“Painting & Music”: Fine Art in 1830s America

The manager of the Baltimore Museum bought an advertisement in the Baltimore Patriot on November 4th, 1831, to publicize an upcoming event, shedding light on the role of music in antebellum American society. The manager wished to advertise an exhibition that would be occurring at the museum that Saturday night at which Francis Johnson and his military band would be performing, in order that “amatures [sic] and connoisseurs in fine painting” alike would be able to enjoy “the concord of sweet sounds” of the live music.1

This advertisement reveals several details about the role of music, and art in general, in American society in the early nineteenth century. At the time, bands like Johnson’s could not distribute their music by recording. Instead, their profits came from performing live. While many ensembles, especially Johnson’s band, put on their own concerts, this article demonstrates that they also performed at events that were not necessarily dedicated concerts but simply required some musical accompaniment. Music could be combined with the experience of viewing paintings for the greater enjoyment of “amatures and connoisseurs” alike, indicating that while this was a social function, it was more about the sensory experience than about asserting the upper class identity of those who had the luxury to consider themselves “connoisseurs”. This was the same tradition of live performance that minstrel shows and vaudeville would evolve from, and the combination of different forms of entertainment in one event for convenience and accessibility actually resembles these later traditions.2 The manager of the museum describes Johnson and his band as “famous” and “excellent” and advertises that they would “perform many of the most popular and justly celebrated pieces of instrumental music”, which was a feature of much of the American concert music of the early nineteenth century. Bands and even early American orchestras would mix high-brow music with more popular and fashionable music, drawing very diverse crowds as a result.3 However, money was still a factor for the artists, and just as Johnson’s band relied on public support, the success of this museum was “so much indebted to the liberal patronage” of the public.1

By playing popular music at public events like this art exhibition in addition to their own concerts, ensembles like Johnson’s band could draw audiences from a variety of backgrounds, garnering attention for their music as well as for the art displayed at the museum. Their reliance on public support helped both institutions–that of music and that of art museums–to reach a wider audience, ultimately creating more opportunities to engage with art and in turn contributing to more widespread artistic literacy among the American public.

Citations:

1 “Advertisement.” BALTIMORE PATRIOT & MERCANTILE ADVERTISER. (Baltimore, Maryland) XXXVIII, no. 98, November 4, 1831: [3]. Readex: America’s Historical Newspapers. https://infoweb.newsbank.com/apps/readex/doc?p=EANX&docref=image/v2%3A107D4AD8C258B928%40EANX-108270873A425650%402390126-10827087F7BAA9A0%402-1082708C24416710%40Advertisement.

2 Lewis, Robert M., ed. From Traveling Show to Vaudeville : Theatrical Spectacle in America, 1830-1910. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 2003. Accessed November 25, 2022. ProQuest Ebook Central.

3 Locke, Ralph P. “Music Lovers, Patrons, and the ‘Sacralization’ of Culture in America.” 19th-Century Music 17, no. 2 (1993): 149–73. https://doi.org/10.2307/746331.

Thomas Dorsey, Gospel Music, and Black Resilience

 

A choir performs in Chicago in 1941. Credit: Russell Lee, Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division

White supremacy holds its roots in American music, specifically through the harmful tradition of cultural appropriation and assimilation. This instance is prevalent through multiple examples, but I will be discussing the issue of the enforcement of African American people into Christianity. By glancing into the deep history of African religions, it is obvious how diversified and vast religion seemed to be. With a variety of polytheistic religions with some Islamic influence, religion was a space encompassed by the natural and spiritual worlds. Through colonization and slavery, the European mode of Christianity began to engulf African spirituality. Though the strength and resilience of these enslaved men and women led to the cultivation of “the rites, rituals, and cosmologies of Africa in America through stories, healing arts, song, and other forms of cultural expression, creating a spiritual space apart from the white European world” (Sambol-Tosco). In terms of these rituals, one of which is ever present is the tradition of Gospel music. This genre was the gateway to combine the influential protestant tradition with cultural expressions of African culture such as call and response, improvisation, expressive rhythm, chants, dance, and storytelling. Through the Chicago Defender, I found an article outlining the history of gospel music and how black culture and freedom led to the genre’s flourishing. Specifically, the photo shown below from 1941 depicts one of the many gospel choirs still represented today.

Thomas Dorsey             Thomas Andrew Dorsey's album; The Maestro Sings

The root of African American gospel music emerged alongside other 19th and 20th-century genres such as ragtime, blues, jazz, and even black spirituals from earlier centuries. The songbook, A Collection of Spiritual Songs and Hymns, was the first hymnal written for African American worship. These arrangements were full of syncopated rhythms, improvisation, and shout traditions. One of the most prolific composers and performers of the said genre is the Father of Gospel Music, Thomas Andrew Dorsey. Born in 1899, Dorsey was the son of a revivalist preacher and grew up surrounded by the influence of blues pianists in Atlanta, Georgia. He is known today as the father of gospel music due to his compositions that have long become prevalent in gospel standards, such as Precious Lord, Take My Hand, Peace in the Valley, and Trouble About My Soul. 

Gospel tradition spread throughout Chicago due to the urges from the Chicago Defender during the Great Migration for African Americans to travel north. Dorsey was one of these individuals convinced to establish roots in this city and he took strides to tour with Jazz musicians such as Mahalia Jackson, Sally, Martin, and Ma Rainey. One album that was recorded by Dorsey was his vinyl entitled “Thomas Andrew Dorsey – The Maestro Sings” distributed by Sound of Gospel Records in 1980. After listening to a few of the recordings listed, the influences of jazz and blues become abundantly clear. Below is a recording of his song Precious Lord which includes a small sermon as the introduction and then the music, which consists of all of the elements previously mentioned, such as syncopated rhythms, shout, and blue notes. 

To refer back to the discussion of the assimilation of European Christianity, I present Gospel music as an example of black resilience and as a musical genre created by the combination of black culture and the Protestant faith. Gospel music has become an extraordinarily influential and essential part of African American music as it was created partly to establish a practice separate from enslavers. As the writer and producer, Stacey Robinson, of The Birth of Gospel, a Chicago Stories show, accurately states, “I hope when audiences see this, they realize that spirituality is at the base of our humanity. The Black church was so important and allowed us ways to get through slavery, Jim Crow, and help sustain us during the Civil Rights Movement and it continues to be a source today” (Sanders).

Citations
The Editors of Encyclopaedia Britannica. (2022). Thomas Andrew Dorsey. Encyclopaedia Britannica. Retrieved November 23, 2022, from https://www.britannica.com/biography/Thomas-Andrew-Dorsey

Gorlinski, V. (2022). Gospel music. Encyclopaedia Britannica. Retrieved November 23, 2022, from https://www.britannica.com/topic/gospel-music

Sambol-Tosco, K. (n.d.). Slavery and the making of america . the slave experience: Religion: PBS. Slavery and the Making of America . The Slave Experience: Religion | PBS. Retrieved November 23, 2022, from https://www.thirteen.org/wnet/slavery/experience/religion/history.html

Sanders , D. (2022, May 4). The “Birth of gospel” highlights Chicago’s rich history in gospel music. Chicago Defender. Retrieved November 23, 2022, from https://chicagodefender.com/the-birth-of-gospel-highlights-chicagos-rich-history-in-gospel-music/

Thomas A. Dorsey – The Maestro sings. Discogs. (1980, January 1). Retrieved November 23, 2022, from https://www.discogs.com/release/9299396-Thomas-A-Dorsey-The-Maestro-Sings

Gospel Nostalgia. (2014, May 3). “precious lord” (1980) Thomas Dorsey. YouTube. Retrieved November 23, 2022, from https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=V2ySfuUCbyA

Lillian Evanti: We see her success but cannot hear it

Lillian Evanti was a prominent opera singer, and one of the first, if not the first African-American women to tour with a European opera company. Additionally, she was a founding member of the National Negro Opera Company, performing as Violetta in their performance of Verdi’s La Traviata. As a famous performer, Evanti gave concerts and recitals all over the United States and Western Europe. One such performance was at the Hall of Americas in the Pan-American Union, celebrating many Latin American composers.

Lillian Evanti with John Hoskins at the Pan-American Union.
Robert H. McNeil, Lillian Evanti and John Hoskins perform at the Hall of the Americas Pan American Union, 1946, Anacostia Community Museum Archives, Box 26, Folder 54.

Evanti’s program included works from Mexican, Cuban, Argentinian, and Venzuelan composers (both women and men), an aria from Il Guarany, an opera composed by Antônio Carlos Gomes, as well as a few of her own original compositions. Her performance of a diverse range of composers shows that she uplifts silenced and underrepresented voices. Her contribution of original compositions for this occasion, “Himno Panamericano,” and “Honor a Trujillo,” not only shows musical virtuosity, but also a willing spirit to participate in diplomacy and international relations. 

Recital program, detailing the composers and pieces she performed, including her originals.
Program featuring Lillian Evanti and John Hoskins, Union of American Republics, 1946, Anacostia Community Museum Archives, Box 32 Folder 29.

While researching Lillian Evanti, both for this blog post and for my group mapping project, I found myself confused and frustrated at the fact that recordings of Lillian Evanti singing either do not exist, or are extremely hard to come by. It made me wonder why such a prominent and successful singer was not documented in this way. In just a few simple google searches, I found recordings from two other female opera singers who were contemporaries of Lillian Evanti. So why are there no recordings of Evanti even though her contemporaries received this kind of documentation and legacy? Of course, I cannot say the true answer because I do not know. But I can only speculate as to why Evanti’s legacy lives on in pictures rather than audio. Even if she was a famous performer and traveled the world giving performances, the fact still remains that she was African-American. Her success was revolutionary and a great step towards diversifying the Western canon, but unfortunately her identity as a member of a marginalized community may have contributed to her lack of existent audio recordings compared to her contemporaries. While you might not immediately think about the repercussions of something that happened 80-100 years ago, this proves that the effects of racism and inequity are still felt today, as now we cannot truly discover the legacy of Lillian Evanti. We can read reviews of so many concerts, recitals, and other performances telling us how beautiful and lyrical her voice was, but as far as I know, we will never be able to hear her voice and understand part of why she was so successful.

Citations included in photo captions.

The Chicago jazz scene takes… Monterey, California?

What does a beach town with a nationally renowned aquarium and Chicagoan jazz legends like Thelonious Monk have in common? If you are a jazz musician today and don’t live under a rock, you might know the answer – the Monterey Jazz Festival, one of the biggest and most prestigious jazz festivals in the country. Founded in 1958, it is the longest continuously-running jazz festival in the world, and, today, only the best of the best of professional jazz musicians get invited to perform (1).

The Festival was co-founded by Ralph Gleason, a jazz critic for the San Francisco Chronicle, and Jimmy Lyons, a jazz disc jockey. It took them over two years to organize the first festival, but they worked on overdrive to book jazz musicians from all the major jazz epicenters, like New Orleans, Harlem, and Chicago (2). In the very first festival, the two pulled the likes of Louis Armstrong, Billie Holiday (whose particular performance became famous, especially since she died suddenly about nine months later), and Dave Brubeck, who coined and was the first supporter of the idea of the festival (1).

Seen in newspaper articles from the Chicago Defender, there was not only considerable effort made by the festival to recruit top talent in jazz, but also efforts made to uplift the communities that the musicians hailed from and where there were fans. Check out this article advertising the musicians in the 1961 festival (3) and 1963 festival, which included Thelonious Monk (4):

The jazz festival has been popular for years, and has drawn as many as 40,000 people over the three days per year. It has also implemented programs for outreach, including funding music scholarships at the Monterey Peninsula College and Berklee College of Music, a summer jazz camp for students, and honor ensembles, including a big band, a vocal jazz ensemble, and women-only combos. Another outreach program of the festival is its Next Generation Jazz Festival, in which big bands, combos, singers, and jazz choirs from schools and universities across the country compete to even make it into the prestigious three-day event (5). This festival is especially cool for me because I was lucky enough to get to perform at it in high school with my vocal jazz ensemble! (I’m pretty sure we got close to the bottom of the competition rankings, though: California has a pretty fantastic jazz scene, both in general and at high schools.)

Sources:

(1) “Monterey Jazz Festival.” Wikipedia. Wikimedia Foundation, November 16, 2022. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Monterey_Jazz_Festival.

(2) “The Monterey Jazz Festival Collection.” Spotlight at Stanford. Accessed November 20, 2022. https://exhibits.stanford.edu/mjf.

(3) Monterey jazz festival boasts allstar lineup(2). 1961. The Chicago Defender (National edition) (1921-1967), Aug 19, 1961. https://www.proquest.com/historical-newspapers/monterey-jazz-festival-boasts-allstar-lineup-2/docview/492970249/se-2 (accessed November 21, 2022).

(4) Line up jazz festival for monterey, calif. 1963. Chicago Daily Defender (Daily Edition) (1960-1973), Aug 26, 1963. https://www.proquest.com/historical-newspapers/line-up-jazz-festival-monterey-calif/docview/493965032/se-2 (accessed November 21, 2022).

(5) “JazzReach – Education – 65th Annual Monterey Jazz Festival.” Monterey Jazz Festival. Accessed November 21, 2022. https://montereyjazzfestival.org/education/program/jazzreach/.

American Music: Setting Over Style?

What constitutes American Classical music? Perhaps we could define it by the Western sound of Copland, who delineated the open plains in a series of open fifths or Ellington who took Jazz, a distinctly American genre to the symphonic stage, or even Dvorak who wasn’t American at all but somehow managed to be one of the best at defining American classical music. 

For other nations, the distinction was easy. France holds impressionism, full of soft lilting melodies and making use of modal harmony when it had become somewhat obsolete. Germany was defined in Wagnerian extravagance, Italy laid claim to opera, and Russian music was re-interpreted again and again by Tchaikovsky, Stravinsky, Prokofiev, and Shostakovich in a series of controversial (and frequently politically controversial) harmonies. What did America have? I think it might be fair to say that American music is defined more by subject matter than it is by tonality or style. Charles Ives is perhaps one of the best examples of this. Remember When … - Davison Index

The headline of the Chicago Defender reads “Chicago Symphony opens with Ives’ Decoration Day”. This is one of four pieces written by Ives called “Four New England Holidays” all based on his childhood on the east coast. Decoration day (or memorial day as we know it now) is full of “simultaneity” meaning that different instruments are playing entirely incongruent parts that line up in some vertical manner. He was much ahead of composers in Europe that would eventually try the same thing (Chicago Defender). Charles Ives - Dallas Symphony Orchestra

Ives was always very dedicated to depicting a scene. In Decoration Day, there are many elements that can lead the audience to know exactly what was in Ives’s head. The movement starts with rather disturbed and incongruent parts punctuated by church bells, made to signify the “fragmented memories and melodies” that his father shared with him about the Civil War (Coffill). Eventually the piece breaks out into a full military march, before returning to an even more haunting, bare bones version of the opening. Such clear depictions of an event can be seen in many of Ives’s other works such as “Central Park After Dark” where the instruments are supposed to emulate the sounds of central park including voices and car horns (Keller). Both of these settings are inherently American, but his styling is nowhere in relation to Copland, Price, or Ellington. However, all of these composers did write about the subject matter of America, and maybe that is where the true musical nationalism lies. 

 

Sources: 

 

“Chicago Symphony Opens with Ives’ ‘Decoration Day’.” Chicago Defender (Daily Edition) (1973-), Nov 19, 1974. https://www.proquest.com/historical-newspapers/chicago-symphony-opens-with-ives-decoration-day/docview/494084643/se-2.

 

Coffill, B. (2019). Charles Ives’s Decoration Day: A Conductor’s Guide. SAGE Open, 9(1). https://doi.org/10.1177/2158244018820353

 

Keller, James M. “Notes on the Program – New York Philharmonic.” NyPhil.org, NY Philharmonic, https://nyphil.org/~/media/pdfs/program-notes/1819/Ives-Central-Park-in-the-Dark.pdf.

Appealing to White Sensibility

When looking at maps in our class, we’ve observed that many conclusions can be drawn from a map regarding the author’s intentions: how they want to use the map, and to what end. Advertisements are no different, and it’s important to acknowledge what an ad is attempting to achieve and how it tries to reach its goal. This furthers our understanding of the author and the context for when it was made. A clear example of this can be found in the 5th Annual American Negro Music Festival Program, held on July 8th, 1944 (1). The program functioned as a flyer to promote the event to potential ticket buyers as well as show audience members what they were in for.

The front cover of the program.

The inside of the program

From our modern-day perspective, the opening cover seems to be disarming and doesn’t give us much information about the concert itself. It’s held at the White Sox Ball Park, a relatively-large venue. The title is specific enough so viewers understand that the festival will feature some aspect of African-American music, but vague enough for viewers not to know which one. Could it be folk? Classical? Jazz? Spirituals? The front cover intentionally gives us no answer.

The back of the program

Then we move to the inside of the pamphlet, and much more is revealed. All of the main acts listed are African Americans who perform inside the European concert tradition and individuals respected in academic circles, or at least the program frames it as such. Names such as Madam Lillian Evanti and Langston Hughes are mentioned. The program also wants to make clear its goals as a social-justice event and goes out of its way to articulate its intentions “to create a keener and more appreciative understanding between all racial groups” (2).

Finally, the last page includes a final call to get tickets and endorses itself with the names of well-known political figures and organizations. Notably, the public figures mentioned are all white. Looking at all of the observations we’ve gathered, we can conclude that this was undoubtedly targeted at white audiences. Every aspect of the planned event and this advertisement appeals to white sensibilities. All of the African American artists listed are noted as excelling at white traditions of opera, poetry, composition, and European music. It makes no mention of Spirituals, Jazz, Blues, or Folk music – all genres that were spreading at a rapid pace among African American musicians. The endorsements come from white authority figures, rather than Black intellectuals and leaders at the time. Langston Hughes was involved with this event and was a prominent Black cultural leader. Why not have him endorse it? The fear was that doing so would scare white audiences away.

While the seeking of white approval is disappointing from our present-day perspective, it doesn’t undercut the concert’s historical intentions of racial justice. At the time, putting together an event at this scale that featured Black musicians and artists was highly unusual, and likely a huge risk for all financially invested parties. However, this does not permit filtering black art through a white lens, especially not in the present day. If we seek to dismantle implicit racism that events like these perpetuated, we must acknowledge the impact it had (good and bad) to avoid making the same mistakes.

(1) Evans-Tibbs collection, Anacostia Community Museum Archives, Smithsonian Institution, gift of the Estate of Thurlow E. Tibbs, Jr.

(2) Evans-Tibbs collection, Anacostia Community Museum Archives, Smithsonian Institution, gift of the Estate of Thurlow E. Tibbs, Jr.

Lillian Evanti making ways for diverse classical performers

1

Lillian Evanti, unknown to me before this class, is an iconic figure in the operatic world. In 1925, she emerged as the first African American to perform as a professional opera singer in Europe. The Howard University alumna was also a soror (Zeta Phi Beta), speaker, teacher, art collector, activist, and goodwill ambassador for the Department of State.

Throughout her life, she traveled across the United States and Europe as an accomplished musician. One of her most notable performances debuted in  Delibes’s Lakmé in Nice, France in 1925. 

2

Despite being praised in Europe, her success in America was exclusively highlighted by black newspapers. The Pittsburg Courier and The Oakland Tribune are some examples of black newspapers bringing Lillian Evanti to American audiences.

3

Her popularity in America compared to her popularity in Europe was fairly contrasting. In American newspapers, she would be visiting a high school and typically black schools, whereas in Europe she was endlessly praised for her beautiful voice and performances.

4

One specific sentence in this newspaper roughly translates that her pure and well-posed voice played without difficulty with the perilous air of bells. How different she is talked about in Europe.

As my group project on Lillian Evanti’s career continues to develop, I continue to learn more and more about her and what she accomplished for black classical musicians during her time.

1 Evans-Tibbs collection, Anacostia Community Museum Archives, Smithsonian Institution, gift of the Estate of Thurlow E. Tibbs, Jr.

2 Evans-Tibbs collection, Anacostia Community Museum Archives, Smithsonian Institution, gift of the Estate of Thurlow E. Tibbs, Jr. Box 1, Folder 6.

3 Soprano to Sing Tomorrow Night, Oakland Tribune, Monday, April 01, 1935

 4Messager, Jean. “Mme Lillian Evanti Dans ‘Lakmé.’” Comoedia. January 24, 1927. Accessed 11/15/2022. https://gallica.bnf.fr/ark:/12148/bpt6k7651736k/f3.item.r=lillian%20evanti.zoom

The Chicago Defender: Emphasizing Black Music

A self made millionaire, Robert Sengstacke Abbott trained as a lawyer and turned to newspaper publishing after two years of practicing law in Indiana and Kansas. Despite Abbott’s shift in career direction, his work remained rooted in social justice and an unwavering commitment to making life better for the many African Americans leaving the south and heading north during what is known as The Great Migration. While none of the nine original goals of his newspaper, The Chicago Defender, speak to the proliferation of African American musicians, composers and conductors, the existence of his newspaper provided exposure for thousands of African American musicians who would otherwise have been forgotten. Abbott’s efforts were recognized nationally and included in the Encyclopedia of Chicago website noting, “The Chicago Defender promoted black fine arts and publicized the works of artists and the institutions that supported and nurtured their creativity.” Even though Abbott’s newspaper was not established to nurture blossoming African American musicians at the time, it inadvertently was the singular catalyst for popularizing many of the black musicians we know and love today. This includes greats like Margaret Bonds, King Oliver, Louis Armstrong and Josephine Baker. Sarah A. Waits in her theses and dissertation, “‘Listen to The Wild Discord’: Jazz in the Chicago Defender and the Louisiana Weekly, 1925-1929,” confirms the subtle promotion for African American musicians when she writes, “By highlighting the gigs and engagements of New Orleans-born musicians, and of orchestras that played New Orleans-style jazz, musicians in New Orleans were aware of the economic and popular successes of former residents” (Waits, 17). 

Abbott termed the nine original goals of his newspaper the Bible, and tied his entrepreneurship to the health, safety, civil rights and expansion of African Americans and their cultural roots. This publication contributed to The Great Migration with Abbott heroically using his skill, knowledge and desire to help African Amercians dream of a life outside the Jim Crow South. In establishing, publishing and distributing information about African American representation, careers and artistic cultural events, Abbott shared a vision of what awaited them in the north and introduced them to those African Americans who were living out their dream of composing and performing in the arts and redefining the field for all.

In 1975, newspaper journalist Earl Calloway, widely known as the Fine Arts Editor and a columnist for The Chicago Daily Defender, wrote a short column regarding The Chicgao Defender newspaper putting specific emphasis on African American culture. The title of the article does not do justice to Mr. Calloway’s writing because of the emphasis on black entertainers and musicians in the text. Mr. Calloway begins the article by referencing earlier editions of The Chicago Defender highlighting African American musicians and composers such as the infamous James P. Johnson, a revolutionary pianist who was a major part of the transition from ragtime to jazz music, his pupils, as well as other young talented black artists at the time. Mr. Calloway recognizes Mr. Abbott and his contributions as well as how his “personal involvement and support continued throughout his life by attending and emphasizing artistic activity and development” in African American individuals (Calloway). Calloway further expands on the fact that there are little to no black musicians who haven’t been touched and carry the support from The Chicago Defender. Mr. Abbott’s newspaper was not only a wide success for the African American community in its fight for civil rights, it was also a newspaper that featured and amplified black excellence, something many newspaper companies and publishers are still mastering to this day. Calloway concludes his article with the names and pictures of ten talented and noteworthy African American musicians, including the famous African American lyric tenor and composer, Roland Hayes. Mr. Calloway’s final words from his article fill the reader with hope and a sense of certainty that The Chicago Defender will always recognize and uplift black musicians in their continued fight for equal opportunity around performing, access to venues, and the right to earn a living and even profit from their creative talents.  Thankfully, Abbott was educated as a lawyer but gave up practicing law to establish a newspaper that uplifted and created a platform to achieve greater justice for all African Americans.

 

Works Cited

Calloway, Earl. “Chicago Defender emphasizes African-American cultural.” Chicago Defender (Daily Edition) (1973-), May 05, 1975, pp. 69. ProQuest, https://www.proquest.com/historical-newspapers/chicago-defender-emphasizes-african-american/docview/494124522/se-2

Chicago Black Renaissance, http://www.encyclopedia.chicagohistory.org/pages/240.html

Tamblyn, contributed by: George. “Robert Sengstacke Abbott (1870-1940) •.” •, 15 Nov. 2020, https://www.blackpast.org/african-american-history/abbott-robert-sengstacke-1870-1940/

Waits, Sarah  A. ‘Listen to The Wild Discord’: Jazz in the Chicago Defender and the Louisiana Weekly, 1925-1929, https://scholarworks.uno.edu/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=2669&context=td

 

Is BIPOC Performance Always Political Resistance?

On Easter Sunday, 1939, Marian Anderson performed on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial, to a crowd that filled the National Mall.


From the Smithsonian National Museum of American History YouTube Channel, on the Anacostia Community Museum website1

Some might be familiar with the history of her journey to this performance. Barred from playing Constitution Hall by the “white artists only” policy of the D.A.R., Anderson’s representatives, Howard University, and the NAACP fought for her right to perform in DC. After years of negotiations and protest, they turned to the idea of an outdoor concert, somewhat out of frustration, and the iconic performance began to take shape.2

Anderson was already world-famous by this time, but this performance secured her place in the American musical identity arguably more than any other. The construction of such an identity, and the role Black Americans should have within it, was a defining cultural characteristic of this time period. The Black artistic community was actively engaged in shaping not only their musical identity separate from the white people around them, but in fighting for their rightful place in the growing commercial and artistic worlds of American music. And the arts, accordingly, were being used (and co-opted) to make arguments about social equality. This cultural landscape resulted in some essentialism and some elitism among Black intellectuals, and Anderson’s career was certainly touched by this; her renown puts her in W.E.B. DuBois’ talented tenth, and her professional work was considered representative of the whole African-American community and used to assign greater value to those peoples in the eyes of whites. For evidence of this, one need only look at this educational poster, which leverages her talent to make an implicit argument for racial equality.

From the Smithsonian National Museum of American History3

Her performance of “My Country Tis of Thee” on the National Mall relates her career specifically to the musical construction of Americanness in the 20th century. And this poster is a perfect example of Black talent being leveraged in civil rights debates. Now, of course the arts can and should be a vehicle for social messaging. But how did Anderson feel about the civil rights implications of her performance and the way it was interpreted in the following decades?

This particular rhetorical question actually has a fairly straightforward answer: she never intended the concert to be a statement or a fight. Anderson wrote on page 187 of her autobiography that she “felt about the affair as about an election campaign; whatever the outcome, there is bound to be unpleasantness and embarrassment . . . [which she] could not escape,”4 and one of her most respected biographers describes the situation thus: “the symbol that she was being made to represent was not of her own choosing and this made her feel ashamed and unworthy, even defensive.”5 In short, she didn’t want to be a civil rights crusader, but being Black in America meant (means?) she couldn’t simply be an artist without being associated with that fight. Throughout her career, people persisted in this unwilling association of Anderson’s voice, her art, her blackness, with a political message. Even worse, her voice was later appropriated by the government to reach out to Black communities via an appeal to civil rights activism. Her performance is used as a call to action for Black citizens in this poster from the 1990 census:

From the Smithsonian National Museum of American History6

The patriotic effect is augmented by the use of the American flag and the phrase “Lift Every Voice” – colloquially, the black national anthem – as a focal points of the poster, correlating Anderson’s blackness specifically to a sense of “Americanness.” The appropriation of Anderson’s performance for political ends, however noble those ends might be, raises questions about artist intention. We know none of that was her intention. But since music can’t exist in a political vacuum, how can we separate Anderson’s intentions for her art from those of the people around her? Should we do so? Moreover, is it at all appropriate or ethical for Black talent to be appropriated by the government that’s done Black communities so much historical and present harm? To the last I’d simply say no, but the other two are genuinely open questions. Political music should be looked at with a critical eye, of course, but so should music that was appropriated for political purposes. There is more to the story of any artist than one particular political message they’ve been associated with.

1 “Marian Anderson.” Anacostia Community Museum. Smithsonian Institute. Accessed November 21, 2022. https://anacostia.si.edu/index.php/collection/spotlight/marian-anderson.

2 Keiler, Allan. “The Concert at the Lincoln Memorial (Easter Sunday, 1939),” in Marian Anderson: A Singer’s Journey, 181-217. New York, NY: Scribner, 2000.

“Black Americans; Black Americans as Good Will Ambassadors.” Hayes School Publishing Co. n.d.. Poster. https://anacostia.si.edu/index.php/
collection/object/
nmah_1923343.

Anderson, Marian. My Lord, What a Morning. Madison, WI: The University of Wisconsin Press, 1956.

Allan Keiler, “The Concert at the Lincoln Memorial (Easter Sunday, 1939),” in Marian Anderson: A Singer’s Journey (New York, NY: Scribner, 2000), 204.

6 “Lift Every Voice.” US Census Bureau. 1990. Poster. https://anacostia.si.edu/index.php/collection/object/nmah_1060283

African American Music in Nashville

While perusing Chicago Defender, I came across an article from September of 2011 that announced plans to construct the National Museum of African American Music in Nashville, Tennessee. The article states that the museum “will focus on the way African Americans have influenced almost every genre of American music – from rock ‘n’ roll, to country, to rhythm and blues and gospel”. I was pleasantly surprised that The Associated Press recognized genres such as rock ‘n’ roll and country that are not stereotypically associated with African American music but are very influenced by contributions from African American musicians and traditions.

This draws parallels to Rhiannon Gidden’s “Community and Connection,” Keynote Speech at 2017 International Bluegrass Music Association Conference, which the class watched and read earlier in the semester. In her speech, Giddens identifies the roots of bluegrass as a mixture of a variety of traditions besides the commonly believed Scottish-Irish origins, such as African American and Native American sources hundreds of years in the making. The use of the banjo in bluegrass music especially derives from African American musicking, according to Giddens, and has helped to launch the genre to international recognition and success.

Banjo https://www.thomannmusic.com/harley_benton_bj_65pro_6_string_banjo.htm

Now that over a decade has passed since the Chicago Defender article was written, the National Museum of African American Music has transitioned from an idea into a fully-built establishment that thrives in the heart of Nashville. While the Chicago Defender article predicted the museum would open in 2013, it never actually opened until January 2021. That is an eight year difference! Although the COVID-19 pandemic almost certainly played a part in the delay of opening the museum, there must have been other factors that postponed the opening or construction of the museum before the pandemic began. I wonder if this could have something to do with the research and exhibit-making process taking longer than expected?

National Museum of African American Music https://nashvilledowntown.com/go/national-museum-of-african-american-music

Interestingly, the “Galleries” page of the official website for the National Museum of African American Music states that it is “the only museum dedicated to educating, preserving and celebrating more than 50 music genres and styles that were created, influenced, and/or inspired by African Americans, including spirituals, blues, jazz, gospel, R&B, and hip-hop.” This is an interesting dichotomy in regards to the Chicago Defender article in that the museum’s website specifically names and focuses on stereotypically African American genres of music. The two exhibits in the museum that are currently active (outside of the main Rivers of Rhythm experience that is the central focus of the museum) focus on spirituals and the blues. This leads me to believe that although the museum is probably a great educational resource for learning about stereotypically African American musical traditions, it may not shed light on the other genres of music (such as bluegrass) that African Americans also have contributed to and influenced.

Sources:

rtmadmincd. “Nashville Museum on African American Music Planned.” Chicago Defender, Real Times Media, 11 Sept. 2011, https://chicagodefender.com/nashville-museum-on-african-american-music-planned/.

“Galleries.” National Museum of African American Music, Tennessee Arts Commission, https://www.nmaam.org/galleries.

Povelones, Robert. “Rhiannon Giddens Keynote Address – IBMA Business Conference 2017.” IBMA, 26 Apr. 2021, https://ibma.org/rhiannon-giddens-keynote-address-2017/.

“The Power of Music”: Charles Williams and His Jubilee Singers

In an article written for the Chicago Defender in 1954, Enoch Waters writes about Charles P. Williams and the choir he had founded fifty years prior in Chicago, reflecting on “the power of music” to break racial barriers.1 Waters mentions Williams’ “refreshing” and “jaunty” personality and the benefits of professional management as factors in their success in small towns across the country, many of which had never encountered a black person before. However, Waters writes that Williams considered their music the “most effective weapon of the group in combating racial discrimination”, and although many towns received them with hostility initially, when they returned to these towns for another performance, they would “almost invariably” find a warm and hospitable welcome and sold-out crowds.

Williams’ ensemble was sometimes billed as Williams’ Jubilee Singers, and sometimes as Williams’ Colored Singers.2 The former label was a tribute to the original Fisk Jubilee Singers, who had paved the way for black performers (later to include H.T. Burleigh, J. Rosamond and James Weldon Johnson, and others) to bring spirituals to the white American public.3 Williams’ group, founded in 1904, was not the first choir to take advantage of Fisk’s success, but they were one of the first to sing in a quartet, rather than a larger group of ten to twelve.4 The Fisk group had sought to elevate the spirituals and prove that black music belonged in a high-class setting, resulting in the crystallization of the genre and transforming its norms of variance into ones of fixity. These were the issues that later led Zora Neale Hurston to react to the concert performances of Burleigh and others, proclaiming that “there has never been a presentation of genuine Negro spirituals to any audience anywhere”.6 Williams’ group, made up of classically trained and educated performers, evidently wished to fit into this tradition. They were internationally known, touring several European countries and performing 130 concerts in London alone.2 However, Waters notes that by 1932, “the radio, the depression, and the public’s change in music taste conspired to end a long brilliant career”. As tastes changed, so did the circumstances that had allowed Williams’ group to have an impact on small town America.

The Chicago Defender developed in much the same circumstances as Williams’ ensemble. It was founded just one year later in the same city, and its founder, Robert Abbott, was a former member of the Hampton Singers, one of the first black university choirs to imitate Fisk.6 Abbott envisioned a newspaper that would become the “defender” of the black community, and by the early 1920s it had become the most influential black newspaper in America, protesting against Jim Crow laws and acts of violence while championing the growing civil rights movement. Its calls for black people to move out of the South were a primary cause of the Great Migration, and in many ways the advances made by the Defender led the way for the black press in general, illustrating the paper’s enormous impact. While the Harlem Renaissance was seen by many as a victory only for the elite, the Defender sought to present Chicago as an ideal destination for ordinary black people by featuring personal accounts as well as by highlighting local artists, entrepreneurs and others who had found success in Chicago.7

While this profile of Williams’ Jubilee Singers was written retrospectively to celebrate a group which had found success in the past rather than to highlight a rising star, the article serves many of the same purposes as earlier Defender articles. This article is part of a series entitled “Adventures in Race Relations”, portraying it as an ongoing struggle (which it very much was in 1954). Waters notes that Williams had originally come to Chicago for the 1893 Chicago World’s Fair before founding the Jubilee Singers (which was also Abbott’s impetus for founding the Defender), re-establishing Chicago as a place where ordinary people could find success. Waters celebrates the Jubilee Singers’ use of “the power of music” to break down racial barriers, paralleling the Defender‘s use of poetry, music and other forms of art to portray Chicago as a center of black culture. Williams’ group sought to adhere to the performance practices set by Fisk and to contribute to the perception of spirituals as art music. However, Waters’ emphasis of their impact on whites in small towns across the country and the context of the Defender‘s commitment to showing the contributions of ordinary black people to black culture serve to cast Williams’ Jubilee Singers as an important part of the black struggle for acceptance by the white public.

Citations:

1 Waters, Enoc P. “Adventures in RACE RELATIONS: THE POWER OF MUSIC.” The Chicago Defender (National Edition) (1921-1967), Oct 23, 1954. https://www.proquest.com/historical-newspapers/adventures-race-relations/docview/492959620/se-2.

2 The World Famous Williams’ Colored Singers. Chicago: Press of Rosenow Co., [ca. 1925].  Accessed online via RareAmericana.com, November 14, 2022. https://www.rareamericana.com/pages/books/3727978/williams-colored-singers/the-world-famous-williams-colored-singers?soldItem=true.

3 Brooks, Tim. “”Might Take One Disc of this Trash as a Novelty”: Early Recordings by the Fisk Jubilee Singers and the Popularization of “Negro Folk Music”.” American Music 18, no. 3 (Fall, 2000): 278-316. https://www.proquest.com/scholarly-journals/might-take-one-disc-this-trash-as-novelty-early/docview/1374579/se-2.

4 Advertisement for the Williams Jubilee Singers, 1904-1910. UCLA Library Digital Collections. Accessed November 14, 2022. https://digital.library.ucla.edu/catalog/ark:/21198/z1418f71.

5 Snyder, Jean E.. Harry T. Burleigh : From the Spiritual to the Harlem Renaissance. Baltimore: University of Illinois Press, 2016. Accessed November 17, 2022. ProQuest Ebook Central.

6 Michaeli, Ethan. The Defender : How the Legendary Black Newspaper Changed America : from the Age of the Pullman Porters to the Age of Obama. Boston: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2016.

7 DeSantis, Alan D. “Selling the American Dream Myth to Black Southerners: The Chicago Defender and the Great Migration of 1915-1919.” Western Journal of Communication 62, no. 4 (Fall, 1998): 474-511. https://www.proquest.com/scholarly-journals/selling-american-dream-myth-black-southerners/docview/202724373/se-2.

Florence Price: The On-Going Debate of American Music

Florence Price

Florence Price

In 1933, Florence Price became the first ever African American woman to make her symphony debut with a US orchestra, specifically the Chicago Symphony Orchestra. Florence Price was born in 1887 in Little Rock, Arkansas, to a family that surrounded her with music, especially her mother, Florence Smith, who was a singer and pianist. Surrounded by hate and discrimination, just after Jim Crow laws passed, Price established a foundation of musical literacy through the New England Conservatory of Music in Boston, Massachusetts. First starting her career through education, Florence soon changed paths after her troubling and abusive divorce. She traveled with her daughters to the heart of the Harlem Renaissance in Chicago, where she met influential musicians like Marian Anderson and William Dawson. Her compositional journey began with spirituals and then transformed into large-scale orchestral works. These works, like Symphony in E Minor, made her an extraordinarily influential and prominent black composer. Reflecting on the debate held in class based on readings such as Samuel Floyd, Rae Brown, or Jean Snyder, I believe the contributions that Florence Price makes to the African American community and the western classical realm are significant. Through these primary sources provided, I will explore this debate even further.

Correspondence from Price to Wallace Magill

This primary source shown above is a correspondence from Florence Price to Wallace Magill, the director of Bell Telephone Hour, which “showcased the best in classical and Broadway music, reaching eight to nine million listeners each week.” This letter included Price’s gratitude towards the director in response to his acceptance of her spiritual “My Soul’s Been Anchored in the Lord” to be performed by her long-time friend Marian Anderson in the program on September 14, 1942. This letter gives excellent insight into how prominent and accepted Price had done her work in society as this popular classical radio show played her pieces alongside composers such as Beethoven, Kreisler, Brams, and many other great operatic stars. Consequently, I included a second primary source located in the music library entitled Art Songs and Spirituals by African American Women Composers. This source contains the exact sheet music of the song played on Bell Telephone Hour and lists it alongside other prominent spirituals.

My Soul’s Been Anchored in the Lord

It is abundantly clear that Price went through extreme trials and tribulations during her time as a composer and black woman, especially as one looks at the critiques from various musicians in the industry. However, it is evident through the abundance of performances and awards that Price achieved that she indeed influenced the entirety of not only the black musical spear but also the classical music realm. Her compositions and hold on the music industry lead us in one direction of the heavily discussed debate brought up early; classical music can lead to a whitewashing of black musical culture. Although, composers such as Florence Price prove that you can utilize classical music to both spread your name through white audiences and equally spread black culture in popular spaces such as she used Bell Telephone Hour to do. One question I might pose is, would Florence Price be as influential as she is if she hadn’t been as invested in orchestral works as she was?

Citations

Knight, E. (2020, October 28). Florence Price: The story of america’s forgotten musical genius. Music | Al Jazeera. Retrieved November 15, 2022, from https://www.aljazeera.com/features/2020/10/28/florence-price-americas-lost-musical-genius

Magill, W. (1945). Bell telelphone hour – OTR : Free download, Borrow, and streaming. Internet Archive. Retrieved November 15, 2022, from https://archive.org/details/Bell_Telephone_Hour

Price, F. (1942). Florence Price Letter to Wallace Magill, September 3, 1942, regarding Marian Anderson’s Performance of a Work by Price. CONTENTDM. Retrieved November 14, 2022, from https://digitalcollections.uark.edu/digital/collection/p17212coll3/id/10/

Taylor, V., King, B. J., Moore, U. S. (1995). Art songs and spirituals by African-American women composers. Hildegard Publ.

From Mentor to Colleague: George Gershwin and Jerome Kern

George Gershwin found success in his music. But earlier on in his career, he looked up to a fellow musician, Jerome Kern. Kern was a musical theater composer who Gershwin idolized. While looking further into their relationship, Gershwin started out as an accompanist for Kern, and composed on the side. Gershwin wanted to compose a full length musical, but Kern kindly told Gershwin to avoid composing full musicals until later in his career. Having heard what Kern said, Gershwin immediately composed his first musical theater piece, La-La-Lucille. His success soon became more widespread, as did his appeal. In 1923, Gershwin writes a letter to his brother, Ira Gershwin, in which he describes an interaction with a boat worker on the shore of Southampton. The worker recognizes his name, and greets Gershwin, asking about what his next work will be. This moment solidifies Gershwin’s fame in his mind, as he ends his letter to Ira with, “I felt like I was Kern or somebody.

After around a decade passes, Gershwin sees himself to be of a similar caliber as Kern. The letter that Gershwin sends to Kern in 1933 exemplifies this shift in their relation. Very kindly, Gershwin asks Kern to hear a vocalist. This is a full circle moment. Kern inspired Gershwin, and Gershwin’s ambition changes Kern’s relationship from that of a mentor to that of a colleague.

 

A Photograph of George Gershwin and Jerome Kern

Work Cited

 

Letter from George Gershwin to Ira Gershwin, February 18, 1923, 60/61, George and Ira Gershwin Collection, Music Division, Library of Congress.

Letter from George Gershwin to Jerome Kern, September 29, 1933, 136/80, George and Ira Gershwin Collection, Music Division, Library of Congress.

Photograph of George Gershwin with Jerome Kern, 1933, 103/38, George and Ira Gershwin Collection, Music Division, Library of Congress.

A for Aaron and Appalachian Spring

Aaron Copland, as most of us know, is one of the famed American composers of the late 18th-early 19th century. He is one of the big names in the American music canon.

In all honesty, I don’t know very much about Copland’s life or his collaborations. One of the pieces I knew a little bit about was Appalachian Spring, a ballet he composed the score for in collaboration with a friend of his, Martha Graham. Martha Graham was a famous American dancer whose choreography had a significant impact on the modern dance world. She is pictured below.

Copland and Graham began writing back and forth when she commissioned him to write a ballet with “an American theme.” They toyed with several ideas and until she suggested the name, Copland referred to this work as “Ballet for Martha”. I was looking for letters about this piece when I came across this one. There is no date for the letter, but it talks of hiring a choreographer, so one could assume its from during the beginning/middle stages of working on the ballet.

One thing I was not expecting to find in this letter at all was a summary of the Scarlet Letter.

I wasn’t sure why she included it at first, but then I read the beginning of the letter again and maybe it was a preliminary bouncing off point for a possible storyline of the ballet. I think they scrapped this idea because I tried to find a source that confirmed that this was the subject matter of the ballet but had no luck. The thought that something like the Scarlet Letter was even talked about as potential inspiration for Appalachian Spring is incredibly surprising to me. We usually don’t think to tie music, dance, and literature together because of the fact that these art forms are so different.

The Scarlet Letter came out in 1850 and this ballet premiered in 1944. Both of these pieces of work carry huge significance in the cannons of which they are a part. This potential piece of information brings to mind more questions – why was this idea scrapped? How much of it remains in the way the ballet is performed today? Why does no one bring this up when talking about this piece?

Regardless of why this idea didn’t go any further, the ballet was worked on and there were more drafts – all the while Aaron and Martha kept in touch. Here is a letter she wrote him from right before the ballet premiered:

It is clear how much this work meant to the both of them, and other people were even able to pick up on it.

Collaboration is the bread and butter of the music and performing art world – without it, we wouldn’t have works of art like this. People might not want to go looking for how the sausage gets made (so to speak), but if you do, you might find a clue you never thought to factor in.

Works Cited:

Cassidy, Claudia. On the Aisle Martha Graham and Aaron Copland Good Companions in Superb “Appalachian Spring”. Chicago Tribune, Chicago, 1946. Pdf. Retrieved from the Library of Congress, <www.loc.gov/item/ihas.200153644/>.

Kraft, Victor. Aaron Copland by candlelight, studio in the Berkshires, September. Photograph. Retrieved from the Library of Congress, <www.loc.gov/item/copland.phot0017/>.

Letter from Martha Graham to Aaron Copland, n.d. Manuscript/Mixed Material. Retrieved from the Library of Congress, <www.loc.gov/item/ihas.200154125/>.

Letter from Martha Graham to Aaron Copland, May 1. Manuscript/Mixed Material. Retrieved from the Library of Congress, <www.loc.gov/item/ihas.200154119/>.

My Long-Winded Rant About Charles Ives

Charles Ives is a difficult pill to swallow. As a student studying music composition, I have been confronted with Ives and the larger body of atonal music he contributed to on several occasions; its merits as a stylistic choice, its place in academic circles, and whether to incorporate it into my own music. Each time I look at his work and read his thoughts on the arts, his philosophy towards music, and his demeanor in discussing it perpetuates my disdain towards him.

The Selected Correspondence of Charles Ives includes an exchange of letters between Ives and Henry H. Bellamann, a music critic who in April of 1921 receives a copy of Ives’ second piano sonata (1). He conveys in a letter his enjoyment of the piece, his plans to include it in his lectures, and requests for more information on Ive’s first piano sonata to relay it to audiences.

In Ives’ response to his letter, he gives Bellamann advice on possible ways to include Concord Sonata in his lecture and conveys his curiosity about how audiences react. He says “The first movements I find are severe tests for the listener as well as the player” (2). This statement could not possibly be more descriptive of the 17-minute-long first movement of his second piano Sonata, titled “Emerson” (3). His word choice, describing his music as a “test”, irks me in every wrong way imaginable. With this, he implies that listening to the movement is a rite of passage that denotes a listener or musician’s value.

Ives also appears to have the temperament or insecurity of a child (probably both). Ives receives a letter from colleague Percy Goetschius. While Goetschius makes clear his interest in Ives’ work, he does not withhold his criticism. As Goetschius states that “to my mind, these classic methods are correct ones [Ives adds between the lines ‘for soft eared cissies and aural cowards…” (4). While this does display a lack of impulse control and deep insecurities about himself, this also suggests that Ives views his music as impervious to criticism, so much so he would rather write this intrusive thought down than keep it to himself.

We have talked a lot in class about the identity of American music. There is no denying the fact that Ives’ music is American. He was a composer who lived and worked in the United States, attempting to pioneer his own brand of music, so debating this is irrelevant. The question that remains is whether Ive’s music – and his contributions to atonal music – is something we want to perpetuate in the present day. If we answer this question from the perspective of the general public the answer is laid bare. The general public likely has no interest in performing his music, as seen with trends in popular music.

However, academic circles appear to be interested in continuing to engage with Ive’s music, as seen in courses that equip students to analyze post-tonal music, and new composers building upon Ive’s harmonic language in chamber and orchestral settings. If academic institutions choose to identify Ive’s work as a vital contribution to American western-classical music and worthwhile building upon, they must acknowledge that doing so perpetuates (both consciously and subconsciously) notions of self-deserving elitism, and encourages others to be despondent to criticism of their work.

(1) Owens, Tom C, and Tom C Owens. 2007. Selected Correspondence of Charles Ives. 1st ed. Berkeley: University of California Press. https://doi.org/10.1525/j.ctt1ppr8v.

(2) Pg 84. Owens, Tom C, and Tom C Owens. 2007. Selected Correspondence of Charles Ives. 1st ed. Berkeley: University of California Press. https://doi.org/10.1525/j.ctt1ppr8v.

(3) Ives, Charles. n.d. “IVES: Piano Sonata No. 2 ‘Concord, Mass’ (Henck)”. Hong Kong: Naxos Digital Services US Inc.

(4) pg 67. Ives, Charles. n.d. “IVES: Piano Sonata No. 2 ‘Concord, Mass’ (Henck)”. Hong Kong: Naxos Digital Services US Inc.

How American was Copland’s music?

When thinking about the style of American music, one composer may come to mind more than any other. With such a distinctive voice and beloved presence, Aaron Copland was an influential figure in American music, helping define a new era of what American music means. Copland believed in popular American and traditional music and brought a contemporary feel, a comfortable feel.

Aaron Copland | MY HERO

One exciting thing about Copland, which I learned in class last year with Louis Epstein, is that Copland studied with French teacher Nadia Boulanger from 1921-1924. The challenging aspect of this relationship is that as a labeled American composer, he was taught by a French musician, a very influential genre of music in the 1920s. French music in the 1920s was largely influenced by Les Six, members such as Poulenc and Milhaud.1

2

He was different in that he incorporated known forms of American music such as folk and jazz into his pieces while also having a slight French influence, unlike other composers of the time. Above is the first draft of Appalachian Spring which would later become one of his most well-known compositions.

Copland had countless correspondence with countless people, yet I would like to focus on the correspondence between him and Nadia Boulanger. Nadia and Aaron had many years’ worth of contact. This specific correspondence below is from April 19th, 1929, and is Copland writing to Boulanger. He writes of advertisement propositions and asks Boulanger to play for him.

3

Based on this relationship, I still think that his music can be classified as very American. Copland, however much he was influenced by the French, was also influenced by numerous cultures and countries. That is what American music is. Cultivation of different music and ideas in one. Aaron Copland brought great artistry to American music and changed the way American music was defined.

1 Hitchcock, H. Wiley. “Aaron Copland and American Music.” Perspectives of New Music 19, no. 1/2 (1980): 31–33. https://doi.org/10.2307/832568.

2 Copland, Aaron. Appalachian Spring First Rough Sketches. Notated Music. https://www.loc.gov/item/copland.sket0024/.

3 Copland, Aaron. Letter from Aaron Copland to Nadia Boulanger, April 19.  Manuscript/Mixed Material. https://www.loc.gov/item/copland.corr0121/




A New Generation of American Composers: The Copland-Sessions Effect

As one of the most recognized and respected American classical composers of the twentieth century, Aaron Copland’s music reached deeply into the heart and soul of many aspiring, young American composers. Uniquely, Copland incorporated folk songs and jazz into his compositions, showcasing these popular American musical forms and creating inspiring and innovative music. Though still firmly entrenched in the rich history that accompanies jazz and folk songs (from America as well as other countries), Copland pushed the boundaries of modern day music of the late 1920s. Boundaries were also tested through his quest to repopularize European classical music and simultaneously showcase young American talent. It was this effort that led Copland to team up with another significant twentieth century American composer, Roger Sessions. 

Though both men were born in Brooklyn, New York, their first meeting was in Paris in 1924 at the apartment of famous pedagogue Nadia Boulanger. This initial encounter sparked a long correspondence of letters between the two men where they wrote about many topics  including their mutual admiration for one another and their opposing views on what constitutes American music. I find this amusing, given this echoes the overarching goal of this course, reexamining and redefining American music. This was the area of concentration in their letters during the late 1920s and early 1930s. It was during this period of correspondence that Copland and Sessions began their work on an extremely important concert series, the Copland-Sessions Concerts. The concert was put together in an effort to share the works of younger generation American composers, filled with differential musical personalities, to showcase American excellence and experimentation. This is affirmed in the first concert program which concluded with the statement  “Our only wish is to stimulate composers to more prolific activity and to develop a stronger sense of solidarity among the creators of a growing American music” (Oja, 212). 

An examination of these letters demonstrates that this concert series was made possible through their correspondence, revealing not only what was said in the letters but by the style the two composers used when writing to one another. One such letter from Copland to Sessions  dated March 18th, 1927, indicates the very warm and friendly relationship the two men enjoyed. Here Copland freely expresses his thoughts and feelings on certain subject matters, while also acknowledging the lapse of time in responding to his counterpart, “And how delightfully silly of you to have imagined that there was any shadow of a misunderstanding between us when my not writing to you is quite simply explained by the Concerto, that is finishing it and playing it.” Copland’s words to Sessions indicate a level of care and promise on his part, addressing the idea that Sessions may have thought things were up in the air between the two. Copland reassures Sessions that he was not ignoring him, and their relationship remains strong. This is an important correspondence because it speaks to the heartfelt relationship they had formed and Copland’s explicitly stated interest in Sessions’ Symphony telling him, “As far as I know Koussie expects to do it in April — he even told me he might do an All-American program, though he didn’t say whether or not he thought of doing the symphony then.” This letter was a catalyst for Sessions launching his first critical performance and subsequently a career which highlighted his specific ideas about American music. From then on through an exchange of letters, Copland carefully outlines the idea of a concert where young American and European composers present their original works in New York. The actual series went on for 4 years, ending in 1932.

Copland and Sessions were each prominent figures in this new generation of American composers, so despite some differences, it was not considered unusual for them to orchestrate and lead this concert series, “Yet they represented different orientations, possessing viewpoints that significantly colored their attitudes toward the focus of such endeavors. Sessions, although sympathetic to the plight of the young composer, spurned all chauvinistic tendencies, was not apt to support a composer on the basis of his national origin, and espoused more international philosophy; while Copland, as was already evident in his work, was conscious of the development of a national identity and proudly championed the cause of composers in his native country” (Oja, 214). It is the qualities and beliefs of the two men outlined by Oja above that  really make me curious about their relationship, their collaborative efforts and their unique ideas about American music. Specifically, how did they truly work together on such a massive project while they were at odds about American music ideals pertaining to identity? It is hard for me to imagine something more fundamental to an artist or a composer than their identity. A deeper dive into the letters between Copland and Sessions may provide the answers I am seeking, but for right now, the two men rose above their differences and accomplished their goal to introduce avant-garde pieces in the best way imaginable, The Copland-Sessions Concerts of Contemporary Music in New York.

 

Citations:

“Aaron Copland, 1900-1990.” The Library of Congress, https://www.loc.gov/item/ihas.200182578

Copland, Aaron. Letter from Aaron Copland to Roger Sessions. Manuscript/Mixed Material. Retrieved from the Library of Congress, <www.loc.gov/item/copland.corr0088/>.

Oja, Carol. “The Copland-Sessions Concerts and Their Reception in the Contemporary Press.” The Musical Quarterly, LXV, no. 2, 1979, pp. 212–229., https://doi.org/10.1093/mq/lxv.2.212

Olmstead, Andrea. “The Copland–Sessions Letters.” Tempo, no. 175, 1990, pp. 2–5., https://doi.org/10.1017/s0040298200012547

Early Fanmail; Dvorak’s relationship with Henry Krehbiel

Antonín Dvorak https://www.classicfm.com/composers/dvorak/

Antonín Dvorak is one of the most famous musical composers of all time. His New World Symphony pushed the boundaries of what was considered classical music both during and after his lifetime (1841-1904). Dvorak’s borrowing and incorporation of traditional Native American and African American tunes into his Ninth Symphony sparked quite the controversy across the United States around the time that he moved to Spillville, Iowa in 1893. A large and public debate sparked across the country of the validity of incorporating African American spirituals and traditional Native American songs and influences into Western classical music.

Henry Krehbiel https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Henry_Edward_Krehbiel

With this controversy came an equal distribution of critics and fans of Dvorak’s music. Notably, famous music critic and reviewer Henry Krehbiel sent Dvorak a number of written correspondences which are very important because “they prove that Krehbiel’s article on the [ninth] symphony, which appeared on 15 December 1893 in the New York Tribune, was based on a lengthy interview with the composer,” (Beckerman).

The letters read as follows:

Interestingly, although we have not read the Krehbiel interview on Dvorak’s Ninth Symphony from the New York Tribune for class, we have read another one of his writings for class on October 6, 2022: an excerpt from his book “Afro-American Folksongs; A Study in Racial and National Music”. In this chapter, Krehbiel used racist and problematic language such as “savage” and “primitive” to refer to African Americans and their music on pages 11 and 13 (Krehbiel).

This is quite interesting in contrast to Krehbiel’s letters to Dvorak which praise Dvorak’s Ninth Symphony and call it “beautiful”, which is based on the very music that Krehbiel marked as “primitive” and “savage” twenty-one years later in 1914. I wonder if Krehbiel was hiding his true feelings about Black American music to Dvorak because Krehbiel was a fan of his Ninth Symphony and wanted to appeal to him as a friend and colleague? Or did Krehbiel like Dvorak’s quotations of Black American music despite the fact that he thought Black American music was “primitive” and “savage”?

The above correspondence from Krehbiel insinuates that Krehbiel has a passion for collecting scores and parts of African American songs, and furthermore studying them. The fact that Krehbiel relays to Dvorak that this music is even worthy of such deep study and collection raises some further questions in relation to the language Krehbiel uses in his book and his true intentions to network with Dvorak.

Krehbiel seems to have an interesting relationship to the music of Black Americans. He collects and studies it, but through a lens of white supremacy and racial othering. It also seems as though Krehbiel may have flexed his opinions on African American music to appeal more to Dvorak since Dvorak was so popular. Krehbiel likely found a useful connection in Dvorak, especially for the opportunity for Dvorak appear at his seminars (such as the one at the Women’s University Club) to make him seem established and well-connected. All of this being said, Krehbiel was an early advocate and promoter of Black American music, which cannot be said for everyone at the time.

 

Sources:

Dvorák and His World, edited by Michael Beckerman, Princeton University Press, 1993. ProQuest Ebook Central, https://ebookcentral.proquest.com/lib/stolaf-ebooks/detail.action?docID=3030296.

Krehbiel, Henry Edward. “Chapter 1: Folksongs in General.” Afro-American Folk Songs: A Study in Racial and National Music, Kessinger Publishing, Whitefish, MT, 2010, pp. v-28.

Baseera Khan and Blackface in Contemporary Art

Blackface and minstrelsy feel as outdated as just about anything from the early 20th century but while the overwhelming idea of blackface is a strictly negative one, some black and brown artists are reclaiming the painting of their bodies for empowerment. Baseera Khan is a Muslim American contemporary visual artist working out of Brooklyn, NY who has been creating exhibits around the country for the last 8 years. 

Baseera Khan’s Braidrage reclaims her identity in the representation and expression of her own physical body using oil, hair, architecture, and art. The dark paint on her body is especially important as a commentary on her race. Our conversation about minstrelsy in class assumes the negative use of black face paint related to minstrelsy, and we look at its use from a strictly historical viewpoint. However, the use of blackface has found a recent resurgence as a form on self-expression and power, taking back from racist traditions of the past and creating empowering and powerful artistic expression.

There is a long history of blackface in art leading up to exhibits like Khan’s, with varying degrees of controversy. While some of them turn a critical eye to the past, other artists misunderstand how their artwork can reinforce stereotypes and can further the disconnection between groups of people. Vanessa Beecroft is another artist who uses blackface in her artwork, who couples race with gender in her expressions.

[ iframe src=”https://www.brooklynmuseum.org/exhibitions/baseera_khan” width=”640″ height=”480″ ]

[ iframe src=”https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Blackface_in_contemporary_art” width=”640″ height=”480″ ]

Hate Mail to Koussevitzky: Making the Canon a Home for All

During her lifetime, the work of Florence Price, a Black woman composer, was often not performed on account of both her gender and race. She struggled to find conductors and musicians who would perform her work and recognize its merits. For instance, beginning in 1935 Price wrote a handful of letters to Serge Koussevitzky, conductor of the Boston Symphony Orchestra, urging him to examine some of her scores with the hopes of having them performed. Clearly aware of her positionality within the classical music sphere as a woman of color, Price implores Koussevitzky to judge her musical works on “merit alone” (Brown, xxxv). While Koussevitzky never replied to Price’s letters, others in the industry did identify Price’s musical excellence. In 1932, Price’s Symphony in E minor won first prize in the Wanamaker Music Contest. The Chicago Symphony Orchestra, under conductor Frederick Stock, performed the Symphony in E minor 1933. Price’s work thus became the first symphony composed by a Black woman to be performed by a major American orchestra. By examining the attitudes and motivations that were behind Frederick Stock and Serge Kousevitzky’s differing responses toward Price and her music, audiences and artists of today can recognize the how the reimagination of the canon is an ever-evolving process that has been occurring for many years. 

It is clear from Koussevitzky’s lack of action and Stock’s decision to program and perform Price’s piece that these two leaders in the classical music world had differing ideas and opinions regarding what music should shape the musical world of the time. We know that Stock had a great interest in performing ‘American’ music, and he likely saw Price’s work as an example of such repertoire. His interest in Price’s work can even be seen in Price’s own diary entries, as he asks her what she is working on and even helps her to premiere a piano concerto with him and his orchestra. Koussevitzky’s lack of action towards Price makes it challenging to understand his motivations or musical values, but we do know that he was interested in the creation and performance of new works through his founding of the Koussevitzky Foundation.

Using Florence Price’s unfortunate experience as a case study, we can recognize how difficult it is for composers, especially historically underrepresented composers, to break into the classical music sphere. It is even more challenging for their work to become a part of the canon, or to see themselves in the canon which major performing arts organizations uphold today. But Price’s story offers musicians and composers a great deal of hope. As disheartening as this history is, it shows that there is a desire to open up the classical music world to new works and ideas from those who have historically been pushed to the border of this genre. The work of reimagining the canon continues, and this process of rediscovery leads towards a musical environment which prioritizes representation and equity. 

 

Bibliography:

 

Britannica, The Editors of Encyclopaedia. “Serge Koussevitzky”. Encyclopedia Britannica, 22 Jul. 2022, https://www.britannica.com/biography/Serge-Koussevitzky. Accessed 14 November 2022.

 

Brown, Rae Linda. “Black Satin Clothes at the Fair.” The Heart of a Woman: The Life and Music of Florence Price, edited by Guthrie P. Ramsey Jr, University of Illinois Press, 2020, pp. 108-117.

 

Brown, Rae Linda. “The Women’s Symphony Orchestra of Chicago and Florence B. Price’s Piano Concerto in One Movement.” American Music, vol. 11, no. 2, 1993, https://www.jstor.org/stable/3052554?seq=1#metadata_info_tab_contents. Accessed 14 November 2022. 

 

Epstein, Dena J. “Frederick Stock and American Music.” American Music, vol. 10, no. 1, 1992, https://www.jstor.org/stable/3052142?sid=primo#metadata_info_tab_contents. Accessed 14 November 2022. 

 

Price, Florence et al. “Lifting the Veil: The Symphonies of Florence B. Price.” Symphonies Nos. 1 and 3. Middleton, WI, A-R Editions, Inc. 2008. 

 

Ros, Alex. “The Rediscovery of Florence Price.” The New Yorker, 29 January 2018, https://www.newyorker.com/magazine/2018/02/05/the-rediscovery-of-florence-price. Accessed 14 November 2022. 

Beethoven is for “Aural Cowards”: Charles Ives and the Establishment of an American Musical Identity

One of the letters in Selected Correspondence of Charles Ives, edited by Tom C. Owens, is from the composer and educator Percy Goetschius, a composer and the head of the theory department at the Institute of Music and Art in New York (which later became Juilliard School of Music), acknowledging his receipt of Ives’ Concord Sonata.1 Ives’ music was not met with much acclaim during his lifetime, forcing him to adopt the rather unorthodox method of simply sending his music to anybody who might show interest, from friends to complete strangers in the musical establishment, as well as fans outside of it. Many recipients of his music were confused as to the nature and potential merits of Ives’ music, which was very unconventional, as well as why they were even receiving it at all.

Goetschius’ letter is typical of much of the correspondence that Ives received, and reveals the source of much of this confusion. He apologizes for having neglected to write earlier, but eagerly states that the piece “excited [his] deep interest”. He reassures Ives that he does not “wish to take [his] music lightly”, but confesses his dislike for it, as it does not align with the “classic methods”, which “to [his] mind[…]are correct ones” and speak to unchanging facts of physics. Goetschius even writes that he “[hesitates] to call it ‘music'”, choosing instead to refer to it as Ives’ “work” and describing his methods as “experiments”. However, Goetschius does reflect that he is biased towards the “habits[…]of the classic method”, which despite reflecting some fundamental truths in his opinion, are nevertheless to some extent “habits”. Declaring that he is not “a heartless and brainless conservative” who sees Beethoven (or Ives, or any other composer) as the end-all and be-all of art music, he ends by expressing his fervent hope that Ives’ “sincerity” and “logic” would lead to greater success in the future.

Ives’ music was highly experimental, and he deliberately abandoned many earlier traditions. Ives was already financially comfortable through his job in the insurance business, giving him the freedom to do essentially whatever he wanted musically.2 This made much of his music fantastically impractical, as he did not have to consider how it might actually be performed. Ives was part of the generation that Antonín Dvořák had declared needed to establish a truly American musical identity by drawing on spirituals and other American folk music, and many today regard him as the first composer to find success in this regard.3 Ives was one of the few white composers to include black folk music in his music as Dvořák had envisioned. His music drew on a wide variety of both white and black influences, from Protestant hymnody to spirituals and ragtime. He adapted these genres to his own idiosyncratic style and combined them to capture particular moments in the soundscape of America.4 The Concord Sonata, which Goetschius wrote his letter in response to, was an homage to the Transcendentalist philosophers of the mid-nineteenth century full of dissonance, cluster chords, and a brief flute solo.2 Ives self-consciously sought to distance his music from the music of composers who came before in an attempt to solve the “Beethoven problem” of having to establish an identity in relation to a supposedly universal but paradoxically German ideal.5 He would probably have been rather pleased, then, when Goetschius admitted that Ives’ “experiments” interested him as a rejection of the idea that Beethoven should be taken as the “Last Word” in art music.1

However, Ives reacted with frustration and defensiveness to those who did not understand his compositions, retorting rather petulantly in the margins that objective standards are “for soft-eared cissies and aural cowards!” In a different letter that Ives wrote to Henry F. Gilbert, a fellow New Englander and composer who appreciated Ives’ music, this defensiveness shines through again when he protests that he is “not a bad composer[…]though it’s inconvenient to have no one know that but [himself]!”6 This reveals the almost total lack of support he found, as well as the obstinacy with which he refused to change his methods. Although Ives found some admirers during his lifetime and achieved greater success after his death, his refusal to adhere to the objective standards set by European classical music and determination to create experimental music were reflected in the confusion, distaste, and apathy he faced in audiences who simply did not understand what he was going for. However, Ives’ total abandonment of convention in favor of experimentation and his utilization of American folk music, both black and white, ultimately helped him establish a distinctively American style.

Citations:

1 Goetschius, Percy. Letter to Charles Ives. Selected Correspondence of Charles Ives, 67-8. Oakland, CA: University of California Press, May 20, 2007.

2 Tomes, Susan. The Piano : A History in 100 Pieces. New Haven: Yale University Press, 2021. Accessed November 13, 2022. ProQuest Ebook Central.

3Mauk, David C. “New England Transcendentalism Versus Virulent Nationalism: The Evolution of Charles Ives’ Patriotic March Music.” American Studies in Scandinavia 31, no. 1 (1999): 24–33. https://doi.org/10.22439/asca.v31i1.1478.

4 Garrett, Charles Hiroshi. “Charles Ivesʹs Four Ragtime Dances and ʺTrue American Musicʺ.” In Struggling to Define a Nation: American Music and the Twentieth Century, 1st ed., 17–47. University of California Press, 2008. http://www.jstor.org/stable/10.1525/j.ctt1pp004.6.

5 Shadle, Douglas W. Essay. In Orchestrating the Nation: The Nineteenth-Century American Symphonic Enterprise, 242–57. Oxford University Press, 2018.

6 Ives, Charles. Letter to Henry F. Gilbert. Selected Correspondence of Charles Ives, 82-3. Oakland, CA: University of California Press, May 20, 2007.

Jazz, genre fusion as stereotyping, and Gershwin

George Gershwin was an internationally renowned composer most famous in the 1910s through the 1930s. Starting out as a song plugger, he eventually worked his way up the food chain as a composer, and he got so far up that, when he asked Maurice Ravel to teach him composition, Ravel said that Gershwin should teach him (1)! Much of his body of work is still performed today, such as “Rhapsody in Blue”, the opera “Porgy and Bess” and the most famous song from it, “Summertime”, and “Fascinating Rhythm” (2).

The most prominent feature of Gershwin’s compositional style is the fusion of jazz with other classical advances in composition. Other composers of the time period, like Copland, were also fusing genres, but Gershwin was more outright about including specific techniques and harmonic progressions that were known to be used solely in jazz. “Rhapsody in Blue” is a prime example of this. Gershwin also was inspired by French composers like Ravel, Debussy and Nadia Boulanger, and fused those along with jazz and other American musical tropes (1).

While Gershwin helped bring attention to jazz as a legitimate genre amongst concertgoers (3), many Black musicians share understandably mixed feelings about how Gershwin adopted Black music conventions. One of the primary reasons for these criticisms comes in “Porgy and Bess” (here is a link to its most famous number, “Summertime”).

The Gershwins' Porgy and Bess and the Quest for American Opera – UMS –  University Musical Society

“Porgy and Bess” is a story about Black characters that stereotypes a lot of their actions, as the novel upon which the opera was based was written by a white man and displayed how he thought Black people lived (6). Within the plot, there is a cocaine dealer with purchases made off him, a murder, and marital infidelity, which isn’t abnormal for the plot of an opera, but in the context of minstrelsy stereotyping that Black people thought infidelity was fine, it is certainly questionable (4). In terms of cocaine, it was demonized at the time and was stereotyped as a Black drug that caused them to commit more crime, especially in the South (5). Karen Henson also argues that each character in “Porgy and Bess” represent certain common minstrel characters: Porgy resembles ‘Samba’, the cocaine dealer Sportin’ Life represents ‘Trickster’, and Bess represent ‘Jezebel’ (7).

Apart from how problematic “Porgy and Bess” is, there were positives in getting actually Black actors and featuring Black styles of music more respectfully than most in the traditionally white-dominated field of opera at the time. While helping jazz and Black music become more respected and legitimized was helpful, other people were also doing it at the same time just as well as he was who were actually Black, like Burleigh and Joplin. Efforts should be made to uplift Black voices from this time period more.

Sources:

(1) “George Gershwin.” Wikipedia. Wikimedia Foundation, November 6, 2022. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/George_Gershwin#Musical_style_and_influence.

(2) Paul Whiteman Orchestra. Fascinating Rhythm. Vinyl recording. New York, New York: Victor, 1924.

(3) Downes, Olin. “Gershwin Caused New Jazz Values.” The New York Times, July 12, 1937, 86 edition.

(4) Lemons, J. Stanley. “Black Stereotypes as Reflected in Popular Culture, 1880-1920.” American Quarterly 29, no. 1 (1977): 102–16. https://doi.org/10.2307/2712263.

(5) Courtwright, David T. “The Hidden Epidemic: Opiate Addiction and Cocaine Use in the South, 1860-1920.” The Journal of Southern History 49, no. 1 (1983): 57–72. https://doi.org/10.2307/2209306.

(6) “Porgy and Bess.” Wikipedia. Wikimedia Foundation, October 23, 2022. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Porgy_and_Bess#Synopsis.

(7) Henson, Karen. “Black Opera, Operatic Racism and an ‘Engaged Opera Studies.’” Journal of the Royal Musical Association 146, no. 1 (2021): 219–30. doi:10.1017/rma.2020.27.

Analyzing American Music and Charles Ives

 

Frank Gerratana, Charles Edward Ives, 1947, http://loc.gov/pictures/resource/cph.3b10888/

Charles Ives, the early twentieth century,American composer pictured pensively above, is situated at an interesting boundary between historical debates of what constitutes “American music” that we’ve discussed in class. While Virgil Tomson’s ideas defined authentic American music as being “derived from the British Isles”—assuming that the English language predominating in North America explained a continued lineage of English culture and music over all else—other critics and musicologists have promoted an idea that pulling from diverse folk traditions is the essence of American music.[1] Charles Ives, descended from pilgrims and growing up with Anglo melodies in New England before becoming more avant-garde and drawing from folk traditions as some consider part of an “American school” of composition, demonstrates the futility of trying to narrowly define “American music.”[2] Ives’s existence problematizes the work of early twentieth century music critics like Tomson and Olin Downes, who—possessing prominent influence over public perception of American classical music—used Ives to promote contradictory, limited arguments over American musical authenticity.

The debate over American Music’s standards and authenticity, especially in considering the influences of white male composers like Ives, was a means of determining what whiteness was in an early twentieth-century cultural context. Tomson saw an evolving American idiom, though in some ways diverging from European music, nevertheless marked by similarities indicating “the products of a common tradition.”[3] Tomson believed Charles Ives’ music fit the characteristics closely linking European and Anglo lineage to American music. However, a 1937 New York Times article by music critic Olin Downes, a contemporary of Ives, glances at “native scores” and lauds the many folk music traditions informing the development of modern American composers.[4] Downes believed that not all American symphonic repertoire had been “mere imitators of European models of composition.”[5] Instead of pointing out examples of American music deriving new forms only from the foundation of European music (as Tomson did), Downes emphasized the wealth of folk music that American composers could draw from, “either grown from the soil or transplanted there from outside sources.”[6] Still, he links and celebrates the connection of this distinctly American folk music to songs like “Dixie” which immortalized the ideals of slavery and the Old South. This fact demonstrates a racialized context which—well into the twentieth century—still possessed mainstream influence in legitimizing problematic forms of white culture nationally. Nonetheless, as Tomson, who drew from racist, controversial scholarly ideas like those of George Pullen Jackson, saw American history as too short to legitimize its composers, Downes declared that the young (white) composers of the era, including Aaron Copland, Virgil Thomson, and Charles Ives, were too little performed.[7]

In conclusion, debates over what Ives represented showed incongruent definitions of musical authenticity, since one composer fit into both “camps.” It’s perhaps more important to consider how analyzing debates over American music through the lens of Ives and critics like Tomson and Downes problematizes their arguments. While they musically diverge, the convergence around attempts to define the raw materials worth lauding in American music as a reflection of whiteness and thus white American culture provides a glimpse into the mainstream, overtly racialized ways by which music critics influenced society and worked to further an exclusive conception of American music.

[1] Virgil Thomson, American Music Since 1910, Holt, Rinehart and Winston, 1971, 16.

[2] Harold C. Schonberg,. “Natural American, Natural Rebel, Natural Avant-Gardist: Charles Ives had no use for Mozart, Haydn, Mendelssohn,Tchaikovsky and Wagner- Charles Ives Ives at the Keyboard,” New York Times (1923-), Apr 21, 1974. https://www.proquest.com/historical-newspapers/natural-american-rebel-avant-gardist/docview/119909304/se-2; Olin Downes, “A Glance at Native Scores,” New York Times (1923-), Jul 25, 1937. https://www.proquest.com/historical-newspapers/glance-at-native-scores/docview/102135938/se-2.

[3] Thomson, American Music Since 1910, 20.

[4] Downes, A Glance at Native Scores,” https://www.proquest.com/historical-newspapers/glance-at-native-scores/docview/102135938/se-2.

[5] Ibid.

[6] Ibid.

[7] Ibid.

The use of minstrelsy to enforce racist stereotypes

The first minstrel shows performed in the 1830s by white performers donning blackface and tattered clothing imitated and mimicked enslaved African Americans in the south. These performances would characterize African Americans as lazy, ignorant, hypersexual, and prone to thievery and cowardice. Historians have said that the reason these racist stereotypes and caricatures became so popular was to help make poorer and working-class whites feel better about themselves by putting down African Americans.

Possibly the most popular blackface caricature, Jim Crow, was created in the 1830s by Thomas Dartmouth Rice, who was known as the “Father of Minstrelsy”. The Jim Crow caricature was created to mock African slaves and to enforce the idea that they are uncultured, happy-go-lucky, and wore tattered clothing. Another popular caricature was Zip Coon, an urban African American that was frequently presented as an overdressed, slow-talking, and mischievous person. Although they lived in different environments and had different backgrounds, Jim Crow and Zip Coon were both used to depict African Americans as lazy, dim-witted people and enforce racial stereotypes.

In their performances, minstrel performers would often exaggerate these stereotypes, which were already blown out of proportion, for comedic purposes. One such performer was Billy Golden, a blackface minstrel who was very active during the late 1800s and early 1900s. Golden specialized in blackface dialect comedy with some of his most famous works being “Turkey in de straw” and “Rabbit hash”. In the recordings, it’s evident that Golden is trying to imitate and exaggerate the way that African Americans would talk to enforce the idea that African Americans were uncultured and dim-witted.

Caricatures and performances that mocked African Americans might have been popular among whites, however, it is not surprising that African Americans were not happy with how blackface minstrel performers were depicting them. Frederick Douglass wrote a response to blackface imitators in the North Star that called these performers filthy scum that stole African culture and used it to make a profit. Moreover, although blackface and minstrelsy don’t seem to be a big problem in modern society (short of a few exceptions every so often), the stereotypes that were ingrained in our society still seem to be very prevalent today.

 

References:

“Blackface: The Birth of an American Stereotype.” National Museum of African American History and Culture, 22 Nov. 2017, https://nmaahc.si.edu/explore/stories/blackface-birth-american-stereotype.

Endicott & Swett, Lithographer. Zip Coon. Photograph. Retrieved from the Library of Congress, <www.loc.gov/item/00650780/>.

Golden, Billy, and Billy Golden. Rabbit Hash. 1908. Audio. Retrieved from the Library of Congress, <www.loc.gov/item/jukebox-223095/>.

Golden, Billy. Turkey in De Straw. 1903. Audio. Retrieved from the Library of Congress, <www.loc.gov/item/jukebox-243662/>.

Jim Crow. [London, new york & philadelphia: pub. by hodgson, 111 fleet street & turner & fisher ; between 1835 and 1845?] Photograph. Retrieved from the Library of Congress, <www.loc.gov/item/2004669584/>.

Nobody Knows the Trouble They Lived Through

H.T. Burleigh’s arrangements of these spirituals encapsulate the lives and struggles of enslaved people forced to work on a plantation. These two recordings are of the spirituals, Nobody Knows de Trouble I’ve Seen and Deep River, arranged by H.T. Burleigh, a prolific black composer, arranger and singer of the early 20th century. These tracks feature the voice of Oscar Seagle, a baritone and prominent musician at the time. They were both recorded in New York by the Columbia label. Burleigh arranges – and later records – these plantation songs as a way to re-popularize spirituals and to provide a rich sentiment to listeners of the culture of plantation songs. We have spent a while talking about spirituals and how they act as a lens into life on a plantation, talking in code to tell directions on how and when to escape enslavement. We also talked about the different kinds of plantation songs, those with stronger beats being work songs and others being different and more emotional. These pieces were likely not work songs, as they are melancholy and deeply emotional. Each of these pieces are also codes. Nobody knows concludes with a positive text, that soon the singer will be in heaven, and if anyone gets there before them, tell the singer’s friends that they’re coming. Deep River speaks of a campground and wanting to leave, which could have been code for if an enslaved person was going to leave. These are references to leaving enslavement and finding a better place, one without slavery, and with freedom. I wanted to look at these two pieces as they provide the listener with a deep context as to the struggles and lives of enslaved people and the looking forward that they would one day no longer be enslaved. This, at its core, is truly American music.

Bibliography
Burleigh, H. T, and Oscar Seagle. Nobody knows de trouble I’ve seen. 1917. Audio. https://www.loc.gov/item/jukebox-879940/.

Burleigh, H. T, and Oscar Seagle. Deep River. 1916. Audio. https://www.loc.gov/item/jukebox-655500/.

White Men Writing and Performing Minstrel Songs? What Could Go Wrong?

TW: blackface, racist language, minstrelsy, violence, misogyny

To any sane, sensible, and empathetic person alive today, minstrelsy is one of the great failures and shames of American history. The degrading songs and performances are deeply uncomfortable and disturbing to listen to, watch, or relive, and the lasting impacts (known, unknown, or purposefully ignored) continue to cause harm today.1 But we still study this phenomenon, whether in caution of reliving the past or perhaps to work toward bringing power back to those robbed of it.

Sheet music cover for “I’ll Make Dat Black Gal Mine,” featuring a portrait of George H. Primrose in blackface.
Charles B. Ward, I’ll make dat black gal mine. (New York, New York: T.B. Harms & Co., 78 East 22nd St., 1896). https://levysheetmusic.mse.jhu.edu/performance/72601

In its heyday, the worst of minstrel songs actively contributed to the formation of racist and sexist ideals of white Americans toward Black Americans. “I’ll make dat black gal mine,” written by Charles B. Ward and recorded in 1921 by Harry C. Browne2, is an example of the worst. With incredibly racist, sexist, and generally problematic lyrics by David Reed, and an almost satirical melody and accompaniment, this song perpetuates harmful stereotypes and shows blatant disrespect for black people. The song’s main theme features a wildly ambitious speaker who will do everything in his power to “win dat gal,” despite the protests of her father. Not only is the gal in question, Caroline, treated as property and some kind of prize to win, but the speaker will even resort to violent, racially-charged murder in order to “steal away” Caroline. The casual threats of murder and violence, the constant use of slurs, and the disregard for female autonomy (not to mention a white performer in blackface) all characterize black people as sub-human and undeserving of respect, contributing to the harmful racist rhetoric ever-prevalent in minstrelsy.

The music itself supports the mockery and comedic ridicule by providing a cartoonish, threatening and creeping accompaniment in a sort of “oom-pah” style. The recording provided by the Library of Congress3 (originally published by Columbia records) features a vocalist with banjo (both performed by Harry C. Browne) accompanied by an orchestra. Browne sings with a heavy baritone sound, prominent vibrato, and tall vowels, plucking his banjo with an almost comedic twang and liveliness. 

The first page of music, showcasing its accompaniment style and disrespectful lyrics.
Charles B. Ward, I’ll make dat black gal mine. (New York, New York: T.B. Harms & Co., 78 East 22nd St., 1896). https://levysheetmusic.mse.jhu.edu/performance/72601

White men like Charles B. Ward, David Reed, and Harry C. Browne writing and performing this awful song is not only harmful to the black people it mocks, threatens, and disrespects, but also to its white audiences, because it condones the same attitude and behavior from them. It is bad enough that a song this horrible was theorized, composed, and recorded, but then perhaps it became popular, which is even worse. Once it is popular, white listeners are subject to the song’s message, which tells them it is okay to treat black people as objects. Presenting these harmful images creates a never ending cycle of internalized and institutionalized racism and misogyny, which unfortunately has not left our culture yet. One can only hope that education has brought more awareness to the disgrace that was/is minstrelsy, and that folks today recognize how cruel and inhumane this genre continues to be to Black Americans.

Do I dare say the benefits of minstrel music?

Defining American music. What is the definition of American music? There are several answers, it’s not quite black and white. Minstrel performances are one major “art form” that I believe influenced American music today.

As is well known, minstrel shows performed by white people were designed to exploit and mock black people rather than to showcase their music. However, one could argue that black minstrel shows, such as Richards and Pringle’s Famous Minstrels, and minstrels in general could have influenced American music somewhat positively.

1

2

The two above images relate Richard’s & Pringles Famous Georgia Minstrels. Richards & Pringles Famous Georgia Minstrels was a black group of entertainers. They first started performing in 1879 and performed for over 20 years with on and off again conductor Frank Clermon. Golds W. Houseley became the conductor of Richards & Pringle’s Famous Georgia Minstrels from 1898 to 1903. An accomplished musician and conductor, as in 1898, he became a solo cornetist for both band and orchestra for the John W. Vogel’s Concert Company which was considered the “best colored band in America” and more. 3
Such an accomplished musician participating in entertainment that previously had made fun of their own culture.

I believe that minstrel shows did help bring spirituals and folk songs to light, even how very controversial they were. One example is Golds W. Houseley. American music started to develop around 1920’s, especially with American and French Music. The National Association of Negro Music was organized in 1919. The goal was to stimulate, discover and foster talent, mold taste, promote fellowship, and advocate racial expression. 4

5

Stephen Foster was a white composer who merely imitated folk styles. He is given credit for implementing the romantic image of the Old South in American popular culture. He was the most popular product of the minstrel school of songwriters and continued to bring forward folk music to the classical world.

Will S. Hays is another prolific songwriter whose lyric themes are highly reminiscent of Stephen Fosters. The song “Little Old Log Cabin in the Lane” is a long staple of country music. It was also commonly heard in minstrelsy depicting sadness of a poor old slave.6

How racist and profitable minstrel shows were, they helped develop American music by bringing attention to them and their music.

 

1 https://www.loc.gov/pictures/resource/var.0233/

2Richards and Pringle’s famous Georgia minstrels : headed by the great and only Billy Kersands, traveling in their own $10,000 hotel car. (0 C.E.). [Advertisements, Hand coloring, Promotional materials]. https://collections.library.yale.edu/catalog/16700125.

3Schwartz, Richard I. “The African American Contribution to the Cornet of the Nineteenth Century: Some Long-Lost Names.” Historic Brass Society Journal 12 (2000): 75-76.

4 Samuel Floyd, Jr. “Introduction,” Black Music in the Harlem Renaissance, 14.


5Schwartz, Richard I. “The African American Contribution to the Cornet of the Nineteenth Century: Some Long-Lost Names.”
Historic Brass Society Journal 12 (2000): 76.

6Malone C., Bill, Stricklin, David. “Southern Music/American Music.” The University Press of Kentucky. 2003. Pg. 23-24.

 

Darius Milhaud and Aaron Copland: Truly American Composers?

The word “Tanglewood” still leaves the tingle of excitement in my chest it did when I was 15. It brings to mind dreams I once had of spending a summer with the Boston Symphony in a place to which admittance would truly mean I had made it. Little did I know that Tanglewood had been this pinnacle for quite some time, and Aaron Copland had played a great part in its notoriety. In this picture, Aaron Copland- the quintessentially American classical composer- sits with Darius Milhaud, a french composer of great notoriety who immigrated to America during WWII, in the place of a summer music festival that still has great musical notoriety today (Appold, photo). I would argue that this image is in many ways an accurate representation of American classical music because the figures in the image had so much influence from different musics in the Americas, and their relationship exemplified a similar musical relationship between their two respective countries.

Copland was asked to work at “Berkshire Music Center at Tanglewood” for its first year in 1940 and “[continued] until 1965” (timeline). During that time, he composed many notable works such as the Tender Land Suites, Appalachian Spring, and Symphony No. 3 and won several awards to include the Pulitzer Prize, and an Academy Award (timeline). Copland’s dedication to Tanglewood is perhaps only comparable to Tanglewood’s dedication to his honor. From copious amounts of tribute programming, to the sculpture commissioned and installed in 2010, to the fact that his ashes were spread on the lawn of the Tappan House, one thing is made abundantly clear: America’s adamant patriotism made no exceptions for classical music (Shea).  

Perhaps the only people more infatuated with American classical music, or American music in general, than Americans, were the French. In this image, Darius Milhaud sits during one of his summers teaching at Tanglewood. Copland idealized the man, and wrote only the highest of praise saying “if France, like England, had a composer laureate, the post would rightfully be his” (Copland). Milhaud, much like Copland, was infatuated with music of South America (primarily Brazil) and their shared appropriation of such melodies could be described as inherently American. To suggest that American music has only positive defining factors would simply be false. Milhaud also used jazz and other forms of popular music very frequently in his compositions, and though he became renowned as a French composer, one could argue that his music is American because of all of the influences that he used and because much of it was in fact written here (Library of Congress). If Dvorak’s New World Symphony can be considered a work of American music, there is no reason that Milhaud’s couldn’t be on the same principle. Of course, it would be wrong to say that the music of these two composers could be accurately defined as American without acknowledging the shared trait of appropriating black and latinx ideas into something that became popularized by white composers. Unfortunately, this pattern could also be described as a shameful defining factor in American music. 

 

Sources

Appold, Juliette. “Darius Milhaud and the Americas.” Darius Milhaud and the Americas | NLS Music Notes. Library of Congress, August 6, 2020. https://blogs.loc.gov/nls-music-notes/2020/08/darius-milhaud-and-the-americas/.

Boriskin, Michael. “Aaron Copland: Timeline of a Musical Life.” Aaron Copland / Timeline // Copland House …where America’s musical past and future meet. Copland House. Accessed November 7, 2022. http://www.coplandhouse.org/aaron-copland/timeline/.

Britannica, T. Editors of Encyclopaedia. “Darius Milhaud.” Encyclopedia Britannica, August 31, 2022. https://www.britannica.com/biography/Darius-Milhaud.

Copland, Aaron. “Music Out of Everywhere.” The New York Times. The New York Times, February 22, 1953. https://archive.nytimes.com/www.nytimes.com/books/99/03/14/specials/copland-milhaud.html.

Kraft, Victor. Aaron Copland with Darius Milhaud, Tanglewood. , . Photograph. https://www.loc.gov/item/copland.phot0004/.

Rothwell, Jessie. “The Dreams of Jacob (Darius Milhaud).” LA Phil. LA Phil. Accessed November 7, 2022. https://www.laphil.com/musicdb/pieces/729/the-dreams-of-jacob.

Shea, Andrea. “Aaron Copland Sculpture Makes Its Home at Tanglewood.” WBUR News. WBUR, June 30, 2011. https://www.wbur.org/news/2011/06/30/copland-sculpture.

Extreme Hoarders Ethnography Edition: Frances Densmore’s Cluttered Basement of Native American Musical Instruments

The resume of the prolific ethnographer and musicologist Frances Densmore is significant. As someone who has carried around many of her bulletins across campus on a daily basis, I can tell you that the weight of her work is heavy in more ways than one. As one of the founding researchers who developed and fostered the field of musicology in the early twentieth century, there is certainly a lot we have to thank Densmore for. However, we are not strangers to her wrongdoings either. From her white savior perspective towards many Indigenous peoples to her view that Native musics were not as evolved as the music of the white race, Densmore is anything but blameless. While we frequently discuss the recordings that Densmore produced, we might not be so aware of Densmore’s collection of Native American musical instruments and artifacts. This collection raises serious questions related to cultural and musical ownership and the benefits of ethnographic study. These collected artifacts serve as yet another Densmorian lesson to modern musicologists about the potential harm that ethnographic study can have on those from whom we wish to learn. 

After working with the American Bureau of Ethnography at the Smithsonian, Densmore was then added to the staff at the National Mueseum at Washington D.C. where she oversaw the a collection of musical instruments. She also composed a catalog of these instruments that includes everything from drums, stringed instruments, flutes, and horns. But Densmore did more than just maintain museums and collections, she did some of the collecting herself in the field. In 1917, she sold a collection of Lakota artifacts to the Museum of the American Indian in New York. In 1930, she collected functional materials used by the Ojibwes in Grand Portage, Minnesota for the Minnesota Historical Society (MHS). She ended up sending eight crates filled with artifacts to St. Paul, and sold these crates to MHS for two hundred and sixty dollars. Further, Densmore learned to play some of the instruments which she collected, and would played them at her lectures. By 1980, when MHS created an exhibit for Densmore’s collected artifacts, Native Americans had already began protesting the loss of their cultural items to white museums and institutions. Additionally, some indigenous people had begun to question the practice of collecting for research.

Thanks in part to her collection of indigenous mundane objects and musical instruments, 

Densmore remains the primary tutor for modern musicologists as they consider the ethics of ethnographic study. Similar to many musical expressions of her time, Densmore’s work is best understood as an expression of whiteness in academic research and transmission and not as an ernest attempt to understand the cultural values and practices of another. By identifying the shortcomings in the research of those who came before, modern musicologists can develop new research methods which seek to benefit both those who are being studied as well as those who will learn form the work produced. In order to truly and deeply learn from one another, the subjects of musicological study and their cultural values and priorities ought to be placed at the forefront. Otherwise, future generations will continue to discuss how ethnographic study says more about the researcher than the subject of interest. 

 

Bibliography:

 

Densmore, Frances. Handbook of the Collection of Musical Instruments in the United States National Museum. Washington, United States Government Printing Office, 1927. 

 

De Vale, Sue Carole. “Densmore and the Smithsonian’s Instrument Collection.” Ethnomusicology. Vol. 25, No. 3, 1981, 500-502. 

 

Harris and Ewing. Miss Frances Densmore, expert in Indian music, who has been added to the staff of the Nat’l Museum at Wash., she was formerly connected with the Amer. Bureau of Ethnology, the Smithsonian. She is now in charge of the unique collection of musical instruments gathered from all lands and located in the Museum. Here shows with 2 of the oldest musical instruments of the Indians, an old violin and a horn made from elephant tusk. 1924, Library of Congress, Washington D. C. https://www.loc.gov/item/2016893319/

 

Jensen, Joan M. Patterson, Michelle Wick. “Collection with a Mission: Frances Densmore’s Chippewa Artifacts.” Travels with Frances Densmore: Her Life, Work, and Legacy in Native American Studies. University of Nebraska, 2015, 518-599.  

Cecil Burleigh and a Lack of Context

Using the search term “Burleigh” in the Library of Congress’s National Jukebox archive, what was initially meant to yield results pertaining to H.T. Burleigh presented a search result far more interesting to me: a recording of a piece titled “Indian Snake Dance” by Cecil Burleigh. The recording captured Toscha Seide on Violin and Francesco Longo on Piano (1). The record is shown in the picture below (2).

Almost immediately after finding this recording, the question of authenticity and cultural representation came to mind. As a student in this class with prior musicology experience, this piece screams cultural appropriation and misrepresentation. The piano accompaniment for the main theme is a misguided attempt to imitate the sound of the drum in Native American pow-wow music. The violin attempts to mimic voices, dancing around the beat, similar to how a western trained ear might perceive Native American singing. However, rhythmic subdivisions in the violin are too clean. This in combination with the low 5ths in the left hand creates a caricature that mocks its original source. Beyond its initial theme, it abandons its facade of representing Native American culture and adheres to its western classical musical heritage for the rest of the piece.

What’s ultimately disappointing about this recording and database entry is the lack of context surrounding it. Not everyone listening to this will have attended higher education institutions, let alone studied musicology. Those who don’t have the same background knowledge have to rely on the information provided on the page. The hyperlinks included in the entry are simply labels that pull up more loosely related content, and if you click on the composer’s name, you’ll find that “Indian Snake Dance” is his only recording in the database. There are no liner notes, no information about the piece. It was only through my own independent research that it became abundantly clear that Cecil Burleigh has no apparent cultural ties to Native Americans. He was immersed in western classical music, studying at Klindworth-Scharwenka Conservatory in Berlin, the Chicago Musical College, and playing violin professionally (3).

If these materials like “Indian Snake Dance” -from relatively unknown authors- are made easily accessible to the general public, one would hope there could be more context surrounding these recordings. Those unlike myself, unwilling to do independent research, will lack the understanding required to explore the questions of authenticity beneath the surface level of this piece.

(1) Burleigh, Cecil, Toscha Seidel, and Francesco Longo. Indian Snake Dance. 1923. Audio. https://www.loc.gov/item/jukebox-670039/.

(2) Burleigh, Cecil, Toscha Seidel, and Francesco Longo. Indian Snake Dance. 1923. Audio. https://www.loc.gov/item/jukebox-670039/.

(3) Lowens, Margery Morgan. “Burleigh, Cecil.” Grove Music Online. 23 Feb. 2011; Accessed 8 Nov. 2022. https://www.oxfordmusiconline.com/grovemusic/view/10.1093/gmo/9781561592630.001.0001/omo-9781561592630-e-1002092891.

Changing With the Times – Is It a Nightmare?

There are some who love the idea of jazz borrowing from classical and there are some who hate it. I’m not sure which camp I personally fall into, but I love to see what arrangers and other instrumentalists do with older ideas that seem taboo to touch.

https://www.loc.gov/item/jukebox-134701/

On this record titled Desecration Rag (A Classic Nightmare), Felix Ardnt takes us through several rags that use themes from western classical canon composers like Dvorak, Chopin, and Liszt. The record is a 10-inch vinyl pressing so it doesn’t have that many tracks, but the ones that are there are intriguing. Recently, topics of discussion in class have revolved around how certain kinds of music grow and change to stay with the times and the benefits and drawbacks that has. With our recent discussions of what makes up the American Music Canon, I think this is a great artifact with which to tango. This record raises some questions – is this music truly American or is it an Americanized interpretation? Ragtime was one of the early stepping stones of jazz and to bring composers who didn’t write jazz into that realm of music through sampling their melodies likely raised some eyebrows in the audience that heard this record. I think it makes music that might seem stuffy to some more accessible and enjoyable – not everyone who likes jazz likes classical music and vice versa. This record could’ve been a cool way to bridge that gap and start conversations that might not have been had previously.

The recording from youtube is a more recent recording that I thought would be cool to put beside the record. You can hear much more of Dvorak’s original sample in the youtube recording, but the question remains the same : is this “American Music?” None of the samples featured on this record are stereotypical for what we would see as American Music, but when put in ragtime (which is a jazz tradition) does that inherently American-ify the music, or does that broach the line of genre fusion that isn’t ok?

Work Cited:

Arndt, Felix, and Felix Arndt. Desecration rag A classic nightmare. 1914. Audio. https://www.loc.gov/item/jukebox-134701/

“The Political Quadrille”: The Subversion of Social Roles Through Dance

In the Prints and Photographs collection of the Library of Congress, I found a political cartoon connecting the 1857 Dred Scott case to the 1860 presidential race, portraying presidential candidates as dancers in a quadrille led by Dred Scott himself, shown playing the violin.1 By centering Dred Scott as a performer, the artist seems to give him power but ultimately consigns him to anonymity in the same way that blackface minstrelsy confined black performers to stereotypical roles while denying them individual celebrity.

The quadrille was a dance form popular among the upper class in the first half of the nineteenth century where four couples would dance together in a set choreography to a piece with either four or six movements.2 Although some composers like Francis Johnson experimented with the genre, quadrilles were almost always instrumental and had the same structure, although the actual melody and dance steps varied piece to piece.3 For audiences in 1860, the quadrille represented an upper-class and perhaps outdated tradition of adhering to a fixed program with a partner, as well as following the music itself.

The social context surrounding quadrilles allows the cartoonist to poke fun at the figures portrayed dancing in couples. In the upper left, Southern Democrat John C. Breckinridge is shown arm in arm with his political ally and the incumbent president, James Buchanan.1 Nicknamed “Buck”, Buchanan is depicted with horns, adding a touch of fantasy to the image, perhaps to remind readers that the cartoon is not quite serious. The artist pairs the other three presidential candidates with more generic figures: Abraham Lincoln is shown dancing with a black woman as a jab at the Republican party’s abolitionist leanings, while Constitutional Union party candidate John Bell is shown with a Native American man as a reference to his brief flirtation with Native rights, and Democratic candidate Stephen A. Douglas is shown with an Irishman, reflecting the makeup of his own supporter base. In contrast to Buchanan’s fantastical horns, the exaggerated features and clothing of these three anonymous figures are based in very real stereotypes, denying them any individuality. Having the Native man and the Irishman serve as dance partners for Bell and Douglas serves to emasculate them, showing that the interests of these groups were in the hands of male American politicians. It is not clear exactly why the artist chose to portray Lincoln’s partner as a woman while the others are portrayed as men (although fears of black masculinity experienced by whites are probably involved), but the overall message is that all three groups are placed at the whim of white male politicians.

However, by far the most interesting figure is Dred Scott himself, shown in the center playing violin for the dancers. Scott was the plaintiff in the landmark 1857 Supreme Court decision which ruled that black people, enslaved or free, were not considered citizens of the United States and therefore did not have the rights accorded to citizens.4 This decision divided the country and eventually contributed to its descent into the Civil War, and as the artist points out it also overshadowed the 1860 presidential election. Scott is placed in a position of power, both through his role as the musician and by being visually centered in the cartoon. In an era when black musicians were allowed to perform only in limited contexts, giving an enslaved man a position of prestige over presidential candidates who dance along to his music might have been a powerful statement. However, the artist reminds us not to take this power too seriously. Blackface shows were primarily performed by white actors, but it also included black actors, as they were not allowed on the stage in other contexts, and were only allowed to take part in minstrel shows by assuming the stereotyped identities of characters. Scott undergoes a similar process to black blackface actors, who had their individual identities assimilated into white conceptions of blackness.5 The image of Scott has a grotesquely large head and features that, while not strongly exaggerated, do not resemble Scott himself at all, and an expression of happiness or delight at odds with his situation. These features combine to take the audience’s attention away from the actual man and the suffering that led him to sue several times for his freedom, allowing them to focus on the idea that the Dred Scott case had the attention of the presidential candidates and had become a central issue of the presidential race. In appearing to give Scott agency through a musical metaphor, the artist actually erases his individual identity and ultimately thrusts upon him the same stereotyped identities that black performers were forced to adopt in minstrel shows, and and which then applied to all black people by extension.

Citations:

1 “The Political Quadrille. Music by Dred Scott.” Library of Congress. Accessed October 27, 2022. https://www.loc.gov/pictures/item/2008661605/.

2 Skiba, Bob. “Here, Everybody Dances: Social Dancing in Early Minnesota.” MN History Magazine. Accessed October 18, 2022. https://collections.mnhs.org/MNHistoryMagazine/articles/55/v55i05p217-227.pdf.

3 Kramer, Hayden James. 2022. “Six Works by Francis Johnson (1792–1844): A Snapshot of Early American Social Life.” Order No. 29162008, University of Maryland, College Park. https://www.proquest.com/dissertations-theses/six-works-francis-johnson-1792-1844-snapshot/docview/2688578944/se-2.

4 Urofsky, M. I.. “Dred Scott decision.” Encyclopedia Britannica, August 25, 2022. https://www.britannica.com/event/Dred-Scott-decision.

5 Sullivan, John Jeremiah. “’Shuffle Along’ and the Lost History of Black Performance in America.” New York Times, March 24, 2016. https://www.nytimes.com/2016/03/27/magazine/shuffle-along-and-the-painful-history-of-black-performance-in-america.html;Lott, Eric. Essay. In Love and Theft: Blackface Minstrelsy and the American Working Class, 15–37. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2013.

Blackface Minstrelsy and its Unconscious Return

Blackface minstrelsy, a nineteenth-century theatrical practice where white men would blacken their faces, dress up in racist exaggerated clothing and perform comic skits, variety acts, dancing and musical performances to their white counterparts. If the racially stereotyped mimicking of enslaved Africans working on Southern plantations wasn’t enough, we might be shocked to discover these performances were recorded and preserved in history for anyone to listen to. Should these recordings exist and be heard today? I would argue they should, for the simple reason that all must listen, view and comprehend this awful tradition and understand the impact it had on whites and their development of white identity, African Americans, and all people of color in the United States. 

One part of these musical threaticies is “coon songs,” an aspect of ragtime music built on racial stereotypes of African Americans. These songs were often heard and observed as the centerpiece of Minstrel shows, and designed for the continuous humiliation and degradation of people of color. As you may have guessed, these best-selling hits could not exist without the performances of some of the world’s most talented and famous musicians at the time. A familiar name in the realm of Minstrel shows and “coon songs” stars was Silas Leachman, a Chicago-based politician and vocalist who specialized in the art of “coon songs.” These ragtime songs, wreaking of horribly racist African American dialects and stereotypes, were how Mr. Leachman made a living, and something all too common at the time. Mr. Leachman rose to popularity making his first recordings for the Chicago Talking Machine Company during the early 1890s. Later that same decade, he also started recording for Columbia Records. What I want you to listen to and further examine, however, is Mr. Leachman’s 1902 recording of “Whoa Dar Mule” by Victor Monarch Records.

Aside from the racist text, it is difficult to listen to this recording and somehow conjure up a scholarly opinion of the music, if any at all. A syncopated ragtime, rhythmic style is common in a number of these “coon songs” so it is challenging to elaborate on their originality based on the individual song. A recording from the Library of Congress’ National Jukebox may help your ears understand what I’m trying to describe:

Link to song here: https://www.loc.gov/item/jukebox-5667/

Regardless of the obviously stereotypical lyrics, we should be more concerned with the racist dialect that is used in concert with the exquisite African American tradition of ragtime music. The contribution of the art forms of African American musicians from genres such as: spirituals, jazz, ragtime, blues, rock ‘n’ roll, soul, pop and rap, deserve respect and acknowledgement. These contributions should be embraced and amplified, never diminished. This likely was not a part of Mr. Leachman’s mindset when he committed to becoming, and being compensated, as a major vocalist for Minstrel shows and their “coon songs.” Nonetheless, as Eric Lott declared in Love and Theft: Blackface Minstrelsy and the American Working Class, “Every time you hear an expansive white man drop into his version of black English, you are in the presence of Blackface’s unconscious return.” This is a warning to stay vigilant when you are inclined to turn away and ignore mockery and other aspects of marginalization that may not directly impact you. 

When you degrade one you degrade us all. Sadly, elements of this behavior are ever present in society today. Irrespective of your lived experience and racial identification, this music is a reminder of how far from we were then, and how far we remain, from living up to the American ideal of equality for all men and women. Because it also offends all moral and religious teachings of compassion and love for our fellow people, we are compelled to watch, listen and dialog about the impact of these works as we raise children in a society that is based on a belief in the superiority of the white race. This exploitation of African Americans, while maybe not done in mainstream circles today, must be addressed by all of us to prevent giving unconscious approval to the white supremacy in our midst. 

 

Works Cited

“Blackface: The Birth of an American Stereotype.” National Museum of African American History and Culture, 22 Nov. 2017, https://nmaahc.si.edu/explore/stories/blackface-birth-american-stereotype

Leachman, Silas F. Whoa Dar Mule. 1901. Audio. Retrieved from the Library of Congress, <www.loc.gov/item/jukebox-5667/>. 

Lott, Eric. Love and Theft: Blackface Minstrelsy and the American Working Class. Oxford University Press, 2013.

“What Were Coon Songs? – May 2005.” Ferris State University, https://www.ferris.edu/HTMLS/news/jimcrow/question/2005/may.htm

Record Companies, Racism and You!

In February 1916, the Tuskegee singers were recorded singing “Swing Low, Sweet Chariot” in Camden, NJ. The spiritual is part of a rich history of Black musicking in America, a tradition that incorporates African folk, Christian hymnody, and Native American musics, among other influences, and has been made possible by Black resilience, ingenuity, and artistry despite the circumstances they as a people have faced in America. Uplifting this art and its creators was a primary goal of the Harlem Renaissance. Which was just beginning in 1916, when this recording was made.1

The image of an RCA Victor record presented in the catalog entry for the Tuskegee Singers’ 1916 “Swing Low, Sweet Chariot” recording.1

The session was organized by Victor Talking-Machine Company (today, RCA), and their role in the musicking process here became quite interesting to me after I found the catalog entry for this recording in the Library of Congress’ National Jukebox. The intentions of Black artists in the Harlem Renaissance are clear – they are well documented in writing by the artists themselves – but what about the intentions of recording companies who facilitated recordings such as this one?

According to its Library of Congress catalog record, the recording was part of an educational effort by the record company. The label “educational” was applied to folk music from all over the world, including White musics, so at first glance it doesn’t seem to be an expression of othering. In fact, it may even speak well of the company that they went out of their way to include Black art in educational efforts. However (and this is a big however), the fact that the recording’s official subtitle is “Primitive Negro chant” paints a much more concerning picture of the company’s engagement with and recording of BIPOC art. While “Swing Low, Sweet Chariot” and the Black spiritual tradition may have originated primarily in the fields of forced labor rather than in the concert hall, this recording definitely constitutes art music. It’s a presentation of Black folk material that is much more compliant with Western European musical traditions. Other presentations of such material – think Dvorak – were respected and embraced by white audiences at this time, certainly not called “primitive.” Now, there was definitely othering, fetishizing, and appropriative behavior that underlied those white audiences’ love for art music based in Black traditions. But the fact remains that they loved the material and loved it as art music.

The choice of language is extremely reductive, then, implying that spiritual art-songs are somehow lesser than other art music, and it indicates serious disrespect for Black creativity. Given the positive reception of Black music when it was appropriated and presented by a white composer, one can only conclude that the devaluing of the spiritual tradition evident in the “Swing Low” recording was a direct result of disrespect for the Black composers and performers involved in this performance. Considering the power record companies hold in marketing and branding the recordings they produce, prejudices like this, and subtitles like the one on this work, cannot be ignored. Companies have the power to perpetuate stereotypes and shape societal value systems, and they do it like this, through language that either explicitly or implicitly reduces BIPOC musics to “other.” In musicology and as we consume music in our daily lives, we ought to be cognizant of branding and the hidden power of the people who control recordings. Marketing matters.

1 Tuskegee Singers, “Swing Low, Sweet Chariot,” recorded February 16, 1916, RCA Victor/B-16512, accessed November 10, 2022, https://www.loc.gov/item/jukebox-14854/

“Poor Old Slave”

The work I’ve found is an interesting one from 1851. This manuscript is a short song arranged by a pianist by the name of George W. H. Griffin. I think this makes a particularly interesting piece to look at due to its place in history, being a work for voice modeled after slave songs, but arranged for chorus and piano. From the cover, it looks to be a work dedicated to a tenor by the name of “S. B. Ball Esq.” from the “Ordway Aeolian Vocalists.” Not much is kept on this ensemble, but as far as can be found in drawings of the composer, G. W. H. Griffin, it appears as if he is a white man.

There are certain implications to the usage of these lyrics, then, given this context. The song goes as follows: 

 

“‘Tis just one year ago today, that I remember well,

I sat down by poor Nelly’s side, and a story did she tell

‘twas ‘bout a poor unhappy slave, that lived for many a year

but now he’s dead and in his grave, no master does he fear

She took my arm, we walked along, into an open field,

and there she paused to breathe a while, then to his grave did steal

she sat down by that little mound, and softly whisper’d there,

come to me father, ‘tis thy child, then gently dropp’d a tear

(chorus)

The poor old slave has gone to rest,

we know that he is free

disturb him not, but let him rest

way down in Tennessee”

First off, being released in 1851, this song was released many years before the abolition of slavery, meaning that the lyrics are not about the past, but are a commentary on the present. Additionally, from context, the story seems to take place in the north, as it, first off, references Tennessee as being “way down,” but also brings up the idea that “Nelly,” is a black woman, and the child of a slave, who is not currently enslaved herself. With this, the song, I believe, is about empathy for those who have been and were being greatly harmed by slavery, and the intent of its singing and performance is to strengthen the idea that slavery is an immoral practice. Given the context of a presumably predominantly white choir, the context of the lyrics suggest that this is a bittersweet, but ultimately pleasant song about the white person’s perspective, knowing someone who has had a close loved one taken away from her, but is now free herself to tell her story.

-mika natal

Works Cited

Griffin, George W. H. “Poor Old Slave.” Duke University Libraries, https://idn.duke.edu/ark:/87924/r4fx7867f. 

The evolution of African American spirituals into western classical music

Since the beginning of African American music, the genre has evolved many times due in part to outside influences from other cultures and societal changes in America. Sorrow Songs became spirituals, which would eventually merge with western classical music. James Bland and H.T. Burleigh were some of the most influential African American composers in America during the turn of the 20th century. Due to their western education, they were able to effectively popularize and represent African American spirituals by combining the words and themes of spirituals with western classical compositions and arrangements.

James Bland was an African American minstrel performer and composer, some of his most famous compositions were “Carry me back to old Virginny” and “In the evening by the moonlight”. “Carry me back to old Virginny” is written from the perspective of a freedperson wanting to go back to the days of slavery. In this recording, the song is sung by a quartet of male singers and when reading the lyrics, the perspective of the singers seems to be that being enslaved wasn’t as bad as one might think. Although the song represents an African American point of view, the arrangement of the song is more western, with clear voicings for each member and more harmonized than previous forms of African American music which wouldn’t normally have this organized form.

The integration of western classical music into African American spirituals was even more apparent in Bland’s “In the evening by the moonlight”, a song about the experience of slaves. This recording starts with a western orchestral intro and much like the previously mentioned song, there is a lot more structure and harmonization in this piece. Interestingly, the pronunciations in the recording are also more “proper” English, rather than the English that was originally written in the lyrics.

H.T. Burleigh was surrounded by music from a young age, performing at local churches and events and later became famous for his adaptations of African American spirituals. Some of his most famous works are “Deep river” and “Go down Moses”. “Deep river” is a song of hope that expresses a desire for peace and freedom. From the sheet music, we can see that the piece begins with piano chords that this is not a traditional spiritual that might have been passed orally, rather it is a well notated piece meant to express the experiences of African Americans in a western style. 

The lyrics in “Go down Moses” don’t specifically relate to African Americans or even America, however, it was still meant to express many of the feelings of enslaved African Americans. When listening to this recording and looking at the sheet music, the accompanying parts are very intricate and western compared to what traditional spirituals might have done. Moreover, this song seems to have a structure where rather than having a call and response with other singers, the accompaniment has short interjections that just continue the melody.

 

I think that another important note that all of these recordings have in common is that the vocalists all seem to be classically trained compared to previous African American music where the performers weren’t necessarily trained. The main causes of this seem to be the notation of the music as well as more western influence. In my opinion, the notation of spirituals has prevented them from being lost to time or lack of representation, however, bias can also affect which spirituals get notated and which will be forgotten. The integration of western styles and instrumentation with spirituals seems to be a good idea in terms of increasing popularity and representation among other works in the US, but I wonder whether or not the songs still hold the same weight now that they have been combined with western music.

 

References:

Bland, James A, Columbia Stellar Quartette, and James A Bland. Carry me back to old Virginia. 1919. Audio. Retrieved from the Library of Congress, <www.loc.gov/item/jukebox-651610/>.

Bland, James A, et al. In the Evening by the Moonlight. 1908. Audio. Retrieved from the Library of Congress, <www.loc.gov/item/jukebox-121558/>.

Burleigh, H. T, and Oscar Seagle. Deep River. 1916. Audio. Retrieved from the Library of Congress, <www.loc.gov/item/jukebox-655500/>.

Burleigh, H. T. Deep river song: old Negro melody. G. Ricordi, New York, monographic, 1916. Notated Music. Retrieved from the Library of Congress, <www.loc.gov/item/2011562023/>.

“Go down, Moses; Let My People Go! / Historic American Sheet Music / Duke Digital Repository.” Duke Digital Collections, https://repository.duke.edu/dc/hasm/n0708.

“In Harmony: Sheet Music from Indiana.” IN Harmony: Sheet Music from Indiana – Item Details, https://webapp1.dlib.indiana.edu/inharmony/detail.do?action=detail&fullItemID=%2Flilly%2Fdevincent%2FLL-SDV-232069.

“In the Evening by the Moonlight.” High Brown Songs, 28 Apr. 2022, https://sheetmusicsinger.com/highbrownsongs/in-the-evening-by-the-moonlight/.

Lapitino, Francis J, et al. Go down Moses. 1924. Audio. Retrieved from the Library of Congress, <www.loc.gov/item/jukebox-69931/>.

 

H.T. Burleigh and Black Excellence: An Idea of Freedom Through Hard Trials

Hard trials. Something every single person on this planet can relate to. When I think of hard trials the first thing that comes to mind is a difficult experience, finding yourself in a quagmire, if you will. In actuality, it is an unpleasant experience that attempts to prevent you from further reaching your desired goals. My question to you, dear reader, is how do your goals and desires differ from, or share similarities with, enslaved African Americans of the 16th, 17th and 18th century? I’m sure there is a lot to say about the differences in end goals between enslaved African-American and members of today’s current population, but a similarity I believe both parties would attest to in some way is the desire for freedom. Freedom comes in a variety of forms and entities, from the liberation African American slaves worked relentlessly to secure, to the inner landscape of one’s mind, where the desire is to free the self from the turmoil we all encounter. What this all boils down to is that freedom in all aspects is a sacred thing, and hard trials can be the building blocks of our lives, as long as we respect and adhere to their lessons with all of our love and strength. 

There is no better example of a composer who encapsulates aspects of freedom, hardship, faith and desire into his musical arrangements than H. T. Burleigh. H.T. Burleigh was one of the first African-American composers who utilized negro spirituals in his use of composing classical repertoire (both vocal and instrumental) and enjoyed public recognition and a high degree of success as a black composer. In Burleigh’s arrangement of “Hard Trials,” written in 1917 from his collection of Negroe Spirituals, the listener is likely to be deceived by the title in comparison to listening to the piece. Rather than a somber piece, it is almost cheerful in its tempo and lyrics. When you think of hard trials you may think of some of the examples I elaborated on above, trials accompanied by frustration and heartbreak, however Burleigh’s arrangement of this spiritual is one that emphasizes joy and hope over frustration and heartbreak. The piece incorporates textual ideas supporting the strength found in religioius doctrines including the deeply held beliefs voiced by a Methodist slave. The piece speaks to the strength and preservation that religion offers an individual, especially one who is enslaved, through the lyrics, “Methodis’ is my name, Methodis’ till I die, I’ve been reciev’d in the Methodis’ church.” I believe that the way these lyrics are arranged highlights the joy and promise of an afterlife that the singer aspires to, despite the brutality of white supremacy. The melody is written in E flat major, a key that brings a bright bounce and rhythm to it, painting the picture of a woman out on a leisurely stroll contemplating a brighter future and always moving forward despite the current harsh realities. It also depicts how religious faith is an aspect of one’s life that positively uplifts yourself and others, helping you overcome hardships when face to face with a difficult situation. 

Inside the front cover of Burleigh’s book of Negro Spirituals you will find notes Burleigh instructs the listener to read and reflect on before listening to his spirituals. An important aspect of this writing is the importance for the integration of both religion and music in one’s life to create a deep seeded spiritual experience. This mindset is required in his eyes, while singing spirituals and folk songs. Burleigh refers to a sense of spirit one must have and its priority over a uniquely beautiful voice. To Burleigh, this sense of spirit is idolized through the “spontaneous outburst of intense religious fervor.” This outburst is similar to the notion within the baptist and other Christian faiths to “get happy” and accept Jesus Christ as their personal lord and savior. The spiritual musical score and its lyrics arranged by Burleigh are hopeful, aspirational and diametrically opposed to the harsh realities of day to day life as an enslaved person. The most compelling aspect of “Hard Trials” is that it is all accomplished within the realm of classical music by a black composer, and in this recording, featuring a world renowned black contralto soloist, Ms. Marian Anderson.

Works Cited

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

“Sheet Music Consortium: Home.” Sheet Music Consortium | Home, https://digital.library.ucla.edu/sheetmusic/#fieldquery=Slave%2520spirituals&amp;searchType=regular&amp;start=150&amp;rows=10&amp;keyword=Slave%2520spirituals&amp;titles=false&amp;names=false&amp;places=false&amp;publishers=false&amp;subjects=false

Simkin, John. Spartacus Educational, Spartacus Educational, https://spartacus-educational.com/USASsongs.htm

 

The Plantation Songs Known as Spirituals – Go Down, Moses, H. T. Burleigh

While looking through the Sheet Music Consortium, it occurred to me to look into songs I had some base familiarity with. Go Down, Moses is a very popular spiritual which came directly from enslaved African Americans at plantations. The song itself refers to Moses and the Hebrew people. In said story, the Hebrews are held captive by the Pharaoh. God tells Moses through the story of the burning bush to free his people from the Egyptian tyrant. Through sending plagues, flocks of locus, making the red sea red with blood and more catastrophes, the Pharaoh agrees to let the Hebrew people go. To the enslaved African Americans working their lives away, this spiritual was the promise of emancipation.

Included above are the notes in the front cover from H.T. Bureigh on the difference between spiritual and minstrel, how to perform this piece, and what this piece and these words mean. H.T. Burleigh writes about how to perform this piece, and what it means for African Americans. In order to sing correctly, you have to have soul, more than correctness of pitches. And you have to learn the difference between a spiritual and minstrel song. Burleigh invites the singer to feel the words, so that every man will be free. This brings up a question, what actually is the difference between minstrel songs and spirituals? A spiritual is a song that represents something to an audience, and to the performer. Its goal is to stir the people and help them think in a different way, or further affirm their beliefs. Spirituals have been featured in African American minstrel shows, but those shows also featured a wide variety of music: secular, comedy, and eventually spirituals. And few were better at arranging these spirituals as H.T. Burleigh.

On the topic of H.T. Burleigh, in Music 345, we have studied Burleigh, so that name likely rings a bell. H.T. Burleigh was one of the first prominent black composers. In his life, Burleigh had a small singing career and arranged art song but focused mostly on arranging and composing spirituals. His works are still performed to this day, about a hundred years later. The song itself has stood the test of time, being one of the most popular spirituals ever. But just as the song stands the test of time, so does this story. His words, in the front cover of Go Down, Moses invoke the message of the spiritual. This, of course, is something we continue to strive for today as a society. And yet, people still need to hear these words in order to believe them, and to understand that all people must be free.

 

Go Down, Moses; Let My People Go!, Burleigh, H. T. (Harry Thacker), 1917, Accessed 10/20/2022.

Examining the Portrayal of Native Americans in Early Twentieth-Century White Popular Culture

Born in Marengo, IL, pianist and composer Egbert Van Alstyne (1882-1951) was an accomplished musician whose musical endeavors appeared on Broadway and in vaudeville. In 1903, he got his big break from a piece he composed entitled “Navajo”, which musically demonstrates racist stereotypes of Indigenous peoples perpetuated by white Americans. He and lyricist Harry Williams later composed “Oh, that Navajo Rag”, a ragtime piece with text which further pigeonholes and generalizes the Navajo tribe. Unfortunately, Van Alstyne’s work is one of innumerable examples of how music perpetuated and upheld racist stereotypes in the United States. Van Alstyne’s work, among many other composers and artists, raises significant questions about the portrayal of Native Americans throughout history, and how these portrayals might have impacted us all. 

Unfortunately, Van Alstyne and Williams’ bigoted repertoire is robust. Many more of their compositions are centered around prejudiced views towards Native Americans, such as “Cheyenne” and “San Antonio”. And many other composers were publishing similar works at approximately the same time. For instance, Don Bestor’s “That Indian Rag”, Edward Coleman’s “My Indian Maiden”, and Theodore Morse’s “Wise Old Indian” were all published around the same time as Van Alstyne and William’s works. What is especially alarming is the popularization of Van Alstyne and Williams music. “Navajo” was later included in Marie Cahill’s Broadway musical Nancy Brown, and “Oh, that Navajo Rag” was recorded and performed in 1911 by Billy Murray, one of the most famous vaudeville singers of his time. The creation of this work might be considered by some to be disappointing but unsurprising; but what is certainly appalling is that audiences were listening and applauding. 

When studying American music, it is important to be acutely and consistently critical of those artists and creatives who helped to lay the foundations of the American cultural framework we live in today. While we frequently critique musicologists in this course for their malpractices and wrongdoings, perhaps we ought to consider the sins of the artist as more significant. Our artistic ancestors in some way influence the art we make and thus the world we live in today. The effects of their art is long lasting, and it is difficult to write off these artistic pieces as a product of their time when their impacts are felt today. 

 

Billy Murray. Oh, that Navajo Rag. Victor Records. 1911.  Library of Congress, https://www.loc.gov/item/jukebox-130930/.

 

Bestor, Don. That Indian Rag. Will Rossiter, 1910. 

 

Coleman, Edward. My Indian Maiden. The American Advance Music Co, 1904.

 

Ewen, David. Popular American Composers. New York, The H. W. Wilson Company, 1962. 

 

Levy, Lester S. “Growing Pains.” Give me Yesterday: American History in Song 1890-1920, University of Oklahoma Press, 1975, 169-195. 

 

Morse, Theodore F. Wise Old Indian. Theodore Morse Music Co, 1909. 

 

“Murray, Billy.” Grove Music Online, 3 Sept. 2014, https://doi.org/10.1093/gmo/9781561592630.article.A2267265. 

 

Van Alstyne, Egbert. Navajo: Indian Characteristique March and Two Step. Shapiro, Bernstein & Co, 1903. 

 

Van Alstyne, Egbert. Oh, that Navajo Rag. Jerome H. Remick & Co, 1911. Accessed from: https://webapp1.dlib.indiana.edu/metsnav/inharmony/navigate.do?oid=http://fedora.dlib.indiana.edu/fedora/get/iudl:469351/METADATA&pn=1&size=screen.

 

“Van Alstyne, Egbert (Anson).” The Grove Dictionary of American Music. 2nd ed. 2013.

Harry Burleigh: The Transformation of Spirituals into Classical Music

Many white composers compiled and arranged a multitude of African American spirituals for the western ear to consume, although more important to discuss is the influence of the first African American arranger to change the idea of what spirituals represent. Harry Burleigh was an African American vocalist, arranger, and composer who created a foundation for African American spirituals to be represented in classical music. Growing up in Erie, Pennsylvania, in the aftermath of the civil war, Burleigh was primarily influenced by the teachings of his grandfather, who lived in slavery as a child. Burleigh connected with original spirituals such as Deep River, Sometimes I Feel Like a Motherless, and Swing Low Sweet Chariot. His experience surrounded by music as a child led to his desire to become a musician, ultimately receiving a scholarship to the National Conservatory of Music in New York City. He had a prominent career in performing and extraordinary success in putting African American spirituals in the classical realm. Below is an arrangement I discovered on the Sheet Music Consortium that is a collection of spirituals, most specifically Sometimes I Feel Like a Motherless Child, arranged by Burleigh in western classical notation.

Just as discussed throughout Southern’s book The Music of Black Americans, white Americans often have stereotyped and simplified African American music, creating a falsified notion of the deeper meaning behind spirituals. Southern points out that white observers often “misunderstood the singing and dancing of slaves, interpreting such activities as indicative that the slaves were unfeeling and uncaring.” He further shares that they saw African Americans as “a large flock of cheerful and contented slaves… ever merry and ever working with a song” (Southern, Pg. 77). This misconception seeped its way into popular culture as African Americans gained freedom and their culture was much more prominent, specifically through minstrelsy.

Minstrelsy was a meld of African American stereotypes built on the sole purpose of entertainment for a white audience, instilling a sense of shallowness in African American folk music. Burleigh used his talents to arrange fifty songs that could stand beside other classical staples to instill a feeling of respect and empathy for spirituals. For instance, he wrote that “it is a serious misconception of their meaning and value to treat them as minstrel songs or to try to make them funny by too literal attempt to imitate that manner of the Negro in singing them… their worth is weakened unless they are done impressively, for through all these songs there breathes hope, a faith in the ultimate justice and the brotherhood of man” (Bell). Alternatively, while western notation can take away the culture and freeness that might initially be in a song learned and sung through rote, Burleigh proves that western notation can shed light on a piece’s depth and seriousness.

Bibliography

Bell, Danna. “Link to the Library of Congress: Harry T. Burleigh—The Man Who Brought African-American Spirituals to the Classical Stage.” Music Educators Journal 104, no. 4 (2018): 9–11. https://www.jstor.org/stable/26588647.

Ramsey, Guthrie P. “African American music.” Grove Music Online. 4 Oct. 2012; Accessed 20 Oct. 2022. https://www.oxfordmusiconline.com/grovemusic/view/10.1093/gmo/9781561592630.001.0001/omo-9781561592630-e-1002226838.

Rubenstein, David. “Sometimes I Feel Like a Motherless Child / Historic American Sheet Music / Duke Digital Repository.” Duke Digital Collections. Accessed October 19, 2022. https://repository.duke.edu/dc/hasm/n0735.

Southern, Eileen. The Music of Black Americans a History. New York: Norton, 1971.

Record Importance

Humans are naturally creatures that like to sort things into groups. Why we do this – who is to say. Regardless of the why, we have collections of practically everything under the sun – rocks, weather, music, plants. You name it and someone has probably put it into some kind of collection or catalog.

In music, specifically in terms music of underrepresented composers (i.e BIPOC, women, etc.) these kinds of collections are vital. Us western classically trained musicians due to our training don’t tend to look outside the canon unless prompted because of the fact that there is so much that is “acceptable” already. Why do the work of finding something new?

But that’s the thing – it isn’t new. Black music has been here just as long in America as the white, but due to the fact that the music wasn’t white music in origin, most white folks thought it wasn’t worth exploring or promoting.

And yet, their bodies started filling jazz clubs and rock venues and suddenly the music meant something. The joke is on them – this music always meant something and it is because of that inherent worth that this music deserves to get played.

Which brings me back to why collections like “International Dictionary of Black Composers, vol. 1” and others like it are so important. The work of gathering the music has been done already – all you as the musician have to do is open it and look through to see what you find. You might just find a new favorite song.

 

Work cited:

I Saw Three Ships Come Sailing In! They Carried Toys and Propaganda!

In 1914, during World War I, an appeal was published in the Chicago Herald, asking American children to donate toys, sweets, and money to suffering children in Europe whose Christmases that year surely would not be as joyful. These donations traveled to Europe on the U.S.S. Jason, a Navy fuel/cargo ship, branded for this special journey as “The Christmas Ship,” or, “The Santa Claus Ship.” This appeal soon became a national movement, gathering involvement from the Red Cross and other organizations, and meriting a song to be widely performed (often by the children themselves!) to persuade children to donate gifts. This song was called “Hurrah! Hurrah for the Christmas Ship!”1 and it was written by Henry S. Sawyer, who was a composer of popular piano and vocal music at the time (see on IMSLP, his incredibly problematic “Os-Ka-Loo-Sa-Loo,” among others). The song features a cheerful melody and inspiring words. It appeals to a child’s sense of wonder at the wideness of the world and the magic of Christmas, but the lyrics also raise some issues in terms of perpetuating propaganda. 

The front cover to Hurrah! Hurrah for the Christmas Ship. Notice the whimsical sailboat with Santa himself at its helm.
Henry S. Sawyer, Hurrah! Hurrah for the Christmas Ship. (Chicago, Illinois: McKinley Music Company, 1914).

The European children are referred to as “poor,” and “suffering,” implying not only their financial hardship but also poverty of spirit. The lyrics reference the “terrors” these children endure, including “fire, gun, and sword,” and homelessness. A written message on the back cover also contributes to harmful and sexist gender norms, asking girls to sew things then sell them, and asking boys to do chores and run errands for money. 

The actual “Christmas Ship,” A.K.A. The U.S.S. Jason, in November 1914. Not very whimsical, and presumably no Santa to be found.
Green, Mike. USS Jason (Fuel Ship #12) underway. Photograph. Nov 14, 1914. Library of Congress, LC-B2- 3291-3. http://www.navsource.org/archives/09/02/09021220.jpg (Accessed October 19, 2022).

However sweet the gesture and movement is, these descriptions contribute to the propaganda of wartime morale songs. While the lyrics do not directly insult enemies, the propaganda comes in the form of asking for money and instilling nationalism. If nothing else, this song trains American children that giving money during wartime is an important thing you must do for your country. Especially considering that 30 years later, many of these children will grow up to be adults during World War II, where money-pandering was a huge part of American propaganda. By asking American children to effectively be Santa Clause, this song could contribute to a superiority or savior complex that could result in nationalist ideals.  

People packing boxes of gifts for the Christmas Ship ahead of its departure.
Bain News Service, Publisher. Packing for Christmas Ship. 1914. Photograph. https://www.loc.gov/item/2014697999/.

Despite the propaganda, this effort was received very well by Europe. In an article published in November 1914 in the New York Times2
, the author reports that “the citizens of Greater Plymouth [England] manifested in every possible manner the heartfelt appreciation of the 6,000,000 Christmas gifts sent by the people of the United States to the unfortunate children in the war zone.” The receiving countries hosted banquets in honor of the ship’s arrival, and telegrams were exchanged on both sides. The ship’s arrival was met with excitement and gratitude, so clearly the propaganda worked. While this movement was a sweet idea, the execution perpetuates the nationalist propaganda that runs rampant during the wartime era, indoctrinating children into the compulsion to give money and ultimately fund the war effort.

Ragtime and the Stark Music Company

Ragtime is a genre of music created by Black pianists that was popular between 1890 and 1920. Known by such a name due to its highly syncopated nature (which was originally referred to as “ragging the time”), ragtime emerged initially in the Mississippi Valley as bar, cabaret, and club music played by “piano-thumping… black piano professors” (1) that was mostly improvisatory. This early ragtime was referred to as jig music, and was all but shunned by white populations. During the Chicago World Fair, many Black jig piano players were hired to play music written by white composers at Fair events, but they were not allowed to play their own music. As a result, they would play in the clubs, saloons, and other social spaces around the perimeter of the fair, which is where their music thrived (1).

It wasn’t until 1895 when the first ragtime tune, “La Pas La Mas”, was actually published, starting a new subgenre within ragtime known as classic rag (2). Classic rag was published as sheet music and was not intended to be improvised off of, rather being played exactly as written. Arguably the most famous classic rag composer was Scott Joplin, with his “Maple Leaf Rag” being the most popular of his works (3).

Cover art and first page of Stark Music Co.’s version of Joplin’s “Rag-Time Dance”. Full PDF here (5).

Like many composers of classic rag, Joplin was initially a jig pianist who then ventured into classic rag. In 1898, he first began submitting scores to publishing companies, but it wasn’t until meeting John Stillwell Stark, a white music publisher and music store owner, and playing for him in his store in 1899 that he entered a publishing contract. For Stark, this was the first Black and first ragtime composer he conducted business with (3), and this proved to be extremely profitable. The “Maple Leaf Rag”, Joplin’s first work published by Stark, is considered one of the first hit songs on sheet music and sold over 500,000 copies in the first 10 years of its publication (4).

With Joplin’s massive success, Stark decided that if he were going to sell more ragtime music, he would focus on publishing classic rag. Ragtime was a largely Black genre, and, predictably, Stark did not want to be seen as someone who particularly uplifted Black voices, and said that he “[advocated] no class of music”, but alternatively a publisher popular music and anything he thought to be “interesting or useful”, and ragtime just so happened to fit into those boxes. Stark didn’t just limit his classic rag roster to Joplin, but to other accomplished names like James Scott and Joseph Francis Lamb, as well as several of Joplin’s protégés. This turned his company into the primary supporter of and place to purchase ragtime music (2).

Cover art and first page of Stark Music Co.’s version of Lamb’s “Cleopatra Rag”. Full PDF here (6).

One result of the Stark Music Company churning out works by a star-studded list of ragtime composers was the spread of ragtime into white households and communities as a palatable morsel of Black American culture. The acceptance of ragtime seems to have been just another example of Black culture being appropriated and taken advantage of among the many that comprise American music history. One could argue that Stark’s opinion of neutrality rather than support could have been a factor in this, but I doubt Stark was influential enough himself to have significantly challenged his white audience’s overwhelmingly racist views.

Sources

(1) “From Piano Thumping to the Concert Stage: The Rise of Ragtime.” Music Educators Journal 59, no. 8 (1973): 53–56. https://doi.org/10.2307/3394278.

(2) Tichenor, Trebor Jay. “John Stillwell Stark, Piano Ragtime Publisher: Readings from ‘The Intermezzo’ and His Personal Ledgers, 1905-1908.” Black Music Research Journal 9, no. 2 (1989): 193–204. https://doi.org/10.2307/779423.

(3) Reed, Addison. “Scott Joplin, Pioneer: Part 2.” The Black Perspective in Music 3, no. 3 (1975): 269–77. https://doi.org/10.2307/1214012.

(4) “John Stark, 1841-1927.” The Library of Congress. LOC. Accessed October 19, 2022. https://www.loc.gov/item/ihas.200035817/. 

(5) Joplin, Scott. “Rag-Time Dance”. Sheet Music Consortium. St. Louis, MO: Stark Music Co., 1906. https://scholarsjunction.msstate.edu/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=3681&context=cht-sheet-music. 

(6) Lamb, Joseph F. “Cleopatra Rag”. Sheet Music Consortium. St. Louis, MO: Stark Music Co., 1915. https://scholarsjunction.msstate.edu/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=3482&context=cht-sheet-music.

Unconventionally Conventional: Francis Johnson’s “Celebrated and much admired voice quadrilles”

Despite being a black composer and bandleader in Philadelphia during the early 19th century, Francis Johnson was one of the most celebrated American composers of his time, period. While this undoubtedly had something to do with the liberal and progressive atmosphere of Philadelphia, it was also due to his talent and the innovative and experimental nature of many of his compositions. However, some argue that he merely excelled in existing genres and was popular not because of his unconventional style, but precisely because he catered to white tastes.1 I found a copy of Johnson’s “Celebrated and much admired voice quadrilles” in the Sheet Music Consortium database, which Johnson dedicated to a wealthy local businessman.2 The subtitle proclaims that Johnson and his band found “much distinguished success” while embarking on what was the first tour of Europe by any American band, revealing that his celebrity was not limited to Philadelphia.1 The quadrille was an elaborate dance form that was very popular among the upper classes in the first half of the 19th century.3 The circumstances of this piece’s composition and publication reveal that Johnson’s success had much to do with his catering to upper-class interests.

However, the music itself shows Johnson’s willingness to experiment. Popular music written by Johnson and others at the time was often published in arrangements that could be performed by amateur pianists in the home.1 As a result, this quadrille, written for piano and voice, is mostly very simple rhythmically, but Johnson also embellishes the piece with a more lively and rhythmically complex cornet solo. Johnson annotates his music with instructions to the dancers, in addition to the lyrics. The very idea of a “voice quadrille” was a novel one, as the genre was traditionally instrumental.4 The lyrics themselves are lighthearted, with a “laughing finale” that literally calls for the singers to sing “ha ha ha”.

While the quadrille was a highly ritualized genre that was popular among the upper classes, Johnson’s ability to play with the conventions of that genre shows that his success was not only a result of catering to upper-class tastes but actually a result of subverting them. Johnson provides an interesting example of the kind of creative mixing of genres that occurred when black Americans came into contact with European music, as his success came from privilege and access to white upper-class society rather than the oppression of slavery. Johnson achieved a number of firsts among American composers, showcasing his boldness and willingness to go beyond what was expected.4 In fact, Johnson was the first composer writing for white audiences to address the topic of slavery and the suffering it caused, showing that in some cases his success was actually despite this boldness. While his education in and use of European musical styles perhaps reflected a desire to fit in with the white cultural elite, along with a desire by that elite to embrace a black person who had proved himself able to assimilate, Johnson’s success was ultimately due to his ability to engage in the musical styles of the cultural elite and bring something new to them.

Citations:

1 Griscom, Richard. “Francis Johnson: Philadelphia Bandmaster and Composer.” University of Pennsylvania Almanac, February 14, 2012. https://almanac.upenn.edu/archive/volumes/v58/n22/bandmaster.html.

2 Schnurmann, Claudia. “His Father’s Favored Son: David Parish.” Immigrant Entrepreneurship. German Historical Institute, August 22, 2018. https://www.immigrantentrepreneurship.org/entries/his-fathers-favored-son-david-parish/#Between_Philadelphia_and_Ogdensburg_1806-1816; Johnson, Francis. Johnson’s Celebrated and Much Admired Voice Quadrilles. Geo. W. Hewitt and Co., Philadelphia, monographic, 1840. Notated Music.

3 Skiba, Bob. “Here, Everybody Dances: Social Dancing in Early Minnesota.” MN History Magazine. Accessed October 18, 2022. https://collections.mnhs.org/MNHistoryMagazine/articles/55/v55i05p217-227.pdf.

Kramer, Hayden James. 2022. “Six Works by Francis Johnson (1792–1844): A Snapshot of Early American Social Life.” Order No. 29162008, University of Maryland, College Park. https://www.proquest.com/dissertations-theses/six-works-francis-johnson-1792-1844-snapshot/docview/2688578944/se-2.

“What are your people singing about-for they are always singing.”

After searching a bit on the database, I stumbled upon a document called, “Plea for Negro Folk Lore,” published as the Freeman on January 27, 1894. In this article, author Miss A.M. Bacon argues that within a handful of years as of the publishing of this article, the history of black Americans would dwindle, and be reduced to nothingness-completely assimilated into society with no traditions, beliefs or ideas from the past. The thought that the new generation was not aware of the sufferings of their ancestors is frightening. To combat this rising problem, the author suggests the history of black Americans, specifically enslaved black Americans to be meticulously collected. Likewise, she argues that such knowledge must be collected by intelligent and educated black scholars in order to accurately inform from their own experience. Bacon numbers the types of information that must be collected: Folktales, customs, traditions, African words surviving in speech or song, ceremonies and proverbs. Through collecting these items, the history of black Americans can be compiled, so that everyone knows the struggles of the past.

One of the best ways to explore the past of black Americans is through the surviving words through speech and song. While people had recorded spirituals at the time, Bacon focuses on different kinds of songs. She references utterances, both musical and rhythmic. Further on, she poses the question to her audience of primarily black Americans, “What are your people singing about – for they are always singing – at their work or their play, by the […] or in social gatherings?”1 Bacon presents a clear call to action to notate such music, as it is these songs that contain the history, life and identity of the black American.

 

1 “Plea for Negro Folk Lore,” page 2, column 3, line 11-15

Plea for Negro Folk Lore.” Freeman (Indianapolis, Indiana) 6, no. 4, January 27, 1894: [2]. Readex: African American Newspapers. https://infoweb.newsbank.com/apps/readex/doc?p=EANAAA&docref=image/v2%3A12B28495A8DAB1C8%40EANAAA-12C8A12E849E6750%402412856-12C8A12E9A8258B0%401-12C8A12F1D93D6A0%40Plea%2Bfor%2BNegro%2BFolk%2BLore (Accessed October 12th, 2022).

Harry T. Burleigh: accomplished composer, talented baritone… and Dvořák’s muse?

One of the most beloved African-American composers of the late 19th and early 20th centuries was Harry T. Burleigh. Born and raised in Erie, Pennsylvania, he learned to sing spirituals from his mother and sang in various church and community events throughout his childhood. In his teenage years, he became known as a fantastic classical singer, and got to work at and see many famous people perform, such as Venezuelan pianist Teresa Carreño. Then, a few years after high school in 1892, Burleigh began to attend the National Conservatory of Music in New York on scholarship for voice (1).

But, by the title of this blog post, how does any of this relate to Czech person and well-known composer Antonín Dvořák?

Well, Dvořák happened to immigrate the United States in 1892 also to become the director of the National Conservatory of Music! He both taught classes and conducted the conservatory orchestra, which Burleigh also happened to become the librarian and copyist for. As a result of this, Dvořák and Burleigh worked together frequently, which eventually turned into a friendship. A particularly cute story from their friendship comes from a letter Dvořák wrote to his family back home that his son “[would sit] on Burleigh’s lap during the orchestra’s rehearsals and [play] the tympani” (2).

However, the relationship between the two bettered their compositions as well. Dvořák would often overhear Burleigh singing spirituals to himself while working or in the halls, and, not knowing much about spirituals, would talk to him about them and learn many of the songs from him. Dvořák then encouraged Burleigh to begin composing and arranging these spirituals (1). This would kickstart a prolific composing career for Burleigh, who incorporated spirituals into many of his original art songs, arrangements, and other compositions, and amassed a portfolio of over 200 works. Here is a review of his works from the Afro-American Cullings section of the Cleveland Gazette (3):

Dvořák also found ample inspiration in the African-American folk music he learned from Burleigh and gained a huge amount of respect for it. In fact, he was so displeased that white Americans did not care for African-American music that wrote several news articles in the New York Herald, in which he argued that the soul of American music lies in Black music, which the Herald’s white readers found difficult to swallow, to say the least. Here are a few words from an article he wrote in 1893, with even a picture of Burleigh (4):

Dvořák then composed his New World Symphony (here’s a link to its very famous Largo movement) based off several spirituals, the pentatonic and blues scale – all learned from Burleigh – and Indigenous music, and it gained massive acclaim and spreading rapidly throughout the country (3). Black communities across the country absolutely adored the work, and grew to become very fond of and proud of both Dvořák and Burleigh, as can be seen in this from the Cleveland Gazette (5):Thankfully, and radically for the time, Dvořák gave much credit to Burleigh for the conception of many of the ideas for his New World Symphony (2).

Sources:

(1) “H. T. Burleigh (1866-1949)”. 2022. The Library Of Congress. https://loc.gov/item/ihas.200035730.

(2) “African American Influences”. 2022. DAHA. https://www.dvoraknyc.org/african-american-influences.

(3) “Afro-American Cullings.” Cleveland Gazette, October 30, 1915: 4. Readex: African American Newspapers. https://infoweb.newsbank.com/apps/readex/doc?p=EANAAA&docref=image/v2%3A12B716FE88B82998%40EANAAA-12BC1B62334A2850%402420801-12BA063BD57BDCD8%403-12DBB540D0E6C840%40Afro-American%2BCullings.

(4) Dvořák, Antonin. 1893. “Antonin Dvořák On Negro Melodies”. New York Herald, May 28th, 1893. https://static.qobuz.com/info/IMG/pdf/NYHerald-1893-May-28-Recentre.pdf.

(5) “[America; Dr. Antonin Dvorak; Mr. Harry T. Burleigh; Erie; Samuel P. Warren].” Cleveland Gazette, September 23, 1893: 2. Readex: African American Newspapers. https://infoweb.newsbank.com/apps/readex/doc?p=EANAAA&docref=image/v2%3A12B716FE88B82998%40EANAAA-12C2B9DB2DFFBDD8%402412730-12C106453A9F6688%401-12D7B8B19C518AD0%40%255BAmerica%253B%2BDr.%2BAntonin%2BDvorak%253B%2BMr.%2BHarry%2BT.%2BBurleigh%253B%2BErie%253B%2BSamuel%2BP.%2BWarren%255D.

African American Sorrow Songs and Spirituals

The term “sorrow songs” was coined by W.E.B. DuBois and represented songs that expressed the suffering and unjust treatment of enslaved African Americans throughout the period of slavery in the US. Sorrow songs conveyed sadness and the lyrics and melodies were often very direct about the experiences that African Americans had while enslaved. DuBois commented that although the songs were unknown to him, he knew the songs as a part of himself. 

Many of the Sorrow Songs and Negro folk songs had lots of spiritual references because the only book that was read to slaves was the bible. Although Sorrow Songs implies hardships and literal sadness, there were still many songs that represented hopes and aspirations for a better future. The lyrics of these more hopeful songs would start with the hardships of slavery and gravitate towards a lighter topic of being enlightened by Christianity and the hope and faith that God will look over the slaves.

Due to the deep and meaningful lyrics in Sorrow Songs, many leaders and teachers recognized the significance of these songs for African American culture. They would often teach the importance of the melodies and lyrics of the songs and stress the respect that younger African Americans should have for their music. In a news article from the Chicago Defender in 1922, “A History of Music That Moved World: Story of Songs of Hope That Came From the Hearts of Slaves”, the author argues that these songs were so important for African Americans was because they were created by African Americans to express the African American experience through slavery. Moreover, the author states that certain other Negro folk songs don’t hold as much weight because although they reflected the African American experience, they were written by white men.

Although the term Sorrow Songs has become less prevalent and spirituals are more commonly known, the experiences represented through Sorrow Songs have not been lost to time. Spirituals have since evolved from the slave songs and Sorrow songs to become more polished forms of music that still maintain their characteristic moods that were created under intense hardships and deep sorrows.

 

References:

“A History of Music that Moved World: Story of Songs of Hope that Came from the Hearts of Slaves.” The Chicago Defender (National edition) (1921-1967), Dec 30, 1922, pp. 13. ProQuest, https://www.proquest.com/historical-newspapers/history-music-that-moved-world/docview/491968896/se-2.

Nobody knows the trouble I see sheet music. Easy Sheet Music. (2021, April 11). Retrieved October 10, 2022, from http://easysheetmusic.altervista.org/nobody-knows-the-trouble-i-see-sheet-music-guitar-chords-lyrics/

Peyton, Dave. “THE MUSICAL BUNCH: THINGS IN GENERAL SLAVE SONGS.” The Chicago Defender (National edition) (1921-1967), Nov 17, 1928, pp. 6. ProQuest, https://www.proquest.com/historical-newspapers/musical-bunch/docview/492211749/se-2.

Spiritual lyrics: Oh freedom. Negro Spiritual/Slave Song Lyrics for Oh Freedom. (n.d.). Retrieved October 10, 2022, from http://www.traditionalmusic.co.uk/negro-spirituals/oh_freedom.htm

W.E.B. Du Bois. “”The Sorrow Songs,” from The Souls of Black Folk”. Book excerpt, 1903. From Teaching American History. https://teachingamericanhistory.org/document/the-sorrow-songs/

White Privilege Asserting Authority Over the Narrative

African American spirituals were infused with the experiences and emotions of enslaved people in the south as they utilized these religious folk tunes for praise, worship, and community. Many of these spirituals thrive today, performed by artists such as Nat Cole King, Louis Armstrong, Bing Crosby, and many more. However, some argue about the origination of these tunes, such as the musicologists recently discussed in class, like Henry Krehbiel and George Pullman Jackson. Throughout this blog post, I will discuss how the privilege of white men allowed scholars like Jackson and Krehbiel to argue the true origin of spirituals and how the power to change the narrative has primarily laid with the European white settlers.

The Primary document below is a piece of a newspaper listing published by the Afro-American Gazette, and it lists in chronological order the history of black achievement. Listed halfway down is the 1867 published book entitled Slave Songs of the United States. This book is also seen below. Written and edited by northern abolitionists William Francis Allen, Lucy McKim Garrison, and Charles Pickard Ware, Slave Songs of the United States was published in 1867. It was prominent in introducing written notation of spirituals that were never shared before; this book was the first space where the famous folk tune Nobody Knows the Trouble I’ve Seen was published. The three authors that gathered all 136 spirituals listed spent time during the civil war with recently freed enslaved people and, in turn, learned of the songs they used for worship.

Furthermore, William Allen gives background through the writing of the introduction to the purpose of this book and the biases it might hold. Allen admits that “the difficulty experienced in obtaining absolute correctness is greater than might be supposed by those who have never tried the experiment, and we are far from claiming that we have made no mistakes” (Slave Songs, Pg. iv). His identity as a white scholar with a Harvard degree and title as an educator in the civil war gives him an abundance of authority to hold the narrative of African American Slave songs. Thankfully, the book’s authors provide some credit for the actual creators of the spirituals; however, the main argument is that the privilege the three authors hold allows them to change the narrative just as scholars like Krehbiel and Jackson have done.

The score of Nobody Knows the Trouble I’ve Seen, recorded by Charles Pickard, is a very prominent spiritual performed by many artists in pop culture. Consequently, the piece was recorded during a moment of grief, surrounded by when the population of Charleston. This song was specifically introduced to bring together the community in that moment of frustration. Those in the presence of the performance shared the intensity of emotions that flowed through the crowd. While the authors of this book were too in attendance, there stands to mention that the musicologists never could genuinely capture the integrity of the pieces through western, traditional transcription of music they later wrote down. Allen even remarks on this by stating that the mistakes embedded are “variations.” The issue, however, arises when these variations become the known versions of the original due to white privilege creating authority and power over all narratives.

One last primary document I came across is Frederick Louis Ritters’s book, Music in America, where he cites the Slave Songs of the United States and says it is “one of the best collections of old slave songs” (Ritter). At the time, it was the best collection of African American spirituals. Allen did indeed make recognition that these pieces were all derived from African Americans, that the notation depicted is the best that they can do and will only “convey but a faint shadow of the original” (Slave Songs, Pg. iv). Although, if we allow this narrative to represent African American culture and music, we allow authors like Henry Krehbiel and George Pullman Jackson to make claims of the white influence on black tradition.

 

Bibliography

Afro-American Gazette, vol. III, no. 2, 18 Jan. 1993, p. 12. Readex: African American Newspapers, infoweb.newsbank.com/apps/readex/doc?p=EANAAA&docref=image/v2%3A12A7AD36E8864712%40EANAAA-12C5F06DC6F7F750%402449006-12C5F06DF9520AB0%4017. Accessed 24 Nov. 2022.

Allen, W. F. W. (1867). Slave songs of the United States. Smithsonian Library. Retrieved October 11, 2022, from https://library.si.edu/digital-library/book/slavesongsofunit00alle

Wenturiano. (2007, August 24). Louis Armstrong – nobody knows the trouble I’ve seen (1962). YouTube. Retrieved October 11, 2022, from Louis Armstrong – Nobody Knows the Trouble I’ve Seen (1962)

Ritter, Frédéric Louis. Music in America by Dr. Frédéric Louis Ritter. New York C. Scribner’s Sons, 1890. Readex: Readex AllSearch, infoweb.newsbank.com/apps/readex/doc?p=ARDX&docref=image/v2%3A%40EAIX-147E02D592F8DF60%40-1514D940AFDB4FF0%40449. Accessed 24 Nov. 2022. 

Booker T. Washington – A Model for Engaging with Spirituals

In class on Thursday, I mentioned potential issues with the readings from Krehbiel and Jackson. While differing in their overall intentions and attitudes towards African American music, both fall into pitfalls we often see with early ethnographic and ethnomusicology research: they try to engage with other cultures from an “academic”, western-central perspective. Rather than engaging with spirituals on their own terms, they attach western concepts of musical ownership and authorship to an aural tradition that was communally shared amongst African Americans.

In an address on behalf of Fisk University -a historically based black university in Nashville, Tennessee- Booker T. Washington contextualizes what Fisk Day (May 19, 1905) signifies, relating it to “The Songs of Our Fathers”, and titles it as such. Washington starts his address by invoking the image of slaves coming across the Atlantic and connecting it to what he views as the cultural significance of Spirituals. “…It is from these songs of our fathers, that their children of past generation… have received the inspiration that has imbued them with courage to have faith that right may win…” (1). Washington continues this line of thought with a literary analysis of a preacher, quoting and alluding to well-known hymns and spirituals without needing to mention them by name.  He contextualizes them, inviting people to think about the spiritual in the mindset of a slave. “What encouragement to the patiently waiting slaves had been the faith songs that had banished the sight of the auction block, the separation of mother and child, father and mother…” (2).

Washington makes the penultimate argument that Fisk day honors “the sacrifices, loving devotion and a belief in the possibilities of a despised people…” (3). While this address does not have the academic citations or research behind it that Krehbiel or Jackson exhibit in their writing, it serves as a model for how to engage with spirituals. Rather than focusing on the who, what when of spirituals, Washington focuses on the why and how which is all the more relevant to understanding the musical and cultural practice.

(1) “The Songs of Our Fathers. An Address Delivered on Fisk Day during the Louisiana Purchase Exhibition.” Plaindealer (Topeka, Kansas) VII, no. 20, May 19, 1905: [3]. Readex: African American Newspapers. https://infoweb.newsbank.com/apps/readex/doc?p=EANAAA&docref=image/v2%3A12A7EF1A4AC47F2D%40EANAAA-12C8B913302F6748%402416985-12C8B9134BFB71A0%402-12C8B913A0F80C58%40The%2BSongs%2Bof%2BOur%2BFathers.%2BAn%2BAddress%2BDelivered%2Bon%2BFisk%2BDay%2Bduring%2Bthe%2BLouisiana%2BPurchase%2BExhibition.

(2) “The Songs of Our Fathers. An Address Delivered on Fisk Day during the Louisiana Purchase Exhibition.”

(3) “The Songs of Our Fathers. An Address Delivered on Fisk Day during the Louisiana Purchase Exhibition.”

 

“Sylvan Worship”

“Sylvan Worship” is an article written by Chicago Inter-Ocean writer William Eleroy Curtis, published September 18, 1875. The article outlines a description of a trip that Curtis took to witness a ‘spiritual’ in person. Overall, the article is rich with fetishistic language and othering behaviors, describing the events Curtis witnessed as a sort of foreign and outlandish ritual. Certain possibly offensive terms will be replaced with more modern and inclusive language in direct quotes, for the purpose of this blog. 

There isn’t much information on who William Eleroy Curtis really was, but we do know for whom he wrote, the Chicago Inter-Ocean, and when he lived; Curtis was born in 1850, and passed in 1911. From the way that he writes, I assume that he was a white man, given he uses language that refers to African-American peoples as something that he is not. For example, take how he opens the article: “No race is more devotional than the African, and no class of people does the camp meeting revival prove so effectual as with them.”

With this position in mind, I’d like to look at the language he uses, and what the intent of writing this article may have been. The language used in the work is fetishistic, and while it offers high praise to the traditions that it highlights, it treats them as a sort of somewhat barbaric and foreign, indirectly invalidating the authenticity of the practices. Take, for example, this description of a spiritual: “[Black] ‘Spirituals’ will forever exist among the curiosities of music, and at the camp-meeting the ‘Spiritual’ is seen in its strangest light and found in its most unadulterated flavor.” The use of terms such as “ unadulterated flavor” permeates this article in a way that doesn’t really do it any favors. 

So what was it trying to do? I think that the article was written as either a curiosity piece, from the point of view of the white man, or as a sort of “they’re not all bad!” article, meant to highlight the good that black spiritual practices are doing. Like other earlier musicology works that we have covered, the frame of this article is one that does not paint black or minority musical practices in an equal and fair light. Either good natured or neutral, this work doesn’t seem to bring deliberate harm, but it also isn’t doing all that much good, the way that it is written. 

“‘Sylvan Worship.’.” Weekly Louisianian, 18 Sept. 1875, p. 1. Readex: African American Newspapers, infoweb.newsbank.com/apps/readex/doc?p=EANAAA&docref=image/v2%3A12B767D21CB17968%40EANAAA-12BEC31400554038%402406150-12BC002A0EA02018%400-12D621523A4D1068%40%2522Sylvan%2BWorship.%2522.

Spirituals at a Teacher’s Festival during Reconstuction

The Educational column of the Loyal Georgian written August 24th of 1867 describes a teachers festival in which the educators sent to the south by the New England Freedmen’s Society get together to celebrate the education of the recently freedmen in various locations in the south such as Atlanta, Chattanooga, Nashville, and Memphis (“Teacher’s Festival”). At this event, it is described that at least two “Negro Spirituals” were sung by various attendees of the event. One of the spirituals was sung by a mother and daughter with the lyrics “I think I see sister Hannah, I know her by her garments, She’s a blessing in the land.” (“Teacher’s Festival”). The title has proven difficult to find, but the story of Hannah is frequently used as a demonstration of the good fortune given by God (Klein). All members of the group concluded their meeting with the Hymn “Old Hundredth” also known as “All People Who on Earth do Dwell” (“Teacher’s Festival”, “Tune: Old Hundredth”). 

Though the event itself did not have a musical nor necessarily spiritual focus, these pieces of music added great joy, celebration, and fellowship for those in attendance. This Teacher’s Festival was happening to celebrate the work of those educators in the south during Civil War Reconstruction (“Teacher’s Festival”). This event in itself is significant because it is one of the few positive effects of Reconstruction (freed people getting education) and it’s very important both musically and historically to acknowledge the fact that African Americans were celebrating other African Americans with black music. This was not a performance for an audience but rather an act of fellowship for a group of people that had known and would continue to know great hardship. 

 

This article brings to mind the words of W.E.B Du Bois when he said “They came out of the South, unknown to me, one by one, and yet at once I knew them as of me and of mine.” (Du Bois). It is clear both in this column and for Du Bois that this music was of great importance in passing along and celebrating black community. 

 

Sources

 

Klein (Abensohn), Lillian. “Hannah: Bible.” Shalvi/Hyman Encyclopedia of Jewish Women. 31 December 1999. Jewish Women’s Archive. (Viewed on October 11, 2022) <https://jwa.org/encyclopedia/article/hannah-bible>.

Parkman, John, and W.E Stevenson. “Appointment: The New England Freedmen’s Aid Society, a Teacher of Freed People in North Carolina.” North Carolina Digital Archives, CONTENTdm, digital.ncdcr.gov/digital/collection/p15012coll8/id/10779/. 

“Teacher’s Festival.” Daily Loyal Georgian, 24 Aug. 1867, p. 3. 

“Tune: Old Hundredth.” Old Hundredth, Hymnary.org, hymnary.org/tune/old_hundredth_bourgeois. 

W.E.B. Du Bois. “”The Sorrow Songs,” from The Souls of Black Folk”. Book excerpt, 1903. From Teaching American History. https://teachingamericanhistory.org/document/the-sorrow-songs/ (accessed October 11, 2022).

How can minstrel shows be used to educate people on negro spirituals?

If one were to ask what a minstrel show was in today’s world, many outside of the study of music would most likely not have a solid definition foundation, but go back more or less 150 years and you will find it to be a popular event. As blackface comedy, it un-Americanizes negro spirituals that were already being told they were copies and variations of European compositions with simplified notes and less melodic melody. One example is Richard Wallschek. He states, “these negro songs are very much overrated”. 1
When a group of people is secluded to a style of living in one place, they will adopt and adapt what they learn to what they already know, how does that make it not American or stealing?

However, these minstrel shows were not creating a new genre of music, they were genuinely stealing Afro-American Folksongs. Frederick Douglass had a strong viewpoint on minstrel performers with the newspaper clipping below from the North Star article on October 27th,1848:

2

As one can see, there is a strong standpoint on how white people used their status and race to take advantage of and degrade slaves as a way of entertainment. Even the way they dressed and drew pictures was a way to demean and make fun of as if slaves could not have their own music and own culture.

3

The Virginia Minstrels quickly capitalized on popularity by showing America the first real minstrel show involving a minstrel ensemble in 1843. One could say that minstrel shows were done to show how cruel and unjust slavery could be. Or that it became popular during a time when slavery was being debated as more detrimental than beneficial and whites became more curious about black people.4

Eric Lott, the author of “Love and Theft: Blackface Minstrelsy and the American Working Class”, talks about how maybe minstrels were essential to the making of the white working class because they brought to light the issues of not only race but also class and gender. He even goes on to say that blackface potentially regulated the formation of white working-class masculinity.5

This understanding of minstrel music, unfortunately, fortunately, can lead to a deeper understanding of race and slavery.

 

1 Henry Krehbiel, Afro-American Folksongs: A Study in Racial and National Music (1914), 11. 

2 “The Hutchinson Family-Hunkerism.” Frederick Douglass’ Paper (Rochester, New York) I, no. 44, October 27, 1848: [2]. Readex: African American Newspapers. https://infoweb.newsbank.com/apps/readex/doc?p=EANAAA&docref=image/v2%3A11BE9340B7A005AB%40EANAAA-11D0A391B293AD78%402396328-11D0A391CBF9FAA0%401-11D0A39223979A50%40The%2BHutchinson%2BFamily-Hunkerism.

3Ryser, Tracey A. “‘A White Man’s Inadequate Portrait of a Slave’: Minstrel Shows and Huckleberry Finn”. Youngstown State University, August, 2004. https://digital.maag.ysu.edu/xmlui/bitstream/handle/1989/6342/b19594422.pdf?sequence=1&isAllowed=y

4   

5Winans, Robert B. American Music 13, no. 1 (1995): 109. https://doi.org/10.2307/3052314.

The Illustrious Other: Does Art Differ from People to People?

“Othering” is a far too common concept we see in history. It’s a way for people to separate themselves from different groups of people – most commonly as a way to get a leg up on someone else simply because you think you’re better. Why the colonizer (and white people across the broad strokes of history) was so fond of this, is a simple answer really – for perpetrating white supremacy and making sure that everyone everywhere thought somewhere along those lines.

Poetry, for example, is a style of writing that transfers from people to people even though the subject matter changes from work to work. Would a reader have a feeling that one poem was written by a Black writer? Maybe given certain subject matters, but without proper context or explanation some would never guess.

Freedoms_Journal__June_8_1827

This page is full of poems written by many various writers, some named and some not. Regardless of citation of author, every poem on this page tells its own story. There is one on this page called Stanzas which is particularly beautiful. It reads as follows:

The author’s verbage describing music sounds like something any person (or poet in this case) would say. This kind of language is transferable and understandable by everyone.

Another form of description that can be transferable is accounts of travel. No matter who goes where, the older accounts we have of voyages across the sea have a similar format and a similar flow to their writing. The author will always talk about what they see and what their passage of time where they are visiting entails.

There is a sense of othering in most old accounts of history, and as much as we as a society now wish we could change it, we can’t. We take it for what it is and appreciate it for what it is/was.

Works Cited:

“An Historical Account of the Most Celebrated Voyages, Travels, and Discoveries, : from the Time of Columbus, to the Present Period…” (Baltimore, Maryland) 1802: Redadex: Afr0-Americana Imprints, 1535-1922, https://infoweb.newsbank.com/iw-search/we/Evans/?p_product=EAIX&amp;p_theme=eai&amp;p_nbid=O4BO4BLAMTY2NTQ1NjcyNi4xMjU3MjQ6MToxNDoxOTkuOTEuMTgwLjIwNg&amp;p_action=list&amp;p_queryname=10. Accessed 8 Oct. 2022.

“Poetry.” Freedom’s Journal (New York, New York), June 8, 1827: 4. Readex: African American Newspapers. https://infoweb.newsbank.com/apps/readex/doc?p=EANAAA&docref=image/v2%3A132FB88A16969E1C%40EANAAA-132FC8A94D2B6A08%402388516-132FC0E9758971C0%403-138A3AC27A98F47D%40Poetry.

“Sylvan Worship”; an example of racist attitudes in 19th-century musicology

Front Page of “The Weekly Louisianian” on September 18, 1875 https://infoweb.newsbank.com/apps/readex/doc?p=EANAAA&sort=YMD_date%3AA&fld-base-0=alltext&val-base-0=spirituals&val-database-0=&fld-database-0=database&fld-nav-0=YMD_date&val-nav-0=&docref=image%2Fv2%3A12B767D21CB17968%40EANAAA-12BEC31400554038%402406150-12BC002A0EA02018%400&origin=image%2Fv2%3A12B767D21CB17968%40EANAAA-12BEC31400554038%402406150-12BC002A0EA02018%400-12D621523A4D1068%40%2522Sylvan%2BWorship.%2522

On September 18, 1875, an author with the surname “Curtis” wrote an article for a newspaper called “The Weekly Louisianian”, which was based in New Orleans, Louisiana. This article, titled “Sylvan Worship”, documents the author’s experience at an African American church where worshippers sang spirituals as a religious experience. The lens through which Curtis analyzes their experience in witnessing spirituals as a religious experience is especially interesting considering “The Weekly Louisianian” describes itself on the front page as “Journal of the Republican Party of Louisiana”, going so far as to further demonstrate their political affiliation through the motto, “Republican at all times, and under all circumstances.” Curtis’ article therefore gives an excellent example of how Southern, Republican white people in the nineteenth century perceived the spiritual practices of African Americans and the associated church music.

All of this being said, it is important to recognize that the meaning of “Republican” in 1875 is very different than how it is interpreted today:

“After the United States triumphed over the Confederate States at the end of the Civil War, and under President Abraham Lincoln, Republicans passed laws that granted protections for Black Americans and advanced social justice (for example the Civil Rights Act of 1866 though this failed to end slavery). Again Democrats largely opposed these apparent expansions of federal power,” (Wolchover).

Regardless of political party, the “othering” attitudes in Curtis’ writing are apparent and abhorrent. For example, Curtis states in his article, “Negro character has always been one of the most curious studies among human phenomena, and, although its peculiarities have been the theme of books and lectures for a hundred years, there is always something new and novel cropping out in association with the race.” By saying this, Curtis conveys the attitude that Black people are specimens and “phenomena” that need to be scientifically studied to understand, as if they are not humans with distinct voices, identities, and experiences. Curtis drives this point home by quoting the Black musicians and worshippers he observed in African American Vernacular English (AAVE), which seems to have been used inappropriately with an overtone of condescension in order to undermine what the African American worshippers are actually saying and draw attention to linguistic differences. He even writes the lyrics of the hymn “Come, We That Love the Lord” in AAVE despite the fact that it was written by Isaac Watts, a white Anglican. Curtis does not seem to be attempting to purposely “other” the African American worshippers, in fact he praises the passion and intensity of the service. Curtis’ intrinsic racial bias comes through in vocabulary such as “primitive”, “barbaric”, and “pathetic” to describe the worship spirituals. Another interesting vocabulary choice is in the article title itself: “sylvan”. According to Oxford English Dictionary, “sylvan” is defined as “A person dwelling in a wood, or in a woodland region; a forester; a rustic”. Curtis’ use of this word almost implies that African Americans only live in rural country areas and are behind on cosmopolitan technologies and behaviors.

It is clear through the entire article that Curtis likely thought of himself as though he were scientifically observing a culture that was less developed than his own (which we know is problematic and inaccurate). This viewpoint parallels that of Frances Densmore’s while she documented Native American musical traditions around the United States in the early twentieth century. It is interesting to note that this article was released during Densmore’s lifetime (she lived from 1867-1957), so it can be inferred that racial othering and white supremacy in analyzing the music of other cultures was rampant in the late-nineteenth and early-twentieth centuries.

Frances Densmore https://www.britannica.com/biography/Frances-Densmore

Sources:

Curtis. “Sylvan Worship.” African American Newspapers, Reader, 18 Sept. 1875, https://infoweb.newsbank.com/apps/readex/doc?p=EANAAA&sort=YMD_date%3AA&fld-base-0=alltext&val-base-0=spirituals&val-database-0=&fld-database-0=database&fld-nav-0=YMD_date&val-nav-0=&docref=image%2Fv2%3A12B767D21CB17968%40EANAAA-12BEC31400554038%402406150-12BC002A0EA02018%400-12D621523A4D1068%40%2522Sylvan%2BWorship.%2522&firsthit=yes.

The Weekly Louisianian, 18 Sept. 1875.

Wolchover, Natalie, and Callum McKelvie. “When and Why Did Democrats and Republicans Switch Platforms?” LiveScience, Purch, 14 Apr. 2022, https://www.livescience.com/34241-democratic-republican-parties-switch-platforms.html.

Origins and Ownership of Spirituals (Geepers!)

Since spirituals first gained popularity in the United States – and certainly since they became a common feature of vocal concert repertoire – many theories have been published on their origins. You think those origins are simple? Just read the 1943 George Pullen Jackson paper claiming spirituals were directly plagiarized from British folk songs,1 and you’ll realize our apparent shared understanding about the origins of this genre was once far from accepted.

One particularly interesting and egregiously racist perspective on spirituals’ origins was written by a Jeanette Robinson Murphy, in 1904.2  Murphy has abhorrent ideas about black people’s intelligence and role in society. And she in part attributes the emotional power of spirituals, as she observes it in black communities, to the ongoing influence of voodoo, which is demeaning to black people and disrespectful to the religion. There’s no small share of exoticization in her writing, either, if one examines the passages where she describes black people’s voices and lives:

But what’s fascinating is that she does acknowledge that the songs originated in black communities, though a product of acculturation and some amount of cultural syncretism, and she doesn’t claim (as some have) that black people are incapable of artistry without white influence.

Of course her language here creates an artificial distance between what she categorizes as “black” and “white” music – interesting, considering her acknowledgement of cultural syncretism. But through her racist lens, she’s somehow managed to preserve the cultural autonomy of black music in a way some of her contemporaries couldn’t. She performs some logical backflips throughout her work to preserve both her racist ideals and her genuine reverence for black music (too many to cite); maybe that logic is the only thing that actuates this dissonance.

But what’s even more interesting to me than Murphy as an example of racist psychology is the overlap between the ideas of those such as Murphy and the ideas of their black contemporaries. Murphy emphasizes the deep emotion ingrained in spirituals, and that of the performers; this is a focus her black contemporaries also uplifted. W.E.B DuBois’ “Sorrow Songs,” for example, connects the emotional potency and universality of spirituals to the generational trauma of slavery, and his assertions about spirituals’ direct descent from African folk music are essentially aligned with Murphy’s claims.3 Mrs. Booker T. Washington also draws this connection between the emotional resonance of black music and the horrors of slavery in her 1905 address about Fisk University and the Fisk Jubilee singers, given at the Louisiana Purchase Exposition:4

There are undeniable similarities between how Murphy understands and experiences spirituals and how at least these black authors understand and experience spirituals. Whether this is the result of some strategic essentialism, an emerging pan-African concept leading black public figures to emphasize the commonalities of their experiences as black Americans, political maneuvering, or just a genuine shared opinion, I cannot say. But when we’re studying music that has associations of “ownership” by one racial group or another, and music that has conflicting origin stories, these are the socio-historical questions we’re going to have to get comfortable addressing.

1 Jackson, George Pullen. White and Negro Spirituals: Their Life Span and Kinship. Locust Valley, NY: JJ Augustin Publisher, 1943.

 2 Murphy, Jeanette Robinson. 1904. “African Music in America.” In Southern thoughts for Northern thinkers and African music in America. New York, NY: Bandanna Publishing Company. https://docs.newsbank.com/openurl?ctx_ver=z39.88-2004&rft_id=info:sid/iw.newsbank.com:EAIX&rft_val_format=info:ofi/fmt:kev:mtx:ctx&rft_dat=147E02CE09E20F50&svc_dat=Evans:eaidoc&req_dat=102FE1F6CA316FA2.

3 DuBois, W.E.B. “‘The Sorrow Songs,” From the Souls of Black Folk.” Teaching American History. Teaching American History, September 10, 2021. https://teachingamericanhistory.org/document/the-sorrow-songs/.

4 “The Songs of Our Fathers. An Address Delivered on Fisk Day during the Louisiana Purchase Exhibition.” Plaindealer (Topeka, Kansas) VII, no. 20, May 19, 1905: [3]. Readex: African American Newspapers. https://infoweb.newsbank.com/apps/readex/doc?p=EANAAA&docref=image/v2%3A12A7EF1A4AC47F2D%40EANAAA-12C8B913302F6748%402416985-12C8B9134BFB71A0%402-12C8B913A0F80C58%40The%2BSongs%2Bof%2BOur%2BFathers.%2BAn%2BAddress%2BDelivered%2Bon%2BFisk%2BDay%2Bduring%2Bthe%2BLouisiana%2BPurchase%2BExhibition.

 

Roundup: A Selection of Black Musical Artists of the Early 1890s

In an article published in the Cleveland Gazette on November 4th, 1893, Walter B. Hayson provides an enthusiastic endorsement of the “company of remarkable songstresses” and other talented musicians among the black population.1 He claims that “just as the white race has its Patti, its Nordica, its Albani”, so are there similarly talented black artists, and sets out to provide examples of this talent.

Hayson laments the “coveting of empty titles” and the trend of “purposely [aping] the conventionalities in singing of a known artist”, describing such behavior as “groveling and distracting” and praising those singers who do not fall into this trap. He provides a detailed critique of the talents of several black male and female singers, applauding both good technical performance and “naturalness in stage presence” equally while criticizing poor execution and musical selections. He emphasizes that many of these performers are yet young while praising their talents, creating a hopeful tone for the future of black musicianship.

However, this hope betrays bias. Hayson was a celebrated educator, music critic, and activist who was later a founding member of the American Negro Academy.2 This highly elite institution sought to bring together black leaders in various fields with the aim of “the promotion of literature, science, and art; the culture of intellectual taste; the fostering of higher education; the publication of scholarly work; the defense of the Negro against vicious assaults”.3 This reflected the concept of the “Talented Tenth” which was espoused by W.E.B. DuBois, which held that the most highly educated and skilled black people would be able to uplift all black people through their achievements.4 Hayson later publicly responded to Antonín Dvořák’s support of black music, provoking a wave of backlash against the idea of black music being originally black.5 This in turn prompted the work of Krehbiel and Jackson that we have analyzed.6

This ideology is present in Hayson’s article, which seeks not only to give a summary and review of the most talented black musicians of the time, but also to claim ownership of these artists by the black population at large. He repeatedly refers to “our young singers” in “our midst”, establishing a sense that these artists represent all black people in some way.1 He also says of H.T. Burleigh that “the best wishes of us all accompany him in his new work”, deepening this impression and asserting that the “best wishes” of all black people are aligned in wanting these young artists to find success. Burleigh in fact found greater musical success after the World’s Fair in which he was performing, and eventually became an activist in his own right.5 In optimistically profiling the promising young black talent of the time, Hayson reveals the hope that their success could be used as a tool to improve the situation of black people in America. While this hope is innocent in itself, it prescribes a specific model for success for black people as individuals and as a group: becoming part of the Talented Tenth meant subscribing to Western ideas of correctness or success in music and other spheres, and their success meant that these values applied in turn to all black people.

Sources

1 “The ‘Queen Of Song.’ A Fair Criticism of Mrs. Flora Batson Bergen and Others of.” Cleveland Gazette (Cleveland, Ohio), November 4, 1893: 1. Readex: African American Newspapers. https://infoweb.newsbank.com/apps/readex/doc?p=EANAAA&docref=image/v2%3A12B716FE88B82998%40EANAAA-12C2BA16C77495A8%402412772-12C106455169BF98%400-12DB0D86AB1C7020%40The%2B%2522Queen%2BOf%2BSong.%2522%2BA%2BFair%2BCriticism%2Bof%2BMrs.%2BFlora%2BBatson%2BBergen%2Band%2BOthers%2Bof.

2 Moon, Fletcher F. “American Negro Academy (est. 1897).” In Freedom Facts and Firsts: 400 Years of the African American Civil Rights Experience, by Jessica Carney Smith, and Linda T. Wynn. Visible Ink Press, 2009. https://ezproxy.stolaf.edu/login?url=https://search.credoreference.com/content/entry/vipfff/american_negro_academy_est_1897/0?institutionId=4959

3 Britannica, T. Editors of Encyclopaedia. “American Negro Academy.” Encyclopedia Britannica, August 28, 2014. https://www.britannica.com/topic/American-Negro-Academy.

4 Britannica, T. Editors of Encyclopaedia. “Talented Tenth.” Encyclopedia Britannica, May 23, 2016. https://www.britannica.com/topic/Talented-Tenth.

5 Snyder, Jean E. Essay. In Harry T. Burleigh: From the Spiritual to the Harlem Renaissance, 102–11. Champaign, IL: University of Illinois Press, 2021.

6 Henry Krehbiel, Afro-American Folksongs: A Study in Racial and National Music (1914), 11-28; George Pullen Jackson, White and Negro Spirituals (1943) 265-268 and 278-289.

Garcilaso de la Vega and the Music of the Viceroyalty of Peru

Garcilaso de la Vega was born the “illegitimate but loved son of a Spanish conquistador and an Inca princess” was born in 1539 in the Viceroyalty of Peru, only about 5 years after the Spanish took advantage of the Inca civil war, and conquered the area. His peculiar situation allowed him access to both a Spanish education, and a good deal of exposure to the Inca culture of where he was raised.

In Vega’s account, he describes the various musical stylings of the Indigenous people in 1602 Peruvian culture. He mainly focuses on panpipe players who were requested to play for the court. A panpipe is an instrument of four reeds, each, as Vega described it, resembling treble, tenor, contralto, and counter-bass voices. La flutes are also mentioned (flutes with 4-5 notes often played by shepherds), and both types of instruments are used for programmatic music. 

It is interesting to note that Vega is, in some capacity, both Spaniard and Inca, but he still describes the music of “Native Americans” as an outsider. He writes with a similar stone cold curiosity as Francis Densmore in all her many accounts of Native American music centuries later, which proves both to dehumanize the people he describes without truly showing any sort of malice towards them either. 

 

However, what makes this cold curiosity so interesting is that Densmore was hundreds of years removed from the beginnings of Native American displacement. However, Vega is writing from what is truly a new empire, less than a hundred years removed from the era in which Inca was its own empire, and a well-governed, well-documented one at that (Britannica). Considering the fact that the Inca Empire was just that, an empire, makes it even more curious that Vega would consider them “Native Americans” since they held a similar governing body to Spain. 

 

 

In a way, this account could also be seen through a similar lens to Eileen Southern’s newspaper clippings of advertisements for slaves in early American newspapers. It is almost as if the musical abilities of these people who are considered to be “less than” make them more valuable, both literally and figuratively in a certain sense, where either the slaveholder or the court is slightly more reverent of servants with musical abilities. Obviously, we must address this idea with the caveat that the curiosity of the colonist as it pertains to the indigenous person or slave, does not in any way make their treatment of these people less egregious. 

Works Cited:

 Britannica, The Editors of Encyclopaedia. “Inca”. Encyclopedia Britannica, 26 Aug. 2022, https://www.britannica.com/topic/Inca. Accessed 3 October 2022.

 Densmore, F. (1929). Pawnee music. United States Government Printing Office.

 “Garcilaso De La Vega: Description of Inca Music (1609).” The American Mosaic: The Latino American Experience, ABC-CLIO, 2022, latinoamerican2.abc-clio.com/Search/Display/1541276. Accessed 3 Oct. 2022.

 Southern, E. (2006). Chapter 2: The Colonial Era. In The music of Black Americans: A history (Third Edition, pp. 25–27). essay, W. W. Norton & Company.

The Fisk Jubilee Singers: International Acclaim as an African-American Ensemble in the 19th century

The Fisk Jubilee Singers were the first and premier ensemble of Fisk University in Nashville, TN. The university was founded in 1866 as the first American university which offered a “liberal arts education to men and women irrespective of color”; the Jubilee singers began traveling and performing five years later, in 1871, where they began performing to raise money for the university. They performed for American and British audiences until 1878, including for president-to-be James A. Garfield, from who they received a glowing review and for whom they gave an inscribed version of their book of songs.

handwritten diary page of James A. Garfield from September 30, 1880

A diary entry from President James A. Garfield

handwritten inscription dated August 9, 1880

An inscribed version of “The Story of the Jubilee Singers; with their Songs” given to President Garfield as a gift by the ensemble on August 9th, 1880.

Through religious music, the Fisk singers reached audiences never thought to be possible by a group whose members were born into slavery. In 1877, they travelled to Germany on their world tour. In the land of Bach, Beethoven, and Brahms, the Fisk Singers used Christian messages and content to entice audiences to listen. While the Fisk singers made waves in the history of music, it was only through a lens of the music and the religion of the colonizer that they were able to sell themselves. Scholar Toni P. Anderson was the first to provide critical historical scholarship the Fisk singers. As Stephen A. Marini writes in their abstract on Anderson’s work, “Anderson’s principal contribution is to place Fisk University and the Jubilee Singers in the context of what she calls “Christian Reconstruction,” the AMA’s militant program of Evangelical religion, liberal education, and acculturation to Victorian values and norms designed to produce proper leaders for the four million newly freed slaves. Immediately after the war, the Congregationalist-led AMA [American Missionary Association] undertook heroic efforts to create Christian colleges in the South to serve the Freedmen. Fisk University in Nashville (1866) was designed by its leaders Adam Spence and Erastus Cravath to be a prime embodiment of this Christian Reconstruction strategy.” Fisk University’s roots in colonial and Christian traditions enabled the Fisk Jubilee singers to have the success that they had. Were it not for these connections, the Fisk singers would not have been able to sell themselves to religious audiences, especially how they did overseas.

Fisk Jubilee Singers - Wikipedia

The Fisk Jubilee Singers

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A Musical Declaration of Patriotism: Uncle Sam’s Not So Subtle Message to Spain

Today’s performers have access to a wealth of information to place their musical selection in the context of modern discourse and consider the role and presence of gender and racial stereotypes in the art and lyrics. Any performance that draws from the vast repertoire of patriotic American musical lyrics written in the late 1800’s provides an abundance of racial and gender stereotypes, fueled by the ignorance that permeated society at that time. Nowadays, the American music cannon is often seen as a source of racist ideology promoting images and lyrics that maintain the status quo of white supremacy.  A little research, coupled with the desire to find and spread the truth, exposes the tendency in American patriotic music to promote traditional and stereotypical ideologies.

 While American patriotic music is a genre that readily falls under the umbrella of misinterpreted music, the music of New Spain (colonial Mexico) also faces a similar disconnect. There is a tension in reviving its music which lacks any “local content” as a whole (Davies). According to Davies, New Spanish music, “is overwhelmingly European in character and congruent with conservative European practices. The absence of local vernacular content overwhelms its presence in this aesthetically austere music” (Davies). This is an example of music around the world that is misinterpreted and misunderstood due to a lack of education and understanding on the subject. This missing content was intentionally diminished by white European influences. 

A primary source selection that I want to draw attention to comes from the genre of American patriotic musical cannon and has also been misinterpreted time and time again. Found in the Latin American Experience database, “The Yankee Message or Uncle Sam to Spain,” written in 1898 by Edward S. Ellis and Chas M. Hattersley, glorifies the Spanish-American War, Cuba’s independence from Spain, and the impact on U.S. monetary interests. During the Spanish-American War era, songwriters were similar to yellow journalists as they made popular songs to celebrate the war and honor victories and heroes (PBS). The self interest and self righteousness of the United States is present in both the lyrics and illustrations of Ellis’ and Hattersley’s song. The cover art is composed of patriotic symbols including the U.S. Flag, an eagle, and a knife. Each illustration signals an allegiance to freedom and liberty, core values espoused by the U.S. Similarly, the lyrics point out the patriotic ideals of the U.S. government:

We’ve got the boys to do it

A million men and more

We’ve got our new born Navy

And deweys by the score

These Eurocentric lyrics make it clear that their actions are right, sending a direct message to Spain from Uncle Sam and reinforcing the notion that if they simply act like Yankees, all their issues will be resolved. 

During my research I also stumbled across an alternate edition of the piece, this time titled “Free Cuba” instead of “The Yankee Message.” This alternate title suggests a poor attempt once again at the United States trying to manipulate and influence people’s perceptions of them as a dignified nation at the time. “The Yankee Message” title suggests power and strength and boils down to a negative declaration to the opposition rather than the perception of hope and a desire to do the right thing in the alternate title, “Free Cuba.”

The lyrics in all showcase honor and patriotism however, a deeper dive reveals a surface level attempt at this. The American’s lust for Cuban independence is reflected in lyrics glamorizing combat, colonization, and the liberation of Cuba from Spain. “The Yankee Message or Uncle Sam to Spain” is a musical declaration of patriotism and power, disguised as a fun loving cannon of America’s pastimes.

Sources:

“Patriotic American Sheet Music.” The American Mosaic: The Latino American Experience, ABC-CLIO, 2022, latinoamerican2.abc-clio.com/Search/Display/1470303. Accessed 4 Oct. 2022.

Hattersley, Chas. M. Free Cuba; or, Uncle Sam to Spain. Pond & Co., Wm. A., New York, monographic, 1873. Notated Music. Retrieved from the Library of Congress, <www.loc.gov/item/sm1873.15560/>.

Public Broadcasting Service. (n.d.). Crucible of empire : The Spanish-american war – PBS online. PBS. Retrieved October 4, 2022, from https://www.pbs.org/crucible/frames/_music.html

Music in the California Missions

Mission building was one of the primary methods of conquest the Spanish used over the native peoples of California. Beginning in 1768, Gaspard de Portolà, accompanied by Father Junipero Serra, built twenty-one missions up the coast of California (then called Alta California, as opposed to Baja California) from present-day San Diego up to San Francisco (1). Here is a map made by Irving B. Richman of the approximate mission locations around 1798-1804, which was during prime Spaniard mission-building activity:

Missions were not just elaborate Catholic churches, but were the centers of communities that were built around them. The towns, run by one or two Franciscan priests and a handful of soldiers, were intentionally built around missions so the Spanish could force the indigenous folks of the area into their way of life. This included wearing woven clothing, learning Spanish and Latin, eating European produce, utilizing European agriculture methods and technology, and – most importantly – converting to Catholicism and its culture.

Music played a large role in the Catholic faith of the time, and the indigenous peoples were taught both to sing and to play instruments for masses. The Spanish introduced an entire orchestra’s worth of instruments, including organs, woodwinds, brass, strings, and percussion instruments. Evidence of the teaching of Western music theory includes this large fresco depicting a Guidonian hand, which can be compared to an old form of solfège, on a wall of Mission San Antonio.

The music performed in California missions is the most documented and preserved of any Spanish colony in the US. Musicians wrote and performed both plainchant and polyphonic music during masses, and the most popular way of recording works was by making choirbooks, both with music and with information regarding teaching (2). Pieces were written both in Spanish and in Latin, and could be either sacred or secular. Some of the standout composers of the Missions were Fray Narciso Durán of Mission San José, who was so renowned for his skill that he wrote choirbooks and manuscripts for other missions to use and teach from, and Felipe Arroyo de la Cuesta, who even wrote music in the Mutsun indigenous language (2).

While the culture of the music in missions, as well as the music itself, has had a lasting impact on Latinx culture as a whole, the treatment of these peoples within missions was horrifying. With European colonizers brought European disease, which wiped out much of the indigenous population. Indigenous inhabitants of the missions were treated as slaves with consequences of torture, starvation, solitary confinement, and execution for disobedience (3). Music may have been one of the few sources of joy for the approximately 20,000 indigenous people on the missions, and its study cannot be separated from the cruelty the Spanish inflicted upon them.

Sources:

(1) “Historical Timeline – California Missions”. 2022. California Missions. https://www.missionscalifornia.com/historical-timeline/.

(2) Summers, William John. “California Mission Music”. California Missions Foundation. https://californiamissionsfoundation.org/articles/californiamissionmusic/.

(3) Smith-Christopher, Daniel L. “Missions and Native Americans.” 2022. The American Mosaic: The Latino American Experience. https://latinoamerican2.abc-clio.com/Search/Display/2256931.

“…subordinate to a central spirit”: An 1854 Concert Review Rooted in Christian Communism

An article published in the June 17, 1854 edition of The Circular reviews a recent choral and orchestral performance at New York City’s Crystal Palace 1, an exhibition venue built to rival London’s own Crystal Palace. The Crystal Palace opened in 1853, but was soon closed in 1854 due to financial constraints. Just four years later in 1854, the building and all its contents burned down.2

John Bachman, Birds Eye View of the New York Crystal Palace and Environs, 1853. Hand-colored lithograph. The Museum of the City of New York, 29. 100.2387. Image and caption from the Bard Graduate Center’s Exhibition: “New York Crystal Palace 1853.”

The Circular, a community-written and edited newspaper, makes sure to emphasize its values to its readers. The front page of this edition features the newspaper’s “fundamental principles,” “leading topics,” and “general platform,” all emphasizing a devotion to the Christian faith and the institution of Communism and Socialism.

An excerpt from this edition of The Circular‘s front page, detailing their mission and values. “Music in the Crystal Palace.” Circular (1851-1870), Jun 17, 1854. https://www.proquest.com/newspapers/music-crystal-palace/docview/137665576/se-2.

Later on, the publication features a positive review of a concert performed by the “Musical Congress,” under the direction of Louis-Antoine Jullien. The review details the pieces performed, such as Handel’s Messiah, and, in an interesting bit of foreshadowing, an original composition by M. Jullien entitled, The Fireman’s Quadrille. According to the review, Jullien’s piece tells a story of a fire and the firefighters’ heroism, “expressing in music the silence of the night, the alarm, the rush of engines, the crackling of the fire, crash and falling of buildings, the final victory of the firemen.” The author seems entranced by M. Jullien, even calling his baton a “wand,” implying a sense of magic to his conducting. Read the sheet music for The Fireman’s Quadrille here.3

A colored lithograph of Monsieur Louis-Antoine Jullien by Edward Morton, after Alfred Edward Chalon. Edward Morton, “Louis Antoine Jullien,” digital image, National Portrait Gallery, 1840s, accessed October 3, 2022, https://www.npg.org.uk/collections/search/use-this-image/?mkey=mw195155.

But perhaps the most interesting part is the author’s thoughts on Christian Communism as it relates to the performance. They speak of the performance as a “splendid exhibition of unity, and of difference in unity.” Their remarks center around one specific idea, that each musician is bound to a sense of togetherness, in that each part of the music is essential to creating the whole sound. The author remarks on hearing the orchestra producing one whole sound, as if it was coming only from one instrument, which they relate to Christian Communisim by saying, “In all this was represented the harmonizing of different gifts in the church.” The author remarks that thousands of people attended this concert, each presumably leaving the venue with different thoughts on the concert they just heard. Who knows how many of them would have left making connections to Christian Communism, and how many would have heard the same unity and, well, communism in the harmonies of the music that this author did?

1“Music in the Crystal Palace.” Circular (1851-1870), Jun 17, 1854. https://www.proquest.com/newspapers/music-crystal-palace/docview/137665576/se-2.

2 Henry Raine, “What was the New York Crystal Palace, and where was it located?,” New York Historical Society Museum and Library, January 12, 2012, video, 1:00, https://www.nyhistory.org/community/new-yorks-crystal-palace

3 Music Division, The New York Public Library. “The fireman’s quadrille” New York Public Library Digital Collections. Accessed October 4, 2022. https://digitalcollections.nypl.org/items/510d47e2-cf65-a3d9-e040-e00a18064a99

Seeing Sound: What Photography Reveals About Musicking

Francisco Raúl Gutiérrez Grillo, more commonly known by the moniker Machito, spent his childhood in 1910’s Havana, Cuba.1 He grew up singing and played the maracas from adolescence, and after moving to New York in the 1930’s, Machito became a revolutionary figure on the American music scene. He recorded more than 75 albums over the course of his 50 year career, with his band The Afro-Cubans (founded 1940). Together, the group made major contributions to the development of salsa and mambo and essentially originated what we think of today as Latin Jazz, also known as bebop. “Tanga,” one of the band’s most famous Latin-jazz works (and works, period) exemplifies their style; it’s characterized by “strong multi-tempo percussion [. . .] with jazz wind instruments.”

Machito and the Afro-Cubans became beloved by the American public during their career, as is well documented by historical newspapers that note their popularity when describing their performances.2 But articles don’t capture a sound, the uniqueness of each performance of a particular piece, the mood of a club when an artist is performing; for these things, we turn to recordings, videos, and, I argue, photographs. For example, look below at this photograph of Machito and his sister Graciela Perèz Gutièrrez, who also performed with The Afro-Cubans and performed as lead singer for a time in the forties when her brother was called to military service.

Machito

Machito and Graciela, Glen Island Casino, New York, NY, c.a. July 19473

The photo was taken at the Glen Island Casino, and one could probably venture a guess about what type of atmosphere the performance had based off of the venue alone. But what does a simple venue name tell us about the act of musicking itself? Not much. This photograph, by contrast, can communicate something about the actual art being created, despite the temporal difference; we can see the body mechanics involved in playing, the facial expression, the contrast between the lit stage and the dark room. Even the intimacy of the shot itself, positioned so close to Graciela, suggests a specific sort of small-venue atmosphere, a closeness between performer and audience that must have had an effect upon how the music was experienced. The position of the camera also suggests something about how Machito and the Afro-Cubans were perceived by their audience: as I said, it’s intimate, and that suggests a comfort, even an affection, on the part of the photographer. We can read in newspapers that Machito was beloved by the public, but a photograph like this lets us experience that through the eyes of someone who was there.

What I’m getting at is that a photograph can put a viewer in a temporal moment with a performer, intimately involved in their act of musicking, just as listening to a recording transports a person, so to speak. A photograph gives a musicologist a better sense of the place in which music existed, a personal in, that could be valuable when studying music as a spatial, temporal thing. And in a world where musical performances are often thoroughly documented as pictures, it’s worth asking ourselves what unique value photographs may have to us and future musicologists for deepening our immersion in the music we study.

1 Méndez-Méndez , Serafín. “Machito.” In The American Mosaic: The Latino American Experience, ABC-CLIO, 2022. Accessed October 3, 2022. https://latinoamerican2.abc-clio.com/Search/Display/1326403.

Easily located in the ProQuest Historical Newspapers: New York Amsterdam News database. For example, this edition specifically notes his popularity, and this one’s praise of his musical ability is outright flattery

3 “Machito.” In The American Mosaic: The Latino American Experience, ABC-CLIO, 2022. Image. Accessed October 3, 2022. https://latinoamerican2.abc-clio.com/Search/Display/2234214. The photograph is also documented by the Library of Congress, and their webpage has somewhat more information about its origins.

When Worlds Collide: The Importance of Understanding Roots

There can be multiple definitions of what “American Music” actually is. There are so many cultures that exist in this country and in its history that it can be difficult to pinpoint an exact genre that is strictly “American.”

Let’s rewind a little bit in history. When the colonizers from Europe first came to this land mass initially, they were bringing a multitude of cultures with them – Spanish, French, German, etc. In addition to the cultures that already existed before they got here, the newer artistic cultures melded (both by force and by accident) to create new kinds of art and music that was a beautifully twisted combination of the two.

In the Andes in the 16th century, there was a son of a Spanish conquistador and an Incan princess – Garcilaso de la Vega-  who found himself talking about and collecting the history of both of the musical traditions from which he is descended. He brought to light how many different instruments they used in both types of music (commonly flute and organ), how each kind was distinct and how there were certain songs for each occasion, and where most of the songs were performed.

This little piece of history is important in our work in this class for the purpose of following how cultural traditions move. There is influence of music like this in New Spain and later on when the territories dissolve and become the country we know and exist in today. Understanding history is vital to understanding where we come from and knowing where our short comings are so that the mistakes and disappointments of the past are not repeated.

Work Cited:

“Garcilaso De La Vega: Description of Inca Music (1609).” The American Mosaic: The Latino American Experience, ABC-CLIO, 2022, latinoamerican2.abc-clio.com/Search/Display/1541276. Accessed 3 Oct. 2022.

The Role of Music in 19th-Century Mexican Churches

Church in Chihuahua, Mexico https://airlines-airports.com/aeromexico-in-chihuahua-mexico/

In 1892, James D. Faton wrote an article for “The Independent” newspaper titled “Mexico: A New Church Dedicated” that celebrates the recent erection of an Evangelist church in Chihuahua, Mexico. In the article, Faton praises the role of religion in Mexican sociopolitical life for serving as “a powerful aid to [Mexico’s] progress” and for having “deepened the sentiments of patriotism in the hearts of our people”. Mexican churches used sacred music such as alabados in order to lure citizens to church and then to further instill a sense of Mexican nationalism in worshippers and performers in order to create an original identity and sound for the recently independent country (Mexico gained its independence from Spain in 1821).

According to the U.S. Department of State Office of International Religious Freedom, approximately eighty-nine percent of Mexico’s population identifies as Christian (“2020 Report…”). One of the largest aspects of the Christian faith is the role of liturgical hymns and worship songs, and it is no surprise that there is a rich history behind Mexican liturgical music. The most traditional style of sacred song from Mexican origin are alabados. Alabados are “ancient religious hymns based on the New Testament that lament the passion and crucifixion of Jesus Christ,” (García). Similar to Aaron Copland and Charles Ives’ attempts to create a distinctly American sound by borrowing music from other cultural influences, alabados often “…reveal traces of Middle Eastern musical influence (most likely Moorish and Sephardic), mixed with Iberian medieval plain chant and traces of Pueblo (Tanoan and Keresan) Indian. Alabados were introduced to the New World by the Franciscan monks, who used them in converting the native peoples to Christianity. Eventually mixed with New World cultural elements, today’s alabados are genuine hybrid expressions of the Americas,” (García). Mexico was very clearly following in the United States’ footsteps in combining multiple cultural influences present in the area to create a new and distinct sound. In fact, Faton noted “citing the United States as a shining example” of religious freedom, which encompasses multiple different musical traditions. Alabados and other forms of nineteenth-century sacred Mexican music not only brought Mexican citizens together in worship but sought to create a unique Mexican musical tradition based on a conglomeration of cultural influences around the country. Mexico defining its musical canon at an early stage after the country’s independence from Spain signifies a desire to be more present and powerful in the international musical scene in the early twentieth century.

 

Sources:

FATON, J. D. (1892, Dec 08). MEXICO.: A NEW CHURCH DEDICATED. The Independent …Devoted to the Consideration of Politics, Social and Economic Tendencies, History, Literature, and the Arts (1848-1921), 44, 21. Retrieved from https://www.proquest.com/magazines/mexico/docview/90478917/se-2

“2020 Report on International Religious Freedom – United States …” U.S. Department of State, 12 May 2021, https://www.state.gov/reports/2020-report-on-international-religious-freedom/.

García, Peter J. “Alabados.” The American Mosaic: The Latino American Experience, ABC-CLIO, 2022, latinoamerican2.abc-clio.com/Search/Display/1329447. Accessed 3 Oct. 2022.

Las Posadas: A Reason to be Hopeful

When examining American music, it is clear to see that no musical tradition has come about without the fusion of many cultural properties. This ceaseless blending and creation is what we ought to thank for the multiplicity of beautiful and unique music that has come out of the Americas. However, such musical synthesis frequently leads to questions about the injustices and power struggles that led to the development of new musical traditions. In addition, we often also consider how these musical styles give voice to historically oppressed people today and whether this art can be a medium through which justice might be sought. The cultural, religious, and musical tradition known as ‘Las Posadas’ is an example of such cultural blending that has its earliest roots in the first attempts to Christianize the Aztecs in the early sixteenth century. As an ever-morphing ritual with centuries worth of history, Las Posadas serves as an example of how cultural amalgamation forces us to ask questions about historical and present inter-ethnic transgression.  

The tradition of Las Posadas occurs annually in the American Southwest and is a celebration of the birth of Jesus Christ. Las Posadas (“the inns”) refers more directly to Mary and Joseph’s search for lodging prior to the incarnation. During each night of this nine-day Catholic devotion, two individuals play the roles of Mary and Jospeh and ask various members of their community for lodging. They are denied a place to rest each night, and are sent on their way. This nightly ritual is accompanied by posada songs, music specific to this ritual. One of the primary songs for this event is simply titled “Las Posadas” in which Joseph asks the innkeepers for a place to stay for the night. 

While this tradition is a beautiful example of cultural blending in the United States, it has its roots in the colonization that occurred early on in the development of the New World. The history of this music and tradition begins in the early sixteenth century when Augustine priests attempted to christianize the Aztecs. By coincidence, the Aztec people celebrated the birth of their god Huitzilopochtli at approximately the same time as Christmas. The overlapping religious events made it easier for the Augustinians to convert the population, and out of this conversion came the traditions and music that is now referred to as Las Posadas. Today, many connections have been drawn between Mary and Joseph’s search for a home and ultimate rejection to the on going issue of immigration in the United States. In 2002 at the Posada sin Fronteras event in San Diego, California, alternate lyrics to the Las Posadas song were composed to demonstrate the similarity in relationships between the Holy parents and the innkeepers along with immigrants and border officals. By recognizing and connecting the power struggles of the past to those which are still ongoing, this art which once was used as a means to overpower or dehumanize becomes a medium for protest and vehicle for change. 

There is much to be learned about the tradition of Las Posadas and the multiplicity of meanings imbedded in this ritual. While there is a significant amount of cultural dissonance within this music and its history, there is just as much hope to had for its in its performance and reinvention. 

Cantos de Las Posadas and Other Christmas Songs (recorded by Elena Paz and Carlos Garcia Travesi). Performed by Suni Paz, and C. G. Travesi., Folkways Records. Alexander Street, https://search.alexanderstreet.com/view/work/bibliographic_entity%7Crecorded_cd%7C72362.

Las Posadas Student Procession.” The American Mosaic: The Latino American Experience, ABC-CLIO, 2022, latinoamerican2.abc-clio.com/Search/Display/1922421. Accessed 3 Oct. 2022.

“Traditional Las Posadas Song.” The American Mosaic: The Latino American Experience, ABC-CLIO, 2022, latinoamerican2.abc-clio.com/Search/Display/1839445. Accessed 3 Oct. 2022.

De La Torre, Miguel A. “A Colonized Christmas Story.” Interpretation (Richmond), vol. 71, no. 4, 2017, pp. 408–17, https://doi.org/10.1177/0020964317716131.

Nolan, Seth. “Las Posadas.” The American Mosaic: The Latino American Experience, ABC-CLIO, 2022, latinoamerican2.abc-clio.com/Search/Display/1329879. Accessed 3 Oct. 2022.

Hondagneu-Sotelo, P., et al. “‘There’s a Spirit That Transcends the Border’: Faith, Ritual, and Postnational Protest at the U.S.-Mexico Border.” Sociological Perspectives, vol. 47, no. 2, 2004, pp. 133–59, https://doi.org/10.1525/sop.2004.47.2.133.

Embedded in Culture and a Product of Colonizers

The traditional Las Posadas song is performed throughout Latin America and Spain as part of the Las Posadas tradition, also known as the Christian pageant tradition. The song’s first performance dates back to 1583 in old Mexico by Fray Pedro de Gant (1). The lyrics (which can be found here) tell the story of the denial of Mary and Joseph from the inn before they go to the manger (2). While the subject matter of the piece is not of much intrigue and doesn’t connect to the course content, its role in the colonization of Latin America does.

The Las Posadas tradition dates back to the 16th century with the Augustinian missionaries’ conversion of the Aztecs. The pageant tradition coincided with the celebration of the birth of the Aztec god Huitzilopochtli, which occurred at roughly the same time and shared the same amount of cultural weight as Christmas did to the missionaries (3). This served as a bridge between the two cultures and made Christianity easier to teach to the Aztecs.

This puts our cultural understanding of the traditional Las Posadas song in a predicament. We understand that the song was part of a larger tradition aimed at converting the Aztecs, along with other indigenous cultures. This thus westernized them and made them easier to conquer and assimilate. However, one cannot deny the fact that the Las Posadas tradition has been a part of Latin American culture for roughly 500 years, and has different cultural connotations and intentions now compared to then. Seth Nolan notes that Las Posadas has “…become a community affair with friends, relatives, and neighbors gathering together to share in a tradition that has come down through the years” (4). While the reckoning of these two identities associated with this song doesn’t present a clear answer, the ethical and moral debate it sparks around historical context and cultural significance is important.

(1) Nolan, Seth. “Las Posadas.” In The American Mosaic: The Latino American Experience, ABC-CLIO, 2022. Accessed October 3, 2022. https://latinoamerican2.abc-clio.com/Search/Display/1329879.

(2) “Traditional Las Posadas Song.” In The American Mosaic: The Latino American Experience, ABC-CLIO, 2022. Accessed October 3, 2022. https://latinoamerican2.abc-clio.com/Search/Display/1839445

(3) Nolan, Seth. “Las Posadas.” In The American Mosaic: The Latino American Experience, ABC-CLIO, 2022. Accessed October 3, 2022. https://latinoamerican2.abc-clio.com/Search/Display/1329879.

(4) Nolan, Seth. “Las Posadas.” In The American Mosaic: The Latino American Experience,

 

 

Native American Exoticism in 19th- and 20th-Century Sheet Music Cover Pages

First Ever Album Cover by Alex Steinweiss (1938) https://illustrationchronicles.com/alex-steinweiss-and-the-world-s-first-record-cover

If you’ve ever seen an album cover, you might have an idea of what can commonly be found on the front page of musical scores. These score covers use visual elements to package and advertise music, often with elaborate illustrations that drew in prospective performers to the part. Score cover art for Native-American-influenced popular music (which unfortunately is more often than not inaccurately appropriated by white composers and/or artists with no indigenous backgrounds) provides an interesting insight into how Native Americans were perceived in 19th- and 20th-century America. Two common themes that I noticed in examining these score covers is the narrative of the Native American as primitive soldiers and on the contrary, as love interests.

Sioux March & Waltz—Louis Wallis https://dc.lib.unc.edu/cdm/ref/collection/sheetmusic/id/23812

The cover art for Louis Wallis’ “Sioux Waltz & March” (1856) shows “A man on horseback in uniform is about to cut down with his saber a Native American he is chasing. Behind him, another of his comrades, at whom the Native American is aiming a bow and drawn arrow, is about to shoot the Native American with his pistol. A battle rages in the background, with Native Americans and soldiers visible,” (University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill). The simultaneous use of the Native American’s bow and arrow and the white man with a pistol reflects the 19th-century attitude that Native Americans were less developed in technology and other aspects of life than that in Western civilization.

“Lackawanna: An Indian Love Song Story in Florida” by Eugene Francis Mickell (1912) https://dmr.bsu.edu/digital/collection/ShtMus/id/13

 

“A Wigwam Courtship; Intermezzo” by Sadie Koninsky (1903) https://repository.duke.edu/dc/hasm/b0229

Another interesting theme in score cover art for Native American-inspired music is the fetishization of both relationships between two Native Americans as well as relationships between one Native American and a Westerner. “A Wigwam Courtship; Intermezzo” by Sadie Koninsky (1903) and “Lackawanna: An Indian Love Song Story from Florida” by Eugene Francis Mickell (1912) show two Native Americans lusting after each other.

“My Indian Maiden” by Edward Coleman (1904) https://webapp1.dlib.indiana.edu/inharmony/detail.do?action=detail&fullItemID=/lilly/devincent/LL-SDV-083015

Meanwhile, the cover to Edward Coleman’s “My Indian Maiden” (1904) depicts a Native American woman dressed in full regalia with a pleasant expression on her face, while a European man in colonial period clothing stands in the mirror behind her.

It is inconclusive whether depicting these Native American relationships on score covers is for representative purposes or as a form of exoticism. According to Oxford Bibliographies, “exoticism is considered a form of representation in which peoples, places, and cultural practices are depicted as foreign from the perspective of the composer and/or intended audience. In earlier usage of the term, “exoticism” and “exotic” referred to an inherent quality or status of the non-Western other”. It is clear that the illustrators for the score covers thought of Native Americans as the “other” and sought to depict them as stereotypically as possible. Every album cover that I researched with Native American subjects had them depicted in full regalia, surrounded by nature, and often using weapons.

These score covers provide an interesting historical insight into how Westerners viewed Native Americans in the 18th and 19th centuries. Not only were Native Americans thought of as underdeveloped and uncivilized warriors, but Native American relationships served as an exotic spectacle to Westerners. Native Americans were treated by score illustrators as commodities to help increase score profits, instead of actual people. The cover art to “My Indian Maiden” shows that Native American women may have been fetishized by white men especially, which is a dangerous rhetoric to spread. “The Justice Department reports that one in three Native women is raped over her lifetime, while other sources report that many Native women are too demoralized to report rape.  Perhaps this is because federal prosecutors decline to prosecute 67 percent of sexual abuse cases, according to the Government Accountability Office. More than 80 percent of sex crimes on reservations are committed by non-Indian men, who are immune from prosecution by tribal courts” (Erdrich, 2013). In fact, a 1915 letter by the U.S. Board of Indian Commissioners addressed to Edward E. Ayer states that attempted rape of Native Americans is “impossible” to prosecute: “Outside of certain specific offenses provided for by the Statute, it is impossible to punish anyone who may have attempted rape, an assault, seduction under the promise of marriage, and theft,” (American Indian Histories and Cultures). There were no punishments for the maltreatment and fetishization of Native Americans during the 18th and 19th centuries.

The anti-Native American attitudes that can still be seen today are evident in the 18th- and 19th-century score covers for pieces inspired by Native American music. Cover art of scores and albums can serve as an extremely credible lens into what life looked like in the past, which can help scholars today determine when and where certain racist attitudes may have begun and how they were perpetuated.

Sources:

“A Wigwam Courtship; Intermezzo / Historic American Sheet Music / Duke Digital Repository.” Duke Digital Collections, https://repository.duke.edu/dc/hasm/b0229. 

Erdrich. L. (2013). Also the author of “The Round House.” New York Times Op Ed, February 27, 2013, on page A25: Rape on the Reservation.

“Exoticism.” Obo, https://www.oxfordbibliographies.com/view/document/obo-9780199757824/obo-9780199757824-0123.xml.

“In Harmony: Sheet Music from Indiana.” IN Harmony: Sheet Music from Indiana – Item Details, https://webapp1.dlib.indiana.edu/inharmony/detail.do?action=detail&fullItemID=%2Flilly%2Fdevincent%2FLL-SDV-083015. 

Kennedy, Philip. “Alex Steinweiss and the World’s First Record Cover.” Illustration Chronicles, 20 July 2021, https://illustrationchronicles.com/Alex-Steinweiss-and-the-World-s-First-Record-Cover. 

“Lackawanna : an Indian Love Song, Story from Florida.” CONTENTDM, Ball State University Digital Media Repository, https://dmr.bsu.edu/digital/collection/ShtMus/id/13. 

“To Mrs. Graham Atkinson. Sioux March & Waltz by Louis Wallis.” Playmakers Repertory Company Playbills, https://dc.lib.unc.edu/cdm/ref/collection/sheetmusic/id/23812. 

“U.S. Board of Indian Commissioners Files [Manuscript]: 1912-1922 [ Box 3, Folders 15 to 18].” AMD, American Indian Histories and Cultures, https://www.aihc.amdigital.co.uk/Documents/SearchDetails/Ayer_MS_911_BX03_1#Snippits.

Insider Knowledge from an Outsider’s Perspective

As the illegitimate son of a Spanish conquistador and an Inca princess, Garcilaso de la Vega had a unique perspective on both cultures within Peruvian society. His writings betray a respect for the Inca flautists and the music they played on their panpipes, while his observations shed light on the role of music in 16th-century Inca social customs.1

As a member of the cultural elite, de la Vega evidently had at least some musical training, allowing him to describe in detail the structure and voicing of the Inca panpipes and the characteristics of the music they played. He admires the skill of the flautists, noting that they were “always in tune” when they played together and that their skills were not limited to their own repertory, but translated to European music as well, which they could sightread. However, he does display hints of elitism when describing the general lack of singing in Inca culture, stating his belief that this was because the Inca “were not sufficiently good [singers]” and “did not understand singing”.

The panpipes are closely tied with Inca culture even today, and in the 16th century they carried great ritual importance. De la Vega discusses the significance of the panpipes in Inca courting, noting that young men played the flute to woo young ladies, with each tune conveying a unique message to the object of one’s affection, so that “it may be said that [a man] talked with his flute”. Thus, both the instrument and the tune had a specific purpose, and other types of songs were “not fit” to be played on the panpipes, revealing the importance of the instrument and of music in general to everyday social practices.

With his intimate experience of Peruvian society, de la Vega’s honest and open admiration of the skill of the flautists and the comparisons he makes between Inca and European music is rare to see among early accounts of the music Europeans encountered through colonization. This makes his work very valuable for ethnomusicology, which is impressive considering he was writing over two hundred years before the field existed at all. This kind of insider status and the insights it brings is exactly what makes Tara Browner’s work in studying pow-wows so valuable, as she departs from a traditional theory-based approach in favor of “[writing] about music and dance as [she has] experienced them”.2 Despite the fact that ethnomusicological research is traditionally undertaken by outsiders who attempt to remain as neutral as possible, these examples demonstrate that the intimate cultural knowledge and understanding of an insider is a valuable tool in investigating musical traditions which may be a result of a different value system.

1 The American Mosaic: The Latino American Experience. Retrieved October 1, 2022, from https://latinoamerican2.abc-clio.com/Search/Display/1541276

2 Browner, Tara. “All about Theory, Method, and Pow-Wows.” Essay. In Heartbeat of the People: Music and Dance of the Northern Pow-Wow, 1–17. Urbana, Illinois: University of Illinois Press, 2004.

Wampum and its importance to Eastern Woodland Native Americans

Wampum is a traditional shell bead of the Native American tribes of the Eastern Woodlands. The beads are harvested from the shells of Western North Atlantic hard-shelled clams and are typically white and purple. Native Americans would harvest the clams in the summer and eat their contents before working on the shells. The process of creating wampum was long and hard, usually taking a full day to make just one bead. Shells would be ground or drilled down very carefully using rocks. Not only was the process difficult, but it was also somewhat dangerous, fine dust from the shaved off shells could cut up the lungs if ingested so Native Americans would often use water to limit the dust.

Wampum belt made of shell beads, buckskin, & ribbon. Anthro #A738.1

After the beads were made, they were placed on strings made of either plant fibers or animal tendons. They were often worn decoratively and sometimes even formed into belts which were used to tell stories and mark agreements between peoples. There were usually only two colors of wampum, white and purple, each having their own meanings. White wampum usually denoted purity or light while purple wampum typically represented war, grieving, and death. The two colors would often be combined to represent the duality of the world. 

 

 

Wampum strings and belts had many uses such as currency, gifts, and a means of telling stories. Tribes would often trade wampum with each other in exchange for other goods. Due to the meaning of each color of bead, wampum was also used as a gift, white wampum being given to celebrate things like births or marriages and purple wampum being used for condolences after the loss of loved ones. Moreover, mixed belts, which represented the duality of the world, were given as peace treaties and used to tell stories to others and future generations. 

 

 

 

The worth of wampum was also recognized by many European settlers. A letter written to Thomas Penn from James Logan in 1937 shows that the Europeans knew the significance of wampum. In a proposal to meet the chiefs of the Six Nations at Albany, Logan proposed that Governor Gooche accompany his letter with 2 to 3 fathoms of wampum as a peace offering. Wampum beads and belts even became a commodity in Europe. In a receipt written from Isaac Low in 1769, a paper bundle of wampum was sold to someone in Europe for £15 11s. 6d. 

Although the significance of wampum has dwindled for non-Native Americans, wampum and the process of making it is still unquestionably important to the culture and traditions of Native Americans. This video shows the traditional process of making wampum by hand, still followed by Native Americans today.

References:

Manuscripts and Archives Division, The New York Public Library. “Letter to [Jelles Fonda, Caghnawaga]” New York Public Library Digital Collections. Accessed September 23, 2022. https://digitalcollections.nypl.org/items/b8a373ad-28d8-942d-e040-e00a18065263

Manuscripts and Archives Division, The New York Public Library. “Letter to the Proprietary [Thomas Penn]” New York Public Library Digital Collections. Accessed September 23, 2022. https://digitalcollections.nypl.org/items/bb4ebb8a-0e86-c85e-e040-e00a18063bc4

Scott Dressel-Martin. Wampum belt. 7/26/2010. Retrieved from the Digital Public Library of America, https://dmns.lunaimaging.com/luna/servlet/detail/DMNSDMS~4~4~11333~100798. (Accessed September 20, 2022.)

Traditional Wampum Belts. PBS. Public Broadcasting Service, 2018. https://www.pbs.org/video/traditional-wampum-belts-gy05in/. 

Tweedy, Ann C. “From Beads to Bounty: How Wampum Became America’s First Currency-and Lost Its Power.” ICT. ICT, October 5, 2017. https://indiancountrytoday.com/archive/from-beads-to-bounty-how-wampum-became-americas-first-currencyand-lost-its-power. 

Tweedy, Ann C. “From Beads to Bounty: How Wampum Became America’s First Currency-and Lost Its Power.” ICT. ICT, October 5, 2017. https://indiancountrytoday.com/archive/from-beads-to-bounty-how-wampum-became-americas-first-currencyand-lost-its-power.

Wallace, Anthony F C. “The Iroquois Wampum Belts.” Anthropology News (Arlington, Va.) 12, 4 (1971): 7–7. https://doi.org/10.1111/an.1971.12.4.7.2.

Wampum Belt. 1682. Retrieved from the Digital Public Library of America, https://dlgadmin.galileo.usg.edu/iiif/2/dlg%2Fguan-dpla%2Fartsus%2Fguan-dpla_artsus_in26%2Fguan-dpla_artsus_in26-00001.jp2/full/1000,/0/default.jpg. (Accessed September 20, 2022.)

 

Alice C. Fletcher and Ethnomusicolgy’s Origins

As a class, we recently learned about Frances Densmore’s ethnographic research on Native Americans, in which she recorded and documented myriad songs and information about the culture of multiple Native American tribes in Minnesota and the US.  Densmore approached her research on these groups as a scientific endeavor—viewing Native Americans through a nineteenth-century racialized lens that perceived them as tantamount to the natural landscape and representative of a primitive European past. However, she was not the first, nor the only ethnologist learning about and extracting the sonic resources of Great Plains tribes at that time. Consider Alice C. Fletcher, who “began collecting ethnological and musical data in 1883 among the Omaha and Dakota Indians.”[1]As both Fletcher and Densmore’s work perpetuated cultural imperialism, understanding how it contributed to the development of ethnomusicology at the expense of native cultures perhaps leads to a better understanding of the discipline’s tainted, yet prolific, roots.[2]

An 1893 news clipping from the scrapbook of Ely Samuel Parker describes Alice C. Fletcher as  “A Woman Who Worthily Stands for Her Sex,” referring to her work as President of the Anthropological Society.[3]  Having studied “Indians in our Western Territories,” the writer declares that “there is no one in this or any other country whose knowledge on the subject approaches hers.”[4] For her research, Fletcher “…spent years among the Indians, living in their camps unprotected, learning their language, studying their customs, music…”[5] The writer states that at the time of this publication, she was in the midst of “revising…an important work on the music of the Omaha Indians…”[6] Two decades later into her career, she published a 600+ page work on the history of the Omaha Tribe that I tracked down in the library.[7] Like Frances Densmore in numerous works like Chippewa Customs, she notates indigenous songs using western notation (reinforcing its colonial hierarchy), and uses a social scientific lens to try and explain their culture. Yet in the 1893 clipping, the writer assures us that her “work among the Indians has a benevolent as well as scientific side”[8]

The article goes on to describe her friendship developed with the tribe, and how she leverages this to “secure for the Peabody museum trophies and relics from the different tribes which had never ever been seen by a white man.”[9] Ultimately, this transactional relationship unfortunately outlines how researchers of her era thought it ok to exploit the trust of tribes. Native Americans fit a Western narrative believing that “these supposedly primitive musical cultures were part of a dying world that was succumbing to American civilization and that scholars needed to preserve what they could before their assumed extinction.”[10] Fletcher’s work was profound—she published the first ethnographic presentation of a Native American tribe’s music in 1893 (the aforementioned work on the Omaha) and she wrote more than 97 entries for the Bureau of American Ethnology’s Handbook of American Indians North of Mexico in 3 years—however, it was predicated by racist assumptions all too common at the turn of the century.[11] It’s important to conceptualize how Fletcher’s work as among the first to record Native American music provided detailed documentation of their history while perpetuating biased beliefs of a racialized musical hierarchy that others, like Densmore, would build upon.

[1] Sue Carol DeVale, “Fletcher, Alice Cunningham,” Grove Music Online, 2001. https://www.oxfordmusiconline.com/grovemusic/view/10.1093/gmo/9781561592630.001.0001/omo-9781561592630-e-0000009816.

[2] Krystyn R Moon, “The Quest for Music’s Origin at the St. Louis World’s Fair: Frances Densmore and the Racialization of Music,” American Music 28, no. 2 (2010): 191-210. muse.jhu.edu/article/379952.

[3] Ely Samuel Parker scrapbooks: Vol 11, 1828-1894, The Newberry Library, 34. https://www.aihc.amdigital.co.uk/Documents/Images/Ayer_Modern_MS_Parker_VL11/24#VisualMaterials

[4] Ibid.

[5] Ibid.

[6] Ibid.

[7] Alice C Fletcher (Alice Cunningham), and Francis La Flesche, The Omaha Tribe, Washington: [publisher not identified], 1911.

[8] Ely Samuel Parker scrapbooks, 34. https://www.aihc.amdigital.co.uk/Documents/Images/Ayer_Modern_MS_Parker_VL11/24#VisualMaterials

[9] Ibid.

[10] Moon, “”The Quest for Music’s Origin at the St. Louis World’s Fair,” 191-210. muse.jhu.edu/article/379952.

[11] Alice C. Fletcher, et al., Life among the Indians: First Fieldwork among the Sioux and Omahas  (Lincoln, Nebraska, 2013): 61, 71.  http://ebookcentral.proquest.com/lib/stolaf-ebooks/detail.action?docID=1495860.

 

Learning Culture Through Immersion

Francis Densmore was an ethnomusicologist working in the early 20th century to try and save American Indian music which she thought was going extinct. We criticize Densmore’s ethnographies of American Indian music because it uses Western musical notation and form, as well as statistics, to try and describe music which it does not reflect accurately. Native musics cannot be accurately represented by Western standards because the songs were not, in the slightest, based on Western musical practices.

So the question arises: how can we more accurately describe Native American musicking? How do we more accurately describe any historical practice that has been put through a process of Westernization? As practitioners of Western musical notation, form, and math ourselves, we may be at a loss for how to represent music, or any of the aforementioned “historical practices” we wish to learn more about or preserve in a way that is true to the culture from which it came without imparting our unconscious bias, embedded in the way that we learn, onto the culture of another. We must do this not for the mere respect of peoples whom the majority of Americans owe our stolen land, but because we must provide more accurate information based of the findings of people like Densmore. We could not do the work we do without the information that she and others like her have gathered, and at the same time we must make this data more accurately represent the history of the culture from which it came, in a way in which we can understand, if we truly believe in the pursuit of the truth.

So, how do we more accurately describe and learn about American Indian music, given that using Western notation does not accurately reflect these cultures? Furthermore, to expand (and with the aim of avoiding generalizations), this goes for the music of individual tribes as well as American Indian music on the whole as well as any music for which Western music does not accurately represent.

If we choose to avoid Western methods, then what should we use? The first thing that comes to mind would be to use the methods which Native Americans themselves use to learn, teach, and depict their music. Pow-wow, for example, is a way in which members of certain tribes pass along information through generations.

Wendake Pow-wow, 2019

Another method that Native Americans use to depict their music is through pictographs.

Kokopelli Pictograph

By learning what we are able from a certain culture’s portrayal or demonstration of their own art, we can create scholarship about a different culture while avoiding shoehorning their customs into the dimensions of another.  While it may not seem like we can glean much from pictographs, or maybe even pow-wows at first, opening our minds to different expressions of art and culture immerses us more deeply in the lives of other people. It is necessary to go through this process of experiential learning in order to give the correct context for what we discover, not only because it greatly reduces the chances of Westernizing something that is not but also to come to more accurate conclusions.

https://books.google.com/books?id=HyZ6EAAAQBAJ&printsec=frontcover&source=gbs_ge_summary_r&cad=0#v=onepage&q&f=false

Click to access PowWows.pdf

 

The Studying of Native American Music: Is it Ethical?

When one thinks of Native American music, what comes to mind? For me, I think of powwows which consist of dancing and music and fancy regalia. I additionally think of bison burgers and jewelry buying stations (where I still own a piece I bought 10 years ago). My experience, however, is not the full truth.

Frances Densmore, a name popular in the musicology world for studying Native American music, was one of the first people to attempt to understand more about the world of Native American music. In 1919-1920 (not too long ago), Densmore conducted a study among members of the Skidi and Chaui Bands near Pawnee, Oklahoma. 1  The first treaty between specifically Pawnee and the Government was in 1818 with the Ratified Indian Treat 92: Grand Pawnee – St. Louis, June 18, 1818.

Ratified Indian Treat 92: Grand Pawnee – St. Louis, June 18, 1818.2 

With this treaty, it felt that Natives were becoming more known about and taken into account for living in the United States. But some would say how problematic it would still become. The chart below documents the tonality and takes into account the first note and how that affects the key of the melody.

However helpful this may be to the Western culture in understanding the first hearings of Native American music. It almost disrespects their culture and tradition. It is not ethical or right to fully understand and teach others about Native music through a Western Lens then it would be for Natives to teach classical music through a Native American Lens. It’s like teaching an animal to read a book!

A study done by Mark Evarts, published in 1967, shows a different type of notation after hearing Native American melodies.3  For example, the first melody is titled “A Bear Song of Peter Wood” and “Old Hand Game Song” and explains the story behind these songs by analyzing through explanation with only a bit of notation. Evarts writes that the song symbolizes two opposite parties in war which is acted out emotionally and song on “meaningless” syllables. Evarts says meaningless but how do we know it is or isn’t? He writes the words below and attempts to show the song in stanzas. I believe it is better notation than completely composing it to look Western-styled.

Overall, I feel that as society progresses, the understanding of other cultures’ music will continue to grow with respectful and helpful learning. We have to be able to understand through two different perspectives, ours and theirs, to get as complete of a picture as possible. We will not always be able to understand the meaning or why one part of the song says a certain word, but we can treat them as humans.

1  Frances Densmore, Pawnee Music (New York: Da Capo Press, 1972 [1929])

2 Ratified Indian Treaty 92: Grand Pawnee – St. Louis, June 18, 1818. The Indigenous Digital Archive. https://digitreaties.org/treaties/treaty/162559362/

3 Evarts, Mark. “Music of the Pawnee – Sung by Mark Everts. Internet Archive. (Folkways Records; Kahle-Austin Foundation, 1967).

Ethicality of Researching Native American Tribes

Along the border of New Mexico and Arizona one can find the Zuni people, a North American Indian tribe. Believed to be the descendants of the prehistoric Ancestral Pueblo, they have a long history of connection to the Pueblo tribe, including the involvement in the Pueblo Rebellion against the spanish. Their culture is deeply rooted in religion, spirituality, and the earth, specifically being known as the “Sun Worshippers”. Additionally the Zuni people, much like many other native tribes, utilize music in order to create a community space while completing activities like fire starting or welcoming the sunrise. The main primary source that I would like to share is a journal written by Castañeda de Nájera as he described his journey to Cibola, New Mexico. The book begins with his departure from Compostela on February 23, 1540 to Cibola. This happened to be the “poor pueblo village of the Zuni Indians”. There are also accounts of discovering as they travel America, but I will primarily focus on the Zuni tribe. Additionally, the later section of this book described the native american tribes including the making of their houses, customs, religion, agriculture, and dress. The book then ends with their unsuccessful expedition back to Mexico.

The infamous 16th century Spanish explorer Francisco Vasquez de Coronado led an important expedition in 1540 to New Spain in search of gold. Much like many other explorers of the time forced his way into many tribes including the Zuni tribe of Hawikuh, where modern New Mexico remains. This was the first discovery of native tribes for Coronado and it ultimately ended in violence as he attempted to take the town, which caused the tribe to flee their homes. This failure led to further exploration and several more battles with various tribes. As Coronado inserted himself into tribes such as the Tusayan, Triguez, and Acoma, he accounted for more and more traditions that the Native American tribes took part in, leading to the manuscript shown above.

Alongside the score that I have described, attached is a book written by Carlos Troyer entitled Indian Music Lecture published in 1913. This book encapsulates Troyer’s life and experiences as he traveled various spaces in order to discover and share various tribes’ religion, government, and lifestyle. Troyer is yet another example very similar to the primary source journal shown earlier in which an outsider takes initiative to research and implement their presence on a Native Tribe; interestingly enough both Coronado and Troyer both research the Zuni Tribe.

Carlos himself is a musician born in Frankfurt in 1837 who then traveled to America at a young age and began teaching music, composing, and traveling to a variety of countries to learn and share native culture. His contact with the Zuni people occurred when he was entrusted to interpret their songs through his work in California. Instead, Troyer visited the tribe and learned of their sacred dances, ceremonies, and “traditional lore”. His goal of the trip, just like his work with other tribes like the Incas, was to give insight to mainly American and European people about indigenous culture.

While it can be said that he achieved his goal and spread awareness on the tribe’s way of life, the way in which Troyer went about entering the tribe is questionable in terms of ethics. It appears that he gained permission and was well received, but one wording in a letter at the beginning of the book by Charles Cadman claimed that he “conquered ” other tribes. Whether liked or not, it comes to reason that his privilege of power as a white man allowed him privileges to expect acceptance for researching the tribe. Lastly, there is the occasional phrasing that invokes a sense of superiority such as the title of the book which is “an address designed for reading at musical gatherings, describing the lives, customs, religions, occult practices, and the surprising musical development of the cliff dwellers of the south west”. Wording like “surprising” gives indication that little was expected of the tribe and it places indigenous culture in an othering position.

2019 Buffalo dance/Pueblo of Zuni,NM @ Sañto Ñino

Bibliography

Castañeda de Nájera, Pedro de. “Narrative of the Expedition to Cibola Undertaken in 1540
[Manuscript]: Translated into English by Brantz Mayer.” American Indian Histories and Cultures – Adam Matthew Digital. The Newberry Library, 1851. https://www.aihc.amdigital.co.uk/Documents/Images/Ayer_MS_1058/4.

History.com Editors. “Francisco Vázquez De Coronado.” History.com. A&E Television
Networks, November 9, 2009. https://www.history.com/topics/exploration/francisco-vazquez-de-coronado.

Mateya. “2019 Buffalo Dance/Pueblo of Zuni,NM @ Sañto Ñino.” YouTube, YouTube, 6 Jan. 2019, www.youtube.com/watch?v=o74Z0ZZOTEI.

Robert Stevenson. “Troyer, Carlos.” New Grove Dictionary of Music and Musicians, Oxford
University Press, 2001, https://doi.org/10.1093/gmo/9781561592630.article.28481.

Stevenson, Robert. “Troyer, Carlos.” Grove Music Online. Oxford University Press. Date of
access 22 Sep. 2022,
https://www.oxfordmusiconline.com/grovemusic/view/10.1093/gmo/9781561592630.001
.0001/omo-9781561592630-e-0000028481

Troyer, Carlos, and Charles Wakefield Cadman. Indian Music Lecture: The zuñi Indians and
Their Music: An Address Designed for Reading at Musical Gatherings, Describing the
Lives, Customs, Religions, Occult Practices, and the Surprising Musical Development of
the Cliff Dwellers of the South West. Theo. Presser Co., 1913.

An Exploitative Explorer: Émile Petitot’s Legacy

CONTENT/TRIGGER WARNING: sexual assault, pedophilia, sexual trauma

I found this manuscript 1 by Émile Petitot, a French missionary who conducted research among the Indigenous peoples of Northern Canada. His work looks much like that of Frances Densmore, with transcriptions of musics that he observed within the tribes. Accompanying each transcription is the tribe it comes from, a note about what kind of song/dance/game it is, and occasional extra notes. For example, in the screenshot provided, Petitot provides the tribe, “Tchippewayans,” (or Chippewa/Ojibwa), the type of song, “jeu de mains” (hand game- perhaps hand clapping?), and notes below explaining how they whistle the melody through their teeth, and that this example is possibly of Cree origin, though I could be translating the French incorrectly (Petitot, 3). 

A sample of Petitot’s manuscript, Chants Indiens Du Canada Nord-Ouest, from 1862-1892, 1899. 

Petitot completed significant research on the native languages of Northern tribes, and according to Savoie in 19822, it “remains the best in the field” (Savoie, 446). But however groundbreaking or useful Petitot’s research was, his treatment of the Indigenous people was less than stellar. His notes seem to be overtly subjective and somewhat condescending, and according to Lévy,3 he also showed concerning sexual desires. He was rumored to engage in sexual relations with “young indigenous people,” as well as a woman who became so uncomfortable she attempted “self-circumcision as a way of suppressing his sexual desires” (Lévy, 2014). Clearly his methods were exploitative and harmful to those around him. Lévy also mentions that these acts eventually caught his missionary order’s attention in France, so he was exiled back home to write his “ethnographic and geographical” work (Lévy, 2014).

Petitot, wearing a priest’s collar 4

His research, controversy, and legacy is still discussed. In 2001, Struzik wrote an article 5 in the Edmonton Journal (Alberta, Canada) about the returning controversy surrounding Petitot. Buildings and parks named after him were quickly being renamed at the request and vote of Indigenous voices. Struzik exposes both sides of the controversy surrounding his sexuality and divergent sexual habits (Struzik, 2001). There are those who still consider him a genius for his work and research, and there are many who expose him for his exploitation, abuse, and madness. Some would say that any press is good press, but with all of his controversy exposed and the reason for his exile laid out in the open, I would say the legacy Petitot leaves behind is not one to be celebrated. 

1 Petitot, Émile. Chants Indiens Du Canada Nord-Ouest. 1862-1892, 1899. Manuscript. Mackenzie: The Newberry Library, 2022. American Indian Histories and Cultures. Medium, https://www.aihc.amdigital.co.uk/Documents/Images/Ayer_MS_715/2. (accessed September 21, 2022)

2 Savoie, Donat. “Emile Petitot (1838-1916).” Arctic 35, no. 3 (1982): 446–47. http://www.jstor.org/stable/40509367.

3 Lévy, Joseph. “Éros Et Tabou. Sexualité Et Genre Chez Amérindiens Et Les Inuit.” Recherches Amérindiennes Au Québec 44, no. 2 (2014): 170-174. https://www.proquest.com/scholarly-journals/éros-et-tabou-sexualité-genre-chez-amérindiens/docview/1681918022/se-2.

4 Image from ‘The Amerindians of the Canadian Northwest in the 19th Century, as seen by Emile Petitot. Volume 1: The Tchiglit Eskimos,’ found on Inuvialuit Living History (https://www.inuvialuitlivinghistory.ca/wiki_pages/Father%20%20%C3%89mile%20Petitot).

5 Struzik, Ed. A genius … and a pariah: Emile Petitot left a legacy of controversy in Canada’s Arctic. Online Archive. Edmonton: CanWest Interactive, 2001. Edmonton Journal (Alberta). Medium, https://advance.lexis.com/api/document?collection=news&id=urn:contentItem:45HN-N1D0-003N-14GF-00000-00&context=1516831.(accessed September 21, 2022).

The Cannon: Educational Fundamentals, or Cultural Genocide?

First Cherokee Female Seminary

The original building housing the Cherokee National Female Seminary, which burned down in 1987.

In 1951, the Cherokee Nation – having recently been forcibly moved to Oklahoma and re-formed their government in Tahlequah – opened the doors of the Cherokee National Female Seminary.1 The school was run by the tribal government and was extremely well regarded, generally considered better than the public school systems of several nearby states.2 On the Kaw (or Kanza) land3 that would one day become Northeastern State University, young Native women had what essentially amounts to a liberal arts education, including the study of music.

Music curriculum at the Cherokee National Female Seminary (Ayer 1906, 24)

The school’s music curriculum, depicted here, was collected by Edward Ayer, a Field Museum of Natural History benefactor who evidently had some interest in salvage anthropology and Native cultures, and donated to Chicago’s Newberry Library in 1911.4 The text itself states that this donation was for the benefit of the Native peoples whom the school served – that is, in support of preserving their histories. Thankfully, Native communities seem to have been involved in assembling these texts, according to the collection itself, but I’m a touch skeptical of our white sponsor’s benevolence. What seems most likely to me is that this, like Frances Densmore’s work, is a product of good intentions, but would be taken less than positively if produced today. This is supported by the casual white-saviorism of the historical statement that opens the book; a statement which describes a European education as the “seed of civilization” and thereby strongly suggests that the curricula were a product of “civilizing” influence. Really the curriculum is quite similar to what a young piano student might begin with today, assuming their teacher were willing to center their education on the European canon; several technique and method books are employed, and the progression from grades I-VI moves from simple Clementi sonatinas to Chopin etudes and ballades.

Therein lies the interest of this artifact. As beloved as this school may have been to some attendees and some members of its community (according to the testimony at the beginning of the Ayer collection, that is), there seems little doubt that the Cherokee National Female Seminary was complicit in the whitewashing of Cherokee students following the Trail of Tears. If the curriculum is indisputably Eurocentric, implicitly devaluing the Native musical traditions which would have surrounded these students growing up, and taught exclusively by white teachers, how could it be anything else? It was a victory for the community, in a way, but one that was only necessitated by the awful realties of the white man’s westward expansion. The existence and community status of schools such as this adds another shade of nuance to the consideration of education as a tool for cultural erasure during this time period.

What I can say, however, is that this artifact makes a strong case for the rejection of the cannon that’s happening in music education today. If the cannon is part of what we now consider to be a heinous cultural genocide, how could we possibly justify not expanding our musical borders and changing our approaches to pedagogy from the very first days of a student’s musical life? Exclusion of a student’s cultural traditions from their music curricula, while it isn’t on the level of the violence inflicted on too many children at too many white-run boarding schools over the past several centuries, is an act of cultural violence. Music education must be rooted in a student’s internal musical self, in the music of the student’s community, to avoid the racist, classist valuation of music that’s persisted for centuries in the western world. Some pedagogical methods, like Kodaly, incorporate elements of this belief, and are gaining significance in the pedagogical world. But we have a long way to go yet toward the goal of making music education more equitable, just, and culturally inclusive.

Footnotes

1 U.S. Department of the Interior. (2019). Cherokee Female Seminary, OK (U.S. National Park Service). National Parks Service. Retrieved September 21, 2022, from https://www.nps.gov/places/cherokee-female-seminary-ok.htm

2 Brad Agnew, “Cherokee Male and Female Seminaries,” The Encyclopedia of Oklahoma History and Culture, https://www.okhistory.org/publications/enc/entry.php?entry=CH018.

3 I attempt to name the original tribe here out of respect for the land’s origins and to acknowledge (first steps) the settler-colonial history of the US. But a quick Google search will reveal that even the Kaw people may have immigrated to this area from the east coast in the 1600’s, and it’s difficult to trace the history any farther back than that. I include this footnote as a form of full disclosure and to encourage any interested reader to do some more digging into the topic.

4 Ayer, Edward E. 1906. An illustrated souvenir catalog of the Cherokee National Female Seminary, Tahlequah, Indian Territory, 1850-1906, Printed Book; Tribe Record. N.p.: Indian Print Shop. http://www.aihc.amdigital.co.uk/Documents/Details/Ayer_F389_T128_c522_1906.

Contemporary Meets Traditional: Modern Day Native American Music

When studying Native American music, it is common to hear the earliest recordings of indigenous music taped by Francis Densmore in the early twentieth century. As students and musicologists, we turn to these recordings for many reasons. We listen in order to observe and acknowledge the history embedded in this music. We hear both the beauty of the long-standing traditions of Native American people, along with the racist beginnings of our own field of study. Numerous intense emotions are wrapped up in these recordings: awe and curiosity along with disappointment and generational pain. While there are many excellent educational and valuable reasons to listen to these recordings, what if we continued our study of Native American musicking by fixing our gaze on the more recent past, or even the present? Perhaps by observing the recordings and music being created and produced by Native Americans during the more recent past, we can begin to understand what this music sounds like today and what influences and is influenced by this music. By examining a music review from a 1996 publication of Akwesasne Notes along with some of the music that the artists mentioned in the article wrote and produced, we might begin to learn more about what the soundscape of the modern Native American has begun to sound like in recent history.

When reading through Radioactive Indians – Music Reviews by Alex Jones, the variety of musical influences used in modern Native American music becomes operant. For example, Jones describes the music of the ensemble Brian Black Thunder “as country music with some rock flourishes”. The instrumentation of Brian Black Thunder’s music also includes. “mandolin, strings, piano, [and] organ” (Jones 114). A musical feature from the same periodical entitled Howard Lyons: Traditional Roots Empowering Contemporary Music, also describes the way that genres and influences intersect in the music of Indigenous musicians. In this feature, Lyons’ album Hope and Dreams is described as a combination of “the beautiful rhythms and repetition of traditional native music” and “the acoustic instrumentation and simple melodies of mainstream folk music” (117). Both of these examples, along with many others in these articles, exemplify an effort made by Native musicians at the time to embrace some musical features which would be beyond the boundaries of what might be considered traditional Native American music. 

There does seem to be a variety of ideas about the role of genre bending in Native American music today. In an article in News from the Indian Country, Lyons states, “I would like to stay close to my roots because there is so much that can be said through my music and through our history that people can benefit from”. In addition, Lyons stated that he does not wish to capitalize on the sacred musical traditions of his tribe. While his music is clearly inspired by his identity, he appears to value having a separate spiritual life rooted in the music traditions of his tribe. 

By turning our eyes towards music made by Native American composers and performers in the recent past and present, we might begin to see this music as a living, ever-changing and developing art rather than something stuck in antiquity with Francis Densmore. If we claim to value representation in our field of study, we ought not allow Densmore to clearly stand out as a primary figure for native musics. Instead, we ought to look to present and past musicians and artists who continue to the work of creating this music. In so doing, we can work towards creating more accurate portrayals of what a certain musical community looks and sounds like. 

Bibliography:

Jones, Alex. “Radioactive Indians – Music Review.” Akwesasne Notes, 1996, 114-116. 

Lyons, Howard. “Howie Lyons Music.” Howard Lyons: Native American Musician. https://www.howielyons.com/music.html. Accessed 21 September 2022.

Murg, Wilhelm. “Musical Spirit Walker – Interview with Howard Lyons.” News from Indian Country, Jul 15, 2002. ProQuest, https://www.proquest.com/newspapers/musical-spirit-walker-interview-with-howard-lyons/docview/367717161/se-2.

“Howard Lyons: Traditional Roots Empowering Contemporary Music.” Akwesasne Notes, 1996, 117.

Musical Performance or Spectacle? Documenting Native Music and Ritual

I came across a journal kept by George Catlin, an explorer and painter traveling the American West in the 1830s, in which he documents a yearly Mandan ceremony commemorating a great flood, in the American Indian Histories and Cultures database. While Catlin describes the ceremony as a dance and documents the role of singing and drumming in the ritual, he spends far more time describing the elaborate costumes of the dancers and the story they are telling than he does describing the music itself.

This is typical of a wider attitude which prevailed among ethnomusicologists, historians, and the public until fairly recently that Native American musical traditions were little more than primitive chants and drum beats and were certainly not artifacts of high culture like the European musical canon.1 This attitude meant that Native music was often not taken seriously by early observers like Sir Francis Drake and John Smith, whose descriptions of “a most miserable and doleful manner of shreeking [sic]” and “such a terrible noise as would rather affright” the listener echo those of Catlin.2 Even the work of later authors like Frances Densmore and Alice Fletcher, who pioneered serious ethnomusicological investigation of Native traditions, often relied on theories of social evolution to justify the idea that Native Americans and their music could not possibly be as advanced as European culture and music.4

Catlin’s focus on the story being told seems more appropriate to a play or pantomime rather than a musical performance. He does not analyze the music itself beyond a few short comments, but describes at length the elaborate costumes of the dancers and the many animals and natural phenomena they represent, noting that “many curious and grotesque amusements and ceremonies” took place over the four days of the ceremony.3 Besides devoting several pages of text to describing the ceremony, Catlin also preserved it in several paintings. Catlin mentions that large water-filled sacks were used as drums, along with rattles, to accompany a song which is repeated many times throughout the ritual, and notes that it was impossible to obtain a translation of this song, as it was a closely guarded secret even within the tribe. However, beyond these observations he makes no attempt to analyze the lyrics, composition, or instrumentation of the song, focusing instead on the visual spectacle of the bull-dance, which he describes as being “of an exceedingly grotesque and amusing character”.3

As an explorer who was clearly dedicated to documenting the rituals he saw both on the page and the canvas, it is fair to assume that Catlin was truly interested in preserving the details of the ceremony he was witnessing. Of course, Catlin was far from a trained ethnomusicologist, as the field didn’t even exist for fifty years after he was writing, and therefore did not have the same goals or values and was probably not musically trained. However, this amateur status actually reveals that Catlin’s attitude that the ceremony was simply too far outside of his experience to count as music and was not worth preserving or even really discussing was a common reaction to Native music. While these cultural attitudes clearly had nothing to do with formal training or education, they were still taken as scientific truth for decades.

HBCU Marching Band- Quo Vadis?

As an extension to our semester group project on Historically Black College and University (HBCU) Marching Band, I’m going to explore and reflect on the topic of gender roles and implications in HBCU marching band traditions and visions going forth.

First emerging as a military tradition, the marching band experience can be closely associated with not just musical talents but also discipline, hard work, as well as conservative values such as traditional gender expectations and roles. And indeed when we think about a marching band performance on a football stadium, it’s not hard to picture groups of girls doing their dancing routines while their male counterparts doing heavy percussion and marching routines.


A YouTube video documenting the 2019 North Carolina A&T State University Marching Band routine.

As our society is gradually progressing from our learned gender dichotomy towards an intersectional lens to understand, respect and welcome non-binary and LGBTQ community into the different facets of social structures and system, more research and studies are starting to take an interest on the gendered structure of a marching band. However, even though interests have been taken into this matter, literature concerning such are focused on Predominantly White Institutions (PWI) and not so much for student experiences in HBCU.

“While professional educational literature concerning racial identity, sexual identity and sexual orientation of students have been emerging, the literature is widely from White, Euro-American perspectives and excludes the Black gay male experience.” (Carter, 27)

In a research done by Bruce Allen Carter, he revealed that all the four participants who all identified as black gay male shared the sentiment that there’s a constant state of anxiety surrounding their participation in HBCU marching band and that “there’s nothing better or nothing worse than being Black, gay and in the Marching band” (Carter, 37)

In a essay Reclaiming the Beat: The Sweet Subversive Sounds of HBCU Marching Bands written by Antron D. Mahoney, he also shed light on the experiences of non-binary communities in the marching band and pointed out an underground performance practice “J-setting” or “bucking” that is an outlet for self-expression and community building for many non-binary or LGBTQ black males. These underground practices, similar to what females partake on a regular basis in marching bands, are being criticized and ostracized as a transgressive art form. This documentary When the Beat Drops as referenced in Mahoney’s essay further elaborates on the experiences of non-cis black men as well as origins, significance and development of “J-setting” and “bucking” as a new fledging art form.



According to HBCU marching band scholar, Yulanda Essoka, she attributed the success and competitiveness of HBCU bands to their distinct style that integrates and meshes up different genres and styles of music and routines than their PWI counterparts.(Mahoney, 83) This is often celebrated as the pride of HBCU bands, an ode to musical experiences of blackness and diversity. Will we take the next step to embrace also queerness, gayness, intersectionality and celebrate their embodied pride and experiences through marching band?

As I continue to contemplate on this topic, I envision a more in-depth extension to our HBCU marching band mapping project to be focusing on mapping data of existing scholars’ findings and statistics of intersectional, LGBTQ participation and experiences at HBCUs as well as collaborating with HBCUs in further research, data collection, support and even reformation in the band culture for a more inclusive experience for the non-binary and LGBTQ community.

Sources:

Carter, Bruce Allen. “‘Nothing Better or Worse Than Being Black, Gay, and in the Band.’” Journal of Research in Music Education. 61, no. 1 (2013): 26–43. https://doi.org/10.1177/0022429412474470.


2019 HBCU HOMECOMING & BAND SHOWCASE | NC A&T State Takes Field Highlights. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vIX3AuqPKLs

Mahoney, Antron D. “Reclaiming the Beat: The Sweet Subversive Sounds of HBCU Marching Bands.” Southern Cultures 27, no. 4 (2021): 78–97. https://doi.org/10.1353/scu.2021.0059.

When the Beat Drops. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WxLY1Aydebo

“A Dying People”

Through the digital archives of the American Indian Histories and Cultures, I came across some Akwesasne Notes newspaper articles and as I read through them, this article struck me deeply, especially in juxtaposition to some of the texts and journals we read in class written by European settlers and expansionists.


Screenshots of the article titled A Dying People in the Akwesasne Notes, Vol 13, No. 5, Winter 1981.

To begin with, Akwesasne Notes is a newspaper publication of the Mohawk Nation, named after the location Akwesasne, situated between the New York and Canadian borders. The publication first started in 1968 and continued irregularly through 1992 until a hiatus until 1995 in which new series were published until 1997.

In this news article, a journalist from Albany was struck by the state of constant decay at Akwesasne both environmentally and culturally and went around town seeking opinions from some locals. The response he got from Marcy was painful and saddening. Marcy attributed big parts of the cultural disintegration and the fading sense of community towards the young generations’ reluctance in learning their own traditions– the white assimilation.

A video documenting the importance of the water bodies in Akwesasne, its pollution and the potential for works of restoration.

“The white man’s ways, money, it confused us… it weakened us. We forgot about the real things… How to fight for the real things… They poisoned us, they tricked us.” – Marcy


The assimilation process as she described was characterized with deceit and dishonesty, using temporal materialistic gains such as money as bait for natives to abandon their traditional ways and beliefs. The consequences of a collective assimilation was devastating and irreversible. On one hand we see the issue of clashing ideals and different ways of life between the natives and the Americans; on the other hand, there’s the question of how to make amends and restore the damage and disruption.

The colonizers, settlers and the United States government in their misguided attempts to “convert”, “educate” and “civilize” the Native Americans, failed to acknowledge and respect an alternative way of living and belief system just as valid as their own realities. Marcy in the article wishes the white men to stop using their ways to make amends and instead just leave it alone. Maybe instead of forcing our ways and realities on others, we should make the effort to learn from them, to restore and rebuild the community and cultural heritage in their ways instead of ours.

In terms of folk tunes, poems and music-making, I’ve seen many attempts in academia to analyze and make sense of Native American music using western music terminology and descriptions. Although it is a gateway of connection, it is still a reluctant refusal to really see and experience a different culture that is different from our realities. I hope in academia, scholars will start becoming more aware of their own positionality and use terminologies accurate of Native American cultures.

Sources:

mdigital.co.uk/Documents/Images/Ayer_Akwesasne_Notes_1981_12Wnt/2?v=1652413313&SessionExpired=True

https://youtu.be/L1ePZtYxy7A

https://onlinebooks.library.upenn.edu/webbin/serial?id=akewsasnenotes

https://www.fold3.com/collection/native-american

A Blog on Bert Williams


In today’s blog post, I want to dive in to talk about Bert Williams (1874-1922), a popular black comedian, singer and film director in the entertainment industry at the turn of the century. He was also a pioneer of bringing African-American participation and involvement in the entertainment and music industry in the early 20th century. I came across Bert Williams as I browsed through the sheet music consortium, finding a printed sheet music of Somebody Else, Not Me published with Bert Williams at the front cover in blackface.


The piece titled “Somebody Else – Not me” was composed by Hanley, James F. (James Frederick), 1892-1942 with lyrics by Ballard MacDonald (1882-1935) for voice and piano. It was famously performed and introduced by Bert Williams in the musical Broadway Brevities at the New York Winter Garden. Featuring Bert Williams himself in blackface, the cover was printed by New York : Shapiro Bernstein & Co, c1920.

The following are the lyrics and recording of the piece “Somebody Else, Not Me” performed by Bert Williams.


To begin with, “blackface” was a racist performance tradition popular in the United States a century or two ago where white Americans of European descent put on temporary black pigments in minstrel shows to portray black Americans in a theatrical or even derogatory manner with the intention to entertain white audiences. Although nowadays, we consider this to be a deeply racist tradition, it was unfortunately a socially-acceptable common practice in the 19th and early 20th century. With the start of racial awakening and awareness stemming from the civil rights movements in the 1950s, the Blackface tradition started to decline and was beginning to be considered as an outright racist practice.

Now, jumping back in time to Bert Williams’ contemporary in the late 19th to early 20th century when minstrel shows and blackface traditions were prominent, that was also a time when racial inequality and discrimination led to the exclusion and devaluation of black people in most industries and professions. Bert Williams himself was born in the Bahamas and migrated with his family to Florida in the United States when he was 11. Despite being a black American, he was determined to be in the entertainment industry and started performing, joining various minstrel troops around the states in 1886 even if it meant that he also had to smear black pigments on his face to partake in shows and entertainments that essentially taunted his own racial identity and experiences. He later met the dancer George Walker and together, they created the first all-black performance cast and was one of the most famous African American performance troupes ever.


Some of the interesting and important things to note is that in Bert Williams’ famous silent-film “Natural Born Gambler”, he appeared in a self-imposed blackface as many other of his works. It presents highly racialized stereotypes and themes such as black people being deceitful and dishonest and taking advantage of wealthy white people. However, as Williams created this as entertainment for white audiences, this film was a great success congruent with societal dynamics. Partly because his role as a black producer and performer himself enables the white audiences to feel even more at ease knowing it was created willingly by a black person himself with the intention to entertain. However, in the ending of the story, the black man is arrested while the white man has a three-day grace period to leave town, reflecting the racial injustice congruent to the time that is still relevant even to this day.


In a way, we can see Bert Williams as a successful breakthrough for black people’s involvement in the entertainment industry even though through his works, he had to reinforce or create racial stereotypes for humor and entertainment. “Blackface” as a practice is in a way a means to be included in a highly racialized society. We see a lot of BIPOC comedians even nowadays participate in self-deprecating humor as a way to entertain or relate to the BIPOC identity and experience.

Black Music origins: Identity, Integration, Assimilation

Nowadays if someone is to debate whether Black Music, however they define it, is simply a copy or imitation of white music, it would be outrageously offensive and unacceptable. However, back in just the past few centuries, in the somewhat recent past, (white) scholars have differing views and have even attempted to conduct pseudo-“scientific” research to prove otherwise. For instance, George Pullen Jackson, in 1943, attempted to compare black folk songs and spirituals to many white folk songs and hymnals, trying to prove it using a flawed, and biased style of commentary.

Continuing my attempt to learn and search for the origins of “Black Music”, I looked into the archives from the African American Newspaper collections. What caught my attention was this article called “Plea for Negro Folklore” published in The Freeman in Indianapolis, Indiana, dated January 27, 1894.

Black cultural heritage and performance practices have been endangered and “whitewashed” since the early times. In an attempt to seek and preserve the roots of the black cultural heritage, both tangible and intangible, this piece of news article calls for action to connect with and rediscover authentic Black experience instead of passively accepting the predominantly whitewashed, assimilated cultural stereotypes.

“Plea for Negro Folklore” published in The Freeman in Indiannapolis, Indiana, dated January 27, 1894.


The writer is concerned that an immeasurable amount of black cultural heritage such as folklores, songs and poems are in imminent danger of being lost as younger generations of black Americans are eager and swift to embrace and integrate themselves into the white dominated academia, society and culture.



“The common school system with its teachings of eradicating the old and planting the seeds of the new, and the transition period is likely to be a short one.”
(quote from the news article)


I then looked further for some African-American folklores and stumbled upon this audio visual narrative of The Myth of the Flying African on youtube. This story is also told by Virginia Hamilton in her narrative of African-American Folklores series- The People Could Fly.


“Kum kuba yali
Kum buba tambe
Kum konku yali
Kum konku tambe”
(In the legend, these words and many variations of such are believed and spoken by many enslaved for their freedom from bondage, according to Virginia Hamilton as well as many other sources)


The following is an audio recording of a tune in which the origins can be attributed to this folklore, sung by an African American female. Although this is only one among the many existing as well as lost folksongs and folklores of African American heritage, it speaks to the authenticity of Black Culture and Music.





Bibliography / Source:

Freeman (Indianapolis, Indiana) 6, no. 4, January 27, 1894: [2]. Readex: African American Newspapers.https://infoweb.newsbank.com/apps/readex/doc?p=EANAAA&docref=image/v2%3A12B28495A8DAB1C8%40EANAAA-12C8A12E849E6750%402412856-12C8A12E9A8258B0%401.

George Pullen Jackson, White and Negro Spirituals (1943)


Henry Krehbiel, Afro-American Folksongs: A Study in Racial and National Music (1914).

AFRICAN-AMERICAN FOLKLORE SERIES | Episode III: The Myth of the Flying African. https://youtu.be/F1NjulB7v1Y?t=669

Learn Your Genres (and History)!

The way white people describing Black Americans and their music never ceases to shock me, especially from an older source like a 1920s newspaper article. In the specific article I will be referring to, the title is “Dancers Need Substitute for U.S. Jazz”. At first glance, I thought it was a flier notifying its readers that dancers for a show were needed, but this is not at all what the article dives into. 

 

It was hard to tell where this “article” came from because there was no author stated and all it says at the top is “Prague, Czech Home Service”. I was unsure if this was a newspaper or a subsection of a paper. This was extra confusing because the topic was on American music but there were European countries in it. However, after a closer look, I realized that it was a transcribed message from, likely, a radio show. 

 

The very first “ear” catching statement made by the narrator was quoted from a musical composer “many people are unable to realize the difference between jazz and dance music”(Par. 1) The narrator goes on to share their own thoughts on this statement. It is a bit hard to deduce who the narrator is and anything of their background, but it seems like they have only heard the white american perspective. Comments such as “Old Negro folk songs were only sung. Their rhythm originated from the rhythm of work. So-called modern jazz has no effect on feelings, but only on the lowest primitive urges.”, and “American owners of slaves and plantations”(Par. 3-4). This second comment alone lets me know that this narrator didn’t view these people as enslavers. This to me says that they don’t understand the trauma and suffering of slavery, therefore they don’t understand the meaning behind slave songs. Slave songs also aren’t jazz. They influenced jazz, but the reverse is not true.


Work Cited:

DANCERS NEED SUBSTITUTE FOR U.S. JAZZ. (1954, March 17) Prague, Czech Home Service. Translated in DAILY REPORT. FOREIGN RADIO BROADCASTS (Publication no. FBIS-FRB-54-053, published 1954, March 18), HH2-HH3. Available from Readex: American Race Relations: Global Perspectives, 1941-1996: https://infoweb-newsbank-com.ezproxy.stolaf.edu/apps/readex/doc?p=TOPRACE&docref=image/v2%3A12895BC6AA32DB40%40FBISX-131CEE8714B10AF8%402434820-131CEE95A3BF5E00%4036-131CEE9605E97168%40DANCERS%2BNEED%2BSUBSTITUTE%2BFOR%2BU.S.%2BJAZZ.

Edgard Varése and William Grant Still – A Mentorship Gone Wrong?

William Grant Still

Edgard Varése

William Grant Still’s feelings on the importance of musical form could not possibly be made clearer than in his 1950 essay, The Structure of Music. He describes in detail the importance of learning the rules of musical form, and how laying out the form of a piece is integral to his composition process. However, most striking about this essay was the way that Still opens and closes by thoroughly berating composers who reject traditional musical form in favor of a modern, atonal sound. 

“They believe that in order to compose, one need only find a few bizarre harmonies, string them together without thought of melody, form or sequence, and emerge with a ‘composition’ that would bring them acclaim.”

“Indeed, it is hard to detect the actual themes, since the members of this school actually scorn what we know as melody.”

“Their occasional consonant intervals are weak because of bad handling; their vaunted counterpoint is incorrect, disjointed and muddled.”

These strong words left me with one particular question for Still. Who hurt you? In her introduction to Still’s essay within the collection Readings in Black American Music, Eileen Southern mentions that he had gone through a phase of writing “experimental music” before deciding to go in a different direction. In all of his admonitions against composers who abandoned form, was Still merely repeating what critics had said about his compositions from this experimental phase? In the beginning of his essay, he insists that “faulty form is immediately apparent” to a trained listener, and that an untrained listener “will wonder why he has not been able to retain a coherent impression of what has been performed.” This sounds to me like evidence taken from personal experience.

William Grant Still did indeed compose at least two works that were on the edgy side for his time, namely From the Land of Dreams in 1924 and Levee Land in 1925. Both works were performed and immediately withdrawn after puzzled reviews from critics. He received feedback that called his compositions “curious noises,” “unprofitable to compose or listen to,” and “a slavish imitation of the noises which Edgard Varése calls compositions.” 

Edgard Varése was a French-American composer who worked closely with Still as one of his mentors, even called one of his most influential teachers by several sources. His music, or as he called it, “organized sound,” fits all too perfectly into the category of music criticized by Still in 1950. In the 1920s, when he was working with Still, he was producing works like this:

By the 1950s, when Still had completely rejected any kind of experimental music, Varése was still going strong. 

This leads me to believe that sometime in between Still’s more experimental compositions and his complete rejection thereof, his relationship with Edgard Varése changed somehow. I’d like to imagine that there was a dramatic argument where the very purpose of musical composition was brought into question. Perhaps someday I can uncover some telltale correspondence between these two composers that will reveal the truth about their disagreement.

Sources:

“Edgard Varèse [1883-1965] – ‘Hyperprism’ [1923].” YouTube. YouTube, August 11, 2015. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=FWXRAOLMq1M. “

Edgard Varèse – Déserts.” YouTube. YouTube, August 9, 2019. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1cnEo7-g880. 

“Edgard Varèse.” Smithsonian Institution. Accessed December 20, 2021. https://www.si.edu/object/edgard-varese:npg_NPG.97.120. 

Griffiths, Paul. “Varèse, Edgard [Edgar].” Grove Music Online. Oxford University Press, January 20, 2001. https://www-oxfordmusiconline-com.ezproxy.stolaf.edu/grovemusic/view/10.1093/gmo/9781561592630.001.0001/omo-9781561592630-e-0000029042?rskey=FVClre&result=2#omo-9781561592630-e-0000029042-section-3. 

Murchison, Gayle, and Catherine Parsons Smith. “Still, William Grant.” Grove Music Online. Oxford University Press, January 20, 2001. https://www-oxfordmusiconline-com.ezproxy.stolaf.edu/grovemusic/view/10.1093/gmo/9781561592630.001.0001/omo-9781561592630-e-0000026776?rskey=PNPQkx.

Peyton, Dave. “THE MUSICAL BUNCH: THINGS IN GENERAL.” The Chicago Defender (National Edition) (1921-1967), Nov 13, 1926. https://www.proquest.com/historical-newspapers/musical-bunch/docview/492099005/se-2?accountid=351.

Smith, Catherine Parsons. William Grant Still: A Study in Contradictions. Berkeley, Calif:  University of California Press,  c2000 2000. http://ark.cdlib.org/ark:/13030/ft1h4nb0g0/

Smith, Catherine Parsons. “William Grant Still, Darker America, Africa, Symphony No. 2.” American Symphony Orchestra. American Symphony Orchestra, April 22, 2020. https://americansymphony.org/concert-notes/darker-america-1924-africa-1930symphony-no-2-1937/. 

Southern, Eileen, and William Grant Still. “William Grant Still.” Essay. In Readings in Black American Music, 314–17. New York, New York: W.W. Norton, 1983. 

“William Grant Still, 1895-1978.” The Library of Congress. Accessed December 20, 2021. https://www.loc.gov/item/ihas.200186213. 

 

Music Education in 1882 Was A Dark Place

The coverpage of the J. W. Pepper’s French Horn book.

For today’s blog post, I decided to search up something I find interesting, which is French horn. I went onto the Library of Congress database, and I found this horn method book. I thought that was an interesting primary source to look into, and see if there are any interesting things in here that reflect social issues and surprise surprise, we did find something. 

What we are looking at today is a horn method book, specifically the J. W. Pepper’s Self Instruction for French Horn. It was published by J. W. Pepper in Philadelphia in 1882. This was an ongoing collection of self instruction method books for instruments, and I thought that was quite cool. I am not entirely sure what age group this collection is marketed towards, because adults would be able to read this book and get a vague idea of how to play the french horn, but kids would literally stare at this book and not know what to do. 

I mean… the book wasn’t really marketed towards kids, but this is still way too much method way too little fun. XD

Compared to method books nowadays, such as Standard of Excellence, it is a lot more readable for kids because the amount of information presented on the page would not overwhelm them. There are also graphics so that the children can be entertained, whereas this book is a lot more bland. The instruments selected are mostly band and orchestra instruments, and there were also books on Fife, Accordion and Flageolet, which is an instrument I have never heard of before. I did a quick search about its origin, and according to Encyclopedia Britannica, it originated and developed in Paris, France, and it served the role of modern day piccolo in an orchestra. However, in that collection, there is already a piccolo method book. Hmmm. Eurocentrism? 

I might be jumping the gun here, but let’s take a closer look at the excerpts provided here. It is all, yes, ALL European music. The title of this section says Fifty Classic, Popular and Operatic Melodies, but there is no variety in representation. On top of that, there is a lot of patriotism snuggled in, such as tunes like Stars Spangled Banner and America. What really made me question the legitimacy of this collection is the actual music itself. In a lot of the tunes, the highest pitch is a horn G, which is not beginner friendly at all. When I played the horn, it took about two to three years to get there. Wow, music education sure was a lot darker back then.

 

Works Cited

“Flageolet.” Encyclopædia Britannica, Encyclopædia Britannica, Inc., https://www.britannica.com/art/flageolet-musical-instrument.

J. W. Pepper’s Self instructor for french horn. Pepper, J. W., Philadelphia,monographic, 1882. Notated Music. Retrieved from the Library of Congress, <www.loc.gov/item/sm1882.15228/>.

Standard of Excellence: Comprehensive Band Method Book 1 (French Horn). Kjos (Neil A.) Music, 1997. Print.

Villancico

As I embarked on mapping the musical traditions in colonial Mexico, my teammates and I were quite frankly overwhelmed with a vast time period, the vast geography, and despite the amount of music being made, we were faced with a scarcity of primary and secondary sources alike. One way in which we were able to come into contact with primary sources is through the online database at the National Autonomous University of Mexico. This database has a large amount of the Villancicos which were a popular form of music at the time. A villancico is now known as a Christmas carol, but during the colonial period in Mexico, these songs were often set to love poems, poetry, or religious text. They were sung in the vernacular and had an alternating refrain and verse. Moreover, villancico’s varied widely and there were different genres such as a villancico negrilla which depicted the style and dance of African slaves in the colonies1.

Before we begin, I do want to clarify what a chapelmaster was. During the era of colonization, chapelmasters were in charge of all music at a cathedral and often composed and performed in the cathedral. The job of Chapelmaster was reserved for individuals with musical talent and Spain sent chapelmasters from all over Europe to preside over the cathedrals in the Spanish colonies. Furthermore, cathedrals were the place in which all ‘art music’ was performed. basically, they were the concert halls of colonial Mexico2.

The villancico I would like to look at for the purpose of this blog post is by a chapelmaster named Antonio Slazaar and was written between 1650 and 1715. The name of this song is “Va de vejamen” which translates to “goes from humiliation”. Antonio Salazar was originally born in Spain and became the chapelmaster of the Puebla Cathedral and later at the Mexico City Cathedral. Antonio Salazar is also one of the most famous composers of the Baroque period in Mexico.

“Va de vejamen” is a part of Salazar’s set of 6 songs called “A sies de la Natividad de Nuestra Señora” or “6 to the nativity of our lady”. Salazar’s piece is about the Christmas season, but not all villancicos were and I want to be clear about that because it is often assumed all villancico’s are carols. I inserted a modern recording of Salazar’s piece below. Something interesting to note is how similar it sounds to a renaissance madrigal. This similarity is common with villancico’s. There is also percussion instrumentation and a strummed string instrument.

The piece itself luckily was preserved well and we have digital access through the National Autonomous University of Mexico database. It includes the parts for the different instruments and voices all written separately. I would encourage you to listen again and try and follow along in the score, especially the tenor3.

 

1“Repertoire.” San Francisco Bach Choir: Antonio de Salazar. Accessed December 12, 2021. https://www.musicanet.org/sfbc/repertoire/salazara.html.
2Pedelty, Mark. Musical Ritual in Mexico City: From the Aztec to NAFTA. Austin, UNITED STATES: University of Texas Press, 2004. http://ebookcentral.proquest.com/lib/stolaf-ebooks/detail.action?docID=3443236.


http://www.musicat.unam.mx/nuevo/estrada_resultado.php#3

New Spanish Villancicos and Cultural Appropriation

The villancico was the most popular musical genre in the Spanish colonies of New Spain and Peru, dominating the cathedral radio waves from the 16th century through the end of the 18th. A somewhat ambiguous term, villancicos are best understood as folk tunes and texts formalized into a Renaissance or Baroque style and performed by cathedral musicians on feast days and holidays, especially the feasts of Immaculate Conception, Corpus Christi, and Christmas. There was a wide variety of texts and instrumentations used to compose these villancicos; especially in the colonies, they would also take on the dialect or “style” of an ethnic group, particularly that of Aztecs and enslaved Africans in the form of tocotines and negrillos, respectively.1

It isn’t difficult to see the parallels throughout the history of the Americas; as they say, history doesn’t necessarily repeat itself, but it often rhymes. The ubiquity of villancicos negros is just an early iteration of the same general trend of Europeans appropriating dialect associated with enslaved Africans and their descendants for views, just like 19th century minstrelsy and 21st century white TikTokers. In New Spain and Peru, villancicos negros were extremely popular and can be found in almost every major cathedral archive.2 Beyond being labeled as such, negrillos can best be identified by the use of onomatopoetic syllables and dialectic speech in the text, and syncopation in the music; besides these elements, they tended to be composed much the same as other villancicos.3

“Tarará, qui yo soy Antón,” by Música Temprana

The above audio is a recording by Música Temprana, a Netherlands-based Early Music group specializing in Latin American Baroque, of a villancico negro by 17th century composer and chapel master Antonio de Salazar. The refrain (estribillo) “Tarará, qui yo soy Antón” is repeated between short verses (coplas); the elements of a typical negrillo, onomatopoeia and strong syncopation, are quite apparent in this piece, especially in the refrains. The large majority of chapel masters, who were composing the most music, had either immigrated from Europe or were descended from Europeans; in modern lingo their use of dialectic styles in these villancicos negros, whether “accurate” or not, would be considered cultural appropriation. 

1 Pope, Isabel, and Paul R. Laird. “Villancico.” Grove Music Online. 2001; Accessed 14 Dec. 2021. https://www.oxfordmusiconline.com/grovemusic/view/10.1093/gmo/9781561592630.001.0001/omo-9781561592630-e-0000029375.

2 Stevenson, Robert. “Renaissance and Baroque Musical Sources in the Americas” Washington: General Secretariat, Organization of American States, 1970.

3 Stevenson, Robert. “Ethnological Impulses in the Baroque Villancico.”. 1994 Inter-American Music Review 14, no. 1: 67-106, https://www.proquest.com/scholarly-journals/ethnological-impulses-baroque-villancico/docview/1309815/se-2?accountid=351.

More on Florence Price

Florence Price was one of the countless Black musicians in America to compose and perform during the 19th century. She was a classical pianist, composer, organist, music teacher, and the first Black woman to have her composition played by an orchestra. Doing a Google search for her though turns up many articles about how America has forgotten about her. During the time of her life, however, audiences seemed quite delighted with her performances. A search on newspapers.com reveals many reviews of her doing all kinds of performance.

This clipping from Chester, Pennsylvania in 1917 reads: “Mrs. Florence Price was greeted with a complimentary audience at the auditorium where she made her debut a few years ago…Her rich, clear contralto voice was never heard to better advantage. She carried her audience throughout the program, and the hearty applause she received showed the appreciation.”1 Interestingly, the rest of the review goes on to talk about what she was wearing that night. I did not look, but doubt performance reviews for H.T. Burleigh capitalized on his wardrobe choices. Perhaps this is one of the reasons America has forgotten about her. After all, she won the Wanamaker prize just as H.T. Burleigh, Nathaniel Dett, and William Dawson all did. Her symphony in E minor for which she won the Wanamaker award for in 1923 is particularly interesting to analyze. According to a review by notorious commentator Alain Locke, her symphony provided a way for any person to enjoy music in an “un-racialized” way because it did not include overt references to recognizable African American music. Instead, the way it incorporates folk songs is by use of the pentatonic scale, juba rhythms, polyrhythms, and call and response.2

[1] 31 Jan 1917. Delaware County Daily Times. https://www.newspapers.com/image/5425595/?terms=%22Florence%20price%22%20piano&match=1

[2] Floyd, Samuel A. Black Music in the Harlem Renaissance: A Collection of Essays. Knoxville: University of Tennessee Press, 1993.

What we can learn from the Harlem Renaissance

So often throughout history, research evidence has been used to enforce master narratives of White supremacy and anti-Black racism while also conditioning us to believe that this social order is, in fact, legitimate. To not have to acknowledge the use of research evidence in the maintenance of White supremacy and anti-Black racism is itself an act of White supremacy and anti-Black racism.

David E. Kirkland, No Small Matters: Reimagining the use of Research Evidence from a Racial Justice Perspective

This is how higher educational music departments are maintained in my opinion. In other words, sometimes it’s hard to recognize when courses are exclusionary because we have been conditioned to believe it is natural. Specifically, I justified the exclusion of people of color performers and musicians in most of my music education for a long time with the idea that white power led to underrepresentation. It seems antiracist enough, until I realized that underrepresentation is an illegitimate social order which we have the power to change. If you saw my last blog post, I talked more in depth about how music departments are shaped by white power after reading Philip Ewell’s, Music Theory’s White Racial Frame. Here though, I would like to provide some examples to support a future of inclusion in music courses. 

Studying music of white composers is so easy because it does not require much historical knowledge to understand, but why should it be a problem to give historical context to the pieces we study in theory? Ewell encourages students to challenge their professors on why they elect to share pieces with complicated histories without providing context. Dare I suggest, we might even change some of the material we study by including more pieces from historical events such as the Harlem Renaissance. Samuel Floyd Jr. writes about the creativity of Black musicians during the Harlem Renaissance in his book, Black Music in the Harlem Renaissance. He writes, “The music of Black theater shows, the dance music of the cabarets, the blues and ragtime of the speakeasies and the rent parties, the spirituals and the art songs of the recital and concert hall all provided an ambiance for Renaissance activities and contemplation.” 2 He also writes about the theft committed by white composers. The song, “Lady Be Good” is a piece by Black composers which was then ripped off by Gershwin later. I could not find the original composers in my search. Instead, here is Gershwin’s version:

Oh, Lady Be Good

With all this music making happening, at the very least there are great pieces of music that can fit into existing course structure for analysis. Ewell states that musicologists tend to be better at grappling with representation issues than music theorists, but imagine if the responsibility for representation was shared across the whole music department. Ewell writes to students, “You have power, more than you know,”3 and I do believe that we have power to chip away at our white male history. 

[1] Quoted in Ewell, Phillip. “Music Theory’s Quantitative and Qualitative Whiteness.” Music Theory’s White Racial Frame. June 26, 2020. Accessed December 14, 2021. https://musictheoryswhiteracialframe.wordpress.com/2020/04/17/music-theorys-quantitative-and-qualitative-whiteness/.

[2] Floyd. (1990). Black music in the Harlem Renaissance : a collection of essays . Greenwood Press.

[3] Ewell, Phillip By Philip. “Music Theory’s Quantitative and Qualitative Whiteness.” Music Theory’s White Racial Frame. June 26, 2020. Accessed December 14, 2021. https://musictheoryswhiteracialframe.wordpress.com/2020/04/17/music-theorys-quantitative-and-qualitative-whiteness/.

Race, Identity and Representation, but in Music Departments

I have often thought my music education is racist. There is a clear cut canon from which undergraduate students gain their foundational knowledge, and to deviate concerns what we conceive as entirely other genres. Most students at my liberal arts school utter disdain for the white male dominance of music theory and musicological course materials. And while it is true that the ability to recognize such power structures is necessary, the simple knowledge of them often soothes white discomfort into complacency. Overturning this form of dominance has its valid challenges, as we have seen in our musicology class, Race Identity and Representation in American Music. Adequate representation, however, is attainable. 

Philip Ewell, African American cellist, scholar, writer and music theorist articulates just how limited our music theory and musicology courses is his blog, Confronting Racism and Sexism in Music Theory. First, I think it bears repeating that 98.3% of the examples in the seven most common music theory textbooks are written by white composers, and only two pieces out of 2930 total were written by Asian composers. What music theory textbooks do include, however, are songs written for blackface minstrel shows such as “Oh Susanna!” by Steven Foster as examples for music theory concepts. (Indeed, you can find it on a webpage about binary form on Hello Music Theory). Ewell writes, “The inclusion of a white supremacist composer like Foster in our music theory textbooks represents the extraordinary insensitivity of music theory’s white frame—and of the textbook publishers I hasten to add—with respect to racial matters. It also points to our utter inability to recognize how whiteness has shaped the field.” 1 

Original sheet music for “Oh Susanna!” from the Christy minstrel troupe. See Edwin Christy

Trigger warning: The last page of “Oh Susanna!” with racist alternate verse text. 2

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Whiteness has also shaped the design of music departments by compartmentalizing course topics and genres. For example, at St. Olaf we have multiple levels of music theory and musicology, but any other courses seem to fit into separate topics courses like history of jazz or world music. When considering that the core of our required courses is limited to mainly white theorists and composers, and supplemental courses consist of music mainly by person of color (POC) artists, I think it sends a clear message to students that music by white people is more worth studying, even if none of the individuals in the music department hold that belief themselves. It’s not just a subliminal message either, because our knowledge of music after graduation likewise privileges white people. Graduates enter school classrooms, higher education institutions or the workforce with their highly educated yet biased definition of music. 

As I’m sure you’ve gathered, the existence of jazz courses and world music courses and their content is not the problem. In fact, I think these musics should be integrated into our entry level music theory and musicology courses. Ewell has a wonderful section on the future of music education in his blog which I intend to highlight in my next blog post. Stay tuned…

[1] Ewell, Phillip By Philip. “Music Theory’s Quantitative and Qualitative Whiteness.” Music Theory’s White Racial Frame. June 26, 2020. Accessed December 14, 2021. https://musictheoryswhiteracialframe.wordpress.com/2020/04/17/music-theorys-quantitative-and-qualitative-whiteness/.

[2 ]Oh! Susanna. C. Holt, Jr., New York, monographic, 1848. Notated Music. https://www.loc.gov/item/sm1848.441780/.

 

National Folk Festival of 1937

In searching the Chicago defender, I was curious to find any information about Frances Densmore’s colleagues. In my previous blog post, I researched James Mooney, an ethnographer of the 19th century, but I wanted to search for other scholars who worked directly with Densmore. Additionally, I was interested in what kinds of projects Densmore was involved in other than Indigenous song collection.

I found a newspaper clipping from 1937 that gives insight into Densmore’s career while giving the names of her colleagues at the time. The clipping announced the staging of the first National Folk Festival to be held in the north for May 22nd through May 28th, 1937. The National Folk Festival is a folk festival that has been run by The National Council for the Traditional Arts since 1934, with the first performance held in St. Louis, Missouri. It celebrates multi-cultural performances, and many prominent musicians, such as W.C. Handy have performed at the festival. The newspaper clipping outlines its purpose as the following:

The objective of the festival has been summed up as: “to bring together in a colorful, joy-giving National Folk festival the native and traditional Folk arts which, for centuries, have refreshed the hearts of the American people in the various sections of our land.”

Listen to a recording of the Metropolitan Community Church Choir perform “Fare Ye Well” at the festival in 1937: https://www.loc.gov/item/ihas.200196400/?

Below is a photo of an Irish group from Chicago rehearsing for the 1944 Folk Festival.

The article lists Densmore as one of the sixty members of the national committee, along with another familiar name that Music345 has engaged with, George Pullen Jackson. Jackson was an American musicologist who studied hymnody, and as the class remembers from our past discussions, had racist opinions of the origins of spirituals. Although it is unclear based on this article alone how much contact Jackson and Densmore had, they did end up on this same committee. Did they exchange ideas and influence each other? What were their motivations to be on the committee? This newspaper article reminds researchers of the importance of investigating the motivations of scholars and considering the overlap in ideas.

National Folk Festival newspaper clipping

Works Cited

“A Brief History of the National Folk Festival.” Ncta-Usa. Accessed December 14, 2021. https://ncta-usa.org/the-national-folk-festival/a-brief-history-of-the-national-folk-festival/.

Ferrell, John, photographer. Washington, D.C. Irish group from Chicago rehearsing for the National Folk Festival. United States Washington D.C. District of Columbia Washington D.C, 1942. May. Photograph. https://www.loc.gov/item/2017764309/.

Metropolitan Community Church Choir, and Sidney Robertson Cowell. Fare Ye Well. Audio. https://www.loc.gov/item/ihas.200196400/.

“National Folk Festival to be Staged in the North for First Time, may 22: People from all Over U. S. Will Come to Orchestra Hall with Songs of their Communities.” 1937.The Chicago Defender (National Edition) (1921-1967), May 22, 3. https://www.proquest.com/historical-newspapers/national-folk-festival-be-staged-north-first-time/docview/492484882/se-2?accountid=351.

Pegg, Carole, Philip V. Bohlman, Helen Myers, and Martin Stokes. “Ethnomusicology.” Grove Music Online. 2001; Accessed 14 Dec. 2021. https://www.oxfordmusiconline.com/grovemusic/view/10.1093/gmo/9781561592630.001.0001/omo-9781561592630-e-0000052178.

Jackson, George Pullen. White and Negro Spirituals : Their Life Span and Kinship, Tracing 200 Years of Untrammeled Song Making and Singing Among Our Country Folk, with 116 Songs as Sung by Both Races New York: J. J. Augustin, 1944.

Jackson, Richard. “Jackson, George Pullen.” Grove Music Online. 2001; Accessed 14 Dec. 2021. https://www.oxfordmusiconline.com/grovemusic/view/10.1093/gmo/9781561592630.001.0001/omo-9781561592630-e-0000014025.

 

 

 

Bert Williams: Still Black in a Racist America

Every popular source about Bert Williams sings his praises. Although he lived (1892-1922) during a time when racial inequality was blatant and accepted, he had an extremely successful career in the entertainment industry. He was the first black man to have a leading role in a film and a leading role on Broadway, the best-selling black recording artist before 1920, and was hailed as one of the greatest comedians of his time. 

Bert Williams was also a black minstrel performer. He and his partner Geroge Walker worked to reclaim minstrelsy and entertainment from the white performers that so often belittled and violated black life and culture through minstrel performances. And judging by his successful career, Williams was able to achieve some degree of reclamation. 

But in his article, titled “The Unfunny Bert Williams,” published in the Chicago Defender, one of the nation’s largest black newspapers, Enoch Waters juxtaposes this vision of success with a story about Bert Williams. Basically, Eddie Cantor, a white comedian, visits Williams in his room during a dinner party, only to find that Williams is eating dinner alone. Cantor accuses him of being exclusive, but Williams has to explain that he has been refused service in the restaurant downstairs, due to his race. This exposes the paradox in their society; Bert Williams is exceedingly famous among white people, loved by all, yet he still has his rights stolen from him due to the racism of the time. 

This incident happened during Bert Williams lifetime, but Enoch Waters considered it relevant material in 1954 when he published his article. And I believe that it is still relevant today. No matter the value of a person of color, or their “success,” they are still subject to the racist thoughts and systems present in our society.

 

Citations

Waters, Enoc P. “Adventures in RACE RELATIONS: The Unfunny Bert Williams.” The Chicago Defender (National Edition) (1921-1967), Aug 14, 1954. https://www.proquest.com/historical-newspapers/adventures-race-relations/docview/492840513/se-2?accountid=351.

“Bert Williams (1874-1922).” Library of Congress, biographies, https://www.loc.gov/item/ihas.200038860/#

The New Christy Minstrels: Blatant Evidence of America’s Racist Past

If you know anything about minstrelsy, you know that it is a prime example of America’s horribly racist past. But what’s striking is how present it is in our media today, almost normalizing this appalling phenomenon. 

The music group “The New Christy Minstrels” is a demonstration of the legacy of minstrelsy. But to understand this, we must first understand the old Christy Minstrels. 

Cover for sheet music used at Christy’s Minstrel shows

Cover on New Christy’s Minstrels vinyl

Minstrelsy was formed around the 1830s and was a theater tradition in which white performers painted their faces black with burnt cork and greasepaint. They would produce comedy shows satirizing black life, complete with songs, backing bands, dancing, and sketches. The Christy Minstrels were a minstrel group that formed in 1844, and toured the US, making money from performing in blackface. 

The New Christy Minstrels are a music group that performs folk music, and although they stopped producing music in the 90s, they still have over 50,000 monthly listeners on Spotify. In 1962 they won a grammy, and in 1970, they performed at the super bowl half-time show. They were extremely successful in their time, and still, hold relevance today. The founder of the New Christy Minstrels admits openly that his group is named after the original (racist) minstrel troupe, and their most popular albums feature minstrel songs. 

On the Library of Congress database, there is a recording of The New Christy Minstrels performing a song titled, “The Cotton Picker’s Song,” a piece of music that’s clearly about/sung in the voice of enslaved people. I came across this recording while searching for material about Christy’s Minstrels, the original troupe. I’m still shocked by the existence of this group and their blatant and careless references to one disgusting part of America’s past. Do they not know about the violent and unacceptable history of minstrelsy? Or do they not care? 

The New Christy Minstrels display a shocking amount of ignorance and prove that education about minstrelsy and racism is necessary.

 

Citations

​​Huse, Andy, and Simone Sanders. “The History of Minstrelsy: USF Library Special & Digital Collections Exhibits.” History of Minstrels. Accessed October 23, 2021. http://exhibits.lib.usf.edu/exhibits/show/minstrelsy/jimcrow-to-jolson/credits.

Todd, Charles L, Robert Sonkin, Lloyd Stalcup, and Lloyd Stalcup. Cotton Picker’s Song, The. Shafter FSA Camp, August 3, 1940. Audio. https://www.loc.gov/item/toddbib000046/.

“A Sioux Song” – The Power of Context

For this blog post, I decided to return back to and take a in-depth look at the American Indian Histories and Cultures archive. As we wrap up the semester and finalize our mapping projects, taking the time to locate more specific primary sources that relate to my group’s mapping project on Indigenous Song Collection and Repatriation is especially important. 

The American Indian Histories and Cultures archive presents an array of resources that detail interactions between American Indians and Europeans from their earliest noted contact. The archives’ hope is to explore the consequences of European colonization on the political, social and cultural life of American Indians. 

In a 1969 edition of The Indian, a song notated by Frances Densmore was published under the heading “A Sioux Song.” The newspaper was published by the American Indian Leadership Council in Rapid City. The Library of Congress associates the American Indian Leadership Council with the National Congress of American Indian:

“The National Congress of American Indian (NCAI) founded in 1944, is the oldest nation-wide American Indian advocacy organization of the United States… The Congress also aimed to educate the general public about Indians, preserve Indian cultural values, protect treaty rights with the United States and promote Indian welfare.”

AC# 010: Records of the National Congress of American Indians, 1933-1990

Supposedly a product of an Indigenous right organization, The Indian randomly places Densmore’s transcribed lyrics of “A Sioux Song” within the paper. There is nothing that contextualizes the music beyond the fact that it is attributed to Charging Thunder and the Sioux people. 

This article could be used as an interesting example of contrasting opinions on Frances Densmore’s song collecting work. On the one hand, “A Sioux Song” has been published within a larger collection of texts that speak to Indigenous rights and advocacy. Densmore’s song represents what the publishers saw as valuable information or knowledge that a reader could acquire should they wish to consider and evaluate Indigenous culture of South Dakota. On the other hand, this article also highlights some of the problems with Densmore’s work that we explore further in our mapping project (linked above). The lyrics that Densmore transcribed exist in a space without context and largely removed from their original meaning. It is surely a colonial idea to say that an audience is entitled to all of the information that the song contains, but considering the purpose of the newspaper and the legacy of Densmore’s song collecting work more broadly means that The Indian’s presentation of Densmore’s research might be a little too vague- not to mention that the column is titled “A Sioux Song.” Ultimately, the publication of Densmore’s “A Sioux Song” is an excellent example of some of the issues that my research group and I tried to parse out in our map and offers further examples of the value of considering context when studying music more generally. 

Works Cited:

 “National Congress of American Indians Records.” National Congress of American Indians records | National Museum of the American Indian. Accessed December 14, 2021. https://americanindian.si.edu/collections-search/archives/sova-nmai-ac-010?destination=edan_searchtab%2Farchives%3Fpage%3D1%26edan_q%3D%252A%253A%252A%26edan_fq%255B0%255D%3Dset_name%253A%2522National%2520Congress%2520of%2520American%2520Indians%2520records%2522%26edan_fq%255B1%255D%3Dset_name%253A%2522National%2520Congress%2520of%2520American%2520Indians%2520records%2520%2F%2520Series%25205%253A%2520Records%2520of%2520Indian%2520Interest%2520Organizations%2520%2F%25205.5%253A%2520Other%2520Indian%2520Organizations%2522. 

 Densmore, Frances. “A Sioux Song.” The Indian. December 1969, 9th edition. https://www.aihc.amdigital.co.uk/Documents/SearchDetails/Ayer_The_Indian_1969_12Dec_18#Snippits

Stephen Foster’s Intent and Impact with “Old folks at home”

In an earlier blog post, I came across Stephen Foster’s “Old folks at home” (also known as “Way down upon the Swanee River”), a ballad which was written for and widely performed by blackface minstrel troupes. Many of Foster’s compositions have had a prominent role in the lasting legacy of minstrelsy, and this piece is no exception. “Old folks at home” went from immediate popularity after its publication in 1851, to performances by Christine Nilsson and Adelina Patti, to designation as the state song of Florida in 1938. Through the Sheet Music Consortium database I was able to observe five different publications of the song ranging from 1851 to 1899.

The sheet music published by Firth, Pond & Co. in 1851 is unique because it claims that “Old folks at home” was composed by E. P. Christy, the leader of Christy’s Minstrels. Christy paid Foster to write the song and have it published under his name for performance by his minstrel troupe, as is made clear by the cover of the sheet music. The song is also labeled in this publication as an “Ethiopian melody”, which was interesting but not surprising, as white people at this time casually used “Ethiopian” to describe anything relating to dark-skinned people. 

The falsehood about Christy as the composer of this song must have been short-lived, because only three years later the song was published within “Foster’s Melodies Arranged for the Guitar”. All following publications that I have seen credit Foster as well.

Each publication which includes a vocal part used fairly similar dialect, although the dialectic inconsistencies present in some publications stood out to me. In the 1897 version published in Boston, the word “the” is used in the first line, but all other instances of “th” are replaced by “d.”

In the 1894 “Concert Edition”, the word “ev’ry” appears in contrast with the word “ebber” used earlier in the same music. These inconsistencies reveal the half-ass nature of the use of dialect for this piece, which reflects the broader attitude of disrespect towards the group which is supposedly being represented in this music. 

The Suwannee River in Florida, shown in red

“Old folks at home” is currently still the state song of Florida (due to its references to the Suwannee River), however, the most obviously problematic things about the song have been eliminated through the removal of dialect and the replacement of the word “darkies” with “brothers.” However, the line “still longing for the old plantation” continues to be clear and present in the first verse.

Based on letters from Stephen Foster to E. P. Christy, Foster wanted his “tragic” minstrel songs (such as “Old folks at home”) to inspire feelings of pity and compassion for slaves, rather than the ridicule resulting from most minstrel shows at the time. Could Foster’s intentions ever come true through this piece intended for blackface performance, which by nature mocks the experience of enslaved people in America? Only a further exploration of primary sources could tell.

 

Sources:

“Florida Lakes and Rivers Map.” GIS Geography. Geology.com, November 2, 2021. https://gisgeography.com/florida-lakes-rivers-map/. 

“In Harmony: Sheet Music from Indiana.” Old folks at home. The Trustees of Indiana University, 2021. http://webapp1.dlib.indiana.edu/inharmony/detail.do?action=detail&fullItemID=%2Flilly%2Fdevincent%2FLL-SDV-035017. 

“Old Folks at Home : Ethiopian Melody.” Playmakers Repertory Company Playbills. Accessed October 30, 2021. https://dc.lib.unc.edu/cdm/ref/collection/sheetmusic/id/37599. 

“Old Folks at Home.” Playmakers Repertory Company Playbills. Accessed October 30, 2021. https://dc.lib.unc.edu/cdm/ref/collection/sheetmusic/id/37129. 

“Old Folks at Home.” Playmakers Repertory Company Playbills. University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. Accessed December 6, 2021. https://dc.lib.unc.edu/cdm/ref/collection/sheetmusic/id/32979. 

“Old Folks at Home; Way down upon the Swanee River.” Duke Digital Collections. Accessed October 30, 2021. https://repository.duke.edu/dc/hasm/b0951. 

​​“On This Day in Florida History – May 28, 1935 – Now Controversial ‘Old Folks at Home’ Becomes State Song.” Florida History Network – Your one-stop source for celebrating and preserving Florida’s past, today. Accessed December 6, 2021. http://www.floridahistorynetwork.com/may-28-1935—now-controversial-old-folks-at-home-becomes-state-song.html. 

Root, Deane L. “Foster, Stephen C(ollins).” Grove Music Online, October 16, 2013. https://www.oxfordmusiconline.com/grovemusic/view/10.1093/gmo/9781561592630.001.0001/omo-9781561592630-e-1002252809?rskey=7S6WHZ#omo-9781561592630-e-1002252809-div1-5. 

“The Swanee River.” State Symbols USA. State Symbols USA. Accessed December 6, 2021. https://statesymbolsusa.org/symbol-official-item/florida/state-song/swanee-river. 

 

 

The Inescapable Theme in Music History

There are often trends throughout history that seem to take on a timeless role. In this instance, I am talking about colonialism. Whether it is researching about the cultural intersect of “New Spain” from in the 16th-18th centuries to the seemingly harmless independence of Cuba from Spanish rule- music always seems to do a superb job in representing ideologies and themes of the times that they were written in.

It turns out- after a deeper dive into the primary source I found (to my knowledge, for the very first time), I realized that this was the same exact source I used for my first blog post! I was deceived by the different cover, formatting, and last but not least- the mYstEriOusLy changed title. Do I have an explanation for this? No. But was I completely flabbergasted? You bet! This title cover was the first one that I looked into. I, at the time, could not find the music to this piece.1

Chas M. Hattersley, “Patriotic American Sheet Music.” The American Mosaic: The Latino American Experience

To my surprise, this time around- I found not only the music to this piece but also a different printed version of it.2

Hattersley, Chas. M., Pond & Co., New York, 1873, monographic.- Library of Congress

Same composer and same lyrics- but different enough for a college music student to almost get stumped by two seemingly different songs. The difference in the title really caught my attention. In looking at the cover that says, “Free Cuba” in all caps, I, in my naive-ness, thought that this song seemed pretty harmless, looking through the words and realizing that this was America’s cry for Cuba’s freedom. A cry out of support and sympathy. But I found myself completely wrong when I looked more into the history of this song and what it pictured amidst the Spanish-American war. This was not a war to gain Cuba’s independence. This war was to transfer rule from one colonist country to the next. This song represents what the “Cuban independence” really meant to America, which can be summarized through the Platt Amendment3 that was enacted in 1901, essentially kept Cuba under the restrictive power of the United States.

W. McKINLEY CARTOON, c1900. American cartoon comment, c1900, on Uncle Sam’s seemingly insatiable imperialist appetite; waiting to take the order, at right, is President William McKinley.

Cartoon regarding the Platt Amendment: “The U.S. did not want the Spanish-American War to be seen as an imperialistic land grab for Cuba.” (https://apprend.io/apush/period-7/platt-amendment/)

This song pictures the triumph that would take place for America, being able to take over what was another territory.

The representation of various historical events seen through music, as seen through my trial and error, has to be carefully examined and researched. There is no glossing over history and the colonial underlying themes that seem to bleed through history.

1 “Patriotic American Sheet Music.” In The American Mosaic: The Latino American Experience, ABC-CLIO, 2021. Image. Accessed November 29, 2021. https://latinoamerican2.abc-clio.com/Search/Display/1470303.

2 Hattersley, Chas. M. Free Cuba; or, Uncle Sam to Spain. Pond & Co., Wm. A., New York, monographic, 1873. Notated Music. https://www.loc.gov/item/sm1873.15560/.

3 Britannica, T. Editors of Encyclopaedia. “Platt Amendment.” Encyclopedia Britannica, October 24, 2019. https://www.britannica.com/topic/Platt-Amendment.

Racial Uplift

In our class discussion on racial uplift during the Harlem renaissance, we talked about W.E.B Du Bois’ idea to uplift the African American race through highlighting the smartest and most educated Black people, who he called “talented tenth.” His idea relied on talented Black people to climb the social ladder and prove to white society that the race is just as capable of brilliance as white people. This applies to our class because the music of Du Bois’ time often reflected his ideas; European influences were a staple of music of the Harlem renaissance. Here is an example of French influence in Florence Price’s “Night,” sung here by countertenor Darryl Taylor.

However, some of Du Bois’ contemporaries had different ideas for racial uplift. Even before Du Bois published his 1903 essay “The Talented Tenth,” Booker T. Washington had created a plan that emphasized racial solidarity and education through crafts and skills as well as academics. His plan was to highlight the necessity of regular African Americans in regular American society, rather than to highlight the talents of a few brilliant African Americans. (PBS)

When searching through African American periodicals, it is clear that scholars of the time had lots of different opinions when it comes to racial uplift. Here are a few examples (State Journal (1883), Freeman (1911), (Savannah Tribune 1913).

 

It is common for majority groups such as white Americans to see minority groups as a monolith, but the varying opinions of African Americans of Du Bois’ time remind us that like all groups of people, Black Americans did and continue to have a wide variety of ideas, perspectives, and backgrounds.

Ma Rainey and the Greatest Interpreters of the Blues

While the Theater Owners’ Booking Association (or T.O.B.A.) had many high powered stars working on its circuit, Gertrude “Ma” Rainey is one of the players that continues to resonate with popular culture today. August Wilson’s mid-1980s play Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom and the 2020 movie adaptation of the same work are just a couple examples of Rainey’s massive influence in the current media whirlwind. 

 

Yet, Ma Rainey’s influence was powerful even among her contemporaries on the T.O.B.A. circuit and her adoring audiences. Below are a couple of performance advertisements and reviews of Rainey’s work, which include nothing but glowing remarks regarding her artistry.

“Everybody is still talking about the glad rags that Ma Rainey displayed. She made about ump-teen changes and looked keener each time. Ma sang until she was out of breath, the audience called her back each time and she really did her stuff. She climaxed the deal by doing a ‘Paramount Black Bottom.’ This company is good enough far anybody’s house.”

“IN OLD KAYSEE.” The Chicago Defender (National Edition) (1921-1967), Jan 21, 1928.

“There are a number of performers singing the ‘blues,’ but when Ma Rainey sings them, nuff said. She has to take three or four bows every night.”

“Alexander Tolliver’s Big Show.” Freeman (Indianapolis, Indiana), January 29, 1916: 6. Readex: African American Newspapers.

Even a blurb from the Kansas Plaindealer speaks of her musical appeal transcending race: 

“‘Ma’ Rainey is widely known to both white and colored lovers of crooney melodies. She was selected after careful canvas to make phonographic records and also to sing on the radio. Her tones are distinctive and have that peculiar resonance characteristic of color singers.”

“‘MA’ Rainey.” Plaindealer (Topeka, Kansas) THIRTY FIRST YEAR, no. THIRTY SIX, September 6, 1929: [THREE]. Readex: African American Newspapers.

 

In an article published long after her death that details the horribly common instance of racism against African Americans across the United States, female journalist Yvonne Gregory writes about Ma Rainey’s extensive artistic reach on her musical contemporaries and her impact on blues music in general. 

 

In her fairly short article, Gregory manages to create a chronology of notable blues artists, which just happen to be women. She describes how Ma Rainey discovered Bessie Smith when she “heard the little girl sing and was so impressed with her voice and personality that she took her as a pupil and started her on her great career.” Then, the author says that this influence and mentorship continues to occur among African American women — even if less direct than the Rainey and Smith story. 

“Today it’s [] Mahalis Jackson’s gospel music; or it is Pearl Bailey singing ‘Tired of the life I lead, tired of counting things I need’; yesterday it was Bessie singing, ‘Down in the Dumps’; day before yesterday Ma Rainey sang ‘Backwater Blues.’ but yesterday, today, and tomorrow, the blues are an unbreakable thread in the life of our people and in the life of all Americans.”

 

              • Side note: I could not find a recording of Ma Rainey singing “Backwater Blues.” I could only find recordings of Bessie Smith singing the tune, because she is the composer. So, I’m not sure if Gregory made a mistake in attributing this tune to Rainey, or if the origin story is different from the commonly accepted one. 

 

At first, I thought the author’s mentioning of all women blues performers was accidental or merely common name associations. She connects performers that fall within this musical era through their similar sounds and stage personas, creating almost a mini-history of the genre.  However, she takes her brief blues music history a step further with a claim that “Negro women are among the greatest interpreters of this art form.”

Simply, this tidbit is exciting for a couple of reasons. First, Gregory’s analysis of this phenomenon in the world of blues music fits almost perfectly with our current mapping project of the T.O.B.A. circuit and the routes of its many powerhouse women performers. Second, even back in the 1950s, women saw the effect of not only Ma Rainey, but also the collective of African American women who contributed in pioneering the popularity of the blues music we know (and even love) today. Here, we see a unique instance of African American women being lifted up, even though the world around them wants to tear them down. Therefore, like Yvonne Gregory, I “look forward to the day that all the people will honor [these African American women],” and I hope that our mapping project will shine a light on some of these powerhouses that many today might not even know.

HBCU Marching Bands Take the Big Screen….Now the Stage

Historically Black Universities and Colleges (HBCUs) have been known for their marching bands for over a century. Marching band competitions flood most of the southern states throughout the marching band season with the big competitions such as Nationals and the Honda Battle of the Bands being greatly anticipated. It wasn’t until 2002 when Charles Stone decided to showcase HBCU marching bands and the culture that has been born from this musical community. The film is labeled as a drama, musical, comedy, and romance and features a young man from Harlem who joins a Southern university’s marching band but antagonizes the musical director and its leader. There is a coming-of-age element to the film as the young college student finds his way in college and the band.

Almost a decade later in 2011, a new version of Drumline came out for a different audience. Drumline was made into a theatre production.

 

When researching the culture behind black marching bands from HBCUs I was intrigued when coming across not only the Drumline Film but also the Drumline LIVE production. It is curious to note the audience that usually sits for a marching band performance and a football game is not usually an audience that would sit for a theatre production.  

 

 

 

Reading into a newspaper article from the Philadelphia Tribune on the year that Drumline Live came out as a theatre production it was clear that the production made quite an impact on the audience and was a surprising success.

“Drumline Live” is the brainchild of Atlanta native Don P. Roberts, a former Florida A&M University (FAMU) drum major who began his musical journey as a trumpeter. An educator who has served as the instrumental music coordinator of the DeKalb County School System since 1996, Roberts was recruited by “Drumline” producer Dallas Austin, an accomplished drummer who is also an Atlanta native, to serve as executive band consultant for the film.”

It was a booming success amongst HBCUs, BIPOC communities, musical communities, theatre-goers, and so many others. Roberts could not keep himself from boasting of the accomplishment that was Drumline Live.

“This show is absolutely the most dynamic, exciting theatrical production to come out in years. These are big words, but every time people see the show, they tell me I was right! I don’t think there’s anything that’s comparable, and I go to shows all the time. I feel like there’s some really good shows out there, but there’s nothing like us. We touch every emotion in your body. We’re going to make you sing, we’re gonna make you shout, we’re gonna make you cry, we’re gonna make you smile, we’re gonna make you laugh – we touch all of the emotions. You will totally be surprised by the things that you see in the show, and that’s one of the beautiful things about it.”

As I read through the newspaper clippings, looked further into the film and the comparison of the theatre production, one question kept coming to mind: Why this way? I do not have an answer for why these two avenues of art would be chosen to inform an audience of the culture of a HBCU marching band yet it was. What art forms are we using to spread knowledge of something that doesn’t seem like it should fit there?

 

Bibliography:

Drumline Live. 2011-12-03. Retrieved from the Digital Public Library of America, http://hdl.handle.net/11134/510002:20109259. (Accessed November 24, 2021.)

Roberts, Kimberly C. 2011. “‘Drumline Live’ Thrilling Audiences.” Philadelphia Tribune, Oct 21, 6-7. https://www.proquest.com/newspapers/drumline-live-thrilling-audiences/docview/903433037/se-2?accountid=351.

 

 

 

 

 

Capitalism and Minstrelsy in Print

A sample program from Haverly’s guide.

Blackface minstrelsy was the pinnacle of American entertainment for decades. In the early 19th century, white audiences and performers commodified and consumed Blackness by creating stereotypical characters. However, after the Civil War, minstrelsy evolved to remain relevant to the American public. I wrote in a previous blog post about how radio was minstrelsy’s medium in the 20th century. At the turn of the century, though, white troupe owners sought to keep minstrelsy relevant by a different medium: print.

J.H. “Jack” Haverly, a white show manager, is remembered by historians as minstrelsy’s most successful promoter.1 In 1902, Haverly published a guide to minstrelsy for aspiring performers. He offers advice on organizing a troupe, many suggestions for jokes and songs, and of course, advertising strategies. Continue reading

James Bland: The Most Famous Composer You Never Knew

A headline from The Pittsburgh Courier (a Black newspaper) in 1939. The article is a biography of James Bland and is a response to the possible adoption of “Carry Me Back to Old Virginny” as Virginia’s state song. Full page available here

TW: Racist descriptions of Black people

If you’re American, I’m willing to bet you’ve heard of Stephen Foster. Even if you couldn’t write a dissertation on him, there’s a pretty good chance you’ve heard the name, or sung one of his famous songs, like “Oh Susanna”. But have you heard of James Bland? Like Foster, Bland made his fame as a minstrel composer and was major player in the industry in the late 19th and early 20th century, yet Bland is far less known today. The difference? James Bland was Black.

Bland was descended from a long line of free Black people (his father was educated at Oberlin College) and was born in 1854 in Flushing, New York. He was educated at Howard University. He was an extremely successful entertainer, having been part of many famous troupes, including as Sprague’s Original Georgia Minstrels and Callender’s Georgia Minstrels. And of course, he was also extremely successful as a composer. Though well known among those in the industry, Bland did not get the same recognition by the general public. He wrote over 700 songs, but only around 50 were published under his name. Some were even published under Foster’s, as Tom Fletcher, a contemporary of Bland, observed in his book 100 Years of the Negro Show Business:

“Both [Foster and Bland] flourished at the same time, during the early days of show business, but Foster’s friends and heirs kept his name before the public, a privilege Bland did not enjoy. The ideas of the two men on songs were very similar too, and very often a song written by Bland would be credited to Foster with whose name the general public was much more familiar.” (83)

Sheet music for “Carry Me Back to Old Virginny” published in 1878

In fact, when “Carry Me Back to Old Virginny” was proposed as the state song of Virginia in the late 1930s, many believed the song was written by Foster, and, according to the Pittsburgh Courier, when it was discovered to have been written by Bland, a Black composer, the proposition was almost discarded. It wasn’t, however, and Bland’s song was the state song of Virginia from 1940 to 1997, when it was removed due to its racist lyrics which sentimentalize slavery and the Old South.

A recording of “Carry Me Back to Old Virginny” from 1916

 

James Bland in many ways encapsulates the tension inherent in bringing to light the accomplishments and successes of Black minstrel performers and composers in general. Many of Bland’s most famous works, like “Carry Me Back to Old Virginny”, have lyrics that romanticize slavery. Black minstrels sometimes both literally and figuratively had to “black up”, or in other words, cater to the white imagination of what Blackness really was. But it’s important to note that Bland also composed antislavery songs like “De Slavery Chains Am Broke At Last”, and had his own voice and agency – he was not merely an imitation Stephen Foster. And also, minstrelsy was one of the earliest opportunities for Black entertainers, performers, and composers to start their careers, to make make money, and to make their voices heard. What’s more, minstrelsy is far from gone in American popular culture. Which begs the question:

So long as we remember Stephen Foster, shouldn’t we remember James Bland too?

 

Bibliography

Bland, James A. Carry me back to old Virginny. John F. Perry & Co., Boston, monographic, 1878. Notated Music. https://www.loc.gov/item/sm1878.x0004/.

Bland, James A, Orpheus Quartet, James A Bland, Josef Pasternack, Lambert Murphy, Harry Macdonough, William F Hooley, and Reinald Werrenrath. Carry me back to old Virginny. 1916. Audio. https://www.loc.gov/item/jukebox-20049/.

Fletcher, Tom. 100 Years in the Negro Show Business. Da Capo Press. New York 1984.

Hullfish, William R. “James A. Bland: Pioneer Black Songwriter.” Black Music Research Journal 7 (1987): 1–33. https://doi.org/10.2307/779446.

 

 

 

 

A Decolonial Examination of the Smithsonian

When the indigenous song collection group began our research, we found that the Smithsonian funded much of Densmore’s work. As I so clearly and forcefully lined out in my last blog post, I personally believe that Densmore’s work, funded by the Smithsonian, was a form of cultural colonialism. Much of my research here was inspired by the article “Decolonizing Ethnographic Documentation: A Critical History of the Early Museum Catalogs at the Smithsonian’s National Museum of Natural History” by Hannah Turner.

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Dispelling Common T.O.B.A. Myths

Myths. They’re nasty. They slow research. Given that my group for the final project is researching T.O.B.A., the Theater Owners Booking Association, which booked the performances for many notable Black vaudeville performers, let’s dispel some myths surrounding T.O.B.A. so they do not get in the way of our research.

Myth No. 1: T.O.B.A. was founded by Sherman H. Dudley. 

T.O.B.A. was actually founded in 1909 by brothers Fred and Anselmo Barrasso, theater owners in Memphis who wanted to create a theater chain for Black performers1. In this Freeman (a Black newspaper) article2 you can see Fred’s name listed for the theater he managed, the Savoy Theatre, under the heading “Where You Find Colored Theaters: Real Play Houses That Are Owned And Managed By Negroes”.

But wait a second… Fred Barrasso wasn’t Black. He was an Italian immigrant. Stephen Huff, professor of Theatre and Dance at the University of Southern Florida, explains in the journal article, “The Impresarios of Beale Street: African American and Italian American Theatre Managers in Memphis, 1900–1915”,

“It may be that this is an example of the ambivalent racial status of Italian immigrants during this period. Accepted as “white” in some circles, perhaps they were, at the same time, accepted as nonwhite by the African Americans they worked with and served in the business of black entertainment.”3

Myth No. 2: The T.O.B.A. Circuit Was Also Known As The Dudley Circuit

Nope! Two separate things. Dudley’s Theatrical Circuit began in 1891, while Sherman H. Dudley was still performing. In 1912, 3 years after Fred and Anselmo Barrasso founded T.O.B.A., Sherman H. Dudley bought theaters, and stopped performing in 1913 to focus on the circuit. In 1916, the Dudley Circuit was absorbed into the Southern Consolidated Circuit, which got into many arguments with T.O.B.A.4

Here’s a mapping project for the Dudley Circuit (by Maeve Nagel-Frazel)!

Myth No. 3: So the T.O.B.A. Circuit Began in 1909….

In 1921, the Southern Consolidated Circuit (the rival circuit) was absorbed into T.O.B.A., allowing the circuits to combine about 100 theaters5. This new, larger T.O.B.A. is the T.O.B.A. that would be advertised in Black newspapers, become popular, and develop quite the circuit, booking major vaudeville stars. The success and fame of T.O.B.A. was due to Sherman H. Dudley, who was not only an effective businessman but a beloved figure, colloquially known as Uncle Dud and even starting a newspaper series in The Chicago Defender called “Dud’s Dope”. In one of the first articles, Dudley talks about wanting to bring big names to T.O.B.A. and his success in bringing Sarah Martin, Ida Cox, and Bessie Smith to T.O.B.A.6, dispelling another myth that T.O.B.A. is what helped give performers their starts. While sometimes true, T.O.B.A. also sought after performers that already had acclaim.

Conclusion

Determining the myths surrounding T.O.B.A. helped me answer previously unanswered questions about our group project. For example, for some of our data points, our group was unsure if the performances were through T.O.B.A. or not. Any unsure data points of performances before 1921, I would argue, are not through the T.O.B.A. Circuit. The bulk of advertising and booking announcements are found through Black newspapers, and that advertisement was the work of Sherman H. Dudley.

I also realized through this post that misinformation surrounding T.O.B.A. is rampant, even in works that I considered to be well-researched. This just goes to show how much more research needs to be done. What myths do you want dispelled?

 

Footnotes

1 Robinson, Cedric J. Forgeries of Memory and Meaning : Blacks and the Regimes of Race in American Theater and Film before World War II  Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2007.

2 “Where You Find Colored Theaters. Real Play Houses That Are Owned and Managed by Negroes.” Freeman (Indianapolis, Indiana) XXIII, no. 21, May 21, 1910: 6. Readex: African American Newspapers. https://infoweb.newsbank.com/apps/readex/doc?p=EANAAA&docref=image/v2%3A12B28495A8DAB1C8%40EANAAA-12C4FA7BF3D1D2C8%402418813-12C4FA7C56786930%405-12C4FA7DA97933E8%40Where%2BYou%2BFind%2BColored%2BTheaters.%2BReal%2BPlay%2BHouses%2BThat%2BAre%2BOwned%2Band%2BManaged%2Bby%2BNegroes.

3 Huff, Stephen. “The Impresarios of Beale Street: African American and Italian American Theatre Managers in Memphis, 1900–1915.” Theatre Survey 55, no. 1 (2014): 22–47. doi:10.1017/S0040557413000525.

4 Knight, Athelia. “He Paved the Way for T. O. B. A.” The Black Perspective in Music 15, no. 2 (1987): 153–81. https://doi.org/10.2307/1214675.

5 George-Graves, Nadine. “Spreading the Sand: Understanding the Economic and Creative Impetus for the Black Vaudeville Industry.” Continuum Journal, https://continuumjournal.org/index.php/spreading-the-sand.

6 Dudley, S. H. “DUD’S DOPE.” The Chicago Defender (National Edition) (1921-1967), Feb 16, 1924. https://www.proquest.com/historical-newspapers/duds-dope/docview/492010353/se-2?accountid=351.

Ethnography in the Late 19th Century

When learning more about Indigenous music in the U.S., it is nearly impossible not to come across the work of Frances Densmore. An ethnographer from Red Wing, Minnesota, Densmore spent more than 50 years collecting Indigenous song for the Smithsonian Institution’s Bureau of American Ethnography. Students hear a lot about Densmore’s work, but what other ethnographic work was out there around the same time, and how does it compare to Densmore’s? What does their work tell us about the field as a whole, and what did they do well, or what could have been done better?

To delve into these questions, I investigated the life and work of James Mooney, an ethnographer born in 1861 known as “The Indian Man”. Although he didn’t collect songs from Indigenous peoples, his work paralleled that of Densmore’s in that his writings were published by the Smithsonian Institution and he collected for the World’s Fair.

A newspaper clipping written by Lida Rose McCabe describes Mooney’s fieldwork:

In pursuing his work among the tribes Mr. Mooney wears Indian dress, and accommodates himself to the family life. In speaking of this he said to me: “Unless you live with a people you cannot know them. It is the only way to learn their ideas and study their character.

In comparison to Densmore, Mooney’s work was more more focused to a handful of groups, whereas Densmore collects from many groups across the country. Due to Mooney’s smaller group of study, he had the time to develop a deeper understanding of one’s culture and customs while forming relationships with members of the tribe.

However, this does not automatically make all of his work ethical. McCabe writes of his work:

Mr. Mooney’s special business during the last year has been to collect for the Smithsonian World’s Fair exhibit specimens of the domestic and industrial work of the Navajo and Moqui tribes. The esteem in which he is held by the Indians has enabled him to secure everything he desired.

Although Mooney likely cared for the Indigenous people he spent time with, and they likely cared for him, does this mean that he has permission to displace their cultural objects and display them for others? Additionally, we don’t know how comfortable tribes felt sharing objects with him, or to what extent sharing impacted their life:

He carries his own camera, but it has to be used cautiously. Only the stanchest friendship justifies him in asking an Indian to pose for his picture, for it is an article of the Indian’s faith that but such an act he loses part of his personality, and is therefore very likely to suffer sickness or even death.

Although someone outside of a particular tribe may see a particular object as interesting or worthy of study, the collection of an item may have caused very real consequences to those who shared that object. To combat this these injustices today, we can look towards repatriation initiatives, and be vigilant of the greater context surrounding ethnography.

Works Cited

Parker, Ely Samuel (1828-1895). 1828-1894. Ely Samuel Parker scrapbooks: Vol 11. Available through: Adam Matthew, Marlborough, American Indian Histories and Cultures, http://www.aihc.amdigital.co.uk/Documents/Details/Ayer_Modern_MS_Parker_VL11 [Accessed November 23, 2021].

Rhodes, Willard. “Densmore, Frances.” Grove Music Online. 2001; Accessed 23 Nov. 2021. https://www.oxfordmusiconline.com/grovemusic/view/10.1093/gmo/9781561592630.001.0001/omo-9781561592630-e-0000007571.

What Minstrelsy Means For American Identity

In my research of black minstrel troupes, it has become obvious that American pop culture is infused with references to minstrelsy. Although this influence becomes obvious when it is pointed out, I would like to propose a claim that might not be as readily accepted. Not only is minstrelsy heavily involved in American media, the influence of the minstrel show is a pillar of American art and media. In other words, elements of minstrelsy actually contribute to what it means for a piece of media to be “American”.

The American-ness of the minstrel show and minstrel influences can be seen in the perception of the minstrel show from audiences abroad. In my own mapping of black minstrel shows, I noticed very quickly that these shows were mostly plotted in the U.S. Perhaps this article posted in the Freeman newspaper might give more insight into why that is.

This article posted in the the Freeman in Indianapolis, Indiana on February 8, 1902 titled “The Negro Performer Abroad” explains how the minstrel show was not well received abroad. The article writes: “The English and Australians, by the way, are very austere and reserved as regards the manner of entertainment of histrons, therefore that which we here consider clever, they, over there regard indifferent and treat with almost heartless disdain. Little wonder then that early Negro minstrels met a cold reception and proved a ‘frost’”. 1

This indifferent reception shows us the extent to which American media and humor differentiated from that of Europeans and Australians. In other words, this humor is strictly American. 

We can see this inclusion of minstrel influences as well in other forms of media such as animation in more sinister, more blatant ways. For example, in Ammond’s book “Birth of an industry: blackface minstrelsy and the rise of American animation” he argues that certain characters, such as Mickey Mouse, carried “all (or many) of the markers of minstrelsy while rarely referring directly to the tradition itself”. 2 For example, in this video of the first Disney animation “Steamboat Willie”, we see that Mickey is whistling a minstrel tune and also wears the distinctive white gloves worn by minstrel performers.

 

 

These examples of the influence of minstrelsy on American media show how truly interlaced it is with American identity. The inclusion of minstrelsy can really be seen as a staple of American identity. Although this fact is incredibly troubling, by understanding its implications, we can begin to uncover and become critical about the nature of American identity itself.

Jazz and Afro-Cuban Music

According to the article in the Chicago Defender, in December 2014, the artistic director Orbert Davis led the Chicago Jazz Philharmonic Orchestra to start collaborating with Cuban musicians. Davis believes that African American musical tradition has strong relationships and connections with their Caribbean counterparts such as in Haiti, Dominican Republic, Puerto Rico and Cuba. Davis’s collaboration with Cuban musicians and student delegates has become the spotlight as US and Cuban announce the normalization of their diplomatic relations meanwhile.

YouTube video of Orbert Davis’ Chicago Jazz Philharmonic performing in the U.S. Premier of Scenes From Life: Cuba! on November 13, 2015 at the Auditorium Theatre in Chicago.

I observed that the drum and percussive element of the first piece in the video shares the military/ marching-band themes and topics common in nationalistic “American” music. In the second jazz piece, we hear more Cuban traditional drum grooves mixing with spontaneous jazz chord progressions and spontaneous solo improvisations from different musicians.

This spiked my interest in exploring the similarities between jazz (an African American music tradition) and Cuban (Caribbean) music. Here I found a video of Afro-Cuban percussionist Pedrito Martinez performing in the Tiny Desk series on YouTube.

Comparing this video with the Scenes From Life: Cuba concert, both of them share the communal, spontaneous and improvisatory characteristics of music-making. Both allow the individuality of each musician the spotlight to shine while musicians (and audience) hypes up and applauds each other. Both share in their distinction from non-western-classical style and structure. The two similar yet different traditions collaborate and unites through their “otherness”, as BIPOC community.

Article about Afro-Cuban music as sharing a similar African root which goes back to my initial “hypothesis” regarding African roots. The uniting of the otherness, non-western, non-classical music. Community based and focus on individuality.

I looked further into this topic about the connection between Cuban and African American music and came across a dissertation about it by Aleysia Whitmore. In a featured interview, Latfi Benjeloune, guitarist and band member of the Senegalese band Orchestra Baobab commented that

“The music didn’t come home and influence African music. Cuban music is already African. These are African sensibilities that are being expressed… in some way we felt like parents with this music… it came from us”. It indeed sheds light to the intricacy of musical traditions, their roots and how they come together after growing apart in different social-political climates and geographical locations.”

Whitmore, Aleysia K. “‘CUBAN MUSIC IS AFRICAN MUSIC’: NEGOTIATING AFRICA AND THE AFRICAN DIASPORA ON THE WORLD MUSIC STAGE.” African music 9.3 (2013): 111–121. Web.


Bibliography/ Source

Mdatcher. Orbert Davis: Bringing Cuba and the U.S. Together Through Jazz. https://chicagodefender.com/orbert-davis-bringing-cuba-and-the-u-s-together-through-jazz/ November 12, 2015. Online Article.

Orbert Davis y la Chicago Jazz Philarmonic presents SCENES FROM LIFE: CUBA. Video.
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=61OdOA86_Z0

The Pedrito Martinez Group: NPR Music Tiny Desk Concert. Video
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GP3jS_gFs-g

Whitmore, Aleysia K. “‘CUBAN MUSIC IS AFRICAN MUSIC’: NEGOTIATING AFRICA AND THE AFRICAN DIASPORA ON THE WORLD MUSIC STAGE.” African music 9.3 (2013): 111–121. Web.

Women Supporting Women and their Accomplishments

Women supporting women can be a powerful thing. Whenever I see examples of this phenomenon, I usually smile to some degree. For this week’s blog post, I found a newspaper clipping from the Chicago Defender celebrating a historic occurrence of women supporting each other. “Margaret Bonds Soloist With Women’s Symphony” describes a program featuring Margaret Bonds and the music of many women composers, including Florence Price. Performing Price’s “Concerto,” we can see a warm welcoming of both of these women’s artistry to the Chicago area. Sometimes I forget how intertwined the careers of these prominent musicians truly were.

Even though this blurb is small, the journalist manages to pack a lot of information in a limited amount of space. The Woman’s Symphony Orchestra, directed by Ebba Sundstrom, will feature a long program featuring the music of these women: Eleanor Freer, Helen Sears, Grace Burlin, Mabel Daniels, Phyllis Fergus, Alice Brown Stout, Amy Beach, Florence Galaikian, Cecile Chaminade and Radie Britain.

(Before encountering this article, I had only heard of  three of these women, not including Bonds and Price. Therefore, I spiraled a bit in my accompanying research and found a variety of reference entries in case others would like to explore more prominent women musicians of the early 20th century.)

This program must have been a momentous occasion to experience a night where all of these intelligent women were celebrated. I include a program below of the concert and a recording of the piece featuring Margaret Bonds’ piano skills and Florence Prices’ compositional skills: 

 

 

However, while glancing through the article, I noticed the long list of accomplishments noted regarding the careers of Bond and Price. I find this trend frequently in the announcements of events including women musicians. Their value in artistry or ability to excel now is tangled with their past accomplishments. It seems that their only apparent value has been determined by those that granted them funding, judged their competitions, and awarded them degrees in music. As if these accolades now provide the reason to see them perform. Yet, when looking at clippings of contemporary white male musicians, a name drop is sufficient enough press. Notably, especially in Chicago Defender, the careers and achievements of Florence Price and Margaret Bonds are something to be proud of and celebrate, because of “[b]oth of these artists have made history for the Race.”

Specifically, Langston Hughes comments on Margaret Bond’s past achievements, but in a much different way. He applauds the versatility of her art: 

“Miss Bonds is one of the younger performers who, while paying the old masters their due, has the courage to seek out worthwhile compositions by composers of our own day and age, American as well as European, from the Dutch contemporary Bordewijk-Roepman to the sparkling piano pieces of the U.S.A.’s Dorothea Freitag.”

Additionally, like other African American composers from this time period, the incorporation of Black folk music became the norm or expectation of these artists. However, Hughes notes that Bond’s approach to this characteristic in African American music is slightly nuanced compared to her contemporary composers. According to the poet, Bonds “has written and performs some of the most moving arrangements of Negro spirituals [he has] ever heard — which makes me wonder why more frequent use for the piano has not been made of these folk motifs… the spirituals lend themselves to similar treatment in the serious field.” Below is a video of Bond’s “Troubled Waters” (a setting of the folk tune “Wade in the Water”):

 

To Hughes, people should see this African American composer and performer for her virtuosic playing and thoughtfully accessible music she continues to produce. I agree with Hughes approach to discussing the accomplishments of musicians. While a“program devoted exclusively to women composers” is outstanding, I do look forward to the day when women will consistently be recognized for the work they do, not purely for the work they’ve done

References and further reading

Dempf, Linda. “The Woman’s Symphony Orchestra of Chicago.” Notes 62, no. 4 (2006): 857–903. http://www.jstor.org/stable/4487666.

Ege. “Chicago, the ‘City We Love to Call Home!’: Intersectionality, Narrativity, and Locale in the Music of Florence Beatrice Price and Theodora Sturkow Ryder.” American music (Champaign, Ill.) 39, no. 1 (2021): 1–41. https://muse-jhu-edu.ezproxy.stolaf.edu/article/794467/pdf

Hughes, Langston. “An Exciting Young Negro Pianist Gives Meaning to our Musical Heritage.” The Chicago Defender (National Edition) (1921-1967), Dec 03, 1949. https://www.proquest.com/historical-newspapers/exciting-young-negro-pianist-gives-meaning-our/docview/492859451/se-2?accountid=351.

Malcolm Merriwea. “Visions of a Master: Unveiling the Choral Orchestral Works of Margaret Bonds.” American music review L, no. 1 (2020).

“Margaret Bonds Soloist with Women’s Symphony.” The Chicago Defender (National Edition) (1921-1967), Oct 13, 1934. https://www.proquest.com/historical-newspapers/margaret-bonds-soloist-with-womens-symphony/docview/492451168/se-2?accountid=351.

Revelations in Letters to Leonard Bernstein

With the premiere of the 2021 film adaptation of West Side Story coming closer, I decided to look into the correspondence of Leonard Bernstein during the initial conversations with Arthur Laurents and others as they discussed the project. A well-loved and seemingly timeless production, West Side Story also puts the subjects of race and ethnicity on center stage, so to speak, and is well worth being discussed in context with the social issues at play during the time of its production.

In the first noted correspondence to Bernstein in 1955, Laurents nods to the recent “juvenile gang war news” and its impact on not only the papers, but also on a film in the works by Arther Miller. Intended to tell a sideways story of Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet, West Side Story was originally supposed to feature the star-crossed love story of a Jewish boy and an Irish-Catholic girl. However, creators instead chose to capitalize on the uptick in gang violence in New York and change the identities of the lovers to be a white American boy and a Puerto Rican girl.

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The Western Standards of American Music- Even “The Queen of Jazz” Could Not Escape

What defines a true American singer? What “validates” their voice, style, or even their performing style? Is it the technique, vocal power, polish, etc.? Ella Fitzgerald, a.k.a. Lady Ella, was known as “one of the most loved and honored musical performers of the 20th Century.” 1 In discussions and interviews with Ella herself, it is clear to see that there was a disconnect when it came to how her fame and skill was viewed.

Ella Fitzgerald At 100: Early Hardship Couldn't Muffle Her Joy : NPR

Ella was not just renowned for her vocal talent, but she was highly respected and cherished by peers and the American public as a whole. But to some, this respect and cherished views were motivated by an external quality: her selfless and light-hearted nature. Even after her massive success, both nationally and eventually internationally, she remained “unchanged by her own tremendous significance.” 2

“She never refuses to talk to anyone, never refuses to see anyone. She will stay up until fantastic hours to help our in benefits which are legitimate.”2

It is clear that her personality shined through, despite her upbringing and situations thrown her way- whether it was being a successful woman in the music industry to insanely packed tour schedules. This was a largely emphasized reason often given when it came to defining her success in capturing the hearts of the American people.

The Chicago Defender; Chicago, Ill. 31 July 1954

In other opinions, Ella’s success seems to be defined in a different light. Opera News discusses Ella’s (and Frank Sinatra’s skill and technique as “bel canto” like, even claiming that they “had it easier than opera singers performing live.”3 They compared them to “Wagnerians”- having the same skills and techniques as them. 3
This raised the question, “Why are they taking two singers in a completely different genre, style, and audience appeal and still comparing it with Western classical music? I would assume that Ella was not actively trying to have a “bel canto” style in her voice. There is a dichotomy that I find in this article: Ella and Frank here are seen being recognized for their “virtuosic” technique, but it did not seem like many people of their time and beyond would consider them in a Western classical light. Though this magazine is clearly one that discusses opera, it seems like there is a major disconnect and quite a few liberties taken in terms of how Ella and Frank are viewed even to this day- jazz singers who simply embodied the same Western classical techniques as some of the great opera singers from the past and present. Though the writers of this article most likely had good intentions, it is still something that seemed like a bit of a stretch.

It was clearly seen by not only her die-hard fans, but also her peers and colleagues as well that Ella’s sheer presence and personality could light up a room. This should not be overlooked, and this reason alone is what I think made Ella Fitzgerald even more of an American legend. Sure, her voice could maybe be compared to some of the best opera singers that ever lived- from their technique to the color and style of her voice. But this really made me question how we are still viewing these singers and composers even to this day. The Opera News article was written in 1996, looking in hindsight of Ella’s career. The Chicago Defender was written in 1954, when Ella’s career was alive and booming. The way we look back at singers and performers in America, the more we need to dive into actual primary sources, telling about the lives and journeys of them, not just simply analyzing their voices and what made them “great” or “true American virtuosos” of their time. Ella Fitzgerald was so much more than an impeccable voice and presence in the music industry that still deeply inspires our current generation.

Bibliography

1 “ELLA FITZGERALD TRIBUTE: Ella Fitzgerald: The First Lady of Song.” Music Week, Apr 21, 2007, 15,https://www.proquest.com/magazines/ella-fitzgerald-tribute-first-lady-song/docview/232164800/se-2?accountid=351.

2 ALFRED DUCKETT Exclusive To,Defender Publications. “Ella Fitzgerald, ‘First Lady of Swing’ Rode A Yellow Basket to Fame: Today She Rates Tops with Patrons and Ace Artists Nation Over Mistake was made–Ella Laughed it Off.” The Chicago Defender (National Edition) (1921-1967), Jul 31, 1954. https://www.proquest.com/historical-newspapers/ella-fitzgerald-first-lady-swing-rode-yellow/docview/492983156/se-2?accountid=351

3 Innaurato, Albert. “Frank and Ella.” Opera News, 11, 1996, 66, https://www.proquest.com/magazines/frank-ella/docview/1784818/se-2?accountid=351

The Defender and the Herald

The Chicago Defender is a black-owned newspaper editorial founded in 1905 by Robert S. Abbott. Among articles, obituaries, comics, general supposed happenings of editorials at that time, the newspaper has . It was the first newspaper of its kind to include a health section, a full page of comics and have a circulation of over 100,000. It still runs today, though now it refers to itself as an exclusively online publication. Researching this publication’s monumental works, I found an article that very much applies to the ongoing discussion regarding “American Music’s” definition. In writing an editorial for this particular day, this unnamed author addresses an article written in the World-Herald, stationed in Omaha, Nebraska, and sets the record straight, more or less, centered from a black perspective. 

The article in question makes large scale claims about African American contribution to the canon of America music at the time, asserting the popular adage that slave spirituals were no more than reworked tunes from white slave owners. While the author of the Defender’s article was cordial in their approach to responding to this notion(the author maintains that the Herald’s author “did the best he could”), this article centers black voices as being the instrumental factor in the creation of this music. Not only is it fundamentally pro-black in sentiment, the article is mostly full of name-dropped pieces and composers who are due credit. 

He goes on to say the “slave spirituals” in question are the “only native American music”, which gave this amateur researcher a shock in his reading, as I am currently researching the works of Frances Densmore and her quest to document the music of the “American Indian”. Granted, this article uses the term “Native American” to describe the origins of music post colonization, but to my modern ear that segment struck me. 

“The soul of any race is its music” 

Articles like this, in long running publications of this nature, point me toward the problem of underrepresented voices in the world of music research. If we can’t reach out to people whom we make blanket statements about, or productively delve into the history and circumstances surrounding their music, what good is the research we are doing? I hope to do some further digging to find the specific author of this article, as the lack of such information is troubling when its contents seem so personal upon reading.

AMERICAN MUSIC BORN OF THE NEGRO RACE: “Slave Spirituals” of the … The Chicago Defender (Big Weekend Edition) (1905-1966); Jan 1, 1916; ProQuest Historical Newspapers: Chicago Defender

Duke Ellington

 

Duke Ellington, or Edward Ellington, was born in 1899 in Washington D.C. and began playing the piano at the age of six. He then began his career as a professional musician at the age of seventeen. He played piano, led his jazz orchestra, and composed the music they performed. In his time and ours, Ellington has been regarded as one of the greatest composers in the U.S. and also a vital figure in the success of Jazz as a genre1

.

Ellington was wildly successful and won twelve Grammy Awards, nine of which were when he was alive. He also performed globally in places like Carnegie Hall and was even awarded the Medal of Freedom by President Richard Nixon1,2,3. All of this is made more difficult and therefore more impressive because of his disadvantage as a black man in the United States, especially before the civil rights movement.

What I also think is interesting, is that not only do we see Duke Ellington now as crucial to the development of modern music, but he was also recognized as such during his own time. The Chicago Defender, a black newspaper, published an article entitled “Duke Ellington to Lead Billikens”. This article was about a parade Ellington lead that attracted over half a million people. At the end of the article is a page listing Ellington’s successes and in it, the author states, “He is regarded as a creator of a new, rich, and distinctly American musical idiom”. They go on to say, Ellington “has contributed more to modern music in originality, melodic material, and arrangement technique than any other contemporary”. Historically, I would argue the rarity of an artist being appreciated for their contributions to the art form in their own time. Therefore, to have this level of accreditation attached to his name speaks volumes for his talent.4

However, of course, this newspaper was published by black writers and written for a black audience, however, the Grammys he won as well as the crowds he attracted are definitely noteworthy and point towards the recognition of Ellington’s talents and contributions to music during his time. While the majority of his success was probably due to his talent and musical upbringing, I can’ help but wonder how he managed to make music and succeed with the racial climate of the fifties in the United States. I think part of it could be due to the fact he was part of the larger movement of the Harlem Renaissance, and partly due to his geographical position in New York. While I do not have these answers yet, I would be interested to read more about his experience as a composer and performer during this time period. Perhaps this is a future blog post?

I included below a performance of Duke Ellington.

1Butler, Gerry. Edward “Duke” Ellington (1899-1974) •, May 19, 2021. https://www.blackpast.org/african-american-history/ellington-edward-duke-1899-1974/.

2“Duke Ellington ~ Duke Ellington Biography.” PBS. Public Broadcasting Service, March 31, 2020. https://www.pbs.org/wnet/americanmasters/duke-ellington-about-duke-ellington/586/#.

3“Duke Ellington.” GRAMMY.com, November 23, 2020. https://www.grammy.com/grammys/artists/duke-ellington/11972.

4“Duke Ellington to Lead Billikens: Composer to Greet 500,000.” The Chicago Defender (National Edition) (1921-1967), Aug 01, 1959. https://www.proquest.com/historical-newspapers/duke-ellington-lead-billikens/docview/492925063/se-2?accountid=351.

Hard Working Teacher, Composer, Pianist… forgotten

For this week’s blog post, I found an article in The Chicago Defender that I think is interesting and representative of the people of that time. I did not know what I wanted to talk about, so I drew a blank and searched up “classical music”. The source I am showing today is about an African American composer and teacher who was talented, successful and hardworking. However, his story, and a lot of other musicians from marginalized communities, are forgotten by the white supremacist history. 

The article introduces the reader to William Wilkins, a young Afro-American pianist and composer. The title of this article is William Wilkins Musical Genius and His Pupils, and it was published on November 14, 1914 on The Chicago Defender (obviously). What I find really eye-catching is the picture of the musician on top of the page. It is a photo of Wilkins playing the piano and it was delicately cut out. There are also decorative lines drawn on the sides, further embellishing his picture. In this article, Wilkins is described as a successful teacher, whose “pupil’s talent surprises musicians”, and some of them have only received training from him for a few months. The article also reported some of his life stories. Wilkins did not have the best upbringing, and the first time he has played a piano in front of an audience is because of his gardener job. Even when he was older, he still needed money to publish his compositions. However, he was still hard working and would practice “from three to seven hours daily.” This article shows Wilkins’ life in a positive and uplifting way, which is rarely seen in that era. 

I wanted to hear some of his compositions, so I did a quick google search. However, the person who came up was a white American politician. I tried searching for the keyword “william wilkins composer,” but it still did not work. I felt a sense of helplessness at that moment because his legacies should be celebrated more and it shouldn’t have taken any deep dive to know about him and his stories. However, I also felt power and pride, because his experiences were published in this African American newspaper, where his people supported him and were proud of him. Maybe there will be a new day, where stories won’t be forgotten.

Works Cited

“WILLIAM WILKINS MUSICAL GENIUS AND HIS PUPILS: AFRO-AMERICAN PIANIST AND COMPOSER OF LOS ANGELES ASTONISHES MUSICAL WORLD BY HIS COMPOSITIONS AND MARVELOUS PLAYING–APPEARS BEFORE NOTED PEOPLE SUCCESSFUL AS TEACHER PUPILS’ TALENT SURPRISES MUSICIANS AT RECENT RECITAL–REMARKABLE STORY OF POOR YOUNG MAN WHO HAS NO MONEY TO PUBLISH HIS WORKS WM. T. WILKINS LOS ANGELES MUSICAL GENIUS.” 1914.The Chicago Defender (Big Weekend Edition) (1905-1966), Nov 14, 4. https://www.proquest.com/historical-newspapers/william-wilkins-musical-genius-his-pupils/docview/493270038/se-2?accountid=351.

Jazz Developments in…Rhode Island?

When people think of jazz, places like New Orleans, Chicago, and New York City come to mind — not a small city of 25,000 in Rhode Island. 

The Newport Jazz Festival, with its inception in 1954 has been credited as a crucial component in the development of jazz culture in the Chicago Defender, by none other than Langston Hughes.

Langston Hughes

A participant of a sort of jazz himself, being the creator of “jazz poetry” (for an example, see this link!), Hughes’ take on the Newport Jazz Festival impact on jazz is compelling. In his June 1963 article, “Jazz and Newport Festival”, Hughes comments on the festival’s role and ability in cultivating a culture of large group fun while listening to jazz.

Continue reading

Title No. 1 – Naming Things Like Dawson Did

While browsing through the Chicago Defender for this week’s blog post, I came across an announcement for the premier of William Dawson’s “Symphony No. 1”, and the article describes it as a HUGE deal1. But wait a minute… what’s “Symphony No. 1”? After further research, I realized that the piece in question is now called “Negro Folk Symphony”.

The newspaper article says that Dawson himself called the symphony “Symphony No. 1”. So why is it now called “Negro Folk Symphony”?  Professor Gwynne Kuhner Brown sheds some light on this in her article “Whatever Happened to William Dawson’s Negro Folk Symphony?”2

Definitely read the article if you get the chance, but basically, Brown explains that Leopold Stokowski, the world-famous conductor who would be conducting the piece, sent a telegram to Dawson asking that he title his piece and the movements differently, and recommending that he call it “African American Symphony” or “Negro Symphony”. Dawson replied with the updated title “Negro Folk Symphony” as well as updated names of the movements: “The Bond of Africa”, “Hope in the Night”, and “O Lem-me Shine!”. As Brown asks in her article, would Dawson have assigned race to his symphony if not for the prodding of Stokowski?

We can’t know for sure, but we can know from the Chicago Defender article that Dawson wanted his race to be known by his audience based on this quote:

Here’s another question about the title. Dawson was advised to title the symphony “Negro Symphony”, but it is now “Negro Folk Symphony”. Why? Again, Dawson gives us an answer. In a 1979 interview, Dawson says of the themes within his symphony,

“I don’t call them spirituals. . . . Many years ago I decided that I wanted to know, what do they mean by “spiritual”? And I got an unabridged dictionary and looked it up. There were ten or fifteen definitions of the word “spiritual.” For an example, in Paris, France, they had concerts on Sunday; they called them spirituals. But these are folk songs and we have got to know and treat them as folk songs because they contain the best that’s in us. And anywhere in the civilized world, when you say, “This is a folk song,” all the nations prize their folk songs. All the great composers utilize their folk songs, their source of material for development.”3

Interestingly, the Chicago Defender does not call the sources of Dawson’s themes spirituals OR folk songs, but hymns.

So what’s the difference between a folk song, a hymn, and a spiritual, and does this question matter to our discussion of Race, Identity, and Representation in American Music? I’m not sure I have the answer, but Dawson certainly believed the answer matters, so let’s do what musicologists ought to do and ask more questions.

P.S. Here are the movements to Dawson’s Negro Folk Symphony. Give them a listen.

4

5

6

Footnotes

1 “William Dawson Writes Race Symphony: Piece Will be Played by Stokowski, World Famous Conductor.” The Chicago Defender (National Edition) (1921-1967), Jan 07, 1933. https://www.proquest.com/historical-newspapers/william-dawson-writes-race-symphony/docview/492404057/se-2?accountid=351.

2 BROWN, GWYNNE KUHNER. “Whatever Happened to William Dawson’s Negro Folk Symphony?” Journal of the Society for American Music 6, no. 4 (2012): 433–56. doi:10.1017/S1752196312000351.

3 William Levi Dawson, interview with unidentified interviewer, October 1979. William Levi Dawson Collection, Manuscript, Archives, and Rare Books Library, Emory University (hereafter “Dawson Collection at MARBL, Emory University”). A portion of the interview can be heard at William Levi Dawson: The Collection at Emory, http://larson.library.emory.edu/dawson/web/section/view/sectionId7.

4 ORF Vienna Radio Symphony Orchestra. “Negro Folk Symphony: I. The Bond of Africa”. YouTube. 25 Jun. 2020, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DKpSxzw1le0

5 ORF Vienna Radio Symphony Orchestra. “Negro Folk Symphony: II. Hope in the Night”. YouTube. 25 Jun. 2020, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jv76C8-cXd4

ORF Vienna Radio Symphony Orchestra. “Negro Folk Symphony: III. O Let Me Shine!”. YouTube. 25 Jun. 2020, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mzCn2RMPzPo

 

 

The Contradiction of Black Minstrelsy

What do you think of when you think of minstrelsy?

From our contemporary lens, it’s very easy to think of minstrelsy as a horrible, racist manifestation of white supremacy. Which, for the record, it surely was. But it wasn’t just that. For many Black Americans, black minstrelsy offered a form of employment in a depressed economy, a form of control over their representation, and a training ground for later prominent figures in other forms of Black music, like blues.

Black minstrelsy has never been universally admired, and a diversity of opinions have coexisted since its inception. As Southern writes, “The black minstrel has been much maligned by many, including members of his own race, for perpetuating the Jim Crow and Zip Coon stereotypes” (269), a statement which gets to the core struggle and contradiction of Black minstrelsy. White minstrelsy predated Black minstrelsy by several decades, and its success depended on these stereotypes. Many of the owners of Black troupes also owned white troupes. While black performers had some agency to represent themselves at least a little more authentically than white performers, Black minstrelsy still operated with many of the same expectations and for many of the same audiences. Which begs the question, what was it like for the Black performers?

W.C. Handy

The answer, of course, is complex. Rampant white supremacy and racial violence was a fact of life for Black minstrels – Handy, a member of Mahara’s Minstrels writes in his autobiography of the lynching of a band member (43) and many other acts of racially motivated violence and harassment. But Handy, who began his career in minstrelsy and later became a major player in blues, seems to recognize the importance of Black minstrelsy, writing “Historians of the American stage have slighted the old Negro minstrels” (34).

Chick Beaman, another performer from the latter days of minstrelsy, writing for the Chicago Defender, a Black newspaper, describes almost the exact opposite contradiction . “When you

begin trouping you’re dead – theatrically – and soon forgotten” he writes, “But I love it and it’s a great life. So let the band play.” This is pretty much the reverse of Handy’s experience – Beaman valued minstrelsy as a lifestyle rather than a stepping stone in his career.

So how should we view the legacy of Black minstrelsy? Being itself fundamentally a contradiction, it’s hard to say for sure. But we do know that it was an important social, economic, and musical enterprise with lasting affects today.

 

 

Bibliography

Beaman, Chick. 1921. CHICK BEAMAN: FAMOUS MINSTREL MAN PUTS ON HIS PHILOSOPHICAL SHOES. The Chicago Defender (National edition) (1921-1967), Aug 27, 1921. https://www.proquest.com/historical-newspapers/chick-beaman/docview/491909725/se-2?accountid=351 (accessed November 15, 2021).

Handy, W.C. The Father of the Blues: An Autobiography. London. Sidgwick and Jackson, 1957.

Southern, Eileen. The Music of Black Americans: A History. New York, NY. WW Norton Company, 1971.

Cohen Quest IV: a Lost Composition

Ah yes, here we are, once more. Welcome back to Cohen Quest, the award-winning blogging series. Cecil Cohen, as we have well seen, was a highly accomplished pianist and composer. He occupies a very unique position as someone deeply entangled with the music making of black musicians in the 1910s through the 1960s, but has stayed quite under the radar in terms of historical provenance. Again, I seem to be the only person in the world who has tried to uncover who this guy was. One of the most fascinating examples of this liminal space Cohen enjoyed was as a featured composer in a recital given by Todd Duncan on March 8, 1944, at The Town Hall in New York.1 Duncan and Cohen were colleagues at Howard University: Cohen had been an Associate Professor of Music for two decades now, and Duncan joined the faculty in 1930.2, 3

Although not mentioned in the New York Times article, Duncan performed a piece by Cohen at the end of the recital titled “As at Thy Portals also Death.”4 As far as I can tell this piece was never published and may not have had much performance beyond Todd Duncan’s recitals in 1944. Nora Holt, noted composer and music critic, said this about Cohen’s piece:

“[As at Thy Portals also Death] is composed in a tragic vein with arpeggio accompaniment and was rendered with great feeling by Mr. Duncan.” 5

Through sheer willpower and some emailing, I have been granted access to the world’s entire collection of Cecil Cohen manuscript scores (about six unique scores in total), one of which being “As at Thy Portals also Death.” The piece itself is a lovely, if at times, odd, synthesis of a Walt Whitman poem about the death of his mother; I have yet to confirm it, but I believe Cohen may have written this after the death of his own mother, Flora. It certainly feels plausible: the phrase “to her, buried and gone, yet buried not, gone not from me” is set as recitative over strong and dissonant block chords. The sudden change from the preceding ostinato is jarring and feels like an outburst of grief.

“As at Thy Portals,” like most of Cohen’s songs, is intentionally dissonant, referencing the musical language of jazz; one would be hard-pressed to perform a proper Roman Numeral analysis on it. He tended to avoid Beethoven and Bach on his programs, favoring Debussy and Faure; you can see the French influence in each of his songs, and “As at Thy Portals” is no exception.6 Not many African-American classical composers were incorporating into their music the stylings and harmonies of jazz, a profoundly African-American art form; it is not so surprising then that Cohen enjoyed French Impressionism so much. Todd Duncan likely performed this piece multiple times, once even with Cohen at the piano,7 but it never was published, and Cohen’s legacy was bound to the few songs of his published in a pair of anthologies.

1 M.A.S., “Todd Duncan Scores in Recital Bow Here,” The New York Times, 9 March 1944, 15. https://timesmachine.nytimes.com/timesmachine/1944/03/09/96572912.html?pageNumber=15.

2 “NEW MEMBERS ON HOWARD FACULTY FOR COMING YEAR: STANDARD OF GREAT SCHOOL IS RAISED HIGHER BY CALIBER OF TEACHERS SELECTED.” The Chicago Defender, 26 July 1924, 5. https://www.proquest.com/historical-newspapers/new-members-on-howard-faculty-coming-year/docview/492011923/se-2?accountid=351.

3 Kozinn, Allan, “Todd Duncan, 95; Sang Porgy and Helped Desegregate Opera,” The New York Times, 2 March 1998. https://www.nytimes.com/1998/03/02/theater/todd-duncan-95-sang-porgy-and-helped-desegregate-opera.html.

4 “Todd Duncan Hailed in N.Y. Concert Debut.” The Chicago Defender, 18 March 1944, 3. https://www.proquest.com/historical-newspapers/todd-duncan-hailed-n-y-concert-debut/docview/492672283/se-2?accountid=351.

5 Holt, Nora. “MUSIC: TODD DUNCAN MAKES CONCERT DEBUT TAKES EIGHT CURTAIN CALLS.” New York Amsterdam News, 18 March 1944, 1. https://www.proquest.com/historical-newspapers/music/docview/226029876/se-2?accountid=351.

6 Gary-Illidge, Cora. “Music and Drama: “Goat Alley” Cast of Characters.” The Chicago Defender, 28 May 1927, 11. https://www.proquest.com/historical-newspapers/music-drama/docview/492136966/se-2?accountid=351.

7 “Todd Duncan Sings again at Tuskegee.” The Chicago Defender, 10 July 1937, 5. https://www.proquest.com/historical-newspapers/todd-duncan-sings-again-at-tuskegee/docview/492592848/se-2?accountid=351.

William Grant Still for a White Audience

On July 23, 1936, William Grant Still made his debut in Los Angeles conducting at the Hollywood Bowl. The article I found on this, written by Lawrence LaMar, describes how “an outstanding history making triumph as been achieved.” This performance was only a couple of years after Still won the Guggenheim Fellowship award for “Land of Romance” and “Afro-Symphony Orchestra.” Our class has been looking at the impacts of black nationalism within “American” music and how it has shaped today’s music. This discussion couldn’t be held without William Grant Still and his “Afro-American Symphony.” Even during the 1930’s, the public knew of its impact and what was taking shape, and how it could change history in music. Out of the 20,000 seats at the Hollywood Bowl, 12,000 of them were filled. This sounded like an average amount of attenders based off how the author was describing it. However,

“about 250 of the 12,000 people assembled in the Hollywood Bowl that seats 20,000 were of the Race. This number, although small in comparison to the whole, represents an increase over past regular season bowl attendance of Negroes.”

 

It is interesting to read how 250 might not have been a large number of people “in comparison to the whole” but that it shows that persons of color are increasing in numbers for attending the bowl.
This article views William Grant Still and thus his pieces as valuably important for American and American music. The writer states, “Each of the gripping symphonies that conveyed the feeling of the Race American toward the land of his folklore was marvelously rendered by the great orchestra that responded readily under the left guidance of its first Race conductor.” I found that this article showed some of the feelings that the BIPOC community was feeling towards Still and his compositions. The article can be used to shed light on this aspect as well as the ideas of how that ties into the impact on American music.
Another interesting aspect of this article is the literal, physical context around it. Surrounding this column in the Chicago Defender are many more negative articles about “members of race.” Titles such as “State Picnic To Be Feature Of Kentucky Hanging” stand out instantly to the viewer upon opening this paper. The article on Still is captivatingly uplifting and hopeful right next to the article that paints such a horrific image for the BIPOC community.
Another aspect of the context around the article on Still is the emphasis on music that this community holds. Simply turning the page of this newspaper brings you to BOLD headlines you can view in the following photos.
Citations:
LaMAR, LAWRENCE F. “WM. GRANT STILL CONDUCTS SYMPHONY AT LOS ANGELES: 20,000 HEAR WORLD-FAMED COMPOSER IN DEBUT AT HOLLYWOOD BOWL; APPLAUSE DEAFENING.” The Chicago Defender (National Edition) (1921-1967), Aug 01, 1936. https://www.proquest.com/historical-newspapers/wm-grant-still-conducts-symphony-at-los-angeles/docview/492575722/se-2?accountid=351.

Charles Ives’ Essay

When I think about modern music Charles Ives’ name rings synonymous. Ives was born in 1874 and died in 1954. He composed many works that pushed the boundaries of music. While the ideas of romanticism were included in his work, his compositions were largely experimental. He enjoyed merging European art music with the vernacular of the United States.1

Charles Ives - Wikisource, the free online library

Furthermore, Ives was also a believer in transcendentalism and admired greatly the works of transcendentalist creators. Transcendentalism, in a nutshell, is the school of belief that states the universe goes beyond reason and that there is a higher ‘spiritual’ power in nature, but not really a god. In addition, this school believes humans are not born evil but corrupted by society and materialism2.

One piece of Ives’s work in particular hones in on this movement. His composition Concord Mass has four movements each capturing the essence of a Transcendentalist author. The four authors are Emerson, Hawthorne, “The Alcotts”, and Thoreau in that order. While Ive’s composition is of great value, I find his musical connection to the transcendentalist movement in his Essays Before a Sonata to be even more interesting3.

Ive’s essays are a collection of essays written about each author or in the case of the Alcotts authors, of the piece with a prologue and epilogue. His prologue is what I want to dive deeper into today. Ives essentially argues in his prologue that music can not be representative of life, rather it is part of life. He questions,

“How far is anyone justified, be he an authority or layman, in expressing or trying to express in terms of music (in sounds if you like) the value of anything, material, moral, intellectual, or spiritual, which is normally expressed in terms other than music?”.3

Ives was trying to counter the idea of the romanticism movement that portrayed music as a way of conveying life experiences or emotions. This kind of rational or logical thought is typical of a believer in Transcendentalism.

He also quotes Thoureagh when he says it is “not that ‘life is art,’ but that ‘life is an art'”. I think what he was trying to convey here is that we can not use any art form to convey life as if it is easily communicated through paint or song. Lastly, Ives also argues that if everyone gets a different meaning from art, how can it portray life?

He explains, “Suppose a composer writes a piece of music, conscious that he is inspired, say, by witnessing an act of great self-sacrifice- another piece by the contemplation of a certain trait of nobility he perceives in a friend’s character- and another by the sight of a mountain lake under moonlight… suppose the same composer at another time writes a piece of equal merit to the other three, but holds that he is not conscious of what inspired it… what will you substitute for the mountain lake, for his friend’s character, etc?”.3

Certainly, I can not go into every detail of Ives’ essay in the span of a blog post, as much as I wish I could. However, I encourage you to read it. It offers so much valuable insight into Ives as a person, the man behind the music, and his inspiration.

1Swafford, Jan. “Ives the Man: His Life.” Ives the man: His life. Peermusic Classical. Accessed September 27, 2021. https://charlesives.org/ives-man-his-life

2Goodman, Russell. “Transcendentalism.” Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy. Stanford University, August 30, 2019. https://plato.stanford.edu/entries/transcendentalism/.

3Ives, Charles, and Howard Boatwright. Essays before a Sonata: The Majority, and Other Writings. New York: Norton, 1999.

Sylvester Russell and his commentary on the CYCB

Although not perfect, we have come to an era in which the voices of people of color, women, and other marginalized voices have started to become more commonly represented within musical communities. It is easy to attribute this progress to the overall trend of people becoming more open minded. However, we have to remember that this progress rode on the backs of certain individuals with radical ideas. One of these ideas is that of Sylvester Russell, who writes of creating an organization that supports black musicians.

Today, I am examining an article written in the Chicago Defender in 1907 by theater and music critic Sylvester Russell. In this article, he discusses the changes that he would make to the existing association “The Colored Vaudeville Benevolent Association” (or the CYCB).

https://www.proquest.com/hnpchicagodefender/docview/493197358/4C46D4B62E3944D4PQ/46?accountid=351  1

He first argues that the name of the organization is “not wisely chosen”, as the thinks the inclusion of “vaudeville” gives white people more access to the group, as it would gain attention from white vaudeville managers. He also thinks that the initiation fee of $5 should be reduced to $2 so that the association erases class issues and can include all types of black musicians and actors. He believes the only criterion should be that each member includes “all actors who are making a living as professional entertainers”. He also wants to include women in the association. He believes that by having an association that supports black actors and musicians in Chicago, it is possible that Chicago could become the center of arts for Black Americans.

The idea of creating a union of sorts among a group of people is not shocking. However, I think this column by Russell raises an interesting point about the ways in which black performers and managers were well aware of white influence and sabotage. Russell talks about the importance of how the members of this association present themselves. He argues that “The white man is ever on the bright side of natural instinct, and if actors who belong to this organization are not very careful of what they do and say along certain lines, their individual errors will tend to make the body weaker”. In other words, he thinks that the members of the organization must be savvy in order to keep the power of this organization between people of color.

Russell gives us a good reminder that progress has only happened because of individuals who have thought meticulously about how to keep power in the hand of POCs, careful to not let white people take it away.

 

1 SYLVESTER, RUSSELL Sylvester Russell. 1910. “MUSICAL AND DRAMATIC: FOREMOST DRAMATIC CRITIC THIRD SUBJECT THE DEVELOPMENT OF ACTORS. MANAGERS, PLAYWRIGHTS AND COMPOSERS MUSICAL AND DRAMATIC FOURTH AND LAST SUBJECT “THE DUTY OF COLORED ACTOR ORGANIZATIONS.”.” The Chicago Defender (Big Weekend Edition) (1905-1966), Sep 17, 2. https://www.proquest.com/historical-newspapers/musical-dramatic/docview/493197358/se-2?accountid=351.

The Power Dynamics of the Music Industry

In this post, my attention was immediately drawn. A professor of musicology at Columbia University named Paul Henry Lang made critical remarks regarding the musical education of the general public. He believed that those in the industry were failing to create a musically educated environment. These people included teachers, boards, communities and committees. His issue is basically the corruption in favor of those in power. Managers and directors use their power to make artistic decisions for the artist(s). Professor Paul Henry Lang articulated his views in response to a news magazine article (Harper’s Magazine) that stated, “practically the entire literature of music has been recorded; and from now on only duplications can be expected.” Professor Lang asks, in response to this quote, “how can such an uninformed concept of the literature of music arise?” He then goes on to talk about his inferences on why such an uninformed comment was made (these inferences being about the power dynamics in the industry as I described previously).

I find this article extremely timeless (for at least the last century). These are the same issues we deal with in the music industry today. Many artists have little to no control over their image and artistic choices. For example, Megan Thee Stallion has been forced to embody her “Hot Girl” persona and rap songs that all have the general sexual message. She sued her label, 1501 Certified Entertainment because they were not allowing her to release her new album. Here’s a link to an article that better explains it. 

Frank Ocean also had issues with his label Def Jam and decided to leave in 2016 after releasing his second studio album Endless. This allowed him to independently release another album, Blonde, very soon after. He describes his relationship with Def Jam as “a bad marriage”. Here’s a link to an article with more information.

More and more artists are beginning to release music independently because they know how controlling record l