up the myth of the exclusively white origins of said genre. There is an exclusively white (male) band and given that one member can be seen playing on the floor; one that is good at what they do. Such a conception, as we have discussed in our class, seems to be largely due to the efforts of those folk song collectors and the record companies who wanted to commercialize the genre. In so doing, those scholars and companies attempted to eliminate the role of African Americans and their contributions to that style of music. So, one could say, it is not that others cannot recognize the contributions of African Americans towards the culture, it is the fact that record companies would make things “more white” to make more money that was the foundation for this erasure. This process was explicitly outlined in the writings of Erich Nunn we did for class. 2
BITHCERSHowever, what I found out while doing my research for this post is that the roots of this musical tradition can be traced back to the the US Civil War and the songs of the Confederate South. The two themes are prominent within it: a denial of black experience in the American South and this rural lifestyle as an idyllic lifestyle that is lost anywhere else.

http://docsouth.unc.edu/imls/shepperson/shepperson.html

War Songs of the South Edited by “Bohemian” 3

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

This song is only one example of many in a book of war songs but each follows this theme of a lost ideal society that was being faced with tyranny from the North. This song explicitly mentions slavery but alongside the beautiful natural conception of the South, ignoring the lives of a majority of people in that society! That idealization of the South implicitly glosses over major problems in that society.

If we understand the war songs of the Confederate South as such, It makes sense that they were the foundation for a future of denying African Americans a role in the creation of country music. The song above is one example of a history of erasing black contributions to the society they find themselves in.

Such an understanding of the pre-war South set the stage for the future conception of a rural lifestyle idealized even today in country music.Songs today in the genre revolve around the same ideas like trucks and tractors and lost love. Although in our time not explicitly negating the experience of African Americans in that rural lifestyle, it is built on a tradition in the genre of idealizing a lifestyle while simultaneously ignoring different lifestyles of many people within it.

1 Lomax, Alan. Sunny Side Boys, two youngsters, one of whom is on his back playing the fiddle, with an older man playing guitar. Bascom Lamar Lunsford is probably the man to the right of the picture holding a microphone above the fiddler. Between 1938 and 1950. Lomax Collection, Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division Washington, D.C. http://www.loc.gov/pictures/collection/lomax/item/2007660175/

 Nunn, Erich. “COUNTRY MUSIC AND THE SOULS OF WHITE FOLK.” Criticism 51, no. 4 (2009): 623-49. http://www.jstor.org/stable/23131534.

. “Lines to the Tyrant”. Page 30-34. In War Songs of the South. Edited by “Bohemian,” Correspondent Richmond Dispatch. Richmond:West & Johnston, 145 Main Street.1862.

3154 Conf. (Rare Book Collection, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill) http://docsouth.unc.edu/imls/shepperson/shepperson.html#bohem22

The Art of Generational and Racial Division

After years of being away, this man in the following picture returns to his family. My first impressions on this picture are sympathy for the family’s experiences. This image gives off a feeling of overwhelming joy, and even a sense of passion among the people in the photo.

The photo resembles what seems to be a free African-American family. This past week, we read about what defines the sound of black or white music. As we dove more into what defines a genre, often times we found that people attach themselves to a particular genre of music due to their ability to relate to the lifestyle experiences of artists playing the music. An example of people relating to music is someone who’s been separated from a loved one listening to music that talks about being separated from a loved one. In the photo, the artist paints a picture of a family experience amongst an African-American family. This theme was common amongst many African-American families who were slowly gaining their freedoms from slavery.

In this second image, the artist portrays a college student laying on their desk, restless, being protested against by plates, pottery and kitchen appliances.

The reason I chose this particular image was that it represents a generational divide. Essentially, the college student is living a lifestyle in which she does not have to work with any plates nor cooking itself; she has temporarily emigrated away from that lifestyle through education. The plates are representative to those people who are misunderstanding of her situation by shouting to her, “Do you know anything about us?” and “Have you any idea what I am?” Like much music born of the South, this image is representative of lifestyles that are misunderstood by an external perspective. Simply put: Unless you have experienced it, you will never understand.

Sources:

Johnson, Charles Howard, “For the benefit of the girl about to graduate,” Library of

Congress (1890), http://www.loc.gov/pictures/item/2002712165/

 

Northup, Solomon, “Arrival Home, and First meeting with His Wife and Children,”

Twelve Years a Slave: Narrative of Solomon Northup, a Citizen of New-York,

Kidnapped in Washington City in 1841, and Rescued in 1853. (1853)

http://docsouth.unc.edu/fpn/northup/ill6.html

Children’s Songs Become Folk–“Rosie”

Unsure of what to research, even after spending hours scrolling through and skimming journals, narratives, pictures, and musical selections, I inevitably turned to children’s songs on the Library of Congress Lomax Collection. I have always been fascinated by culture and media for children, be it stories, rhymes, or whatever else–I’m even writing a non-fiction book on Nigeria for children right now.

An intriguing aspect of these children’s songs is their folk quality. For example, I dug quite a bit into the song “Rosie.” There are several recordings available in the Lomax Collection and each–despite being recorded within days of each other (May 1939) and in the same area (Livingston, Alabama)–is a little different. These are the versions: Vera Hallthe McDonald Family, and Ed Jones.

This is a classic call and response song, with a leader calling out and the group responding emphatically as a whole. The chorus is essentially the same in each with the “ha ha Rosie” and referring to her as either “baby” or “pretty girl.” The verse lyrics differ, but the overall structure remains the same, as well as the clapping beat underneath. Another recording, from the Smithsonian Folkways Records, is of children at Brown’s Chapel School in Alabama singing the tune:

“Rosie Darling Rosie” appears alongside various other play songs, including ones we may recognize, such as “Mary Mack” and “Loop de Loo.” The lyrics of this one also fall in line with those mentioned above, the chorus following “Rosie darling Rosie / ha ha Rosie / Rosie darling Rosie / ha ha Rosie” and the verses having different words but the same structure. The verse seems to suggest that the song (or at lease this particular rendition of lyric) is from the time of slavery, a slave calling upon his baby to run away with him to Baltimore (a notedly free place in those days) to escape their bondage.

“Rosie Darling Rosie” lyrics from Folkways Records https://media.smithsonianfolkways.org/liner_notes/folkways/FW07004.pdf

The pamphlet that accompanies this record also includes lyrics which the kids do not sing in this particular recording but are still often sung (pictured at right). In the recording of Vera Hall above, she uses these lyrics, except her rendition replaces “preacher” and “two” with “nigger.” Otherwise, it is the same. This illustrates both how folk songs change over time and place and simply who is singing the song, as well as that these folk songs from the days of slavery may be reworked over time to be more palatable to the general populace.

Vera Hall at the home of Mrs. Ruby Pickens Tartt, Livingston, Alabama http://www.loc.gov/pictures/collection/lomax/item/2015645819/

I delved a bit deeper into Vera Hall, as I was most drawn to her rendition of “Rosie.” Apparently, nearly a decade after Alan Lomax recorded her singing in Livingston, AL in 1939, Lomax invited her to come perform at the 1948 Fourth Annual Festival of Contemporary American Music at Columbia University in New York City. She accepted and left Alabama for the first and only time in her life. During this time, she stayed at Lomax’s apartment where he recorded more of her singing (including two more renditions of “Rosie”) and commentaries on the songs and her life. She describes “Rosie” as a song she and the other children in her area would sing and play as a line game. It was a song passed around purely by word of mouth, which is a wonderful example of how folk songs such as this survive.

Folk Music and Square Dancing: Expression of Rural Whiteness

In 1939, John Lomax and his wife Ruby Terrill Lomax set out on an adventure into the homes and communities of the American South to collect folk music. Their trip documented music that had developed in the American South and stood as a symbol of southern rural white culture. Their collection of recordings includes the American classic “Turkey in the Straw” performed by Elmo Newcomer and his son Theo Newcomer, available below. 1The song represents the simplicity of the “down home” feeling represented in folk music.

Like much folk and country music, “Turkey in the Straw” features both the banjo and the fiddle. Although folk and country music are often considered white genres , the presence of the banjo indicates the influence of the African American community, as the banjo has African origins.2 In addition to standing as a representative of traditional Southern music, the song features the duple meter and 16-bar units popular to bluegrass music These features indicate how this song and others like it influenced later Southern and Appalachian Mountain music.

“Members of the Bog Trotters Band, posed holding their instruments, Galax, Va. Back row: Uncle Alex Dunford, fiddle; Fields Ward, guitar; Wade Ward, banjo. Front row: Crockett Ward, fiddle; Doc Davis, autoharp” in Lomax Collection (Galax, Virginia: 1937 )http://www.loc. gov/pictures/collection/lomax/item/2007660127/ (accessed February 25, 2018).

“Bent Creek Ranch Square Dance Team dancing at the Mountain Music Festival, Asheville, North Carolina” in Lomax Collection (Asheville, North Carolina: 1938-1950) http://www.loc.gov/pictures/ colle ction/lomax/item/2007660059/ (accessed February 26, 2018).

This recording, performed in the Newcomers’ home, demonstrates how folk music was part of the lives of the poor rural family and the community. The lyrics in the Newcomers’ performance, “Went out to milk/ And I didn’t know how/ I milked the goat/ Instead of the cow” reflect the everyday lives of rural white farm families.

In addition to being performed in their homes, the themes of this classic song related to the rural farm community at large. White rural Southerners shared this music at gatherings and this song like many other folk songs were popular square dancing tunes. Square dancing has been a tradition in the Appalachian Mountains since the 19th century.4 One place that folk music and square dancing came together is at the  Mountain Music Festival in North Carolina. This gathering and the general union of folk music such as “Turkey in the Straw” and square dancing celebrates folk music and the “down home”, simple lives of the rural white communities.

As we discussed in class, this song like many other folk and country songs gave rural Southern whites a voice, art, and setting to express their culture. This often came at the expense of the black community who were excluded from the memory of folk music by the music industry and scholars such as John Lomax.

Newcomer, Elmo and Bill Newcomer, “Turkey in the Straw” in John and Ruby Lomax 1939 Southern States Recording Trip (Pike Creek, Texas: 1939) http://www.loc.gov/item/lomaxbib00159/ (accessed February 25, 2018).

2Allen, Ray. “Folk Musical Traditions” in Encyclopedia of American Studies, edited by Simon J. Bronner (Baltimore: John Hopkins University Press, 2017) http://eas-ref.press.jhu.edu/view?aid=650&from=search&query=square%20dance&link=search%3Freturn%3D1%26query%2520dance%26section%3Ddocument%26doctype%3Dall (accessed February 26, 2018).

3 Root, Deanne L., Linda Moot, and Pauline Norton. “Square-Dance”, in Oxford Music (2001), http://www.oxfordmusiconline.com/grovemusic/vieew/10.1093/gmo/9781561592630.001/omo-9781561592630-e-0000026476?rskey=pkHftn&result=1 (accessed February 26, 2018).

4 Ibid.

(Not) Finding Female Musicians in Mountain Music

Growing up in the twenty first century, my first exposure to fiddle and bluegrass music was through the white female musicians I knew. My view of women’s involvement in country, bluegrass, and “hillbilly” music, however, is different from the commonly known history of this music, which is almost entirely white and male. This difference between how I was introduced to country music and bluegrass and the earlier Appalachian styles, and how the genres, are primarily documented prompted me to search for evidence of women’s participation in country and bluegrass around the turn of the twentieth century.

Fiddling Bill Hensley, playing the fiddle, and an unidentified woman, at the Mountain Music Festival, Asheville, North Carolina. Taken sometime between 1938 and 1950.

My searches on the database “Prints and Photographs: Lomax Collection” unsurprisingly resulted in very few images of woman in a musical setting. Lomax was concerned with documenting “hillbilly” music as he saw it: white and male. The one image that appeared to be of a woman involved with some sort of mountain music is of a white woman standing near a man playing a fiddle.1 Her stance indicates that she might be dancing. Despite the active part that many women played in making the instrumental music, this woman goes as “unidentified,” next to the named male fiddler, an example of how white women were not always written into their own history.

Jumping forward to the 1990s, we can gain a better sense of how some women viewed their participation in the early stages of bluegrass and country music from oral histories. In one interview, Barbara Greenlief recounts her grandmother’s relationship with the music of the Appalachians.2 Although her grandmother played in a local band, she hated bring that music home. In fact, “the fiddle has a real bad reputation among women in the mountains, as going along with drinking and carousing and all that.” She loved to sing gospel music and “felt a real influence of black music,” but she received little support for her musical career from her husband. While this reluctance and inability to fully embrace the mountain music she was surrounded by may be a reason that I did not find many photographs of women in music, but I suspect that it has more to do with the men who documented the music, namely white men like who wanted to create of certain image of music from the mountains.

Images of black women playing music were even harder to find in these collections. While white women were marginally documented, black female country and bluegrass musicians seem to be all but absent from the early documented history. Searching the general Library of Congress database, I came across a comic from 1886 that, represents the caliber of representation in documented Appalachian music history that black women have received. The comic, part of “Darktown Comic” series depicts two black women playing the banjo alongside three black men.3 While the inclusion of these women alongside men might be encouraging in some situations, in the context of the cartoon, a crude caricature of black musicians, in this case their inclusion is only being used to further “demonstrate” black musicianship deemed unworthy of praise or attention. The cartoon depicts black characters who are not musicians because of their own instrumental abilities, but because of their “ability” to not think and let some sort of primal instinct for such music take over. It is not depiction of black female musicians, but rather a white cartoonists idea of southern mountain music.

Comic from the “Darktown Comic” series, printed in 1886 by Currier and Ives.

These images and documentation, or lack thereof, confirmed my suspicions that my personal experience of bluegrass, early documentary evidence of country, bluegrass, and “hillbilly” music, and the actual participation of black and white women in this music may not all be the same. While the lack of visual documentation of white, and especially black female musicians is not unexpected, it opens the door to new avenues of research. After all, there must be a better way to demonstrate black female musicianship than by using a cartoon.

1 “Fiddling Bill Hensley, playing fiddle and unidentified woman, at the Mountain Music Festival, Asheville, North Carolina.” Lomax Collection. Library of Congress. Accessed February 25, 2018. http://www.loc.gov/pictures/collection/lomax/item/2007660156/.

2 Yarger, Lisa. “Coon Creek Girls and John Lair’s control over their image.” Oral History Interview with Barbara Greenlief, April 27, 1996. Interview R-0020. Documenting the American South. Accessed February 25, 2018. http://docsouth.unc.edu/sohp/playback.html?base_file=R-0020&duration=02:03:20.

3 Currier & Ives. “The darktown banjo class-off the key: ‘If yous can’t play de music, jes leff de banjo go!.’ 1886. Library of Congress. Accessed February 25, 2018. https://www.loc.gov/item/91724113/.

Vera Hall: The Exception to the Rule?

Alan Lomax was a groundbreaking music collector who recorded and preserved underrepresented music, highlighting the differences between white and black musical styles in the South.

Alan Lomax, Asheville NC, c. 1938-1950.

In this sense, Lomax is an improvement from scholars such as Neil Rosenberg, who wrote an extensive history of bluegrass music with little mention of race.[1] Though this type of erasure is not present in Lomax’s collection, some of his processes are nonetheless problematic. He seemed to genuinely believe that African American musical culture should be understood, yet he often requested specific songs because it fit the stereotypical idea of black folk music. He also wanted to find a sound not influenced by white folk music, and sought out black singers who didn’t spent time around white musicians.[2] This creates problems of authenticity because it neglects the fact that white and black musicians did listen to and play off one another.  

This begs the question: Was any of Alan Lomax’s revolutionary work truly authentic? I would argue that, though undoubtedly problematic, parts of it were. Vera Hall, an African American folk singer from Alabama, is a prime example of this. Many of her performances can be found in the full collection from Lomax’s 1939 recording trip. One example attached here is her recording of Awful Death, which reflects her powerful voice and the spiritual weight behind her songs.

Lomax thought highly of her talents and remarked that her voice was one of the best. Hall learned to sing traditional spirituals from her mother, but despite her talent, never became a professional singer.[3] Because of Lomax persistence, though, many of her songs are widely accessible, and she eventually gained national acclaim. “Another Man Done Gone,” one of Hall’s most famous songs, has been covered and modified by countless performers, including Johnny Cash and the Carolina Chocolate Drops.[4] In 2005, Hall was inducted into the Alabama Women’s Hall of Fame.[5] These accomplishments are no small feat for a low-income black woman in 19th century Alabama.

On the one hand, Hall’s success was significantly limited by her gender, class, and race. We would be settling for unfair societal systems by praising Lomax for introducing her voice despite the scarcity of African American musicians receiving recognition at that time. She was still branded as a black folk singer in a way that benefitted Lomax professionally, and she might not have garnered his attention had it not profited him. On the other hand, though, it might be fair to say that, by recording Hall in her environment and allowing her some agency in song selection, Lomax respectfully represented her. There are obviously countless problems with such an expansive project, and it’s likely not as authentic as Lomax would like to think. But, we can take comfort knowing that not all his work was flawed, and his introduction of Vera Hall to a larger national audience, at the very least, provided moving recordings of African American folk music.

 

[1] Rosenberg, Neil V. Bluegrass: A History. Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 2005.

[2] Paul, Richard. “In the Field of Folk Music, Alan Lomax is a Giant – If a Flawed and Controversial One.” Public Radio International. February 10, 2015. Retrieved from https://www.pri.org/stories/2015-02-10/field-folk-music-alan-lomax-giant-if-flawed-and-controversial-one.

[3] Vera Hall -1964. Online Text. Retrieved from the Library of Congress, https://www.loc.gov/item/ihas.200196840/. (Accessed February 26, 2018.)

[4] Wade, Stephen, and Stephen Wade. “Vera Hall: The Life That We Live.” In The Beautiful Music All Around Us: Field Recordings and the American Experience, 153-78. Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 2015.

[5] Stone, Peter. “Vera Ward Hall (1902-1964).” Association for Cultural Equity. Retrieved from http://www.culturalequity.org/alanlomax/ce_alanlomax_profile_hall.php

Bluegrass: A generational experience

The concept of “nurture versus nature” is a scientific and ideological question that haunts every single academic field. Not even the immortal and ever changing world of music can escape. In her 2017 IBMA Keynote address bluegrass musician Rhiannon Giddens notes that the intersection between her biracial identity and love for bluegrass music are just an examples of why it is so important to “celebrate the greater diversity of the people who have shaped the music that is so much a part of [her] identity”. 1 There is a generational thread that exists within bluegrass music that is not simply resigned to Rhiannon Giddens’ story. The Lomax family, a similarly generational act, documented families all across the American South during the late 1930’s, some who are participating in the musical traditions associated with folk and bluegrass music. 2  

Bog Trotters Band members seated with instruments, Galax, Va. Includes Doc Davis, with autoharp; Crockett Ward, with fiddle; Uncle Alex Dunford, with fiddle; Wade Ward, with banjo; Fields Ward, with guitar

Music is so often attached to particular aspects of identity, it goes beyond family and represents tradition within an entire line of people. One aspect of the folk musical tradition is the way in which it can, and has, reinforced gender and age roles within a tradition. In many songs there may be particular parts mapped out for different vocal ranges, allowing for mother, father, and children to talk their place within the musical tradition. 3 A slightly more contemporary example that S.W. Mills uses in Bringing the family tradition in bluegrass music to the music classroom, is Johnny Cash’s “Daddy Sang Bass”. 

The idea of this broad category of music bringing people together didn’t exist just in communities of white Americans.The racial makeup of these traditions is something explored both by Giddens in her keynote address as well as the Lomax family. Their documentation spanned the gamut, showing musicians in each tradition.

Stavin’ Chain playing guitar and singing the ballad “Batson” accompanied by a musician on violin, Lafayette, La.

One thing that connects these two racially divided traditions is the generational role of music, especially folk music. It shows its importance not only in the formation of modern folk music but also its role in the formation of family values. Though documentation (and misuse) is a relatively controversial topic the ability to study such things wouldn’t exist without the resources provided from people like the Lomax family. Ultimately, it’s important to acknowledge the beautiful and meaningful way music brings people together.

1 Giddens, Rhiannon. “Community and Connection.” IBMA Keynote Speech 2017, Nashville, TN, 2017.

2 Cohen, Ronald D.. Alan Lomax, Assistant in Charge: The Library of Congress Letters, 1935-1945. University Press of Mississippi, 2007.

3 Mills, S. W.. Bringing the family tradition in bluegrass music to the music classroom. General Music Today, iss. 22, p. 12-18.

Bukka White and the Record Companies

In 1939, John and Ruby Lomax spent several months traveling the south and made literally hundreds of recordings for the Library of Congress’s Music Division. After spending a while aimlessly pouring through vast quantities of these recordings, I decided to read the Library of Congress site’s general overview of the entire expedition. Under the section chronicling the couple’s time recording in Mississippi, I came across the line “country blues artist Booker T. Washington (“Bukka”) White, known at this time as Washington “Barrel House” White”.1 The bit “country blues” stuck out to me because record companies in the 1920’s and 30’s were largely labeling white artists as “country” and black artists as “blues”. But the other thing that attracted me was the way in which White was referenced- as though I should know who he was. I didn’t.

Naturally, I set out to find out a little bit more about Mr. White and discovered that his story illustrates the role that recording played on the labeling of Southern “folk” music.

One of the first records White recorded with Victor in 1930. This is one of spirituals and released under the name Washington White.

Prior to meeting and recording for the Lomax’s, White had already recorded twice before. In 1930, several record companies were trying to tap into the “lucrative” market for “race records” and were trying to record whoever they could to create records.2 White ended up recording several sides for them, both blues and gospel songs, because the person who was supposed to record the gospel songs didn’t show up to the recording session.

In 1937, White was permitted to go to Chicago to record two sides before filling out his prison sentence in the Mississippi State Penitentiary.3 One side of this record was Shake ‘Em On Down, which became a rather popular song.

John and Ruby Lomax visited the penitentiary on their trip (this was the only place that they recorded in Mississippi) and it was there, in the hallway separating the white and black sections of the prison, that White recorded two songs for them.1 The interaction was described in the Lomax’s field notes as follows: “Po’ Boy and Sick ’em dogs on were sung and played by Washington (Barrel House White, with guitar. Barrel Houses were his hangout in the “free world”. Barrel House has made some commercial records.”4


Listening to White’s two recordings in the Lomax collection, it is intriguing to note that their “genre” is not clear. Instead of being either “country” or “blues”, White incorporates elements of both styles into his music, subtly giving testament to the false musical dichotomy of the time.5

Ultimately, it seems that White was a musician who mostly recorded because it is what would pay the bills. White’s career was mainly built on the blues, probably because that was what the recording companies wanted from him and would pay for. Additionally, White was apparently unhappy with the notion that he recorded for Lomax without receiving any pay; that was reportedly the only time he felt “exploited”.3

Booker T Washington “Bukka” White. In the 1960’s White experienced a second career as part of the folk movement.

Furthermore, it is interesting to note that in the fieldnotes, the Lomax’s note that it was initially difficult to convince prisoners to record for them because “one of the boys who had made some commercial records” had told others that the Lomax’s were only there to record to make money.4 Could this have been White, I wonder?

Overall, the story of Bukka White’s recording career demonstrates the fundamental way that the recordings shaped the ideas of music tied to race. White’s recordings for the Lomax’s reveal that music may not have been as black and white as the record companies wanted it to be.

 

1“The 1939 Recording Expedition”. The Library of Congress, https://www.loc.gov/collections/john-and-ruby-lomax/articles-and-essays/the-1939-recording-expedition/. Accessed: February 24, 2018.

2Manuel, Jeffery T. “The Sound of the Plain White Folk? Creating Country Music’s ‘Social Origins’.” Popular Music and Society 31, no. 4 (2008): 417-431.

3“Bukka White”. Mississippi Blues Commission. Mississippi Blues Trail: http://www.msbluestrail.org/blues-trail-markers/bukka-white. Accessed February 25, 2018.

Burton, Thomas G. Tom Ashley, Sam McGee, Bukka White: Tennessee Traditional Singers. Knoxville: The University of Tennessee Press, 1981.

4Lomax, John A, and Ruby T Lomax. Southern Recording Trip Fieldnotes. 1939. Manuscript/Mixed Material. Retrieved from the Library of Congress, https://www.loc.gov/item/lomaxbib000855/. Accessed February 24, 2018.

5Lomax, John A, Ruby T Lomax, and Bukka White. Po’ Boy. Parchman, Mississippi, 1939. Audio. Retrieved from The Library of Congress, https://www.loc.gov/item/lomaxbib000366/. Accessed February 24, 2018.

Lomax, John A, Ruby T Lomax, and Bukka White. Sick ’em Dogs On. Parchman, Mississippi, 1939. Audio. Retrieved from the Library of Congress, https://www.loc.gov/item/lomaxbib000365/. Accessed February 24, 2018.

Making Black Influence in Bluegrass Visible

Neil Rosenberg’s book Bluegrass: A History presents a greatly different idea of bluegrass history when being compared to Rhiannon Giddens’ keynote speech at the International Bluegrass Music Association Business Conference. I took particular interest to Giddens’ point that scholars and historians, which surely includes Rosenberg, have contributed the erasure of black history in bluegrass. This general lack of representation led me to wonder if there is anyone who has worked to include the black narrative into the history of country music and bluegrass. It is likely that some individuals, such as Rosenberg, would argue that there is a lack of written or recorded history of black people within these genres because they simply did not contribute a lot to this type of music. However, in searching for Black Appalachian music, I stumbled upon this album, titled Deep River of Song: Black Appalachia. Although it is unclear as to why the album specifically refers to Appalachia (which perhaps should be a topic of research in itself), the songs in the album are labeled as “Country”, with the sub-genres of “Old Time” and “String Band”. This album is from the Alan Lomax Collection, sparking my curiosity in Alan Lomax as an ethnomusicologist, since he seems to be one of the few people who has strived to record the history of black country music.

Something I find particularly interesting is a letter Lomax wrote to Joseph Hickerson at the Library of Congress, which is included in his manuscripts in A Recorded Treasury of Black Folk Song, 1978-1981, Black Appalachia. In this letter, Lomax describes his account of recording Murphy Gribble, a black banjo player, and his band. Lomax highlights characteristics of their music, including the presence of polyphony, and the instrumentation of banjo and fiddle, that are often described as traits of bluegrass. Lomax even acknowledges:

 

“If you listen carefully… you will hear the steady 3,3,2 complex measure of so-called Bluegrass. From before Earl Scruggs and his mentors were born.”

Here, Lomax clearly states the contradiction within the history of bluegrass. Earl Scruggs is the one credited with this core sonic marker of bluegrass, yet Lomax has recorded, physical proof that it existed before him. Not only that, but Lomax found it in music performed by individuals part of a group that is virtually nonexistent in dominant bluegrass history. Listening to other performances by Murphy Gribble and his other band members, the similarity with bluegrass is undeniable.

Lomax clearly greatly contributes to the documentation of black music/musicians and in conveying the role black music played in the creation of bluegrass. That being said, there is still a gap between his work and getting others, such as Rosenberg, to acknowledge it. It is unfortunate that this research and collection of black country music sets Lomax apart from others. He undoubtedly deserves credit because of his role in preserving the music and existence of black people in genres that generally ignore it. But it is precisely that failure of others in recognizing it that is disappointing. Appreciating black contribution within this type of music is something that should be done more widely. If it was, rather than Lomax being recognized for representing an underrepresented group within the world of country and bluegrass music, it would be the black musicians being recognized for their musical contributions to the world.

Sources:

  • Lomax, Alan. “Alan Lomax Collection, Manuscripts, A Recorded Treasury of Black Folk Song, -1981, Black Appalachia, to 1981, 1978”. Manuscript/Mixed Material. Retrieved from the Library of Congress, https://www.loc.gov/item/afc2004004.ms120226/
  • Murphy Gribble, Albert York, & John Lusk, Pateroller’ll Catch You, youtube, 2:33, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KfD_pkVRGbA
  • Niel Rosenberg, Bluegrass: A History (Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 1985).
  • Rhiannon Giddens, “2017 IBMA Business Conference Keynote Address” (presentation, IBMA Business Conference, Nashville, TN, September, 2017).
  • Various Artists. Deep River of Song: Black Appalachia. 1999. Rounder Records, CD.

Do you know any black, contemporary folk artists?

Contemporary folk is a broad genre, stretching out into indie folk, indie rock, americana, you name it. However, when I think of this genre and the especially famous artists that dominate it, I can’t think of any black artists or bands. There might be a couple Asian American artists, but the genre comes across as very white. Take the Avett Brothers, for instance: one member was born in South Korea, and the rest are white. And their audience is even whiter.

Described as a folk rock band, the Avett Brothers are seen here, playing guitars and singing in front of a picture of a tractor, which are common aspects of country music. Country and folk have similar sounds, so it would make sense for the folk of today to have adapted from the country of days gone by. If one listens to “Monterey” by the Milk Carton Kids, an indie folk duo, it’s possible to hear the calming guitar and harmony influences of songs like “Driftwood” by the talented Merle Haggard, who claims influence from the man deemed as the first famous singer in the genre, Jimmie Rodgers.1 People could assume folk and country are white today because it’s always been that way. However, that is not the truth.

Even Jimmie Rodgers mixed his voice and instrument with the beyond legendary Louis Armstrong and his wife Lil Hardin Armstrong, singing “Blue Yodel #9”, but it wasn’t as popular.2 When John and Ruby Lomax traveled around the South in 1939, they stopped in a jail and recorded Roger “Burn Down” Garnett singing “Eaton Clan”.3 He played guitar and sang, echoing previous country and folk artists, but he did not receive much recognition beyond the recordings conducted by the Lomaxes, as he was in prison. Yet, other folk artists, sometime between 1938 and 1950, were performing at the Mountain Music Festival, and they were white.

Five musicians and a singer performing at the Mountain Music Festival, Asheville, North Carolina. Between 1938 and 1950. Lomax Collection, Library of Congress, Washington, D.C.

So if country and folk artists have always been black and white, how come white artists are the ones to be recognized? Jeffrey T. Manuel explains the phenomenon as having been created by the music industry making a conscious effort to attribute the sound of folk and country to the social group of the white, Southern middle class. Rhiannon Giddens backs this up with the fact:

Occasionally black string bands were put on the Hillbilly label but with their name obscured, such as when Vocalion Records released a set of tunes under “The Tennessee Chocolate Drops” for their race records and the exact same set of tunes under “The Tennessee Trio” for the Hillbilly division. It rarely happened the other way around… (10)

The music industry made sure to keep race records separate. If music crossed color lines, segregation would be disregarded. Therefore, white artists rose to the top, and black artists faded into the background.

Although erasure of black artists has been a real issue for the longest time, music can’t help but be heard by anyone and everyone. The influences of country and folk music, black and white artists, continue to spread. Now, I can’t think of any famous, black, contemporary folk artists at the top of my head, but perhaps we should be able to think of some. Because black americana is real too.

Manuel, Jeffrey T. “The Sound of the Plain White Folk? Creating Country Music’s “Social Origins”.” In Popular Music and Society, 417-431. City: Taylor & Francis Group, 2008.

Railroad Songs and Gandy Dancers

Railroad songs were a genre created by laborers for the railroads in America. The origin of the genre is disputed and rather mysterious. We can all recall “I’ve been Working on the Railroad” (pre Civil War), but it is unclear if that is one example of the genres earliest pieces. Archie Green suggests in “Railroad Songs and Ballads: From the Archive of Folk Song” that “[the songs] welled directly out of the experiences of workers and were composed literally to the rhythm of the handcar. Others were born in Tin Pan Alley rooms or bars. But regardless of birthplace, songs moved up and down the main line or were shunted onto isolated spur tracks.”1 John Lomax had recorded many of these railroad songs. Here is an example of one: http://www.loc.gov/item/lomaxbib000326/  2

These songs were created by workers to entertain and convey stories up and down the rails. The subjects of the songs, that are recorded, range from the erotic, basic railroad construction, and common themes like love and loss. The creators of the railroads songs included African Americans and many immigrant people. Unfortunately there are little to no record of the songs created by immigrants in different languages and today there is no way of rediscovering those songs. These songs created by African Americans and immigrants created a new slang term for these people called “Gandy Dancers”.

In the article “Country Music and the Souls of White Folk” by Erich Nunn, we get a sense of the effect that the Gandy Dancer’s music has had on country music, we are told, In My Husband, Jimmie Rodgers, a biography of her late husband published in 1935, Carrie Williamson (“Mrs. Jimmie”) Rodgers presents Jimmie as a crucible in which the “darkey songs” he learned as a boy are transmuted by “the natural music in his Irish soul” into something distinctive and new.”3 The songs that Carrie writes on were created by the African American men that worked of the rails and influenced Jimmie Rodgers.

Gandy Dancers used their songs as a method of keeping rhythm for the laborers of the railroad and striking in time amongst the laborers. Here is a short snippet of a documentary done on Gandy Dancers: 4

  1.  Green, Archie. “Railroad Songs and Ballads.” Archive of Folk Song, 1968. Accessed February 26, 2018. https://www.loc.gov/folklife/LP/AFS_L61_opt.pdf.
  2. Lomax, John A, Ruby T Lomax, and Arthur Bell. John Henry. near Varner, Arkansas, 1939. Audio. Retrieved from the Library of Congress, https://www.loc.gov/item/lomaxbib000326/. (Accessed February 26, 2018.)
  3. Nunn, Erich. Country Music and the Souls of White Folk. Wayne State University Press.
  4. Folkstreamer. “Gandy Dancers.” YouTube. June 23, 2008. Accessed February 26, 2018. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=025QQwTwzdU.

 

 

Native American Music and a New Approach to Anthropology

In 1917, amid his career as the curator of the American Museum of Natural History in New York, psychologist and anthropologist Clark Wissler published a book entitled The American Indian. An attempt to fulfill the museum’s mandate for public education and to make the findings of anthropologists accessible, the book provides a general overview of anthropological discoveries pertaining to the “American Indian”.1 It includes information about various peoples, tribes, and cultures by covering a wide breath of subjects from food to social groupings to languages and origin stories. For a modern reader, the book contains all sorts of fascinating little tidbits, but what caught my eye was a curious little paragraph that opens “Chapter IX Fine Arts”:

No doubt many readers will object to the title we have given this chapter on the ground that no aboriginal production can rise to the level of an actual “fine art,” but we feel that the name is justified because the productions here considered occupy the same place in aboriginal life as do the fine arts in Europe. They may be comprehended under the familiar heads of sculpture, painting, literature, and music.2

Clark Wissler, (1870-1947)

Perhaps without really meaning to, in this paragraph Wissler encapsulates the tensions of evolving anthropological notions of the time. In the last part of the “Fine Arts” chapter, as Wissler discusses music, he seems to try to subvert the traditional belief of European superiority, but his prose in other ways seems to support such views.

Wissler was part of a dramatic shift in the field of anthropology from an evolutionary explanation of social development to a culturally-focused one. One of the key elements of this shift was the idea that social development of individuals could only be correctly understood when viewed from the context of their own culture.3 Wissler demonstrates this concept when he writes about song translations, explaining that important meanings and emotional significance are often lost because there are not perfect translations from Native American languages to English. Another example is the mention of “aboriginal singing” technique, which is different from European singing, and therefore is difficult to accurately notate using the “traditional” system.4

The title page and accompanying picture from The American Indian.

However, Wissler’s book and remarks remain bound by the ideas of the European culture’s superiority. This is evident in the constant superimpositions of European ideals of music onto Native American music-making. Wissler describes the “great effort” that has been made to discover the ideal scales which “native singers strive for”, and then states the importance of such a “discovery”. Additionally, Wissler points to what he explains as the lack of consistent rhythm between singer, drummer, and dancers in Native American Music. And, although he describes the difficulties in transcribing Native American music, he still purports that such a task is necessary.5 These topics all constitute an assumption that what is important to European musical understanding is what is also important to understanding other musical expressions.

Even though Wissler demonstrates rather forward-thinking for his time in some of the ways he discusses music, many of his ideas still carry the older Euro-centric biases. Perhaps intellectual progress is not so quick after all.

1 “Wissler, Clark (1870-1947).” In Biographical Dictionary of Anthropologists, by William Stewart. McFarland, 2009. https://ezproxy.stolaf.edu/login?url=https://search.credoreference.com/content/entry/mcfanthro/wissler_clark_1870_1947/0?institutionId=4959. Accessed February 19, 2018.

2 Wissler, Clark. The American Indian. New York: McMurtrie, Douglas C, 1917.  Available through: Adam Matthew, Marlborough, American Indian Histories and Cultures, http://www.aihc.amdigital.co.uk/Documents/Details/Ayer_10_W8_1917. Accessed February 19, 2018. Page 134.

3 Liss, Julia E. “Anthropology and Cultural Relativism.” In Encyclopedia of American Cultural and Intellectual History, edited by Mary Kupiec Cayton, and Peter W. Williams. Gale, 2001. https://ezproxy.stolaf.edu/login?url=https://search.credoreference.com/content/entry/galeacih/anthropology_and_cultural_relativism/0?institutionId=4959. Accessed February 19, 2018.

Gleach, Frederic W., and Regna Darnell. “Wissler, Clark.” In Biographical Dictionary of Social and Cultural Anthropology, edited by Vered Amit. Routledge, 2004. https://ezproxy.stolaf.edu/login?url=https://search.credoreference.com/content/entry/routsca/wissler_clark/0?institutionId=4959 Accessed February 19, 2018.

4 Wissler, Clark. The American Indian. Page 143,146.

5 Ibid. Page 146-148.

Dear Mexico, También Somos Aleman (We are also German)

This artifact intrigued me not necessarily the word, “uber” which is seen nearly of every street corner of most major U.S. cities today in the form of a car. Rather, what caught my attention was the name, “Guadaljara” which is actually spelled Guadalajara today. This is where my parents were originally born, near a city with a name derived of an Arabic translation, as stated in the official Ayuntamiento de Guadalajara website.

Access: Map of Guadalajara & Zacatecas

“In its distant origins, Guadalajara was linked to Celtoberian culture, though the earliest historical references tell of its strategic military importance to the emirs and caliphs of Córdoba. It was then known as Madinat al-Faray in memory of its conqueror, and Wad al-Hayara, Arab translation of its pre-Roman name, Arriaca.” (Guadalajara.se)

La Ciudad de Guadalajara

My father actually went to college in Guadalajara, and had essentially gone through what I am experiencing now, “a home away from home.” His decision to sacrifice that education in Guadalajara in Mexico just to seek a better quality life in the United States without citizenship has allowed me to write this blog on this St. Olaf webpage for today. Had he not done so, I would not be here, in this very moment, writing this blog. Now you see why Guadalajara caught my attention. This city’s name creates an emotional response in myself because it symbolizes my family’s origins.

 

The map is a piece of cartography recorded in 1832 and completed in 1855 by German explorer, Carl de Berghes. One can easily (not actually) identify this source by its title, “Beschreibung der Ueberreste Aztekischer Niederlassungen auf ihrer Wanderung nach dem Thale von Mexico durch den gegenwärtigen Freistaat von Zacatecas

 

According to a dear friend and Berlin, Germany native, Leander Krawinkel, the title translates into — “The Map which shows the directions and through which ways the Aztecs emigrated to Mexico” Aztecs were a group of the indigenous peoples who occupied a majority of the territory of today’s Mexico. By this account, it is fair to state that this was one explorer’s observation of how the indigenous people lived and traveled in their land. However, one may be skeptical of Berghes’s perspective on these people’s reason for migrating.

In this following image of a map titled, “Mexico, Texas und Californien” by a German explorer, Heinrich Kiepert indicates the different locations of French and German colonies near Mexico. This is significant because it is a clear reminder to all that that which makes up today’s Mexicans ethnically, around the world and especially the United States, is not just Spanish and Aztec blood, but also German and French blood, as evidenced in the presence of these European explorers in these areas. These cultural encounters were written solely from the perspective of the European explorer’s eye. This blog analysis should aid in the modern Mexican and white-American community’s understanding of their ethnic diversity and similarities as a whole, in hopes of encouraging a more united attitude rather than a separatist attitude from both cultures in a time of political and racial turmoil.

Sources:

Berghes, Carl de (1792-1869). 1832-1855. Beschreibung der Ueberreste Aztekischer Niederlassungen auf ihrer Wanderung nach dem Thale von Mexico durch den gegenwärtigen Freistaat von Zacatecas [manuscript]. [Manuscript]. At: Place: The Newberry Library. VAULT Ayer MS 1045. Available through: Adam Matthew, Marlborough, American Indian Histories and Cultures, http://www.aihc.amdigital.co.uk/FurtherResources/VisualResources/Image/Ayer_MS_1045/61# Accessed February 20, 2018.

 

Kiepert, Heinrich, 1818-1899. Mexico, Texas und Californien., map, 1847; Weimar. (texashistory.unt.edu/ark:/67531/metapth231410/:accessed February 20, 2018), University of North Texas Libraries, The Portal to Texas History, texashistory.unt.edu; crediting University of Texas at Arlington Library.

The history of the city, from the Celtiberian origin until today.” The history of the city, from the Celtiberian origin until today. – Ayuntamiento de Guadalajara. Accessed February 20, 2018. https://www.guadalajara.es/en/tourism/discover-guadalajara/history/.

Music as a Cultural Weapon: Indian Schools

Indian Schools were designed by the United States government to eliminate a threat of a generation of people whose predecessors they had slaughtered by assimilating them into the dominant Western culture. Part of this ‘Westernization’ was the role of music in the lives of the students.

1
This text from 1915 is a review of an Indian School in Pennsylvania that had been put in place to train them into the “American” culture. What is of note is the focus on music as a form of entertainment as well as education. Another example is this:

3

As can be seen in this other guidelines of an Indian School, music is a part of the total enculturation of the students. Music had become a cultural weapon with which the United States established it’s authority. Although it never explicitly states the institution’s intention to erase and replace an entire culture, this can still be seen in the rhetoric used. One can read at the bottom of the image that these student associations that management is required to “see that the true purpose of the associations is maintained.” For those managing the school, the true purpose was the study and practice of Western music.

Music in the Indian schools had to fall within the ‘Course of Study’ prepared by the Commissioner of Indian Affairs, who, in 1915 wrote “Music opens the way to a new world of joy.” but a sentence later explains this music must be “only good music” and then lists a series of operas and patriotic music to use.2

All of these examples set up the framework and intention behind the use of music in these institutions. Music was used as a two-pronged weapon to encourage assimilation. On the one hand, it did attempt to increase an appreciation of Western music because then the students would be less inclined to look elsewhere for that fulfillment. At the same time, it worked to ignore and eliminate the multitude of Native American cultures that had existed before it. This was necessary so these students would not have these other cultural practices that could define them and create a distinct identity separate from an “American” that could present a threat against the government.

Music and these schools were a part of the larger cultural narrative that encouraged the supremacy of Western culture over anything that had been produced by the indigenous people before it and created these schools to asset that. These Indian Schools were a powerful tool that used music as a way to eliminate a threat the US Government saw to its power.

1.Carlisle Indian Industrial School. 1915. Catalogue and synopsis of courses, United States Indian School, Carlisle, Pennsylvania. Carlisle: Carlisle Indian Press. Available through: Adam Matthew, Marlborough, American Indian Histories and Cultures, http://www.aihc.amdigital.co.uk/Documents/Details/Ayer_389_C2_C2_1915 [Accessed February 20, 2018].

2. Bureau of Indian Affairs. 1915. Tentative course of study for United States Indian schools. Prepared under the direction of commissioner of Indian affairs. Available through: Adam Matthew, Marlborough, American Indian Histories and Cultures, http://www.aihc.amdigital.co.uk/Documents/Details/Ayer_386_U5_1915 [Accessed February 20, 2018].

3. United States Indian Service. 1913. Rules for the Indian School Service, 1913 / Department of the Interior, United States Indian Service. Available through: Adam Matthew, Marlborough, American Indian Histories and Cultures, http://www.aihc.amdigital.co.uk/Documents/Details/Ayer_386_U5_1913 [Accessed February 20, 2018].

Ute Bear Dances and Notched Sticks

Initially, I hoped to research the topic of symbolism in relation to Native American instruments, but that line of researching did not take me far, so I instead settled on looking at the scholarship on their instruments in general. In Clark Wissler’s informational text, The American Indian, there is a section on Native American music which turns to musical instruments, claiming that the two most common instruments are drums and rattles. His survey meanders across the Americas, discussing the cultural varieties of such instruments, emphasizing the dominance of calabash (gourd) rattles, the importance of which, he claims, is only approached by the notched stick1. The footnote attached to this observation, citing anthropologist Robert Lowie, led to where my research ultimately landed.

Lowie has a fair number of entries in another collection of anthropological papers on Native American societies edited by Wissler, one of which examines the “Dances and

Ute Musicians. From left to right: Brookus Sibello 1890, Dick Sibello 1882, Henry Myore, and two young boys. Using notched rasps and rubbing sticks, for music.

 

Societies of the Plains Shoshone,” within which he describes the Bear Dance, a prominent Ute ceremony. Although he has never seen a Bear Dance himself, Lowie draws upon several first hand accounts of the ceremony to explain the basic function and structure of Bear Dances: a social event lasting four days at the end of winter/beginning of spring in a circular enclosure of branches, where men and women form two lines designated by sex and the women approach whichever men they want to dance with, and the dancing commences2. Watch this video of a Southern Ute Indian tribe Bear Dance, recorded in 1988, to get a better idea. The music produced in the Bear Dance is what brought me to the ceremony, as the principle instrument used in the ceremony, besides singing, is the notched stick (or rattle) mentioned in The American Indian. 

Ute Indians perform the Bear Dance on at the Bear Dance Festival. The Bear Dance welcomes the Spring of the year. (1920)

The notched stick, pictured at right, has two parts. The first is a stick about a foot or

https://babel.hathitrust.org/cgi/pt?id=coo.31924012929372;view=1up;seq=868

Notched sticks and rasps used in Ute Bear Dances (Lowie)

more in length and “throughout its entire length it is whittled flat, and transverse notches or grooves are cut across this flattened portion.”3 The second part is a “rasp”, usually either a bone or rod. The notched stick is held against the ground or similar surface in one hand, while the other holds the rod and “is moved rapidly up and down the grooved portion so as to make a rattling sound.”4 Multiple sets of these are played alongside vocals, setting the dance into motion.

But why is it called the Bear Dance? According to Verner Reed, who in 1893 was invited to a Bear Dance by a Southern Ute tribe in Colorado (one of the first hand accounts Lowie cites), the Ute people “believe their primal ancestors were bears; after these came the race of Indians, who, on dying, were changed to bears” and the Bear Dances are meant to reinforce their friendship. The ceremony is held around the time bears awaken from hibernation and the dance is supposed to “cast the film of blindness from their eyes” when the bears wake.5

Misinterpretation in the Ghost Dance of 1890

Historically, most Americans lack a thorough appreciation of Native American culture. One way we can begin to understand this rich culture is through a study of Native American music, which often closely relates to culture and religion. One example is the Ghost Dance, a religious ceremony in which tribal members sing and dance on four consecutive nights. The songs include repeated chants (usually an a-a-b-b phrase) while members of the tribe dance enthusiastically in a circle. Included here is an  example of a Ghost Dance song from a tribe in the western Great Plains. It was recorded as part of James Mooney’s recordings of American Indian Ghost Dance Songs in 1894.

Although specifics rituals and song patterns differ depending on the region or tribe, each Ghost Dance represents an intensely cultural experience during which “communal performance of song and dance” is the center piece of [the] religion” (Vander 113).

We now know and understand the elements of this dance, but there were (and still are) gross misconceptions about the meaning of the Ghost Dance. One letter from the Pine Ridge reservation in South Dakota highlights this lack of appreciation for Native American culture. The letter, written in 1890, by John M. Sweeney, a white schoolteacher, is addressed to a U.S. Indian responsible for implementing federal policies on reservations. Sweeney echoes Chief Little Wound’s sentiments that the Ghost Dance is not a threat, and that U.S. troops are encroaching on the reservation with no justification. His letter asserts that the Dance will continue until Spring no matter the consequences.

Letter Excerpt #1 – John M. Sweeney dictating words of Chief Little Wound

At first, it appears that Sweeney is sympathetic towards the Native Americans, yet he later comments on the stubbornness of those who continue to dance. He notes that those who lead the ceremony are also those who refused to sign the Sioux Bill, a government-forced bill that reduced Sioux Reservation land mass, broke up tribes, and placed further restrictions on Native American groups (North Dakota Studies).

Letter Excerpt #2 – John M. Sweeney reflecting on Native American stubbornness

In fact, Sweeney speculates that this Ghost Dance was indicative of the Native Americans’ plan to revolt. He shows a blatant disregard for Native American culture. It acts as a real-life example of how tensions plagued relationships between the Native Americans and European immigrants. U.S. government fear that the Ghost Dance in 1890 was a threat led to the Battle at Wounded Knee, where approximately 300 Native Americans were murdered. This widespread misunderstanding ultimately carried forward through the recording of U.S. history.

The Ghost dance by the Ogallala Sioux at Pine Ridge Agency … Dakota / Frederic Remington, Pine Ridge, S. Dak.

Through the Ghost Dance, Native Americans connected to nature with expressive song and dance, hopeful that their spirits would restore prosperity and the Indian way of life. Historians now understand the cultural importance of musical ceremonies like the Ghost Dance. There is much to glean from this culture that can, hopefully, create a new understanding of ways in which historical biases have caused harm, and restore an appreciation for the rich culture of Native American peoples.

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The Sioux Sun Dance and the Right to Reinterpretation

In August of 1970, an anonymous Sioux author wrote an article in the American Indian Leadership Council’s journal, The Indian, wondering about the claim that the modern Sioux have of over the Sun Dance.1 The ceremony, a celebration of the connection between the Sioux and the sun, was once an integral piece of Sioux culture. The eight-day event included ceremonies and dances that “reinforced ideals and customs of the Sioux society,” and a final day of physical pain as men danced while suspended from poles and looking directly into the sun. Although the Sun Dance was seen by the Sioux as the cornerstone of their culture and relationship with the sun, white Americans saw it as undesirable paganism. According to the author, once the Sun Dance was erased from Sioux culture, the other markers of Sioux life began to fade as well.

Sioux Sun Dance

The Sioux Sun Dance has been reinterpreted by white American society in many ways, from a 1980 article in the Michigan Farmer that described the “curious custom” almost exclusively as a violent act,2 to an orchestral interpretation composed by Leo Friedman, recorded by the Edison Symphony Orchestra in 1903.3 Friedman, whose other compositions ranged from the well known “Let Me Call You Sweetheart,” to the lesser known “Coon Coon Coon,” used horns and jingling bells to play a simple melody, while a heavy percussion kept beat beneath. The end of the piece is marked by vocalizations clearly meant to be “war cries.” These musical choices exemplify the barbarism and other-worldliness with which Friedman wanted to represent the Sioux ceremony, and show no indication that it is about the religious significance of the sun. Friedman’s piece is instead an invention of Sioux music and culture.

If Friedman’s music was not a respectful interpretation of a Sioux Sun Dance, then it would be assumed that it would be up to the modern Sioux to revive or reinterpret the ceremony and its music. The author of the article in The Indian, however, wondered if the Sioux were still entitled to performing the Sun Dance ceremony. They asked “are we worthy to perform the Sun Dance– our forefathers failed to retain a religion they revered, and can we in all sincerity and honesty adopt the Sun Dance into our present society as a religion.” They worried about whether a reinterpretation of the Sun Dance by the Sioux would be “a religion or a tourist package.” The author’s feelings of a right of the Sun Dance are complicated in the context of the appropriation and misrepresent

ation of the Sioux ceremony by Friedman and others, and “the purge” of Native culture by white Americans, and a reinterpretation of the Sun Dance will have to take these new factors into account.

Native American Dance and Music: A Dueling Struggling for Appropriate Representation

Music is a multifaceted art form that intersects with many other forms of expression and has both a creative and cultural importance to many Native American communities. One prolific intersection, especially in Native American cultures, that exists is that of music and dance. In some of the earliest entries from European explorers, their experience with native tribes comes hand in hand with music and dance.1 One of the issues we have talked about in class is the appropriation and misuse of Native American cultural practices. This is not an issue that exists solely in the realms of music and other object-like representations. Within many European cohorts “American” dance was seen as something exotic, a form of entertainment that was both culturally intangible to them yet consistently available for general consumption.2 Unlike with Native American songs the technology to record the movement of dance was not widely used until the 1950’s. This meant that the visual representations of dance, outside of live performances, was concentrated in the lens of photographers.

Emma B. Freeman was a popular American photographer during the late 1910’s.

Emma B. Freeman was one such photographer. Freeman’s work concentrated on stylized portraits of indigenous people, culture, and fashion. She was a relatively controversial artist in that she was not always consistent in her portrayal of specific tribes and groups of people.3 She would accidentally mix, match, and generalize certain aspects of the tribes she was studying. Music and dance were both subjects she played with at times, documenting ceremonial dancers lined up before a dance. She also introduced musical instruments into the portraits of unmoving patrons.

Dancers from the Hoopa tribe.

Members of the Klamath tribe preparing for the white deer skin dance.

Emma B. Freemen’s style idealized the Native experience and tokenized their appearance through objectification. This stands as an example of the balance between appropriation and preservation and shows just how complicated the intersection between art and representation can be.

1Music in the USA : A Documentary Companion, edited by Judith Tick, and Paul Beaudoin, Oxford University Press, 2008. ProQuest Ebook Central, https://ebookcentral.proquest.com/lib/stolaf-ebooks/detail.action?docID=415567.

2Haines, John. 2012. “The Earliest European Responses to Dancing in the Americas.” U.S. Catholic Historian 30, no. 4: 1-20. America: History and Life with Full Text, EBSCOhost.

3 Clark, Gus. 1991. “Emma B. Freeman: photographer romanticized, stylized Native Americans.” Humboldt Historian 39, no. 5: 5-10. America: History and Life with Full Text, EBSCOhost.

The Grass Dance and Ankle Bells

Image

From the accounts of early settlers and newcomers to America, from Judith Tick’s Music in the USA : A Documentary Companion we know that Native Americans used drums, flutes, canes, and rattles in their music.1 I have been to the Mahkato Association’s Pow Wow in Mankato, MN a few times and there was a certain instrument that was not only decorative to the attire, or regalia, of the Native American dancers but to the rhythm and beat of the music. Many of the dancers wore bells on their ankles to add an element to the dance or what is called the “Grand Entry”.

The ankle bells appear in the Grass Dance that has been passed down and is still performed and preserved today by many tribes originating from the Great Plains region.  According to the descendents of Omaha-Ponca and Dakota-Sioux tribes, this dance is so integral to these tribes today because “in an attempt to stabilize during a period of rapid cultural conversions by the United States government, it became important to both preserve and spread dances—including the merging of many tribal dances that formed what we now know as grass dance—to preserve indigenous unity.”2

3. Ojibwa Ankle Bells c.1900-1950

The bells in the Grass Dance, and other dances like the Grand Entry, help keep the rhythm with the beat of the music.2 These bells were often fastened to sheep skin and then tied to the ankle. These ankle bells can now today help represent the merge of tribes during a difficult time and the effort that has gone into preserving dances. The bells that appeared in the Pow Wow in Mankato are a part of an annual event that remembers and aims to reconcile the 38 lives that were lost as a conclusion to the Dakota War in 1862.

  1. Tick, Judith, and Paul E. Beaudoin. Music in the USA: A Documentary Companion. Oxford University Press, 2008.
  2. ICT Staff. “Origins of the Grass Dance.” Indian Country Media Network. April 06, 2011. Accessed February 19, 2018. https://indiancountrymedianetwork.com/news/origins-of-the-grass-dance/.
  3. Peterson, Alfred. “Ojibwe ankle bells · Digital Public Library of America.” DPLA: Digital Public Library of America. Accessed February 19, 2018. https://dp.la/item/2ffa4bc517c99d0c0c2ab8d6cfe11a29?back_uri=https%3A%2F%2Fdp.la%2Fsearch%3Futf8%3D%25E2%259C%2593%26q%3D%2522ankle%2Bbells%2522&next=3&previous=1.
  4. Mahkato Wacipi. Accessed February 19, 2018. http://mahkatowacipi.org/index.php.

Chicago World Fair: Celebrating American Indian Culture or Erasing It?

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The World’s Columbian Exhibition, better known as the Chicago World Fair, in 1893 is often lauded as a premier exhibit of innovation and culture. However, the fair presented a stark contrast between what exhibition organizers deemed the civilized white culture and the uncivilized “Other”.

The Carlisle students served as an example to the American public of the “civilized” American Indian. (“Snatches from Comments of Various Prominent Papers on the Visit of the Carlisle School to the World’s Fair in October” in Ely Samuel Parker Scrapbooks, Vol 12, edited by Ely Samuel Parker. Accessed February 15, 2018.)

Ely Samuel Parker, collector of articles in the scrapbook (War Department, Office of the Chief Signal Caller. Col. Ely S. Parker, 1860-1865, National Archives at College Park)

Ely Samuel Parker, a Seneca-born American Indian and Commissioner of Indian Affairs under President Grant,1 included in his scrapbook collection quotes on the Carlisle School’s visit and performance at the World Fair. The Carlisle School, located in Pennsylvania, was a boarding school dedicated to erasing any semblance of Native American culture: language, clothing, hairstyle, and behavior, by taking young Native Americans away from their homes and families on the reservation. As the school’s founder, General Richard Pratt, famously said, the school sought to “kill the Indian, save the man”.1

The arrival of the students, as noted in Parker’s newspaper clippings, served as a stark contrast to the Native Americans in the Midway Plaisance. While in class, we discussed how the World’s Fair gave Native Americans in the Midway Plaisance more of an opportunity to present their culture, music, and dance from their own perspective, the Carlisle students demonstrate how the dominant American culture tried to stamp out Native American culture and treat it as “Other”. The newspaper clippings in Parker’s scrapbook serve as an example of how Americans believed that Native Americans could be civilized. They celebrate what they believed to be accomplished civilization. The article notes that the Carlisle School band of 32 instruments and choir, dressed in uniform, closed their performance with the playing of the American National Anthem at the time, “America” or “My Country Tis of Thee”.Leaving behind the drums and shakers as heard in the Native American music in class, the students picked up trumpets and trombones.Newspapers celebrated what they deemed a triumphant display of American Indian civilization. A passage from the Dubois, Pennsylvania Courier noted, “That it will be of use in showing us…that they are not outside the pale of civilizing influence, is also certain”.1

Members of the Carlisle School band in their uniforms. The school’s band served to erase Native American musical traditions and force the American/European musical tradition as a way of assimilating young Native Americans into the dominant American society (Choate, John N. “Carlisle School Band Members 1879”, 1879. National Anthropological Archive. Smithsonian Institution, Carlisle, Pennsylvania.).

Although some musicians tried to preserve or appropriate Native American music in the late 20th century, the Carlisle School’s performance at the World Fair demonstrates the dominant culture’s determination to stamp out what they considered the “savagery” of Native American culture, including music.

 

“A Biography of Ely S. Parker.” Galena-Jo Daviess County Historical Society. AccessedFebruary 19, 2018. http://www.galenahistory.org/researching/bio-sketches-of-famous-galenians/biography-of-ely-s-parker/.

 

King, C. Richard, “Indian Education” in Encyclopedia of American Studies, edited by Simon J. Bronner, Baltimore: John Hopkins University Press, 2017, eas-ref.press.jhu.edu/view?aid=325

“Snatches from Comments of Various Prominent Papers on the Visit of the Carlisle School to the World’s Fair in October” in Ely Samuel Parker Scrapbooks, Vol 12, edited by Ely Samuel Parker. Accessed February 15, 2018,

Trustworthiness of a Handwritten Recording

Looking through the papers of Eleazer Williams (1758-1858), I found sheet music written in the Iroquois language. The document was found amongst many other items within a scrapbook (1758-1846), and it most likely came from Williams’ time in New York and Green Bay, Wisconsin, as a missionary to the Oneida Indians.1 When it comes to determining the trustworthiness of this source, one might look to the plausible objectives of Eleazer Williams at the time.

“Notes on the Iroquois language”

Because the lyrics were written in the Iroquois language, it is possible he wrote down the music purely for his own benefit, rather than with the intentions of educating the white masses. Williams would have had to learn the language as a means to communicate with the American Indians and convert them, as was his mission. This personal endeavour of learning the language is evident by the “Notes on the Iroquois language” within the Papers, 1758-1858. Nevertheless, the objective of missionary work differs from the objectives of explorers and anthropologists/ethnographers, some of whose writings and recordings we have read and heard.

Book by Eleazer Williams

Anthropologists typically lived amongst a people to learn and understand their customs. Their recordings were intended for European readers/listeners, and they were unknowingly biased. It is likely Williams saw the Oneida Indians as ‘Other’ and inferior to himself, as did the European explorers of his time; however, he wrote sermons and translated religious texts into the language of the Oneida. This is evident by his book Prayers for families and for particular persons: selected from the Book of common prayer translated into the language of the Six Nations of Indians (1788-1858), which translates a selection from the Episcopal Book of Common Prayer into Oneida.2 Because of this text, it can be assumed that Williams wrote for foreign ears, and any notes on the foreign language were probably written for his own study. Researchers should take the intended audience into account when determining the trustworthiness of this document, despite any biases that may appear in his papers.

Fagnani, Giuseppe. Eleazer Williams. 1853. Oil on canvas. National Portrait Gallery, Smithsonian Institution, Washington, DC.

Furthermore, what makes Eleazer Williams especially unique in comparison to our previous readings are the facts that he “was of mixed Indian-white parentage”, and “he envisaged an Indian empire west of Lake Michigan under his rule”.3 After hearing the first fact, one could argue his intentions of recording this music on paper could have been to better understand and relate to the culture. However, knowing his true motives were to take control over the people, he is seen in a much more negative light. Granted, wanting to rule over the Oneida Indians doesn’t necessarily mean the music Williams wrote down was inaccurate/inauthentic. Considering the sheet music was found amongst other language materials, it could have been one of his sources for learning the Iroquois language. The scrapbook within which it was archived could have been a collection of Eleazer Williams’ personal mementos. Therefore, it is possible the music he recorded on paper is a trustworthy example of Oneida Indian music.

1 Williams, Eleazar. Papers, 1758-1858. Available through: Adam Matthew, Marlborough, American Indian Histories and Cultures, http://www.aihc.amdigital.co.uk/Documents/Details/Ayer_MS_999.

2 Williams, Eleazer. Prayers for Families and for Particular Persons Selected from the Book of Common Prayer. Albany: Printed by G.J. Loomis and Co, 1816. Available through: Wisconsin Historical Society, Digital Public Library of America, https://dp.la/item/d957d82e178a2376606b7cea19cb06a1?back_uri=https%3A%2F%2Fdp.la%2Fsearch%3Fq%3DWilliams%252C%2BEleazer%26subject%255B%255D%3DNative%2BAmericans%26utf8%3D%25E2%259C%2593&next=2&previous=0.

3 “Williams, Eleazer 1788-1858.” Wisconsin Historical Society. August 3, 2012. www.wisconsinhistory.org/Records/Article/CS1694.

(Mis)representation: The Westernization of Native American Music

It is difficult to determine exactly when influence from another culture turns into misrepresentation. Edward MacDowell, a white American composer wrote the piece Woodland Sketches, Op. 51: No. 5: From an Indian Lodge which was published in 1896. The piece begins with a fortissimo, perfect 5th interval, an interval which was often used to categorize “exotic” music. This is just one way in which MacDowell exhibits an inaccurate representation of Native American music. MacDowell’s composition undoubtedly brings up issues, both in his inaccurate, westernized representation of it, but also in his use of Native American culture without permission.

Chickasaw Composer, Jerod Tate

This conjures up the questions, is it always wrong to misrepresent a certain culture’s music by westernizing it? What if the composer is someone of that culture? Could that even be considered “misrepresentation”? Jerod Impichchaachaaha’ Tate is a self identified citizen of the Chickasaw Nation and works to make Native American music relevant within the classical music world. One of his pieces, “Oshta”, written for the solo violin is loosely based upon Choctaw hymn 53.

Choctaw Hymn 53 came into existence as a consequence of Christian missionary work done in Native American land. Work to evangelize Native Americans was done essentially since the first Europeans came to the Americas. Religion was one way in which Europeans felt superiority, which often lead to a desire to teach Native Americans about Christianity in order to help them escape their “savagery”. Missionary work and evangelization is what lead to the creation of things such as the Choctaw Hymn Book, a bigger collection of hymns with Choctaw Hymn 53 comes from. Composed by Native American citizens, these hymns were considered a type of “hybrid music”; a combination between western hymns and a Native American style of music.

Choctaw Hymn #53 (2/2)

Choctaw Hymn #53 (1/2)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

As seen in the images of Hymn #53, the words are all in Choctaw. Listening to this recording of the hymn, characteristics including the occasionally present dissonant harmonies distinguish it from traditional Christian hymnal music. The group singing is a characteristic which is also comparable to many other Native American music.

Listening to both Tate’s piece as well as the hymn it was inspired by, it is clear that they are vastly different, not only in their instrumentation, but in their melody and structure as well. Interestingly enough, Tate’s piece exhibits a perfect 5th double stop about 15 seconds in, making it possibly more similar to MacDowells’s intro than to the intro of the original hymn. Tate was clearly influenced by Native American music, much like MacDowell, but took it and made it his own.

To answer the questions I posed earlier, I would argue that no, a person like Jerod Tate cannot misrepresent his own culture, even if he is creating a sort of fusion between it and western culture. To argue with this, one might say that an implication of this fusion music is that it is a way of giving into assimilation by actively westernizing Native American culture. In reality, one cannot grow up in the United States without being exposed to western culture. I argue that even within one’s own identity, it is impossible to completely separate the western side from one’s ethnic and cultural heritage. Composers like Jerod Tate musically represent that dual identity within their work, thus making the Native American-Western fusion a presentation of pride of their culture and identity rather than a misrepresentation.

Sources:

  • Choctaw Hymn 53: Chahta vba isht taloa holisso. Choctaw Hymn Book, Richmond, Presbyterian committee of publication, 1872.
  • MacDowell, Edward. Woodland Sketches, Op. 51: No. 5: From an Indian Lodge. Barbagallo, James. Naxos 8.559010, 1994. CD.
  • Mill, Rodney, Frank Oteri, and Susan Feder. “Orchestral music.” In Grove Music Online. Oxford Music Online. Accessed February 18, 2018. http://www.oxfordmusiconline.com/grovemusic/view/10.1093/gmo/9781561592630.001.0001/omo-9781561592630-e-1002224888?rskey=tPlwS5&result=2
  • Stock, Harry. “A history of congregational missions among the North American Indians”. The Newberry Library, 1917. http://www.aihc.amdigital.co.uk/Documents/Details/Ayer_MS_835
  • Tate, Jerod. “About: Artist’s Biography.” Jerod Tate. Accessed February 18, 2018 http://jerodtate.com/about/
  • Vba isht Taloa #53, Choctaw Hymn Book. Chahta Anumpa Aiikhvana: School of Choctaw Language.

When Classical Music Was Cool – Mid-1900s America

Nowadays, and throughout much of history, highbrow classical music has typically been reserved for an estranged elite – an exclusive club that everyone could hypothetically join, but hardly anyone ever does. (Other than you of course, dearest Reader, who are most exceptional) The reason for this hierarchical cultural separation, both in music and other areas, is manifold, ranging from snarky snobbery to preposterous pretentiousness. However, this need not, and – perhaps more importantly – has not, always been the case. As noted in the March of Time database’s newsreel, Upbeat in Music1,

America’s serious composers are winning recognition from an ever-widening public, through performances by symphonic conductors like the New York Philharmonic’s Rodzinski…. The nation’s crowded concert halls testify to the new and growing enthusiasm of hundreds of thousands of everyday citizens for good music. The classics they have heard on records or on the radio, the moving artistry and musicianship of singers, who today are being heard by the whole country.  And, like Marian Anderson, are singing songs which are part of the native music of America.

The 3 Tenors – one of the strongest examples of classical musicians who became outrageously popular beyond the traditional classical sphere

As Karene Grad explains2, the divide between classical and popular music was much smaller in post-WWII America. She even goes so far as to say that “the years following World War II saw the popularization of high culture in America.” The arts at that time were a fundamental piece of the struggle to create an exceptional American identity. Unfortunately, arts are no longer such a valued piece of American culture and identity today. It seems as though new cuts are made in arts programs across the country every day, and that it is hopeless to try and fight against America’s modern STEM-centric worldview. However, we can take solace in the fact that there was a time when arts did play a central part in American culture, and perhaps, if we work at it hard enough, such a time might come again.

1 Upbeat in Music. Produced by Home Box Office. http://search.alexanderstreet.com/view/work/bibliographic_entity%7Cvideo_work%7C1792615. Accessed November 16, 2017.

2 Grad, Karene, Agnew, Jean-Christophe, and Cott, Nancy F. When High Culture Became Popular Culture: Classical Music in Postwar America, 1945–1965, 2006, ProQuest Dissertations and Theses. https://search.proquest.com/docview/304983472?accountid=351. Accessed November 16, 2017.

Brudder Bones and Minstrel Song

As we began our discussions this week on Minstrelsy, I became curious to what Minstrel songs were actually about. There is obviously plenty to talk about when it comes to blackface in Minstrelsy and the performance in general, but what we seemed to have missed was a study into the content of the Minstrel music beyond its entertainment value of inflating white perceptions African-Americans.

Lyrics to “Brudder Bones’ Trip” a Minstrel Song

As I searched, I found the minstrel song to the left, as sung by W. Chambers. The lyrics of the song tell of Brudder Bones going to the World’s Fair in London and getting called out of the crowd to perform on the bones. The lyrics “I mingled with the quality, I felt so awful proud” are striking as they display how Minstrel performers meant for African-Americans to feel in a crowd of “quality” people. The song also paints the image that Brudder Bones, and Minstrel performers in general, were valued primarily for their ability to put on a show, lending an eye to how performers were treated and how audiences got caught up in the pleasure of this entertainment.

Cover, Brudder Bones Book Stump Speeches

You may be wondering “who was Brudder Bones?” As I looked into the history of Minstrel performance, I found that Brudder Tambo and Brudder Bones were often the star characters of Minstrel shows. The publication below from 1868 includes a plethora of songs, skits, and speeches typical to the Brudder Bones Minstrel show.

When I think of Minstrelsy, I find it hard to appreciate it for what many claim it to be: the first indigenous, original form of American pop culture. Although there is no doubting that it was a force that brought folks together for entertainment and escape, I think raising it up as such puts a sense of pride behind an art so racially insensitive and offensive.

Sources:

Brudder Bones’ trip to the world’s fair: As sung by W. Chambers, the great bone player, (Philadelphia: G.S. Harris printer, Fourth & Vine, 1852).

Karen Halttunen, A Companion to American Cultural History, (Hoboken, NJ: John Wiley & Sons, Inc, 2008), 317-318.

John F. Scott, Brudder Bones’ book of stump speeches, and burlesque orations: also containing humorous lectures, Ethiopian dialogues, plantation scenes, Negro farces and burlesques, laughable interludes, and comic recitations. Interspersed with Dutch, Irish, French and Yankee stories, (New York: Dick & Fitzgerald Publications, 1868).

Samuel Coleridge-Taylor

Samuel Coleridge-Taylor

While less known today, Samuel Coleridge-Taylor was a prominent and influential English composer of the early 20th century. His works were so well received in both Europe and America that New York orchestral players described him as the “Black Mahler.” Although this comment is slightly problematic, the point it makes is easily understood. His most famous work, Longfellow’s Hiawatha’s Wedding Feast, has been described as “haunting melodic phrases, bold harmonic scheme, and vivid orchestration.”

However, how does an English Composer fit in with a class focused “American Music”? In part it has to do with his collection of African melodies entitled Twenty-four negro melodies transcribed for the piano by S. Coleridge-Taylor. Op. 59. The work also includes a preface written by Booker T. Washington, a prominent American Educator and Leader in the African American Community in the early 20th century. In Washington’s Preface, he talks extensively on how much of relates back to slave music of American, and in turn, to Africa.  In particular this quote stood out,

Negro music is essentially spontaneous. In Africa it sprang into life at war dance, at funerals, and at marriage festivals. Upon the African foundation the plantation songs of the South were built.

Not only does this sound very similar to jazz, but it is a spontaneous character that gave Coleridge-Taylor’s music its character.

His work, moreover, possess not only charm but distinction, the individual note. The genuineness, the depth and intensity of his feeling, coupled with his mastery of technique, spontaneity, and ability to think in his own way, explain the force of the appeal his compositions make.

While this can be applied to all of Coleridge-Taylor’s works, Washington is of course referring to the 24 melodies Transcribed for piano. Something we have talked extensively in our class has been issues with authenticity. Something unique to this book is that Coleridge-Taylor address this in his forward. Instead of maintaining their authentic forms and sounds, he states that he is simply trying to elaborate on already pretty melodies, and while doing so, he clearly states that they are not true representations of the music and do loos some of their value when being removed from their cultural context. However, again related to topics discussed in our class, he makes these transcriptions in order to elevate and celebrate African music. By treating the music in this manner, I would consider Coleridge-Taylor as American of a composer as any American-born composer.

 

Sources

Coleridge-Taylor, Washington, Tortolano, Washington, Booker T., and Tortolano, William. Twenty-four Negro Melodies. Da Capo Press Edition / New Introduction by William Tortolano. ed. Musicians Library (Boston, Mass.). New York: Da Capo, 1980.

Stephen Banfield and Jeremy Dibble. “Coleridge-Taylor, Samuel.” Grove Music Online. Oxford Music Online. Oxford University Press, accessed November 16, 2017, http://www.oxfordmusiconline.com/subscriber/article/grove/music/06083.

Minstrelsy and Jay-Z’s “The Story of O.J.”

This week I found some painfully real minstrel primary source material and just want to warn readers that I deal with some racist material in this blog post. I came across a minstrel song entitled “Isn’t it a Wonder?” which isn’t at all as innocent as the title sounds. Written in 1861 by Henry Wood, “Isn’t it a Wonder?” would have been performed at a minstrel show by Wood’s group, “Wood’s Minstrels.” It is written in a thick dialect, and is full of stereotypes. Blacks are compared to a variety of animals, and are portrayed as confused and unintelligent.

“Isn’t it a Wonder?”

The message of the song is made explicit in the last stanza. Wood encourages white audiences to adjust to the changing society and to stop trying to “kill the colored race.” It is important to note that this song was written in 1861 – marking the year Lincoln was inaugurated and the start of the Civil War. One possible interpretation of this song is that it highlights the fear and uncertainty that many whites felt about slavery coming to an end. Another interpretation is that it expresses the sick and twisted appreciation whites had for black culture, as it was useful for mockery, entertainment/minstrel shows, and to escape social norms.

Fast-forward 156 years. Jay-Z releases the music video for “The Story of O.J.” which uses many of the inaccurate techniques that minstrelsy did to portray black people. It is drawn in a black and white cartoon style, and presents the viewer with a flood of stereotypical images of black people — they are monkeys, slaves, jazz players, and football players just to name a few. The characters resemble old Disney cartoons, such as Steamboat Willie, which most likely had ties to minstrelsy. We understand this due to the white gloves, over exaggerated animalistic facial features, and caveman portrayal of a child playing the bones. So, why does Jay-Z use these stereotypes? And why now?

I believe Jay-Z’s use of these racist stereotypes found in minstrelsy highlights his message about race in America – we’re dealing with the same issues now. He also addresses the racism within the black community, and the struggle for financial freedom and responsibility. In this music video Jay-Z responds to one of the problems that minstrelsy and songs like “Isn’t it a Wonder?” pose– the comedic relief that blacks provide to white audiences. Jay-Z expresses that no matter what black people do they are still exploited for profit and treated as second class citizens.

Sources

Wood, Henry. Isn’t it a Wonder. 1961. http://infoweb.newsbank.com/iw-search/we/Evans/?p_product=EAIX&p_theme=eai&p_nbid=F59V55CJMTUxMDgwMTg5MC44MDEyOTQ6MToxMzoxMzAuNzEuMjI4Ljgy&p_action=doc&p_docnum=2000&p_queryname=2&p_docref=v2:10D2F64C960591AE@EAIX-10F453B3EBFA3590@925-@1

Lead Belly and folk music

This video shows John Lomax collecting songs in the Louisiana from a black prisoner named Lead Belly. This video is a good representation of part of what went into collecting and preserving folk music. We also get a good look at the differences in power and how race plays into that.

John Lomax is known for his work in the field of folk musicology, and we can be grateful for his work. The Lomaxes have been recognized for their contributions. John Lomax influenced the repertory of folk music that helps define American folk music, and he also helped establish Leadbelly who, along with other artists, helped pave the way for future artists and genres such as rock music. Yet, it is important to remember the way in which the Lomaxes impacted folk music. Their goal was not only to preserve, but to popularize folk music, too. They specifically picked songs that matched this agenda. Once they were recorded, they were preserved and created into a history by design.

Once Lead Belly was released from prison, he continued working with the Lomaxes in order to advance his career outside of prison. Lomax’s praise of Lead Belly’s songs, can be heard in the video; “I never heard so many good negro songs.” Yet, Lomax often presented a romanticized view of the hardships that African Americans went through. Lomax made sure that Lead Belly would perform in his prison uniform, even during the time after his release. Lead Belly was also advertised as being dumb and violent, despite his gentle nature. The Lomaxes were able to get away with presenting a kind of folk music that they thought would beat the commercial tendencies of the time at the expense of black folk artists like Lead Belly.

“Leadbelly” in March of TimeVolume 1, Episode 2 (New York, NYHome Box Office1935, originally published 1935)http://search.alexanderstreet.com/view/work/bibliographic_entity%7Cvideo_work%7C1792710

Filene, Benjamin. “”Our Singing Country”: John and Alan Lomax, Leadbelly, and the Construction of an American Past.” American Quarterly 43, no. 4 (1991): 602-24. doi:10.2307/2713083.

Cafe Society: A Place to Hear Good Tunes, Mingle with Cohorts, and Establish Early 20th Century Institutional Racism

“Cafe Society,” a unique nightclub in New York City from 1938 to 1948, was always known as progressive and innovative. Deemed “the wrong place for the right people,” the club was an open place where black and white Americans could meet, mingle and socialize. The founder, Barney Josephson, sought to not only create the first racially integrated night club, but to hire and showcase primarily African American talents, including famous jazz musician Billie Holiday. While Josephson undeniably contributed to a broader interracial environment, some of the decisions he made, particularly in regards to Billie Holiday’s set, fostered an environment for “white guilt.”

In 1939, Holiday made her debut performance of Aber Meeropol’s “Strange Fruit,” a controversial song centered around the lynching of black slaves, at Josephson’s cafe. In order to create a liberal, interracial club, Josephson turned the song’s performance into an almost ritualistic process, stopping service, having the workers stand motionless and silent, and darkening the spotlight, lighting only Holiday’s face. While there is no question in regards to Holiday’s brilliant, soul-rendering, and enlightening performance of the violent track, there are a few concerns that are raised in the cafe’s setup of the piece.

John M. Carvalho, a professor of philosophy and musicology, addresses the true nature and result of Holiday’s regulated performances at the Cafe Society. In an article about the violent nature behind Meeropol’s text, Carvalho states that:

“Strange Fruit” became a means for white people to use a black woman’s body to absolve their guilt for the “civilizing” crimes of racism, to participate in those crimes, but from the outside and through the medium of one who had been and would continue to be the victim of those crimes.”

Essentially Carvalho is stating how early interracial clubs, such as Cafe Society, allowed for early 20th century white Americans to rid themselves of any past guilt and feel a sense of empowerment for exposing themselves to such raw and honest content. Holiday’s incredible rendition of such a tragic song has a time and a place to make an historic and powerful statement, but it may not have belonged in an early interracial club that had it’s first foot into the door of institutional racism. Carvalho even goes on to state how the sole portrayal of Holiday’s silhouetted face draws some parallels with the blackface performers of the same era. This disturbing connection makes it clear that even in communities that were taking steps forward in terms of equality, activists were unable to completely escape from the trends of the world around them.

As an extra source that dives into the unintended racism of early interracial night clubs can be seen in a CBS documentary entitled “Night Club Boom,” where Josephson is seen adapting a Guadeloupe-an performer’s (Moune de Rivel) performance to “better fit the American stage.” Rather than allowing a foreign musical act to perform in their desired medium, Josephson’s small, deliberate changes advocate a strong sense of appropriation, even in such a positive, forward-thinking environment.

WATCH HERE ->15:15 

http://search.alexanderstreet.com/view/work/bibliographic_entity%7Cvideo_work%7C1793020

Sources:

  • Carvalho, John M.. “”Strange Fruit”: Music between Violence and Death.” The Journal of Aesthetics and Art Criticism 71, no. 1 (2013): 111-19. http://www.jstor.org/stable/23597541.
  • Night Club Boom. Produced by Home Box Office. http://search.alexanderstreet.com/view/work/bibliographic_entity%7Cvideo_work%7C1793020. 

Birth of Jazz

In the March of Time archives has a short video entitled Birth of Swing. The makers of this video trace swing back to around 1917 when the Dixieland Jazz Band was formed. The narrator explains that swing music has become extremely popular at the time of its creation (1937) and dives into the history of it. The video tells the story of a Victor Talking Machine (a brand of record player) music scout visiting a cafe where the pianist was playing a “kind of swinging music.” In response to being asked what his band’s name was, the pianist replied “Dixieland Jazz Band.” The scout decided to bring them from New Orleans to New York City to the recording studio. Since then they became extremely popular across the United States. This was when jazz started to become a term commonly used in the popular music idiom. Somewhere over the course of time between then and 1937, the term jazz however, had received negative connotations as a lowly, cheap kind of music and therefore was undesirable by white audiences. A simple marketing strategy to change the word on albums from “jazz” to “swing” enabled the popularization and dissemination of the music all throughout the country. And so during the days of the production of the video swing one of the most popular music genres in the country. Swing music, it gets concluded, was simply jazz music from an earlier period in American History.

Birth of Swing. Produced by Home Box Office. http://search.alexanderstreet.com/view/work/bibliographic_entity%7Cvideo_work%7C1792778. 

Louis Armstrong – Music, Meaning, and Marijuana?

Louis Daniel Armstrong, born on August 4th 1901, has always been a staple of 20th century Black music. Growing up, he was constantly referenced as a musician, both a trumpeter, vocalist, as well as composer. His life may have seemed to be glamorous as ever, but he lived his life not without struggles, some struggles that many of us can only pale in comparison to.

Louis Daniel Armstrong

Louis Armstrong was abandoned by his father and rarely was ever in contact with his mother during his early years. He primarily raised himself growing up in a ghetto in New Orleans. He survived in those early years by singing on the street corner for tips. When he was 11, he formed his first vocal quartet, this became his source of income for this time. In January 1913, Armstrong was sent to the Colored Waifs Home after firing a gun in public. It was at this home that he joined the school’s band, playing drums. After being a part of the group, he found he was more attracted to horn instruments, so he switched to the trumpet, which is how we primarily know him as today.

During this time he was able to continue his music and get a piece published. His first public work was titled “I Wish I Could Shimmy like My Sister Kate’ which was a moderate success. He continued to grow his musicianship by joining an orchestra, even though he was unable to read music still at this time. He kept up with his composing and began to record Jazz Albums in 1924/1925. Armstrong was able to influence jazz, blues, and rock vocalists alike. Predating rap, his scat style later peaked with the piece “Basin Street Blues.”

Marijuana

Sometime during the 1920’s, Armstrong was introduced to marijuana by white jazz musician Mezz Mezzrow, Armstrong enjoyed smoking it heavily throughout his life, this is one contributor to the calm, cool demeanor that we know him by today. By 1929, Armstrong took a more commercial route, singing more popular tunes and replacing his combo with that of larger orchestras. Armstrong was always much more a featured soloist than a bandleader.

 

In 1934, Armstrong severely damaged his lips, so while he kept his playing to a minimum, his preference to singing took the centerpiece for his career.

Armstrong was considered an innovator for his styles, predating rap, as well as in the early 1940’s, Armstrong predicted the fall of a larger band style and began to work back to his smaller combos. He was one of the first Black musicians to “Break the Color Barrier” by performing in the largest concert halls all over the world. It is his career that defines him as an important figure.

Armstrong was considered an innovator for his styles, predating rap, as well as in the early 1940’s, Armstrong predicted the fall of a larger band style and began to work back to his smaller combos. He was one of the first Black musicians to “Break the Color Barrier” by performing in the largest concert halls all over the world. It is his career that defines him as an important figure.

Arguably his most popular number, Armstrong has held his position of international fame with the recording of the song “What a Wonderful World”. This song speaks to the good things and the joys in this world, focusing less on the negative, he attempts to paint a picture of the beautiful things that can still be found on this planet. While the initial release of this song wasn’t immediately popular, it wasn’t until after his death where this song really found its popularity in the 1988 Robin Williams movie “Good Morning, Vietnam”

Sources

Talveski, Nick. “Louis Armstrong.” In The American Mosaic: The African American Experience, ABC-CLIO, 2017. Accessed November 15, 2017. https://africanamerican2.abc-clio.com/Search/Display/1461506.

What a Wonderful World. August 7, 2016. Accessed November 14, 2017. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CWzrABouyeE.

It Don’t Mean a Thing (If It Ain’t Got That Idealized Swing)

The video series The March of Time was shown from 1931-1951, and provided Americans with a subjective take on current affairs or history. It reached a large amount of the American people, and “informed” many on issues they otherwise might be ignorant to. The video segment I will be focusing on is titled the “Birth of Swing”, published in 1937. To trace the history of any one branch of jazz is a difficult task, and it is all too easy to romanticize the story. Unfortunately, The March of Time does exactly that. However, the video does provide insight into one narrative that was widely disseminated on the origins of swing music. I would encourage you to watch the full, seven minute video here.

The popularity of swing music is undeniable, and The March of Time certainly addresses this. But not all swing is created equal. Swing music is described as being “accepted at Manhattan’s ultra-formal Rainbow Room” and “is indispensable at dark Harlem’s hot and noisy Savoy”. This fits into the picture painted by other musical accounts as well. To white audiences, as well as some champions of the Harlem Renaissance, jazz was music that had to be lifted up to a higher state and accepted by systems that previously would have turned from it.

Swing music as presented in “sophisticated” clubs like the Rainbow Room.

Swing music as presented in “dark” Harlem.

Ultimately, the video concludes that the Original Dixieland Jazz Band not only contributed to jazz idiom, but also was the foundation for swing music. This conclusion is not inherently flawed, and certainly has convincing evidence. Yet the context in which it is examined has some significant flaws. The narration states that “In England, Oxford students form a Hot Club. Members seek to determine whether this new music originated with the African or the Indian.”

The verbiage of “the African” and “the Indian” point towards an inherent bias in viewing those people as “other”. Arguably a third option should be included, one called “the white American”. Instead, the Original Dixieland Jazz Band becomes the savior of a sort. No, white Americans don’t need to worry about the popular swing style as coming from “the African or the Indian”. One can be perfectly comfortable enjoying the civil music developed by a group of white musicians for a respectable audience.

Bibliography

Birth of Swing. Produced by Home Box Office. http://search.alexanderstreet.com/view/work/bibliographic_entity%7Cvideo_work%7C1792778

The Depression’s Effects on American Concert Life

During the Depression, American concert life survived on patronage, but that was hardly enough to keep them afloat because potential audiences didn’t have the financials to attend live performances. Audiences turned to radios to listen to orchestras and the invention of sound film eliminated the need for silent film orchestras. The first half of the Depression left about 70% of all musicians unemployed, and the government was able to create the Federal Music Project to support these musicians. At its peak, the program employed 16,000 musicians and supported 28 symphony orchestras, creating more abundant access to music.

However, America’s post-Depression concert life thrived more than it had before. Thanks to the efforts of musicians during the Depression, concert halls were bringing in broader and larger audiences than ever before. The episode Upbeat in Music from Time Magazine’s The March of Time discusses America’s post-Depression concert life. One of the highlights of classical music’s growing audiences was the healthy state of 200 symphony orchestras (compared to the 28 government-backed orchestras of the Depression).

Perhaps the biggest accomplishment in concert music directly following the Depression years was the American Federation of Musicians’ efforts for royalties in 1943. Because the Depression put such an emphasis on radio broadcasts and recorded music, the AFM made a move to fully share the profits made from commercial use of recorded music. James Caesar Petrillo, AFM’s president, led these efforts; he demanded that royalties on classical recordings be paid to a union employment fund and forbade union musicians from performing for any recording company. Despite heavy public criticism, he was backed by 138,000 union members and they found success when all but the two largest recording companies of the time agreed to their terms. With the success of these efforts, the AFM used these funds for the advancement of live concert music.


Crawford, Richard. America’s Musical Life. New York: W. W. Norton & Company, 2001.

Upbeat in Music. Produced by Home Box Office. http://search.alexanderstreet.com/view/work/bibliographic_entity%7Cvideo_work%7C1792615. 

Why “American” Music?

A poster from War time used as propaganda to rally spirits

What is the purpose of defining American Music? At least in our class setting, we have treated the desire to define American music as the intellectual endeavor to become an independent nation and establish a sense of musical nationalism separate from Europe. For example, jazz history is often narrated as a quest for an independent, truly American sound. Folklore has also been a source of inspiration; so many composers and musicians have drawn on folk music to establish an unprecedented sound.

Other than for pure enjoyment or education, music also plays an important role in politics and society in most, if not all cultures. Why is having a “national” sound so important? Was it to simply have pride in having a uniquely American sound? Or was it to become an independent nation not only politically, but also culturally? Because music is so prevalent in everyday life, it can be a positive or negative force.

In the newsreel series March of Time, one of the episodes, “Upbeat in Music,” shows just how powerful music can be on a large scale.

March of Time Series: Upbeat in Music episode 5

 In “Upbeat in Music,” music is being used as a rallying force to encourage people to go to war. It uses the “American” sound to evoke feelings of pride in the US and also excites people with a delusional image of war and what it means to serve your country. The narrator mentions many composers such as Gershwin and Copeland that represented the American spirit. In The Songs That Fought the War: Popular Music and the Home Front, 1939-1945, by John Bush Jones, he states that every song does its part in fighting the war.

Entertainment is always a national asset. Invaluable in time of peace it is indispensable in wartime . . . All those who are working in the entertainment industry . . . are building and maintaining national morale both on the battlefront and on the home front’’ ~Franklin D. Roosevelt

Since music had such an influential role on society, and also in a sense worked in favor for the government, it had political power. How crazy is that? Because music had political power, there were people who desired to maintain that power. One way music was used as a political tool was through censorship. In Marie Korpe’s article Shoot the Singer! Music Censorship Today, she claimed that music had an important position in organizing political opposition or enforcement. For example, if a certain song relayed messages of rebellion, the government would ban it. Music had the power to evoke excitement, nostalgia, homesickness and many other feelings that could contribute to the productivity of the war.

The idea that music can be used for political or social advancement is not a novel concept. In the time of slavery, instruments were banned from slaves because they could be used as communication and songs to resist masters. The music itself was used to keep spirits up, and also regulate the speed at which they worked. Because this music aided slaves with their work, its use was encouraged because it proved to be useful to the slave masters. This is one example in which musical censorship was employed to control a group of people on a larger scale.

Music saturates society and everyday life much more than we realize. With the power that music can hold, it is necessary to be responsible in educating ourselves how it may affect people both positively and negatively.

Work Cited

Jones, John Bush. The Songs That Fought the War: Popular Music and the Home Front, 1939-1945. Waltham: Brandeis University Press, 2006. 31.

Street, John. Popular Music 24, no. 1 (2005): 153-54. http://www.jstor.org/stable/3877600.

Korpe, Marie. Shoot the Singer! Music Censorship Today. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. 2005.

Upbeat in Music. Performed by March of Time . New York, NY: Home Box Office, 1943. Film. 2011. http://search.alexanderstreet.com/view/work/bibliographic_entity%7Cvideo_work%7C1792615.

John Lomax “saves” Lead Belly in promotional film

As I am researching the Lomaxes for my final paper and for future work this spring, I took this opportunity to look through March of Time for any evidence regarding Lead Belly and his interactions with John Lomax. I was not disappointed. In a video that Professor Charles Dill calls “disturbing,” Lomax and Lead Belly “recreate” their meeting and the story of their travels together through the Northeastern United States.

Image result for 1933 new york herald LEad bellyThe March of Time series on the whole appeared quite groundbreaking in the 30’s through 50’s, when it ran. The mini documentaries of March of Time tackled some uncomfortable topics like Nazi sentiment in Hoboken, New Jersey in 1938. Though today we might see this as a shining example of forward, positive thinking and challenging the public, the series also is a little strange – many of the videos there aren’t actual film, they are in fact recreations of events. Think of a worse version of the producers of “Survivor” re-filming the players’ dramatic moments.

The video in question regarding Lead Belly and John Lomax, titled “Leadbelly,” is a recreation of the meeting of Lead Belly and Lomax. It says that Leadbelly was released from prison (where he was being held on charges of murder) due to Lomax’s influence, and that Lead Belly was so grateful that he dedicated his life to following Lomax. In real life, however, Lomax and Lead Belly’s song for the governor had no influence on his release. The myth lives on, however.

More concerning than the false story, however, is the marketing of Lead Belly and the marketing of Lomax in the film. Lead Belly, in prison clothes, speaking of murder so openly, is a man in need of a friend. Lomax, the one who acts almost as Lead Belly’s conscience in the dialogue, appears not only as a friend, but as Lead Belly’s white savior figure. Follow this link to watch the video yourself (hopefully this will be available to embed on this page if I can get WordPress to cooperate).

This is not the only instance of the media portraying Lead Belly as a big, bad, convict. In the New York Herald, they title an article of Lomax and Lead Belly “Lomax Arrives with Lead Belly, Negro Minstrel; Sweet Singer of the Swamplands Here to do a Few Tunes Between Homicides.” 

I have a lot of words to describe my reactions to that heading but I can sum all of them up with an all-encompassing “yikes.” I believe that the Lomaxes, despite whatever intentions they had to the contrary, contributed to the othering of black folk music in the way they “introduced” black folk singers like Lead Belly to the general public and made them hit sensations. I look forward to further researching this in my work this semester and this coming spring.

Here is a Lead Belly spotify playlist, for reference to his work.

 

 

For more reading on this subject, see links below:

https://www.smithsonianmag.com/smithsonian-institution/incomparable-legacy-of-lead-belly-180954390/

New York Times article 

http:// search.alexanderstreet.com.ezproxy.stolaf.edu/view/work/bibliographic_entity%7Cvideo_work%7C1792710

https://books.google.com/books?id=YywLDAAAQBAJ&pg=PT209&lpg=PT209&dq=lead+belly+march+of+time+video&source=bl&ots=L-7hTRFsBb&sig=-2GGxoYKALizBEs9K9S77gatNHc&hl=en&sa=X&ved=0ahUKEwiJ96qcm8LXAhVF2yYKHUyZC1gQ6AEIQTAF#v=onepage&q=lead%20belly%20march%20of%20time%20video&f=false

“Southern Thoughts for Northern Thinkers”

In 1904, a musician and lecturer by the name of Jeannette Robinson Murphy published an unusual volume entitled “Southern Thoughts for Northern Thinkers,” in which she voices several complex and controversial opinions about black music in the American South.  Murphy, who grew up in the South, was intimately familiar with black spirituals and became well-known for giving lectures and demonstrations of spirituals to Northern audiences.  

Although her academic approach to teaching and preserving spirituals certainly demonstrates her respect for the spiritual-singing tradition, she also exoticizes black music in a way that is deeply problematic, especially when viewed through a modern lens.

The opening paragraph of Murphy’s text reveals the deep respect she has for black spirituals.  She writes:

“Fifty years from now, when every vestige of 

slavery has disappeared, and even its existence has become a fading memory, America, and probably Europe, will suddenly awake to the sad fact that we have 

irrevocably lost a veritable mine of wealth, through our failure to appreciate and study from a musician’s standpoint the beautiful African music, whose rich stores will then have gone forever from our grasp”

Modern-day readers may scoff at Murphy’s naivete in believing that slavery will be quickly forgotten, but it seems to me that her basic impulse is praiseworthy: she is arguing that African-American music is rich and beautiful, and that it is worthy of musicological study and preservation.  Later on in the same chapter, she goes on to condemn blackface minstrelsy.  Calling minstrel songs “base imitations” of African music, she insists that “the white man does not live who can write a genuine negro song.”

Despite her making several laudable arguments, Murphy still ends up voicing some seriously racist opinions about black music, at one point describing its melodies as “strange, weird, untamable [and] barbaric” but with a “rude beauty and a charm.” These exoticist statements make it difficult to endorse Murphy as any sort of progressive figure.   In her writing, she simultaneously endorses black music and demonstrates a perverse fetishization of black culture.  Although it may be tempting to try to read her work as simply an anti-racist text that champions black spirituals as important musics that are worthy of study, the truth seems to be far more complicated than that.

 

Sources

Murphy, Jeanette Robinson. “Southern thoughts for Northern thinkers.” New York: Bandanna Publishing, 1904.  America’s Historical Imprints, accessed Nov. 15 2017.

Sexism in 1940s Night Clubs

Screen Shot from March of Time “Night Club Boom”

 

 

 

 

 

 

March of Time, in 1946, did a feature on the boom in night clubs in the United States. For relevant numbers, March of Time cites that there were 70,000 nightspots in the U.S. is 1946. In the central hub of night clubs in the 40’s, New York was home to several thousand of that number.

Clearly nightclubs were prevalent in society, so the roles that employees took in such spaces may reasonably reflect the standard across the U.S. at that time. It is incredibly striking how much March of Time emphasizes the various important role’s that females play in nightclubs. However, is is equally disappointing to see the women constantly referred to as objects for monetary gain.

The documentary starts by describing the various jobs at a nightclub. Once the narration moves past the roll of the door-man, they come to the job of the coatroom or “checkroom girls.” The narration describes that

In most clubs, the checkroom girls are hired at a fixed salary by an outside concessionaire. He picks them for the kind of personality that will attract tips and everything they collect goes into their employer’s box, which is securely locked.

The rhetoric implies a distrust to these girls, and emphasizes that their social interactions are strictly for monetary gain. Certainly, it would not have hindered the narration to indicate the useful service that these women provided for the nightclub.

In contrast to these women, the head waiter does not need to put his money in a lockbox to give to the employer. Rather, the head waiter is seen dealing with thrifty costumers by putting them at poor tables until they tip him generously. On screen, the costumer is seen giving the head waiter a $5 bill to change seats. This was drawn in direct opposition to the checkroom girls who received a half-dollar and needed to put it in a check box immediately.

This March of Time documentary short was meant as an education tool for those who did not go to nightclubs to understand their “social order.” The depictions in this documentary continue to label the women in the nightclub business as objects to be examined and payed according to their visual aesthetic while labeling the men in the nightclub business as individuals who grant a service. This, of course, reflects the social attitudes of mid 20th century America. Nevertheless, it is valuable to examine and take note of such subjugating examples because patriarchal attitudes certainly have not died out by the year 2017.

The value of this documentary short, specifically for american music, is its emphasis on nightclub culture. In the postwar era, genres such as bebop was born in late night club sessions (after the patrons would leave), but most of the music being played was dance music. The music itself is mentioned a number of times as an important key to success for any nightclub, but the individual musicians are never mentioned.  This attitude toward musicians views them as providing a function service (much as how the checkroom girls are presented). These social situations are what provided the motivation for beboppers to focus their music on their own personalities.

One of the most prevalent clubs in Harlem was the Cotton Club, where Duke Ellington played frequently. Although Duke was not mentioned in the video, his music was played throughout. Therefore, I have left a song here for you to enjoy.

 

Works Cited

Night Club Boom

in March of Time, Volume 12, Episode 8 (New York, NY: Home Box Office, 1946, originally published 1946), 21 mins 

John Lomax as Creator in the Narrative of Leadbelly

John Lomax recording Leadbelly singing and playing guitar at Louisiana State Penitentiary

Huddie Ledbetter, or more widely known as Leadbelly, remains to this day as one of the most significant blues musicians of the 20th century, sparking inspiration in countless musicians throughout the past century like Bob Dylan, Little Richard, and Brain Wilson. His iconic singing voice and guitar playing have also been key in defining for many people a truly American “folk” music. This association as a significant music for American identity, however, did not happen by chance or solely due to Leadbelly’s virtuosity and musicianship. John Lomax, the American folk music collector, is responsible for the first recordings of Leadbelly, which happened when Lomax was visiting American prisons in search of “unadulterated” American folk music. The story of Leadbelly and Lomax’s intermingled careers is told in the March of Time episode titled “Leadbelly,” showing their first meeting and recordings at the Louisiana State Penitentiary where Leadbelly was serving time, as well as further into Leadbelly’s career and how Lomax was largely responsible for Leadbelly’s success, taking him around the country to colleges, concert halls, and to Lomax’s own home in the North. While the short film’s focus seems to be a celebration of the musicianship and career of Leadbelly, John Lomax’s immense influence on the narrative of Leadbelly seems to overshadow the musician himself.

The film’s awkwardness seems to come not only from the fact that Lomax and Leadbelly both seemed to be following a script to reenact their meeting and interactions together, but also from the relationship between the two that the film depicts. Specifically, it is hard to ignore the issue of race here, as the film seems to depict a sort of idealized version of a master/slave relationship. The way Leadbelly is shown to have begged to be Lomax’s “man” and his referring to Lomax as “boss” and “sir,” as well as Lomax presenting himself in a way that makes him to be the hero of the story for taking in the underprivileged minority, all give the film a tone that feels problematic, though this may be a product of viewing such a film in the 21st century.

The importance the film places on Lomax is, however, appropriate in a way that was perhaps not intended. The creation of a national identity through the folk music of particular black musicians uninfluenced by commercial music of the time was a deliberate act by John Lomax, scholar Benjamin Filene claiming that the Lomax brothers were “creators as much as caretakers of a tradition” (Filene 604). Essentially, what became known as true American folk music was shaped by people like the Lomaxes’ own visions of what that means. Viewing this film under such a lens perhaps makes John Lomax’s significance within the film make a tremendous amount of sense, even though it may take away from the incredible musician that is Leadbelly himself.

Link to the film

Works Cited:

Filene, Benjamin. “‘Our Singing Country’: John and Alan Lomax, Leadbelly, and the Construction of an American Past.” American Quarterly, Vol. 43, No. 4, pp. 602-624.

N.A. “Leadbelly.” March of Time, Vol. 1, Ep. 2, Home Box Office, 1935.

 

Upbeat in Music

In a democracy at war, the cultural values of a young and vigorous nation can and must be preserved.

The closing lines of Upbeat in Music echo the rising nationalist sentiment that permeated America in the 1940s. This film, originally premiered in 1943 catalogues the musical year. And if one quote can sum up America’s musical life in the middle of World War II, it is certainly the one listed above. Upbeat in Music is a short documentary  put together by newsreel makers, the March of Time. This year, 1943, in particular is compelling. America was in the middle of World War II and the nation’s sole preoccupation was establishing a strong national identity. Music was not spared from this endeavor. In fact, music is perhaps one of the great definers on American musical identity. This short film while attempting to discuss only 1943 ended up encapsulating the spirit of American Music as a whole in a few key ways.

Committee determining “Hit-Kit” songs

First, the entire film is preoccupied with the definition of “American” sound. To be fair, the film was made during a time of increasing nationalist fervor. World War II was in full swing and music was not be be exempt from the military industrial complex.  In fact, the film points out throughout WWII the US Government printed in “hit kits” (books of five American songs and one song by an Allied Nation) that would be given to soldiers in the field. What got to go inside of the hit-kits was hotly contested. So much so that the government formed Music Committees of msuicians and impresarios like Benny Goodman, Tommy Dorsey, and Paul Whiteman to determine which pieces of music were “American” enough to be included. At this crucial time in history, it became incredibly important that America establish a cohesive musical identity. And the most American way to establsih and American musical identity is certainly through the formation of a government committee.

Even after the reel moves on from talking about World War 2, it continues to emphasize a true “American” sound. The reel describes the efforts of American composers to create Americna works, referring to the compositions of Duke Ellington, Virgil Thomson, and Aaron Copland. Later, the video goes on to describe the way the Jukebox is changing the music industry and discusses the way musicians are struggling to maintain credit for (and therefore profit from) their work. This struggle reflects a another aspect of American music as a whole: the duality of the musician both as an artist and businessperson. The film spends a great deal of time talking about Serge Koussevitsky and the BSO and acknowledging the Metropolitan Opera and several large symphony orchestras as both important business and important artistic forces.

The last section of the film focused heavily on popular music, pointing out that the American musical landscape is predominantly molded by the desires of a white, middle class market. This too is present throughout all of American music hisotry, the idea of capitalism and music coinciding. The presence of these sentiments from a documentary in the 1940s only proves that markets for music have been driving forces behind musical development in America long before the new millenium.

The film discusses the growing importance of jazz and recognizes the importance of Marion Anderson‘s recordings of spirituals as well, only briefly touching on the subject. While the film does discuss composers like Duke Ellington and performers like Anderson, it is also important to not the racist overtones that permeate the work. Nearly every person in the film is white, and when Ellington was brought up, through praised for his work in jazz, he was contrasted against “serious” composers like Copland and Thomson. Paul Whiteman was considered to be the standard bearer for jazz when it came to determining what should go into the “hit-kits” rather than someone like Duke Ellington who had a great deal of experience in the subject. In fact, no person of color was allowed on the “hit-kits” committee. As I said earlier, this film succeeds in painting a complete picture of American music history, and that history includes racism.

The film closes with the patriotic images of young soldiers giving recitals and the reminder that “In a democracy at war, the cultural values of a young and vigorous nation can and must be preserved”. For a nation at war, the preservation and definition of musical culture was of utmost importance. Upbeat in Music serves both as a time capsule and as an example of the major themes in American musical history. It is an invaluable insight into the ways music interacts with politics, culture, and economics as well as the way we talk about and research music.

 

Sources

Crawford, Richard. America’s Musical Life: A History. New York: W.W. Norton, 2005.

March of Time Archive

 

Women in Music and Male Clothing…and Frankly Just Society in General

Before posting, I acknowledge that this post doesn’t directly relate to music, but I am also of the opinion that this topic can be spread to music among many other aspects of life.
The video that I kept getting drawn to was one that seemed as though it was going to discuss the act of being a man, or the requirements and limitations that society imposed on being male. Unfortunately, it seemed that I was wrong and that the video simply discussed the silly limitations that women placed on men in the form of clothes.
(Sarcasm warning) Of course, as the video stated, this was unreasonable as women had no idea what male fashion was and could not have chosen proper clothing to save their lives. In fact, it seems as though they are to be ridiculed for even attempted to aid in the choices that men made regarding their clothes.
As mothers, wives, grandmothers, sisters, etc… I find it tough to see how someone associated so much in the lives of the males in their families could have their opinions on such a small matter ignored, let alone ridiculed. The video seemed as though everyone agreed, presenting to the audience a completely disdainful commentary that looked down on women. This type of commentary cannot be flaunted on what believed to be a reputable program and it’s shameful to have been put forth at a time where such trivial disagreements such as clothing shouldn’t have been associated with sexism.
This type of argument can exist within music as well, spanning both women in music in the past as well as our learning now. The idea that women could be professionally involved in music was often disputed and, such as women choosing clothes for their husbands, laughed at. Even now, in learning about music history women are often ignored by what we consider to be the reputable sources, and their importance and involvement is still downplayed as we learn from curriculums that we trusted because we simply did not question them.
Overall, trivial matters such as clothes isn’t important, but rather an issue in the broader discussion of women’s opinions, ideas, and sheer existence in the public and male dominated sphere of being laughed at, downplayed, and downright ignored. It is in fact an issue that cannot be ignored and must be addressed, and we cannot perpetuate it within what some would consider to be reputable and trustworthy sources.
http://search.alexanderstreet.com/view/work/bibliographic_entity%7Cvideo_work%7C1792619

Celia Cruz

Celia Cruz, full-length portrait, facing front, on stage, 1962.

Celia Cruz, also known as the “Queen of Salsa”, was born on October 21, 1924 in Havana Cuba. She lived with her family father mother and three siblings and as many as fourteen other relatives. She would often sing her younger siblings to sleep. At this time, the career as a singer was unbecoming for a young woman so her parents insisted she get her education. After much persuading by Celia and her mother to her father, she enrolled at the National Conservatory of Music upon her high school graduation. There she studied music theory and voice and she continued to perform on Cuban radio stations such as: Radio Cadena, Radio Progreso, and Radio Unión.

Celia was recruited to be the lead singer of La Sonora Matancera. She joined the group and on their tour to Mexico, the never returned to Cuba in fear of Fidel Castro’s regimen. From Mexico, she moved to Los Angeles where she got a contract with a night club that made her eligible for American citizenship. She met Pedro Knight who became her husband and later her manager.

After a lull in demand for latin music in the 1960s in the United States, Celia relit the flame when she performed with the Tito Puente Orchestra. By the 1970s, SalsaTito Puente Orchestra. became very popular in the US. This kickstarted her career leading her to perform in performances such as:

“… Larry Harlow’s Latin opera Hommy at Carnegie Hall in 1973, performing with leading salsa interpreters such as Johnny Pacheco, Bobby Valentín, Andy Montañez, Willie Colón, Ray Barreto, Papo Lucca, Pete “El Conde” Rodríguez, and eventually recording with the most important group of the time, the Fania All Stars, Cruz was at the center of the salsa revolution and soon became one of the top interpreters of salsa in Latin America, the Caribbean, and the United States. Hits such as “Usted Abusó” (You Abused Me), “El Guabà” (Scorpion), and “Yerbero Moderno” (Modern Folk Healer) as uniquely interpreted by Cruz and her accomplished partners, have become salsa classics …” – Serafina Méndez

Celia Cruz is a strong, talent latina woman who has played a pivotal role in the world of salsa music in the United States. She held her title “Queen of Salsa” even though her recent passing on June 13th 2002.

Work Cited

Méndez, Serafina Méndez. “Celia Cruz.” The American Mosaic: The Latino American Experience, ABC-CLIO, 2017, latinoamerican2.abc-clio.com/Search/Display/1326499. Accessed 12 Nov. 2017.

[Celia Cruz, full-length portrait, facing front, on stage]. Photograph. Retrieved from the Library of Congress,

Charles Ives’ Modernism

Though Charles Ives has gained a reputation of being one of the most private and mysterious

Charles Ives

American composers, through his many verbose writings about his own music as well as his correspondence with other musicians and publishers, many insights can be found about his unique musical processes and his own feelings about his music’s place within the larger musical world.

In particular, a letter from Ives to Franco-American pianist and composer E. Robert Schmitz from 1923, found in Selected

E. Robert Schmitz, Franco-American pianist and composer

Correspondence of Charles Ives, addresses Ives’ relationship with his own music and his interest in a modernist musical drive. The letter is in reference to an article by Ives featured in the bulletin published by Schmitz’s Franco-American Music Society about the use of quarter-tones. He writes about some parts of the article that were omitted that he decides “would probably be better left in,” parts that he feels would “bring out more fully the underlying idea that the use of quarter-tones is but one of the ways by which music may be less encaged by some of the restrictions of custom and habit” (Ives 143). This alone to me shows an interest by Ives in the ability of music to break free of norms and push forward out of tradition, an interest shared by many composers during this time in the early 20th century.

 

Ives, Charles. Selected Correspondence of Charles Ives. Edited by Thomas Clarke Owens, University of California Press, 2007.

HRR

Let me begin this post by apologizing for where I’ve acquired my artifact of the week. The assigned library to dig through was the Halvorson Music LIbrary, but while browsing St. Olaf’s Catalyst I found a book that I feel would be too valuable to our learning and the theme of this course not to write a post on. The Harlem Renaissance Revisited: Politics, Arts, and Letters by Jeffrey Ogbonna Green Ogbar is an amazing resource for anyone interested in looking at the Harlem Renaissance as a time period, or simply a person who wants to look at African-American identity and racial tensions in the United States in the 20th century. The book is made up of single chapters written by many different authors in order to cover a wide variety of topics and give readers a comprehensive view of the many different ways to view the problems addressed. The author divides these chapters into five different sections: Aesthetics and the New Negro, Class and Place in Harlem, Literary Icons Reconsidered, Gender Constructions, and Politics and the New Negro. Ogbar writes in his introduction of the book:

“This volume brings together fresh perspectives from recent scholarship on the Harlem Renaissance. Although it covers only part of the story, it asks again what the Harlem Renaissance was all about, especially in terms of its major figures and its arts, letters and political landscape.”

I would highly recommend to anyone looking into any related topics for their papers to visit this book as a potential resource as there are many different scholarly voices present and though music isn’t the primary focus of this book, it does touch upon popular figures such as Gershwin and Ellington, but more importantly, as is written in the introductions, the book articulates the major figures of the time as well as the political landscape in which a lot of the music we’re studying was written and produced.

Ogbar, Jeffrey Ogbonna Green. The Harlem Renaissance Revisited : Politics, Arts, and Letters. Baltimore [Md.]: Johns Hopkins University Press, 2010.

A short foray

Over the course of these blog posts, my classmates and I have discussed an enormous range of subjects and, for the most part, usually tried to connect them back to race and identity in American music – the topic of the course. However, this week, I have decided to stray from said topic into something a little lighter: A composer renowned for his ideas about tonality that were later lauded as incredibly forward-thinking and were vital in forging an American modernist identity. A man whose music was written almost entirely for himself and close friends and then (figuratively) left in his desk for future musicians to discover. A figure who thought that classical music as he knew it was overly refined, feminine, and therefore emasculated. If you hadn’t figured it out already, today I will be talking about none other than Charles Ives. More specifically, I will be talking about Charles Ives’s correspondence1 with his fiance and eventual wife, Harmony Twitchell.

Charles Ives and Harmony Twitchell

I miss you all the time & feel how rich I was when I had you last week – to hear your voice & put my hand & feel you – never mind. I have your love and that is everything after all – I was quite wrong when I said that it was a year ago that I knew I loved you[.] It’s been all the time just the same but I never said it right out to myself until a year ago & gloried & rejoiced in it…

 

Harmony

How endearing! It can be so easy to forget the humanity of historic figures, (and modern day ones as well) but the act of reading someone’s correspondence with a loved one is one of the easiest ways to avoid such selective amnesia. In the blink of an eye, Ives goes from being a one-dimensional curmudgeon, to something a little more complex, a little more human. And that makes all the difference.

1 Ives, Owens, and Owens, Thomas Clarke. Selected Correspondence of Charles Ives. Roth Family Foundation Music in America Imprint. Berkeley: University of California Press, 2007.

Dvořák in Spillville

While not American in nationality, Antonín Dvořák represented much of what American music was about. Specifically, he saw the value of early African-American and Native American music as rich sources to establish an American national identity. Dvořák spent time in America from 1892 to 1895 as the director of the National Conservatory of Music in New York. During this time, many Americans wrote letters to Dvořák.

Of interest to me are two correspondences to Dvořák from Jan Josef Kovařík, the father of Dvořák’s secretary. Kovařík lived in Spillville, Iowa, where Dvořák spent some time in the summer of 1893. Both letters mention not his music, but instead offer a look into how Dvořák was treated by people of the towns he visited. The first letter was sent in May of 1893 before Dvořák’s arrival. In it, Dvořák is treated very cordially, and welcome with open arms.

“I would find you a cook; furnishings such as beds, pillows and blankets and bedsheets, all that we would have ready for you.”

Clearly, Kovařík saw value in having Dvořák visit Spillville, and wanted to ensure a pleasant stay. This one instance shows that Dvořák was not viewed as an imposter or someone swooping down to bring up a “lesser” culture. He was merely a visitor to a small town, and his host treated him with kindness and a certain level of familiarity.

The second letter was sent in December of 1894, well over a year after Dvořák had left Spillville. Kovařík seems to lament the fact the no one writes to him. He opens the letter by stating that “In vain I have been waiting to hear from you.” Despite not receiving responses from Dvořák, Kovařík continues in a friendly tone. He discusses the town’s going-ons as in a normal conversation.

“Your old friends Kumpal, Bily, Krnecek, Grandfather are all still alive—every day they trek to the little church to worship and then to gossip a little on the way back.”

Again, neither of these letters mention Dvořák’s music. However I think they still provide a valuable insight into how Dvořák was viewed as a person both before and after meeting someone. It seems that he left a positive mark on Spillville, and was gracious with his time while he was there. That speaks well to the music he might have gathered from the community there, as well as to his intentions in other areas of America.

Bibliography

Klaus Döge. “Dvořák, Antonín.” Grove Music OnlineOxford Music Online. Oxford University Press, accessed November 6, 2017, http://www.oxfordmusiconline.com/subscriber/article/grove/music/51222.

“Letters from Dvořák’s American Period: A Selection of Unpublished Correspondence Received by Dvořák in the United States.” In Dvorak and His World, edited by Beckerman Michael, 192-210. Princeton University Press, 1993. 

The Bromance of Carlos Chávez and Aaron Copland

Aaron Copland (back) and Carlos Chavez (front).

Aaron Copland and Carlos Chávez have an odd relationship, most notably in the similarities with their education and career paths. Robert L. Parker states in his article Copland and Chávez: Brothers-in-Arms, “there is no logical reason why their careers should have been so alike,”1 however alike they were and because of those similarities it seems they became each others best friend, at least in their respective music circles. After their initial meeting in the early 1930’s, the two exchanged many letters as well as promoted each others works in their respective  countries. It began with Copland through his ten concerts in the Copland-Sessions where Chávez’ works were performed in New York, London, and Paris. Soon after, Chavez accepted a post in Mexico as music director of the Orquesta Sinfónica de México where he was then in the position to return the favor to Copland.

However, for the purposes of this class, the importance of this friendship is about more than their similarities in character, education, and career. In 1934, Chávez wrote the following to Copland,

We had this summer a lot of Honegger, Hindemith, etc. etc. stuff here, and let me tell you that there are simple unbearable for me, that are artificial, full of literature, bad literature, and worse possible taste, I cannot stand them any more, they should shut up for ever, so much the better…

I find this personal comment on European literature rather funny. So much of our conversations in class contribute the sense of “high class” music to European culture and styles. Yet, here Copland and Chávez are seeing it as bad, almost grotesque by Chávez’ description. Chávez goes on to say the following:

… I got the Little Symphony [sic]; and let me tell you what I thought: well, here is the real thing, here is our music, my music, the music of our time, of my taste, of my culture, here it is as a simple and natural fact of my own self, as everything belonging to oneself is simple and natural.2

From this I was able to conclude on two things. One, that Coplands and Chávez’ musical tastes derive from their sense of “American Music.” (I am using this term to categorize both North and Central American Music) Although they live in two different countries, they both derive their music from folk traditions that are geographically very close to one-another. This likely contributed to their distaste in the aforementioned composers pieces.

Two, Chávez makes a very conniving argument on the authenticity of music. So much of our class is trying to define authentic music, understanding that we likely never can. However, when music is composed with respect to the origins of its inspiration, the music belongs to itself, simply and naturally. The physical, educational, or cultural background of the composer is less important when he or she is composing out of respect to their sources. If we can allow of that mindset, then the music begins to define itself, not the composer.

 

1 Robert L. Parker, Copland and Chávez: Brother-in-Arms (Illinois, University of Illinois Press, 1987), 433.

2 Howard Pollack, Aaron Copland: The Life and Works of an Uncommon Man (New York, Henry Holt and Company, 1999), 222.

Sources

  1. Parker, Robert L. “Copland and Chávez: Brothers-in-Arms.” American Music 5, no. 4 (1987): 433-44. doi:10.2307/3051451.
  2. Pollack, Howard. Aaron Copland : The Life and Work of an Uncommon Man. 1st ed. New York: Henry Holt, 1999.
  3. Schaal, Eric. Aaron Copland and Carlos Chávez. , . Photograph. Retrieved from the Library of Congress, https://www.loc.gov/item/copland.phot0014/. (Accessed November 06, 2017.)

Dvorak as an American Artist

In his book Dvorak and His World, Michael Beckerman provides a plethora of correspondences between Dvorak and other musicians and acquaintances. One spirit interaction is a letter written by William Smythe Babcock Matthews from Chicago on April 18th, 1893. This letter is written regarding some of Dvorak’s works, their meaning to America, as well as his connections to other musicians.

Matthews is requesting that Dvorak provide him with some details regarding what he feels towards America and music in general so that he may publish them alongside an image of Dvorak. In his letter, Matthews discusses some of the pieces he’d been listening to of Dvorak’s such as his Requiem.

Matthews describes Dvorak’s Requiem as “One of the purest musical works the Apollo club has done for years.” His admiration for Dvorak’s work is obvious, especially as he continues to praise it in context to the changing musical climate in America at the time.

In short it is a great work. Your orchestration pleased us all very much, and I was particularly gratified by the moderation of it, considering the temptation to let loose after the manner of Berlioz on the “Dies irae.”

Matthews holds great respect for Dvorak and his praise for his work in the transitional musical atmosphere of America at the time shows the importance that Dvorak held within American music. Many people wrote to him with praise and support but not many went into details regarding the climate in which Dvorak made his appearance. His music was something sublime within the times and were greatly appreciated across America, especially within those who were, as Matthews put it, “a real admirer of the composer, and a would-be friend to the man.”

 

“Letters from Dvořák’s American Period: A Selection of Unpublished Correspondence Received by Dvořák in the United States.” In Dvorak and His World, edited by Beckerman Michael, 192-210. Princeton University Press, 1993. http://www.jstor.org/stable/j.ctt7s5r0.11.

 

Copland’s El Salón México

This letter from Leonard Bernstein was sent to Aaron Copland in October of 1938. The letter was written in response to Copland’s El Salón México.

It is important to note the effect that Copland’s piece had on Bernstein and how it reflects views of music during the time. One of the first things that Bernstein mentions is how Copland’s music got stuck in his head. He is also able to easily notate the opening theme of El Salón México. This goes to show that Copland accomplished music writing that was simple enough to be remembered, and he incorporated themes that would recognizable.

Bernstein acknowledges that he admires Copland’s work and calls him a “master in America.” Copland’s simplified style of this time period is well-known as Copland’s own sound as well as an American sound. Copland was working to move contemporary composition from appealing to a select few towards appealing to the masses. It seems that Copland accomplished this with the success of El Salón México and other works. In fact, Elizabeth B. Crist argues that Copland’s El Salón México was able to project political ideologies onto the concert public.

Crist acknowledges that, the ideological dimensions of Copland’s works have been generally lost within the music’s enduring success, obscured by the legacy of anticommunist historiography and its formalist reification of art.” Bernstein focuses on Copland’s technique and the “solid sureness of that construction.” This makes me wonder more about Copland’s other non-musical intentions.

A recording of Leonard Bernstein conducting Copland’s El Salón México:

Sources

Crawford, Richard. America’s Musical Life. New York: W. W. Norton & Company, Inc., 2001.

Crist, Elizabeth B. “Aaron Copland and the Popular Front.” Journal of the American Musicological Society 56, no. 2 (Summer 2003): 409–465.

Pollack, Howard. “Copland, Aaron.” Grove Music Online. Oxford Music Online. Oxford University Press, accessed November 7, 2017, http://www.oxfordmusiconline.com/subscriber/article/grove/music/06422.

Simeone, Nigel, ed. The Leonard Bernstein Letters. New Haven and London: Yale University Press, 2013.

Percy Grainger and Henry Cowell: BFFs?

I was surprised when I first started reading about the friendship between Henry Cowell and Percy Grainger. My understanding of Cowell was that he was an abrasive, noisy ultra-modernist, while Grainger was a pleasant, folksongy writer of band music. It seemed like these men had nothing in common. I was surprised to learn that they had a remarkable amount in common. To begin with, both had a reputation for their treatment of the piano. Cowell’s for his use of extended technique, and Grainger for his wild virtuosity. Both were considered geniuses, each with a deep interest in researching and analyzing music of other cultures. Both men often taught classes or guest lectured, which is how they ended up meeting each other.

Grainger and Cowell in 1951

The two first met on January 17th of 1933, when Cowell was giving a lecture at NYU. Grainger was so impressed, he attended another lecture of his two weeks later. The two talked and agreed to meet to show each other their compositions and field recordings of folk music. After a successful ‘show and tell’ of sorts, they decided to remain in touch, marking the beginning of their correspondence. After their first meeting, Cowell wrote to Grainger

 “I am still in a rare state of excitement and delight at having contact with you today, and finding that you are so enthusiastic over the same things that I am!”

Grainger responded to this by writing

“The more I think about it the more I am amazed by the beauty , purity & charm of your epochmaking experi- ments as a composer, & the sanity & balance of yr attitude as a student of worldwide music”

The men continued writing letters for a year or so, and gave guest lectures at each other’s classes. The two temporarily lost communication in 1934 when Grainger moved to Australia for some time. From 1934 to 1937, there was no correspondence between the two. When Grainger mailed Cowell’s journal to receive Cowell’s mailing address, he was shocked to learn that Cowell had been sent to prison. In 1936, Cowell was sent to San Quentin Prison for having sex with an underage male. This did not stop the friendship between the two. Between 1937 and Cowell’s release in 1940, they exchanged over 100 letters with one another. Eventually, Grainger wrote to Cowell saying that once he got out of prison, he wanted Cowell to become his personal secretary, and the two men could research music together. Cowell joyfully accepted, writing

 “What a wonderful opportunity you and your wife offer me! I have no words to express myself with…To go to the islands to ‘get away from it all’ is one thing; but I should like to go there to get into it all”

Thanks to Grainger’s pressure on the Prison board, and for sponsoring Cowell’s parole, Cowell was released from prison in 1940 and moved to Grainger’s house in the Cook Islands. Once there, it was Cowell’s job to preserve Grainger’s archive of wax cylinders, scores, letters, manuscripts, pictures, drawings, and writings.

Grainger and Cowell having a jam session

During this time, Cowell was also experimenting with composition, and played with Grainger’s massive collection of exotic folk instruments. Because of financial strains, Cowell’s employment was mutually terminated in 1941. The two remained friends, occasionally exchanging letters until Grainger’s death in 1961.

 

Sources

Henry Cowell Web Site. Accessed November 07, 2017. http://www.henrycowell.org/hc/hcbiography.cfm

Music Division, The New York Public Library. “Henry Cowell and Percy Grainger” New York Public Library Digital Collections. Accessed November 7, 2017. http://digitalcollections.nypl.org/items/af9775e0-05fa-0132-27d3-58d385a7b928

Robinson, Suzanne. “Percy Grainger and Henry Cowell: Concurrences Between Two “Hyper-Moderns”.” The Musical Quarterly 94, no. 3 (2011): 278-324. http://www.jstor.org/stable/41289209.

Copland’s Inspiration and Fears for El Salón México

Schaal, Eric. Aaron Copland and Carlos Chávez. , . Photograph. Retrieved from the Library of Congress, https://www.loc.gov/item/copland.phot0014/. (Accessed November 06, 2017.)

Copland and Chávez

In a letter to Mexican composer/conductor Charlos Chávez, Copland wrote “I am terribly afraid of what you will say of the Salon Mexico–perhaps it is not Mexican at all and I would look so foolish,” which shows his concern regarding appropriation. He may have gone ahead with orchestrating and publishing the piece, but he was well-meaning in the same way that Dvorak was with his New World Symphony. Some differences here are that Copland interacted mostly as a tourist in Mexican culture and drew on more accurate sources for Mexican folk melodies.

Copland’s October 1934 letter to Chávez

In addition, Copland published The Story Behind My El Salón México in the quarterly journal Tempo. He discusses that the music he heard during his two summers in Tlaxcala, isn’t what inspired this piece as much as the spirit of Mexico, specifically regarding “their humanity, their separate shyness, their dignity and unique charm.” He, like many other composers writing in this style, relied on the use of folk melodies, but his goal was never to quote them directly, instead choosing to heighten without falsifying the natural simplicity of the songs.

On the subject of whether this was good or bad appropriation, I would argue that this was good appropriation because of his genuine approach to the piece; Copland never claimed or exploited Mexican folk traditions. Additionally he was aware of his position as a white man composing in a Mexican style (even calling himself a gringo) and was completely taken aback by the support that he received from the Orquesta Sinfónica de México (who premiered the work with Chávez in 1937). The group viewed his composition as a foreigner finding their melodies as worthy in the world of Western repertoire which gave him affirmation regarding his fear that the piece would be perceived as a foolish attempt of claiming Mexican culture.


Crist, Elizabeth B. and Wayne Shirley. The Selected Correspondence of Aaron Copland. New Haven: Yale University Press, 2006.

Copland, Aaron. “The Story Behind My El Salón México.” Tempo, no. 4 (1939): 2-4. http://www.jstor.org/stable/943608

Copland, Aaron. Letter from Aaron Copland to Carlos Chávez, October 15, 1934. Manuscript/Mixed Material. Retrieved from the Library of Congress, https://www.loc.gov/item/copland.corr0191/. (Accessed November 07, 2017.)

Schaal, Eric. Aaron Copland and Carlos Chávez. , . Photograph. Retrieved from the Library of Congress, https://www.loc.gov/item/copland.phot0014/. (Accessed November 06, 2017.)

Yaddo Festival Brings Music of Copland and Ives Together

During the 1930s, amidst the Great Depression and the American modernist movement, works by two of the most well-recognized American composers were performed in the same place in the same weekend. The First Festival of Contemporary American Music, held at the Yaddo estate in Saratoga Springs, NY featured a weekend of music programmed largely by Aaron Copland. Included in the Sunday afternoon concert were seven pieces from Charles Ives’ “114 Songs.”1

In this letter included in The Selected Correspondence of Aaron Copland, Copland writes to Ives to gain approval to perform these works as part of the festival and to obtain scores to begin work. Although Copland does not overtly mention why he has chosen to include Ives’ pieces in the festival, the editors propose that Copland included Ives’ pieces to provide historical background for the more contemporary pieces on the program.2

Ives’ art songs performed at Yaddo, a few of which are included here, marked a turning point in his reception among critics. Critic Paul Rosenfield wrote of sensing “the presence of a first-rate composer of Lieder in the ranks of American Music.”3 The festival, while giving voice to numerous contemporary composers of the time, also served as a chance for Copland to moderate a forum between critics and young composers, greatly benefiting the reputation of Ives’ compositions while simultaneously making Copland out to be exceedingly disapproving of the way journalists impacted contemporary music.4

Although Copland’s preferences for simple, easy-to-understand music which we discussed in class last week seemed in conflict with Ives’ ultra-modernist “push-the-envelope” styles, it’s enlightening to see that parts of both composers came together successfully in the Yaddo Festival. While there are many things that set these composers apart, it still is important to note that they were able to appreciate one another for the contributions they were making in a period of economic turmoil and financial hardship for a majority of the United States.

Duke Ellington’s, Music is my Mistress

“My favorite tune? The next one. The one I’m writing tonight or tomorrow, the new baby is always the favorite”    -Duke Ellington

The opening words from Duke Ellington’s autobiography: Music is my Mistress. This autobiography was considered by Duke to be “more of a performance than a memoir”. Ellington never wanted to write an autobiography about himself, and he hasn’t. Divided into 8 separate acts (or sections) this book is an account of the people he has met, the experiences he has had, and the music that he has made throughout his life.

Duke Ellington

Ellington was born just before the turn of the 20th century in Washington D.C. and raised primarily in New York city. With a career spanning over 50 years, Ellington is considered to be one of the most influential Jazz composers of all time. Being a pianist, composer, and bandleader, Ellington primarily gained fame with his orchestra’s performances in the Cotton Club in Harlem as well as the touring of Europe. He was an essential figure in the world of Jazz by redefining what was considered to be American Music. He considered himself an American Composer, not simply a composer and performer of Jazz music. Having over 1000 cataloged works, Ellington has certainly made his mark on history.

One particular correspondence that I feel really draws the character of Ellington was a passage describing Dizzy Gillespie, Miles Davis, and John Coltrane. Ellington does on to describe how it was working with these 3 men and how privileged he felt. It is a real glimpse into the humble person that was Duke Ellington.

“The only time I had the privilege of working with John Coltrane was a record date… John Coltrane was a beautiful cat, I am proud to say that I loved every minute of it”

Works Cited

Ellington, D. (1973). Music is my mistress (1st ed., African American music reference). Garden City, N.Y.: Doubleday.

Florence B. Price

On June 15th, 1933, Florence Price made history: the Chicago Symphony premiered her Symphony in E minor, making her the first African-American woman composer to have a work performed by a major orchestra.

This work, originally subtitled “Negro Symphony,” draws on many of the stylistic traits of African-American folk music without ever explicitly quoting folk melodies;  instead of writing symphonic music around a 12-bar blues or a spiritual tune, as did many of her contemporaries, Price instead incorporates some of the harmonic and melodic elements of blues and spirituals into her own unique voice.  The resulting composition is strikingly original.

Despite the high quality of her music, Price had difficulty attaining performances of her work.  In a 1943 letter to Sergei Koussevitzky, she explains the manifold struggles she faces as both a female composer and a composer of color:

“Unfortunately the work of a woman composer is preconceived by many to be light, frothy, lacking in depth, logic, and virility.  Add to that the incident of race – I have Colored blood in my veins – and you will understand some of the difficulties that confront one in such a position”

In the remainder of the letter, Price asks Koussevitzky to consider one of her compositions, insisting that he make “no concession” on the basis of race or sex, but rather evaluate the score on its musical merit alone.  Despite receiving many such letters from Price, Koussevitzky never programmed a single one of her works.

The underrepresentation and erasure of Florence Price continues to the present day: after searching several databases, I found that there is only one recording of the Symphony in E minor that is readily available to the public.  Scholarly research on Price’s life is also relatively sparse, with the writings of late musicologist Rae Linda Brown existing as some of the only works that honor Price’s life and pay homage to her music.  The conspicuous silence surrounding Price in scholarly and musical discourses clearly illustrates the racist and sexist systems that ceaselessly oppress female composers of color.  Performing, researching, and recording the music of these underrepresented composers is essential if we ever hope to dismantle these systems and construct a new musical landscape that truly offers equal opportunities for all people.

Sources

Fabre, Geneviève, and Michel Feith. Temples for tomorrow: looking back at the Harlem Renaissance. Indiana University Press, 2001.

Price, Florence B. “Recorded Music of the African Diaspora, Vol. 3.” Albany Records, 2011.

 

Dvořák and Krehbiel

In DvorÃjk and His World,  Michael Beckerman collections of various correspondents between Dvořák and critics and fan. I found one letter that stood out to me in particular was from Henry Edward Krehbiel. He was writing with praise of Dvořák’s New World Symphony.

Second from the left: H.E. Krehbiel

We know from Simon Plum’s blog post titled Henry Edward Krehbiel published on October 10th, 2017. We know from Simon’s post that Krehbiel was a musicologist and author known for his work on bringing black folk music into the spotlight to be recognized. He was born on March 10, 1854 in Ann Arbor and passed March 20, 1923.

Correspondance from H.E. Krehbiel to A. Dvorak. From Berkerman’s collection.

In this letter, composed by Krehbiel on December 12th 1893 in New York invited Dvorak to attend a lecture he was giving at the “Women’s University Club” on “Folk Songs in America”. Krehbiel wanted to talk with Dvořák about his New World Symphony to write an article on it for the New York Tribune.

After doing some additional research, I was able to find a newspaper article published 5 days later after the correspondence. While there is no author listed, it fits the style and time frame of Krehbiel. It is a short article titled Dr. Dvorak’s Symphony located under the Music header of the Tribune.

Work Cited

Bain News Service, Publisher. Paderewski & wife and H.E. Krehbiel. Photograph. Retrieved from the Library of Congress, link.

Beckerman Michael, DvorÃjk and His World. Princeton University Press. Princeton, New Jersey. 1993.

Plum Simon, Henry Edward Krehbiel. Music 345: Race, Identity and Representation in American Music. Pages.StOlaf. link.

Why Nadia Boulanger is Kind of Like Master Yoda

You know that scene in Star Wars: The Empire Strikes Back, Episode V when Luke Skywalker visits Dagobah to learn from the great Master Yoda? And there’s an awesome training sequence where Luke learns all this awesome stuff about the Force and raises his ship from the swamp. Now imagine that Dagobah is 20th century Paris. And Master Yoda is Nadia Boulanger. And George Gershwin is Luke Skywalker.

Okay, so maybe Star Wars and Les Annes Folles Paris are two very different thigns, but the concept is the same. In June of 1928 George Gershwin went full Luke Skywalker and sent Nadia Boulanger this letter:

Letter from Gershwin to Boulanger

The text of this letter reads;

Dear Mademoiselle,

I am in Paris for a short visit and would like very much to meet you again. I believe we met when I was here two years ago, through the Kochanskis. I have a letter to you from Maurice Ravel.

Please be so good as to telephone me at the Hotel Majestic or write me a note letting me know when and where we could meet. With all good wishes I am,

Most sincerely, George Gershwin

When they met, Gershwin requested that Boulanger instruct him in composition. Boulanger (unlike Master Yoda) declined. She told Gershwin that she couldn’t give him anything he didn’t already have. When one takes into consideration Gerswin’s musical styles,this letter and Boulanger’s refusal to teach Gershwin represent a unique perspective on developing American musical identity. While Gershwin’s contemporaries were building on European idioms and attemping to legitimize American identity thorugh the adoption and adaptation of American Folk idioms. Gershwin, one could argue, was also doing this, but instead of Anglo Folk idioms, relied on Jazz. His brand of symphonic jazz, already popular in 1928, has a unique sound. I posit that Boulanger’s recognition of this unique sound represents the changing perceptions of American music on the European continent. Boulanger recognized that jazz was one of the most unique idioms to come out of American music. Her approval of Gershwin’s symphonic jazz mirrors the world’s tacit approval of the appropriation of jazz in a symphonic sense. While white American elites, and (as evidenced by this letter) white European elites applauded the “raising up” of jazz idioms, composers and performers of color were struggling to gain a tenth of recognition composers like Gershwin were able to achieve. This notion reveals that the source material from which Gershwin drew was stil considered by many, even those in Europe, to exist outside of Art Music as an exotic “other”. Perhaps Boulanger’s refusal to teach Gershwin and mold his composition to her “refined” (read white westernized) musical ideals, as she did Copland, Glass, and others, helped American music to continue its unabashed appropriation of musical idioms from marginalized people. Perhaps this is the true identity American music.

More on Boulanger

Nadia Boulanger is practically the undisputed master teacher of the 20th century. From Copland to Bernstein, her mark on American music is distinct and far reaching.

Boulanger

Boulanger was born on the 16th of September in 1887. She officially began studying composition at the Paris Conservatoire at the age of 9 working with masters of composition like Gabriel Fauré. Boulanger herself was a gifted composer, but nearly stopped composing completely after the devastating death of her sister, Lili, in 1920. While this personal tragedy blighted a promising compositional career, it opened the doors for her teaching to come through.

While you finish reading this post about Boulanger’s influence on American composers, listen to some of her compositions in this playlist.

Please take a minute to learn more about Nadia Boulanger here. As a teacher, composer, and scholar, Nadia Boualanger had an immense effect on our modern perceptions of American Music and deserves to be considered as a major facet of American Musical style along with her many pupils.

Sources

Spycket, Jérôme. Nadia Boulanger. Stuyvesant, N.Y.: Pendragon Press, 1992.

Potter, Caroline. “Boulanger, Nadia.” Grove Music Online. Oxford Music Online. Oxford University Press. Web. 15 Jun. 2017. <http://www.oxfordmusiconline.com/subscriber/article/grove/music/03705>.

Portrait of Nadia Boulanger from https://blog.edmodo.com/wp-content/uploads/2014/03/NadiaBoulanger_portrait.jpg.

Portrait of Yoda from https://vignette.wikia.nocookie.net/starwars/images/d/d6/Yoda_SWSB.png/revision/latest?cb=20150206140125

Porgy and Bess- A Fantasy to Racial Equality

Cover to a sheet music from Gershwin’s opera, Porgy and Bess

Porgy and Bess is as much of a serious, classical work as it is a political work. Porgy and Bess was created in collaboration with composer George Gershwin, and lyricists Ira Gershwin and DuBose Heyward. This cultural opera has been a prime example of the struggle of black and white relations and racial equality in art and performance. In his letter to Gershwin regarding Act II, Heyward writes to Gershwin explaining his ideas regarding a dance in the scene and the overall authenticity of it.

Letter from Hayward to Gershwin found in “George Gershwin: His Journey Towards Greatness”

Why is Porgy and Bess a popular topic when it comes to talking about the racial history of America? Firstly, it was composed, written, produced, directed, and critiqued by white people; yet it is about the behavior, beliefs and expressions of black people. This does not have to be problematic. However, as soon as people start making claims to authenticity, then it is problematic because people outside of a culture are adapting another culture without having experienced it or having fully understood it.

Many of the reviews that circulated when Porgy and Bess premiered praised the authentic of portrayals of black culture. The opera itself does not represent black culture and does not inform us of what was authentic (because that is always a moving target), but it informs us about the white perceptions of authentic black culture. Because most reviews addressed authenticity, this is a prime example of the fantasy that the journey to racial equality was “easy” and quick.

The making and remaking of Porgy and Bess is a case study in the ways that white Americans in the twentieth century craved stories about African Americans featuring earthy authenticity and frictionless progress toward racial equality. ~Ellen Noonan 

In DuBose’s letter to Gershwin, it is interesting that he used language like “primitive” yet the work was a prestigious and accepted genre: the opera. This seeming juxtaposition highlights the idea that people were willing to ignore the fact that this opera says more about white perceptions than authenticity of black culture. This omission mollified guilt and does not challenge any fantasized perceptions, making it the idealized path to racial equality.

Many of these critiques of Gershwin’s opera are also relevant today. It is important when performing works from other cultures to be conscious and well informed of personal perceptions and what is authentic.

Works Cited

Ewen, David. “A Giant Stride Towards Greatness.” George Gershwin His Journey Towards Greatness, Prentice-Hall Inc., 1970, pp. 220–222.

Noonan, Ellen. The Strange Career of Porgy and Bess: Race, Culture, and America’s Most Famous Opera. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2012. Accessed November 5, 2017. ProQuest Ebook Central.

Richard Crawford. “Porgy and Bess.” The New Grove Dictionary of OperaGrove Music OnlineOxford Music Online. Oxford University Press accessed November 5, 2017, http://www.oxfordmusiconline.com/subscriber/article/grove/music/O004106.

Chorus,Glyndebourne. “”Porgy & Bess “Summertime”. [July 1993]. 2:54. [July 2009]. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=O7-Qa92Rzbk

Father and Son

Mercer Ellington was the son of Duke Ellington. Mercer was born in Washington D.C. in 1919. It is fitting that Edward Kennedy Ellington had the nickname of “Duke,” (and for that matter perhaps Mercer should have been nicknamed the Earl) because their family became jazz royalty. Duke, a fantastic and prolific composer, brought a lot of attention from white audiences to the jazz community. Duke wrote an autobiography titled Music is My Mistress, and Stanley Dance also wrote a strong biography on Duke titled The World of Duke Ellington. In 1979, Mercer Ellington wrote Duke Ellington in Person: An Intimate Memoir hoping to strike a balance between these two previous works on the Duke. Mercer said,

I should like to think that [this biography] sheds light on the relationship between father and son, and in such a way that each person can be seen as the other’s alter ego.

I value Duke Ellington in Person for the incredible insights it can give into the personal life that it can give on a figure steeped in a pre-written historical tradition.

If you are unfamiliar with the works of Mercer, it is perhaps because he continued on the Duke Ellington Orchestra after Duke passed away. Duke Ellington’s name went onto a lot of Mercer’s works, but here are a few great tunes to check out:

Duke Ellington in Person highlights, perhaps better than other sources, the racial tensions that Duke constantly dealt with in his career. In a section on Irving Mills, Duke Ellington’s front man for a number of years, Mercer discusses how Duke and Irving were both interested in reaching white audiences with their music. In the writing of the hit, “Mood Indigo,” the title of the song was manufactured for a clean reception. Mercer highlights the process when he states that Duke

originally titled it “Dreamy Blues,” which described its character; but the other title [of Mood Indigo] had a more sophisticated sound to the public of that era. Irving understood the importance of adding prestiege to the produce, almost, I would say, of packaging it. So did Ellington.

Anecdotes like these are incredibly important from Mercer’s perspective because they can help clear some of the tone behind the racial issues that Ellington dealt with on a daily basis. As you ponder this, I will leave you with several popular renditions of Mood Indigo. I hope you are able to view this piece within the context it was created.

 

 

–Brock Carlson

Works Cited

Ellington, Mercer, and Stanley Dance. Duke Ellington in person: an intimate memoir. New York: Da Capo Press, 1979.

Why 4 minutes and 33 seconds of silence might just be about as American as music gets

While considering which art music composer to dive into this week, I became overwhelmed with the infinite details that envelope one of the course’s essential questions,

“What is considered to be true and authentic American music?”.

After nearly 2 1/2 months of research and lectures I still feel as if I have barely scratched the surface of what defines the American sound. Take MacDowell, for example, who felt that he was capturing the true essence of the American landscape by banking on the romanticized notion of the “dying” Native American tribes. Or Gershwin who, while successfully transcribing the musical idiom of jazz into a symphonic setting, borrowed extensively from traditional blues, folk, and jazz genres, creating pieces defined by a diverse and hazy collection of backgrounds and identities. Even artists practicing extended techniques, such as Henry Cowell, relied on East Asian influences amidst his tone clusters and “vanishing chords.”

 

This thought process ultimately led me to the year of 1952, where American experimental composer John Cage composed a piece of music entitled 4’33“. Equally famous as controversial, the piece centers around three movements (intended for any instrument or combination of instruments) that consists of four minutes and thirty-three seconds of silence. While at a surface level this piece could easily be described as a joke (or even be seen as an early example of what the kids are now calling “memes”), I think that Cage’s intentions behind it could potentially bring the silent work to the forefront of that dreaded and loaded essential question.

Live Performance of 4’33”: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JTEFKFiXSx4

In a series of revised letters and interviews by Richard Kostelanetz, Cage introduces and defines the purpose behind 4’33”:

“You know that I’ve written a piece called 4’33” which has no sounds of my own making in it…4’33” becomes in performance the sounds of the environment.”

Rather than writing for the sake of originality, Cage composed a piece that does not will any sounds from the composer or the audience, ideally causing both to merely become observers of their surrounding environment. It exemplifies a motion towards the music found behind “nothing” and the acceptance of non-intentional sounds in an artistic setting. While other American composers, including the aforementioned, have borrowed and elaborated on musical elements from a diverse background of sound (often resulting in an unintentional act of cultural appropriation), Cage was the first American composer to create an artistic space that captures an “environment” of sound void of any racial or ethnic infringement.

This is not to say that Cage could consider himself free of any cultural breaches throughout his career (or that this component of composition is intrinsically negative), but 4’33” is an interesting example of a composer temporarily distancing themselves from that reality. Unfortunately, Cage himself deemed 4’33” an unsuccessful attempt at making a non-dualistic structured piece of music (as he created and determined certain set “bounds” of the piece), but it certainly is, if not anything else, a commendable example of how music listeners should take a step back from the world of symphonies and sonatas and enjoy the natural, indeterminate sounds of the world around them.

Sources

Joelyhberg. “John Cage’s 4’33”.” YouTube. December 15, 2010. Accessed November 05, 2017. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JTEFKFiXSx4.

Shultis, Christopher. Silencing the sounded self: john Cage and the American experimental tradition. Univ. New Hampshire Press, 1998.

Copland and Bernstein: two friends with diverging viewpoints on ‘American music’

 

Copland and Bernstein working together

It is no secret that Leonard Bernstein and Aaron Copland were great friends. Even though I had heard this going into my research, I had no idea to what extent the level of mutual investment and encouragement was! I was astounded and quite honestly touched to find the amount of loving correspondence that I did between the two composers. While there are extensive works devoted to both of their respective correspondences, I was particularly interested in a letter written by Copland to Bernstein that addresses their different viewpoints on American music.

In this letter, written December 7, 1938, Copland writes Bernstein with advice on Bernstein’s senior thesis at Harvard, which explores nationalism in American composition. His thesis, completed in 1939, is entitled “The Absorption of Race Elements into American Music,” in which he proposes a new American nationalism — one that is defined by the way in which the composer blends their own heritage with “Negro” and “New England” musical traditions, as these form the “sociological backbone of the country.”1

1938 correspondence from Copland to Bernstein

In all of the correspondence I’ve read between the two, Copland shows his affection for Bernstein while also giving “grandfatherly advice,” as he calls it in this particular letter. His advice regarding Bernstein’s thesis in the letter at hand is as follows:

Don’t make the mistake of thinking that just because a Gilbert used Negro material, there was therefore nothing American about it. There’s always a chance it might have an ‘American’ quality despite its material.

This comment made me curious — what was Bernstein’s assertion about Gilbert, and who was this Gilbert anyway?

It turns out Henry F. Gilbert (1868-1928) was a composition student of Mcdowell’s, and was particularly interested in African-American music. Bernstein cites Gilbert’s Comedy Overture on Negro Themes and The Dance in the Place Congo in his thesis to make claims about American music. He asserts that these pieces contribute to the nationalistic process beginning in 1900, a process inspired by Dvorak’s New World Symphony, by engaging in artificial representation where “new indigenous materials were merely imposed upon an otherwise neutral kind of musical scheme.” Bernstein writes that despite Gilbert being a “sensitive and sound musician,” the way in which he incorporates ‘Negro’ material in his works is not American. 1
Here is a recording of Gilbert’s Comedy Overture on Negro Themes:

He complicates the definition of American music further when he categorizes the slow and lyrical sections of  the Comedy Overture on Negro Themes as European. He even writes that “There is no consequential development emerging inevitably from the thematic ideas themselves; there is no basic American “feeling.””1
So he is in fact defining American music by its
sound, which leaves me rather confused. Copland rather encourages him to look beyond the material, demonstrating that Copland has a much broader view of American music. He remarks that:

Composing in this country is still pretty young no matter how you look at it.

Copland has open arms when it comes to American compositions — an attitude which Bernstein does not share at this point in his life.

Note: The two were 18 years apart but died just 2 months apart — Bernstein at 72 and Copland at 90.

Sources

  1. Bernstein, Findings. New York: Simon and Schuster, 1982.
  2. Copland, Aaron. Aaron Copland to Leonard Bernstein, December 7, 1938. In The Selected Correspondence of Aaron Copland, edited by Elizabeth B Crist and Wayne Shirley. New Haven & London: Yale University Press, 2006.

A Copland in Paris finds American sound

I grew up on a farm. I have a recognizable Minnesota accent. I only call it “duck duck grey duck.”

These are not things I would have described as distinctive about myself as I was growing up. This is because I was surrounded by it. I felt no need to assert it as part of my identity – everyone around me also possessed these factors of identity. However, when I came to St. Olaf, a school where I am often surrounded by students from Oregon, New Jersey, Texas, and even other countries, my friends and peers informed me just how identifying these things about me are. I went to a place where I was no longer surrounded by people from my same background, and people pointed out things about me that made me distinctive to them. That made me all the more aware of my identity.

Similarly, in post-WWI America, Copland found himself studying in a new place entirely surrounded by something different: Paris. He grew up in New York at the turn of the century, the son of Russian immigrants, and he was thoroughly surrounded by the American soundscape. When he arrived in Paris, excited and determined to learn and make a living, he began working with Nadia Boulanger, respected and revered composer at the time.

Image result for Aaron Copland nadia boulanger

Unlike Virgil Thomson, who pursued American music sound after being rejected from the Parisian music scene (saying it would be better to try and cultivate American sound than try to even break into the European scene), Copland turned to the American sound at the strong encouragement of his teacher, Nadia Boulanger.

One of the other students working in this class, Brandon Cash, also posted on this topic in 2015. Cash successfully outlines the strong relationship between Boulanger and Copland, especially highlighting the doors she opened for him in meeting other composers.

Compositionally, too, Boulanger’s abstract approach to jazz, which removed it from its cultural context and saw it as a purely compositional force, carried on into Copland’s work.

Image result for Aaron Copland nadia boulanger

Source: Library of Congress

However, it is important to understand her importance in Copland’s development not as a middle woman between him and Stravinsky, for example, but as a valuable contributor in her own right. She encouraged him to define his American sound – otherwise he would crash and burn. Her blunt, heavily honest advice drove him to really define what he was trying to achieve in creating “American” music. Most importantly, she helped him realize that he had a unique identity in being American and having American sound, so he needed to focus and cultivate that. Like me, he didn’t realize he had certain distinctive aspects of his identity until he was in an entirely different place and someone else told him.

It is ironic that the vessel through which he found his American sound is in a Western European country. However, this is not surprising, given that the outside view of American music can give valuable insight just as the view from within. Boulanger did, indeed, encourage him to listen to other composers’ works, and after he heard Milhaud, Stravinsky, Ravel, and Debussy dabble in Jazz, he incorporated it into several of his works. These include Rondino, Symphony for Organ and Orchestra, Music for the Theater, Dance Symphony, and Piano Concerto.

Below, these letters show Copland’s excitement at being in Paris and finding success and his correspondence with Nadia Boulanger.

Letter from Nadia Boulanger to Aaron Copland

Letter from Copland to Boulanger

Letter from Copland to his parents detailing his excitement at selling his first two compositions in Paris

Carole Jean Harris, “The French connection: The neoclassical influence of Stravinsky, through Boulanger, on the music of Copland, Talma and Piston.” State University of New York at Buffalo, ProQuest Dissertations Publishing, 2002.

Annegret Fauser, “Aaron Copland, Nadia Boulanger, and the Making of an “American” Composer.” The Musical Quarterly, Volume 89, Issue 4, 1 December 2006, Pages 524–554.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Once Upon a Time White Folk had a Small Falling Out With Native Americans, The End.

I would like to preface this by stating any criticisms to the article are not specifically directed at the author, as I believe it is a common mistake and something that we are currently all working on more, especially within newer discussions that have emerged recently.

In searching for a topic to write about for this blog post I was searching for something relating to Native Americans, as I’ve been focusing on that topic in my blog posts. I was having trouble finding sources as each article in the Manitou Messenger only had the word a couple times and the actual focus was not Native Americans. I found the word once or twice in each article used as a supporting fact but nothing more. I was going to try to find something else to research because I was afraid I wouldn’t be able to find enough information, when I realized that the lack of information I had found was the exact thing I needed. Where were articles on Native Americans? Why weren’t they ever talked about or discussed? Why have we, as “Americans,” generally effaced Native Americans from conversation and discussion?

I eventually found an article regarding the creation of Indigenous People’s Day vs Columbus Day. This article provided some good information about the importance of this type of change, especially considering that as people become more #woke Columbus day isn’t necessarily something to be proud of. Sure, he “discovered” America, but at the same time how can something truly be “discovered” if it’s already inhabited. I expected the article to provide some insight on this, but it almost seemed as though it was skirting around the subject. It did provide a small portion of the issue by stating

The American Indian culture has been repressed since America’s origins. They were torn from the land that was theirs for centuries and forced to live on Indian Reservations. As the demand rose from white settlers, pieces of that land were taken away until the enactment of the 1934 Indian Reorganization Act.

On the other hand, while this statement is true and something we should focus on, I still feel that a 3 sentence excerpt on the issue at hand of the utter massacre of Native American’s doesn’t do the situation justice let alone respect. Massive groups weren’t simply told to move, which is an issue in itself, but were rather murdered and utterly erased from The Land of the Free. Simply skipping the fact that this happened isn’t doing anyone a favor as it’s a part of the history that we cannot ignoring. Ignoring it is almost just as sinful as disrespecting it, as it’s basically the same thing.

I found a vinyl of American Indian Music in the Southwest: Sound Recording, which provided a fascinating insight into recordings of some music that was passed down. Of course, I cannot be completely sure of the authenticity of the recordings, but it’s something that can still be studied alongside legitimate sources.

This sound recording is something that we would have possibly never been able to listen to had we completely and utterly effaced the existence of Native Americans. If we had ceased to have discussions and respectful learning, which often times it seems we are on our way to doing so, we would not have been able to learn about this culture that we mistreated so horribly in the past. Discussions like the Manitou Messenger had on Columbus Day, while it had it’s faults, are good in enlightening the folk around who are not aware of the issues. Discussion of current issues and movements as well as historical events are what we need to continue keeping our history alive. It’s not all pretty, and in fact some of it was a downright bloodbath, but we cannot pick and chose what we want to remember in our history.

Rhodes, Willard. “American Indian Music of the Southwest : Sound recording” (Folkways Records, 1951). Link

Haggstrom, Katie. “New indigenous peoples day challenges the status quo,” (Manitou Messenger, May 13 2014). Link

 

Oversimplification of Porgy and Bess

George Gershwin is credited with creating a truly American sound, through the fusion of jazz elements and concert elements. Too often, his works are taken for granted and placed on a pedestal by later listeners who seek to find what is “good” and what is “American”, or are simply repeating the mantra previously espoused. A simple example of this is a quote from the Manitou Messenger from 1950. In describing the music for a St. Olaf Band concert, the author states that “Concluding the program are some familiar selections from “Porgy and Bess” by George Gershwin who is credited with having best expressed the modern American idiom.”

This statement seems to be thrown out lightly, in order to draw in audiences to the concert. While not inherently wrong, this simple statement fails to capture the turmoil of American identity represented by Porgy and Bess. The Manitou Messenger is far from alone in ascribing blanket claims to music. As seen in the history of blues, jazz, and folk music, we have yet (if ever) to define categorical sounds for each of those topics. Gershwin has entered the vernacular as a truly American composer, but historical context is necessary to frame this claim.

Ellen Noonan presents a holistic take on the history of performances of Porgy and Bess, and the politics involved with them. Because the Manitou Messenger  article was written in the 1950, I will look at Noonan’s commentary on the state of Porgy and Bess in the 1950s. Noonan takes a strong stance on the political motives of Porgy and Bess.

“This Cold War Porgy and Bess was not just any opera; it engendered debate on a range of issues about race, representation, and politics. With the State Department briefing cast members to “keep in mind what you’d like your folks at home to read in the press about what you say” and U.S. newspapers covering the tour’s every move, Porgy and Bess was as much an intervention in the domestic politics of race as it was an exercise in creative foreign policy” (187)

Musical elements aside, Porgy and Bess became a driving force in pushing what it meant to be American. As such, the music became accepted into the realm and began to define American music. Noonan goes on to argue that Porgy and Bess mirrors the struggles of black people in the growing era of the Civil Rights movements. The U.S. government’s “propaganda efforts (like the Porgy and Bess tour) intended to convince the world that incidents of racial discrimination and violence were exceptional rather than typical” (189). If this is true, then perhaps Porgy and Bess does represent American music–that which is filled with rich history and suffers from a constant watering down and manipulation to fulfill a national identity.

Wether the identity is organic or fabricated, Porgy and Bess has certainly lent itself to an American musical identity, and it is clear that the message of American greatness trickled down into local college newspapers. A greater understanding of the history of any music is necessary in order to more fully inform a claim for an individual to express “the modern American idiom”.

Bibliography

Gershwin, Bennett, Shaw, Merrill, Stevens, Bennett, Robert Russell, . . . RCA Victor Orchestra, performer. (1950). Porgy and Bess.

Flaten, Anne. “Berglund Directs St. Olaf Band In Winter Concert This Evening”. The Manitou Messenger, No. 15, Vol. 063. February 17, 1950.

Noonan, Ellen. The Strange Career of Porgy and Bess : Race, Culture, and America’s Most Famous Opera. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2012. Accessed October 30, 2017. ProQuest Ebook Central.

Did Everyone Like Jazz?

LP Album Cover. Rhapsody in Blue: the 1925 Piano Roll, Michael Tilson Thomas, Columbia Records, 1976.

One of the most notable compositions that comes to mind when ruminating on symphonicjazz is Gershwin’s “Rhapsody in Blue” (1924). Listen Here. In thanks largely to Paul Whiteman’s clever marketing as an “Experiment in Modern Music” and its premiere performance in a well-known venue, the Aeolian Hall, the piece was largely well-received by audiences and critics.1 Much of the praise for Gershwin’s work was that it encompassed what American’s wanted out of distinctly “American Music.” As Crawford points out, it encompassed three strands of development: blues as popular music, the spread of instrumental jazz, and a want for modernism in the classical sphere.2

As we’ve discussed in class, the perception of Gershwin’s music as uniquely American can be troublesome because to some it seeks to exploit and adjust music of cultures aside from Gershwin’s own for the profit of symphonic tastes. As Crawford also points out, it was certainly not the first to present black dance music or jazz in concert settings although many think it to be so simply because the previous works by composers like Will Marion Cook or W.C. Handy are less well known simply because of their minority in that era’s society.3

Manitou Messenger, Feb. 14, 1933.

A story that’s less-often told is that some people really did not enjoy “Rhapsody in Blue” or jazz elements in general. When exploring writings on jazz, I came across an article from our very own campus paper, The Manitou Messenger. Interestingly, an article from 1933, nine years after the premiere of “Rhapsody in Blue,” conveyed stern opposition to jazz band at St. Olaf saying “jazz is profanity in music.”4

“Many…students who aspire to and cherish the higher things in life despise this type of music.”5

Is this negative reception of jazz a sign of the times at St. Olaf in the 1930s? It seems pretty forthright, which at first lead me to think there was room for anti-jazz, conservative thinking on campus at the time. However, in the publication later that month, another student wrote an opinion article which countered that the former article “was of very little consequence” and “hardly worthy of a serious reply.”6 This author claimed that this jazz band nay-sayer was fueling the fire that the college was attempting to paint itself as heavily religious.

Manitou Messenger, Feb. 28, 1933.

“Why be afraid to admit St. Olaf is not a monastery?”7

Interestingly, both authors simply signed their articles with their first initial leaving some room for anonymity. Although we don’t know who these students sharing their opinions were, what they were studying, or where they are now, we do know that responses to jazz were not all in loving favor.

1 Richard Crawford, America’s Musical Life: A History, (New York: W. W. Norton & Company, 2001), 573.

Bob Dylan – a Pop-culture Musician that Even Oles Liked

Bob Dylan – https://www.biography.com/people/bob-dylan-9283052

Bob Dylan was (and still is to some extent) a folk icon. He was born on May 24th, 1941 in Duluth Minnesota and went on to have a remarkably successful career as a musician in both performing and songwriting. Sarcastic blog-post titles aside, it makes sense that St. Olaf’s student-run newspaper, the Manitou Messenger, would have mentioned Bob Dylan at some point. Sure enough, Laurie Dion wrote a short piece in 2001 titled Bob Dylan rolls home like a rolling stone1In the piece, Dion does a post-concert write-up of Dylan’s performance at St. Paul’s Xcel Energy Center, where she says:

Dylan proved that his music remains “Forever Young.” And after 40 years in the music world, he’s still got what it takes to electrify an audience of retirees and teenagers alike. . . . Despite performing in his home state, Dylan didn’t mention a word of his Minnesota past. He didn’t even bother to introduce his songs — he just let the songs speak for themselves.”

Over the course of three sentences, Dion manages to allude three times to Dylan’s timelessness, which I believe is an important part of his appeal. The fact that multiple generations can enjoy hearing Dylan perform his music – which is itself a smorgasbord of different styles – is a testament to his timelessness, something which only a rare few musicians achieve. Does this mean that Dylan has secured his place in the pantheon of great musicians forever? Only time will tell. However, if one wanted to hear his music themselves, and in vinyl format no less, one need look no further than St. Olaf’s own Halvorson music library2.

The 20s and 30s: Dance bands not welcome at St. Olaf

Vinyls: “Big Bands and Territory Bands of the 20s and 30s”

As I sifted through the LPs in the Music Library’s vinyl collection, I was particularly drawn to a section on big bands. The two LPs that piqued my interest the most did not catch my eye because of their cover art, but rather their titles; “SWEET AND LOW BLUES: Big Bands and Territory Bands of the 20s,” and “JAMMIN’ FOR THE JACKPOT: Big Bands and Territory Bands of the 30s.” My first thoughts upon seeing these records were: 1. I know a little about big bands, right? and 2. What is a territory band?

“Jammin’ for the Jackpot”

These two vinyls are collections of popular territory band recordings from the 20s and 30, and inside each of them are extensive and informative essays on the history of territory/big bands. Today we are more familiar with the term big bands, but at the time these ensembles were called territory bands. Territory bands were regional dance bands in the Midwest, south, and southwestern states. Their principal function was to provide music for ballroom dancing, which was becoming increasingly popular in the 20s and 30s. From roughly the end of World War I until the Great Depression, dance orchestras in the United States grew in number, size, and popularity in response to this call for dance music. However, in the forward to “JAMMIN’ FOR THE JACKPOT: Big Bands and Territory Bands of the 30s,”J.R. Taylor writes that, during this period,

“Jazz musicians were in frequent creative tension with the dance band industry – exploiting and expanding its musical resources, learning its professional lessons, earning its wages, and chafing under its difficult working conditions and many artistic restrictions.

This complicated relationship existed vice versa as well, because jazz soloists served as a creative source for dance band – the innovative phrasing, rhythms, and “the adaptations and assimilations from classical music,” (Taylor). However, it is important to note that not all territory bands or big bands were strongly jazz oriented – a detail that gets overlooked now as we tend to blend the genres of jazz, big band, and swing (I myself am guilty of making that generalization without thinking.)

Here is a digitized recording of “Madhouse” performed by Earl Hines and His Orchestra —  one of the tracks found on “JAMMIN’ FOR THE JACKPOT: Big Bands and Territory Bands of the 30s,” so you can hear the style of music I am referencing.

Earl Hines and His Orchestra

By the time the Great Depression hit in the 30s the territory bands were failing to survive, as live music was replaced with the radio, and having a disposable income was no longer an option. While all of this was going on, back at St. Olaf a mysterious “L” was expressing their own opinion on jazz music and dancing in the Manitou Messenger. “L” calls the jazz band “contemptible,” “obnoxious,” and “profanity in music.” The author argues that the jazz band and jazz music do not correspond with the (Christian) spirit of St. Olaf College, and should thus be driven off the hill.

“L” does, however, recognize that jazz music naturally calls us to dance. They even pose the question “Why allow temptations such as this to exist?” if we know it’ll just make us want to get up and start dancing. Remember, dancing was forbidden at St. Olaf during this time. When you search the Manitou Messenger archives for “dancing” during this period it is consistently referred to as “folk-dancing” or “traditional-dancing” or “Norwegian-dancing” – safe forms of dancing that correspond with the mission of the college.

So, there’s quite a contrast between the popularity of ballroom dancing accompanied by touring territory bands in the 20s and 30s, and the nasty portrayal of jazz music and dancing by a student from St. Olaf. All I can do is wonder what “L” would think about our jazz bands and swing club.

Another example of taboo dancing in the Manitou Messenger. Taken from “Growing Pains,” published in 1935.

Sources

  1. “Territory Bands.” Encyclopedia of Popular Music, 4th ed.. Oxford Music Online. Oxford University Press, accessed October 31, 2017, http://www.oxfordmusiconline.com/subscriber/article/epm/49928.
  2. Bradford Robinson. “Territory band.” The New Grove Dictionary of Jazz, 2nd ed.. Grove Music Online. Oxford Music Online. Oxford University Press, accessed October 31, 2017, http://www.oxfordmusiconline.com/subscriber/article/grove/music/J445200.
  3. Marc Rice. “Territory band.” Grove Music Online. Oxford Music Online. Oxford University Press, accessed October 31, 2017, http://www.oxfordmusiconline.com/subscriber/article/grove/music/A2276655.
  4. Taylor, J.R. Jammin’ for the Jackpot: Big Bands and Territory Bands of the 30s.

Jazz as a Diversifier at St. Olaf

Benny Goodman

Knowing little about past artists St. Olaf has brought to campus, I set about my research seeing if any of the few jazz artists I know had ever performed on campus. One of my favorite being Benny Goodman, I began there. Although he never did perform on campus, and his name did not result in many articles, I did find a few important ones that expand on previous posts in this blog. In this post in particular, I will be adding to what Noah Livingston discussed this week as well on diversity within the music department at St. Olaf College.

Kristi McGee, a senior in 1989-90, wrote a strong letter explaining her reasoning for St. Olaf desperately needing a Jazz program in its curriculum. Whereas Noah’s found article seems to have a focus on the lack of diverse students at St. Olaf, McGee focuses on the musical and political benefits in relation to the college that a jazz program would bring.

Politically, McGee states that it is odd that the college does not have a jazz program implemented:

It seems ironic that an institution such as St. Olaf with high aspirations, and goals of diversification has not implemented a formal Jazz program. The emphasis on sacred and choral music and the disregard of other important musical genres, mainly Jazz, perpetuates St. Olaf’s image as a homogeneous, conservative, and conformists institution.

Any college cannot advocate for diverse student body while maintaining a conservative mindset on any matter, and although the college today is very open to dialogue, discussion, and change, it is evident through many of this blogs post that St. Olaf was not always accepting of opposing viewpoints. It appears that in the late 80’s and early 90’s, St. Olaf was in flux as it seeked to gather a larger diverse student body. Though it wished to accept new perspectives, it was not ready to let go of more traditional views on western music forms and what was considered art music and popular music.

To support her argument that jazz music is just as influential as other traditional musical genres, McGee list many influential artists and composers of jazz, and then proceeded to

Copland Clarinet Concerto, preformed by Benny Goodman, conducted by Aaron Copland, 1963.

explain how contemporary composers such as Ravel and Stravinsky had jazz influence their work. The example I will be using is Benny Goodman and how he influenced Aaron Copland’s Clarinet Concerto.

Goodman is a jazz and clarinet legend, and is considered the “king of swing.” His style and work as a clarinetist and as a band leader went on to influence a multitude of other artists and composers. This includes Aaron Copland and his Clarinet Concerto. Although it is now a standard of the classical clarinet repertoire, Copland’s Concerto was inspired by jazz techniques and Benny Goodman’s own playing.

McGee goes on to describe, in her own way, that to acknowledge jazz in an academic way would be to elevate it to a similar status that the school holds its coral and traditional western music to, which would then better acknowledge the work of the African American and other diverse American population that were instrument in creating and defining the one music style that is original to the United States, jazz.

Sources

Copland, Warfield, Goodman, Warfield, William, Goodman, Benny, Copland, Aaron, and Columbia Symphony Orchestra, Performer. Concerto for Clarinet and String Orchestra : With Harp and Piano. Old American Songs [sets 1 and 2]., 1963.

McGee, Kristi. “Jazz program desperately needed in music department.” Manitou Messenger, 06 Oct. 1989, pp. 5.

jazclarinetist. “Benny Goodman – Copland Concerto for Clarinet and String Orchestra.” YouTube, YouTube, 28 Mar. 2012, www.youtube.com/watch?v=PmMFL1zZ-tU.

The Forgotten Great

Thelonious Monk is referenced in 5 Manitou Messenger articles. In each, he is referred to as a “great” or treated as a hallmark of sound to which campus bands strive. However, he was not always well known. For years, Monk’s cabaret card was revoked because of a narcotics charge. This meant that Monk could not play in any club in New York that served alcohol, which was all of them. But instead of giving up, Monk sat in his room and practiced.

When Monk finally got another break, it was 16 years later. He had been left behind and was no longer considered a forefather of “modern music,” which would become bebop. The reason Monk made it back into the mainstream was largely due to a favorable review by jazz critic Nat Hentoff (who just passed away this last January). With his comeback, Monk started recording for Riverside Records. The St. Olaf Library had Monk’s 10th album with Riverside on vinyl. It is Five by Monk by Five.

   

The rhetoric is that of a lost opportunity for Monk, with his review saying that he “has only in the past few years begun to receive the general acclaim he has long deserved.” However, the rest of the album review praises Monk’s intellectuality. The liner notes suggest that Monk’s two new compositions for the album were fresh. However, there is even more emphasis on the fact that Monk’s three older songs do not lack ingenuity with their rediscovery of “his own neglected earlier material.” In fact, Monk is praised for his approach to each recording session, “regarding each as a fresh challenge and a fresh opportunity to speak his mind.” You can hear such ingenuity for yourself in this Spotify playlist of the album.

Monk certainly was to become known as a musician who speaks his mind. Five by Monk by Five was recorded in New York on June 1st and 2nd in 1959. In just 9 months time ,the Greensboro Lunch Counter Sit-ins would occur. Monk and his friends would get together (normally an apolitical group), and hold a benefit concert to support the sit-ins (Monson). Monk, however, had always been pouring his voice into his music. Here is a youtube vide to demonstrate what the lunch counter sit-in meant to the individuals who started it.

I can only imagine to someone like Monk, who had been put out of his career for several years due to issues surrounding racism and segregation, would have felt being around these brave people. I encourage you to go back to the 1959 recordings on the above Spotify playlist and listen to the stories and experiences Monk’s quintet screams into the music. Even when he tried, Monk could not be completely apolitical, because his work was nothing but intellectual.

Works Cited

Monson, I. T. (2010). Freedom sounds: civil rights call out to jazz and Africa. New York: Oxford University Press.

History channel Website on the  Greensboro sit-ins.   http://www.history.com/topics/black-history/the-greensboro-sit-i

 

 

Bitches Brew

Miles Davis is remembered today as one of the most influential figures in the development of jazz in the 20th century. Starting his career with a more conventional cool jazz sound, Davis pushed conventions by experimenting with his playing, compositions, and album instrumentation. I consider the pinnacle of his experimentation to be his 1970 album, Bitches Brew. This album is currently available to be checked out at the St. Olaf Music Library (you need to listen to this if you haven’t already). Unknown to a “Jazz” album at the time, Bitches Brew lacks typical jazz standards, song structures, and melodies in the conventional sense. Instead, Davis gives us a dense and chaotic musical landscapes. The music often sits on 1 chord for minutes, with the musicians improvising wildly over it. Also notable is its bizarre instrumentation of 2 drummers, 2 keyboardists, 2 bass players, 2 percussionists, and a distorted electric guitar. Davis fully embraces this new electric sound, which gives this album a bit of a psychedelic feel.

To me, Bitches Brew is Davis declaring war on all preconceived notions of what “jazz” ought to be. To me, this album is a revolution. I think much of Davis’ rejection of the status quo throughout his career stems from his infamous personality. He had a reputation for his bad temper, a large ego, and general rudeness. To get an idea of what he was like off the stage, I found an interview with Playboy Magazine from 1962. In this interview, Davis talks about his views on other musicians, critics, the creative process, and concerts. Race is a dominating theme throughout the conversation. Given his historical significance and the complex history of race within jazz, I find his comments to be especially impactful.

On prejudices he’s experienced

PLAYBOY: Did you grow up with any white boys?

DAVIS : I didn’t grow up with any, not as friends, to speak of. But I went to school with some. In high school, I was the best in the music class on the trumpet. I knew it and all the rest knew it — but all the contest first prizes went to the boys with blue eyes. It made me so mad I made up my mind to outdo anybody white on my horn. If I hadn’t met that prejudice, I probably wouldn’t have had as much drive in my work. I have thought about that a lot. I have thought that prejudice and curiosity have been responsible for what I have done in music.

On white jazz musicians

PLAYBOY: In your field, music, don’t some Negro jazzmen discriminate against white musicians?

DAVIS : Crow Jim is what they call that. Yeah. It’s a lot of the Negro musicians mad because most of the best-paying jobs go to the white musicians playing what the Negroes created. But I don’t go for this, because I think prejudice one way is just as bad as the other way. I wouldn’t have no other arranger but Gil Evans — we couldn’t be much closer if he was my brother. And I remember one time when I hired Lee Konitz, some colored cats bitched a lot about me hiring an ofay in my band when Negroes didn’t have work. I said if a cat could play like Lee, I would hire him, I didn’t give a damn if he was green and had red breath.

Interviews like these are a fantastic way to get a sense of an artist’s personality. I can see why some might have considered him to be rude or short tempered, but to me, I see an artist with very little care for anything besides his work. Davis was not interested in the superficiality of the entertainment industry. He was a man who simply lived his life and refused to conform. To me, his defiance is admirable.

Refrences

Erenkrantz, Justin. “Miles Davis. A Candid Conversation With the Jazz World’s Premier Iconoclast” Accessed October 30th 2017. http://www.erenkrantz.com/Music/MilesDavisInterview.shtml

Ruhlmann, William. “Miles Davis.” Allmusic. Accessed October 30th 2017. https://www.allmusic.com/artist/miles-davis-mn0000423829/biography

Judd group takes on Steely Dan, the Doobie Brothers, and Skoglund Auditorium

What on earth could Steely Dan, The Doobie Brothers, and St Olaf all have in common?The band “Judd.” The Judd Group found popularity in the 1970’s with their original songs and covers of the music of Steely Dan and the Doobie Brothers. They toured for 10 years, had two hit singles, and opened for Lynard Skynyrd, The Beach Boys, and Tina Turner. A group of a few white, midwestern young men, their sound, which infused black music traditions into their rock sound (such as blues, soul, jazz, and folk), stands as a hodge podge representation of more popular bands of the time.

Article on Judd by S. Crumb in The Manitou Messenger (1916-2014), No. 8, Vol. 91, November, 1977

On Sat., Nov. 12th, 1977, Judd played a gig at St. Olaf College in Skoglund Auditorium. As the equivalent of the current St Olaf MEC fall concert, it was quite an event. Their covers of the Doobie Brothers’ “It keeps you Runnin” and Jeff Beck’s “Freeway Jam” were well received.The Manitou Messenger covered the group and praised their playing and overall entertaining.

They drew inspiration from Steely Dan’s incorporation of jazz into rock, and from the Doobie brother’s use of folk and later soul music into their work. These groups all help represent a movement from the 60’s and 70’s of incorporating black music genres into rock music. As we can see, this movement was quite popular, and I think we should consider the implications from this.

Since popular rock bands incorporated certain genres in their sound, they essentially bridged a gap between their sound and genres often associated with black Americans, like jazz, soul and blues. They labelled themselves as “folk rock” – but more accurately, it was “black folk rock” – though it was more often than not sung by white musicians.

This could be seen as a good thing – a way to expose these genres (which admittedly had exposure already from plenty of other white performers and POC’s) to a crowd which was perhaps more concerned with rock and newer genres. However, I believe that it also helped erase some of those older black folk genres and create impressions of these genres that weren’t necessarily true.

In the Manitou Messenger article above, for example, the reviewer refers to the percussion of the Judd group as “Latin” inspired, but on listening to examples of the group’s work from their website, it isn’t “Latin” inspired at all – the reviewer falsely attributed a different (but also marginalized) culture to the music because they weren’t familiar enough with the black folk genres they were hearing to tell a difference between that and something else. They perpetuated their stereotype of what they thought Latin percussion to be instead of relaying what actually was in the music. The video below shows the group performing some original works and covers, and here you can listen for yourself to hear the inaccuracies in the Manitou article.

While the Judd group is not quite popular enough to merit a space in the St Olaf vinyl collection, they do have records of the Doobie Brothers and Steely Dan – both of which I believe would be excellent additions to our exhibit as we explore the implications of white performers incorporating and appropriating black music genres into their works.

 

St Olaf owns vinyl of “Best of the Doobies,” which includes “It Keeps You Runnin'” and “Black Water”

While Judd’s work cannot be found at the St Olaf Library, I think that the records St Olaf does have of the Doobie Brothers could be a nice addition to our library exhibit here at St. Olaf. It would display a group that used black folk elements in their rock sound, like in “It Keeps You Runnin” and “Black Water,” where they incorporate blues and soul and say “like to hear some funky Dixieland, pretty mama come and take me by the hand.” Particularly in “Black Water,” the pitch bending, dialect, and instrumentation all point to folk genres in the black tradition. I also think that this would accurately represent what St. Olaf Students at the time were listening to, and it would be nice to do a snapshot portion of the exhibit to look at St Olaf Student’s perception and reception of black folk music and its incorporation into rock.

 

 

“Sioux Indians (A Cowboy Chant)”… Oh the Irony

This week, amidst the vast shelves of St Olaf Libraries, I stumbled upon a track on the album Back in the Saddle Again: American Cowboy Songs. I was intrigued by the adjective “American” to describe the songs on that record. Does this album answer the question we’ve been asking all semester? Spoiler alert — No.

One song on the LP caught my eye. It was titled “Sioux Indians”. Nervously, I took a listen, only to hear more slander and racism which has been called-out in so many other blog posts.  The cowboy singing the song tells the story of the folklore and encounter with a tribe of Sioux Indians.

“We heard of Sioux Indians all out on the plains
A-killing poor drivers and burning their trains,–
A-killing poor drivers with arrows and bow,
When captured by Indians no mercy they show.”

These lyrics depict the Sioux Indians as savages! They are upset with that they are burning the trains and killing the drivers… but did do they remember who’s land they built the train tracks through in the first place? The song continues, and the cowboy himself encounters some Sioux Indians.

“While taking refreshment we heard a low yell,
The whoop of Sioux Indians coming up from the dell;
We sprang to our rifles with a flash in each eye,
‘Boys,’ says our brave leader, ‘we’ll fight till we die.'”

The complete other that the cowboys have created when describing. They limit the Native Americans to primitive sounds like a “yell” or “whoop”. When the song itself begins with the cowboy introducing himself and how he is going to “sing” you a song.

For me, the worst part is when the cowboys and the Indians duel.

“They made a bold dash and came near to our train
And the arrows fell around us like hail and like rain,
But with our long rifles we fed them cold lead
Till many a brave warrior around us lay dead.”

“Fed them cold led” is such a demeaning drastic image. The verb “fed” used as if it was a service or kindness. They also poke fun at the fallen Native Americans mockingly calling them “warriors”. This piece “Sioux Indians” by Marc Williams continues the racism behind turning Native Americans into others – in this case savages.

Citations

Recorded Anthology of American Music, Inc. (1983). Back in the Saddle Again : American Cowboy Songs. 

William, Marc. Sioux Indians (A Cowboy Chant). Spotify. link

Symphonic Jazz Opinions

This Manitou messenger article is a report on a talk given by a St. Olaf professor about jazz music. Even though the article is more of a report on what happened, it seems to be a good representation of students’ opinions and other opinions of the time because the author didn’t feel the need to argue against what this professor said.

It is clear that Overby doesn’t think that jazz music is “good.” The criteria that he sets up for this judgment doesn’t speak well for what jazz is, but it conveys the thoughts that show the well-established differences in popular and classical music. Overby claims that jazz has some goodness through the “modern school of composition.” Walter Damrosch’s view from around the time of Gershwin’s Rhapsody in Blue reflects a similar claim. He argues that jazz is a very low form of art, but that a great composer could lift it up into something with more emotion.

So, Overby is saying that not all jazz is to be condemned. Yet, according to the views expressed in this article, jazz is only praiseworthy once it has been made into symphonic jazz. This goes back to the fact that many things get changed and appropriated to suit audiences so that the product can be acknowledged and respected. Often people validate their actions of appropriation by saying that it comes from a place of respect for the original, but did composers have to respect original jazz sources to begin with in order to use them? Paul Whiteman, known as “the King of Jazz,” called it primitive, which seems inherently disrespectful to me. His orchestra can be heard on this LP titled, “Jazz.” Most people can recognize that the nature of developments like symphonic jazz aren’t entirely favorable for everyone involved all the time, but it is important to reflect on this in order to apply modern issues of cultural appropriation.

 

Sources

Crawford, Richard. America’s Musical Life. New York: W. W. Norton & Company, Inc., 2001.

Harrison, Max. “Symphonic jazz.” Grove Music Online. Oxford Music Online. Oxford University Press, accessed October 31, 2017. http://www.oxfordmusiconline.com/subscriber/article/grove/music/27249.

Oja, Carol. Making Music Modern: New York in the 1920s. New York: Oxford University Press, 2000.

Ramsey, Frederic, Jr. Jazz. The Blues Folkways Records FJ 2804, LP, 1958.

St. Olaf in Blue

While browsing the Manitou Messenger archives, I came across an interesting article from March 12, 1965 entiteld Pop Concert Features ‘Rhapsody in Blue.’ The article is essentially an advertisement for a cabaret-style concert performed by the St. Olaf Band, Chamber Band, and several soloists from a then upcoming performance of the musical Camelot. According to this article, St. Olaf put on an annual concert of pop music which leads me to ask the question: what happened to it? Surely this event would have been popular among students within and outside the music department, by definition it surely was. The highlight of the concert during this year was a performance of George Gershwin’s Rhapsody in Blue. The piece was performed during the second half of the evening, in which the audience members sitting at tables with refreshments would switch places with audience members sitting in the bleachers. The final section of the concert was a performance from the Manitou Singers featuring The March of the Siamese Children from the musical The King and I.

St. Olaf’s Halvorson Music Library contains numerous copies of George Gershwin’s Rhapsody in Blue on vinyl records. I believe that this would be a great contribution to our museum exhibit. George Gershwin’s music was hugely influential as he was a central figure in the United States who combined the realms of jazz and classical art music in ways that provoked many to reconsider what they consider the boundaries of these two musical genres. It interesting to see how St. Olaf decided to feature this work during a pop music concert, clearly taking a strong stance that it does not belong in the typical art music world that St. Olaf has built its traditions on. Not that I necessarily agree with this decision, but I felt it was an important fact to point out. Although, any opportunity to perform Rhapsody in Blue is an opportunity worth taking, right?!

original article: http://stolaf.eastview.com/search/udb/doc?art=0&id=46103667&hl=Rhapsody

Cows, Colleges, and Duke Ellington?

 

Duke Ellington at Carleton

Duke Ellington (born Edward Kennedy) became a prominent jazz musician throughout the mid 20th century. His name has become synonymous with jazz throughout households in the United States of America. As many jazz musicians, Duke Ellington toured across the United States with his orchestra playing the repertoire that would make the most money. In 1957, this orchestra and the esteemed composer himself made a visit to Carleton College on November 5th. And, in the tradition of great school newspapers, the Manitou Messenger advertised the concert. However, as intriguing as this article was, a little deeper digging revealed a more interesting resource: an article reviewing the concert from the Carletonian. To be fair, the Manitou Mess certainly wasn’t skimping on their coverage: the concert took place at Carleton, so it only makes sense for the more substantial review of the concert to appear in the Carletonian. The intriguing part of the article is the student’s opinion of the concert. The reviewer says that Ellington “proved once again, in Skinner memorial chapel, Tuesday night, that he is still one of the very best jazzmen around, with one of the very best bands.” The author goes on to praise Ellington’s jazz ability, but later in the article notes that despite Ellington’s status as a premier jazz musician, the concert was not “consistently good from a strictly musical standpoint”. The reviewer explains that the audiences more “sensitive ears” would have been repelled by the “exhibitionism” offered by some of the jazz soloists. Below is a recording of one of the pieces that were played at the concert:


As is often true of historical sources, this opinion on Ellington’s orchestra tells us more about the reviewer than the music itself. Duke Ellington’s career was on the decline by this point in the 1950s. He was focusing on writing sacred music and toured playing his most popular pieces. The author of the article points out that Ellington mainly played works that the audience knew and refers to Ellington as an “institution”. Even though the concert may not have been as musically perfect as the audience expected, they still knew that Ellington was an important part of history. Already, just a few decades into his career, Duke Ellington was a sacred relic.

Record titled “Jazz in the 1920s”

This quick institutionalization of jazz figures is also reflected in the records of the time. While searching through the St. Olaf Halvorson Music Library for records of Ellington’s made around the late 1950s, I found it difficult to find a single record of Ellington’s music alone. The early solo record of his on file is from the 1970s. One record I did find from around the time was part of a Library of Congress series on Jazz music. Ellington appeared once on the record. It seems as if the effort to collect jazz and codify it as a genre began at the same time as the art form itself. This tradition of feeling a need to preserve and codify art forms like jazz was passed down from Blues collectors who also felt a need to define their genre. These two artifacts, in particular, illustrate the incredible spread and popularity of jazz throughout the country. However, they also represent the way white audiences controlled what music became popular and marketable, as well as the way jazz musicians’ careers depended on the benevolence of a fickle American public.

Mostly, however, I chose to write about this particular Manitou Messenger article because Duke Ellington came to Northfield, and Carleton didn’t like it. What a story.

Sources

Hodeir, André and Gunther Schuller“Ellington, Duke.” Grove Music OnlineOxford Music OnlineOxford University Press, accessed October 30, 2017http://www.oxfordmusiconline.com/subscriber/article/grove/music/08731.

Manitou Messenger Archive

Carletonian Archive

MPR Article on Ellington’s Sacred Music

Jazz: America’s Music

Manitou Messenger article by Allan Townsend 1956

In this article is presented a very enthusiastic and nationalistic view of jazz, which aligns with popular opinions today. The history of jazz has been quite romanticized over the past decades, but it hasn’t always been championed as the emblem of American music.   Jazz was a music that first emphasized the performer over the composer. It featured improvisation over conventional structure and overall was a very rebellious art form, both musically and socially. Racism at the time created a deep-seated opposition to jazz because its racial associations and untraditional aspects. Jazz went from an unacceptable and rebellious art form to America’s music. How did this happen? First there was a time where many people, including Oles thought that Jazz was an inferior and unsophisticated from of music. And a few decades later, it was celebrated as truly American music revering its original composers and performers.

Manitou Messenger  article by Soren Lura 1930

Soren Lura ’31, for example had a pretty popular opinion in his time towards jazz. His opinions reflect the opposition towards Jazz for its supposed barbaric and unconventional characteristics. He states that jazz is primitive and compared it to the music and dance of cavemen.  Oscar Overby, a guest speaker in 1931, also had a similar opinion to Lura with one exception.

Guest Speaker Oscar Overby

“Music develops the whole man physically, mentally and spiritually, and jazz only develops the physical…. However not all jazz is to be condemned. Some of it has good qualities which are being used in the modern school of composition.” ~Oscar Overby

Overby had an exception that jazz was not all that bad because certain qualities were being used in modern composition. This opinion reflected the racial prejudices and divide amongst people. So how did opinions of Jazz change from Overby and Lura to Townsend’s popular view? One explanation is exactly what Overby expressed. Many people might have become more welcoming to jazz as legitimate music when it was adapted for the concert hall. This again suggests that people were only accepting to what they thought of as the most prestigious and cultivated music and that there was a clear hierarchy in music.

George Gershwin composing

George Gershwin was known for his compositions to include jazz and blues idioms, however it was composed for an orchestra, or a small band, both already being established genres of music. Many of his compositions were highly regarded and became the symbol of truly American music. Gershwin’s Rhapsody in Blue received much praise because if it’s unprecedented innovation in combining jazz and traditional styles, making it more palatable for white audiences. He of course received opposition as well, but over time, Rhapsody in Blue came to hold a permanent place in American music. It is interesting that as soon as a white man redefined black music for white audiences, it was celebrated.

Rhapsody Album Cover

In the recording of Gershwin’s Rhapsody in Blue, in the album, Rhapsody: Ferrante and Teiche and their Magic Pianos, there are elements of jazz and concert music. Firstly, the parts are written out, ignoring the improvisational aspect of jazz.  It was also meant to performed in a concert hall, instead of settings like speakeasies or rent parties, which ironically, Gershwin frequented. Based on its popularity and number of performances, Rhapsody in Blue popularized jazz for those who otherwise disapproved of it.

 

liner notes from album

Gershwin’s “cultivated” jazz also contributed to what people adopted as America’s sound. Gershwin’s work was so popular because he combined “low” music with modern music and provided America with a sound that was independent of European influence…even though we know it wasn’t.  This shows that even as people were struggling to define truly American music, they still turned to the belief that European styles were superior.  It is important to acknowledge these problematic issues because they contribute to the misrepresentation and erasure of a culture’s art and innovation.

Works Cited

ClassicFM. George Gershwin and the Art of America.

Ferrante and Teicher and their Magic Pianos. Rhapsody, Belleville, NJ. 1955.

Lura, Soren. “The Jazz Mania.” Manitou Messenger , 25 Nov. 1930, pp. 2.

“Oscar R. Overby Speaks on Jazz.” Manitou Messenger , 28 Apr. 1931, pp. 1.

“Rhapsody in Blue.” Nonesuch Records Inc. Nov. 1992.

Townsend, Allan. “An Introduction to Jazz.” Manitou Messenger , 3 Feb. 1956, pp. 3.

Attempting to Define “Authenticity” in Folk Music

Today, in the twenty-first century, musicians and scholars struggle just as much with how to define the abstract umbrella term that is “folk music” as they did at the beginning of the twentieth century when the importance and recognition of such music started to become accepted in the US. Even more difficult is recognizing what folk music counts as “authentic” within its respective context, a difficulty extending well beyond folk music but into any category of music with enough history behind it, such as early Renaissance music, jazz, and these days even hip-hop.

Such a conversation was even had here at St. Olaf during the 1960’s, a time when folk music rose into the popular sphere and was embraced by a wide variety of musicians and listeners. An article published in the campus newspaper The Manitou Messenger on February 15, 1963, entitled “Whatever folks are singing…that’s what makes it folk music” after a Pete Seeger quote, discusses this popularization of folk music and the various ways of defining it, as well as the conversations had on campus about the authenticity of various folk musicians. It specifically mentions student Jan Clausen’s KSTO radio program in which she played what she defined as “authentic” folk music, a word which, according to the article, “represents an argument which has arisen with the commercial popularity of folk singers.” Some of the artists that Jan would play, artists whom she defined at authentic folk musicians, included people like Pete Seeger, Lead Belly, and Erik Darling.

The inclusion of these particular artists leaves interesting questions about what this woman in particular defined as “authentic” in respect to folk music. Lead Belly, the nickname of Huddie Ledbetter, was a black blues and folk guitarist and singer from the early twentieth singer from Louisiana who was recorded by the Lomaxes for their Library of Congress archive recordings, and influenced later popular folk artists like Bob Dylan. Lead Belly’s race and place of birth point toward what many would consider “authentic” folk as the image of folk is often associated with minorities from more rural areas who generally have little access to the more commercial or “art” music worlds at the time. Next, we look at Pete Seeger, a white folk musician of urban origin with almost no connection by birthright to any sort of folk tradition. However, he did in fact mentor under the prominent folk music revival figure Woody Guthrie. Oral tradition is a key aspect of folk music, and such a musical mentorship almost certainly entailed passing down music orally. Pete Seeger was also part of the movement of urban folk musicians that strongly opposed commercial music and sang of political themes focused on “the people.” So perhaps Jan’s definition of authentic folk music is more complex than solely based on race or origin or tradition, but instead takes these into account as well as intention, musical philosophy, and legacy.

Below are recordings off of Lead Belly’s Lead Belly’s Last Sessions and Pete Seeger’s self titled album, both of which are available on vinyl in the music library.

Works Cited:

Hare, Steve and Jan Newbury. “Whatever folks are singing…that’s what makes it folk music.” The Manitou Messenger. 15 Feb 1963: 6. East View. Web. 30 October 2017.

Diversity at St Olaf. . .

As I was perusing the Manitou Messenger archives, I stumbled upon a very provocative and passionate article written by first-year student Catherine Mckenzie in the year 1989.  In her article, entitled “Music department needs diversity,” Mckenzie decries the lack of representation among music students and professors at St. Olaf, as well as the conspicuous absence of a jazz music degree program.  She feels that, as a music student of color, she has no role models to look up to and no way to learn about her cultural heritage.  

Pondering Mckenzie’s words, I can’t help but feel that nothing has changed since 1989.  There is still no jazz program.  There are still astonishingly few music professors of color.  There is still no one to teach students like Catherine Mckenzie about their musical and cultural heritage.  Mckenzie, writing in 1989, might just as well be describing the college I attend today.  Despite the many outraged cries for help from diverse members of the student body, St. Olaf remains a bastion of whiteness and privilege.

“It would benefit all to see how diverse the music field is becoming”

-Catherine Mckenzie

 

Despite the egregious lack of representation among students and faculty, the college does present a wide array of music by black artists in its collections of audio LPs and CDs.  In Mckenzie’s article, she lists several artists of color who have inspired her and paved the way for other artists, including Jessye Norman and Wynton Marsalis.  Both are represented in the collections at Halvorson.

 

 

In this way, it seems as though St. Olaf College, like white America as a whole, at once embraces black art and distances itself from that art’s creators.  There is black music in our record bins and there are black spirituals on our concert programs, but are there black students at our desks?  Black professors behind our lecterns?  Celebrating great artists like Norman and Marsalis is a good place to start, surely, but St. Olaf has a long way to go before it can truly call itself a diverse institution.

 

 

Sources

Marsalis, et al. “Wynton Marsalis Plays Handel, Purcell, Torelli, Fasch, Molter.”  New York, CBS Record Masterworks, 1984.

Mckenzie, Catherine. “Music department needs diversity.” Manitou Messenger, 28 Apr. 1989.

Weber, et al. “Euryanthe: [Romantic Opera in Three Acts. Libretto by Helmina Von Chezy].” Angel Records, 1975.  

John Coltrane – A Love Supreme

Amidst the vast collection of Vinyl records found within the Halverson music collection, one album that stands above so many is “A Love supreme” by  John Coltrane. This album, recorded in January of 1965, has become one of the most popular and well known records ever created. The release of this album brought John Coltrane to a new level of recognition and fame and it serves as a staple of Hard Bop and free form Jazz and spiritual music. Being a 4 part “suite” the album is divided up into multiple movements, beginning with the “Acknowledgement” then moving to the Resolution”, “Pursuance”, and “Psalm”. This album, which was intended to be a spiritual album, makes a direct connection to Coltrane’s mindset that his talents and abilities come not from himself, but rather, from a spiritual higher power.

Album Cover for “A Love Supreme”

One of the things that makes this album so unique is that it was recorded in a single studio session, in a single day of January 1965. The group was a single quartet featuring pianist McCoy Tyner, bassist Jimmy Garrison, and drummer Elvin Jones. Coltrane was featured solely on Tenor Saxophone. The piece was recorded at Van Gelder Studio. Rudy Van Gelder is regarded as the most important Jazz recording engineer of all time who had worked with other Jazz legends such as Thelonious Monk and Miles Davis. This album was a representation of Coltrane’s person struggle with faith and purity, expressing his deepest gratitude for the spiritual gifts he had been given.

A Love Supreme: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=clC6cgoh1sU

The only recorded live performance of the “Love Supreme” suite, was from a July 26, 1965, performance at the Festival Mondial du Jazz Antibes, Juan-les-Pins, France. This performance was also remastered and released in a 2002 two-CD set by Impulse! Records with the original album and additional studio outtakes.

Sources

Falsariochicote. “1964 – John Coltrane – A Love Supreme.” YouTube. February 27, 2014. Accessed October 30, 2017. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=clC6cgoh1sU.

Moon, Tom. “Music Review: ‘ A Love Supreme: The Complete Masters,’ John Coltrane.” Music Review: ‘ A Love Supreme: The Complete Masters,’ John Coltrane. December 21, 2015. Accessed October 30, 2017. http://www.npr.org/2015/12/21/460602057/music-review-a-love-supreme-the-complete-masters-john-coltrane.

Roberta Flack and Donny Hathaway: An Album That Deserves Attention

Over the summer of my freshman year, which consisted of using a large portion of my small paychecks on vinyl, I stumbled upon a Roberta Flack and Donny Hathaway record at a good old fashioned Maple Grove garage sale. Aptly named “Roberta Flack and Donny Hathaway” the 1972 album pins together two young R&B artists from Howard University and consists of an intimate and diverse collection of covered and original songs. While at the time of my purchase I didn’t think much of the record (besides the fact that I knew Hathaway’s famous cover of John Lennon’s “Jealous Guy” and a limited knowledge of Flack’s discography), I quickly fell in love with the ten sweet and sombre duets.

From the perspective of race, identity, and representation of “American music,” this album is a great representation of the assorted genres and influences that existed in the ever increasingly rich world of R&B, soul, and gospel in the ’70s. With a brief glance at the repertoire of covers, this notion immediately becomes apparent.

Track two, the initial recording by the pair, is a gospel tinged, lightly orchestrated cover of Carole King’s “You’ve Got A Friend.” Released around the same time as James Taylor’s sparse, singer songwriter version of the same piece, the song captures the initial spirit of the bohemian middle class that King set up, but extends it to the inner city, lower class communities, by use of the passionate call and response between chemically driven Hathaway and Flack, the driving wurlitzer electric piano base, and the tambourine infused percussion section. Similarly, “You’ve Lost that Lovin’ Feelin’,” a Righteous Brothers cover, replaces the standard Spector “wall of sound” orchestration with wild harmonica lines, funk bass, and ever-increasingly mellifluous harmonies, and adds an extra layer of genre bending licks and sections. With a moody ostinato bass-line  that melds into an exotic verse fully equipped with a traditional Indian sitar and an undeniable trope of Bach’s Toccato and Fugue in D Minor played on harmonica (around 5:40 in the track for all you musical nerds out there), this tune blends a fair amount of culture-crossing musical practices and influences.

You’ve Got A Friend: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7cOqfGPYc-E

You’ve Lost that Lovin’ Feelin’: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=c0m812CC4kg

Having only given two of the ten tracks a brief genre-based analysis, this blog post can’t conceivably capture the scope and range of this record. Whether it’s “Be Real Black for Me,” a song that served as an anthem for the 1960’s “black is beautiful movement,” “Come Ye Disconsolate”, a traditional sacred song-turned-gospel arrangement of a well known Thomas Moore hymn, or “Mood,” a breathtaking seven minute classically infused piano duet, Hathaway and Flack’s album of undeniable chemistry demonstrates the far-reaching influence and diversity found in R&B music of the 1970’s.

Sources

Flack, Roberta, Donny Hathaway, Eric Gale, and Billy Cobham, writers. Roberta Flack & Donny Hathaway. Recorded May 6, 1972. East West Records, Vinyl recording.

Koollatter. “Roberta Flack & Donny Hathaway – You’ve Got A Friend.” YouTube. February 01, 2014. Accessed October 30, 2017. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7cOqfGPYc-E.

“Music – Review of Roberta Flack & Donny Hathaway – Roberta Flack & Donny Hathaway.” BBC. Accessed October 28, 2017. http://www.bbc.co.uk/music/reviews/q6cg/.

77GhetooD. “Donny Hathaway & Roberta Flack – You’ve Lost That Loving Feeling (1972).” YouTube. April 3, 2011. Accessed October 29, 2017. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=c0m812CC4kg

A comparison of St. Olaf’s contribution to the oppression of marginalized composers

From the perspective of St. Olaf, our institution has supported the oppression of marginalized composers, and it is evident when looking through the archives of the Manitou Messenger. For example, when searching Amy Beach’s name, only one article comes up: Month showcases women’s work. The 2008 article discusses a student recital of works by female composers as well as a faculty recital honoring Amy Beach’s work.

Extending the search to female composers, 3 articles appear, only 2 of them holding relevant information in support of female composers. The 2002 article Cecilia’s Circle visits discusses the four-woman ensemble Cecilia’s Circle, who came to St. Olaf for a week-long visit in order to honor female composers from the Middle Ages, Renaissance, and Baroque eras. St. Olaf was lucky to have the opportunity to have a group like this come to give recitals, masterclasses, and guest lectures, but it’s also very disappointing that there has only been one other major occasion in which female composers have been celebrated on our campus in 15 years. In addition, the Halvorson music library only has six LPs that feature her works, five of them compilations with other composers and just one focusing on her piano works (The Piano Music of Mrs. H. H. A. Beach).

On the other hand, there are no results in the Manitou Messenger archive when searching “William Grant Still,” and only one article from 1979 when searching “black composers.” The article Lecturer to appear for Black History Month discusses St. Olaf guests William Nelson (Ohio State University political scientist) and Raymond Jackson (pianist) and Jackson’s recital of piano music by black composers. To me, this seems like an enthralling event that is long overdue to be done again on this campus. The article also cites the composers whose pieces Jackson played, so it is possible to use that as a starting point when searching for music by black composers. When turning to Halvorson’s LP collection, we only have two compilation albums that feature Still’s work, and no albums of only his works.


Mitchell, Elizabeth. “Month showcases women’s work.” The Manitou Messenger, No. 14, Vol. 121 (2008): 1.

Dion, Laurie. “Cecilia’s Circle visits.” The Manitou Messenger, No. 13, Vol. 115 (2002): 14.
Unknown. “Lecturer to appear for Black History Month.” The Manitou Messenger, No. 12, Vol. 92 (1979): 3.

Theodore Thomas and the American Symphony Orchestra

When considering the rise of concert music in America, scholarship often directs its attention to the founding of the New York Philharmonic Society in 1842 as landmark in Americans coming together for orchestral symphonic concert music. According to Crawford, the ensemble was founded as a “cooperative venture whose playing members were less interested in financial gain than in the chance to play the best symphonic music.”1 The ensemble only played four concerts in the first year, however Crawford points to its survival as proof that it “filled a need on the local scene.”2

“Theodore Thomas” New York Philharmonic Biographies https://nyphil.org/about-us/artists/theodore-thomas

However, I do not think it is fair to focus only on the Philharmonic as the sole introduction of symphonic concert music to popular American taste. Another factor to consider is Mr. Theodore Thomas and his influence on the genre. Thomas started out playing in the first violin section of the New York Philharmonic Society before moving to a conductor position with the Brooklyn Philharmonic Society.3 During his time at the Brooklyn Philharmonic, Thomas “evolved a formula to please the public and yet challenge, educate and uplift it” through the programming of European classical music.Through his lens, concert music by European masters was exactly what Americans needed and deserved to hear.

Later in the 1860s, Thomas went on to develop the Theodore Thomas Orchestra as resident to the Brooklyn Society and also to travel on tour along what was deemed the “Thomas Highway.”5 Thomas’s motivation to tour was likely an extension of his desire to share and spread the music he loved to the people of the America. Thomas was also notable for his impresario skills which he used to not only conduct the music but also to coordinate the finances and management of his orchestras.

“Thomas viewed himself as an agent in the work of raising musical standards to secure the symphony orchestra’s place in the United States.”6

In this article from the New-York Tribune, the journalist describes the contrast between the Boston audience’s response and the critic’s opinion upon hearing a concert including “Vorspiel” from Wagner’s opera Lohengrin. “The audience evidently liked it” the writer says, but critics found issue with the inclusion of Wagner because of his political ideology.7 Ultimately though, the journalist takes sides with the audience who loved this piece for its musical quality.

“Its undulating harmonies have a dreamy beauty which proves that Wagner, despite his extravagance and barbarie fire, is really a poet.”8

This brings me to my final query, which is whether or not we can count the music performed by Thomas and the orchestras he led as “American.” Even though a great majority of the music he chose to perform was written by European composers, I pose it is possible we consider it “American Music” if we use the label to describe it as an essential part of American culture. This leaves room for extensively more detailed research as to what exactly this music provided to audiences of the time as well as whether or not the rise of orchestral symphonic concert music, starting out with European classics, led to a later rise of American composers in this genre.

Richard Crawford, America’s Musical Life: A History, (New York: W. W. Norton & Company, 2001), 304.

Tee-pee Blues?

Tee-Pee Blues sheet music cover1

Tee-pee Blues1 2 is not your average song title. In fact, to a reader such as yourself, who is taking time to read blog posts for an American Music class that focuses on race, identity, and representation, such a title is at least astoundingly crass, if not downright offensive. How did someone possibly think it would be a good idea to write lyrics such as “Red man, for his canoe lonely,” set them to music that doesn’t remotely resemble Blues form, and then call it a Blues song? The answer however, as far as I am aware, is quite unsatisfying, and certainly not redeeming. Simply put, early 20th-century Americans were obsessed with exoticism (though admittedly that’s not what they called it then) and Tin Pan Alley loved nothing better than trying to capture Americans’ obsessions in music that could be marketed to them. And so, musical fluff that is more memorable for the tastelessness of its title than for its notes on the page was born. However, not all music produced by Tin Pan Alley was bad – it also produced classics such as Take Me Out to The Ball Game3. (“Classic” in this sense means something that pervaded popular culture, not to be confused with something that has an especial musical merit.)

All of this raises the question: what do we, as diligent musicologists, do about the fact that tens, if not hundreds, of thousands of Americans enjoyed and bought music like this? Do we simply frame it as a relic of times gone by, and justify our fellow Americans’ behavior as such? No! It is our duty to work to fight the cultural and economic forces that led to the production of such derogatory music, as such forces still play an incredibly active role in our lives to this very day. Spoiler: we have a lot of work to do.

“Goin’ Home”

While scrolling through the sheet music consortium, I stumbled across a digitized piece of music of which I have a physical copy in my own personal library, “Goin’ Home,” an adaptation by William Arms Fisher of Anton Dvořák’s New World Symphony (No. 9, mvt II Largo, specifically). Personally, I love the symphony and have enjoyed listening to it for many years, but I can’t help but wonder now about the complicated philosophies of Dvořák and this adaptation of his work which place the work not just as a well-known music history class example to memorize, but a work that has juxtaposed good intention with possible misguided ideology.

The sheet music I found includes a detailed account of Dvořák’s intention behind the New World Symphony and the melody on which this vocal piece is based. This description, shown to the left, describes Dvořáks fascination with the native people of the US. In his own desire to see his home, he attempted to fully understand the Native American and black music traditions which showed the true roots of American culture.

I think, overall, the attempt of this work to show Dvorak’s intent shows in the written dialect on the words “I’m Jes’ goin home” and “Gwine to roam no more.” Clearly, Fisher’s adaptation attempts to look to Dvořák’s attempts to draw on black folk music. The music does say that the singer may omit the dialect, which shows that people of all backgrounds were encouraged to sing this music. We also know from the forward of this piece pictured above that Dvorak, while attempting to make an example of true American music, also drew on his own experiences. The spirit of his work was meant to be applicable to many people. In “Goin’ Home,” Fisher develops Dvořák’s yearning for his own home into a universal message of hope for anyone searching for home.

However, the message is pointedly not universal when it is directly associated with black folk music. Even more so, the white composer and arranger have not used an actual black folk tune but made one up – this causes confusion and leads people to believe that the song is originally a black folk tune. Instead of lifting up an already existing melody in the black folk tradition, Dvořák stereotyped his idealized version of folk music and missed an opportunity to showcase genuine, authentic folk music. While the attempt seemed earnest in its good intent, the execution remains slightly subpar.

We must also consider what it would have meant if he’d used a black folk melody. Would appropriating one have been much better? He was stuck between creating one on his own and using an existing one – both appropriation and creation would have contributed to the erasure of this culture in some form, though. As someone who was not part of the black folk tradition, it would have been impossible to find a way to authentically emulate these traditions without erasure. This brings up the question of whether or not he should have written this at all.

I hesitate to say he should not have. Whether that is simply because it is beautiful music or because there is some other argument that he contributed to American music in a way different than MacDowell (who contributed to a “vanishing Indians” idealogy), I cannot say.1 This piece, especially controversial given its dialect text, would be an excellent addition to our class exhibit, however. Since I own a personal copy, and we can give people a QR code that lets them access it online and peruse anytime, I think that it is an accessible source that many could use.

 

 

1 Daniel Blim, “MacDowell’s Vanishing Indians,” paper delivered at the annual meeting of the American Musicological Society, Vancouver, BC, November 4, 2016.

Take Down the Monuments: A 150-Year-Old Dialogue

A push to remove confederate monuments has swept the news in the past few months. This has sparked debate and dialogue across the nation, drawing attention to civil war history. The conversation extends from what the monuments themselves represent to the intention behind the civil war. It is important to acknowledge these issues today, and therefore it is also valuable to see how far back this conversation extends.

The Civil War lasted from 1861-65. While groups like the Sons of Confederacy try to push the message that the war was fought over states’ rights, historians cannot deny the major role that slavery played in the war (Dew). This debate and the attempted historical erasure is important to recognize at the heart of the monument debate. The question that remains difficult to answer is if Confederate monuments represent a system of oppression or simply the fallen soldiers in battle. In Portsmouth Virginia, Trinity Church put up a stained glass window that can be seen here.

 

This window tries to pay homage to soldiers fallen in battle. However, the Union did not like the wording on the window, so they made the church take it down in 1872. This action elicited a response from composer, George Camp. He wrote the song “Memorial Window” for the congregation of Trinity Church. The inscription on the cover page for the printed music gives a brief history, saying that

“the congregation of Trinity Church at Portsmouth, Va. placed an appropriate window in their church edifice if memory of Virginians slain during the war, which they were forced to remove, in consequence of offense taken by the U.S. Authorities.”

Camp’s disgruntled tone carries over into his lyrics as well. To camp, this monument was respectful of the soldiers who gave their lives in battle. However, it is clear that others saw the monument as a symbol that individuals were so invested in systems of oppression that they were willing to give their lives for it. This connotation casts monuments such as these in a different light.

Unfortunately, a recording of Camp’s “Memorial Window” does not exist. Nevertheless, I felt compelled to write about this object because of the political parallels that it seems to cary through to today. It has been 145 years since the 1872 debate of the window in Portsmouth Virginia, but the citizens are still trying to decide what to do with similar objects. In the past few weeks, the Mayor of Portsmouth has voiced a desire to move a civil war monument from the center of town. The story is covered here. I hope that highlighting examples such as these shows that efforts to combat racism and oppression need to be constantly pursued. These issues have been discussed in our country for a long time now.

Works Cited

Dew, Charles B. Apostles of disunion: southern secession commissioners and the causes of the Civil War. Charlottesville: University of Virginia Press, 2016.

Trinity Episcopal Church: HISTORY. (n.d.). Retrieved October 24, 2017, from http://www.trinity-portsmouth.org/anniversary-info

Camp, G., & Hope, J. B. (1872). The Memorial Window. Savannah, GA: Ludden & Bates.

Dedicated to the Congregation of Trinity Church (Portsmouth, Va.)

William Arms Fisher’s “Goin’ home”: somehow a “Negro spiritual”

This week while browsing the Sheet Music Consortium my eye was caught by a particular title: “Goin’ home: Negro spiritual from the largo of the New World Symphony, op. 95.” I was curious as to what this material could be – was the New World Symphony based on a spiritual?

William Arms Fisher

I was surprised to learn that this title was in fact invoking a song written to the music of the largo from Dvorak’s famous American symphony. The lyrics to “Goin’ home” were written and set to music by William Arms Fisher in 1922, after the premier of the “New World Symphony” in 1893. Fisher was a student of Dvorak’s at the National Conservatory, and later went on to become a music editor, historian, and songwriter. He wrote on the impact and importance of 18th and early 19th century American music, and also compiled anthologies of Irish songs and Negro spirituals. Fisher is however most well known for the setting of “Goin’ home” at hand.

In his forward to “Goin’ home,” Fisher writes about his inspiration for writing lyrics to go with the second movement of the New World Symphony:

“That the lyric opening theme of the Largo should spontaneously suggest the words “Goin’ home, Goin’ home” is natural enough, and that the lines that follow the melody should take the form of a negro spiritual accords with the genesis of the symphony.”

“Goin’ home” title page

In this statement by Fisher, as in the symphony as a whole, we see a blending of genres, a crossing of Dvorak’s European symphonic traditions with pastoral and folk-y American inspiration. Fisher believed that the homesick, almost tragic qualities of the English horn melody in the largo movement embodied Negro spirituals, which thus called him to interweave the spiritual with the symphony. However, is “Goin’ home” a Negro spiritual if Fisher wrote the lyrics and Dvorak wrote the music?

This brings up the question of authorship for me, and the author’s/composer’s intentions while writing the music. First of all, Fisher chose to write the lyrics in a dialect, which was a conscious decision on his part. It seems to me like an effort to be more authentic and true to the styl