“American Jazz “Not So Bad” Says Soviet”: Two Tales of Popular Music

In the late 1950s a turn was happening among the American populous. Suddenly, Jazz was starting to catch on as popular music and was recognized as one of the true, if not THE truest form of American music. However, it wasn’t just in America where Jazz was getting recognition. In 1958, the Chicago Defender1 released an article detailing a Soviet author’s opinion on American Jazz as “not so bad”. The author certainly made their opinions on how Jazz serves the bourgeoise and ultimately hurts the proletariate as a result, there was praise and more importantly in my opinion, recognition, of the early roots of Jazz being stemmed in folk music traditions.

The Soviet author then goes on to explain that there is almost no popular music in the USSR- and that they wish they could create a sense of national identity within their musical culture. This notion comes specifically from this author not even two decades on since Shostakovich wrote his Symphony no. 5 which is shrouded in mystery as to its origins and message. What we do know about this symphony is that it was the saving hail-mary for Shostakovich’s career- and he was already being pressured by the Soviet government to begin planting the seeds of a national musical identity.

Through many mirrors, dimly: 100 years of Shostakovich | MPR News

Shostakovich in the late 1950s.

2

This contrasts heavily against American popular music’s development because of the former’s rather natural progression by the people with little government involvement. This progression, however, took almost 200 years to lead to Jazz. The Soviet government wanted this progression to happen faster, they were in an arms race, space race, and even… a music race concerning culture against the Americans. Did Soviet music ever take off? In the classical- surely as modern Russian composers have a clear place in the instrumental canon, but it seems that only today due to the internet and streaming services is Russian popular music finding its footing within its own Eastern European roots.

 

https://www.proquest.com/hnpchicagodefender/docview/493699491/CA623B654A3F41B8PQ/4?accountid=351

https://www.mprnews.org/story/2006/09/25/shostakovich

Florence Price and the Erasure of Black History

Florence Price is a name we are all hopefully familiar with. She was the first African-American woman to have her compositions performed by a major American symphony orchestra, and her life and work remain an important part of our history. Born in Little Rock, Arkansas in 1887, she was a musician from an early age and attended the New England Conservatory of Music in Boston when she was a teenager.1  In order to better her chances of attending the conservatory, some sources say she was dishonest about her racial background (she was the child of a biracial couple). In 1932, she won a prestigious composition competition and had the opportunity to have her Symphony No. 1 in E minor performed by the Chicago Symphony.2

Her career took another step forward when she was asked to perform her Concerto in One Movement with the same orchestra as the solo pianist. However, despite a promising start to her career, she struggled to gain recognition and opportunities because of her race and gender. She continued to release music under the male pen name of “Forrest Wood”.3
Throughout her career, she worked closely with pianist and composer Margaret Bonds, poet Langston Hughes, and contralto Marian Anderson.4

Her career was rife with racism and sexism – the fact that she was writing under a male Western name shows how she was forced to erase her own identity to survive. Her reviews, even supposedly positive ones, were all saturated with the same bias, like this one I found in the Chicago Defender:

“Florence Price’s contribution in the form of a piano concerto was by far the most important feature of the concert for here we see what the Negro has taken from his own idiom and good technique is beginning to develop on its own.” 5

Or this quote from Price herself:

“Unfortunately the work of a woman composer is preconceived by many to be light, froth, lacking in depth, logic, and virility. Add to that the incident of race–I have Colored blood in my veins–and you will understand some of the difficulties that confront one in such a position.”6

 

 

Price and her family were forced to leave Little Rock for Chicago in 1927 due to the increasing violence towards Black people in the South, directly following several lynchings in her area.7
While musical opportunities were greater for her in Chicago, she died with most of her 300+ works unpublished and inaccessible to the public until 2009, when boxes of sheet music were found in an abandoned house in St. Anne, Illinois.8 The house had been vandalized with the valuables stolen, but the sheet music was untouched and bore Price’s signature. Price’s music had been left in the house, which was discovered to have been her summer home, since her death in 1953. So why did it take this long for her works to be discovered, and how many other compositions and groundbreaking musical works lie untouched and undiscovered, just like Price’s? how many other Black composers remain uncredited for works we know and love? The erasure of Black history is a massive problem in America, and it is especially prevalent when looking at our musical history. Price is just one example of this.

1 Walker, Karla. “Racism and Sexism Stalled Her Career. Now Florence Price Is Finally Being Heard.” Colorado Public Radio, Colorado Public Radio, 1 July 2019, www.cpr.org/2018/04/16/racism-and-sexism-stalled-her-career-now-florence-price-is-finally-being-heard/
4 “Florence Price: Breaking Barriers of Race and Gender in Classical Music.” Pacific Chorale, www.pacificchorale.org/florence-price-breaking-barriers-of-race-and-gender-in-classical-music. Accessed 11 Nov. 2023

5 STARS WITH WOMEN’S SYMPHONY. (1934, Oct 20). The Chicago Defender (National Edition) (1921-1967) Retrieved from https://www.proquest.com/historical-newspapers/stars-with-womens-symphony/docview/492521061/se-2

6 Busch, Elizabeth. “Florence Price: Composer, Teacher, and Pianist.” Csmleesburg, csmleesburg, 10 Feb. 2022, www.thecatoctinschoolofmusic.com/post/florence-price-composer-teacher-and-pianist.

7 “Florence Price: Breaking Barriers of Race and Gender in Classical Music.” Pacific Chorale, www.pacificchorale.org/florence-price-breaking-barriers-of-race-and-gender-in-classical-music. Accessed 11 Nov. 2023

Another Aretha Franklin?

Mavis Staples is an American Gospel and soul singer who rose to fame by being a part of her family’s band, the Staples Singers. She is also quite the civil rights activist, she even had the opportunity to sing for Martin Luther King Jr. Mavis began singing with her family at age 10 all the way throughout her education. In the Chicago Daily Defender, Staples is regarded as “another voice that ranks with Aretha’s.” 1

Since debuting her first solo album in 1969 ‘Mavis Staples,’ she has since then recorded 14 albums under the genre: rhythm and blues along with gospel. It can be argued that ‘You Are Not Alone’ is one of Staples’ most popular songs. “‘You Are Not Alone’ is a track to someone who has lost a loved one. It’s a song to someone who has lost a relationship or a friend. It’s a song to someone experiencing hardship – to someone deep in depression or dismay. It’s a reminder that you are not alone.” 2

Mavis Staples and the Staples Singers served an important role during the Civil Rights Movement in the 1960’s. The music they produced during this time were filled with powerful messages about equality. In other words, Mavis Staples’ music consistently reflects her standpoint on social justice matters, we should regard her as true activist of her time. It should be noted that her messages of equality, inequality, hope, and freedom extends way beyond on the musical world.

The Ellington Band and Impact

Duke Ellington was one of the preeminent band leaders of the early 1900s. He was one of the key figures in the swing band industry and his band was among the longest enduring and more successful of the time. In addition to key musical contributions to the swing genre and Jazz at large, Ellington was a advocate for social justice and fought against discrimination and segregation1.

The swing band era in general was rife with discrimination as record companies had all the power and prioritized deals with white bands at the time. In addition, performance venues were highly segregated, giving priority to white led and white member bands2. Furthermore, the culture of the genre often led to band leaders being more in the spotlight, which combined with a set of racial stereotypes of the time often led to black led bands being more marginalized.

Ellington was also unique for his dedication to his musicians and because of his unique success as an arranger and seller of sheet music, he often relied on royalties to fund his band. His band had the longest running performance because as bands got more and more expensive to hold together, Ellington was willing to pay a premium price for his musicians and not even break even from concert sales. Although the long running prestige of the band boosted Ellington’s image, resulting in more sales of the sheet music.

Chicago Defender June 19 1948

In the 1940s, the Ellington band finally disbanded but Ellington’s impact on Jazz was still felt. He became a figure in the civil rights movement, embedding non-segregation clauses into contracts, composing works that drew interdisciplinary praise, and calling out appropriation.

Ellington’s impact these days is now seen as showcasing a unique and sophisticated development in Jazz music, highlighted by unique instrumentation, inventive arrangements, and strong stories.

 

1
Scott, Michelle R. “Duke Ellington’s Melodies Carried His Message of Social Justice – UMBC: University of Maryland, Baltimore County.” UMBC, UMBC Magazine, 19 May 2022, umbc.edu/stories/duke-ellingtons-message-of-social-justice/.

2
“Duke Ellington: ‘the Bandleader,’ Pt. 1.” NPR, NPR, 21 Nov. 2007, www.npr.org/2007/11/21/16321292/duke-ellington-the-bandleader-pt-1.

image
“Jazz Giant Died when Ellington Band Broke Up: Dominated Jazz World 30 Years, and Remade Era.” The Chicago Defender (National Edition) (1921-1967), Jun 19, 1948. https://www.proquest.com/historical-newspapers/jazz-giant-died-when-ellington-band-broke-up/docview/492732663/se-2.

The Blues ties with Latin America and the Caribbean

Cuban Blues - song and lyrics by Chico O'Farrill | Spotify

The Blues being a form of “secular folk music” evolving in the early 20th century by African Americans primarily in the South is survived through the culture and the people which it makes an impression on. It is fascinating to see the Blues’ outreach into Latin American countries, especially those with high populations of African Americans and the ways that these regions have been impacted by the Blues musical style in the political atmosphere in the world.

In Baraka’s, Blue People, “Introduction” and “African Slaves/ American Slaves: Their Music,” Blues is described as “the parent of all legitimate jazz” but it is difficult to know the exact age of the Blues since it comes with the presence of Black folk themselves in the United States since it is “the product of the black man in this country…blues could not exist if the African captives had not become American captives” (17).  Furthermore, because of the history that Africans were indeed not originally Christian, this connects into the religious ties of the music thereafter which “celebrated the various cultic or ritualistic rites had to undergo a distinct and complete transfer of reference” (18).

In January 1965, the University of Michigan Jazz Band went on tour traveling to a multitude of Latin American countries and served as a case study to see "the far-reaching effects of cultural diplomacy...Both archival and oral history evidence indicate that the Michigan jazz band's tour succeeded in building vital imagined connections across international borders"<1>. The jazz band tour was a force that sew the essential role of musicianship in "fostering new transnational sensibilities.

Baker’s notion of the Blues is described “as a matrix” and “enabling script” for a comparative reading of texts by black writers from the United States, the Caribbean, and Africa.” Engaging in Blues and jazz there is a widespread incorporation of the music from black writers in the United States, the Caribbean, and Africa. It is said that “the writers of these texts engage in acts of identity through the use of blues and their creative work”.<2>

There is a concentration of African American population in the Caribbean so seeing the “Rhythm and the Blues: Caribbean Awards” source we can see the outreach that the Blues has had.<3> In The Music Education in the Caribbean and Latin America: A Comprehensive Guide, it goes into ways the music education system in Latin American and Caribbean islands incorporate the importance of the Blues into their school system.<4>

Lastly, a new method of “Caribbean literary analysis” draws from the “blues tradition in African American literature—similar to the way that reggae music borrows from the blues—and in so doing, highlighted the artistic and cultural influences that link people of color”. This further explores the theory through history as the “Blues and reggae in contemporary fiction manifest the oral tradition in African storytelling”.<5>

 

1.) FOSLER-LUSSIER, DANIELLE. “Cultural Diplomacy as Cultural Globalization: The University of Michigan Jazz Band in Latin America.” Journal of the Society for American Music 4, no. 1 (2010): 59–93. https://doi.org/10.1017/S1752196309990848.<1>

2.) Makuluni, Dean Edson. “Narrating the Blues: Music and Discursive Strategies in Selected African-American, Afro -Caribbean and Black South African Fiction.” ProQuest Dissertations Publishing, 1999.<2>

3.) McAdams, Janine. R&B ARTISTS & MUSIC: The Rhythm and the Blues: Caribbean Awards Say Hello To Banton. Billboard (Cincinnati, Ohio. 1963). Vol. 105. New York: P-MRC, 1993.<3>

4.) Torres-Santos, Raymond. Music Education in the Caribbean and Latin America: A Comprehensive Guide. 1st ed. Blue Ridge Summit: Rowman & Littlefield Publishers, 2017.<4>

5.) Washington, Lynn. “‘Reggae Got Blues’: The Blues Aesthetic in African American Literature as a Lens for the Reggae Aesthetic in Anglophone Caribbean Literature.” ProQuest Dissertations Publishing, 2013.<5>

The Fear of Swing

From spirituals sung in clandestine church settings to uplifting anthems echoing throughout Civil Rights marches, gospel music is truly a cornerstone of the African-American cultural experience. This genre, steeped in faith, resilience, and a profound sense of community, played a pivotal role in galvanizing unity throughout the turbulent era of the Civil Rights Movement. 1 As African Americans grappled with racial inequality and fought valiantly for their rights, the stirring sounds of gospel music served as a collective heartbeat – a connecting thread woven into the historical tapestry of their struggle for freedom.

Rev. Lewis Aids Rights Efforts

Parallel to this powerful gospel tradition, another groundbreaking genre emerged – Jazz. Like an audible mosaic of spontaneous creativity, Jazz is quintessentially American, with its deepest roots fastened in African-American expression. The playful liberties taken with melodic structures and rhythms, and the inherent emotional rawness, made Jazz the innovative art form it is today. It quickly became the voice of a generation eager to express their experiences, trials, and triumphs.

However, the path wasn’t always melodious harmony for these two genres coexisting within the African-American music scene. Gospel, with its sacred origins and divine objective, often found itself at odds with Jazz, seen by some as secular and irreverent. The Jazz influence, with its characteristic ‘swing’, trickled into gospel music which stirred controversy among traditionalists. Some pastors and churchgoers feared that the sanctity of gospel songs would be diluted, diverting from their primary purpose of worship and spiritual connection. 2 This line of thinking is similar to most religious and musicological figures of the early churches, except they took a more extreme view, sometimes banning music altogether. 3

Charges Singers Jazzing

Despite these clashes, the genres managed to maintain a symbiotic relationship. Gospel and Jazz, like two sides of the same coin, symbolize unique facets of African-American identity – faith on one side and freedom of expression on the other. Both have left an indelible mark on American music, painting a soulful picture of cultural transformation and resilience.

 


Footnotes

1 “Rev. Lewis Aids Rights Efforts.” The Chicago Defender (National Edition) (1921-1967), Feb 29, 1964. https://www.proquest.com/historical-newspapers/rev-lewis-aids-rights-efforts/docview/493071059/se-2.

2 “Charges Singers with ‘Jazzing’ Gospel Music: Composer Issues Blast at Gospel Choir Confab.” The Chicago Defender (National Edition) (1921-1967), Aug 11, 1951. https://www.proquest.com/historical-newspapers/charges-singers-with-jazzing-gospel-music/docview/492830346/se-2.

3 Weiss, Piero, and Richard Taruskin. Music in the Western World. 1984. Pages 5-11, 21-27.

Willie’s Musical World Tour

While looking through The Chicago Defender, an African-American newspaper founded in 1905, I came across a series of articles written by Willie Belle Jones. Jones was an African-American woman who it seems worked as a musicologist for The Chicago Defender. Over the course of two years, Jones wrote a series of articles describing types of music from around the world. I could only find four of these articles, however it is implied in the article “Chinese Street Music” that Jones wrote one of these articles every week,1 although it is possible not all of these articles were about musical cultures. The range of the articles that have been preserved are from April 1929 through July 1930, however it is possible that this series extends beyond those boundaries.

A picture of Willie Belle Jones from 1929.

In the four articles I found, Jones shares her opinions of music from China, India, Japan, Mexico, and Peru. It is unclear whether or not Jones herself traveled to these countries, or had other methods of learning about their musical traditions. These articles show a care for musical cultures around the world, while also demonstrating that racism and xenophobia permeated nearly all corners of the United States throughout the 20th century.

Jones, Willie Belle. “MUSIC: MUSIC IN PERU AND MEXICO.” The Chicago Defender (National Edition) (1921-1967), Apr 13, 1929. https://www.proquest.com/historical-newspapers/music/docview/492217804/se-2.

In this article, Jones discusses both Peruvian music and Mexican music. Jones compares these two traditions to each other, while also comparing them to “oriental” music traditions. I think these comparisons are problematic given that all of these traditions are so different and independent of one another. Also problematic are the descriptions of these two musical traditions. Jones describes Peruvian music as “Idyllic and Pastoral” while describing Mexican music as simply “barbarous.” It is already bad to assign certain qualities to an entire country’s music, and even worse to refer to an entire tradition as “barbaric pomp.”4

Jones, Willie Belle. “MUSIC: CHINESE STREET MUSIC.” The Chicago Defender (National Edition) (1921-1967), Jun 15, 1929. https://www.proquest.com/historical-newspapers/music/docview/492306389/se-2.

Jones seems to take a fancy to “Chinese Street Music,” however that doesn’t stop her from impressive feats of racist rhetoric throughout the article. Jones refers to Chinese workers as “coolies,” which is a slur so old and racist that I didn’t even know it existed until just now. Jones also makes fun of the variance within this musical tradition, and describes it as “purely racket” and “[not] very pleasant to the ear.” However, Jones seems enamored by the idea of having music in the streets throughout the day.1

“MUSIC: MUSIC IN JAPAN.” The Chicago Defender (National Edition) (1921-1967),Jul 05, 1930. https://www.proquest.com/historical-newspapers/music/docview/492235829/se-2.

Jones does not dedicate too much time to the music of Japan in this three sentence long column. She simply implies it’s basically the same as China, and moves on.3 This is insidious both for its lack of care and effort to understand Japanese music, as well as its essentialization of all Asian music as roughly identical.

Jones, Willie Belle. “MUSIC: MUSIC IN INDIA.” The Chicago Defender (National Edition) (1921-1967), Mar 30, 1929. https://www.proquest.com/historical-newspapers/music/docview/492230977/se-2.

In this article, Jones argues that Indian music is more pleasing than that of the other countries she has described. What is the basis for this claim? That Indian music more closely resembles European music than that of the other countries. I don’t doubt that music built on “seven tones to the octave” with characteristics similar to European music can sound more familiar to Western audiences. However, to describe this music as objectively “more pleasing” due to its proximity to western classical music is eurocentric and a problem in and of itself.2

These articles showcase that even within communities working to combat racism in the United States, racism was still internalized to the fullest extent. However, it is cool to see the interest that this community had for other musical traditions from around the world.

 

1 Jones, Willie Belle. “MUSIC: CHINESE STREET MUSIC.” The Chicago Defender (National Edition) (1921-1967), Jun 15, 1929. https://www.proquest.com/historical-newspapers/music/docview/492306389/se-2.

2 Jones, Willie Belle. “MUSIC: MUSIC IN INDIA.” The Chicago Defender (National Edition) (1921-1967), Mar 30, 1929. https://www.proquest.com/historical-newspapers/music/docview/492230977/se-2.

3 MUSIC: MUSIC IN JAPAN.” The Chicago Defender (National Edition) (1921-1967),Jul 05, 1930. https://www.proquest.com/historical-newspapers/music/docview/492235829/se-2.

4 Jones, Willie Belle. “MUSIC: MUSIC IN PERU AND MEXICO.” The Chicago Defender (National Edition) (1921-1967), Apr 13, 1929. https://www.proquest.com/historical-newspapers/music/docview/492217804/se-2.



A Use of Fame

As the black rights movement began to gain popularity in the mid-1900s, mainly due to burgeoning public awareness about unequal opportunities and treatment, music played an important role in creating a unique space to express emotion and build community. However, the people behind the music held a significant amount of power and influence, a reputation built up as they gained rapport. Especially as audiences were able to see more and more of their favorite performers, on television in interviews and sometimes in multiple forms of media (performing music and acting in movies, for example) an artist’s opinion often held great weight. Therefore, although one might not think of Frank Sinatra as someone fairly important to civil rights movements, primarily considering he was of Italian heritage, it turns out that his reach was more extensive than some people may think.

Frank Sinatra performed a great variety of genres over his long and extremely successful career of singing and performing, but in the 1940s and 50s he was known primarily as a crooner, or a male singer who sang in a smooth an intimate style. This was primarily enabled by the development of better microphones in the 1940s that could pick up a wider range of pitches and harmonics, and was popularized by big bands and jazz vocalists. Frank Sinatra had a significant amount of contact with different jazz groups, singing in the Harry James and Tommy Dorsey bands, before becoming a solo artist as World War 2 rolled around, however it should be noted that both bands were composed almost entirely of white men playing jazz, with few actual black performers.

Despite him not singing with any major black ensembles of the time, nor significantly collaborating with black artists, Sinatra was a tremendous advocate for racial equality. In 1945, he sang at the anti-black strike at the Froebel high school in Gary, Indiana, where he, according to one article in the Chicago Defender, “told the teen-agers to ‘kick out’ the adult instigators.”1 Ironically, Sinatra was also passing up the chance to attend a New York rally honoring him for racial tolerance in order to sing in Gary. He also spoke with students and adults of the school and urged them to study the Springfield Plan, which was a historic plan first implemented in the primary school system of Springfield, Massachusetts, and served to define how multiracial schooling should be established throughout the United States.

Even though Sinatra was unsuccessful at ending the strike, his attendance at the event was noted and the school even reported that student attendance increased following his visit, even though the strike continued. Hilariously, the principal of Froebel, according to the article, “indicated that he believed the singer should have been ‘tolerant’ towards the anti-Negro strike leaders.”2 This serves as a small example that, regardless of background, there were those who were trying to use their influence and fame to foster tolerance and equality.

Works Cited:

1 RICHARD DURHAM Defender, Staff Correspondent. 1945. “Frank Sinatra Fails To Break Gary Hate Strike: Talk, Songs Win Applause But Walkout Still On Crooner Introduced By Negro Youth At Big Rally Of 5,000 ‘THE VOICE’ BLASTS GARY HATE STRIKE.” The Chicago Defender (National edition) (1921-1967), Nov 10. https://www.proquest.com/historical-newspapers/frank-sinatra-fails-break-gary-hate-strike/docview/492782477/se-2.

2 Ibid.

 

 

Real Music in the Chicago Defender

The Chicago Defender was one of the most important newspapers of its time.  The first black newspaper to have a circulation of over 100,000 copies1, the Defender was read all throughout Chicago and the South.  In addition, almost two thirds of its readers lived outside of Chicago.  Within the Defender was a column written by David Peyton called “The Musical Bunch” which wasn’t as much aimed at the consumer as much as it was the musician.  Peyton would encourage “…his readers, whom he referred to as “the Musical Bunch,” to practice their instruments, attend engagements, arrive punctually for gigs, perform well, and above all to behave in a professional manner” (Waits 2013) 2.

While Peyton was supportive of black musicians, he was derisive towards jazz as a genre.  While he was glad that playing jazz was a means for black musicians to be successful, he wrote in 1927 that jazz did little to supplement musicians from an artistic standpoint3.  To him, jazz was raucous and illegitimate; full of “incorrect fingerings”. This perspective is echoed in Anne Faulkner’s article, “Does Jazz Put the Sin in Syncopation”, where she describes jazz as a destructive influence on American popular music.  Similar to Faulkner, Peyton makes a distinction between orchestrated jazz and the kind found in bars.  Both found the latter to be, in Peyton’s words, “barbaric, discordant, wild, shrieky music” that tainted otherwise talented musicians.

While Peyton denied the merit of jazz, what he could not deny was its overwhelming popularity.  Even this concession, however, was filled with lament.  Further in his July, 1927 edition of “The Musical Bunch”, Peyton discusses how jazz has expanded throughout the American and international sphere, but he applauds the “high calibre” Europeans that would rather import American jazz than learn the tradition themselves.  Peyton, who was a pianist and orchestra leader at the time, also mentioned that he would only play jazz briefly upon request due to its popularity.

While it is easy to write of people like Anne Faulkner as fearful racists, it was curious to see that a black musician would so aggressively deride jazz.  He wanted for black musicians to be successful in the music business, but only under the Western musical canon, which he believed to be uniquely refined and technical.  Jazz, to him, a means to bread on the table, not real music.

1“The Chicago Defender.” n.d. www.pbs.org. Accessed November 8, 2023. http://www.pbs.org/blackpress/news_bios/defender.html#:~:text=The%20Chicago%20Defender%20was%20the.

2Waits, Sarah A., “”Listen to the Wild Discord”: Jazz in the Chicago Defender and the Louisiana Weekly, 1925-1929″ (2013). University of New Orleans Theses and Dissertations. 1676. https://scholarworks.uno.edu/td/1676

3Peyton, Dave. “THE MUSICAL BUNCH: WHAT JAZZ HAS DONE.” The Chicago Defender (National Edition) (1921-1967), Jul 16, 1927. https://www.proquest.com/historical-newspapers/musical-bunch/docview/492206986/se-2.

Works Cited

“The Chicago Defender.” n.d. www.pbs.org. Accessed November 8, 2023. http://www.pbs.org/blackpress/news_bios/defender.html#:~:text=The%20Chicago%20Defender%20was%20the.

Waits, Sarah A., “”Listen to the Wild Discord”: Jazz in the Chicago Defender and the Louisiana Weekly, 1925-1929″ (2013). University of New Orleans Theses and Dissertations. 1676. https://scholarworks.uno.edu/td/1676

Walser, Robert. 2015. Keeping Time : Readings in Jazz History. New York: Oxford University Press.

Duke Ellington

Ellington wins Spingarn award. Article published in the Daily Defender.1

Duke Ellington is commonly known as one of the most influential and important voices in creating American music in the 20th century. His influence on “classical music, popular music, and, of course, jazz, simply cannot be overstated.”2 Ellington moved to New York in 1923, and by1927 Ellington’s band was hired to play at the Cotton Club and stayed for five years.3 By as early as 1930, Ellington and his band were famous and he was beginning to be recognized as a serious composer.3

Ellington reached the height of his career in the 1930s and 1940s. After World War II, demand for big-band music dwindled. Ellington, along with many other artists, struggled during this time, although he continued to compose and perform.4  In 1956, “with a triumphant performance at the Newport Jazz Festival, Ellington re-emerged as an important voice in contemporary music.”5 Following this success, Ellington began to perform and record albums with others such as John Coltrane, Max Roach and Charles Mingus, and Coleman Hawkins.

The article above explains the Spingarn award that Ellington won in 1959. This award is given to African American people who “stimulate the ambition of colored youth.”6 Ellington won this award for his outstanding contributions to American music over many years. It is commonly known as a “gold medal” for “the highest or noblest achievement by an American Negro during the preceding year or years,” and is one of the most coveted awards in its field. Along with this award, Ellington also “had been nominated for a Pulitzer Prize, elected to the National Institute of Arts and Letters, awarded a doctor of music degree from Yale University, given the Medal of Freedom” following his death in 1974 due to lung cancer.

Bibliography

Cofresi, Diana. “Duke Ellington ~ Duke Ellington Biography.” PBS, March 3, 2023. https://www.pbs.org/wnet/americanmasters/duke-ellington-about-duke-ellington/586/.

“Duke Ellington.” Duke Ellington | Songwriters Hall of Fame. Accessed November 8, 2023. https://www.songhall.org/profile/Duke_Ellington.

“Duke Ellington Wins Spingarn Award: Select Duke Ellington for ’59 Spingarn Award.” 1959.Daily Defender (Daily Edition) (1956-1960), Jun 23, 1. https://www.proquest.com/historical-newspapers/duke-ellington-wins-spingarn-award/docview/493738881/se-2.

Footnotes

1 “Duke Ellington Wins Spingarn Award: Select Duke Ellington for ’59 Spingarn Award.” 1959.Daily Defender (Daily Edition) (1956-1960), Jun 23, 1. https://www.proquest.com/historical-newspapers/duke-ellington-wins-spingarn-award/docview/493738881/se-2.

2 “Duke Ellington,” Duke Ellington | Songwriters Hall of Fame, accessed November 8, 2023, https://www.songhall.org/profile/Duke_Ellington.

3 “Duke Ellington,” Duke Ellington | Songwriters Hall of Fame, accessed November 8, 2023, https://www.songhall.org/profile/Duke_Ellington.

4 Diana Cofresi, “Duke Ellington ~ Duke Ellington Biography,” PBS, March 3, 2023, https://www.pbs.org/wnet/americanmasters/duke-ellington-about-duke-ellington/586/.

5 Diana Cofresi, “Duke Ellington ~ Duke Ellington Biography,” PBS, March 3, 2023, https://www.pbs.org/wnet/americanmasters/duke-ellington-about-duke-ellington/586/.

6 Diana Cofresi, “Duke Ellington ~ Duke Ellington Biography,” PBS, March 3, 2023, https://www.pbs.org/wnet/americanmasters/duke-ellington-about-duke-ellington/586/.

Jazz Operas

What follows is my commentary on Dave Peyton’s commentary on the Jazz Opera, a relatively new idea which sought to combine aspects of music considered polar opposites at the time: Opera, a very white genre, with jazz, which is generally considered a black genre. At this time in 1926, Dave Peyton’s “The Musical Bunch,” a weekly column for the Chicago Defender, was only in its first year of the five that it lasted in the 1920s. Sources generally mention 1924 as the beginnings of the jazz opera, which makes the concept “nearly as old as jazz itself.”1
Therefore, Dave Peyton is writing a very early commentary on what in his time was a very new idea.

An interesting remark about this post is that in writing this article, Peyton is acting as a journalist in talking about what is currently happening. In addition, and perhaps more importantly, however, he is writing about the future of both jazz and opera. Peyton is very clear in saying that wants the call for a jazz opera answered by an African American. Peyton not only characterizes this idea well through interesting writing, he also supports it with evidence, listing the gap in talent in Tin Pan Alley. And while he doesn’t believe that George Gershwin, a famous jazz pianist at the time, is an unfit composer, Peyton mentions that his music “is not what the people wanted.” So who should write the first jazz opera hit? Peyton strongly believes that an African American should take this call. He lists spirituals being used by whites, and even gives an idea for the operas, saying that the opera could be about “before and after the reconstruction period, depicting the hardships that were heaped upon our group.”2

Dave Peyton smartly uses his influence as an author on the Chicago Defender to not only give a brief overview of the musical happenings in the broader jazz community, but also as a call for jazz musicians, especially African American jazz musicians to act. Peyton’s opinions shown here in this column can be easily compared to the opinions that he was known for. One example of this is the controversial opinion that white orchestra groups were superior to black groups.3
While Peyton actively worked against this, he may have fallen to popular opinion at the time.

1 “When Opera Meets Jazz” Boston Lyric Theater, https://blo.org/when-opera-meets-jazz-a-brief-history/

2 “Peyton, Dave. “The Musical Bunch: Jazz Opera” Chicago Defender. 16 January 1926.

3 Peyton, Dave, and Walser, Robert. “Keeping Time: Readings in Jazz History” “A Black Journalist Criticizes Jazz”

Langston Hughes: Collector and Fierce Champion of Jazz

Portrait of Langston Hughes by Winold Reiss

In an essay titled “The Negro Artist and the Racial Mountain,” Langston Hughes argues that the road to respect in art spaces for black Americans is not to abandon the artistic traditions and tools that belong to them in favor of the aesthetic standards of white Americans and Europeans, but rather embracing them. In making this assertion, he says “…jazz to me is one of the inherent expressions of Negro life in America…,”1 championing jazz as one of these artistic traditions to be embraced and not diminished. 

Hughes’s deep love for jazz remains consistent throughout his writing, evident in a column he wrote for The Chicago Defender in July 1954. The opinion piece is titled “Hot Jazz, Cool Jazz, Deep Blues, and Songs Help Keep Life Lively,” and in it Hughes discusses his personal record collection and taste in music, particularly jazz. He begins by mentioning that “the most restful records to [him] are the ones that make the most noise.”2 Immediately, there is an informal, familiar tone which makes the reader feel like they’re having a conversation with Hughes as he shares his favorite records when he asks the reader “Do you mind?” that he loves loud music.3 He jokingly laments about how most of his records are on loan to friends and family or “accidentally cracked up,” making himself relatable and accessible to the reader before sharing his opinions.4 His love for particularly women jazz musicians such as Mae Barnes, Bessie Smith, etc. shines through in just how evenly they are represented alongside Duke Ellington and Thelonius Monk in the article. 

He then moves into a defense of jazz as a wealth of education when he states “If you haven’t heard Mae Barnes sing… you need to go back to school and take up race relations.”5 He goes on and lists records he deems essential, and compares them to classic literature, implying that each jazz song holds equivalent learning to these cornerstones of the Western European canon. “Backwater Blues” contains the knowledge of the Book of Job. Ma Yancey’s “How Long, How Long” can only be substituted by the sum of Thomas Mann, Proust, Dostoyevsky, Gide, Hemingway, Tolstoy, McCullers, Ellison, and Faulkner.6 Comparing these records to texts that are widely considered to be required reading by many pretentious academics is an effective strategy, especially because each of these songs only takes a few minutes to listen to, while these books take hours and hours of time to read. Hughes’s assertion that all of that can be communicated by the language of jazz music emphasizes just how important he believed it to be. 

It’s rather an interesting strategy that refers back to his perspective in “The Negro Artist and the Racial Mountain.” In the essay, he laments about a young black poet who had expressed that he “want[s] to be a poet–not a Negro poet.”7 Throughout the essay he discusses a greater trend that he observes where young black people are discarding black art in favor of mainstream, white, Euro-centric art and aesthetic values. He plays to the desire to conform and assimilate to whiteness by repeatedly describing individual jazz songs as more powerful than huge swaths of the European canon, calling in this opinion article on jazz for the young black people who read The Chicago Defender to treat the jazz repertoire the way they treat classic literature.

1 Langston Hughes, “The Negro Artist and the Racial Mountain,” in Keeping Time: Readings in Jazz History, ed. Robert Walser (New York ; Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1999), 56.

2 Hughes, LANGSTON. “Hot Jazz, Cool Jazz, Deep Blues, and Songs Help Keep Life Lively.” The Chicago Defender (National Edition) (1921-1967), Jul 03, 1954. https://www.proquest.com/historical-newspapers/hot-jazz-cool-deep-blues-songs-help-keep-life/docview/492945618/se-2.

3 Ibid.

4 Ibid.

5 Ibid.

6 Ibid.

7 Hughes (1999), 55.

Blues and Jazz: Popular Music or Folk Music?

““It ain’t what it was,” the old folks say, but New Orleans jazz is still better and more boisterous than you get served and verve up to you anywhere else.”

As early as the pre-civil war days, New Orleans residents played jazz and the blues. One big contribution to this celebration of music occurred when a group called the Carpetbaggers came to town. “They were hated by the local French whites, but loved by the local jazz players because they kind of “went for” the music. Word spread about the amazing, unique sounds of the Carpetbaggers all along the Mississippi River. As time passed, and music spread further, a business-man from out of New York City came along and signed the Carpetbaggers to a contract, spreading the blues from beyond the South. And the rest is history.1

New Orleans Blues and Jazz Band (Buddy Bolden’s, back row, center left, Band), 19056

The Mississippi River played a massive role in continuing the Black American tradition of jazz and blues music. “The famous U.S. Highway 61, known as the “blues highway” rivals Route 66 as the most famous road in American music lore. Dozens of blues artists have recorded about Highway 61.” A popular theme of these songs include the “pack up and go” mindset: leave troubles behind to seek out new opportunities, which is what many musicians decided to do. The original road traveled through and/or near cities such as Baton Rouge, Cleveland, Memphis, St. Louis, and Chicago to name a few. What do these cities have in common? They all continued to spread the love of blues and jazz music.2 Music in California, Chicago, and New York, were leading contributions to the birthplace of big time band leading, where larger ensembles with more orchestration began to grow.3

As jazz and blues music grew nationwide, the question at hand was if the spread of music was in honor of the tradition, or if the spread of music was in hopes to gain popularity both in the style and its musicians, further classifying this music as “popular music.” Bruce Jackson explains The American Folksong Revival in Jeff Todd Titon’s “Reconstructing the Blues: Reflections on the 1960s Blues Revival (Page 73): “Many writers and festival fans claimed the revival provided an opportunity for millions of modern Americans to better understand their country’s musical roots, as well as an opportunity to honor the musicians who still represented those traditions. Others–often disparagingly referred to as “purists” –were certain the revival and its attendant commercialism would provide the death stroke for whatever fragile rural and ethnic traditions still survived.”4

We, as musicians, can identify that most, if not all, different styles of blues music continued the legacy of its origins in two ways: (1) with the ever-present “blues scale” and (2) with the form, commonly referred to as the “12 bar blues.”

However, “Once Southern migrants introduced the blues to urban Northern cities, the music developed into distinctive regional styles, ranging from the jazz-oriented Kansas City blues to the swing-based West Coast blues. Chicago blues musicians such as Muddy Waters were the first to electrify the blues through the use of electric guitars and to blend urban style with classic Southern blues.”5

Even though these cities were introducing new populations to the origins of jazz and blues music, by the time these tunes were heard by audiences, they were drastically different from when they arrived. Another realization that I had when researching this topic was the fact that many blues composers would create their own melodies with the 12 bar blues form, but then would simply slap a location in the title, followed by blues, and call it good. New York City Blues, West End Blues, West Coast Blues, Statesboro Blues, Chicago Blues, St. Louis Blues, to name a few. Now where these titles meant to convey symbolic meaning by the composer? Or were these titles labeled to further gain popularity by the jazz and blues listeners of these respective locations? This isn’t a question that I can necessarily answer, but it brings up a great point: As we listen or play music such as the blues, are we interacting with the intent of acknowledging the history and origin, or are we interacting because it is catchy or popular? Is blues and jazz music considered folk music or popular music? Both of these questions don’t have right or wrong answers, nor do they have only one explanation. They do, however, require perspective when being placed in these conversations, and perspective requires more focus on the intention when engaging with these music styles.

1 Battelle, Phyllis. “How Jazz Music Migrated North and Captured Broadway’s Fancy: Oldtimer Tells ‘Woes’ of Men Who Pioneered.” Daily Defender (Daily Edition) (1956-1960), May 21, 1957, https://www.proquest.com/historical-newspapers/how-jazz-music-migrated-north-captured-broadways/docview/493656959/se-2 (accessed November 7, 2023).

2 “Highway 61 Blues.” The Mississippi Blues Trail, September 5, 2022. https://msbluestrail.org/blues-trail-markers/highway-61-north#:~:text=Some%20suggested%20that%20the%20road,journeys%20by%20continuing%20from%20St.

3 Roy, Rob. “Old Tymer Discovers Bop and Jazz Rooted at Base of Current ‘Raves’: Dixie Artists Hit N. Y. and Chicago Combining Styles.” The Chicago Defender (National Edition) (1921-1967), Jun 11, 1955, https://www.proquest.com/historical-newspapers/old-tymer-discovers-bop-jazz-rooted-at-base/docview/492899440/se-2 (accessed November 7, 2023).

4 Rosenberg, Neil V. “The Folksong Revival: Bruce Jackson.” Essay. In Transforming Tradition: Folk Music Revivals Examined. Urbana u.a.: Univ. of Illinois Press, 1993.

5 [Author removed at request of original publisher]. “6.2 the Evolution of Popular Music.” Understanding Media and Culture, March 22, 2016. https://open.lib.umn.edu/mediaandculture/chapter/6-2-the-evolution-of-popular-music/.

6 “A New Orleans Jazz History, 1895-1927.” National Parks Service. Accessed November 7, 2023. https://www.nps.gov/jazz/learn/historyculture/jazz_history.htm.

Dvorak’s life in America

We know Dvorak is known for coming to America and writing the New World Symphony, but what was his life truly like and why did he come to America? When thinking of Dvorak and American music, it was always my understanding that Dvorak came to America because he was curious about the culture and wanted to compose music that incorporated a sense of American culture. Dvorak came to America because he was offered a more than decent paying job with some pretty irresistible attributes. What was so enticing for Dvorak to pack up and leave his hometown Nelahozeves in the Czech Republic and endure a sickening 9 day transatlantic voyage on the SS Saale was Jeannette Thurber who “offered Dvořák an annual salary of $15,000, about 25 times what he was currently earning as a professor at the Prague Conservatoire.” 1

2

Dvořák with his wife, children, and friends in New York.

More along the lines of Dvorak’s life in America, we can get an idea from a multitude of letters he had written. In these letters he talks about concerts, premieres, the National Conservatory, and his family. 

“The first and chief thing is that, thanks be to God, we are all well and liking it here very much. And why shouldn’t we when it is so lovely and free here and one can live so much more peacefully and that is what I need… The orchestra here, which I heard in Brooklyn, is excellent, 100 musicians, mostly German as is also the conductor.” 3

In this letter from Dvorak to The Parker House, we get a clear idea of how he and his family is settling in as well as what the caliber of orchestral musicians are like in America.

W.C. Handy, Father of Blues

The Chicago Defender, established in 1905 by Robert Abbot, is celebrated as one of the most influential Black newspapers.1 An article written by Diana Briggs and published in the Defender on August 16, 1941 features Wyatt Christopher, or W.C. Handy. Handy played a significant role in the popularization of the blues in the early 20th century.2 In the concise article, Briggs hails him as the “Father of the Blues,” and tells of his visit to the Good Shepherd Community Center.3

W.C. Handy at the Good Shepherd Community Center7

 

The article tells of Handy’s relationship with the blues and opinions on other related genres, such as Swing.4 Briggs openly presents Handy’s strong, uncompromising stance on the Swing style. Handy categorizes Swing as a “prostituted melody of the blues,” used for the purposes of economic piracy on the behalf of whites who profit off of it.5 Handy describes Swing in an extremely decisive manner, calling it an aborted form of blues.6

 

When considering Handy’s career as a musician, composer, and bandleader, his almost graphic portrayal of swing seems entirely appropriate. Handy’s take on Swing relates to the greater, “message for his race” that Briggs notes throughout the article.8 The information surrounding Handy’s protective attitude towards blues in this article complements his career, which he spent, “making the blues a consciously composed art,” and bringing Black music into the mainstream of public culture.9 As a pioneering artist of the genre who believed that blues, “shall help [the] Negro in the fight for equal rights,” W.C. Handy’s unwavering take on both the importance of blues and the problems of Swing become unquestionable.10

 

 

1 Pride, Karen E. “Chicago Defender Celebrates 100 Years in Business.” Chicago Defender, May 5, 2005. https://web.archive.org/web/20051201092230/http://www.chicagodefender.com/page/local.cfm?ArticleID=687

2 Evans, Dylan. “Handy, W(illiam) C(hristopher).” Grove Music Online, January 20, 2001. https://doi.org/10.1093/gmo/9781561592630.article.12322

3 Briggs, Diana. “Chicago Hails W. C. Handy, Father of the Blues: Father of Blues Greets Chicago with Message for Race and Music FATHER OF THE BLUES.” The Chicago Defender (National Edition) (1921-1967), Aug 16, 1941. https://www.proquest.com/historical-newspapers/chicago-hails-w-c-handy-father-blues/docview/492581628/se-2

4 Ibid.

5 Ibid.

6 Ibid.

7 Ibid.

8 Ibid.

9 Robertson, David. W. C. Handy : The Life and Times of the Man Who Made the Blues. Tuscaloosa: University of Alabama Press, 2011. Accessed November 6, 2023. ProQuest Ebook Central.

10 Ibid.

Amy Beach – Making Symphonic History

 

Amy Beach (1867-1944)

Amy Marcy Cheney, more famously known as Amy Beach, was an American composer and concert pianist from New Hampshire. Although she is not a household name among your average non-musician, she used to be a famous and widely-known name and is considered the first American woman to compose and publish a symphony.1 She was an incredibly gifted musician from toddlerhood and was even said to have started composing her own melodies at age 4.2 Despite disapproval from her mother, who was fearful that the stigma associated with musical performers would tarnish her daughter’s upper-class reputation,3 Beach became a successful touring pianist. Her mother’s hesitancy was not unfounded, since she likely knew the hardships that Beach would face as a woman entering the compositional and performance world. Women composers weren’t listened to or respected and women performers weren’t taken seriously. People of Beach’s time in America were fearful of the female composer. As composer Antonín Dvořák stated, “ladies have not the creative power”4 to composer good music. The commonly held view was that women should just stick to performing pretty songs if they were musically gifted. The “scientific”5 art of composition should be left to the men, who, unlike women, won’t allow their emotions to get in the way of this very mathematical and precise art form. If you can’t tell, I’m rolling my eyes very hard right now.

Beach married Henry H.A. Beach when she was 18 and continued to pursue her musical education. Her husband, although supportive of her compositional pursuits, patronizingly feared that formal lessons would “change her creative voice”,6 so she threw herself into rigorous self-study of music theory and composition. She went on to compose over 150 published works, including cantatas, concertos, church music, symphonies, chamber music, choral music, and numerous art songs set to Shakespearean texts.7

In 1894, Beach published her first symphony, titled Gaelic Symphony, which drew on Irish folk melodies and was inspired by some of Dvořák’s compositional styles. The symphony premiered in 1896 by the Boston Symphony Orchestra under Emil Paur BOOK. and was met with widespread acclaim and backhandedly positive reviews. As a New York Times critic stated, “This symphony shows that composition is not beyond the grasp of the feminine mind.”8 Another critic from the Brooklyn Daily Eagle reported that “there is not a little strong writing, manful, one might call it, in which instruments are handled with confidence and authority.”9 These reviews can’t seem to separate the sex of the composer from how they listen to it. In Austin Latchett’s review in the Kansas City Journal, he just tells on himself about how unable he is to listen to a woman’s work without judging it differently than he would a man’s:

 “There may be no logical reason why women should not write as good music as men; but it is a fact that they have not written so brilliantly, so profoundly nor so prolifically as men have. They are almost unknown in the symphonic world. Presented anonymously, there would probably be no one to suspect that yesterday’s symphony was the work of a woman; but knowing it to be such, it is but natural that some of its most distinctive beauties should be directly associated with its feminine origin.”10

These reviews are obviously steeped in misogyny but they bring up an interesting point – what is it that makes music “feminine” and “masculine”? In my opinion, it’s a societal and cultural-based answer, but that’s for another blog post. Although her works aren’t as commonly performed these days, Beach stands as an inspirational figure for women in music everywhere. It’s important to acknowledge that if she were not white and upper-class, she would never have gotten as far as she did in the compositional world. Still, seeing a female symphonic composer clearly made a lot of male musicians uncomfortable, and that’s something that makes me smile to read about. 

 

 

 

1 Britannica, The Editors of Encyclopaedia. “Amy Marcy Beach”. Encyclopedia Britannica, 1 Sep. 2023, https://www.britannica.com/biography/Amy-Marcy-Beach. Accessed 5 November 2023.

2 Ibid.

3 Robin, William. “Amy Beach, a Pioneering American Composer, Turns 150.” The New York Times, The New York Times, 1 Sept. 2017, www.nytimes.com/2017/09/01/arts/music/amy-beach-women-american-composer.html. 

4 Ibid.

Ibid.

6 Britannica, The Editors of Encyclopaedia. “Amy Marcy Beach”. Encyclopedia Britannica, 1 Sep. 2023, https://www.britannica.com/biography/Amy-Marcy-Beach. Accessed 5 November 2023.

8 Jenkins, Walter S. The Remarkable Mrs. Beach, American Composer: A Biographical Account Based on Her Diaries, Letters, Newspaper Clippings, and Personal Reminiscences. Harmonie Park Press, 1997.

Davorak and Brahms from the old world to the new

Antonín Dvořák, the notable Czech composer, was remarkably instrumental in shaping the art music scene in America. Having built a significant musical reputation in England, Dvořák decided to extend his influence by joining the Institute of Musical Art, which is now famously known as the Juilliard School of Music. His decision led to a profound exploration to discern the essence of American classical music.

Upon his arrival in New York, Dvořák encountered an enthusiastic reception brimming with respect and admiration from the academic staff at his new institution, as well as the wider New York music community 1Beckerman 192-210. This affirmation of his abilities encouraged Dvořák to delve deeper into understanding the American music landscape and its potential.

Dvořák’s time in America marked a transition from European musical traditions to exploring something more culturally divergent. His objective was not just to teach, but he also ventured on a quest – determining the unique aspects that would define the texture of American classical music. He sought to encapsulate the pulse of the nation, its folk tradition, and the myriad narratives of its people and translate them into the classical symphony.

The resulting influence of his work, particularly Symphony No. 9, “From the New World,” embodied the integration of Native American and African-American folk melodies into the European-style symphony. This work, which brilliantly and harmoniously blends these individual components, became a pioneering step in creating a universally recognizable ‘American Sound’ in the classical music lexicon. This was greeted by a great fascination by fellow composer Johannes Brahms, who became friends with Dvořák while he was in England and then re-connected once this symphony was premiered. When the New World Symphony Premiered in Viena, Brahms, and Dvořák sat next to each other to celebrate the moment 2.

Dvořák’s exceptional contribution to the American music scene resonates even today. His commitment to appreciating and incorporating the unique musical culture of America into his compositions gave birth to an evolving new chapter in the history of American music. An affirmation of his esteemed status as an influential figure in American Art Music.

 

Footnotes:

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

2 BEVERIDGE, DAVID. “Dvořák and Brahms: A Chronicle, an Interpretation.” In Dvorak and His World, edited by Michael Beckerman, 56–91. Princeton University Press, 1993. http://www.jstor.org/stable/j.ctt7s5r0.6.

 

Bib:

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

HOROWITZ, JOSEPH. “Dvořák and the New World: A Concentrated Moment.” In Dvorak and His World, edited by Michael Beckerman, 92–103. Princeton University Press, 1993. http://www.jstor.org/stable/j.ctt7s5r0.7.

BEVERIDGE, DAVID. “Dvořák and Brahms: A Chronicle, an Interpretation.” In Dvorak and His World, edited by Michael Beckerman, 56–91. Princeton University Press, 1993. http://www.jstor.org/stable/j.ctt7s5r0.6.

 

Local Reports about Music

—. Logo: The Chicago Defender, 1905.

The Chicago defender has been in business since 1905[1], and frequently they have sections dedicated to music. Whether it’s letters from subscribers or features written by journalists, there seems to always be an article written about music. Below you will see a feature written by Grace Thompkins in the ‘Music News’ category. I unfortunately could not find any information on Ms. Thompkins, but from what I read in the article, she has a background in music. The article starts with mentions of the record-breaking audience in attendance to pianist Leon Kirkpatrick’s recital.[2] She then talks about future events, an attempt to get more public involvement in music. On April 23rd, 1939, there will be a concert in a local metropolitan church to celebrate the 9th anniversary of the Imperial Opera company.[3](Please click on link below to view full article)

music_NEWS_emspan_class=h

I think it’s interesting how sort of… mundane things appear in these newspapers. Our current media gets so saturated with such big news and developments, that we lose the things happening in our local communities. Articles such as the one written by Ms. Thompkins get lost when there is such a need to report on global happenings so frequently.

MUSIC_EMSPAN_CLASS=HITM

Above you will see a little selection with no apparent author but was written about music education in what I would assume to be in the Chicago area, (Please click on link to view full article) They write about the current state of affairs in music education.[4] They start music in kindergarten and keep the education going throughout their entire school career, this is very similar to the experience that I had when I was a child. It has only become more integrated since then. Another example of an article written about music in schools was published in “the Press Democrat.” The author writes about the financial budget cuts that California public schools experienced in 1998. The music departments were the first casualties.[5] How can we have such a rich and diverse genre of American music when music is getting hit by budget cuts in the schools? It’s because of articles covered in newspapers like the ones highlighted above. They’re providing access to the public, writing in a digestible format, and these were written before the era of internet. People’s main way of getting information was reading articles like this or hearing about them from a friend.

[1] The Chicago Defender. “About Us.” Chicago Defender, chicagodefender.com/about-us/.

[2] Thompkins, Grace. “Music NEWS: MUSIC CALENDAR.” The Chicago Defender (National Edition) (1921-1967), Apr 29, 1939. https://www.proquest.com/historical-newspapers/music-news/docview/492597431/se-2.

[3] Ibid

[4] “MUSIC: MUSIC IN THE SCHOOLS.” The Chicago Defender (National Edition) (1921-1967), Jun 20, 1931. https://www.proquest.com/historical-newspapers/music/docview/492328880/se-2.

[5] “MAKING BEAUTIFUL MUSIC IN SCHOOLS: [FINAL EDITION].” The Press Democrat, Mar 18, 1998. https://www.proquest.com/newspapers/making-beautiful-music-schools/docview/280743280/se-2.

Works Cited

—. Logo: The Chicago Defender, 1905.

Aaron Copland and his time in Paris

I think it is rather interesting and fun to investigate the personal lives of composers. Personally, I have never made it a habit to deep dive into the lives of composers, but I think this will become a habit soon. I’ve been looking at letters from Aaron Copland, and he is so funny! “I’m a pig! I’m a pig and a sinner and a wretch.”[1] This is the first line of the book, and it immediately displays the humanity of Copland, showing that there isn’t much difference between the performer and composer. I often experience the barrier between composer and performer, this display of humanity is refreshing.

Aaron Copland with Lukas Foss and Elliott Carter

2

Aaron Copland has written a variety of different works, and most of them are accessible to the public. Pieces like Appalachian spring, Rodeo, and all the film music he wrote is extremely accessible. I want to take a closer look at his early life, the time that he spent in New York and Paris. When he was a teenager, he was writing letters to Aaron Schaffer, another scholar, and supposedly they discussed things like aesthetics, music, and other things. Unfortunately, the letters from Copland no longer exist, we can only infer from the letters of Schaffer.[3] Quickly after these letters, Copland applied to study in Paris the summer of 1921.[4] He writes to his parents with enthusiasm to study many different musical things when he finally crosses the sea, little did he know that he would meet the most influential person in his career, Natalie Boulanger.[5] During the infancy of his studies in Paris, Copland mostly wrote to his parents.

It is so lovely to see the enthusiasm of his writing, he is brimming with excitement being in this new country, new land, and new experiences. Copland, like many musicians, has many insecurities about his craft. I personally fall into this habit as well, of putting a composer on a pedestal and thinking that they are a genius. Taking a deeper look into these letters that Copland wrote to both his parents and others, I think is a great way of breaking these assumptions and putting the composer on the same level as the performer. They’re all people like the rest of us!

[1] Copland, Aaron. The Selected Correspondence of Aaron Copland. New Haven: Yale University Press, 2006. Accessed November 5, 2023. ProQuest Ebook Central.

“Aaron Copland with Lukas Foss and Elliott Carter..” Grove Music Online. ; Accessed 5 Nov. 2023. https://www.oxfordmusiconline.com/grovemusic/view/10.1093/gmo/9781561592630.001.0001/omo-9781561592630-e-8000923191.

[3] Ibid

[4] Ibid

[5] Lerner, Neil. “Copland, Aaron.” Grove Music Online. 26 Mar. 2018; Accessed 5 Nov. 2023. https://www.oxfordmusiconline.com/grovemusic/view/10.1093/gmo/9781561592630.001.0001/omo-9781561592630-e-3000000119.

Leonard Bernstein & An American Introduction to The Gay Arts

Leonard Bernstein’s life and dreams of music direction were supported by his talent, utter extroversion, and thoughtfulness. Bernstein however faced three points of potential controversy against himself, being a Jewish-American homosexual. While Bernstein couldn’t hide his Jewish-American heritage in a widely European and at times anti-semitic music scene, he did certainly try to hide his homosexuality. Bernstein didn’t want anything getting in the way of him and his dreams of musical direction, not even himself. And so, Bernstein went onto marry Felicia Montealegre on September 9, 19513, despite having relations to varying degrees with other composers of the time from Ned Rorem to Aaron Copland2. On the topic of his sexuality, known by his wife, she wrote thus:

“First: we are not committed to a life sentence — nothing is really irrevocable, not even marriage (though I used to think so).

Second: you are a homosexual and may never change — you don’t admit to the possibility of a double life, but if your peace of mind, your health, your whole nervous system depend on a certain sexual pattern what can you do?

Third: I am willing to accept you as you are, without being a martyr or sacrificing myself on the L.B. altar.”1

Bernstein makes less discrete nods to his sexuality in his compositions. Junior from A Quiet Place (1983) is engaged in a same-sex relationship with Francois, as is Maximillian with several partners in Candide (1956).

9780634056093: Glitter and Be Gay from Candide: Scottish Opera Edition (Scottish Opera Editions)

Bernstein’s “Glitter And Be Gay” from Candide

4

Bernstein, although shaded in many respects, made the first few modern attempts at incorporating the LGBTQ’s voice into music. As a member of the LGBTQ community, I am grateful that I feel I can express myself freely in the musical culture I am surrounded in- and part of that is because of the path that Bernstein paved. Since Bernstein we have had LGBTQ conductors and composers such as Pauline Oliveros, Marin Alsop, and Yannick Nézet-Séguin. It is not an understatement to stay that in the modern culture of classical music Bernstein has solidified a place in the academy for openly LGBTQ musicians in spite of his reserved legacy concerning his sexuality.

Bernstein, Leonard. Leonard Bernstein Letters. Yale University Press, 2014.

Brandon Visetchaisri IU Southeast Student Conference April 22, 2021 …, scholarworks.iu.edu/dspace/bitstream/handle/2022/26363/Visetchaisri%202021%20Student%20Conference%20Presentation.pdf?sequence=1. Accessed 4 Nov. 2023.

“Felicia Montealegre Bernstein.” Wikipedia, Wikimedia Foundation, 2 Nov. 2023, en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Felicia_Montealegre_Bernstein.

 

Gershwin on Jazz

In the last century, George Gershwin and his works have become as American as apple pie.  Even though he was already a prolific pianist in New York at this time, he released his first published work: “When You Want ’Em You Can’t Get ’Em” in 1916.  Following this release, he began to enter the Broadway scene, writing for many shows from 1920-24.  His most famous work, Rhapsody in Blue, which many still consider jazz today, was partially unfinished when he premiered in February of 1924. Consequently, Gershwin improvised much of the piano solo during the performance, and conductor Paul Whiteman had to rely on a nod from Gershwin to cue the orchestra at the end of the solo1.

Jazz’s cultural position in the early 1920s was in constant flux.  Its naysayers argued that it was a temporary fad with no real compositional basis, while others argued that it was the future of America’s musical identity.  In his 1926 article in Singing magazine, George Gershwin posits a refreshing view of the genre where he answers the question “Does Jazz Belong to Art”2 with a surprising amount of foresight.  He opens his article by declaring “No student…can afford any longer to ignore jazz music or to sniff at it as a thing of low estate and of negative cultural value” (Wyatt 94).  Despite how it may sound, Gershwin wasn’t interested in being the face of jazz advocacy, more so he wanted American listeners to understand the genre as American.  He desired to jazz to be studied not as only popular music, but as a serious art music genre.  In an editorial found in Musical America, a writer argued that jazz’s ” natural place is scarcely in the concert room…”3, but today’s Jazz at Lincoln Center would beg to differ.

But if you take the best of our modern serious jazz music and study it, you can come to only one conclusion-that it is, in the words of Madame d’Alvarez: “America’s greatest contribution to the musical art.” – George Gershwin (Wyatt 95)

Gershwin would attribute the attitude in the aforementioned editorial as troglodytic; shunning the new and worshipping the old.  At the time, jazz was a burgeoning genre that was shunned in part due to racism, but also due to a desperate desire to preserve the status quo.  As Gershwin highlights in his correspondence, many of those that condemned jazz hardly knew anything about the genre: “To condemn jazz, for example, because there is much bad jazz in the world, is as absurd as to condemn all music because bad music exists” (Wyatt 95).  There is much jazz in the world.  “Jazz is simple, complex, relaxed, and intense.  There is a style of jazz which sounds like European classical music…there is a style of jazz that sounds like Latin American Music…there is a style of jazz which sounds like East Indian classical music” (Taylor 21)4.  There are styles of jazz which sound like various other kinds of music heard in this country and elsewhere in the world.  Gershwin believed that Jazz at its best provides a new field of mastery for classically trained musicians.  Its intense rhythmic focus, along with an emphasis on improvisation provides any classical musician with valuable skills that will only supplement their technique.

1The Editors of Encyclopedia Britannica. 2019. “George Gershwin | Biography, Songs, & Facts.” In Encyclopædia Britannica. https://www.britannica.com/biography/George-Gershwin.

2Wyatt, Robert, and John Andrew Johnson. 2010. The George Gershwin Reader. Oxford: Oxford Univ. Press.

3Dupree, Mary Herron. “‘Jazz,’ the Critics, and American Art Music in the 1920s.” American Music 4, no. 3 (1986): 287–301. https://doi.org/10.2307/3051611.

4William “Billy” Taylor. “Jazz: America’s Classical Music.” The Black Perspective in Music 14, no. 1 (1986): 21–25. https://doi.org/10.2307/1214726.

 

Works Cited

The Editors of Encyclopedia Britannica. 2019. “George Gershwin | Biography, Songs, & Facts.” In Encyclopædia Britannica. https://www.britannica.com/biography/George-Gershwin.

Wyatt, Robert, and John Andrew Johnson. 2010. The George Gershwin Reader. Oxford: Oxford Univ. Press.

Dupree, Mary Herron. “‘Jazz,’ the Critics, and American Art Music in the 1920s.” American Music 4, no. 3 (1986): 287–301. https://doi.org/10.2307/3051611.

William “Billy” Taylor. “Jazz: America’s Classical Music.” The Black Perspective in Music 14, no. 1 (1986): 21–25. https://doi.org/10.2307/1214726.

“George Gershwin: 15 Facts about the Great Composer.” n.d. Classic FM. https://www.classicfm.com/composers/gershwin/guides/gershwin-facts/.

On Copland’s View of Jazz

Aaron Copland, born November 14, 1900, is a composer best known for his incredibly accessible works, with pieces such as Appalachian Spring, Rodeo, and Fanfare for the Common Man being written in the 1930s and 40s. He was an American composer, although he studied in Europe for a good portion of his early career, and returned to America around the 1920s, where he lived in New York during the height of the quest to define what ‘American’ music was.

Copland composed in a great deal of styles, ranging from piano passacaglias to full symphonies. He was part of several jazz bands while in New York, as well as the League of Composers, and was well-known and respected, writing articles for their local magazine. One such piece was about George Antheil’s Jazz Sonata for piano, written in 1922, and was not well-received by the composer, although the original article perhaps did not warrant such a response. Copland wrote a letter to Antheil, perhaps to diffuse the situation,  in which he notes:

The idea of writing that article came to me as a result of the reception given your Jazz Sonata at a concert earlier in the season. All the music critics took the stupid attitude that you were a mere bluff, trying to scandalize the musical public…1

Considering that Copland was part of several jazz bands, it can be assumed that he is referring here to the negative perception afforded jazz and similar genres, even when written by white composers, something prevalent surrounding the time of the early Harlem Renaissance, when such music was to be confined to night clubs only. Copland’s view of jazz seems to be very positive, demonstrating that he was open to a variety of music styles, especially considering that this piece was most likely performed in a concert with other works, that is to say as an art song rather than a dance number or similar. This may demonstrate the shift from jazz being considered a ‘scandalous’ genre to something worthy of a concert, something with legitimacy.

Copland’s view of the actual makers of jazz, that is to say the black community, has to be extrapolated from several different letters, as he says nothing explicit about his ideas about black musicians and performs. In one letter to Carlos Chavez, a Mexican composer of renown, he notes that “Kids are like Negroes, you can’t go wrong if they are on the stage.”2 This was in discussion about his opinion of the opera The Second Hurricane, and the child actors playing several roles within. A footnote in the Correspondence collection states that “Copland may have had in mind Four Sains in Three Acts, which sustained Gertrude Stein’s modernist libretto and Virgil Thomson’s music by means of its black cast…” which although not part of his actual letter gives some insight into Copland’s surroundings at the time of writing. Taking his sentence literally, he certainly seems to have a positive view of black performers, a view that is supported further by his thoughts on the ‘Negro Voice’:

What a music factory it is! Thirteen black men and me – quite a piquant scene. The thing I like most is the quality of voice when the Negroes sing down here. It does things to me – it’s so sweet and moving. And just think, no serious Cuban composer is using any of this. It’s awful tempting, but I’ll try to control myself.3

Although this excerpt comes from a letter to Leonard Bernstein from Havana, Cuba, written in 1941, it still is useful in giving insight into Copland’s views. He views the ‘black voice’ as something to be used more often in songs, something that is ‘sweet and moving’. Granted, this is in Cuba, not New York. There are different politics in play, and indeed, an entire different musical style. However, I believe that this is indicative of a general appreciation that Copland has for music, without much consideration for who is behind it. He has previously noted that the consideration of jazz as ‘scandalous’ is stupid, he has noted that ‘you can’t go wrong with Negro performers’ and then 20 years later goes to South and Central American and enjoys partaking in their musical traditions. In this way, a sliver of his view: that music should be appreciated and recognized, comes through.

Works Cited:

1 The Selected Correspondence of Aaron Copland, ed. Elizabeth B Crist and Wayne Shirley (New Haven: Yale University Press, 2006), 48. Accessed November 2, 2023. ProQuest Ebook Central.

2 Ibid, 118.

3 Ibid, 141.

George Gershwin and the culture of composer celebrities

George Gershwin was a composer in the early 1900s that was caught up in the culture of celebrity composer. In a letter to his brother Ira, he is excited to announce that he has finally been recognized by a stranger in public as he had just released one of his more successful songs (the musical theater number La-La-Lucille!).

Letter from George Gershwin to Ira Gershwin, February 18, 1923, 60/61, George and Ira Gershwin Collection

At this point in time, Gershwin was enjoying the pop culture phenomenon of celebrity composers. As sheet music was making its way across the US in traveling shows, purchased in staggering numbers1 (Gershwin’s own composition “Swanee” sold well over a million copies), the composer was becoming something of a celebrity2. This seems strange today as we are so well accustomed to singers being the faces of a song— many people are under the impression that they are the sole writer of the song in the first place— but in an era before visual media, the composer was king. Some looking back at history point to the American Songbook as the launch point for composer celebration, as it enjoyed massive commercial success. Indeed even well established performers like Ella Fitzgerald devoted records or albums to composers, a sign of their high culture status3.

Despite their increased visibility it may be argued that celebrity status held composers back in some ways. They became more tied to the commercial success of their music and were more pressured to reproduce previous hits rather than venture into new territory. This is maybe less true of Gershwin and more so of the Tin Pan Alley composers such as Irving Berlin. And this phenomenon didn’t last long— soon rock and roll and other popular genres shifted the focus to the performers and away from the composers. But at this point, we see Gershwin’s excitement over his emerging fame.

1
Epstein, Louis. “Worthless and Priceless: Popular Sheet Music, 1890-1930.” “Worthless and Priceless: Popular Sheet Music, 1890-1930,” 1 Nov. 2023, Northfield Mn, Northfield Mn.

2
Utzig. “The Culture of the Composer.” Medium, Medium, 18 June 2021, utzig.medium.com/the-culture-of-the-composer-8e7f82e9f17a.

3
Micucci, Matt, et al. “The Genius of George Gershwin: Retracing His Legacy in Six Songs.” JAZZIZ Magazine, JAZZIZ, 26 Sept. 2018, www.jazziz.com/the-genius-of-george-gershwin-retracing-his-legacy-in-six-songs/.

Antonin Dvorak’s Relationship with Johannes Brahms

Every composer has a beginning and time where they are relatively unknown. This was the case for Antonin Dvorak, who ended up being both a European and American influencer in music. Up until his thirties, Dvorak, who was born and raised in a small Czech town, was relatively unknown in musical circles. In 1877, however, Johannes Brahms recommended one of Dvorak’s works to his own publisher.1
The piece was one from the grants Dvorak had applied for, which were focused on helping poorer composers get their start as composers. Remarkably, Antonin Dvorak clearly benefited indirectly from the grants he received.

Below is Dvorak’s response to hearing about Brahms’ recommendation.2
The letter is very thankful throughout, as one would think Dvorak might be at this time in his life. This letter, in fact, is the beginning of a relationship between two great composers, as Brahms continued to help Dvorak find his voice and eventually become the Dvorak that is well known in Europe and the US, and likely other parts of the world. This letter is remarkable to have been kept considering its historical significance. If not for this relationship, Dvorak’s music might not have impacted American music to the extent that it did. 

Commentary on this letter contextualizes it well, but that can also be a lazy excuse to not read this letter critically and follow a primary source reading guide. While the pages surrounding this letter talk much about Dvorak’s and Brahms’ relationship, they don’t mention American music, which Dvorak later came to know and influence. Many books and articles mention that Dvorak’s New World Symphony transformed American music, but a certain New York Times article debunks this theory.3
While Dvorak’s symphony surely had its influence, this article especially discredits the idea that Dvorak was the first to say that American music would have its unique characteristic in African American melodies. While there are many other details on composers who pioneered this view before Dvorak, a singular message can be taken away by the reader: the way music developed was not due to one person, but rather through a complicated journey. It just so happens that Brahms’ recommendation of Dvorak to his publisher was one piece of a large puzzle of the slow transformation of American music.

1. Beverage, David R., “antonin Dvorak”, Dvorak American Heritage Association, https://www.dvoraknyc.org/bio#:~:text=In%20December%201877%20Brahms%20took,to%20texts%20of%20Moravian%20folk

2.  Geiringer, Karl. “On Brahms and His Circle.” Harmonie Park Press, 2006, p. 351. 

3 Shadle, Douglas W., “Did Dvorak’s ‘New World’ Symphony Transform American Music?” 14 December 2018. The New York Times

Ragtime and its Haitian Ties

Audra McDonald – Your Daddy's Son Lyrics | Genius Lyrics

Ragtime is a syncopated musical style that was evolved by African American musicians which peaked between the 1890’s and 1910’s. It was often played on the piano with accented accompaniment. Ragtime regained popularity once again in the early 20th century through composers such as Scott Joplin, and African American composer and pianist. Ragtime is at times associated with jazz, however an argument is made that due to the absence of improvisation, it cannot be considered jazz. The presence of the ragtime phenomenon has made an impact on the composition and entertainment industry for over a century. Although African American musicians played a large role in the culture surrounding ragtime, their community was also made to feel insulted due to the minstrel show tendencies that became popularly associated with it.

In class we covered "Alexander's Ragtime Band"<1> which is a song by Irving Berlin released in 1911 and was his first major hit. There was later a musical film released named after it, telling the story of a boy who pursues a career in ragtime instead of a more respected form of music. The 20th century Broadway production Ragtime the Musical Another gained popularity. One of the songs projected in the musical is "Your Daddy's Son" and can be found at minute at 3:42 on the Audio CD of Ragtime: The Musical, which tells the heart wrenching story of a mother who buries her child in the ground after the father of her baby leaves her.<2>

Haiti being a predominantly African descent population at approximately 95 percent, has also been impacted through the outreach of ragtime.<3> The US relations with Haiti from 1915 reached political measures when President Woodrow Wilson had Haiti sign a treaty "that would protect foreign lives and property during Haiti's fifth revolution in four years" and discuss the Haitians take on the political atmosphere at the time. Music itself can be seen to have a powerful impact of nations such as Haiti and the African American population in which in resides. <4>

  1. “Alexander’s Ragtime Band.” n.d. Library of Congress, Washington, D.C. 20540 USA. Accessed November 2, 2023. https://www.loc.gov/item/jukebox-130931/.<1 >
  2. McNally, Terrence, Lynn Ahrens, Brian Stokes Mitchell, Peter Friedman, Marin Mazzie, Audra McDonald, Mark Jacoby, David Loud, John Mauceri, and E. L. Doctorow. Ragtime : the Musical. New York, N.Y: RCA Victor, 1998.<2>
  3. WEISBERGER, BA. RAGTIME DIPLOMACY + UNITED-STATES INVOLVEMENT IN HAITI IN THE EARLY-20TH-CENTURYAmerican Heritage. Vol. 45. NEW YORK: Amer Heritage Subscription Dept, 1994.<3>
  4. Weisberger, Bernard A. Ragtime DiplomacyAmerican Heritage. Vol. 45. New York: American Heritage Publishing Company, 1994.<4>

“Porgy and Bess” and African-American Identity

Arguably the most famous American musical theater production of the 20th century is Porgy and Bess, “an American Folk Opera,” the peak of Gershwin’s career. There is rarely a night in the world when Porgy and Bess isn’t performed live on stage. The distinct characters of the songs have spawned hundreds of arrangements. in Maurice Peress’s book “Dvorák to Duke Ellington: A Conductor Explores America’s Music and Its African American Roots”, We are able to see the intersections between “Porgy and Bess”, Gershwin, and the African-American identity. 1

Although “Porgy and Bess” was a cultural gift, it is not exempted from some controversy. “Combining the sons of Russian Jewish immigrants, George and Ira Gershwin, with the scion of a prominent white South Carolina family, DuBose Heyward, and his wife Dorothy, an Ohio native, to depict an exclusively African-American story”(Cooper 2019)—is this an example of good melting-pot American art? Is it improper cultural appropriation? The fact that the most well-known opera depicting the African-American experience was produced by a team made up exclusively of white people is no secret to Black composers looking for acceptance. 2

In a 1936 essay for Opportunity, an Urban League journal, Hall Johnson, a black composer, arranger, and choir director whose Broadway hit musical “Run, Little Chillun!” had been successful, said Gershwin was “as free to write about Negroes in his own way as any other composer to write about anything else.” However, he noted that the finished product was “Gershwin’s idea of what a Negro opera should be, not a Negro opera by Gershwin.” Decades later, the writer James Baldwin reiterated this criticism in a review of the movie, saying that although he enjoyed “Porgy and Bess,” it was still “a white man’s vision of Negro life.”2

“Porgy and Bess” provided jobs for black singers with classical training during a time when discrimination kept them from appearing at the Met and other prestigious venues. When the initial tour of the play arrived to the segregated National Theater in Washington, DC, the black stars of the show took a stance and promised not to perform. The theater was compelled to integrate as a result, albeit only briefly. “Porgy” established the careers of other black vocalists , such as Leontyne Price, who sang the part of Bess right out of Juilliard.2

Eventually, It began featuring American culture internationally. However, this came with some problems. “Porgy and Bess”, being a Jewish composer’s work about African Americans, the work’s European premiere in Copenhagen during World War II sparked controversy because of its staging, which was seen as a direct protest against the Nazi regime. During the middle of the Cold War, in the mid-1950s, author Truman Capote wrote an entertaining portrayal of the inherent ironies of this visit of Leningrad and Moscow.2 The piece seemed to be fitting into the operatic canon, proving the pieces power.

 

1 Peress, Maurice. 2004. Dvorák to Duke Ellington : A Conductor Explores America’s Music and Its African American Roots. New York: Oxford University Press, Incorporated. Accessed November 2, 2023. ProQuest Ebook Central.
2 Cooper, Michael. “The Complex History and Uneasy Present of ‘Porgy and Bess.’” The New York Times, The New York Times, 19 Sept. 2019, www.nytimes.com/2019/09/19/arts/music/porgy-bess-gershwin-metropolitan-opera.html.

Copland, the Writer, On Jazz

Aaron Copland was not just a prolific composer, but also wrote extensively about both his own works and his contemporaries. In a preface to a collection of his writing, he’s described as having “epitomized the ideal of the composer-writer” in his career.1 He also wrote about trends and occurrences in music, particularly American music. One example of this is a short essay from 1927 titled “Jazz Structure and Influence.” 

In the essay, Copland aims to contribute to analytical and critical writing about jazz, a field of study which had just begun to emerge. The essay’s general thesis argues that jazz’s main contribution to music as a whole is its rhythmic innovations. He begins by consulting a few different sources for a definition of jazz, including composer Virgil Thomson and music critic Henry O. Osgood’s book, So This Is Jazz. Both of the definitions emphasize rhythm, and the central function of “‘a counterpoint of regular against irregular beats.’”2

Copland continues to build on these assertions by pinpointing a particular type of syncopation that is unique to jazz. He traces the development of this jazz rhythm through spirituals, ragtime, and the foxtrot. He asserts that “Modern jazz began with the fox trot,”3 and identifies a specific rhythmic motif, pictured below. By putting it over four quarter notes, “the play of two independent rhythms…” creates “a molecule of jazz.”4 He clarifies later that polyrhythms themselves were not invented by jazz, but that “the polyrhythms of jazz are different in quality and effect… The peculiar excitement they produce by clashing two definitely and regularly marked rhythms is unprecedented in occidental music.”5

The “molecule of jazz” pictured in Copland’s essay.

Copland then moves into an analysis of the ways in which this identifying aspect of jazz has “achieved a new synthesis in music.”6 This is also where his rhetoric begins to feel problematic for a modern day reader. Copland posits several times that jazz is “so difficult for ordinary ears” that these polyrhythms only appear a few measures at a time in contemporary music, and goes on to credit Gershwin as having written the “most original jazz song yet composed.”7 These statements indirectly communicate a belief that jazz’s rhythmic complexity places it above music “developed among primitive races.”8 Also, he places a white man at the pinnacle of achievement in a genre that he even describes as having Black (specifically African-American) origins. He provides some nuance when he argues that European composers have “exploited it as an exotic novelty.”9 However, his concluding statements describing jazz as “indigenous, music an American has heard as a child,” and encouraging American composers to draw on it as a musical resource, are ignorant of the actual Indigenous music of the Americas, as well as the institutional racism in America that complicates the use of jazz by white composers as inspiration and source material.10

1 Kostelanetz, Richard. “Preface.” In Aaron Copland: A Reader : Selected Writings 1923-1972, by Aaron Copland. New York: Routledge, 2004.

2 Copland, Aaron. “Jazz Structure and Influence.” In Aaron Copland: A Reader : Selected Writings 1923-1972. New York: Routledge, 2004, 83.

3 Ibid, 84.

4 Ibid, 85.

5 Ibid, 87.

6 Ibid, 85.

7 Ibid, 86.

8 Ibid, 86.

9 Ibid, 87.

10 Ibid, 87.

Dvorak’s Correspondence and What They Say About Him

The book Dvorak and His World by Michael Beckerman includes a chapter completely dedicated to correspondence received by Dvorak during his time in America.1 These letters are supposedly not published anywhere else and have never been seen before this book. There are a wide range of letters from pleasant greetings to desperate pleas, all of which demonstrate the kind of impact Dvorak had in the American community and the world as a whole.

Letter to Dvorak regarding Requiem premiere.2

These first few letters were received by Dvorak just before and after his Requiem was first performed in Boston. The second letter is from someone giving thanks to Dvorak on behalf of the Boston government. He states that the opportunity for Bostonians to hear a premiere Dvorak’s work directed by Dvorak himself and with the ability to meet Dvorak is not something easily forgotten. He concludes his letter by stating that it is difficult to find words to describe the beauty of his work and that  “Boston is fortunate in receiving its first impression of the great work at the hand of its great composer.”3 He continues in hoping that Dvorak’s “stay in America may be as pleasant to yourself as it will surely be profitable to the country, and that Boston may have many more occasions of renewing an acquaintance so delightfully begun.”4 This letter demonstrates how much of a impact Dvorak had on the places he traveled. The language in this letter allows us to understand that the people of Boston greatly valued Dvorak’s visit and premiere, and it had a vast impact on Boston and its people.

Letters to Dvorak requesting his help.4

The second section of this chapter includes letters to Dvorak from parts of the world Dvorak was not near at the time. It is unclear whether or not Dvorak ever responded, but these letters show that Dvorak had a great impact on other parts of the world and that many people were languishing for his attention. The first letter comes from a remote location in California close to the Mexican boarder “remote and isolated that perhaps the place has never been brought to [Dvorak’s] notice.”5 They have a prosperous music society intensely studying the works of Dvorak and often come across numerous problems with obtaining copies of his scores due to their location. That being said, they have “great enthusiasm and reverence for the Master who is doing so much for the development of music in America” and they would just like to ask “Dr. Dvorak to send [them] a few words of encouragement and advice.”6 This cute interaction is one way of showing how impactful Dvorak was even on the smallest and most remote communities all so desperately wanting to learn and study Dvorak’s music.

Bibliography

Beckerman, Michael, ed. Dvorák and His World. Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1993. Accessed November 1, 2023. ProQuest Ebook Central.

Footnotes

1Michael Beckerman, ed. Dvorák and His World. Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1993. Accessed November 1, 2023. ProQuest Ebook Central.

2Ibid.

3Ibid.

4Ibid.

5Ibid.

6Ibid.

Cultural Exchange between Chávez and Copland

Aaron Copland and Carlos Chávez met in New York in 1926, both young and only at the beginning of their long and influential careers.1 They became close friend, and although much of their relationship was long distance, they maintained a strong connection, “mentally and spiritually and musically.”2 The long lasting bond between the composers can be partially attested to their natural fondness for each other and additionally to the similarities between them. 

Aaron Copland and Carlos Chávez3

Born a year apart, they both began musical study on piano before pursuing composition and harmony lessons in their teens.4 Additionally, both studied in Europe in the 1920s, where they were exposed to the latest innovations in art music.5 Over the course of their careers, the two seemed to develop a similar approach to modern composition in relationship to national identity. They both found the use of folk music as an effective way to create a distinctive “New World” sound.6 Many of Copland’s most beloved works, such as El Salón México and Short Symphony quote or incorporate the sounds of Mexico that he encountered on his many trips to visit Chávez. Similarly, Chávez’s works were celebrated by Mexican musicians for establishing a modernist, Mexican sound with use of Mexican folk music.7

8

Copland admired Chávez’s non-European sound and “complete overthrow of nineteenth-century ideals.”9 Similarly, Chávez deemed Copland’s works as, “genuinely American,” and “the music of our time.”10 Their mutual respect for each other helped facilitate a cultural exchange of a new musical sound. Both Copland and Chávez introduced, programmed, and conducted the works of the other in their respective geographical locations.11 The quintessential American sound of the 20th century must be not only attributed to Aaron Copland, but Carlos Chávez and the close relationship between them.

 

1 POLLACK, HOWARD. “Aaron Copland, Carlos Chávez, and Silvestre Revueltas.” In Carlos Chavez and His World, edited by LEONORA SAAVEDRA, 99–110. Princeton University Press, 2015. http://www.jstor.org/stable/j.ctt1cg4n5s.11

2 Copland, Aaron, Elizabeth B Crist, and Wayne Shirley. The Selected Correspondence of Aaron Copland. 1st ed. New Haven: Yale University Press, 2006.

3 Copland, Aaron. Aaron Copland and Carlos Chávez. , . [Date of production not identified] Photograph. https://www.loc.gov/item/2023781702/.

4 Parker, Robert L. “Copland and Chávez: Brothers-in-Arms.” American Music 5, no. 4 (1987): 433–44. https://doi.org/10.2307/3051451. 

5 Ibid.

6 Murchison, Gayle. “‘Folk’ Music and the Popular Front: El Salón México.” In The American Stravinsky: The Style and Aesthetics of Copland’s New American Music, the Early Works, 1921-1938, 190–207. University of Michigan Press, 2012. http://www.jstor.org/stable/j.ctv3znzqf.15. 

7 MIRANDA, RICARDO. “‘The Heartbeat of an Intense Life’: Mexican Music and Carlos Chávez’s Orquesta Sinfónica de México, 1928–1948.” In Carlos Chavez and His World, edited by LEONORA SAAVEDRA, 46–61. Princeton University Press, 2015. http://www.jstor.org/stable/j.ctt1cg4n5s.8.

8 “El Salón México.” Spotify, January 1, 1960. https://open.spotify.com/track/6nrYxPub6J1Buu7ScnRk7u?si=e27ee74bd90a4820.

9 Ibid.

10 Ibid.

11 Ibid.

Duke Ellington “Got It Bad”

Samuel A. Floyd Jr. ‘s “Black Music in the Harlem Renaissance” quotes that “The white show world of downtown New York, where a few black musicians performed and where black shows were also presented, was active, but after hours everyone, white and black, went to Harlem to hear black music.”1

Duke Ellington began his claim to fame starting in 1923, when he moved from Washington D.C. to New York to build his musical career. Within just one year, Ellington became the leader of his own band, which regularly performed at the Cotton Club. By 1930, Ellington and his band were playing all over the country and the world, winning countless awards, including 13 grammy’s and the Pulitzer Prize Special Citation in 1999.2

George Redd’s observations imply that it was the more educated jazz musicians who helped to bring the two camps (white and black musicians) together. He points out that Duke Ellington, Fletcher Henderson, and others presented an image that was acceptable to the intellectuals. Ellington’s dignified bearing, his aristocratic flair, and his self-assurance in any company exemplified the New Negro, in and outside the jazz world.”1

And that is exactly what Ellington did. By the mid 1920s, Duke Ellington already established himself and his jazz orchestra as highly successful contributors to black music. But how could black composers further expand their brand while continuing to experience the inequalities of living compared to white people? One way that Ellington did so was by composing for a predominantly white profession: symphony orchestras, operas, and theatrical productions.
“Ellington and his peers used jazz not only to satirize white culture but also increasingly to parody the music itself thus shifting its direction from swing to bop.
Ellington reflected through his music the social and cultural changes that occurred as more African Americans were able to gain greater personal autonomy free from interference by white society.3

Ellington’s three-movement suite titled Black, Brown and Beige“ presents historical narratives of the nation. Black, Brown and Beige, a “tone parallel” to black history as Ellington describes, “uses sounds and themes associated with jungle style but recontextualizes their musical and racial meanings in ways that transform the style’s primitivist codes. The work’s three movements represent the monumental moments and movements in African American historical memory: slavery, emancipation, and urbanization in the northern metropole.4

During the same time period, a man by the name of Harry T. Burleigh was also a leading contributor to bridging the gap between black society and musicians to the white society and classically-trained musicians by composing and intertwining spirituals into the classical music tradition. Burleigh’s new ideas, however, got loads of backlash, as segregation still played a major role in American society at the time.

Van Vechten often made critical comments on Burleigh’s arrangements: “White singers have been attracted to Mr. Burleigh’s arrangements, because they include many of the ‘tricks’ which make any song successful, while the accompaniments are often highly sophisticated.”

Van Vechten claimed, when discussing the arrangements of Harry Burleigh, that Harlem Renaissance musicians should base their work on the twentieth-century music of the South. If they really wanted to preserve the spirituals, they should go to the South and do their own fieldwork. Philosopher, arts patron, and friend of Van Vechten also made strong jabs at people like Ellington and Burleigh, claiming that “the proper idiom of Negro folk song calls for choral treatment” and that Black musicians who were “in vital touch with the folk traditions of Negro music” were “in commercial slavery to Tin Pan Alley and subject to the corruption and tyranny of the ready cash of our dance halls and the vaudeville stage.” On the other hand, musicians (like Burleigh and Ellington), who had formal training, were in his opinion “divorced from the people and their vital inspiration by the cloister-walls of the conservatory and the taboos of musical respectability.”5

Regardless of the critics of the 1930-1940s, what Burleigh and Ellington did was create strides for racial equality through music. Ellington and his Orchestra will go down as one of the most influential musical groups in American history, not entirely for their catchy compositions, but for the impact they had on giving minorities a voice to make careers in whatever field they want, even with the backlash they often received from a predominantly white nation.

“What we could not say openly, we expressed in music, and what we know as ‘jazz’ is something more than just dance music.” – Duke Ellington3

Robbie Robertson Americana or Canadian?

Although it is important to learn the history of ethnography with Frances Densmore and early recordings of Native American music, I find listening to music created by Native Americans specifically shared with the public to have greater impact. In the Akwesasne Notes Magazine, there is a section called Music Reviews by Jill O’Brian. This section of the magazine talks about the Red Road Ensemble and Robbie Robertson. When simply searching up Robbie Robertson we find that he was a Canadian musician and lead guitarist for Bob Dylan. What we don’t see is his Native American background and the group he created called the “Red Road Ensemble,” who created the album, Music for the Native Americans which was used in a television documentary.

1

Robbie Robertson was a musician, songwriter, and guitarist of Mohawk and Jewish descent. He played a significant role in promoting and preserving Native Canadian/American culture through his music. Robertson incorporated Native American themes and musical elements into his compositions, which helped bring Native American culture to a broader audience. 

Let’s take a look into the album Contact from the Underworld of Redboy, which was released in 1998.

“One particular song on the record, Sacrifice, highlighted the plight of Native Americanawk activist Leonard Peltier, who was serving two life sentences in prison for a crime he did not commit. The song mixes traditional singing and drums with Robertson’s own voice singing the chorus and a recording from a phone call with Peltier in prison, where the Lakota man tells his story.”2

It is important that we as students educate ourselves on Native people’s music in order to help preserve and protect traditions, which have been passed down through generations. 3

 

Émile Petitot’s Exploitation of Indigenous Peoples

CW: Sexual assault/pedophilia 

French missionary Father Émile Petitot spent his life researching the Indigenous tribes of Northern Canada. An ordained minister, he was actually never trained as an ethnographer, nor did he study ethnomusicology.1 Petitot traveled from France to stay with the Inuvialuit chief, Noulloumallik Innonarana, where he researched Indigenous music, culture, and languages.2 He lived and worked in Canada until the end of the 19th century.3

Above is an example of Petitot’s transcriptions of Indigenous music, similar to Densmore and other ethnographers of the time who attempted to box this music into Western notation. Since he most likely didn’t have the means to record the songs, it does make sense that he attempted to notate them in a way that can be interpreted later, but it is still a frustratingly white-washed attempt at cultural preservation. Many of the Inuvialuit peoples were extremely mistrustful of Petitot and believed he may be carrying foreign diseases, but he still recorded that they were “hospitable” people.4 Petitot had a fascination with what he called “Eskimos” in Canada and wrote an entire book about them (Le Grands Esquimeuax)FOOTNORE INUV. His obsession with imposing himself and his religion on these people reeks of colonization and exoticization. 

His exploitative nature went even darker than this, however, and he took advantage of his position sexually as well. He was said to have had sexual relations with many of the young indigenous people while he was staying with and studying different tribes.5 He had a history of sexually assaulting young people and was fired from a previous church job for having sexual relations with a young boy servant.6 Some records state that he attempted self-circumcision as a means to quell his desires, but he was clearly unsuccessful in his attempts and continued to harm and take advantage of young Indigenous people. He was said to have numerous “bouts of insanity” and mental health issues, and this may be the reason he has many inconsistencies in his research. 7 He had a history of paranoia and once became so paranoid of being murdered by Indigenous tribes that he abandoned all his possessions and ran for it.8 Whatever mental health disorders Petitot may have been suffering with, that is absolutely no excuse for the atrocities he committed. While some of his work may be useful in the world of ethnographic research, his legacy is not one to be praised or celebrated.

1 “Father Émile Petitotback.” Inuvialuit Pitquisiit Inuuniarutait, www.inuvialuitlivinghistory.ca/wiki_pages/Father%20%20%C3%89mile%20Petitot. Accessed 27 Oct. 2023.

3. Lévy, J. (2014). Éros et tabou. sexualité et genre chez amérindiens et les inuit. Recherches Amérindiennes Au Québec, 44(2), 170-174. Retrieved from https://www.proquest.com/scholarly-journals/éros-et-tabou-sexualité-genre-chez-amérindiens/docview/1681918022/se-2

4 “Father Émile Petitotback.” Inuvialuit Pitquisiit Inuuniarutait, www.inuvialuitlivinghistory.ca/wiki_pages/Father%20%20%C3%89mile%20Petitot. Accessed 27 Oct. 2023.

5 Lévy, J. (2014). Éros et tabou. sexualité et genre chez amérindiens et les inuit. Recherches Amérindiennes Au Québec, 44(2), 170-174. Retrieved from https://www.proquest.com/scholarly-journals/éros-et-tabou-sexualité-genre-chez-amérindiens/docview/1681918022/se-2

6 John S. Moir, “PETITOT, ÉMILE,” in Dictionary of Canadian Biography, vol. 14, University of Toronto/Université Laval, 2003–, accessed October 27, 2023, http://www.biographi.ca/en/bio/petitot_emile_14E.html.

7 Honigmann, John J. “Emile Fortuné Stanislas Joseph Petitot Encyclopedia Arctica 15: Biographies.” Dartmouth College Library, collections.dartmouth.edu/arctica-beta/html/EA15-56.html. Accessed 27 Oct. 2023. 

8 Ibid.

Problems with Indigenous American Studies

In recent years, there has been an effort among educators, music educators in particular, to diversify the pedagogical canon of repertoire, particularly with works by indigenous composers or with indigenous subjects. However current efforts to study indigenous music fall into some of the same issues as early colonizers.

Hennepin, Lewis. “Map of a Large Country Newly Discovered in the Northern America.” American History Indians and Culture, Amdigital.Co.Uk.

The map above, by cartographer Lewis Hennepin, depicts the area to become the US around the 1690s. Wide swaths of inhabited areas are marked empty, or are missing groups living in those areas. Wide swaths of land are generically referred to as Iroquois or Illinois, in a somewhat reductionist view of indigenous tribes – understood by current historians to have been significantly more complex1.

In studies of indigenous music, mythical ideas of racial essences that are deeply embedded within the folk culture of U.S. society have to be recognized so that romanticized stereotypes may be challenged2. The effort by some musicologists to “essentialize” indigenous music makes the same reductionist mistake as colonial explorers and disregards the complexity and details of indigenous cultures.

Even the Library of congress refers to indigenous music as a monolith, assembling instructions for how best to prepare to study native American musical traditions often lumps cultural traditions with little attention to differentiation or individual tribal identities. Thankfully the Library of Congress is careful to note that it is important to best appreciate music within its context3.

This contextualization is critical especially as there is the modern push to play and study more indigenous music. Prest notes the large influx of pieces attempting to celebrate indigenous culture that end up being largely reductionist and nearly downright insensitive4. He also notes that often western musicologists approach indigenous music with a self-serving attitude, approaching music wondering what they could gain from it. He also notes that attempts to integrate music tend to try and be inclusive while subverting the history of genocide committed against indigenous people. So as pedagogues look to make the noble push to diversify their repertoire, they must make sure to do so with careful attention to detail, that often starts with talking to and listening to indigenous scholars.

 

1 Malinowski, Sharon. “IROQUOIS CONFEDERACY.” Iroquois Confederacy – CPN Cultural Heritage Center, www.potawatomiheritage.com/encyclopedia/iroquois-confederacy/#:~:text=The%20Iroquois%20Confederacy%20or%20the,North%20Carolina%2C%20joined%20the%20Confederacy. Accessed 26 Oct. 2023.

2 Eisenbeil, Bruce. “Native American Perspectives in Music – Post #1 (2 of 2).” Bruce Eisenbeil, www.eisenbeil.com/native-american-perspectives-in-music-post-1-2-of-2-2/. Accessed 26 Oct. 2023.

3 Appold, Juliette. “Appreciating Native American Music: NLS Music Notes.” The Library of Congress, The Library of Congress, 4 Nov. 2021, blogs.loc.gov/nls-music-notes/2021/11/appreciating-native-american-music/#:~:text=Its%20most%20traditional%20instruments%20are,to%20draw%20on%20traditional%20contents.

4 Prest, A., Goble, J. S., & Vazquez-Cordoba, H. (2023). On Embedding Indigenous Musics in Schools: Examining the Applicability of Possible Models to One School District’s Approach. Update: Applications of Research in Music Education, 41(2), 60-69. https://doi.org/10.1177/87551233221085739

Did Ethnomusicologists Know Other Forms of Notation? And Other Thoughts That Keep Me Up at Night

Among the greatest blunders committed by ethnomusicologists when interacting with indigenous cultures is their notation of that culture’s music. The process that comes with this endeavor ends up having a pretty standard formula. A musicologist will learn their notation skills in higher education, become convinced that theirs is the best (typically the standard European notation practice), and then go on to apply it when “capturing” the music of other cultures. We of course all know the tales of Densmore and her blunders, but unfortunately her story is not very unique. Take for example this French Ethnomusicologist’s transcription of indigenous American “chants”.

French Musicologist’s transcription of “Chants indiens du Canada Nord-Ouest [manuscript]”

1

Similar to Densmore, very strange notation that we can only assume is a mere approximation of what was heard. This begs the question- if western notation is restrictive, why not employ other notation styles? Why not unmetered bars of music? Why not employ a number system for microtonal music? WHY DON’T OUR TAX DOLLARS GO TOWARDS MORE PUBLIC INFRASTRUCTURE? But seriously- did these musicologists have ideas of other forms of notation? I believe that there are many answers to why western notation was forced to merge with other cultures in violent ways. For one, a precedent was set by Densmore to use western notation and to not deviate so that it was easier for western scholars to consume. Secondly, I do believe that many scholars of the late 19th and early 20th century were certainly unaware of other forms of notation. They lived in a far less globalized and more isolated society, even in the most diverse and rich academic institutions of the time.

But our time is different. We must teach at least basic introductions into other forms of notation. If not just to spread music from different cultures in less violent and in more reliable ways, but to expand our own worldview and thought processes when listening and interacting with music from varying cultures in all situations we may encounter it. To fail to learn other systems of notation, is to fail other cultures in an increasingly global society.

 

Works Cited:

https://www.aihc.amdigital.co.uk/Documents/Images/Ayer_MS_715/2

Music Identity Crisis in the Americas

In Douglas Shadle’s Orchestrating the Nation, he opens up the discussion on unpacking what the national musical identity of the United States actually is. He argues along with multiple perspectives that the definition of the US musical identity changes through time. He makes a point to include a perspective stating that when talking about minority groups in the United States such as “other American residents–indigenous peoples and those of African heritage, for example–also played little role in these discussions until the end of the century, and only then primarily as objects under discussion, not participating subjects within it” <6> (Shadle, 8). Even today, this furthers the question, “were they American at all” (8)?

This gets us into the conversation of what is considered “American music”. In the nineteenth century some would say that folk songs were considered just that, “cultivated” music, as long as it was imbued with a national or folk “character” (Shadle, 6). Could this count as “true” American musical style? The concept of nationalism plays a huge role and question whether Aaron Copland or Charles Ives created an “ideal American sound” (7). Bernd Sponheuer, a German musicologist, argued that “national identity is not “an empirically demonstrable musical trait derived from style criticism.” Rather, it is constructed” (8). Critic Virgil Thomson addressed such concerns “that to write American music, one must simply be American and “then write any kind of music you wish” (8).

The topic of immigrant musicians specifically from Europe are said to have made a large impact on the music in America, but what of the many other immigrant groups that inhabit America today? Are they only considered American if they are named citizens of the United States of America or does the number of years of living in America mean nothing, even if they have been living here for practically their entire lives? Does the color of their skin erase their entire identity? Shadle reminds us, “should they assimilate into the culture of the English-speaking ruling class (8)?”

Cepeda ‘s book dives into the impact that talented Columbian artists such as “Shakira, Andrea Echeverri of Aterciopelados, and Carlos Vives” have had in the United States, Latin America, and its national identity, then “Cepeda argues that music is a powerful arbitrator of memory and transnational identity” <1>(Cepeda). Harrison’s article discusses the revelation of “how an evocation of place functions in the practice of religious life within commercial southern (white) gospel music and fundamentalist Protestantism” <2>(Harrison).

Meanwhile, Hess’s perspective on the “Latin American opinion on Copland’s cultural diplomacy” challenges the US perspective” <3>(Hess) going into the crisis of modernism in Argentina and Copland’s vision of Latin American music which is “one rooted in essentialism and folkloric nationalism and which ultimately prevailed in the United States throughout the late twentieth century” (Hess)<3>. A different perspective is seen through the Brazilian lens on the “music and cartoons in Brazil : complementarity in the representation of national identity” (l’Hoeste)<4>. Lastly, Knights is a melting pot for the different places in Americas and around the world fusion of music for national identity and its critiques (Knights)<5>. All encompassing I want to leave you with a full circle moment with Shandle’s reminder that “listeners constructed the nation from the inside out” (Shadle, 9).

  1. Cepeda, Maria. Musical ImagiNation: U.S-Colombian Identity and the Latin Music Boom. NYU Press, 2010. https://doi.org/10.18574/9780814772904. <1>
  2. Harrison, Douglas. “From Arkansas with Love: Evangelical Crisis Management and Southern (White) Gospel Music.” Southern Spaces, 2014, np–np. https://doi.org/10.18737/M7WC8F.<2>
  3. Hess, Carol A. “Copland in Argentina: Pan Americanist Politics, Folklore, and the Crisis in Modern Music.” Journal of the American Musicological Society 66, no. 1 (2013): 191–250. https://doi.org/10.1525/jams.2013.66.1.191.<3>
  4. l’Hoeste, Hector D. Fernandez, Pablo Vila, and Hector D. Fernandez l’Hoeste. Sound, Image, and National Imaginary in the Construction of Latin/o American Identities. Edited by Hector D. Fernandez l’Hoeste and Pablo Vila. Lanham, Maryland: Lexington Books, 2018.<4>
  5. Knights, Vanessa. Music, National Identity and the Politics of Location: Between the Global and the Local. 1st ed. United Kingdom: Routledge, 2016. https://doi.org/10.4324/9781315596914.<5>
  6. Shadle, Douglas. 2015. Orchestrating the Nation. Oxford University Press.<6>

Violent Notation, Eh?

If you look at transcriptions of Native American music created by musicologists in the early 20th century, a common pattern emerges. Densmore’s writings are filled with transcriptions that feature several different odd time signatures back to back, hanging 32nd notes, and other abominations, all in an attempt to most accurately depict native music. Forcing Native American music to conform to western notation is an act of violent colonialism. Though not apparent, this is an act that attempts to create forced assimilation of native culture to Anglo-Saxon American culture.

While this was going on, America’s neighbors to the north were doing something similar, but in a completely different way. Emile Petitot, a French priest, was transcribing the songs of nations in the northwest of Canada. Petitot’s approach was vastly different from that of Densmore. As you’ll see below, in the seven transcriptions Petitot did, he makes no attempt at describing the music using the usual spaghetti monsters seen in Densmore’s work.1 Instead, his transcriptions are made of note values and time signatures regularly seen in western music: Common time, cut time, quarter and eighth notes with the occasional use of triplets.

Petitot, Father, Emile. 1862-1889. Chants indiens du Canada Nord-Ouest [manuscript]: recueillis, classés et notés par Emile Petitot, prêtre missionnaire au Mackenzie, de 1862-1882, 1889. [Manuscript]. At: Place: The Newberry Library. VAULT box Ayer MS 715. Available through: Adam Matthew, Marlborough, American Indian Histories and Cultures, http://www.aihc.amdigital.co.uk/Documents/Details/Ayer_MS_715 [Accessed October 26, 2023].

It’s hard to assess these transcriptions without having a recording of the songs being transcribed, but I would assume that this notation does not accurately portray the music it describes. Subjecting native music to this western notation is still violent colonialism. However, an argument could be made that this is much better, or much worse than how Densmore transcribed. These transcriptions could be much better than Densmore’s, because they include less detail, making them less prescriptive. It’s possible these transcriptions exist to get the “general idea” of the music, and by being less prescriptive, they force the music to conform to the notation less than Densmore’s transcriptions do.

On the other hand, it’s very easy to see how this transcription is much worse. At least Densmore poured time and effort to try to accurately depict the music as it was; this transcription erases every part of the music that doesn’t conform to western music standards. I could see these transcriptions being lazy attempts without any care for the music being represented. I tend to believe that these transcriptions are even worse. Densmore’s transcriptions are “violent notation,” but at least she actually tried.

Government Documents for Indian Boarding Schools

It can be said that the worst outcomes come from the best of intentions. Of course, we look back in history and find that the definition of ‘best’ is thoroughly different between cultures, backgrounds, classes, races, etc. And obviously, if one were to take the extremely low-hanging fruit, it requires an impressive amount of logic leaps to find the ‘best intentions’ in some of the greatest historical tragedies, such as the Holocaust, any number of catastrophic wars, or the Trail of Tears.

While the history of Indian boarding schools is undoubtedly tragic, the discussion of the goals behind them is surprisingly frank and positive. As a report from a member of the Advisory Council on Indian Affairs to the Secretary of the Interior (one who had the fantastic decency to write his name in an illegible scrawl at the end of his letter to said Secretary of the Interior, at the time Hubert Work; I therefore have absolutely no idea who wrote thing beyond this) notes that the primary goal is to “place the American Indian… upon the same basis as the rest of our citizenship, politically, intellectually, and industrially…” with the disturbance of “community life or tribal or family relationships” no more “than a growing degree of general participation in economic and… political affairs has interfered with… the Negro…”1

An excerpt from page 2 of a letter written to the Secretary of the Interior Hubert Work

Piercing through the incredible wordiness of this statement, it is perhaps difficult to gauge the true opinion of the report’s author. There is much wiggle-room presented in the goal, particular in the definition of an appropriate level of disturbance, but there does not seem to be explicit mention of disrupting family groups, of squashing heritage, and the like. Indeed, the report author notes that “the average American Indian should be educationally as well equipped and as self-reliant and self-sufficient as the average citizen of any other racial descent.”2 A noble goal, if not for the fact that the peoples in question had been self-reliant for well before the arrival of Europe in the New World.

Turning attention to the boarding schools established for the purposes of educating American Indians to the degrees mentioned above, analysis of their curriculum identifies that a significant amount of effort seems to have been put in to ensure a full coverage of all subjects, in science, history, math, and more. One example from the Office of Indian affairs, prepared for use throughout the Indian school service in 1915, dedicates 30 pages in its curriculum overview to Industrial work and over 130 pages to various vocational studies (trade, agriculture, home economics, nursing, etc)3.

A excerpt from the table of contents from curriculum proposed for American Indian students. Note the wide variety of topics available, especially relating to ‘practical’ work.

A section is, of course, dedicated to music. Although there is attention given to the coverage of ‘good’ music (which is something that many others have covered, I will therefore not beat a dead horse), interesting emphasis is placed on proper vocal techniques. Notes to have a “light, pure tone”, with special exercises for “preventing huskiness” and “the elimination of monotones” in the lower grade levels, perhaps were included specifically to ‘correct’ vocal styles that are used for Native American singing 4.

A excerpt from the table of contents from curriculum proposed for American Indian students. A guideline for vocal standards lays out what to prioritize while singing.

For example, in an analysis of different pow-wow singing styles, it is noted that the Great Lakes style uses a “medium-high voice, often with a gravelly or rough timbre” while in both the Great Lakes and Midplains style the women’s part is described as “high and tense”.5 These assertions are difficult to confirm, as during the early 20th century musical analysis of Native American styles was in its infancy, and unfortunately there is little literature that refers directly to behaviors or tendencies that need to be prevented (which would have been an obvious indicator of this type of connection), but the possibility of a link is still there.

In conclusion, this serves as a slightly different approach, as I was surprised to see that reports regarding Native Americans in the 20th century were not as overtly hostile as I might have suspected, going from history. This, of course, could entirely be fancy political language, and there is the additional factor of the majority not understanding the minority and wishing to impose upon them an idea of ‘correctness’, but I found it interesting regardless.

Works Cited:

1 Member of the Advisory Council on Indian Affairs, Report on Indian Affairs (United States Government, 1923), 1-2. Retrieved from American Indian Histories and Cultures https://www.aihc.amdigital.co.uk/Documents/Images/Ayer_MS_668/3#Chapters (accessed Oct 26, 2023).

2 Ibid

3 Department of the Interior (Office of Indian Affairs), Tentative Course of Study for United States Indian Schools (Washington D.C: Government Printing Office, 1915), Table of Contents. Retrieved from American Indian Histories and Cultures https://www.aihc.amdigital.co.uk/Documents/Images/Ayer_386_U5_1915/5 (accessed Oct 26, 2023).

4 Dept. of Interior, Tentative Course of Study, 111-113.

5 Tara Browner, Judith Vander, et al., Music of the First Nations: Tradition and Innovation in Native North America (University of Illinois Press: 2009), 137-138. Retrieved from https://ebookcentral.proquest.com/lib/stolaf-ebooks/reader.action?docID=3413835&ppg=147 (accessed on Oct 26, 2023).

Music Education and Forced Assimilation at United States Indian Boarding Schools

The first off-reservation boarding school in the U.S. for Indigenous students, Carlisle Indian Industrial School, was founded in 1879 by Henry Richard Pratt in Pennsylvania. The founding of the school was overseen by President Rutherford Hayes, under the Indian Civilization Act (ICA), that incentivized the so-called “civilized” education of Indigenous children. Carlisle’s strict, military-style modes of discipline and focus on vocational training that funneled students directly into underpaid manual and domestic labor jobs became a blueprint for several such boarding schools across the country.1

Since the recent archeological discoveries of mass graves at the former sites of these schools across the US and Canada, the legacy of these institutions designed to “kill the Indian, save the man,” in Pratt’s words, is being examined again with a mind towards restorative justice, acknowledging how these modes of “education” and assimilation were not just physically violent, but also mentally and spiritually violent.2

One would not necessarily expect music to play a central part in the violent assimilationist education of these boarding schools, but a 1915 book giving detailed instructions, down to how much time in the school day should be spent on a subject, for boarding school curriculum suggests otherwise. The book features a chapter outlining the music curriculum, which is extremely telling of the strict assimilationist thinking that was the guiding force for these boarding schools. 

The first paragraph seems innocent enough, touting the broader educational benefits of music training, but it quickly takes a turn. The author(s) of this guide state that the first step in a proper musical education is “to permit the pupils to hear only good music.”3 What exactly they mean by “good,” is quickly outlined by a long list of operas such as Aida and William Tell, as well as works from the Western classical canon by composers such as Mozart and Haydn. They also add that “Patriotic songs, as ‘The Star Spangled Banner,’… should, of course, receive special attention.” 4

Repertoire suggestions in 1915 book.

Following these narrow and purposefully Euro-centric repertoire guidelines, the author(s) go on to list aesthetic guidelines for the training of the pupils’ voices. The very first rule stated is “Always insist on a good, smooth, sweet, light, pure tone.”5 Soon after that, it’s also stressed that the pupils “Pronounce all words clearly, so that a listener can understand them.”6 These two guidelines emphasize the enforcement of Euro-centric standards for musical training, as well as complete assimilation to the English language and abandonment of Indigenous aesthetics and language.

With strict guidelines to teach and enforce the European classical canon as the musical ideal, Indigenous children, often as young as four years old, were completely cut off from not only their home and family, but also the musical culture they would have otherwise been surrounded by and raised in. The violence lies not only in hundreds of deaths of children that were torn from their homes, but the systematic way in which they had their culture and traditions torn from them, and the Indigenous music and languages that were lost in the process.

1 Ferris, Jeanne. 2021. “‘LET THOSE Children’s Names BE KNOWN’: THE PARADOX OF INDIAN BOARDING SCHOOLS.” News from Native California 35 (2): 26–32. https://search.ebscohost.com/login.aspx?direct=true&db=aph&AN=154090702&site=ehost-live.

2 Ibid.

3 Bureau of Indian Affairs. 1915. Tentative course of study for United States Indian schools. Prepared under the direction of commissioner of Indian affairs. Available through: Adam Matthew, Marlborough, American Indian Histories and Cultures, http://www.aihc.amdigital.co.uk/Documents/Details/Ayer_386_U5_1915 [Accessed October 26, 2023].

4 Ibid.

5 Ibid.

6 Ibid.

Cultural erasure: Western centralsim in Native American boarding schools

The Native American boarding school program, more commonly referred to as American Indian Boarding Schools, was a program meant to erase the native American culture from the land. The program coerced Native American families into sending their children to these boarding schools, which were meant to assimilate the children into white American culture. Some of the older kids there did fight back and then were physically punished by being beaten 1. The younger kids who were brought to the schools were never able to be assimilated into the culture their parents were part of, resulting in their returned being outsiders to their own families.

Rules for the Indian School Service / Office of Indian Affairs

240. Instruction shall be given in music at all schools. Singing shall be a part of the exereises of each school session, and, whenever practicable, instruction in instrumental musie may be given. The formation of school bands should also be encouraged. – Office of Indian Affairs

The important thing to pay attention to in this quote is the erasure of Native American’s own musical traditions. This is very intentional, and we can see it in the quote. Saying “Instructions shall be given in music” and not specifying any particular style of music, therefore implying a Western music style.

Ayer 389 C2 1915-16

There is, too, a vocal department, which includes the classwork and singing exercises, where all are taught the rudiments of music. – Carlisle Indian Industrial School

We can also see this pattern of assuming Western music is the only form of music which is worth teaching in another school’s records. Showing that the Native American children need to be tough music and identify their traditional music as worthless. This careful framing of the education allows the colonizers to morally push away any doubt they had because they see the people they are “educating” as primitive and none of their wisdom as useful.

 


Bibliography:

Carlisle Indian Industrial School. 1913. Catalogue and Synopsis of Courses, United States Indian School, Carlisle, Pennsylvania. Carlisle: Carlisle Indian Press. https://www.aihc.amdigital.co.uk/Documents/SearchDetails/Ayer_389_C2_C2_1915#.

Office of Indian Affairs. 1898. Rules for the Indian School Service / Office of Indian Affairs. Washington, D.C., United States: Government Printing Office. https://www.aihc.amdigital.co.uk/Documents/SearchDetails/Ayer_386_U5_1898?searchText=Music&showSearchMessage=False&performingNewSearch=True#.


1Parker, E. S. (1846). Ely Samuel Parker scrapbooks: Vol 8 (p. 4). https://www.aihc.amdigital.co.uk/Documents/SearchDetails/Ayer_Modern_MS_Parker_VL08#.

Mildred Bailey and American Indian Identity

Mildred Bailey, studio portrait, USA, 1949. (Photo by Gilles Petard/Redferns)

Concurrent Resolution No. 49 was filed by the Coeur d’Alene tribe of Idaho in the Idaho House of Representatives in March 2012 with the goal of correcting historical records and reuniting Mildred Bailey1, one of the first female vocalists in jazz history. “I think it’s not known at all. Hardly nobody knew,” says Coeur d’Alene Tribal Chairman Chief Allan. “Not only being Native, but being a woman in that era, to be so strong and keep pushing and not to give up, that would help a lot of our young tribal members who are looking for a role model,” says Chief Allan2.

For background on the Coeur d’Alene tribe, we can find a large monetary exchange between the tribe and the United States government. As a result of the constant stream of settlers into the area, the Coeur d’Alene people effectively transitioned from traditional means of nomadic survival in just fifty years after first making contact with Europeans and adopted static agriculture3. The Coeur d’Alene tribe paid the United States government half a million dollars in 1889 to give up the northern portion of their ancestral lands, as stated in the Indian Commissions Agreement. All Coeur d’Alene families received an equal share of the funds, most of which went into purchasing cutting-edge farming machinery4. Mildred Bailey, who was born in 1900 and was nurtured by her Coeur d’Alene mother and a Scotch/Irish father on a farm next to the reservation, portrayed this fast changing environment3.

For over eight decades, Bailey, a member of the Coeur d’Alene tribe, was mostly recognized as a “white jazz singer.” Conversations concerning the origins of jazz rarely addressed Bailey’s Indian identity; it stayed in the farmlands of Coeur d’Alene, where she learned to move, speak, and sing like a neglected crop. In a 1930s America that was still divided along racial lines, Bailey could easily be pardoned if she decided to conceal her Native American heritage, but she never made the attempt to do so3.  On the contrary, she was happy to share it with everyone around her as a source of pride. The reason Mildred Bailey was labeled as “white” was that the jazz narrative she was a part of could not accommodate Indian jazz players. The faulty label of “white jazz-singer” was important for a number of reasons, not the least of which was Bailey’s significant influence on the jazz and pop scenes. Bailey invented the vocal “swing” style that many singers attempted to imitate, including “Ella Fitzgerald, Billie Holiday, Bing Crosby, and Tony Bennett.” (Hamill 33) Bailey chose to attribute her voice sixty years after it was recorded for the final time, to the Indian music of her childhood rather than her contemporaries.3

 

1“Page 260 Us, Indian Census Rolls, 1885-1940.” Fold3, www.fold3.com/image/216137757. Accessed 25 Oct. 2023.

2Robinson, Jessica. “Tribe Seeks to Correct Jazz History on Native Singer’s Heritage.” NPR, NPR, 15 Mar. 2012, www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=148715100.

3 Berglund, Jeff, Johnson, Jan, and Lee, Kimberli, eds. Indigenous Pop : Native American Music from Jazz to Hip Hop. Tucson: University of Arizona Press, 2016. Accessed October 26, 2023. ProQuest Ebook Central.

4 Dinwoodie, David. “Landscape Traveled by Coyote and Crane: The World of the Schitsu’Umsh (Coeur d’Alene Indians).” Montana; the Magazine of Western History 53, no. 1 (Spring, 2003): 75. https://www.proquest.com/scholarly-journals/landscape-traveled-coyote-crane-world-schitsuumsh/docview/217955660/se-2.



Music in Native American Boarding Schools

Tentative course of study for United States Indian schools. Prepared under the direction of commissioner of Indian affairs.1

In the 19th and 20th centuries, the United States was attempting to assimilate Native American students in the white American culture. This was done in part by placing Native American children in boarding schools, and by 1925, “over 357 boarding schools were being
operated in thirty states.”2 The United States government the education of Native American children was the key solution to assimilation. Since that is what the government believed, they also believed that “Only by complete isolation of the Indian child from his savage antecedents can he be satisfactorily educated.”3 A major part of the curriculum when assimilating Native American’s into white culture was music.

The document above is a few pages from a course study made for Native American boarding schools specifically focusing on the music aspect of their education. This document really emphasizes the importance of music in a young person’s education as music “develops all the powers and functions of the human mind.”4 This document lists some requirements in educating the students with music. The first requirement listed is that the students are only allowed to listen to “only hear good music, aiming consistently in this way to develop musical appreciation.”5 It proceeds to list selections that someone deemed “good” for the Native American students such as the march from the opera “Aida” and William Tell” but “rag time” music is not good since it is mostly enjoyed by the “average person”.6 This document states that these students should learn about music by Haydn and Mozart for special occasions, and special attention should be pay to patriotic songs such as “the Star-Spangled Banner.”7 It is stated that the purpose of this course study is to lead the children to “an interest in singing” and to “preserve” their voice, “secure the ability to read music at sight” and to perform it correctly and pleasantly, and “to cultivate enjoyment and appreciation of good music.”8

In many cultures, music is rooted into their tradition, especially oral tradition. In Native American culture, music is not simply a form of entertainment, it is an essential part of everyday life and ceremony. Where Western tradition focuses primarily on music in terms of entertainment at a distance, Native Americans view music as an active and personal experience, not simply something that is for personal entertainment.9

Bibliography

Bureau of Indian Affairs. 1915. Tentative course of study for United States Indian schools. Prepared under the direction of commissioner of Indian affairs, page 110-111. Available through: Adam Matthew, Marlborough, American Indian Histories and Cultures, http://www.aihc.amdigital.co.uk/Documents/Details/Ayer_386_U5_1915

The role of music in assimilation of students at … – gettysburg college. Accessed October 25, 2023. https://cupola.gettysburg.edu/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=1217&amp;context=ghj.

Footnotes

1 Bureau of Indian Affairs. 1915. Tentative course of study for United States Indian schools. Prepared under the direction of commissioner of Indian affairs, page 110-111. Available through: Adam Matthew, Marlborough, American Indian Histories and Cultures, http://www.aihc.amdigital.co.uk/Documents/Details/Ayer_386_U5_1915

2 The role of music in assimilation of students at … – gettysburg college, accessed October 25, 2023, https://cupola.gettysburg.edu/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=1217&context=ghj.

3 The role of music in assimilation of students at … – gettysburg college, accessed October 25, 2023, https://cupola.gettysburg.edu/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=1217&context=ghj.

4 Bureau of Indian Affairs. 1915.

5 Bureau of Indian Affairs. 1915.

6 Bureau of Indian Affairs. 1915.

7 Bureau of Indian Affairs. 1915.

8 Bureau of Indian Affairs. 1915.

9 Bureau of Indian Affairs. 1915.

Music as a Means of Oppression

Music is often touted as a vehicle for social justice; a means of liberation, but it can just as easily be utilized as a means of control and oppression.  Modern popular music has often aimed to push against the status quo, from Buffalo Springfield’s “For What It’s Worth” to Public Enemy’s “Fight the Power”, but from an educational standpoint, there is power in deciding what music is studied and what is omitted.

This power is primely exhibited in the curriculum of the Carlisle Indian School.  Opened in 1879, the Carlisle Indian Industrial School in Carlisle, Pennsylvania, was the first boarding school for Native American children to be both funded and ran by the U.S. government1.  Its doors were open for nearly 40 years and saw over 1,000 students enter and graduate.  The term “boarding school” is almost comical to use, as the main objective of the school was the forced cultural erasure and assimilation of Native students.

Carlisle Indian Industrial School. 1915. Catalogue and synopsis of courses, United States Indian School, Carlisle, Pennsylvania. Carlisle: Carlisle Indian Press. Available through: Adam Matthew, Marlborough, American Indian Histories and Cultures, http://www.aihc.amdigital.co.uk/Documents/Details/Ayer_389_C2_C2_1915 [Accessed October 25, 2023].

Seen above is an excerpt from the course catalogue of the Carlisle school.  The language parades the importance of music in regards to the development of students, upon further reading, it is abundantly clear what kind of music they are referring to: American music.  To the administration, and by extension the American government, Native music was seen as illegitimate.  Students instead were to sing in choir, play in the band, or play in the orchestra.  American music, in this scenario, was used as a means of cultural cleansing; of oppression.

The National Archives. US, Indian Census Rolls, 1885-1940. 1967. Courtesy of Native American Archives. https://www.fold3.com/image/216096302/1924?terms=schools,boarding,united,america,states,school

This form of indoctrination highlights how the powers that be are able to exert control by deciding what is music and what isn’t, or what is high art art and what isn’t.  As Cloonan and Johnson argue in “Killing Me Softly with His Song”, “Every time we applaud the deployment of music as a way of articulating physical, cognitive and cultural territory, we are also applauding the potential or actual displacement or even destruction of other identities”2.

1Carlisle Indian School Project. n.d. “Carlisle Indian School Project | Richard Henry Pratt Carlisle Indian School.” Carlisle Indian School Project. https://carlisleindianschoolproject.com/past/.

2Cloonan, Martin, and Bruce Johnson. “Killing Me Softly with His Song: an Initial Investigation into the Use of Popular Music as a Tool of Oppression.” Popular Music 21, no. 1 (2002): 27–39. doi:10.1017/S0261143002002027.

 

Works Cited

Carlisle Indian Industrial School. 1915. Catalogue and synopsis of courses, United States Indian School, Carlisle, Pennsylvania. Carlisle: Carlisle Indian Press. Available through: Adam Matthew, Marlborough, American Indian Histories and Cultures, http://www.aihc.amdigital.co.uk/Documents/Details/Ayer_389_C2_C2_1915 [Accessed October 25, 2023].

Carlisle Indian School Project. n.d. “Carlisle Indian School Project | Richard Henry Pratt Carlisle Indian School.” Carlisle Indian School Project. https://carlisleindianschoolproject.com/past/.

The National Archives. US, Indian Census Rolls, 1885-1940. 1967. Courtesy of Native American Archives. https://www.fold3.com/image/216096302/1924?terms=schools,boarding,united,america,states,school

Cloonan, Martin, and Bruce Johnson. “Killing Me Softly with His Song: an Initial Investigation into the Use of Popular Music as a Tool of Oppression.” Popular Music 21, no. 1 (2002): 27–39. doi:10.1017/S0261143002002027.

 

Are Musicals Inherently American?

There are certain musical genres that are considered to be inherently American, and one often overlooked one is musical theater. While the musical is a broad concept, the first modern musical is usually attributed to The Black Crook, which opened in New York in 1866.1 Therefore, America was at the heart of the beginnings of the musical, many would say. But is that the case? 

As is common with history, giving a topic a second glance usually sheds new light and much more meaning is discovered. This is also the case with musicals, as a quick search will bring up information related to the first musicals in New York City. David Armstrong, a musical theater ‘legend’ who teaches at the University of Washington, talks about how “musical theater got its start following a huge wave of Irish immigration in the late 1800s.”2 So musical theater is some form that could be thought of as Irish. But aren’t Irish in America considered Americans? This is where debating the origin of a particular genre gets muddled, and complexities are often shown with a simplistic cover. 

One particular musical named “Belle of New York” has an interesting story. While it was successful in the US, British audiences (London, in particular) enjoyed this musical as well. A picture of this musical from 1898 is shown below.3

Compared to a mere 64 performances in New York (perhaps ironically), the “Belle of New York” ran “for an almost unprecedented 674 performances” in Britain.4 An 1898 New York Times newspaper describes this fact as an “experiment of transplanting American burlesque to London”.5 While typically thought of as distinct regions, the British Isles and the US become tightly interrelated by musical theater. While Irish immigrants in New York were possibly large influencers and founders of musical theater, this musical art eventually found its way back to the British Isles, especially London. Because the majority of Americans are immigrants, it makes sense that this type of American music is essentially the music of immigrants. Musical theater, especially in its early days, is an especially good example of this multi-regional origin and spread.

1 Stewart, James. “Timeline: American Musicals.” 13 February 2017. Vermont Public. https://www.vermontpublic.org/programs/2017-02-13/timeline-american-musicals

2 “The Surprising History of Musical Theater.” University of Washington. https://www.washington.edu/storycentral/story/the-surprising-history-of-musical-theater/

3 Byron Company, Plays, “The Belle of New York.” 1898. Museum of the City of New York.

4 The Belle of New York [Musical Comedy].” Josef Lebovic Gallery. https://www.joseflebovicgallery.com/pages/books/CL200-5/the-belle-of-new-york-musical-comedy

5 Lederer’s London Effort, The New York Times. 12 April 1898. https://www.proquest.com/hnpnewyorktimes/docview/95619956/CC62D1F7E093472EPQ/4?accountid=351

Carlisle Indian School Project

While looking for a source to spark my interest in writing this blog post, I found this manuscript seen below.[1] This manuscript was transcribed by Father Emile Petitot, a Roman Catholic Preist.[2] This sparked my thinking of common themes discussed among blog posts in the past. The idea of White Saviorism and the need to record practices from cultures other than your own. Petitot encountered various indigenous tribes in the land we now consider Canada. During these years of contact, he served as a missionary priest to the indigenous tribes. After these encounters, Petitot was convinced that liquor and guns were threatening indigenous culture and began to fervently record their cultural practices. That is how the ‘Chants indiens du Canada Nord-Ouest’ was created, the document you see below.

Cover of Chants indiens du Canada Nord-Ouest by Father Emile Petitot

There are a couple of different things wrong with this document. Most notably, we see once again the attempt to transcribe indigenous musical practices with Western notation. The discipline of Ethnomusicology has seen Francis Densmore[3], W.E.B DuBois[4], and many other musicologists attempt this. A common thread among all these examples is that the attempt is never quite enough to capture the quintessence of indigenous musical traditions. They introduce such complex rhythms, and attempt to give different tempo markings for different parts, and the shoe never quite fits.

(Click on it to see a better image) A syllabus for students going through the Carlisle Indian School

In the document above, you can see an attempt to Americanize indigenous children with this academic plan. This was called the Carlisle Indian School Project, and it was the first government-run boarding school in 1879.[5] Over 180 indigenous children died while attending this conversion school. Notice that in the fall semester of the first year, there is a class based on hygiene. This to me shows that the creators of this curriculum believed the people of indigenous cultures are dirty and need to be taught how to clean themselves. Not very kind and welcoming to my understanding. Below you will see a page outlining the musical education that these kids will receive. They speak of music being a good tool for happiness and religious worship, Christian worship. These kids will also go through the school’s orchestra or band program while having their identities stripped from them.

(Click on it to see it better) Rationale for music education in Carlisle Indian Industrial School

The theme of White Saviorism is not subtle throughout all the sources provided above. We can see it in the work done by Father Emile, and through the Carlisle Indian School Project. It went so far as many students who ‘attended’ the school believed that the only way to save ingenious culture was to shed all practices and dive deep into white culture. Common phrases were “Kill the Indian, Save the man.”[6]

[1] Petitot, Father, Emile. 1862-1889. Chants indiens du Canada Nord-Ouest [manuscript]: recueillis, classés et notés par Emile Petitot, prêtre missionnaire au Mackenzie, de 1862-1882, 1889. [Manuscript]. At: Place: The Newberry Library. VAULT box Ayer MS 715. Available through: Adam Matthew, Marlborough, American Indian Histories and Cultures, http://www.aihc.amdigital.co.uk/Documents/Details/Ayer_MS_715 [Accessed October 24, 2023].

[2] Moir, John S. 2003. “Biography – PETITOT, ÉMILE – Volume XIV (1911-1920) – Dictionary of Canadian Biography.” Www.biographi.ca. 2003. http://www.biographi.ca/en/bio/petitot_emile_14E.html.

[3] Densmore, Frances. 1929. Pawnee Music. Da Capo Press.

[4] DuBois, W.E.B. 1903. “‘The Sorrow Songs,’ from the Souls of Black Folk.” Teaching American History. 1903. https://teachingamericanhistory.org/document/the-sorrow-songs/.

[5] Carlisle Indian School Project. n.d. “Carlisle Indian School Project | Richard Henry Pratt Carlisle Indian School.” Carlisle Indian School Project. https://carlisleindianschoolproject.com/past/.

[6] Ibid

 

Works Cited

Carlisle Indian School Project. n.d. “Carlisle Indian School Project | Richard Henry Pratt Carlisle Indian School.” Carlisle Indian School Project. https://carlisleindianschoolproject.com/past/.

Carlisle Indian Industrial School. 1915. Catalogue and synopsis of courses, United States Indian School, Carlisle, Pennsylvania. Carlisle: Carlisle Indian Press. Available through: Adam Matthew, Marlborough, American Indian Histories and Cultures, http://www.aihc.amdigital.co.uk/Documents/Details/Ayer_389_C2_C2_1915 [Accessed October 24, 2023].

Densmore, Frances. 1929. Pawnee Music. Da Capo Press.

DuBois, W.E.B. 1903. “‘The Sorrow Songs,’ from the Souls of Black Folk.” Teaching American History. 1903. https://teachingamericanhistory.org/document/the-sorrow-songs/.

Moir, John S. 2003. “Biography – PETITOT, ÉMILE – Volume XIV (1911-1920) – Dictionary of Canadian Biography.” Www.biographi.ca. 2003. http://www.biographi.ca/en/bio/petitot_emile_14E.html.

Petitot, Father, Emile. 1862-1889. Chants indiens du Canada Nord-Ouest [manuscript]: recueillis, classés et notés par Emile Petitot, prêtre missionnaire au Mackenzie, de 1862-1882, 1889. [Manuscript]. At: Place: The Newberry Library. VAULT box Ayer MS 715. Available through: Adam Matthew, Marlborough, American Indian Histories and Cultures, http://www.aihc.amdigital.co.uk/Documents/Details/Ayer_MS_715 [Accessed October 24, 2023].

Music of the Menominee Indian Tribe

The Menominee Indian Tribe is the only present-day tribe in Wisconsin whose origin story indicates they have always lived in Wisconsin.1 The Menominee tribe originated in the eastern side of Wisconsin in 1634. The tribe also originally occupied property in Illinois and Upper Peninsula Michigan. “The word “Menominee” is derived from their name for themselves, Mamaceqtaw, meaning “the people.”2

One aspect, when researching the Menominee Indian Tribe, that I admired was the fact that the Menominee were tough people. The ongoing trend of relocating Indian tribes and the minimization of native lands in the United States fully because of the westward expansion of the United States Government affected every native tribe. However, some tribes, including the Menominee, did everything in their power to push back on these treaties. “As European American settlements surrounded them, the Menominee sold much of their lands through treaties with the United States government.”2

Image of a Treaty with the Menomonie at Cedar Point on Fox River near Green Bay in the Territory of Wisconsin, September 3, 1836. The Treaty further cut the land of the Menominee Indian Reservation.4

When the government yet again pressured the Indians to migrate farther west, the Menominee people refused. The US government terminated the recognition of the tribe as retaliation in 1961, but Menominee weren’t done there: they took matters to court, and in 1977 won a landmark decision that restored their lands and tribal status.23

Another aspect that is quite fascinating about the Menominee tribe of Wisconsin is the unique sound they make in their music. One instrument in particular that stands out is the water drum.The water drum is tall, with a removable top in order for the water to be filled one quarter full before playing. Drums in all tribes signify as a spiritual guardian that protects the tribe during ceremonial services. The water drum serves as a similar purpose, but creates a completely different sound, and “is often used in healing and festive ceremonies.”2

“Water Drum Music”5

“Menominee Vietnam Veterans Song, composed in 1973 by Myron Pyawasit6

The relentless spirit of the Menominee tribe can also be recognized in their music. “Menominee Vietnam Veterans Song” was composed in 1973, by Myron Pyawasit and his drum group, the Smokeytown Singers. The song, as the title suggests, pays homage to the veterans of the Vietnam War. I find this contribution very interesting, as the Menominee people were fighting to protect their land from the military and the United States government not that long ago, but then Pyawasit decides to write a song with the lyrics “brave warriors from Vietnam are dancing, we are proud of you, thank you.” I believe that this song is specifically highlighting the Native American veterans of the Vietnam War more exclusively than the entirety of Vietnam War veterans. Regardless, the music is not only touching, but also still holds the characteristics of the Menominee tribe.

1“Menominee History.” Milwaukee Public Museum. Accessed October 23, 2023. https://www.mpm.edu/content/wirp/ICW-153.

2 Menominee Song. Web.. https://www.loc.gov/item/ihas.200215397/.

3 Ayer, Edward Everett (1841-1927). “U.S. Board of Indian Commissioners Files [Manuscript]: 1912-1922 [ Box 6, Folders 40 to 42].” American Indian Histories and Cultures – Adam Matthew Digital. Accessed October 23, 2023. https://www.aihc.amdigital.co.uk/Documents/Images/Ayer_MS_911_BX06_2/175?searchId=3193cae1-b557-46c2-900d-ab19cd7c6bee.

4 “Page 39 US, Ratified Indian Treaties, 1722-1869.” Fold3. Accessed October 23, 2023. https://www.fold3.com/image/6593870/6593907.

5 Daniel Vandever, “The Water Drum,” May 1st, 2012, :38-:48

Goodman King of Swing?

Benny Goodman is often referred to as the “King of Swing”. He was a clarinetist and leader of the famous Benny Goodman orchestra which was one of the driving groups behind the swing craze of the early 1900s. Swing was a popular genre that was derivative of previous styles of New Orleans Jazz, borrowing elements such as off-beat emphasis, and chromatic harmonization 1. Swing was a wildly commercially successful genre but despite its economic success, there’s skepticism that the most responsible musicians were fairly compensated. The commercial success of the genre often manifested in radio and record producers being the agents with the most power, and ultimately perpetuating a system of segregation and oppression 2.

Moonlight Serenade, Glenn Miller, Johns Hopkins Sheridan Libraries, Lester S Levy Sheet Music Collection

The other result of swing was that band leaders often became the celebrities associated with the music, with artists such as Benny Goodman and Glenn Miller becoming widely known 3. Their visibility and the power of radio and record producers led to a wide disparity in success in a genre that owed its roots to Black artists. Between 1935 and 1945 the four most popular big bands led by white musicians… racked up a total of 292 Top 10 records, of which 65 were number one hits. In contrast, the four most popular Black swing orchestras scored only thirty-two top hits, three of which made it to number one on the charts. The dominance of these white musicians provides another example of the co-opting of African American music to the financial benefit of white parties.

1
Early, Gerald. “Jazz and the African American Literary Tradition, Freedom’s Story,.” TeacherServe®, National Humanities Center, nationalhumanitiescenter.org/tserve/freedom/1917beyond/essays/jazz.htm. Accessed 11 Oct. 2023.

2
Saleh, Leena. “The Swing Era: A Time of Hidden (Beauty and Limited) Oppression.” AOT, 26 June 2021, www.aotontario.org/post/the-swing-era-a-time-of-hidden-beauty-and-limited-oppression.

3
Vitale, Tom. “Benny Goodman: Forever the King of Swing.” NPR, NPR, 30 May 2009, www.npr.org/2009/05/30/104713445/benny-goodman-forever-the-king-of-swing.

Musical Assimilation in Native American Schools

When finding a text to research and write about in this post, the Tentative Course of Study for United States Indian Schools immediately caught my attention. This text, drafted by the Office of Indian Affairs, states that the Course of Study provided in the text is to be adopted by schools of the Indian school service.1 Children were required to attend these schools as a part of a treaty deal between a tribe and the United States government; both male and female children between the ages of six and sixteen were to endure the process of cultural assimilation and be instructed in the English language.2

 

Article VI; Treaty with the Navajo Tribe at Fort Sumner3

 

 

Within the text, an entire section is dedicated to the importance of, “training the senses,” and develop[ing] all the powers and functions of the human mind.”4 Music is named as the only subject that can synchronize the senses in a way that is “enjoyable to the individual and helpful to the community,” but this is quickly followed by a list of particular criteria that must be followed in the classroom when music is being taught.5 Unsurprisingly, these specifications uphold a legacy of cultural superiority. For example, in order to help students develop a sense of musical appreciation, they are only allowed to hear music deemed as good, which according to the text, seems to be limited to American patriotic songs and classical music composed by well-known European composers, such as Mozart, Haydn, and Beethoven.6 Additionally, the text presents individual aspects of music that can be used to further assimilate students into Western culture, like preferring a “good, smooth, sweet, light, pure tone,” over “raggedness” and “huskiness.”7

 

These schools masqueraded as institutions that concerned themselves with the education and futures of Native American children. However, when considering how these schools use subjects like music to perpetuate cultural supremacy, the deeply problematic intention of these school to assimilate Native American children becomes blatantly obvious.

 

 

1 Tentative course of study for United States Indian Schools. Govt. Print. Off., 1915. https://www.aihc.amdigital.co.uk/Documents/Images/Ayer_386_U5_1915/61?searchId=8c6fcef2-55e4-4583-b1cf-9be3f19eeaff

2 “Page 10 – Navaho Tribe at Fort Sumner – Article VI – June 1st 1868.” Fold3. Accessed October 19, 2023. https://www.fold3.com/image/6589725/372?terms=school%2Cschools.

3 Ibid.

4 Ibid.

5 Ibid.

6 Ibid.

7 Ibid.

Sacred turned Spiritual

Henry Thacker (H.T) Burleigh, was a black American, classical composer who was known for his compositions and arrangements of spirituals. H.T. Burleigh was also an accomplished professional singer. “Harry Thacker Burleigh played a significant role in the development of American art song, having composed over two hundred works in the genre. He was the first African-American composer acclaimed for his concert songs as well as for his adaptations of African-American spirituals.”1

“Burleigh was surrounded by music from a young age,” his mother was his first music teacher and throughout his childhood he was a dedicated church performer. As he grew older, sacred music was no longer his niche. Burleigh was quite the accomplished singer, he attended the National Conservatory in New York, eventually on scholarship. One important event/events that should be noted is that while Burleigh was at the National Conservatory, Antonín Dvořák became the director of the program. Throughout Burleigh’s time there, the two became quite close. Burleigh would often sing spirituals to Dvořák which he used as inspiration for some of his compositions and even used “Swing Low, Sweet Chariot,” as a theme in the first movement of his symphony “From the New World.”2

3
Burleigh wrote a few works based on plantation melodies he learned throughout his childhood. Among these few, “Deep River,” is one of the most famous and recognized spiritual songs. “It was soon normal for recitals to end with a group of spirituals. Musicians such as Roland Hayes, Marian Anderson and Paul Robeson made these songs a part of their repertoires.” Although we musicians know the voice type to be baritone, when Burleigh was publishing his music, most of the works were for “low voice.” 

H.T. Burleigh’s contributions to music, most importantly African American spirituals, some instrumental, but mainly vocal music played a role in breaking down the racial barriers that existed and brought African American music to the forefront

1“H. T. Burleigh (1866-1949).” n.d. Library of Congress, Washington, D.C. 20540 USA. https://www.loc.gov/item/ihas.200035730

Notation Limitation: The Influence of Written Notation on Musical Expression

What is a canvas, a lump of clay, or a hammer and chisel to the visual artist? They are the means- and therefore limitations by which the artist turns an idea into a product to be consumed by the masses. But while visual artists have an almost infinite amount of materials to use to express emotions, ideas, or stories- there are far less tools in music.

Notation is by many means, a prison that composers, arrangers, and other sonic explorers  are trapped in when they go to document an idea or sound. Take for example, Frances Densmore’s controversial use of western notation to document traditional Indigenous ceremonial music. “Densmore used traditional Western notation for her transcriptions and at one point experimented with using graphic representations, which she intended to be used as an analysis of melody concurrently with Western notation.”1 This case all the way back in 1907 was one of the first clashes between cultures in notation versus practice. Densmore’s use of a limited notation style, which she even recognized as limited for the setting, led to the erasure of several defining characteristics of the music she did her field study on- ultimately doing the culture a disservice and misrepresenting the music.

But what happens when western musical expression is applied to Indigenous music alongside western notation? …Well you get this:

2

This is Louis Wallis’ “Sioux Waltz”. It is not a traditional waltz, it just has the extra musical connotation of some form of Sioux influence mashed together with the 3/4 pattern characteristic of a traditional western waltz. Again, notation (and the assumed connotations surrounding it) influence and make an odd sort of amalgamation of itself and the culture it is bisecting.

There is hope yet for western notation in our increasingly socially conscious society, however. Elaine Gould’s book “Behind Bars”3 explores the limits of western notation and how it can be manipulated to better record and represent ideas, cultures, and stories. Resources such as Gould’s are becoming more and more available, with communities surrounding engraving issues and how to respectfully fix them becoming more commonplace as notation software has brought many new composers- and therefore ideas into the fold of modern music. Wester notation may never be perfect, but it is important to continue improving upon it until it can be a properly helpful and respectful tool for the facilitation of art-making.

 

“Libguides: Indigenous Music Resources: Frances Densmore Smithsonian Collection.” Frances Densmore Smithsonian Collection – Indigenous Music Resources – LibGuides at Brandon University, libguides.brandonu.ca/indigenousmusic/francesdensmore#:~:text=Densmore%20used%20traditional%20Western%20notation,melody%20concurrently%20with%20Western%20notation. Accessed 12 Oct. 2023.

Violent Notation: Harvey B. Gaul & Black Spirituals

Harvey B. Gaul was an organist and composer in the early 20th century. He worked in various church music positions across the country, but was based in Pittsburgh for 35 years of his career, and was a central fixture of the music community in the city. He is even memorialized by the Pittsburgh New Music Ensemble’s composition contest, which bears his name.1

During his prolific career as a composer and church musician, Gaul arranged a few spirituals/folk songs of African-American origin. There are two such examples that I found. The first is a song titled “Ain’t It a Shame,” which is published alongside another song under the larger title “Negro [sic] Dialect Songs.” The other is called “South Carolina Croon Song.” This latter work cites a lyricist named Will Deems, but I was unable to find any information about him. Although definitely not a unique case in his time, Gaul’s arrangements demonstrate perfectly the idea that using notation to transcribe non-Western classical music can be a violent act.

Title and Subtitle from “Ain’t It a Shame” sheet music.

What struck me about the first tune was the title of the larger work, which attributes these songs to Black Americans. Yet the credited arranger being Gaul, and the origin being as vague as an entire race, Gaul is the only one who benefits materially from the publication of this tune. Any sense of giving credit through this title is overshadowed by every other aspect of arrangement. The use of the word “dialect” also seems to other this song by distinguishing the way that Black Americans speak and sing from the way that White Americans do. The subtitle for the tune also labels it as a “semi-spiritual.”2 This appeared odd to me, as it has religious themes, and there’s nothing I have noticed about the tune that would disqualify it as a spiritual. There is an overall sense from these elements of the sheet music that the tunes are not taken entirely seriously as worthwhile music. 

Note about the origins of the “South Carolina Croon Song”

The “South Carolina Croon Song,” despite the title not referring to dialect in the way the other tune does, features lyrics that are notated to indicate the vernacular speech of Black Americans in the south. “Don’ yo’ hear yo’ pappy play de banjo chune?”3 is just one example of this. The sheet music also features a note at the bottom of the first page that says, “Sung by an old Mammy on a South Carolina Plantation on the Back River.”4 This is just plain lazy citation. This woman is not named, and the descriptor “old Mammy” could very easily be interpreted as a diminutive. The written elements of this arrangement already demonstrate a lack of respect for the origins of the music that is being exploited by Gaul.

Finally, what was most striking evidence of the violence of Gaul’s notation of these tunes was the recording I found of White American contralto Kathryn Meisle performing “South Carolina Croon Song.” In the citation, it even indicates that perhaps Will Deems was a pseudonym for Gaul, and not a real lyricist. The recording creates this romanticized vision of the “old Mammy” singing this tune on the “Back River.” The mournful orchestral accompaniment, and the distinctly operatic style of singing are all evidence of a desperate attempt to take a folk tune and cram it into the Western classical tradition. Gaul’s transcriptions are gross misappropriations of these tunes, beyond any justification of preservation or appreciation. 

5

1 Library of Congress. “Harvey Bartlett Gaul (1881-1945).” Accessed October 12, 2023. https://www.loc.gov/item/ihas.200185354/.

2 “Aint It a Shame : Negro Dialect Song.” Chicago, Ill. : Clayton F. Summy, 1927. Blockson Sheet Music. Temple University Libraries. https://digital.library.temple.edu/digital/collection/p15037coll1/id/5202.

3 “South Carolina Croon Song.” Boston: Oliver Ditson Company, 1922. Vocal Popular Sheet Music Collection. University of Maine. https://digitalcommons.library.umaine.edu/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=5657&context=mmb-vp.

4 Ibid.

5 Library of Congress. “South Carolina Croon Song,” October 7, 1924. https://www.loc.gov/item/jukebox-71482/.

H.T. Burleigh – Life and Legacy

 

Harry Thacker Burleigh (Photo by Carl Van Vechten, Courtesy Van Vechten Trust)

Harry Thacker Burleigh, better known as H.T. Burleigh, was the first and most influential Black composer to rise to large success post- Civil War. He was widely known for his perservation and arrangemtn of traditional Black spirituals and plantation songs. Without his work, most likely most of the songs that come to mind when we think of “spirituals” would be lost in the past. A singer and composer as well as an arranger, Burleigh composed more than 300 works.1 His work was hugely influential and brought Black music to the Western classical music stage for the first time.

Born on December 2, 1866 in Erie, Pennsylvania, Burleigh showed an early passion and talent for music. He grew up learning these spirituals and folk songs from his maternal grandmother and singing in the church choir. However, he was unable to afford formal musical training until 1892, when he attended the National Conservatory of Music in New York City.2  During his time there, he studied under and work closely with composer Antonín Dvořák, who was director of the conservatory.3 This relationship was very influential in fostering Burleigh’s love of spirituals and folk songs. Burleigh was dedicated to preserving the traditional flavor and sprit of these songs, and Dvořák was supportive of this. Dvořák was so inspired by this musical tradition that he wrote themes inspired by many of Burleigh’s melodies, for example in his “From the New World” Symphony no. 9 in E minor.4 Burleigh was an incredibly accomplished musician despite being discriminate against every step of the way. A popular baritone singer, he sang as the soloist at St. George’s Church for 50 years and was the soloist at Temple Emanuel for 25 years.5 He even sang at a command performance for King Edward VI of England and received an honorary Doctorate of Music from Harvard and Masters of Music from Atlanta University. He was the first Black American to serve on the American Society of Composers, Authors and Publishers board of directors, and received the Spingarn Acheivement Medal in 1917 from the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People.6  I mention all these accomplishments because I believe it is important to spotlight Black Americans such as H.T. Burleigh who paved the way for so many others. His work brought Black music into the spotlight and made accessible to the average concert-goer for the first time. His arrangements of spirituals for solo voice were incredibly influential in American music – Burleigh, for the first time, brought Black music to the western classical music stage. He presented these spirituals as fine art songs, and Black music was more accessible to the concert world than ever before. While they strayed from their original performance style greatly, Burleigh was still dedicated to preserving the traditional roots and “flavor” of these songs in composed form.

Above is an example of Burleigh’s arrangement of one of the most famous spirituals arranged for solo voice, “Wade in de Water”. It’s important to note that Burleigh kept the original dialect in his arrangements, rather than completely Westernizing the songs for the classical stage. Burleigh was adamant about preserving the sacred nature of this musical tradition. As he states in the introduction of his 1917 “Negro Spriritauls Arranged for Solo Voice”,

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

 

1 Erickson, Shannon. “Harry Thacker Burleigh (1866-1949) •.” •, 19 May 2021, www.blackpast.org/african-american-history/burleigh-harry-thacker-1866-1949/.

2 Bauer, Pat. “Harry Thacker Burleigh.” Encyclopædia Britannica, Encyclopædia Britannica, inc., 8 Sept. 2023, www.britannica.com/biography/Harry-Thacker-Burleigh. 

3 Erickson, Shannon. “Harry Thacker Burleigh (1866-1949) •.” •, 19 May 2021, www.blackpast.org/african-american-history/burleigh-harry-thacker-1866-1949/.

4 “H. T. Burleigh (1866-1949).” The Library of Congress, www.loc.gov/item/ihas.200035730#:~:text=Harry%20Thacker%20Burleigh%20played%20a,adaptations%20of%20African%2DAmerican%20spirituals. Accessed 11 Oct. 2023.

5 Bauer, Pat. “Harry Thacker Burleigh.” Encyclopædia Britannica, Encyclopædia Britannica, inc., 8 Sept. 2023, www.britannica.com/biography/Harry-Thacker-Burleigh. 

6 Erickson, Shannon. “Harry Thacker Burleigh (1866-1949) •.” •, 19 May 2021, www.blackpast.org/african-american-history/burleigh-harry-thacker-1866-1949/.

Harry Burleigh’s Foreword to Spirituals

One of the best known spirituals in the United States is Deep River. Though, like all spirituals and folk songs, its origins are unknown, it was popularized in the early 20th century by Black American composer Harry Burliegh. In Burleigh’s first published arrangement of Deep River, he provides an account of the origins of spirituals. This foreword allows us to glimpse into the mind of Black American musicians in the early 20th century and see some of their thoughts on the history of spirituals, and their intended uses within society.

Burleigh asserts that the spirituals “sprang into life…from the white heat of religious fervor…” and that they are the “ecstatic utterance of wholly untutored minds.”1 Burleigh seems invested in distancing spirituals from any sort of academic or “art song” contexts. In fact, Burleigh argues that the spirituals are “the only music in America which fits the scientific definition of Folk Song.”1 Burleigh wants to make it abundantly clear that the spirituals are a natural outgrowth of Black culture in America.

This foreword also highlights some of the struggles that Black Americans faced with regards to appropriation of spirituals. Burleigh specifically says that the spirituals are not to be used in minstrel performances.1
He asserts that these songs must be “done impressively,” otherwise their message is cheapened.1

In these ideas, we see two aspects of spirituals that Burleigh is hoping to solidify the importance of. The first is that spirituals are not art songs, or the results of academic inquiry, but rather the result of an entire culture creating music spontaneously. The second is that these songs should be treated with the respect and dignity that any art song or religious statement would be treated. Burleigh is arguing that the spirituals are derived far from the theaters and concert halls, but that they should now be performed in these venues with the same reverence that audiences apply to other beloved works of the western classical canon.

Spirituals and their Meaning Across Cultures

Sometimes I feel like a motherless child : Negro spiritual

"The plantation songs known as "spirituals" are the spontaneous outbursts of intense religious fervor,"<2> as is described in the excerpt of H. T. Burleigh’s Negro Spirituals collection of “Sometimes I Feel like a Motherless Child”. This piece dates back to the historical events of slavery. This piece’s lyrics repeat “sometimes I feel like a motherless child…a long way from home…sometimes I feel like I’m almost done…true believer.” This shows the longing to be at a place they call home but it feels too far away. Their longing is there yet their faith remains. Similar songs like “Deep River” were sung by slaves in plantations as work songs reminding them that there is hope for them and very often their faith in God through these songs was what gave them the motivation to keep going. Thurman’s book "Deep River : Reflections on the Religious Insight of Certain of the Negro Spirituals"<4>provides a lens on the interconnection of religion’s significant role within spirituals.

In A New Perspective for the Use of Dialect in African American Spirituals, it describes the use of African American English and "its use in African-American Spirituals, and the sociolinguistic impact of the dialect in the United States."<1> Understanding the dialect within the music is a key component prior to teaching or performing spirituals. In Burleigh's collection it also states that "it is a serious misconception of [spirituals'] meaning and value to treat [spirituals] as "minstrel" songs, or to try to make them funny by a too literal attempt to imitate the manner of the Negro in singing them" 2. By doing so in trying to imitate actions that black folk would use in the process of singing such as swaying, clapping, or imitating the style of the voice in a joking manner would be unacceptable. One must come into the space of sharing someone's culture through the mindset of respect.

In Jones’ book “So You Want to Sing Spirituals: a Guide for Performers,” it includes a chapter titled, "Must you be black to sing spirituals?<3>" It goes into the process of the acceptable manner to take on singing or teaching a spiritual in a respectful way. Part of that process is to educate yourself on the background and history of the piece. A good way to start is also through researching the composer, if one is known. In Fall 2022, I took the class African American Song Literature where we analyzed a similar article on how to respectfully perform an African American piece since we were expected to present a poem or a song from a Black composer, mine being Florence Price. We were expected to incorporate our piece in a presentation to the class where we would share the findings that we could find. We found that for many spirituals and composers there was little to no information on them that was more than a short paragraph long, if any due to how historic the piece dated back to.

I also wanted to connect the Latin American point of view through “Spiritual World in Latin America Spanish" where essayist Luis Racionero expresses ¨we are all one¨, every living being is part of the universe, as everything we have around. When someone lives any kind of transcendental experience it is impossible to be afraid of death. The ALL doesn’t die, it is just transformed.”<5> Religion itself is an all encompassing tradition that connects various cultures and races around the world. A belief in a higher power and hope regardless if one believes in a God or not, is something that can be seen in global and local music.

Lastly, Roberts’ book “Back Music of Two Worlds : African, Caribbean, Latin, and African-American Traditions” consists of chapters including 2. Cultural Blending: The First Afro-American Styles and 7. Fusions: Jazz, Latin America, and Africa,<6> which go more into depth about the connections between African American style of music and its blending with South and Central America, and the Caribbean where we can see Afro-latinx fusions of music and culture.

 

1. Barber, Felicia Raphael Marie. 2021. A New Perspective for the Use of Dialect in African American Spirituals : History, Context, and Linguistics. Lanham: Lexington Books.<1>

2. “CONTENTdm.” n.d. Digital.library.temple.edu. https://digital.library.temple.edu/digital/collection/p15037coll1/id/5392<2>.

3. Jones, Randye. 2019. So You Want to Sing Spirituals : a Guide for Performers. Lanham: Rowman & Littlefield.<3>

4. Thurman, Howard. 1969. Deep River : Reflections on the Religious Insight of Certain of the Negro Spirituals. Port Washington, N.Y: Kennikat Press<4>.

5. “Spiritual World in Latin America - Youthreporter.” Www.youthreporter.eu, www.youthreporter.eu/de/beitrag/spiritual-world-in-latin-america.14130/. Accessed 12 Oct. 2023.<5>

6. Roberts, John Storm. 1998. Black Music of Two Worlds : African, Caribbean, Latin, and African-American Traditions. 2nd edition. New York: Schirmer Books.<6>

Maple Leaf Rag – a start of a genre

Ragtime is an African-American art form originating in the late 1800s. Maple Leaf Rag was composed by one of the major ragtime pioneers, Scott Joplin. Joplin was so large and influential in the creation process of the ragtime genre he was titled “The King of Ragtime” 1. Joplin’s popularity only increased after he died 2. As personal audio became more retally available, Joplin’s compositions became more popular in society.

Poster for Maple Leaf Rag

Maple Leaf Rag,” one of the earliest popular pieces within the ragtime genre, and served as a foundation for subsequent ragtime compositions. Its influence is still evident, even to this day. When you listen to the composition, particularly if you are familiar with ragtime music, you can detect the distinctive rhythmic patterns and melodic structures that have come to define the genre, resulting in it as a modern-day musical topic.

An interesting perspective on the enduring influence of “Maple Leaf Rag” came when I performed the musical ‘Ragtime.’ The music, composed by Stephen Flaherty, featured this iconic composition as a primary theme. It was fascinating to hear this historic piece performed live, and it underscored the timeless appeal of ragtime music.

The structure of “Maple Leaf Rag,” with its ABab style, is another key element that has had a significant impact on the genre. This structure contributes to the piece’s engaging rhythm and catchy melody, making it a memorable and enduring piece of music.

The recording of “Maple Leaf Rag” embedded in this post is particularly special. Performed by the United States Marine Band, it is the oldest known recording of the piece. Interestingly, Scott Joplin, the composer of “Maple Leaf Rag,” only recorded his works as piano rolls for player pianos, rather than using wax recordings. This was the common recording technique at the time, and these rolls provide a unique and valuable insight into the performance style of this pioneering ragtime composer.


“Collected Works of United States Marine Band : United States Marine Band : Free Download, Borrow, and Streaming.” Internet Archive, February 20, 2004. https://archive.org/details/UnitedStatesMarineBand.

1 Joyner, David. Notes 52, no. 3 (1996): 823–24. https://doi.org/10.2307/898648.

2 Dykstra, Brian J. American Music 13, no. 4 (1995): 499–502. https://doi.org/10.2307/3052409.

 

Hawaiian Music’s Journey to Mainstream America

 

Hawaii is internationally regarded as a paradise and is the perfect place for exotic getaways in the heart of the Pacific Ocean. But until 1778, it was a hierarchical, sovereign nation populated by indigenous Native Hawaiians who were self-sufficient and coexisted peacefully with their families, their islands, and their culture. Since foreigners began to settle on the Hawaiian islands, the native Hawaiian population and culture have fought to survive from their near extinction.1Specifically for this blog post, Native Hawaiian music was significantly impacted by the 19th-century immigration of Europeans and Americans. It is said that “by the late nineteenth century, Hawaiians could hear popular music from other countries in ports and cities that handled the growing trade” (Hearingtheamericas.org) after Christian hymns were introduced by missionaries.2 Hawaii’s government was taken over by US-based companies in the 1890s, and soon after that the island was annexed by the US as a colonial property. By this time, Hawaiian musicians had established a style that would have a significant impact on popular music all around the world.2 For example, the song “Aloha ‘Oe,”  is revered as a symbol of traditional Hawaiian culture. Queen Lili’uokalani, the last monarch of the Hawaiian Islands, composed it more than a century ago. The song has both subtle and explicit themes about power hierarchies because it was written and recorded at a period of political and cultural unrest in Hawai’i. Although the song was originally written in 1878 as a mele ho’oipoipo (love song) between a man and a woman, Native Hawaiians through time adapted it socially, politically, and culturally into a song of melancholy farewell between the Queen and her country.3 Since its creation, “Aloha ‘Oe” has grown to be among the most well-known and well-known Hawaiian melodies. Following the overthrow of the Hawaiian kingdom in 1893 and Hawaii’s unlawful designation as the 50th US state, demand for the song’s sheet music and performances surged significantly.3 In the figure at the top of the page, you can see one of the many adaptions of this native song. We can even see that they changed the lyrics to english.4 Hawaiian music took the music world by storm, turning their into a genre and “culture” that every American has “taken apart of”.

 

1 Osorio, Emma Kauana. 2023. “Struggle for Hawaiian Cultural Survival – Ballard Brief.” Ballard Brief, July. https://ballardbrief.byu.edu/issue-briefs/struggle-for-hawaiian-cultural-survival.

2 “Hearing the Americas · Hawaiian Music · Hearing the Americas.” n.d. https://hearingtheamericas.org/s/the-americas/page/hawaiian-music.

3 T. Chow, Evelyn. 2018. “The Sovereign Nation of Hawai’i: Resistance in the Legacy of ‘Aloha ‘Oe.’” SUURJ: Seattle University Undergraduate Research Journal. https://scholarworks.seattleu.edu/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=1020&context=suurj#:~:text=Lili%27uokalani%20initially%20wrote%20“Aloha,Maunawili%20Ranch%20(Imada%2035).

4 Historic Sheet Music Collection, University of Oregon. “Aloha oe” Oregon Digital. Accessed 2023-10-12. https://oregondigital.org/concern/documents/00000002j

Ferdinand “Jelly Roll” Morton and the Power of Notation

“Jelly Roll Morton.” 2019. Rock & Roll Hall of Fame. 2019. https://www.rockhall.com/inductees/jelly-roll-morton. ‌

Often referred to as one of the “fathers of jazz”, Ferdinand “Jelly Roll” Morton was one of the pioneering faces of jazz to come in the early 20th century.  Born in 1890 in New Orleans, Jelly Roll was at the forefront of the burgeoning genre of jazz.  By age 10, he was playing in bordellos blending ragtime, minstrel music, and dance rhythms: the basis of jazz1
.  When he left New Orleans to travel the country as a musician, he often credited himself with the creation of jazz.  While this claim was, and still is, disputed by many, it is impossible to deny that his tune, “Original Jelly Roll Blues”, was the first published jazz work.

“IN Harmony: Sheet Music from Indiana.” n.d. Webapp1.Dlib.indiana.edu. Accessed October 12, 2023. https://webapp1.dlib.indiana.edu/metsnav/inharmony/navigate.do?oid=https://fedora.dlib.indiana.edu/fedora/get/iudl:384651/METADATA&pn=3&size=screen. ‌Accessed via Sheet Music Consortium

Morton was far from the first to play and perform jazz, but publishing a work gave his claim serious credibility.  To notate something is to is legitimize it, and that is exactly what Morton did.  Many people of the time, especially white people, drew clear distinctions between jazz and classical music, high and low art, by the basis of their notation.  To them, jazz was disorganized and sloppy when compared to the precise scores of orchestral works.

So notation legitimizes, but is it always in the best interest of the music? Is something lost? In Morton’s score of The Jelly Roll Blues, he consistently uses dotted sixteenth notes tied to eighth notes to allude to a swing feel, but if a musician read the ink as-is, it would still be lacking.  A true swing feel is subjective, and nearly impossible to fully quantify.  By being forced to notate jazz, one “establishes the objectification of subjectivity”2.

In class, we’ve discussed the difficulty of transcribing some genres from Native music to Appalachian folk music.  In his article, “Country Music and the Souls of White Folk”, we see the impossibility of accurately transcribing Tommy Johnson’s “Cool Drink of Water Blues” 3.  The 32nd notes and triplet rhythms in the transcription surely wasn’t the true rhythm of the song, but it was the only way to quantify and notate it.  While notation helps the legitimization and dissemination of music to the masses, it may not always be necessary.  For oral/aural traditions, notation and transcription removes an irreplaceable essence of the music.

1“Jelly Roll Morton – Songs, Music & Facts.” 2021. Biography. April 27, 2021. https://www.biography.com/musicians/jelly-roll-morton.‌

2Marian-Bălaşa, Marin. “Who Actually Needs Transcription? Notes on the Modern Rise of a Method and the Postmodern Fall of an Ideology.” The World of Music 47, no. 2 (2005): 5–29. http://www.jstor.org/stable/41699643.

3Nunn, Erich. 2015. Sounding the Color Line : Music and Race in the Southern Imagination. Athens ; London: The University Of Georgia Press.

 

Works Cited 

“Jelly Roll Morton.” 2019. Rock & Roll Hall of Fame. 2019. https://www.rockhall.com/inductees/jelly-roll-morton. ‌

“IN Harmony: Sheet Music from Indiana.” n.d. Webapp1.Dlib.indiana.edu. Accessed October 12, 2023. https://webapp1.dlib.indiana.edu/metsnav/inharmony/navigate.do?oid=https://fedora.dlib.indiana.edu/fedora/get/iudl:384651/METADATA&pn=3&size=screen. ‌Accessed via Sheet Music Consortium

“Jelly Roll Morton – Songs, Music & Facts.” 2021. Biography. April 27, 2021. https://www.biography.com/musicians/jelly-roll-morton.‌

Marian-Bălaşa, Marin. “Who Actually Needs Transcription? Notes on the Modern Rise of a Method and the Postmodern Fall of an Ideology.” The World of Music 47, no. 2 (2005): 5–29. http://www.jstor.org/stable/41699643.

Nunn, Erich. 2015. Sounding the Color Line : Music and Race in the Southern Imagination. Athens ; London: The University Of Georgia Press.

Spirituals and Printed Music

It’s interesting to look at the published presentation of spirituals, which shows how the publishers were trying to market their printings. When trying to get a sense of the public perception of something during a different time in history, printed media plays a large role in perpetuating a particular view. The introduction of the Jubilee Songs and Plantation Melodies presents an interesting view of the relationship between blacks, their music, and publications.

An excerpt from the introduction of ‘Jubilee Songs’

The person the introduction is credited to is Harry Hanaford, manager. It’s unclear if he was the manager of the singers responsible for the songs, the Original Nashville Students, or of something else, and little elsewhere can be found about the name. However, it’s clear that a positive spin is being placed on things, with phrases like “The words belong to a race infatuated with a passion for song.” Of course, it is expected that an introduction to a published collection aim to promote that collection, but it is the positive framing of the origins of the song that raises an eyebrow.

It can be safely assumed that it is probably white folks reading this introduction, least of all because perhaps black folks would already know such tunes. Later in the introduction, Hanaford writes about how the Original Nashville Students have a world-wide reputation, remarking that it “must be attributed to their retaining the old Southern style, and giving a truthful representation of the negro as he appeared in the days of slavery.” Respectfully, I would either assume someone who aimed a phrase like that at a black audience to be either remarkedly condescending or severely out of touch. Rather, I would assume that such an opinion, which perhaps borders romanticization, is therefore born from a lineage that did not experience generations of slavery, and is trying to frame and sell a collection of ‘interesting songs’ to an audience that has little in the way of context.

All this to say, it’s interesting to go back and see how things were presented. A significant amount of modern understanding of past sensibilities originates from analysis of media, written opinions of said media, and statements given about current and past events. It can be difficult to gain a sense of what the common mindset was over a hundred years ago, and each little bit found contributes something to the picture. In this case, a look at a (slight) romanticized framing of something in order to sell, which no was created to appeal to a specific audience. Did that indicate the sensibilities of those people, or a general opinion of them? Was it a new attempt? I’m not sure, but it certainly puts things into perspective for how varied looking back at history can be.

The full Jubilee Songs and Plantation Melodies can be found at the University of Tennessee Music Collection:

https://digital.lib.utk.edu/collections/islandora/object/utsmc%3A17777

Hanaford, Harry. “Introduction to Jubilee Songs and Plantation Melodies.” New York, New York: Thearle, H.B., 1800-1922.

  • The exact date of publication is not listed anywhere on the original piece and covers an extremely large range. This author would like to note that an alternative edition was arranged by J.J. Sawyer and published in Chicago, IL in 1884, and that the Nashville Students themselves were founded in approximately 1882; it is unlikely that this work was published before then.

Harry Thacker Burleigh’s Spirituals

Harry T. Burleigh; Photo by Mishkin, New York, 1922. Creator: Unknown. (Photo by Heritage Art/Heritage Images via Getty Images)

Harry Thacker Burleigh was a trail blazer in for African American composers during the 19th and 20th centuries. One of the main things he was known for was the arranging of many different Negro spirituals.[1] He studied at the New York National Conservatory was noticed by Antonin Dvorak, and he hired Burleigh to be a librarian for him. During this time, he composed his first art songs. These initial compositions included plantation and minstrel songs, one such song we’re going to look at more in depth is ‘Steal Away.’

H.T. Burleigh prefaces his arrangement with saying that these spirituals were never composed, rather they had sprung to life through white religious oppression. These songs are not to be confused with minstrel songs; they have a more serious connotation. Steal away was published in nineteen twenty-one and very quickly became popular. He was one of the first composers to bring Negro spirituals to concert halls.[2] Unfortunately having to adjust to the times, these spirituals had to be brought to western classical tradition. I think that throughout constant oppression and lack of representation, Burleigh should be celebrated as one of the first to pioneer black composition in the Western Classical Tradition. With the shortcomings of American culture, I believe that we should take the time to recognize the first of many Black composers starting to take the spotlight of the 20th century.

Burleigh, Harry Thacker. 1921. “Steal Away.” Digital.library.temple.edu. 1921.

These spirituals were not just popular during the time of their composition, it is still being sung by vocalists today. Below you will hear a recording from Indra Thomas, the lyrics are very obviously bleeding spiritual feeling. The repetition really drives the spirituality home, repeating “Steal away to Jesus” multiple times before hearing other lyrics. That line is the main motive that the composition returns to on three separate occasions. Whenever we diverge from these initial lyrics, they sing about the sounds of a trumpet ringing in their soul. The trumpet is usually accredited to being a very spiritual instrument, trying to ‘wake up’ sinners and calling them to repent.

Citations

Burleigh, Harry Thacker. 1921. “Steal Away.” Digital.library.temple.edu. 1921. https://digital.library.temple.edu/digital/collection/p15037coll1/id/5268.

Burleigh, Harry Thacker, and Indra Thomas. 2012. Steal Away. Great Day! Delos.

Erickson, Shannon. 2008. “Harry Thacker Burleigh (1866-1949) •.” Black Past. June 7, 2008. https://www.blackpast.org/african-american-history/burleigh-harry-thacker-1866-1949/.

Library of Congress. n.d. “H. T. Burleigh (1866-1949).” Library of Congress, Washington, D.C. 20540 USA. https://www.loc.gov/item/ihas.200035730/.

“What the Bible Says about Symbolism of Trumpets.” n.d. Www.bibletools.org. https://www.bibletools.org/index.cfm/fuseaction/topical.show/RTD/cgg/ID/11077/Symbolism-Trumpets.htm.

[1] Snyder, Jean. “Burleigh, Henry [Harry] T(hacker).” Grove Music Online. 16 Oct. 2013; Accessed 10 Oct. 2023. https://www.oxfordmusiconline.com/grovemusic/view/10.1093/gmo/9781561592630.001.0001/omo-9781561592630-e-1002248537.

[2] Erickson, Shannon. 2008. “Harry Thacker Burleigh (1866-1949) •.” Black Past. June 7, 2008. https://www.blackpast.org/african-american-history/burleigh-harry-thacker-1866-1949/.

Ballet and Minstrelsy

As someone who is not very familiar with both ballet or minstrelsy, I didn’t think there was any relation between them. But more research led to clear connections between ballet and minstrelsy, primarily abroad in the current world. Closer to home but further in the past, it turns out that a minstrel themed ballet called Blackface was created by Lew Christensen, a choreographer who was the ballet master of several major ballet societies in the US.1 While described as a failure2 (perhaps rightly so given its content), this ballet could say something about the connection between minstrelsy and ballet. 

Talley Beatty and Betty Nichols are pictured below in Christensen’s Blackface.3 Both encountered racism in ballet, especially early in their careers in the 1940s. In fact, Betty Nichols was the first black student at the school of American Ballet.4 Interestingly enough, another picture by American Photographer Larry Colwell listed a similar picture (with clearly Talley’s same dance partner, Betty) in the Library of Congress as “Beatty, Talley, with unidentified partner.”5 This ‘unidentified partner’ is clearly Betty Nichols.

Searching up Lew Christensen’s ballet Blackface brought nothing up online. Was this censored, or taken down because of its content? Searching through sources, I could not find any that had detailed information on this ballet. This instance brings up a question for discussion: Are we to take down and forget a history of racism in our country, in order to get rid of it? While it is hard to generalize, in almost all cases the answer is the opposite. Instead of hiding a past history, it should be known so that we can realize the mistakes humans have made in the past, and learn from them. And if you didn’t know, there is actually a whole career path devoted to that: being a historian.

 

1  “Betty Nichols and Lew Christensen.” MoBBallet.org, https://mobballet.org/index.php/2022/02/21/betty-nichols-orbit-lew-christensen/

2 “Larry Colwell Dance Photographs.” Library of Congress, https://www.loc.gov/collections/larry-colwell-dance-photographs-1944-to-1966/about-this-collection/

3 “Talley Beatty and Betty Nichols”. New York Public Library Digital Collections. Jerome Robins Dance Division souvenir program files, 1947. https://digitalcollections.nypl.org/items/b804aee0-cf3c-0136-0af7-5dc327e0d399

4 Macaulay, Alastair. “Betty Nichols – Black History Month in Dance, 14.” 15 February. https://www.alastairmacaulay.com/all-essays/6csitm8yle894tttza30umd8vqsyyl

5 “Larry Colwell dance photographs: Studio or publicity photos: Beatty, Talley, with unidentified partner”. Library of Congress. https://www.loc.gov/item/muscolwell-200224941/

H. T. Burleigh’s Compositional Moods

“Little Mother of Mine” spiritual arranged by H. T. Burleigh.1

H. T. Burleigh (Harry Thacker Burleigh) played a significant role in the development  of American music as he composed over 200 pieces in this genre. He was the first African American acclaimed for his concert pieces and a founding member of American Society of Composers, Authors, and Publishers (ASCAP).2 After passing in 1949, Burleigh is thought to be one of the most significant contributors to American music especially through his arrangements of African American spiritual that are said to have “transported a musical tradition that was born out of the plight of enslaved people, onto the concert stage, where they are revered as masterful examples of uniquely American music.”3

Burleigh was able to arrange the piece “Little Mother of Mine,” to convey the sentimental meaning of the text through compositional techniques. The half-step motif seen in the left hand countermelodies throughout highlights certain expressive words like “twilight,” “evening,” and “west” which are important in the meaning of this text. Burleigh’s compositional choices such as using “sevenths, non chord tones, and chromatic melodic notes” are “frequently expressive devices in his songs, often indicating a bittersweet or sad emotion.”4 This is a subtle strategy used by Burleigh but it effectively allows him to convey the mood of the text.

Burleigh demonstrates the emotion of this text through how he differentiates the first verse from the second. The second verse is accompanied “memorable countermelodies and richer chordal textures” in the piano accompaniment.5 This further emphasizes the mood of the text. It is subtle, but a very effective strategy of arrangement by H. T. Burleigh.

Bibliography

Burleigh, H. T. “Little Mother of Mine.” CONTENTDM, 1917. https://digital.library.temple.edu/digital/collection/p15037coll1/id/6179.

Sears, Ann. “‘A Certain Strangeness’: Harry T. Burleigh’s Art Songs and Spiritual Arrangements.” Black Music Research Journal 24, no. 2 (2004): 227–49. https://doi.org/10.2307/4145492.

Footnotes

1“H. T. Burleigh (1866-1949),” The Library of Congress, accessed October 10, 2023, https://www.loc.gov/item/ihas.200035730.

2“H. T. Burleigh (1866-1949),” The Library of Congress, accessed October 10, 2023, https://www.loc.gov/item/ihas.200035730.

3“H. T. Burleigh (1866-1949),” The Library of Congress, accessed October 10, 2023, https://www.loc.gov/item/ihas.200035730.

4 Ann Sears, “‘A Certain Strangeness’: Harry T. Burleigh’s Art Songs and Spiritual Arrangements.” Black Music Research Journal 24, no. 2 (2004): 227–49. https://doi.org/10.2307/4145492.

5Ann Sears, “‘A Certain Strangeness’: Harry T. Burleigh’s Art Songs and Spiritual Arrangements.” Black Music Research Journal 24, no. 2 (2004): 227–49. https://doi.org/10.2307/4145492.

William Dawson, America’s symphonic one hit wonder

American-composed classical music is mostly a myth. This is because of the European teachings which influenced most of America’s largest composers. Even though there is a rich and vibrant community of folk musicians, there used to be no music besides the group of followers that Davořák had grown. One of the first major original American symphony compositions was created by a black composer William Dawson, and was premiered just under a year after Davořák’s New World Symphony premiered. Dawsons Negro Folk Symphony was a huge success and received an enormous standing ovation after its premiere in Carnegie Hall 1. William Dawson’s legacy is being a choir director at Tuskegee University 2. Dawson received his education at Tuskegee as well as founded its music department in 1931 4.


3
After the premiere of his Negro Folk Symphony, Dawson decided to focus on his career at Tuskegee University and work on its choral program as he continued to compose and arrange pieces for his choirs. During this time, he continued to push for black composers and pushed a narrative of black empowerment:

I have’ never doubted the possibilities of our music, for I feel that buried in the South is music that somebody, some day, will discover. They will make another great music out of the folksongs of the South. I feel from the bottom of my heart that it will rank one day with the music of Brahms and the Russian composers 1

Dawson took direct inspiration from African-American spirituals and other forms of African-American music to create a symphony for the culture he knew. Another African-American composer at this time was Florence Price. Her compositions took more of a European aspect because of the composition education she received 1.

William Dawson’s symphonic career was short-lived because of the lack of further compositions 1. He has formed a lasting impact on the African-American community with the founding of Tuskegee University’s music program, which continues to benefit young musicians from all over the United States 2.

1 BROWN, GWYNNE KUHNER. 2012. “Whatever Happened to William Dawson’s Negro Folk Symphony?” Journal of the Society for American Music 6 (4): 433–56. https://doi.org/10.1017/S1752196312000351. Accessed October 4th, 2023

2 “Founder’s Day at Tuskegee Institute Sunday, April 4.” Capitol Plaindealer (Topeka, Kansas) 1, no. 29, April 4, 1937: PAGE EIGHT. Readex: African American Newspapers. https://infoweb.newsbank.com/apps/readex/doc?p=EANAAA&docref=image/v2%3A12ACD7F5186B1E69%40EANAAA-12C55C2E116B2EC8%402428628-12C55C2E55C768B0%407-12C55C2FA4B97D40%40Founder%2527s%2BDay%2Bat%2BTuskegee%2BInstitute%2BSunday%252C%2BApril%2B4. Accessed October 4th, 2023

3 “A TUSKEGEE SYMPHONY – Stokowski to Present Dawson’s Pioneer Work on Negro Themes.” New York Times, November 18, 1934. https://nyti.ms/3Q4Ezyb.

4 Huizenga, Tom. “Someone Finally Remembered William Dawson’s ‘Negro Folk Symphony’.” NPR, June 26, 2020. https://www.npr.org/sections/deceptivecadence/2020/06/26/883011513/someone-finally-remembered-william-dawsons-negro-folk-symphony. Accessed October 8th, 2023

Horowitz, Joeseph. 2022. DovořáK’s Prophecy: And the Vexed Fate of Black Classical Music. New Yourk: W.W. Norton & Company.

The truth behind Minstrel shows

Before we dive into Minstrel shows and what they exactly are, we should take a look at the history of the word “Minstrel” and its multiple meanings. I think it is important that we educate ourselves and others and learn the true history behind these shows and their meaning. In Hebrew, a minstrel is a player of a stringed instrument. There are references in the Book of Samuel of David as a minstrel playing for Saul.1

A little bit later, we find that a minstrel is a medieval poet and musician who sang or recited while accompanying himself on a stringed instrument, either as a member of a noble household or as an itinerant troubadour. As you can see, there are many different definitions of minstrel and how it truly hasn’t changed very much over many centuries. 2

Then we reach the early 1830’s and we find that there are performances called Minstrel shows. “The first minstrel shows were performed in 1830s New York by white performers with blackened faces (most used burnt cork or shoe polish) and tattered clothing who imitated and mimicked enslaved Africans on Southern plantations. These performances characterized blacks as lazy, ignorant, superstitious, hypersexual, and prone to thievery and cowardice.” 3 It is important to note that when the word “Minstrel” originated, that person or persons were not being used to humiliate an entire race. We also need to be educated that the word “Minstrel” had not become popular with the definition of blackface until the 1800’s.

Continuing with blackface in the 1800’s, this small clip from a newspaper article in 1856 is quite the shocker. The parts that stood out to me were how “cheap” the entries to the shows were and that they essentially happened daily. The specific group that was performing that night were called the Campbell Minstrels and a few songs from their set lists include: “Darkies on the levee,” “Old Dan Tucker,” “Gold versus postage stamps,” and plantation scenes.

 

4

Spirituals as Advocacy

H. T. Burleigh composed beloved arrangements of Black spirituals for voice and piano, and as a result became one of the most well known Black composers of the late 19th and early 20th centuries.1 As an influential proponent of the development of the spiritual as an art genre, much of his beliefs and practices legitimized Black folk music within the classical music tradition.2 In addition to a prolific compositional career, he had an extensive career as a vocalist and performed internationally.3

 

"Deep River" arrangement for voice and piano; by H.T. Burleigh

“Deep River” arrangement for voice and piano; by H.T. Burleigh 7

 

During Burleigh’s life, Black-face minstrelsy was the most prominent form of entertainment in popular culture.4 Minstrel shows are unquestionably racist and dehumanizing towards Black people, featuring a combination of expropriated folk music and dance performed by demeaning caricatures. In his edition of “Deep River,” Burleigh comments on the ability of spirituals, when performed well, to express hope, faith, and justice.5 Additionally, he acknowledges the prevalence of Blackface minstrelsy and warns against the use of the spiritual in a way that is an inappropriate imitation of vocal inflection and body language for the sake of racially extortive humor.6

 

H.T. Burleigh, “Deep River” preface 9

 Not only were spirituals a way to uplift the Black community and counter the damage being done through minstrelsy, but their ability to empower was recognized and used to advocate for other groups as well. An example of the use of the Black spiritual as a means for advocacy is the work of Paul Robeson, who spoke out on the behalf of the lower class and other marginalized groups. 8 It seems as though the development of spirituals as art songs coincided with the practice of minstrelsy. However, minstrelsy expropriated black folk songs as a method of dehumanizing and profiting from the marginalization of Black people, while Burleigh’s work with Spirituals helped to legitimize Black folk music and empower other marginalized communities.

 

1 Dickinson, Peter, H. Wiley Hitchcock, and Keith E. Clifton. “Art song in the United States.” Grove Music Online. 25 Jul. 2013; Accessed 5 Oct. 2023. https://www.oxfordmusiconline.com/grovemusic/view/10.1093/gmo/9781561592630.001.0001/omo-9781561592630-e-1002240068.

 

 

2 Bell, Danna. 2018. “Link to the Library of Congress: Harry T. Burleigh—The Man Who Brought African-American Spirituals to the Classical Stage.” Music Educators Journal 104 (4): 9–11. doi:10.1177/0027432118767819.

 

 

3 Ibid.

 

 

4 Lott, Eric, and Greil Marcus. Love and theft: Blackface minstrelsy and the American working class. Oxford University Press, 2013.

 

 

5 “Deep River : Old Negro Melody / Arranged by H.T. Burleigh.” Omeka RSS. Accessed October 6, 2023. https://digitalgallery.bgsu.edu/collections/item/34006.

 

6 Ibid.

 

 

7 Ibid. 

 

 

8 Riis, Thomas. “Robeson, Paul.” Grove Music Online. 31 Jan. 2014; Accessed 6 Oct. 2023. https://www.oxfordmusiconline.com/grovemusic/view/10.1093/gmo/9781561592630.001.0001/omo-9781561592630-e-1002257958.

 

 

9 Ibid.

Black AND White Spirituals

We all know what a spiritual is, or at least have heard a spiritual being sung. That is because spirituals are identified in many different contexts; religious songs, folk songs, traditional songs, to name a few. When reading George Cullen Jackson’s article titled “White and Negro Spirituals (1943),”1 I was amazed to discover that “the white people once sang spirituals, and still sing them-some of the very same songs as those sung by the black folk (page 1)” at nearly the same time as each other. 

“Traced the white man’s tunes back to a still more remote emergence, in the British Isles where possible and in a secular song environment. For I have felt sure that singers in the Old World would be fairly free, in those early times, from the suspicion of having been influenced by the singing of American slaves (page 265).”2

These “Old World” tunes, as he calls them, were transferred from the British Isles to America. However, many of these tunes also transformed into new spirituals with different meanings as before.

“Swing low, sweet chariot” Spiritual. This composition was arranged by H.T. Burleigh3

Take “Swing Low, Sweet Chariot”3 for example. Jackson’s studies discover that the ‘Bailiff’s Daughter” pattern linked from the British Isle can be heard in this Black American spiritual. Now this doesn’t mean that anyone is at fault for “copying” the work’s of other races with context to this scenario. I state this because even though these two tunes have similar structures and characteristics, they also have completely different sounds and meanings.

After listening to the recording of “Swing Low Sweet Chariot,”4 the first thing I realized is how different this sounds compared to a European religious spiritual. Where a catholic spiritual would likely be arranged in SATB singing structured chords resulting in a timed cadence, this recording not only consists of a male vocal group, but also elongates each chord as long as they felt was needed. The harmonies blend well into each other, and create a sort of African smoothness from their style. There seems to be no western classical notation instructed, because this spiritual wasn’t meant to be strict in the harmony or structure of religion in European context – regardless of the many different interpretations of the origins of this composition, all fall into the central theme of slaves being hopeful for days of freedom, whether that be freedom from slavery, or freedom into heaven.5

Over the centuries that this American tune has been circulating, many arrangements have been presented, like this video of The Tabernacle Choir singing the same spiritual.6 Over the centuries that this American tune has been circulating, many arrangements have been presented, like this video of The Tabernacle Choir. Notice how it is sung in a completely different style. This alteration gives light to different experiences of the vocalists, those who simply did not sing this spiritual out of hope for better days. This does not discredit any performance of this piece, but rather circles back to the original point being made that different races and backgrounds have and continue to sing the spirituals of other races and backgrounds to this day. Think of this as sampling: artists take old songs and material to shed new light on it, and create a whole new perspective. We can apply the same ideas to that of spirituals, instead of playing a constant “this versus that” when it comes to the music we listen to and perform.

The American Music Family Tree

Pop punk, roll-the-dice improvisation, break core, and hyper pop are just a few of the niche genres of music that are taking American youth by storm. However, few stop to think about how we got to this age of new genres being synthesized on an annual basis- where did this music truly come from?

The answer is ultimately pretty cut and dry- black people have created, either directly or indirectly, every single genre of American music. The American Music Family Tree1 starts with music of African American origin in its roots and extends out to more modern genres at its branches, all derived from its roots.

The evolution of African American Music (#infographic) | bluesyemre

This is not a new notion, however. All the way back in 1893, African American people all over the nation were waking up to the notion that the music around them had been co-opted and repackaged into something “new” by white people. In the Cleaveland Gazette’s 18932 article “Dr. Dvorak On The Right Track” the editor cites that “about all the American Music we have is furnished by in these same “Negro” melodies.” In tandem with this claim, the author mentions Dvorak’s prophecy before it was actually called Dvorak’s prophecy. Dvorak claimed, in essence, that the experiment of American music (which he was tasked as a white person coming all the way from Europe to create) would not succeed unless it incorporated and gave due regard to the musical traditions around itself.

Unfortunately, today music is still being co-opted and not being given due regard by white musicians and listeners alike. In Vince Dixon’s 20113 article concerning this topic, tragic ironies are outlined like slave owners learning banjo from their slaves, or ragtime being considered offensive by white people before it was co-opted and turned repackaged into more popular and palatable genres for white people. We have this information now of a pattern of abuse in our American musical canon- and we have the means by which to recognize and change our patterns of behavior. As Dvorak said, the ongoing experiment of American music will fail if we don’t- whether or not we’re 130 years on from his prophecy.

 

Bluesyemre, 9 June 2020, bluesyemre.com/2020/06/09/the-evolution-of-african-american-music-infographic/.US/se/ID_No/429107/Product.aspx4

Black Newspaper Critics and Bluegrass

In March of 1969, the Osborne Brothers, a bluegrass duo from Kentucky, released a record called “Yesterday, Today and the Osborne Brothers.” The album was half vintage, half contemporary bluegrass tunes, including re-recordings of the duo’s greatest hits. The same month, a review of this album appeared in The Minority Report, which was an underground African-American newspaper based in Dayton, OH. The reviewer, Mike Hitchcock, was writing during the time of the folk revival of the mid-20th century, and he notes this in the opening paragraph: 

“The latest issue of Rolling Stone…is chock full of stuff about bands like Pogo,…Crosby, Nash and Stills, and the word from people on the West Coast is that country music is rapidly becoming where it is at.”1

Hitchcock does clarify, though, that he doesn’t believe the Osborne Brothers are “happening” yet, and are rather on their way to reaping the benefits of this folk revival.2 The review is framed as an early discovery of this up and coming group (though they had been well established in bluegrass as a genre), and credits the largely black readership of the newspaper with being a driving force in a bluegrass revival, due to the genre’s roots. 

Bluegrass Discography: Viewing full record for Yesterday, today & the Osborne Brothers

Cover of ‘Yesterday, Today & the Osborne Brothers’

One of the main ways Hitchcock does this is through his emphasis on the live performance aspect of the genre of bluegrass. He recounts how one of the more traditional songs on the record is “the kind of thing you used to hear at the Ken-Mill when all the boys were too drunk to fight anymore and not drunk enough to go home and somebody would put a quarter in the request box…”3 Demonstrating the community aspect of this genre is how Hitchcock asserts it as popular and integral for his reader base, which are largely Black Midwesterners.

His focus on the communal roots of bluegrass music being evoked through traditional songs that are recorded for a commercial audience contrasts the condescending reaction to bluegrass from the wider public that he observes. The example given by Hitchcock involves general condescension at the University of Chicago Folk Festival, where bluegrass was described as “quaint and ethnic.”4 To Hitchcock, this is precisely the reason that although they are making progress towards popularity, bluegrass musicians are still largely not considered “hip.” He directly ties this to the socioeconomic and racialized origins of bluegrass when he asks the rhetorical question: “After all, what do [n-words] and hillbillies know about music?”5

In addressing the fact that bluegrass is a music traditionally enjoyed and made by Black people and poor White people, and yet is on the rise in universal popularity contrary to previous resistance at the idea, Hitchcock is documenting an important cultural dialogue around folk and popular music. We now craft arguments such as his to give equal stake in the popularity and commercial uses of bluegrass to all who were/are the originators and curators of the genre.

1“The Osborne Brothers. Buy a Nickel of Bluegrass Baby.” Minority Report (Dayton, Ohio) 1, no. 4, March 15, 1969: 5. Readex: African American Newspapers. https://infoweb.newsbank.com/apps/readex/doc?p=EANAAA&docref=image/v2%3A12A7ECD8048E2975%40EANAAA-12BA755320D4E840%402440296-12BA7553513015E0%404-12BA7553CDFFFFE8%40The%2BOsborne%2BBrothers.%2BBuy%2Ba%2BNickel%2Bof%2BBluegrass%2BBaby.

2 Ibid.

3 Ibid.

4 Ibid.

5 Ibid.

Leontyne Price and Racism in Opera

 

Leontyne Price made her Metropolitan Opera debut in January 1961 as Leonora in Giuseppe Verdi’s Il Trovatore, pictured here.

Leontyne Price is known as the first Black leading performer in opera. She was the first Black prina donna to gain an international reputation and become a singing superstar in the world of opera. Born as Mary Violet Leontyne Price on February 10, 1927, she grew up singing in the church choir and only decided to pursue music after she graduated from the College of Education and Industrial Arts, now Central State University.1 She then attended the Julliard School of Music and began her singing career on Broadway in 1952. She made her operatic debut in 1957 and continued traveling the world singing opera until 1985 when she switched to more recital work.2  Her role in Verdi’s Aida remains her best-known work, and she is widely considered the most stunning Aida this world will ever see (see video below). Price was an incredibly accomplished artist and received numerous awards, including 20 Grammys, the Presidential Medal of Freedom (1964), the Kennedy Center Honor (1980), the National Medal of the Arts (1985), and is a National Endowment for the Arts Opera Honoree. 3 Today, at age 96, she continues to inspire upcoming generations of Black classical musicians.

I found this snippet of a newspaper from the Kansas Whip in 1955 titled “Whites Help Welcome Negro Soprano Home”, describing the large mixed-race crowd that greeted Price for a benefit concert in her birth town of Laurel, Mississippi. 4 I found this title to be extremely diminishing of Price’s accomplishments as an artist – according to the snippet, it was the largest gathering of White and Black people in Laurel’s history. To title this as “Whites Help Welcome Negro Soprano Home” is centering White people once again in a story that should be centering Black voices and celebrating Price’s artistry and accomplishments. It reminded me of the conversations we have had in class about White saviorism and White guilt – once again, White people are making themselves the heroes of someone else’s story.

Article published in the Kansas Whip in Topeka, Kansas on April 1, 1955

We can only begin to comprehend the struggles that Price had to overcome as a Black woman in the opera industry, which is a racist and almost exclusively White-dominated industry to this day. Take the Met, for example. With a board of 45, only 3 managing directors are Black.5 Bass-baritone Morris Robinson said in a New York Times article about representation in opera: “In 20 years, I’ve never been hired by a Black person; I’ve never been directed by a Black person; I’ve never had a Black C.E.O. of a company; I’ve never had a Black president of the board; I’ve never had a Black conductor,” Mr. Robinson said. “I don’t even have Black stage managers. None, not ever, for 20 years.”6

Representation in opera is still a huge issue today and racism is prevalent, especially considering the mostly old and white audience that opera attracts. Hopefully, as time goes on, we will center Black artists in the world of opera. Artists like Leontyne Price are an inspiration, but also a reminder of how far we still have to go to achieve equity in the world of opera.  

“I am here and you will know that I am the best and will hear me. The colour of my skin or the kink of my hair or the spread of my mouth has nothing to do with what you are listening to.” – Leontyne Price

 

   

1 Britannica, T. Editors of Encyclopaedia. “Leontyne Price.” Encyclopedia Britannica, October 3, 2023. https://www.britannica.com/biography/Leontyne-Price.

5 Barone, Joshua. “Opera Can No Longer Ignore Its Race Problem.” The New York Times, The New York Times, 16 July 2020, www.nytimes.com/2020/07/16/arts/music/opera-race-representation.html.

Florence Price – Pioneer or Archetype?

Florence Price was a composer in the early 1900s in the United States. She is often remembered for persevering against prejudice (being a black female composer), working to find her niche in the post-Dvorak American Music scene, composing along side peers such as Dawson, Burlesque, and others.1

As seen in this clipping from the Plaindealer (an African American newspaper from Kentucky) from 1934, Price enjoyed a fairly high deal of synchronic success2
. Marion Andersson famously sang one of her arrangements of a spiritual on the steps of the Lincoln center in front of an audience of thousands.3

While it is true that Price’s existence as a black female composer put her in the face of a considerable deal of adversity (Price at one point had to write letters that explicitly asked conductors to evaluate her music without regards to her race or sex), it is also important to evaluate her objectively as a composer and see in what ways her work fit into the pattern of composition surrounding her time4
.  Just as composers like Mussorgsky or Stravinsky were drawing on folk traditions from their own countries, so too was Price using the American folk tradition she knew as a launch point for her own idiosyncratic style. In terms of harmonic style and phrasing, her first symphony is compared to Tchaikovsky and is dripping with 19th century European tropes.

So as we appreciate the unique position of Price, one of a few— if not the only notable female composer of color from her time, we must be careful not to over-essentialize her position, and do as she says: evaluate her objectively and appreciate her position among her contemporaries.

1 Davis, Lizzie. “The Inspirational Life of Composer Florence Price – and Why Her Story Still Matters Today.” Classic FM, Classic FM, 2 Feb. 2022, www.classicfm.com/discover-music/florence-price/.

2 “Mme. Evanti Praises Race Composer.” Plaindealer (Kansas City, Kansas) XXXVI, no. 41, October 12, 1934: 6. Readex: African American Newspapers. https://infoweb.newsbank.com/apps/readex/doc?p=EANAAA&docref=image/v2%3A12ACD7C7734164EC%40EANAAA-12C188C7B81DCC88%402427723-12C188C8027A3378%405-12C188C9427D9E78%40Mme.%2BEvanti%2BPraises%2BRace%2BComposer.

3 Ross, Alex. “The Rediscovery of Florence Price.” The New Yorker, The New Yorker, 29 Jan. 2018, www.newyorker.com/magazine/2018/02/05/the-rediscovery-of-florence-price.

4 Ege, Samantha. (2018). Florence Price and the Politics of Her Existence. Kapralova Society Journal. 16.

 

Representations of Minstrelsy in the Americas

PFOP: 'Welby and Pearl' a minstrel act with local roots

Minstrelsy is 1“the form of entertainment associated with minstrel shows, featuring songs, dances, and formulaic comic routines based on stereotyped depictions of African Americans and typically performed by white actors with blackened faces,” as defined by Oxford Languages.

Seeing the history of minstrelsy emerge in America beginning in the 1830’s in the Northeastern states was just another racist blow directed to people of color, specifically African Americans. The hatred was portrayed as a “national artform” expanding to even operatic shows by appealing to the intended white audience.2

It is also important to know that minstrelsy was not limited to only America, but Latin America was exposed to it as well. It can be observed that 1“American blackface minstrels began to perform for local audiences in Buenos Aires between 1868 and 1873” (Adamovsky, 2021).

The reasoning behind this takes into account the slave trade going mainly to parts of America and South America and spreading inward. The artforms of theatre, opera, and dance found a common ground for the white audience to ridicule the black folk regardless of if they were free or not. Thus creating a race barrier for any person of African descent living in the Americas since the emergence of minstrelsy and progress of slavery.

The incorporation of Shakespeare’s minstrelsy seen in the nineteenth century productions as well shows the crossing of time relative borders of racism and does not come as a surprise as it incorporated swing music and African American culture that was catered to the exclusively white audience.  As continued in one of the productions Swingin’ he Dream, 3“the only hint of non-Anglo ethnicity is a Latin American chanteuse who plays the bad girl role of Kyser’s would-be seducer” (Lanier). The inclusion of people of color as the weaker party submissive to the white superior only ties back to the roots of slavery.4

 

1Adamovsky, Ezequiel. “Blackface minstrelsy en Buenos Aires: Las actuaciones de Albert Phillips en 1868 y las visitas de los Christy’s Minstrels en 1869, 1871 y 1873 (y una discusión sobre su impacto en la cultura local).” Latin American Theatre Review 55, no. 1 (2021): 5-26. https://doi.org/10.1353/ltr.2021.0027.

2Haines, Kathryn. n.d. “Guides: Blackface Minstrelsy Resources: Blackface in Other Cultures.” Pitt.libguides.com. Accessed October 5, 2023. https://pitt.libguides.com/c.php?g=935570&p=6831076.

3Lanier, Douglas. 2005. “Minstrelsy, Jazz, Rap: Shakespeare, African American Music, and Cultural Legitimation.” Borrowers and Lenders I (1).

4McMains, Juliet. “Brownface: Representations of Latin-Ness in Dancesport.” Dance Research Journal 33, no. 2 (2001): 54–71. https://doi.org/10.2307/1477804.

 

 

Evolution of Black Gospel Music in the 20th Century

During a Sunday service at the National Pentecostal Church in Johannesburg, South Africa, a gospel choir leads the crowd in song. Photo by Dieter Telemans/Panos 4

“Gospel Music,” a specific genre of sacred American black music, reached its peak in the second half of the nineteenth century. Some of its musical predecessors include “white Pentecostal hymns, slave songs, spirituals, work songs, and evangelistic congregational songs from the seventeenth, eighteenth, and nineteenth centuries.”  Gospel music has advanced by embracing musical ideas and “expressions from genres including the blues, jazz, rock, soul, classical, and country.” (Beatrice Irene 2014) Thomas A. Dorsey, dubbed “The Father of Gospel Music,” brought blues and jazz to black and white gospel songs, white evangelical hymns, and other genres even though he wasn’t the first to compose gospel songs.1

Gospel tunes from the nineteenth and twentieth centuries started to take the place of slave songs and spirituals owing to the work of composers like Charles Tindley, Lucie Campbell, and Dr. Isaac Watts2 . They “gospelized” traditional tunes by introducing African American music style, such as flattened notes, altered rhythmic pulses, and pentatonic scales. Many of Charles Tindley’s melodies were written in pentatonic scales, and, according to gospel music specialist Dr. Horace Clarence Boyer, he left leeway “for the interpolation of flatted thirds and sevenths” (Horace Clarence) in both his melodic lines and harmonic structures. Additionally, Tindley left room in his compositions for improvised language and rhythm. Thomas Dorsey advanced this by gradually merging the performance of black holy music with blues performance elements.2 

Gospel singer and scholar, Horace C. Boyer, offered an explanation for how the sacred and secular gospels came to be recognized as separate categories.3 Black Americans who had never heard gospel music or had just chosen to disapprove of it for whatever reason began to support it, but not in churches. Black middle-class Americans suddenly found it highly fashionable to buy gospel CDs and watch gospel-music singers on television, even though going to concerts was still frowned upon2 . Furthermore, non-blacks held the opinion that because they view gospel singing as an “act,” it belongs in nightclubs where other entertainers also perform. 2 

We can see this type of secular change in a 1969 Milwaukee Newspaper 1, when ABC-TV broadcasts the special program, The Folk Gospel Music Festival, the spectacle and emotionally “charged excitement of the best in contemporary gospel music”(Milwaukee Star 1969) will be broadcast on network television. Featuring many of the top gospel artists and figures of the time, including the inspirational Clara Walker and the Gospel Redeemers, the Staple Singers, Rev. Jesse Jackson, and Mahalla Jackson. As part of the Harlem Cultural Festival in New York City, “The Folk Gospel Music Festival” was recorded during an outdoor performance in front of 70,000 spectators.1

 

1 Pate, Beatrice Irene. 2014. “Southern Black Gospel Music: Qualitative Look at Quartet Sound during the Gospel ‘Boom’ Period of 1940-1960.” Order No. 1568090, Liberty University. https://www.proquest.com/dissertations-theses/southern-black-gospel-music-qualitative-look-at/docview/1609004829/se-2.

2 Boyer, Horace Clarence. “Contemporary Gospel Music.” The Black Perspective in Music 7, no. 1 (1979): 5–58. https://doi.org/10.2307/1214427.

3  Milwaukee Star (Milwaukee, Wisconsin) VIII, no. 18, September 6, 1969: Page [1]. Readex: African American Newspapers. https://infoweb.newsbank.com/apps/readex/doc?p=EANAAA&docref=image/v2%3A12A7AE31A7B3CA6B%40EANAAA-12BE206EFAC5BEF0%402440471-12BE206F06AEFFA0%400.

4 Aeonmag. “Why Repetition Can Turn Almost Anything into Music: Aeon Essays.” Aeon, aeon.co/essays/why-repetition-can-turn-almost-anything-into-music. Accessed 10 Oct. 2023.

Music as a Tool for Change: Black Music Opportunities in the Early 20th Century

As I was searching for sources to write about this week, I stumbled upon “The Appeal,” which was a moderately successful African-American Newspaper for nearly four decades until 1923, based out of St. Paul, Minnesota. African-American Newspapers were newspapers published specifically for black communities in the 19th and 20th centuries. At the time “The Appeal” was founded, there were only around 1500 black people in the twin-cities area.1 Because of this, “The Appeal” was targeted to a much larger demographic than just black residents in Minnesota, and became popular throughout the country.

While I was searching for music related topics within “The Appeal,” I noticed something interesting. By 1906, the New England Conservatory had started advertising in nearly every issue of “The Appeal.”2 This suggests that by 1906 at the latest, the New England Conservatory was seeking out black students to study music on the east coast. This is particularly notable given that many colleges wouldn’t even enroll black students until much later in the 20th century. St. Olaf’s first black graduate was in 1935, Princeton’s was in 1947, and University of Alabama’s wasn’t until 1965. The New England Conservatory’s first black graduate was Rachel M. Washington, who graduated in 1872, just five years after the conservatory was founded.3 Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s wife Coretta Scott King was also a graduate of the New England Conservatory much more recently in history.

“Popular Composers. Young Afre-Americans Who Have Attained Great Successes with Songs” – The Appeal

Another article from “The Appeal” highlights the work of Bob Cole and the Johnson Brothers.4 Rosamond Johnson also graduated from the New England Conservatory, while his brother James was a graduate of Atlanta University and a recipient of a doctorate from Colombia according to “The Appeal.” James wrote the lyrics and Rosamond composed the music of “Lift Every Voice and Sing,” which is known today as the “Black National Anthem.”

Bob Cole partnered with the Johsnon brothers to create their own vaudeville act. Their entertaining pop music is the focus of a column in “The Appeal.” Cole and the Johsnon Brothers took advantage of a society that was obsessed with Minstrelsy and black entertainment, and produced music that fought against the pejorative and negative stereotypes usually portrayed in the genre. All three men were early civil rights activists, and they used music to express their views in a way that white audiences wanted to engage with.

In the late 19th and early 20th centuries, there were not many opportunities for black people to achieve upward social mobility in the white-supremacist framework of the United States. However, with minstrelsy and black music in such high demand, many black people were able to use music to gain an education, a livelihood, and further their political messages. In the years immediately after the reconstruction, music was a driving factor towards equality for black people in America.

 

Conceptions about Minstrel Shows

Minstrel shows are most commonly known as a performance in which black culture is represented with an extreme amount of negative stereotyping. Blackface, the practice of having a white man imitate the skin tone of an African American through the use of burned cork makeup, is presented as one of the greatest demonstrations of bad taste and racist portrayals, and often as a defining feature of these performances. However, it is easy to forget that the reality was far more nuanced.

A snippet from the New York Globe newspaper, December 22 in 1883.

As this snippet from a prominent newspaper of the time shows, it was quite often that African Americans performed in minstrel shows. Gustav Frohman was a prominent theater manager, specializing in minstrel shows, and operated one of the most successful black performance troupes of the 19th century. In his remarks to the newspaper, it can be seen that he identifies that few opportunities for African Americans exist, and that his sentiment is to give as many opportunities out as possible.

Of course, it is difficult to know if this is what he truly believes or if he is doing a variation of virtue signaling by saying that providing opportunities is important despite what he truly believes. However, the presence of such a statement in a significant newspaper indicates that such things were important to at least a not insignificant amount of people. Otherwise, why would it be in such a large publication?

Statements like these perhaps contain the notion that these shows are a good thing, as they provide opportunities that would not otherwise exist and allow for the chance to demonstrate skills. Either way, in looking back on a practice that is considered to be very distasteful today, it is valuable to consider such statements, especially those in public view, and imagine what the public perception of the event must have been, unbiased by our modern assertions.

Citations:

“Mr. Gustav Frohman.” New York Globe (New York, New York), December 22, 1883: 4. Readex: African American Newspapers. https://infoweb.newsbank.com.

The Legacy of The Southern Syncopated Orchestra

Review of a minstrel show at Orchestra Hall in Chicago.1

This review published in Chicago, Illinois details the experience of someone who went to see the New York Syncopated Orchestra which became known as the Southern Syncopated Orchestra. Made up of 27 black musicians and 19 singers, this orchestra primarily performed jazz music as well as classical music, rag tunes, blues, and slave songs.2 They were primarily known for bringing black musicians to the United Kingdom.3 They introduced jazz to Europe “years before the music saw its heyday and even played at Buckingham Palace for George V.”4 They achieved great success in the UK and America.

Southern Syncopated Orchestra : London Remembers, Aiming to capture all memorials in London

Souther Syncopated Orchestra in the UK.5

The published review of this orchestra explained how this performance was not advertised, so the audience was rather slim. The reviewer explains that those in attendance had a good time and expects that the next time this orchestra is in town, the audience will surly be jam packed. The reviewer continues by detailing every instrument and performance the orchestra gave. As far as the quartets that sang, “not since the days of Fisk’s Cantors” had he heard anything quite as good, and the “timpany-boy” was a “revelation.”6 He details the quality of the performance as “distinctly good,” “the strings were in tune, and of fine tone,” and “pitch was the middle-name of all those who took part.”7 Overall, this reviewer had nothing but positive comments about the Southern Syncopated Orchestra.

The SSO achieved great success in their significant, yet short run. Only a few photos survived from their time, but their music was never recorded and “their legacy is now largely forgotten.”8 The SSO met an tragic fate while traveling from Scotland to Ireland, their ship crashed with two others and they lost eight members of their orchestra. The SSO only survived from 1919 to 1921, yet they were pioneers of American jazz music and were some of the firsts to bring it to the international stage.

 

Bibliography

“Good Minstrels.” Broad Ax, 1919, p. 6. African American Newspapers, Accessed October 4, 2023.

Dome, Brighton. “Jazz Pioneers: The Southern Syncopated Orchestra / Brighton Dome.” Jazz Pioneers: The Southern Syncopated Orchestra / Brighton Dome. Accessed October 4, 2023. https://brightondome.org/news_blog/southern_syncopated_orchestra/.

Rye, Howard. “Southern Syncopated Orchestra.” African American Studies Center, 2007. https://doi.org/10.1093/acref/9780195301731.013.47655.

“Southern Syncopated Orchestra.” London Remembers. Accessed October 4, 2023. https://www.londonremembers.com/subjects/southern-syncopated-orchestra.

Footnotes

1 Broad Ax. “Good Minstrels.” African American Newspapers, Accessed October 4, 2023.

2 Howard Rye, “Southern Syncopated Orchestra,” African American Studies Center, 2007, https://doi.org/10.1093/acref/9780195301731.013.47655.

3 Howard Rye, “Southern Syncopated Orchestra,” African American Studies Center, 2007, https://doi.org/10.1093/acref/9780195301731.013.47655.

4 “Southern Syncopated Orchestra,” London Remembers, accessed October 4, 2023, https://www.londonremembers.com/subjects/southern-syncopated-orchestra.

5 “Southern Syncopated Orchestra,” London Remembers, accessed October 4, 2023, https://www.londonremembers.com/subjects/southern-syncopated-orchestra.

Broad Ax. “Good Minstrels.” African American Newspapers, Accessed October 4, 2023.

7 Broad Ax. “Good Minstrels.” African American Newspapers, Accessed October 4, 2023.

8 Brighton Dome, “Jazz Pioneers: The Southern Syncopated Orchestra / Brighton Dome,” Jazz Pioneers: The Southern Syncopated Orchestra / Brighton Dome, accessed October 4, 2023, https://brightondome.org/news_blog/southern_syncopated_orchestra/.

The Ethical Question of being a ‘Jazz Ambassador’

Jazz came out of enslaved Africans brought to America against their will, where a combination of many factors led to the creation of a particular music. African music became a single identity, since many were stripped of their previous and distinct African cultures.1 Jazz in Europe, then, could be thought of as a music out of its homeland.

After WWII, however, jazz flourished throughout Europe especially after many toured as ‘Jazz Ambassadors.’2 Louis Armstrong himself (shown the newspaper article below) faced a dilemma in the midst of the Cold War: Should he work for the US in making allies with the Soviet Union? Should he be proud of the US, a country which did unbelievable harm to his people? Armstrong struggled with this publicly and likely because of it, never went to tour Europe under the US State Department.3 However, others like him did.4 

Duke Ellington was one of those who did go to Europe in 1963 under the State Department. The attached recording5
shows Alice Babs, a Swedish singer, soloing during one of  Ellington’s shows. Shows like this were what the US wanted other countries to see: Equality and desegregation, especially when many different types of segregation were in play in areas like East Germany at the time. Even in an era of segregation, the US wanted to show (perhaps falsely) that they were more or less an ideal society compared to Russia and other Eastern European countries. Because of this show and many more like this, Europe got a biased view of racial identity and music in the US, and it is possibly a reason that jazz flourished in Europe after World War II.6

It’s particularly interesting that jazz was formed through a certain set of very sad and unique circumstances, yet, it was never broadcasted in that way. When brought over to a land where there still are acts of racist inequalities, although perhaps less talked about, an interesting case is set up to analyze the music’s development. The spread of jazz under US government support is another question for thought in a world of complexities.

1. Jones, Leroy. “Blues People.” William Morrow and Company, New York. 1963

2. Beliar, Felix. “United States has a Secret Weapon–Jazz”. The New York Times https://timesmachine.nytimes.com/timesmachine/1955/11/06/93808557.pdf?pdf_redirect=true&ip=0

3. “Sathmo Tells us off Ike, US! Armstrong Blasts Bias in America”. Pittsburgh Courier, 28 September, 1957

4.  Jenks, J.P. Jazz dIplomacy: Then and Now. US Department of State. 30 April 2021 https://www.state.gov/dipnote-u-s-department-of-state-official-blog/jazz-diplomacy-then-and-now#:~:text=Jazz%20Ambassador%20heroes%20included%20Quincy,just%20to%20name%20a%20few.

5 PJJ. “Take it Easy – ALice Babs – Duke Ellington – 1963”, Youtube, 2:45 https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mXm1SawjacI

6.  Liebman, David. “Europe and its Role in Jazz” https://davidliebman.com/home/ed_articles/europe-and-its-role-in-jazz/

Minstrel Shows: An American Institution

 

Rossiter, Harold. 1921. How to Put on a Minstrel Show. ‌

From the late 19th century throughout the early 20th century, minstrel shows were as American as apple pie.  In his 1921 book, How to Put on a Minstrel Show, Harold Rossiter provides a standardized and systematic approach to organizing a Minstrel show, which only alludes to its popularity in the American eye.  Minstrel shows were such an institution that there was an established process to conducting one, from rehearsals to advertising.  Rossiter discusses the canon of minstrel songs, and how to create a set list of songs to include.  To further the notion of how dominant minstrel shows were in the sphere of American entertainment, he also recommends that organizers should treat minstrel shows much like a carnival: “I might add that a Minstrel Show that is ‘billed like a circus’ will nearly always be successful” (23)1.  The fact that minstrel shows were so widespread that they necessitated common procedures cannot go understated.

Rossiter, Harold. 1921. How to Put on a Minstrel Show.

Rachel Sussman argues in “The Carnavalizing of Race” that this popularity stems from minstrel shows giving white people an escape from the pomp and circumstance of 19th century society.  At these shows, white people were able to indulge their prejudices and biases with reckless abandon.  The minstrel show “…was the predecessor to the broadway musical…”, and was considered American theater in the 19th and 20th centuries.  Many even lovingly referred to it as  “American National Opera” (80)2.  Racism was so central to the American identity that professing black inferiority could go as far as to be considered a thespian art.  The American entertainment industry has continued to keep the black caricature in our cultural memory from Looney Tunes to Madea.

1Rossiter, Harold. 1921. How to Put on a Minstrel Show.

2Sussman, Rachel. “The Carnavalizing of Race.” Etnofoor 14, no. 2 (2001): 79–88. http://www.jstor.org/stable/25758014.

 

Works Cited

Rossiter, Harold. 1921. How to Put on a Minstrel Show.

Sussman, Rachel. “The Carnavalizing of Race.” Etnofoor 14, no. 2 (2001): 79–88. http://www.jstor.org/stable/25758014.

Rose, Steve. 2018. “Tyler Perry: The Creator of a Racial Stereotype or the Greatest Indie Film-Maker of All Time?” The Guardian. The Guardian. November 12, 2018. https://www.theguardian.com/film/2018/nov/12/tyler-perry-madea-creator-of-a-racial-stereotype-or-the-greatest-indie-film-maker-ever.

The Origins of Soul Music

Getty Image. 1901. Photo of Margaret Murray Washington.

Black woman Margaret Murray Washington gave an address during the Louisiana Purchase exhibition, titled “The Songs of Our Fathers.” In this address, she demarcates soul music as “words and music voiced together with the deepest feelings.”1 This was in 1905, during a time when hearing the words of a black woman was not extremely common, even the article was stated to be written by ‘Mrs. Booker T. Washington is a white soldier. This was the earliest definition of soul music that I could find, from an African American source.

Soul music is an African-American genre established in the 1960s.3 It’s a fusion between Gospel, Jazz, Rhythm, and Blues. Many different singers across the genre attempt to achieve a spiritual ascendance. Big names like Ray Charles, Etta James, and Sam Cooke spearheaded the genre. Billboard topper “A Sunday Kind of Love”4 by Etta James, to me, represents the spirituality that soul music represents. Typical Christian denominations, that James subscribed to meet on Sunday. In the song she sings of wanting to meet a lover on Sunday, to keep her warm throughout the week. In my opinion, she’s talking about God here. Someone that you’re closest to on Sunday. Take a listen to the song below.

2

In the latter half of the 1960’s you can hear a marked difference in Soul music. The influence of gospel increased, but the influence of the blues fell. You hear a more distinctive Southern style; it becomes more rugged and less polished. As you hear in the recording by Etta James, it’s almost an aria sung by her while backed by a rhythm section. In this recording by James Brown “Out of Sight”5   you can hear a very large difference in how the two songs sound. This difference in sound is defined as “Mowtown.” The latter better signifies the soul scene in the 1970’s.

Although Soul Music is a relatively new genre, I have a feeling that it’s going to stay. We’ve got popular black artists pioneering the genre. Artists like Lauryn Hill and Mary J Blige are bringing it into pop culture. We’re getting gospel style music with secular lyrics. We see it all over the country too, places like New York, Chicago, and New Orleans are the first places that come to mind.

1 “The Songs of Our Fathers. An Address Delivered on Fisk Day during the Louisiana Purchase Exhibition.” <em>Plaindealer</em> (Topeka, Kansas) VII, no. 20, May 19, 1905: [3]. <em>Readex: African American Newspapers</em>. 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 Hampton, Riley. 2000. The Chess BoxGeffen. https://search.alexanderstreet.com/view/work/bibliographic_entity%7Crecorded_cd%7C714506. 

3 Brackett, David. “Soul music.” Grove Music Online. 31 Jan. 2014; Accessed 3 Oct. 2023. https://www-oxfordmusiconline com.ezproxy.stolaf.edu/grovemusic/view/10.1093/gmo/9781561592630.001.0001/omo-9781561592630-e-1002257344.

4James, Etta. 1960. “Etta James – a Sunday Kind of Love.” Genius.com. 1960. https://genius.com/Etta-james-a-sunday-kind-of-love-lyrics.

Samuel Coleridge-Taylor, Great American Composer?

The Cleveland Gazette, a Black-owned newspaper founded in 1883,1 affirms Black composer Samuel Coleridge Taylor as being, “the real thing.”2 During his career, Coleridge-Taylor, like other composers of the time, found meaning and significance in African-American folk tunes.3 Coleridge-Taylor’s works were well-received during his lifetime, the most well-known being The Song of Hiawatha.4 Among many other works, he published a book of piano transcriptions of African-American folk tunes in 1905.5
His success as a composer in Europe led him to America, where he performed various recitals featuring his works.6 Among the works he performed at one recital were four of the piano transcriptions found in his published collection, entitled, “I’m Troubled in Mind,” “Sometimes I Feel like a Motherless Child,” and, “Many Thousands Gone.”7

Twenty-four negro melodies transcribed for the piano by S. Coleridge-Taylor. Op. 59, table of contents8

Sometimes I Feel Like a Motherless Child, transcribed by Samuel Coleridge-Taylor9

When following the trajectory of his career, one cannot help but to draw parallels between Coleridge-Taylor and Antonin Dvorak. Like Dvorak, Coleridge-Taylor was a European composer who spent time in America and took an interest in preserving and using Black folk music as a source of musical inspiration.10 Coleridge-Taylor performed many successful recitals that received complementary reviews, naming him one of the very greatest.11 However, Dvorak’s influence was much greater and his legacy more well-known. These two composers are both equally as American as each other, but only Dvorak is credited with being the great American composer. The relationship between these two composers upholds a legacy of cultural supremacy that devalues Black artists and art until they are discovered, used, and legitimized by a White artist.

 

 

1 “Cleveland Gazette: Encyclopedia of Cleveland History: Case Western Reserve University.” Encyclopedia of     Cleveland History | Case Western Reserve University, October 13, 2020. https://case.edu/ech/articles/c/cleveland-gazette

2 “The ‘Real Thing’ In England’s Musical Circles is S. Coleridge-Taylor, a Colored Man Second Composition.” Cleveland Gazette (Cleveland, Ohio), December 2, 1899: 1. Readex: African American Newspapers. https://infoweb.newsbank.com/apps/readex/doc?p=EANAAA&docref=image/v2%3A12B716FE88B82998%40EANAAA-12BAC591E7A454A8%402414991-12BA053406EECF90%400-12D5BD14223677F8%40The%2B%2522Real%2BThing%2522%2BIn%2BEngland%2527s%2BMusical%2BCircles%2Bis%2BS.%2BColeridge-Taylor%252C%2Ba%2BColored%2BMan%2BSecond%2BComposition.

3 Ibid.

4 Ibid.

5 Coleridge-Taylor, Samuel, and Booker T Washington. Twenty-four negro melodies, transcribed for the piano. Boston: Oliver Ditson Company, 1905. https://infoweb.newsbank.com/iw-search/we/Evans/?p_product=EAIX&p_theme=eai&p_nbid=F6AI57RNMTY5NTkzMDA4MC44MDIwNDoxOjE0OjE5OS45MS4xODAuMjMx&p_action=doc&p_queryname=18&p_docref=v2:13D59FCC0F7F54B8@EAIX-154E9B2175979AC0@S454-15E6DA6A14A2DE10@2

6 “The Great Taylor Recital.” Freeman (Indianapolis, Indiana) XVII, no. 48, December 17, 1904: [5]. Readex: African American Newspapers. https://infoweb.newsbank.com/apps/readex/doc?p=EANAAA&docref=image/v2%3A12B28495A8DAB1C8%40EANAAA-12C55E0C65BC8D90%402416832-12C55E0CB03AB1E8%404-12C55E0D903F1E60%40The%2BGreat%2BTaylor%2BRecital.

7 Ibid.

8 Ibid.

9 Ibid.

10 Ibid.

11Ibid.

Bessie Smith’s “Chicago Bound Blues,” the Chicago Defender, and the Great Migration

Although usually not properly credited, women have always made music, from nuns composing hymns to today’s pop icons. Blues music is no exception. Bessie Smith recorded the first ever commercial blues records in 1922, and her sales success set up that decade to be one where women dominated the genre.1 She was one of the most successful Black performing artists of her day,2 and her success marks the beginning of the genre of “race records” marketed to the African-American audience by early recording companies. Six years previous to Bessie’s first recording session, the Chicago Defender (a major Black newspaper) had begun a campaign for major record companies to record Black artists. Once the genre had taken off commercially, the paper began to feature ads for these records, including over a hundred ads for Bessie Smith’s music alone.3 

Portrait of Bessie Smith by Carl Van Vechten

The emergence of blues as a commercial music genre in the 1920s happened to coincide with the Great Migration, where thousands of Black Americans left the South to move to northern cities in search of jobs, motivated by the false promise that Northerners would be less racist. This became a predominant theme in the blues music the Defender advertised, including Smith’s music. Smith was extremely critical of the Migration in her music, which makes the paper’s fervent support for her a bit odd, since the Defender’s founder actively promoted the Great Migration.4 Mark K. Dolan argues that these ads for blues music about life “down home” in the South is the paper’s invitation for Black Americans in the North to participate in the cultural memory of the violence and pain that these songs express, and as the Migration revealed itself to be an empty promise, they became a source of shared nostalgia. 

Smith’s critical perspective can be seen in the song “Chicago Bound Blues” from 1923, recorded in the same year by Ida Cox. In this song he sings about her man leaving to find a job in Chicago, leaving her behind: 


“Mean old fireman, cruel engineer
Mean old fireman, cruel engineer
You took my man away and left his mama standing here.”5

In the final verse, she nails home the immense pain that the Great Migration has caused her by separating her from her man: “Red headline in tomorrow’s Defender news…’Woman dead down home with the Chicago Blues.’” Smith even directly references the Defender in her criticism of the Migration.6

Yet, the newspaper’s ads imposed an imagined, romanticized South as the setting for all of these songs, positing it as something far away and imagined, nostalgic and yearned for, and yet still a site that is predominantly characterized by the pain and tragic themes expressed in blues music.7

Eventually, the Defender realizes the potential for the romanticization of a “lonely wayfarer” character in the Delta blues performed by Black men, and the ads for male singers’ music soon overwhelm those for female performers. The political and sexual agency found in blueswomen’s music is silenced before it even has a chance to be properly heard.

1 McGuire, Phillip. “Black Music Critics and the Classic Blues Singers.” The Black Perspective in Music 14, no. 2 (1986): 103. https://doi.org/10.2307/1214982.

2 Meckna, Michael. “Smith, Bessie.” Grove Music Online, May 24, 2022. https://www.oxfordmusiconline.com/grovemusic/display/10.1093/gmo/9781561592630.001.0001/omo-9781561592630-e-90000315175.

3 Dolan, Mark K. “Extra! Chicago Defender Race Records Ads Show South from Afar.” Southern Cultures 13, no. 3 (2007): 107.

4 Dolan, 107.

5 Genius. “Chicago Bound Blues (Famous Migration Blues).” Accessed September 28, 2023. https://genius.com/Ida-cox-chicago-bound-blues-famous-migration-blues-lyrics.

6 Ibid.

7 Dolan, 110.

Black Music Revolt: Growth and Preservation

The development of the first two centuries of The United States proposed lots of new ideas, new morals, new plans, and of course new art. However, not all of this material, especially art, was considered “new,” but rather stolen, and a big target of this thievery was towards slaves. Slaves often expressed religious yearning, which slowly transformed into gospel, soul, blues, and then even jazz music and beyond. The preservation of this music is astonishing, as we continue to praise these styles of music today, but this preservation must not have been easy, especially with a world of inequality at the time. 

“According to the Senior Pastor of Canaan Baptist Church in Harlem, Blacks who lost faith in God following the Civil War began to sing the blues instead of spirituals. The same beat that the Black folks dance to on Saturday night is the same beat they shout to on Sunday morning.”1

This gathering and celebrating of black spirituals became a time where Black Americans could feel appreciated and grew into bigger gatherings quickly. “They gathered periodically for huge festivals where they danced in the African way to the music of homemade instruments and African songs.” However, white, often slave owners, picked up on the musical talents of black folk and realized that they could profit even further off of their slaves. “In many places black men were given music instruction so that they could serve their masters professionally: by playing classical music in the home for the personal entertainment of the slave-masters’ households.”2

“The Dance in Congo Place, New Orleans, accompanied by musical instruments and songs in various African tongues. Drawing by E.W. Kemble in 1885-1886”2

 

They would be taught popular classical instruments like violins, basses, flutes, and trumpets, to name a few. Sure, many Black Americans might have enjoyed the music of Western European tradition they were forced to perform (that is something I cannot assume, but rather can ponder), but it was not music they could call their own. The preservation of African music in America began with the reluctance of giving up African culture.

Clovis Sanders’ newspaper article from June 7th, 1969 states the following: “Let’s go over some records, such as: “We Got More Soul,””Don’t Let The Jones’ Get You Down,””Why I Sing The Blues,””Nobody To Give Me Nothin,” and “Choice of Colors.” The Impressions are truly trying to get a point across, and this point simply is to be proud. They do this by asking “if you had a choice of colors, which one would you choose my brother?”3

The pridefulness many African Americans had during the late 1800s and early 1900s was evident in their art. Their spirituals were heard in different lights, from different instruments to new harmonic ideas, to even new developments of African origin within various American cities. 

“If we speak of music, the features such as basic rhythmic, harmonic, and melodic devices were transplanted almost intact rather than isolated songs, dances, or instruments,”4 says Amiri Baraka, an American writer, in Blues People. African Americans adapted from their tradition and cultural values to the values of Western European culture, to blending the two to tie back into African culture through the implementation of new instruments (trumpets, basses, violins) that were often accessible to them because of slavery.

Samuel Floyd suggested that “black music was expressive of cultural memory, and black-music making was the translation of the memory into sound and the sound into memory. Cultural memory, as a reference to vaguely “known” musical and cultural processes and procedures, is a valid and meaningful way of accounting for the subjective, spiritual, quality of the music and aesthetic behaviors of a culture.”5 Generations after generations will continue to expand off of their differences in memory from one to another. However, visualizing the roots of African music into the United States helps us unload the deeper meaning the progression of styles of African music has on American culture.

1 “Tony Brown’s Journal. Music Tree.” Chicago Metro News (Chicago, Illinois) XX, no. 51, October 26, 1985: 14. Readex: African American Newspapers. https://infoweb.newsbank.com/apps/readex/doc?p=EANAAA&docref=image/v2%3A12912DF42BF1884F%40EANAAA-12B9C92AC10C95D0%402446365-12B9C92BA06814E0%4013-12B9C92F46B3C648%40Tony%2BBrown%2527s%2BJournal.%2BMusic%2BTree.

2 “Black Music in the United States.” Chicago Metro News (Chicago, Illinois) 11, no. 5, December 18, 1976: Supplement [5]. Readex: African American Newspapers. https://infoweb.newsbank.com/apps/readex/doc?p=EANAAA&docref=image/v2%3A12912DF42BF1884F%40EANAAA-12B88AC46A817070%402443131-12B88AC4B18F7448%4010-12B88AC6512AFD30%40Black%2BMusic%2Bin%2Bthe%2BUnited%2BStates.

3 “Black Music Revolt by Clovious Sanders.” Milwaukee Star (Milwaukee, Wisconsin) VIII, no. 88, June 7, 1969: Page 15. Readex: African American Newspapers. https://infoweb.newsbank.com/apps/readex/doc?p=EANAAA&docref=image/v2%3A12A7AE31A7B3CA6B%40EANAAA-12BE2051F16416B8%402440380-12BE20522ECC9358%4014-12BE205321328900%40Black%2BMusic%2BRevolt%2Bby%2BClovious%2BSanders.

4 Baraka, Amiri. “‘Introduction’ and ‘African Slaves/American Slaves: Their Music.’” Essay. In Blues People. Stockholm: Rabén & Sjögren, 1974. https://drive.google.com/file/d/19gMgfO42AlJ9CR_S66WrDiDDd1qDv2Ww/view

5 Floyd, Samuel A. “Pages 3-13.” Essay. In The Power of Black Music Interpreting Its History from Africa to the United States. New York: Oxford University Press, 1997. https://drive.google.com/file/d/1PxqS4c6Yeud_Au04ZVbcst1g_o0yxSag/view

The Quinceañera Tradition and its Latinx Identity in Music

Quinceanera Father-Daughter Dances That'll Make You Cry

Quinceañeras have been a part of the Latinx tradition in celebrating the coming of age of typically, a young woman. However, more recently they have been used to celebrate the coming of age of young men as well. Celebrations for the coming of age of youth is not only designated to the Latinx community. In America and Canada we often see a take on the Quinceañera through the celebration of a sweet sixteen, and the bat mitzvah ceremony to celebrate the coming of age of 12 -13 year old youth is big in the Jewish community.

Knowing this, a key motif in a Quinceañera is the father daughter dance, where they often dance to Los Baron “La Ultima Muñeca” and “Ya No Crescas Mas” by Tercer Cielo as a symbol of the last doll that the father will give their daughter before becoming a woman.

Gradually, Quinceañeras have become more progressive by being inclusive of all genders including those who identify as nonbinary or queer. Something that remains the same in Latinx Quinceañeras is the type of music played to dance. From bachata, merengue, cumbia, salsa, norteñas, corridos, etc. Depending on what region of Latin America the family is based from determines the customs and music they choose to use.

At my Quinceañera, I wore the dress that my Grandmother chose for my Mother to wear at her Quinceañera. It was a vintage blush pink dress that my Mother passed down to me. This was very special because my Grandmother had it custom made for my Mother and it held sentimental value. One day I hope to pass it down to my daughter. The theme for my Quinceañera was Faith, Family, and Friends, which was also the same theme that my younger Brother had and which we plan my youngest Brother will also have when he turns 15. In some ways, we created our own traditions by celebrating all of my siblings and not only the girls, as well as dancing with each of our parents what would otherwise be known as the father daughter dance.

In some ways traditions can be maintained by making the overarching theme of the celebration of coming of age of the youth. Families choose the music based on their background and geographic ties as well as their upbringing. Though they can draw ties from Indigenous activities as is mentioned in the article below.

In the early 15th century, before Spaniards invaded and colonized Latin America, Indigenous groups held ceremonies that commemorated the coming of age of both boys and girls" <1>

"Davalos, Karen Mary. 2021. “Quinceañera Style: Social Belonging and Latinx Consumer Identities.” Journal of American Folklore 134 (533): 355–57. https://doi.org/10.5406/jamerfolk.134.533.0355"<2>.
"Deiter, Kristen. 2002. “From Church Blessing to Quinceanera Barbie: America as ‘Spiritual Benefactor’ on La Quinceanera.” Christian Scholar’s Review 32 (1): 31–"<3>.
"Risling Baldy, Cutcha. 2018. We Are Dancing for You : Native Feminisms and the Revitalization of Women’s Coming-of-Age Ceremonies. Seattle: University of Washington Press" <4>.

Harry Lewis, Pioneering Black Classical Music

Carl Van Vechten, Portrait of Marilyn Horne and Henry Lewis, 1961, in Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division Washington

Henry Lewis, a prodigious Bass Player, was the first black performer in a Major orchestra in the US. He won a job in the LA Phil in 1948 at the age of 16, becoming not just the first black player to play in a major orchestra, but also the youngest player of any race to win such a job1. Lewis’s impacts on American Music were noted by contemporaries as he was appointed conductor of the New Jersey symphony. He also served as a conductor for service orchestras in the Army stationed in Europe2.

Lewis’s story in American Classical music forces us to consider the notion of whiteness in American Classical Music. Classical music in the U.S. has almost earned the label of “whiteness”. When we look at the musicians, the composers, the audiences, one would imagine that classical music has always been an institution by white people for white people. However this is not necessarily the case. Lewis’s position followed the rise of Black composers such as Burleigh, Price, and Dawson3. The National Conservatory in New York led by Dvorkak, seemed to be pushing a more diverse slate of classical music. However 30 years after Lewis’s death, only 2% of musicians in major orchestras are black and 4% of conductors of major orchestras are black4.

 

So where has the United States lost its momentum in diversifying classical music? One culprit may be music education. In his dissertation, Brian Gellertsein discusses the pervasive white supremacy that prevails throughout music education, despite years of understanding that classical music in the US has a diversity problem. He even suggests that our education of music educators is partly to blame, with standards for graduation and entrance that favor white, wealthy, better prepared students5. While Gellerstein finds no shortage of problems with music education, he is rather short on solutions. His argument also potentially implies that the key to more Black musicians may be removing the emphasis on classical music; a point that while maybe bears merit, poses new problems for the problem of diversifying classical music as an institution.

At an institution like St. Olaf, that works with a great deal of music educators, it is important that we not let the progress made by musicians like Henry Lewis go unfollowed. It is critical that we continue to look critically at the ways ensure diverse practices among our professors and future educators alike to build upon the legacy of Black classical music in the US.

 

1
“The Legacy of Henry Lewis: Watch & Listen.” LA Phil, www.laphil.com/about/watch-and-listen/the-legacy-of-henry-lewis. Accessed 27 Sept. 2023.

2
Henry lewis, pioneer black classical music conductor and dir. 1996. Jet. Feb 26, https://www.proquest.com/magazines/henry-lewis-pioneer-black-classical-music/docview/199975173/se-2 (accessed September 27, 2023).

3
Huizenga, Tom. “Why Is American Classical Music so White?” NPR, NPR, 20 Sept. 2019, www.npr.org/sections/deceptivecadence/2019/09/20/762514169/why-is-american-classical-music-so-white.

5
Robin, William. “Great Divide at the Concert Hall.” The New York Times, The New York Times, 8 Aug. 2014, www.nytimes.com/2014/08/10/arts/music/black-composers-discuss-the-role-of-race.html.

5
Gellerstein, Brian. “DARING TO SEE: WHITE SUPREMACY AND GATEKEEPING IN MUSIC EDUCATION.” University of Massachusetts Boston, 2021.

 

Eddie South, before de-segregation

Classically trained in violin performance, Eddie South was born in 1904 in Louisiana.

Portrait of Eddie South

South was an extremely talented classical violinist who studied in America and European cities such as Paris and Budapest 1. When South returned home to Chicago, IL, he was met with the segregation of the thirties. This forced  South to transfer his classical skills over to jazz. This conversion allowed him to form his own band 2; during his playing, he utilized melodies, which he developed from his time spent around Romani People. This skill of interpreting several different styles of music is what stands out in several recordings of his spreads from Europe to Cuban music from his tours in the southern states of the USA 3. This style of music is what cemented South as one of the most prominent jazz violinists of his time. These achievements, however, were not without criticism; due to his classical upbringing, jazz critics found his music to be “formal” and to lack swing 2. Because of segregation, which lasted until the sixties, the South was not able to join any orchestras because the spots on them were reserved for white male players. Jazz was the only sector of music where African Americans were semi-respected for their playing ability and musicianship.

Through time, there has slowly been more diversity being gained in the orchestra as more diverse ensembles are assembled. However, African Americans are still largely not represented properly within the orchestra 4. Diversity is something classical music has been struggling with since its formalization hundreds of years ago. The diversification of the music has helped spread the music to several different cultures; however, it has not been picked up yet in mainstream music compared to the “cannon.”


Citations:

Discography of American Historical Recordings, s.v. “Eddie South’s Alabamians,” accessed September 27, 2023, https://adp.library.ucsb.edu/names/112577.

Gottlieb, William P. Portrait of Eddie South, Café Society (Uptown), New York, N.Y., Ca. Dec. 1946. 1946. Photograph. December 1, 1946. https://loc.gov/item/gottlieb.08001 (Accessed September 27, 2023)

1 “Eddie South, Jazz Violinist Born.” African American Regestry. AAREG, https://aaregistry.org/story/eddie-south-a-jazz-violinist-trailblzer/. (Accessed September 27, 2023)

2 “Eddie South.” All About Jazz. https://www.allaboutjazz.com/musicians/eddie-south April 18, 2008. (Accessed September 27, 2023)

3 Pelote. (2007). Eddie South and His International Orchestra: The Cheloni Broadcast Transcriptions — Recorded in Hollywood, 1933. ARSC Journal., 38(2), 294–295. https://bridge.primo.exlibrisgroup.com/discovery/openurl?institution=01BRC_INST&vid=01BRC_INST:SOC&atitle=Eddie%20South%20and%20His%20International%20Orchestra:%20The%20Cheloni%20Broadcast%20Transcriptions%20–%20Recorded%20in%20Hollywood,%201933.&aulast=Pelote,%20Vincent&volume=38&issue=2&spage=294&pages=294-295&issn=21514402&title=ARSC%20Journal&sid=EBSCO:Music%20Index:27801770&genre=article&date=20070901 (Accessed September 27, 2023)

4 “Anti-Black Discrimination in American Orchestras.” League of American Orchestras. https://americanorchestras.org/wp-content/uploads/2021/01/Anti-Black-Discrimination-in-American-Orchestras.pdf. (Accessed September 27, 2023)

 

Burleigh, Seagle, and Deep River: Collaboration Across Racial Lines in the Early 20th Century

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

Henry Thacker Burleigh (often known simply as Harry or H.T. Burleigh) was an African-American composer and baritone active during the late 19th and early 20th century. He was a classical composer known best for his arrangements of spirituals, contributions to methodist hymnody, and influence on the music of Antonin Dvořák.1

Oscar Seagle was a white American baritone active during the first half of the 20th century. He was well known throughout the United States and Europe as a soloist and performer of folk music and early country music. Seagle recorded several singles with Columbia records during the 1910s and early 1920s.2

In December of 1916, Burliegh and Seagle collaborated to record a single of Burleigh’s recently published arrangement of Deep River.3 Deep River is an African-American spiritual with anonymous origins from the early 19th century. It was popularized by Burliegh during the early 20th century, and is now one of the best known spirituals in the United States.

Many people hold the view that country music has its origins in folk music created solely by white people, and that there was no African-American influence during the formation of country music. This rather popular record is evidence to the contrary. For early country performers such as Seagle, spirituals and music by black composers were seen as part of the same genre as other folk music. These white and black folk songs would often be performed together in the same concert program, as was demonstrated in Minneapolis in 1917.4

Audiences and performers from the early 20th century would have heard African-American spirituals and white folk music together in the same genre of “folk.” Given the apparent lack of barriers between white and black music in this space, it is impossible to deny the influence that these traditions had on one another. Burleigh incorporated classical western instrumentation into his arrangements, as can be heard in the aforementioned record. Likewise, many many white folk singers took narrative and from styles such as the twelve-bar blues from black folk musicians.

The myth of artistic racial segregation of folk music in the 20th century is a marketing stunt by record labels to associate certain modern day cultural elements with their music. Cross-cultural dialogue has always been and continues to be an integral part of the development of musical cultures throughout the United States and the world.

Diverse Roots of Country Music

Country music has been typically shown to be stemming from white artists throughout history, but is that really true? While modern scholars have picked this stereotype apart,1 these types of cultural and ethnic separations have made making a living and gaining popularity hard for certain performers and composers. Browsing for primary sources, I first found what many would call a ‘stereotypical’ country band, named the Stoney and Wilma Lee Cooper Band. What made this even more traditional and supposedly characteristic of this type of music was that this was a married couple. Many artists at this time had some sort of family aspect to them like the Cooper Band. 2 In addition to advertising for the ‘Women in Country Music Series,’ this mid-1970s Smithsonian announcement made it clear that they wanted to showcase country music talent from women. I found that very interesting, and it’s possible that country music was patriarchal like many facets of society in the mid-1900s. This, however, is a separate research topic.

In contrast, I came across a Washington Post article about Cleveland Francis, a black man, who, in addition to being a cardiologist 3, was also a country music musician. In this 1996 article, Francis is described to have overcome barriers that made it harder for him to enter the country music scene, saying “Maybe the next African American coming along will not have to justify his position in country music.” 4

Francis, describing his experience as a black man in country music, clarifies and supports the writings of Jefferey Manuel’s “The Sound of Plain White Folk? 5” and Rhiannon Giddens’ “Community and Connection” Keynote Speech 6. Manuel’s position that commercialization of this genre led to a much more homogenous, ‘white’ view of this music led to Francis having a harder time getting into the genre and being successful. In addition, the fact that Giddens’ calls for diversifying country and folk music speaks indirectly to the fact that this type of music is very homogenous. While other factors may be at play, it’s clear to see that Francis would have a hard time doing well in the country music genre. Despite this, he succeeded.

  1. Manuel, Jeffery T., “The Sound of Plain White Folk?” Popular Music and Society, Vol 1, Oct 2008.
  2. “Hattie Stoneman: Raising her Children in Music.” The Birthplace of Country Music, 28 September 2017 https://birthplaceofcountrymusic.org/hattie-stoneman-raising-children-music/
  3. Yahr, Emily. Cleve Francis’s Unsung Story. 7July 2022. https://www.washingtonpost.com/arts-entertainment/2022/07/07/cleve-francis-country-music-black-opry/
  4. Harrington, Richard. “Cleve Francis” The Washington Post, 14 April 1996. https://www.proquest.com/docview/307971804/fulltext/77A5129B774F4C3FPQ/113?accountid=351
  5.  Manuel, Jeffery T., “The Sound of Plain White Folk?” Popular Music and Society, Vol 1, Oct 2008. 
  6. Povelones, Robert. Rhiannon Giddens Keynote Address. 11 February 2018. https://ibma.org/rhiannon-giddens-keynote-address-2017/

Marching for Social Justice

War, political and social inequality, poverty, and other obstacles to economic and development prospects have all sparked protests calling for social justice as an alternative to the status quo.  Although social justice is frequently associated with politics, many justice movements have employed music to encourage and encourage widespread participation in their cause.1 One form of music that has been involved in many protests is the ‘marching band’. The history of marching bands may be traced to the Middle Ages, when musicians were used by feudal armies to inspire and motivate their troops. Although the bulk of countries still use marching bands in their military facilities, America has started using them in classrooms. In the majority of high schools and colleges across the country, music ensembles are now an obligatory subject. Even though marching bands were predominantly white, that did not stop people of color from making use of this brilliant genre.2 We can hear recordings of marching bands dating all the way back to 1923, as seen in the recording done by ‘Victor’ recording label and ‘Sousa’s Band’.3

In the picture above4, we can see the March 3, 1913, National American Woman Suffrage Association parade in Washington, D.C. The parade’s organizers deliberately timed the procession to take place the day before President-elect Woodrow Wilson’s inauguration, which further boosted interest in the occasion. This tactic was effective. The women marched from the U.S. Capitol toward the Treasury Building, where they were met by thousands of spectators, many of whom were in town for the inauguration.5 The all-women marching band, added to the huge spectacle of this parade, is credited in having an active role in the passing of the Nineteenth Amendment, signed 7 years later. Protests, like the National American Woman Suffrage Association parade, highlight the importance of music as a medium for social justice.

Although we see marching bands used as a medium for protest all the way back in the early 20th century, we can see bands making their way to protests still today. At the Honk! festival of activist street bands, which began on Thursday and ran for five days, it was difficult to determine where politics ended and the party started. Honk! Fest takes place in Somerville, Massachusetts, around the weekend of Indigenous Peoples’ Day. The Rude Mechanical Orchestra, whose ‘fists-up anthems’ encouraged the spontaneous dance party on Saturday, was directed by sousaphone player Matt Arnold, 39. “It’s kind of a band jamboree, something we all look forward to,” Arnold said. Eight years ago, this marching band came together to express its disapproval of the Republican National Convention in New York. Since then, it has performed at each Honk! festival, taking a break from a busy itinerary that includes picket lines, antiwar demonstrations, and, as of last year, Occupy Wall Street rallies6.

 

1 “Music and Social Justice | Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy.” n.d. https://iep.utm.edu/music-sj/.

2 Hall, Sophia Alexandra. 2021. “How the Marching Band Became a Staple of American Music Education.” Classic FM, November. https://www.classicfm.com/discover-music/music-education/marching-band-american-schools/.

3 “High School Cadets March.” n.d. The Library of Congress. https://www.loc.gov/item/jukebox-117939/?

4 “Woman Band – Suffrage Parade.” n.d. The Library of Congress. https://www.loc.gov/item/2014691491/.

5 “This Day in History: The 1913 Women’s Suffrage Parade.” 2016. Whitehouse.Gov. March 3, 2016. https://obamawhitehouse.archives.gov/blog/2016/03/03/this-day-history-1913-womens-suffrage-parade.

6 Wikipedia contributors. 2023. “HONK!” Wikipedia, August. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/HONK!

There’s “whiteness” in Bluegrass?

It is interesting that when a majority of us think of Bluegrass music, we immediately think of it being white music, from the south, and “hillbilly.” After listening to and reading the transcript from Rhiannon Giddens’ keynote address, I found that she also had the idea that there is “whiteness” in Bluegrass (specifically the banjo), although she doesn’t use the term “whiteness,” the picture that was portrayed to her was that Bluegrass originated from white people in and around the south.

An important quote from Rhiannon Giddens

“This was not the picture I was painted as a child! I grew up thinking the banjo was invented in the mountains, that string band music and square dances were a strictly white preserve and history – that while black folk were singing spirituals and playing the blues, white folk were do-si-do-ing and fiddling up a storm – and never the twain did meet – which led me to feeling like an alien in what I find out is my own cultural tradition.”1

We should take note of the origins of Bluegrass. Where did it originate? Who was playing where? These are questions that most of us think we know the answer to but are in fact actually quite wrong. Bluegrass has origins that date back to as early as 1780 in Greenville, South Carolina. A majority of this music had a widespread diaspora throughout Southern Appalachia, the most notable state would be Kentucky, where the Blue Grass Boys band originated.These answers show that Bluegrass was coined by white people and that it has white origins. From listening to Giddens’ keynote address, we find these answers to be untrue.2

Another quote from Giddens

“But the black to white transmission of the banjo wasn’t confined to the blackface performance. In countless areas of the south, usually the poorer ones not organized around plantation life, working-class whites and blacks lived near each other; and, while they may have not have been marrying each other, they were quietly creating a new, common music.”1

Bluegrass music can’t be white. Although the media would say otherwise, Bluegrass music has origins from all throughout Southern Appalachia, whether it be from white people or not. White men used what they heard from African Americans and put their label on it, claiming it as their own. In other words, it’s okay when white people sing and play African American “blues” or “bluegrass” because it is entertaining but when African Americans are the ones performing, it is considered as “lazy,” used as “complaining” songs, and simply not good.3

Here’s an interesting vinyl cover I found: 4

Differentiating Types of Cultural Appropriation: White Choirs & African American Spirituals

It was on April 23rd, 1929 that for the first time in New York African American spirituals were performed by a white choir at Mother Zion A.M.E church- an all black congregation. This performance was a landmark for the American choral tradition where the practice of spirituals in mostly or all white choirs is still a hotly debated topic. The performance on this fated Friday in the early 1900s was documented as well received1, despite the interpretation of H.T. Burleigh’s arrangements (of which the concert was entirely programmed) by a white conductor and choir.

Little Known Black History Facts: Harry T. Burleigh

H.T. Burleigh, b. 1866 was an African-American composer, baritone, and arranger of spirituals that are still performed to this day.2

Dr. Carl Reiland, the rector of St. George, spoke to how important Burleigh was as an American composer and a preserver of African American music in an appearance after the performance. In the current day, almost a century after the performance cited in this post, I was in my own choir rehearsal discussing proper performance practice for spirituals. My choir director, Anton Armstrong, is currently heralded as one of the leading voices on authentic performances of spirituals by mostly white choirs.

He says that choosing to program spirituals for the St. Olaf Choir is how he brought a part of himself to the predominately white lutheran choral tradition on campus. His colleague in this specific field, Andre J. Thomas, speaks to how choirs can perform spirituals authentically and respectfully regardless of the predominant race of the choir. Citing an article by famed black choral composer and spiritual arranger Rollo Dilworth, Thomas speaks to the difference between acceptable and objectionable cultural appropriation.3

Give Me Jesus (arr. Rollo Dilworth) Sheet Music | Traditional Spiritual | SATB Choir

The first page of Rollo Dilworth’s arrangement of traditional spiritual “Give Me Jesus”4
.

Here is an excerpt from Dilworth’s aforementioned article- I include this entire paragraph because I feel his idea here is explained perfectly and to interpret it in any way other than how he himself has worded it would be disrespectful.

When does cultural appropriation become objectionable? Dilworth points to three more definitions from Young. When an outsider takes, without permission, property that belongs to another culture, that’s “cultural appropriation as theft.” If, for example, he were to incorporate a digeridoo part into a piece of music without permission from the indigenous Australian community that developed the instrument, Dilworth says he would be committing theft, even if his intent were respectful. If he published the piece and made money from it, the offense level would rise to “cultural appropriation as assault,” because the act would cause harm to the insider culture or its members. Cultural appropriation becomes a “profound offense” when the act offends a person’s moral sensibilities, provoking a gut reaction.5

 

Looking upon the modern choral scene and the place that spirituals have in it- I can now look back upon my experiences with singing spirituals in the St. Olaf Choir. Anytime we sing spirituals, Dr. Armstrong will typically ask us to change our pronunciations of certain words and will often say “you don’t have to pronounce it like an all black choir, but I don’t want you pronouncing it like an all white choir- because the fact of the matter it that you aren’t an all white choir.”

I would personally encourage more performers, musicologists, composers, and conductors to incorporate Dilworth’s ideas of objectionable and acceptable cultural appropriation. Especially in the cultural climate of today, race and identity in art are topics that we need to address- and more importantly have tools to address that draw clear lines between what is right and what is wrong. I for one hope that a more unified idea of what is authentic and proper performance practice for certain kinds of choral music reveals itself to academia in the future so that music can continue to be preserved and performed in culturally and historically enriching ways.

 

Works Cited:

https://www.proquest.com/docview/226345003/B446A6DFB26F46E8PQ/1?accountid=3511

https://blackamericaweb.com/2018/09/12/little-known-black-history-facts-harry-t-burleigh/2

http://youtube.co/watch?v=0yeiGNRnpMM3

https://www.sheetmusicdirect.com/en-US/se/ID_No/429107/Product.aspx4

https://chorusamerica.org/article/cultural-appropriation-culture-stealing-culture-sharing#:~:text=When%20an%20outsider%20takes%2C%20without,instrument%2C%20Dilworth%20says%20he%20would5

Colombian Vallenato Music

While browsing through the National Jukebox database, I came across a recording titled “Columbian Polka” that struck my interest. Listen to the recording here:

https://www.loc.gov/item/jukebox-766603/

I was originally interested in this because I assumed that the music would be played by Colombian musicians, or have a Colombian composer, or have at least something to do with Colombia the country. However, after some digging, I realized that this is just the name of the record company. 1 Columbia with a ‘U’, like the District of Columbia, not Colombia with an ‘O’, like the country! I had a hard time finding any information about the composer, Thomas H. Rollingson, except that he was an American composer who died in the 1920s.2 After I had a laugh about my silly spelling mistake, I became curious about how the Germanic tradition of Polka music became a staple in Mexican-American and Colombian musical traditions. I fell down a rabbit hole researching Colombian Polka music and its origin. 

As I discovered, there seems to be some disagreement about how central and eastern European salon dances like the waltz, the polka, and the schottische ended up so heavily influencing an entire culture’s musical canon. However, the commonly held view is that it was a matter of trading and immigration from Germany and what is now the Czech Republic to Northern Mexico and Texas in the late 18th century. 3
This is how the Mexican Tejano folk music tradition was born, but I am specifically interested in Colombian folk music, which I don’t feel has gotten as much of a spotlight. Colombian polka-inspired folk music is called Vallenato and is believed to have begun in a similar fashion to Mexican-American Tejano, with German merchant and trading ships introducing Colombians to the accordion.4  Meaning “born in the valley”, it gets its name from the city of Valledupar, where the traveling, typically lower-class minstrels first made it popular. 5 Vallenato is a combination of three instruments – a small drum called a
cajav, a percussion instrument called a guacharaca, and the German accordion.6 While Italian and French accordions have been used in Vallenato music, the German Hohner brand diatonic accordion matches closest with the typical vocal timbre and range of the Colombian vocalists. 7 It should be noted that Vallenato appears to be an almost entirely male-dominated vocal style, which is a conversation for another blog post but is still worth noting. 

While this post may be disconnected from the source I originally chose, I think it’s still valuable to give a spotlight to a musical tradition that has gone overlooked. I will leave you with a fantastic recording of Mauricio de Santis performing at a Vallenato festival in 2015.

3 Contretas, Felix. “How Mexico Learned To Polka” In NPR Music, March 11, 2015 Accessed September 27, 2023. https://www.npr.org/2015/03/11/392141073/how-mexico-learned-to-polka

4 Martinez, Juan. “The Surprising Origin of Colombian Folk Music.” BBC Travel, BBC, 25 Feb. 2022 www.bbc.com/travel/article/20180208-the-surprising-origin-of-colombian-folk-music 

7 Ibid.

Haney, Peter. “Tejano Music.” In The American Mosaic: The Latino American Experience, ABC-CLIO, 2023. Accessed September 27, 2023. https://latinoamerican2.abc-clio.com/Search/Display/1329993.

How the Empress of the Blues Became a Commodity

Smith, Bessie, Lovie Austin, Don Redman, Fletcher Henderson, and Lovie Austin. Chicago Bound Blues. 1923. Audio. https://www.loc.gov/item/jukebox-672304/.

Bessie Smith was born in 1894 or 1895 in Chattanooga, Tennessee.  One of seven siblings in a poor household, Bessie came from the humblest of beginnings possible.  From a young age, Smith worked as a street performer, much to her older sister’s chagrin, and in 1912, she began to play more public shows which resulted in her being noticed by blues legend Ma Rainey1.  Rainey mentored Smith, and eventually Smith was playing shows with herself as the star of the night.

In 1923, Smith was signed to Columbia Records during a time where “race music” or music by Black artists for Black singers was an incredibly an incredibly lucrative side of the music industry.  While “race music” artists were given a degree of creative freedom in the musical process, they were often underpaid as it was the record label executives that were making the real money.  Black voices and experiences became a commodity that could be sold to White and Black listeners alike.

Advertisement from The Chicago Defender, from “Extra! Chicago Defender Race Records Ads Show South from Afar” by Mark K. Dolan

Many of these ads would co-opt Black vernacular and “spoke through minstrel stereotypes, in part echoing the tent-show venues where performers such as Rainey toiled for years and where Bessie Smith reportedly stood her ground against Ku Klux Klan riders…”2 (Dolan, 110).  Songs, such as “Chicago Bound Blues” which references the Defender, that referenced the Great Migration were greatly lucrative to record companies as Black singers lamenting over their experiences was highly profitable.

Black artists that wanted to see a small modicum of financial success by recording were stuck between a rock and a hard place in the recording industry, as before the 1920’s, the only sanctioned versions of expressing Black identity through music were minstrelsy or spirituals3.  “Race music”, however, presented a new opportunity for Black Artists to artistically express themselves.  Bessie Smith’s legendary career and impact on the blues can not be overstated, but it must not go unmentioned how she was still advertised via stereotypes and grossly underpaid.

1 Boomer, Lee. n.d. “Life Story: Bessie Smith (1894 or 1895–1937).” Women & the American Story. Accessed September 27, 2023. https://wams.nyhistory.org/confidence-and-crises/jazz-age/bessie-smith/#resource.

2 Dolan, Mark K. “Extra! Chicago Defender Race Records Ads Show South from Afar.” Southern Cultures 13, no. 3 (2007): 106–24. https://www.jstor.org/stable/26391067.

3 Brackett, David. “Forward to the Past: Race Music in the 1920s.” In Categorizing Sound: Genre and Twentieth-Century Popular Music, 1st ed., 69–112. University of California Press, 2016. http://www.jstor.org/stable/10.1525/j.ctt1c84fg2.9.

 

Works Cited

Boomer, Lee. n.d. “Life Story: Bessie Smith (1894 or 1895–1937).” Women & the American Story. Accessed September 27, 2023. https://wams.nyhistory.org/confidence-and-crises/jazz-age/bessie-smith/#resource.

Dolan, Mark K. “Extra! Chicago Defender Race Records Ads Show South from Afar.” Southern Cultures 13, no. 3 (2007): 106–24. https://www.jstor.org/stable/26391067.

Brackett, David. “Forward to the Past: Race Music in the 1920s.” In Categorizing Sound: Genre and Twentieth-Century Popular Music, 1st ed., 69–112. University of California Press, 2016. http://www.jstor.org/stable/10.1525/j.ctt1c84fg2.9.

Streaty, Donna. “EMPRESS OF THE BLUES: BESSIE SMITH.” Negro History Bulletin 44, no. 1 (1981): 22–22. http://www.jstor.org/stable/44176459.

Smith, Bessie, Lovie Austin, Don Redman, Fletcher Henderson, and Lovie Austin. Chicago Bound Blues. 1923. Audio. https://www.loc.gov/item/jukebox-672304/.

Looking a little deeper

It was said in a keynotes speech by Rhiannon Giddens, a solo artist and 2016 Steve Martin Prize for Excellence in Bluegrass and Banjo recipient, that bluegrass started as a combination of different styles and peoples coming together to make a unique sound. However, she laments that in the modern day, the words ‘bluegrass’ and ‘hillbilly’ lead to a particular image in everyone’s mind. Even looking back at a photograph of Bill Monroe, known as the father of Bluegrass, you can see where the ideas come from.

An image of Bill Monroe at Take it Easy Ranch in Callaway, Maryland. The above image is taken the Smithsonian, however the much smaller original can be found at the Library of Congress. 

Remaining both casual and semi-professional, the dress code hasn’t changed that much. Neither has the association with ranches, the country, and folk music. However, it’s origin story certainly has been altered.

One modern image, described by Rhiannon, sums this perfectly: “that while black folk were singing spirituals and playing the blues, white folk were do-si-do-ing and fiddling up a storm – and never the twain did meet…” However, Rhiannon goes on to explain how this is certainly not the case. How, primarily due to the record companies attempting to market towards specific groups, specific sounds were sought for their records. Blacks go the blues, as that seemed to be popular, while the ‘hillbilly’ label was created for whites, with all relevant music being shuffled under it, regardless of true origin.

I’m not hear to recount Rhianna’s entire address, you can go read it yourself; it’s quite interesting. I merely wanted to bring attention to a display at the Kentucky Bluegrass Museum, located in Owensboro, with a quote from Bill Monroe himself on it.

A display in the Kentucky Bluegrass Museum, to honor the words and memory of Bill Monroe.

This isn’t a hidden display. In fact, it’s located one of the largest Bluegrass Museums in the country, which holds regular Bluegrass programs and hosts many exhibits regarding the genre. The quote itself is pretty on the nose, talking about how many things came together to make Bluegrass, not just ‘white’ music. So perhaps, if you could take a couple seconds, look into history and see what the man himself had to say about the thing he’s said to have created, it would save a bit of time on everything.

References

Giddens, Rhiannon. 2017. “Keynote Address”. Transcript of speech delivered at the IBMA Business Conference, Raleigh, NC, September 26, 2017. https://ibma.org/rhiannon-giddens-keynote-address-2017/.

Horenstein, Henry. Bill Monroe, Take It Easy Ranch, Callaway, Maryland. Photograph: inkjet print on foam core. Library of Congress Call Number LOT 15174, no. 70 (FM – MCD size) [P&P]. 1973. https://www.loc.gov/pictures/item/2021643190/.

Highsmith, Carol M. Display honoring the music, and thoughts, of Bill Monroe… Photograph: digital. Library of Congress Call Number LC-DIG-highsm- 63909 (ONLINE) [P&P]. July 14, 2020. https://www.loc.gov/pictures/item/2020722249/.

Pete Seeger and Social Change

Pete Seeger performing on stage with a banjo in Yorktown, NY.1

Pete Seeger was an American singer, songwriter, folk song collector, and social activist. After his death in 2014, most people today credit Pete Seeger as “one of the most important American musical voices of the 20th century.”2 This reputation that Seeger maintains was not always the case. At one point during his 70 year career, Seeger was a member of the communist party in the United States and was convicted for contempt of Congress after defying the House Un-American Activities Committee in the 1950s.3 He managed to completely revise his reputation during his career and he “lends support to the argument that reputations are radically malleable, even when the figure has not changed dramatically.”

At the beginning of his career in the 1940s, Seeger would often perform at leftist rallies and became well known amongst communist groups. After Seeger began to have accusations of his leftist beliefs, those who were against him had a great effect on his reputation because those who defended Seeger also became the target of attacks. By 1953, Seeger’s record label had dropped him and, his current negative reputation “caused Seeger to be banned from many mainstream venues either because there were outspoken anti-Communists to oppose him or because venues wished to avoid potential controversy.”4

Seeger’s reputation began to change in the 1960s with the resurgence of folk music and emerging social movements. Eventually, the movements Seeger participated in began to gain social favor. While Seeger was shunned from many mainstream performance venues, he performed at colleges instead for a “younger generation that was ready to adopt figures who would challenge the status quo.”5 His music reflected many social concerns of the younger generation and he sang about “the labor movement in the 1940s and 1950s, for civil rights marches and anti-Vietnam War rallies in the 1960s, and for environmental and antiwar causes in the 1970s and beyond.”6 One of his most notable songs is “We Shall Overcome,” which was adapted from old spirituals and became a civil rights anthem.

During the time he was actively releasing music and fighting for these causes which he believed in, he was still ignored and not taken seriously by many in the older generations because they were not taking him seriously. They believed he was “free to sing whatever he likes because this saintly old man can hardly be ‘seriously’ proposing rebellion.”7 They were wrong. This disagreement still happens very frequently in today’s society as well, both in music and other social platforms. There are many in today’s present society that overlook the voices of younger generations and assume no harm can be done or change cannot be made. Many cultures of people are constantly underestimated by those with white superiority who believe they are untouchable until it’s too late to realize they are not.

Bibliography

Bromberg, Minna, and Gary Alan Fine. “Resurrecting the Red: Pete Seeger and the Purification of Difficult Reputations.” Social Forces 80, no. 4 (2002): 1135–55. http://www.jstor.org/stable/3086503.

Kavallines, James. [Pete Seeger, full-length portrait, performing on stage at Yorktown Heights High School, Yorktown, N.Y.] / World Journal Tribune photo by James Kavallines. Photograph. Washington, D. C. , February 2, 1967. Library of Congress.

Pareles, Jon. “Pete Seeger, Champion of Folk Music and Social Change, Dies at 94.” The New York Times, January 28, 2014. https://www.nytimes.com/2014/01/29/arts/music/pete-seeger-songwriter-and-champion-of-folk-music-dies-at-94.html.

Robb, Alice. “The History of Pete Seeger’s Reputation Is the History of the Past 70 Years.” The New Republic, September 26, 2023. https://newrepublic.com/article/116379/pete-seegers-reputation-shows-history-past-70-years.

1James Kavallines, [Pete Seeger, Full-Length Portrait, Performing on Stage at Yorktown Heights High School, Yorktown, N.Y.] / World Journal Tribune Photo by James Kavallines., photograph (Washington, D. C. , February 2, 1967), Library of Congress.

2Alice Robb, “The History of Pete Seeger’s Reputation Is the History of the Past 70 Years,” The New Republic, September 26, 2023, https://newrepublic.com/article/116379/pete-seegers-reputation-shows-history-past-70-years.

3Jon Pareles, “Pete Seeger, Champion of Folk Music and Social Change, Dies at 94,” The New York Times, January 28, 2014, https://www.nytimes.com/2014/01/29/arts/music/pete-seeger-songwriter-and-champion-of-folk-music-dies-at-94.html.

4 Minna Bromberg, and Gary Alan Fine. “Resurrecting the Red: Pete Seeger and the Purification of Difficult Reputations.” Social Forces 80, no. 4 (2002): 1135–55. http://www.jstor.org/stable/3086503.

5Minna Bromberg, and Gary Alan Fine. “Resurrecting the Red: Pete Seeger and the Purification of Difficult Reputations.” Social Forces 80, no. 4 (2002): 1135–55. http://www.jstor.org/stable/3086503.

6Jon Pareles, “Pete Seeger, Champion of Folk Music and Social Change, Dies at 94,” The New York Times, January 28, 2014, https://www.nytimes.com/2014/01/29/arts/music/pete-seeger-songwriter-and-champion-of-folk-music-dies-at-94.html.

7Minna Bromberg, and Gary Alan Fine. “Resurrecting the Red: Pete Seeger and the Purification of Difficult Reputations.” Social Forces 80, no. 4 (2002): 1135–55. http://www.jstor.org/stable/3086503.

“Shanghai lullaby” as Musical Marginalization

Browsing through the Library of Congress National Jukebox, I came across a piece that had a curious title. “Shanghai lullaby” was composed by Isham Jones and published under Columbia records in 1923.1 The piece is listed as a foxtrot, which is a dance genre with origins in ragtime and jazz.2 When listening to the piece, you can hear the stylistic characteristics of the foxtrot from the beginning, such as a rhythmic emphasis on beats one and three and common jazz instrumentation.3 When I considered the title, I had anticipated that the piece would be full of painfully obvious appropriation and misrepresentation. To my surprise, much of the piece sounds quite tame in terms of musical markers of otherness. However, the title brings attention to the use of pentatonic melodic figures throughout the piece and sections that feature the distinctive and unexpected tone of the oboe.

When considering cultural appropriation and misrepresentation, power dynamics cannot be ignored. “Shanghai lullaby” is a prime example of misrepresentation and appropriation of an other. Practices like this have a tendency to diminish a different group to nothing more than a few musical markers all for the sake of entertainment, interest, and novelty, which is a completely dehumanizing process. Unfortunately, using musical markers to profit off of marginalized groups was common practice during the period in which this piece was composed. A most notable example of this is Isham Jones and his Orchestra’s recording of “Aunt Hagar’s Blues,” which bears a cover featuring racist caricatures of Black Americans.4

Front page of sheet music edition of “Aunt Hagar’s Blues”5

 

Unfortunately, this piece participates in and upholds a legacy of cultural supremacy and exploitation. If the title didn’t indicate the musical markers of an other, I suspect that not many listeners today would be able to pick up on the musical othering because so much of the piece is stylistically appropriate to the foxtrot and features a catchy, memorable melody. It really is too bad that the piece boasts a title that, nowadays, negates any enjoyment of the music itself and instead draws attention to a history of demeaning musical marginalization.

 

 

1  Art Kahn Orchestra, Isham Jones, and Art Kahn. Shanghai Lullaby. 1923. Audio. https://www.loc.gov/item/jukebox-672297/.

2 Norton, Pauline. “Foxtrot.” Grove Music Online. 2001; Accessed 27 Sep. 2023. https://www.oxfordmusiconline.com/grovemusic/view/10.1093/gmo/9781561592630.001.0001/omo-9781561592630-e-0000010075.

3 Conyers, Claude. “Foxtrot.” Grove Music Online. 6 Feb. 2012; Accessed 27 Sep. 2023. https://www.oxfordmusiconline.com/grovemusic/view/10.1093/gmo/9781561592630.001.0001/omo-9781561592630-e-1002219055.

4 Bjerstedt, Sven. “Musical Marginalization Processes: Problematizing the Marginalization Concept through an Example from Early 20th Century American Popular Culture.” Lund University, April 4, 2016. https://portal.research.lu.se/en/publications/musical-marginalization-processes-problematizing-the-marginalizat.

5 Ibid.

Working songs and the Role they Play

Library of Congress Photos & Print Division. 1940. Farmer and His Brother Making Music. Pie Town, New Mexico. ‌

Do songs have a purpose? I think they do. Think about the music that you listen to on the
way to work, while you’re doing your homework, sometimes while you sleep. Many songs serve a purpose in today’s culture in America, I think working songs in the 19th century aren’t much different. One song that comes to mind is Songs of the Sea, they serve as a beacon of unity and tribute to the voyage. See below an article written for an American music magazine, an interview of men who sail frequently. Check out this link below for the interview.

SONGS_OF_THE_SEA.1

We see another aspect of working songs in Negro spirituals, most sung by enslaved people while working in the 19th century.2 These songs serve as a beacon of hope and spirituality for them while being forced to work. These spirituals are deeply rooted in Christian traditions, religion can be an out-of-body experience that brings communities together. They all have their religion in common and it can bring them together. “In Africa, music had been central to people’s lives: Music-making permeated important life events and daily activities. However, the white colonists of North America were alarmed by and frowned upon the slaves’ African-infused way of worship because they considered it to be idolatrous and wild.”3 This quote from an article cataloged by the Library of Congress displays the sense of community that these spirituals bring. Before the atrocities committed against the African people, they had music as an integral part of their lives, and no oppression from the white man was going to stop them from making their community out of music. They might be wearing a different set of clothes, but still very important to their community and culture.

Another example of working songs that bring a community together are songs sung by the working class in the 19th century. Popular songs like the “Bell Hop Blues” and “All in, down and out” perfectly demonstrate the songs of the working class.4 The Bell Hop Blues is a song about a bellhop and how he laments his position in the world. Feeling like he can go nowhere the bellhop sings about it, the song below is sung by Al Bernard. As someone who must work hard to stay afloat, I resonate with this song. I feel like many would have resonated as well when the song was popular.

5

I found through my research that the songs of the working class serve as a sense of unity for us. As the underdogs in a money-driven society, we find ways for our community to prosper and grow. Music serves as a catalyst for this.

1“SONGS OF THE SEA.” The Musical Visitor, a Magazine of Musical Literature and Music (1883-1897), 02, 1884, 31, https://www.proquest.com/magazines/songs-sea/docview/137456031/se-2.

2Magazine, Smithsonian, and Lincoln Mullen. 2014. “These Maps Reveal How Slavery Expanded across the United States.” Smithsonian Magazine. May 14, 2014. https://www.smithsonianmag.com/history/maps-reveal-slavery-expanded-across-united-states-180951452/#:~:text=In%20counties%20along%20the%20Atlantic.

3Library of Congress. 2015. “African American Spirituals.” The Library of Congress. 2015. https://www.loc.gov/item/ihas.200197495/.

4———. n.d. “Songs of Work and Industry | Historical Topics | Articles and Essays | the Library of Congress Celebrates the Songs of America | Digital Collections | Library of Congress.” Library of Congress, Washington, D.C. 20540 USA. https://www.loc.gov/collections/songs-of-america/articles-and-essays/historical-topics/songs-of-work-and-industry/.

5Bourdon, Rosario, Al Bernard, Frank Goodman, and Al Piantadosi. Bell Hop Blues. 1919. Audio. https://www.loc.gov/item/jukebox-33747/.

 

Citations:

Bourdon, Rosario, Al Bernard, Frank Goodman, and Al Piantadosi. Bell Hop Blues. 1919. Audio. https://www.loc.gov/item/jukebox-33747/.

Chase, Randall. “Negro Spirituals an Enduring Legacy.” Sunday Gazette – Mail, May 15, 2005. https://www.proquest.com/newspapers/negro-spirituals-enduring-legacy/docview/332335829/se-2.

Library of Congress. 2015. “African American Spirituals.” The Library of Congress. 2015. https://www.loc.gov/item/ihas.200197495/.Library of Congress Photos & Print Division. 1940. Farmer and His Brother Making Music. Pie Town, New Mexico.

———. n.d. “Songs of Work and Industry | Historical Topics | Articles and Essays | the Library of Congress Celebrates the Songs of America | Digital Collections | Library of Congress.” Library of Congress, Washington, D.C. 20540 USA. https://www.loc.gov/collections/songs-of-america/articles-and-essays/historical-topics/songs-of-work-and-industry/.

Lillie, E. “NEGRO “SPIRITUALS.”.” Christian Union (1870-1893), Sep 28, 1881, 292, https://www.proquest.com/magazines/negro-spirituals/docview/136705508/se-2.
Magazine, Smithsonian, and Lincoln Mullen. 2014. “These Maps Reveal How Slavery Expanded across the United States.” Smithsonian Magazine. May 14, 2014. https://www.smithsonianmag.com/history/maps-reveal-slavery-expanded-across-united-states-180951452/#:~:text=In%20counties%20along%20the%20Atlantic.

Whiteness portrayed in JP Sousa’s Sousa Band

John Philip Sousa,1 commonly referred to as the “American March King” was a pivotal figure in not only conducting “American Music” starting from the end of the 19th century, but also spreading the term “American Music” outwards to countries outside of North America. Branching out the new style of music certainly gained popularity as other countries began to include styles such as ragtime, blues, and jazz into their musical framework. Little did these countries know that the composed and performed music of John Philip Sousa and the Sousa Band weren’t authentically composed from his ideas, but rather that of stereotypes and thievery of cultures appreciating this music long before “Americans.”

The stigma of whiteness in music is carried by the “broadly conceived European conceptualisation of music as a non-verbal symbolic system which becomes an object of verbal discourse, interpretations, and assessment in all human cultures. Talking about music allows people to organize sensed meanings, and further objectivise them,”2 says Professor of Musicology at University of Warsaw, Sławomira Żerańska-Kominek.

When new treatments of American Music were discovered during the late 1800s into the 1900s, white composers and musicians tried desperately to get their hands on it and make it their claim. JP Sousa was one of the many to do so, and was successful while doing it. Sure, many of his marches were authentically composed out of the musicality in his head, but many other compositions and performances were created out of stereotypes of traditions of non-white Americans. 

First, take a listen to Sousa’s Band perform “Indian war dance,” written by Herman Bellstedt (1902)3. The 2:31 recording features an array of band members making sounds with their mouths, in an attempt to represent native indian songs. Not only are the sounds utterly racist to native indian songs, but the concept of the song itself proposes red flags to the “whiteness” of native indian music. Notating when band members should scream, while a band plays assorted notes based on traditions the Europeans passed down to American music theory creates an “us” vs. “them” feel. When diving into the composition itself, the song is all white interpretation based on non-lived experiences of the “others,” being native indians.

Another example of “whiteness” immersed into non-white originating music can be heard in Oscar Gardner’s “Chinese blues” (1915)4 performed by Sousa’s Band once again. The 3:55 song highlights a stereotypical idea that Chinese music is different because it is light and dainty. The entirety of the song features trills and bouncy melodies. News flash: not all Chinese music is light and dainty, but the misconception of white, American composers writing Chinese music completely misses this point. And to make matters even worse, the composer decides to throw on the term “blues” at the end of the song title. American writer Amiri Baraka describes The blues as being what was “conceived by freedmen and ex-slaves – if not as the result of a personal or intellectual experience, at least as an emotional confirmation of, and reaction to, the way in which most Negroes were still forced to exist in the United States.”5

What is the problem with the blues, in Chinese blues, you may ask? There is no element of blues in the song! Instead of implementing notes of dissonance to signify the pain and struggle the blues originally conveyed, the song sounds of joy, happiness, and music that would get crowds of people on their feet. Sounds a lot more like ragtime to me.

Although song titles are no longer extremely racist or stereotypical, this doesn’t take away from the past of American music, and how horrible acts could be seen as ways of entertainment to white populations. This is why it is important to reflect on our pasts. The past can never fully be forgotten, and Sousa’s take on “whiteness” in non-white originated music is one prime example of this statement.

 

Why music?

Every decade or so, a different approach to analyzing music comes around, each trying to explain what it is about the idea that develops independently and uniquely across every culture. We’re asked regularly to consider “What is music?” or “Why is music?” as performers, in order to better understand our own art form and convey… whatever we’re trying to in our musical attempt.

Pleasure is something that the author S. ruminates on. As they wrote their letter to the editor of The Monthly Magazine, and the American Review with nothing more substantial for a signature, their identity is entirely up for question. This is not uncommon; the magazine was compiled from letters to the editors, commentary, and bits of philosophic thoughts about all sorts of topics ranging from orations of American Independence to church sermons to shavings (it is quite an interesting read). Specifically, S. focuses on the pleasure of music and where it originates from: the notes themselves or the ideas they incite? S. goes out of their way to talk about how “simple sounds are agreeable or disagreeable according as the vibrations they produce in the ear arrive at, or are above or below the pleasure point of action”1, which can be summarized by the following example:

 

For those still confused, S. is essentially theorizing that some sounds are just naturally terrible, that there exists an invisible bar that denotes the bare minimum of human tolerance, and that no sounds below it can exist with any form of musicality. They are, in essence, pointing out these sounds for the only purpose of ignoring them, as nails on a chalkboard (or anything similar) perhaps should never be included in a musical composition.

Therefore, the primary part of S’s argument focuses on ideas that music incites. They theorized that music acts as the starting domino in a long chain, setting off a cascade of ideas. When listening to a piece of music that perhaps invokes ideas of mountain rivers and chirping birds, it is actually the listener that is giving the song those meanings, even if it had been composed with the intent to inspire such ideas. S. notes this is extremely obvious with national music, citing a “Swiss Air that is forbid even to be played to their troops in foreign service, as it always produces the most unrestrainable desire to return [home].” Yet of course, if one has no particular love for the Swiss, they would most likely clap and move right along.

This notion comes to a head with the music of Native Americans. S. discusses this in brief, referring as an example to the Creek nation, which is now known as the Muscogee Nation in Oklahoma, where an observed song contained only three notes. To the unenlightened observer, such ‘music’ would have been laughable, however to those who have somber thoughts of war and strife associated with the slow, despondent melody, there is deeper understanding and shared meaning.

Extrapolating this to class readings and conversations, we return to the idea that ‘everyone lacks context’. When Frances Densmore, an anthropologist and ethnomusicologist, recorded the traditional songs of Native American tribes during the early 1900s and carefully noted their meanings, there was lost context and understanding. In compilations of early colonist opinions regarding native music, there was lost context and understanding (made even worse by the lack of a shared language). Even recorded songs that can be heard in full inspire new domino-chains of thought that perhaps are not what the original composer or culture intended.

This, perhaps, is not a bad thing, as music can be shared between cultures and grow and change with each new person who ascribes meaning to it. But it lends certain doubt to that traditional sentiment: “Music is a universal language”.

Citations:

1. S. 1800. Letter 2 — no title. The Monthly Magazine, and American Review (1799-1800). 02, pg. 85. https://www.proquest.com/magazines/letter-2-no-title/docview/88855456/se-2 (accessed September 21, 2023).

The entire collection (volumes 1-3) can be found publicly available at HathiTrust at the following URL: https://catalog.hathitrust.org/Record/009018879.

Spiritual: Art Song or Folk Song?

The spiritual is a genre in American music that has occupied a key cultural and musical role in the landscape of American music. But the tradition to which it belongs is somewhat ambiguous; it seems to have roots in both the folk song, and art song traditions. How you choose to define it depends both on the context of performance and the agenda of the definer. One of the texts I looked at was the analysis of an author of the highly conservative Christian Union Journal in 1881.

Lillie, E. (1881, Sep 28). NEGRO “SPIRITUALS.”. Christian Union (1870-1893), 24, 292. Retrieved from https://www.proquest.com/magazines/negro-spirituals/docview/136705508/se-2

In the text Barr asserts that not only is the spiritual not a learned tradition, but that the continued education of emancipated African Americans will drive spirituals into extinction1. Barr goes so far as to assert that spirituals are a folk tradition incompatible with a learned audience. Barr’s analysis clearly works to uphold white supremacy in the context of church music, because while there’s acknowledgment of the moving, strong, emotional power of spirituals, they’re framed in a primitivist, othering framework.

In reality, spirituals had developed the sophistication to move into  the Art Song tradition2, rebutting the analysis of scholars like Barr who would posit that its only utility came from its raw simplicity.  One famous group of settings by William Dawson is clearly indicative of this; the arrangements make use of spiritual tunes blended with contemporary compositional techniques to create innovative polyphonic harmonies, forming a new genre known as “concert spirituals”. These concert spirituals led to wide-spread legitimizing of the spirituals in music performance, leading to their programming by choirs around the country (including the St. Olaf Choir linked below).

Ezekiel Saw de Wheel. YouTube. YouTube, 2020. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CHsKUjxOTz4.

This definition can also be frought though, as it has in many cases led to discussions of “for whom are spirituals appropriate?” The definition of spirituals as an art song has, in the eyes of some scholars, stripped them of their cultural meaning and significance. Poet Langston Hughes believed spirituals, “When they are sung purely for entertainment…then a little minor crime is committed”.3

Contemporary scholarship has found a way to acknowledge the value of spirituals both in their folk and art song forms4. Music theory and musical academia has become more accustomed to legitimizing music traditions outside of the Western tradition and scholars such as Solomon Omo-Osagie have looked towards some of the emotional and social power of spirituals beyond just their value as musical creations (a power which, to their credit, even scholars in 1881 seemed aware of). The case of spirituals in the United States is a telling example in the power of classification and definition, and gaining legitimacy within the American musical canon.

Lillie, E. (1881, Sep 28). NEGRO “SPIRITUALS.”. Christian Union (1870-1893), 24, 292. Retrieved from https://www.proquest.com/magazines/negro-spirituals/docview/136705508/se-2

2 Stone,Jeffrey Carroll,,II. 2017. A legacy of hope in the concert spirituals of robert nathaniel dett (1882-1943) and william levi dawson (1899-1990). Ph.D. diss., North Dakota State University, https://www.proquest.com/dissertations-theses/legacy-hope-concert-spirituals-robert-nathaniel/docview/1952703510/se-2 (accessed September 21, 2023).

3 Hughes, LANGSTON. 1956. Concerning the singing of spirituals today. The Chicago Defender (National edition) (1921-1967), Jan 28, 1956. https://www.proquest.com/historical-newspapers/concerning-singing-spirituals-today/docview/492900224/se-2 (accessed September 21, 2023).

4 Omo-Osagie, S. (2007). “Their souls made them whole”: Negro spirituals and lessons in healing and atonement. Western Journal of Black Studies, 31(2), 34-41. Retrieved from https://www.proquest.com/scholarly-journals/their-souls-made-them-whole-negro-spirituals/docview/200339335/se-2

 

 

Puerto Rican and New York Aspects Depicted in West Side Story

The popular American musical inspired by William Shakespeare’s play Romeo and Juliet, West Side Story, is a film by Robert Wise and Jerome Robbins, written by Ernest Lehman, and produced by Wise. The film first came out in 1961 as an adaptation of the 1957 Broadway musical and was popularized most recently with its newest rendition in 2021. West Side Story depicts the Puerto Rican experience in their country of origin in comparison to living in America. From the Spanglish and the Puerto Rican dialect portrayed in the film to the Spanish instruments and rhythm used in the songs and style of dance, it distinguishes the barriers between the Puerto Rican immigrants families and the “white folk” from New York/ America. 1
Some of the main themes represented in the film include:

  • the fear of immigrants
  • disputes with the police
  • the toxicity of racism/ racial unrest
  • urban gang violence
  • interracial relationships

These themes are only a start to the voice of Latinx rising above about day to day issues. The theme of love trumps any barriers that may stand in the way of it and ultimately bring two opposing sides together. It is an urgent matter with social concerns that can be seen today.2

The music conveyed especially in the lyrics illustrates the immigrant experience of moving to America for a better life to live the American dream. In this post we center on the song from West Side Story, “America,” where it begins hopeful with the expectations of:

3

“Skyscrapers bloom in AmericaCadillacs zoom in AmericaIndustry boom in America”

It then transitions to the reality that most immigrant families face when coming to America:

“Here you are free and you have prideLong as you stay on your own sideFree to do anything you chooseFree to wait tables and shine shoes:

This is similar to a story my Grandmother told me about how she came to America thinking that she would have so many opportunities in the land of freedom and she found herself cleaning offices at a university. When my Grandmother’s sister would talk to her about wanting to come to America, she would tell her all the opportunities that arose for her and that she is even going to university, hiding the fact that she was working as a custodian at a university in truth. There are a lot of misconceptions that arise and as is seen in the film, it can take a lot of hard work, dedication, and time to survive in the environment that is America.

West Side Story also incorporates other well known American songs such as “Somewhere” a popular songs sung by Barbara Streisand. There are correlations with the lyrics and the intent of bridging the two sides, immigrant versus American. The styles of dress and the accents allude to the time period norms and styles of the Puerto Rican culture.

1.) Lincoln Mayorga and Distinguished Colleagues. Sheffield Lab, 2008. Alexander Street. Web. 20 Sep. 2023.1

2.) Plays the shows 2. Fabulous, 2006. Alexander Street. Web. 20 Sep. 2023. 2
3.) “West Side Story.” YouTube, YouTube, 15 May 2013, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_e2igZexpMs. Accessed 20 Sept. 2023.3

Fredrick Starr’s “Progressive” Views on Navajo Culture

Photo of Fredrick Starr circa 1909 AD.“Legends and Music of the Navajos” is an article written by Fredrick Starr and published in The Dial in 1897. Starr was an academic and anthropologist active during the late 19th century and early 20th century. As an academic from the late 19th century, Starr demonstrates the commonly held opinions and beliefs of the academic community surrounding Native American cultures. Throughout the article, Starr prides himself on his abandonment of antiquated views, such as the spelling of “Navaho,”1 which Starr cleverly corrects to the modern spelling, “Navajo.” For innovations such as these, as well as the suggestion that the Navajo people were an “advanced tribe,” Starr was likely seen as progressive for legitimizing the study of Indigenous Americans throughout the United States and Mexico. However, this “forward thinker” has become a prime example of the pervasiveness of dehumanizing and eurocentric ideas surrounding the study and treatment of Indigenous Americans in America in the 19th and 20th centuries. 

Starr claims that “The Navajo are the most advanced tribe in the Athapascan family of Indians.”2 This claim is based on the fact that the creation stories within Navajo culture align more closely with the Christian creation story of Adam and Eve, where man and woman are created out of the earth. Starr also cites the true historical nature of other aspects of the Navajo creation story as merits towards their “advanced” status among the tribes. Both a conformity to Christian beliefs and a historical non-fiction account of the past are eurocentric ideas that have been imposed as a standard for “advancement” by an almost exclusively white European academic class.

Starr’s true sentiments about Navajo culture are most apparent when talking about music towards the end of his article. Starr states that Navajo music is largely emblematic of all Indigenous American music, namely, it applies “… Those peculiarly favorite devices among savage and barbarous races…”.3 

While Starr and Densmore are both examples of antiquated and exploitative anthropologists who dehumanized Indigenous Americans, this example from Starr paints Densmore’s work in a different light. When Densmore began her research, Indigenous American music was considered “savage” and “barbaric” and considered to have no value. Densmore’s work helped to legitimize the study and value of Indigenous music for white academics, despite her flawed methods and eurocentric claims as to why the music was valuable. 



1 Starr, Frederick. 1897. “LEGENDS AND MUSIC OF THE NAVAJOS.” The Dial; a Semi – Monthly Journal of Literary Criticism, Discussion, and Information (1880-1929), Sep 16, 146. https://www.proquest.com/magazines/legends-music-navajos/docview/89650110/se-2.

2 Ibid.

3 Ibid.

Afro-Cuban music and its spread through Latin American music

You most likely would have heard a piece with the name of Danzon. Just this popularity alone shows how influential Cuba has been in shaping the musical culture of the Americas. Originating in 1791 during a Haitian slave revolt inside Cuba. The Danzon dance has spread across the world and across classes, causing connections between cultures. These danzones also influenced the salsa dance, which is another important artifact of the Central American musical scene1. Other styles like Son, which is a fundamental style of Latin American music style, partially originated from Cuba 2. While spreading from Cuba danzones were performed by Charangas Francescas or French orchestras. This style eventually spread to port cities in Mexico as well as Mexico City, where Danzon halls were created and still live on today, continuing the tradition.

1

An important factor of Caribbean music is Afro-Cuban musicians. These musicians helped develop both the Danzon and Son styles. Their knowledge of African musical traditions as well as incorporating it with Cuban styles. The two different waves of African forced migration in the 16th and free immigration in the 19th century after Cuba gained independence from Spain, allows for a rich culture to develop within Cuba. Afro-Cuban rhythms such as the clave, rumba, and conga have become integral parts of various Caribbean and Latin American music styles, including salsa, samba, and bossa nova. These two groups were both enslaved at one point 3 and found connection, which resulted in these stiles forming.

In the 1940s and 50s, two powerhouses of Afro-Cuban styles were created. The Mombo and the Cha-Cha-Cha 4. Both of these styles built off of the history of previous styles, such as the Mombo being taken from the faster sections of a Danzon these art styles are quintessentially Cuban 5. These styles quickly spread outside of Cuba and into the rest of the Americas, which leads to today’s current experience of Cuban American music. The Mambo especially grew within America thanks to Dámaso Pérez Prado, with hits such as Mambo No. 5 6. Many other Afro-Cuban and Cuban artists have since cemented themselves within North and Central American popular music and will continue to into the future.

 

1 García, Peter J. “Danzón.” The American Mosaic: The Latino American Experience, ABC-CLIO, 2023, latinoamerican2.abc-clio.com/Search/Display/1329602. Accessed 20 Sept. 2023.

2 Manuel, Peter. “Cuban Music.” The American Mosaic: The Latino American Experience, ABC-CLIO, 2023, latinoamerican2.abc-clio.com/Search/Display/1367105. Accessed 20 Sept. 2023.

3 Minahan, James B. “Afro-Cubans.” The American Mosaic: The Latino American Experience, ABC-CLIO, 2023, latinoamerican2.abc-clio.com/Search/Display/1333613. Accessed 20 Sept. 2023.

4 Smith, Hope Munro. “Caribbean Music.” The American Mosaic: The Latino American Experience, ABC-CLIO, 2023, latinoamerican2.abc-clio.com/Search/Display/1329970. Accessed 20 Sept. 2023.

5 Henken, Ted A. “Mambo.” The American Mosaic: The Latino American Experience, ABC-CLIO, 2023, latinoamerican2.abc-clio.com/Search/Display/1329769. Accessed 20 Sept. 2023.

6 Blanco, Ray. “Cubans in the U.S. Music Industry.” The American Mosaic: The Latino American Experience, ABC-CLIO, 2023, latinoamerican2.abc-clio.com/Search/Display/1326842. Accessed 20 Sept. 2023.

Tribute or Treading on Toes? Percy Grainger and Black American Folk Music

Australian-born composer Percy Grainger had just moved to the United States in 1915 when an editorial article on Black American folk musics was published in Current Opinion, a quarterly magazine focused on literature and current issues, extensively citing Grainger as “a recognized authority on folk music.”1 The author’s reasoning for bestowing the title of “authority” was that much of Grainger’s career as a composer was characterized by his extensive use of folk music, particularly British folk tunes, in his works. The article goes on to recount many of Grainger’s opinions on Black American music and musicians, which generally attempt to characterize him as a champion of the marginalized. The caption under his portrait states that Grainger believes that “Especially worthy of preservation… are the folksongs of the American negro [sic].” In 1915, the readers of Current Opinion would’ve likely agreed with this characterization, but several sentiments expressed by the author as well as in Grainger’s quoted statements leap out as problematic to today’s reader. 

Picture by John Sargent

The author, who remains unnamed by the publication, begins the article by comparing African-American folk tradition to folk traditions from the British Isles, stating that many scholars have “arrived at the conclusion that the origin of the music of the colored [sic] race in America was in the British Isles.”2 This statement of the prevailing opinion credits white colonizers with the musical traditions of Black Americans, drawing a racialized line through music in the United States, and then continuing to delegitimize the music attributed to Black Americans as simply imitations of White3 European folk musics. From here, the author seems to try to assert that Grainger rejects the idea that the Black American tradition is somehow lesser than, and is rather interested in preserving all folk musics, regardless of origin. The author mentions Grainger’s telling of a story about a British composer, Frederick Delius, whose music was influenced by the work songs he heard running his father’s plantation in Florida. Grainger seems here to be championing the influence of Black American music on the predominantly White world of classical music. However, the author then goes on to quote Grainger’s description of his theory of three steps in the development of music. 

 

To Grainger, the first step is “traditional old songs and melodies of the people,” also referred to as folk music. Next, there is a transition from the folk to the “vaudeville,” or popular music that serves the sole purpose of entertainment. Lastly, there is the transition into the world of classical music, which Grainger refers to as the “‘world game.’” Again, Grainger has fallen into the trap of the prevailing race divide in music that still persists to this day. In this three-step theory, he posits Western classical music to be a universal ideal of music expression, the eventual evolution of all musics, regardless of cultural origin. As well, by asserting that Black Americans are behind White Americans and Europeans in their development of music expression, Grainger again devalues Black American music in his attempt to advocate for the preservation of Black American folk music as a legitimate genre of music. 

Broadly, the Current Opinion article on Grainger’s perspectives of Black American folk music, despite some evidence of good intentions of preservation and legitimization, ultimately advocates for the assimilation of Black Americans into a Western musical culture that both the author and Grainger believe to be superior. This sentiment is not unusual for the time, as all non-Western musics were largely considered to be primitive, and this prevailed in early ethnomusicological study by scholars such as Frances Densmore. It is also expected of Grainger, as private correspondences reveal that was an advocate for “milder theories of eugenics,” and “Nordic racial (and artistic) superiority.” It’s crucial to understand how these opinions prevailed in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, not just within the academy regarding study of musics outside of the Western classical tradition, but among leading composers and performers, as well as the general populace. Recognizing past structural flaws and how they came about allows current and future musicologists to deconstruct the racialized structures and Eurocentrism in the study of music.

Notes

1“PERCY GRAINGER’S TRIBUTE TO THE MUSIC OF THE AMERICAN NEGRO.” Current Opinion (1913-1925) OL. LIX., (08, 1915): 100. https://www.proquest.com/magazines/percy-graingers-tribute-music-american-negro/docview/124777222/se-2. 

2 Ibid.

I capitalize White when referring to it as a race, as other race categories are also usually capitalized (i.e. Black, Hispanic, Asian, etc.). I believe the lowercase spelling reinforces Whiteness as the default race.

4 Ibid.

5 Ibid.

6 Ibid.

7 Gillies, Malcolm, and David Pear. “Grainger, (George) Percy.” Grove Music Online. 2001; Accessed 21 Sep. 2023. https://www.oxfordmusiconline.com/grovemusic/view/10.1093/gmo/9781561592630.001.0001/omo-9781561592630-e-0000011596.

Is American music really American?

After playing in the St. Olaf Orchestra’s concert last spring which essentially had all works from Antonin Dvorak; including Dvorak’s “New World Symphony” and “American Suite.” It became clear to me that what we consider “American” music, isn’t actually American. We learned from Joseph Horowitz that Dvorak would take bits in pieces from melodies he heard while traveling around America. It should be noted that most “American” music contains melodies, tunes, and isms from many other different cultures. 

In Dvorak’s Prophecy, Scholar Joseph Horowitz sheds light on the fact that Dvorak was in search of “homegrown” music. According to Dvorak “homegrown meant music created by Black and Indigenous people.” The term “homegrown” can definitely be picked apart to pieces when attempting to determine if Indigenous, Black, or American music is considered to be homegrown or not.

When Dvorak composed these pieces, he had the idea that everything he heard and picked up was essentially American. Although we can acknowledge that most of the tunes he incorporated in his music were from Indigenous people. 

“Dvorak was stirred by the sad fate of the Indian and the pathos of the slave. His empathy found expression in his Symphony From the New World- … It begins with a sorrow song and ends with an Indian dirge. Its most famous tune, later reconstituted as the synthetic spiritual “Goin’ Home,” memorializes the tragic servitude of Black Americans.”

On a similar but a little different note, I think that our education system has failed us in the past. Growing up and hearing music on the radio, on TV, in stores, we’ve always thought that what we were hearing was American music. In actuality, most of these pop songs we hear have stemmed from African American people. We have been surprisingly ignorant when it comes to the origins of the music we listen to and I think that ought to change. We can complete this circle by coming back to Dvorak. Dvorak composed the “American Suite,” in an attempt to capture American music. Before I had any prior knowledge of this piece, I simply thought: Dvorak was in America at the time therefore, the music was American. Oh, how I was wrong, and I imagine I’m not the only one who had thought this way. I hope we can learn and acknowledge our ignorances and move forward with open minds.

Dvorak in Spillville, Iowa where he spent a summer in search of “American” music.

Citations

Music: Dr. dvorak’s new symphony. 1893. The Critic: a Weekly Review of Literature and the Arts (1886-1898). Dec 23, https://www.proquest.com/magazines/music/docview/124901982/se-2 (accessed September 20, 2023).

Horowitz, Joseph. Dvořák’s prophecy and the vexed fate of Black Classical Music. New York: W. W. Norton & Company, 2022.

Toll, Martha Anne. “Review | He Saw a ‘noble’ Future for Black and Indigenous Composers. He Was Wrong.” The Washington Post, December 10, 2021. https://www.washingtonpost.com/outlook/he-saw-a-noble-future-for-black-and-indigenous-composers-he-was-wrong/2021/12/08/9705c2f4-2ba1-11ec-985d-3150f7e106b2_story.html.

Natalie Curtis – Intention vs. Impact

Natalie Curtis Burlin (1875 – 1921) was an American ethnomusicologist and musician whose work centered around preserving and archiving African-American and Native American music, art, and culture. In her 1913 article “The Perpetuating of Indian Art”, she appeals to the American governmental systems that are trying to erase Native culture altogether by assimilation into Western culture. While Curtis’ intentions were likely to help the Native American peoples, her argument against assimilation focuses largely on how Indian culture benefits white people. In the opening sentence of her article, she states:

“Those who have worked among the American Indians, and have learned to respect the thought, the art, and many of the religious ideas of this most interesting people, must feel a sense of almost personal gratitude to the present Secretary of the Interior for having appointed a Supervisor of Music in the department of Indian Education, whose duties shall be to ‘record native Indian music, and arrange it for use in the Indian schools.’”1

While Curtis continuously raves about the beauty and importance of Native Culture throughout the article, her argument always boils down to this: since Native culture is so beautiful, we can’t let it vanish completely because we can learn from them to help better ourselves and our Western culture. 

This is a common theme among supposedly well-meaning American ethnomusicologists at this time and throughout history. Ethnomusicologists like Alice Fletcher and Natalie Curtis tended to use language that is insensitive and dehumanizing towards the cultures they were studying. Fletcher was of the belief that “education was of primary importance for Native Americans, as it would ease assimilation into ‘civilized’ culture.”2 Curtis referred to Native Americans as “underdeveloped”, “primitive”, and “noble dogs”. 

Not to say that Curtis didn’t accomplish good things in her work – she used her personal relationship with Theodore Roosevelt to aid in the removal of a longtime ban on Native American music, 3and she strongly advocated against the erasure and white-washing of Native culture. Whatever the intentions, it’s important to analyze and acknowledge ethnomusicologists of the past so we can recognize where they failed and do better in the future. What we can learn from Curtis and others is that It’s important to ask yourself, whose betterment is the work intended for?

 

2 Haynes, Caitlin T, and Katherine Crowe. “Alice Cunningham Fletcher and Francis LaFlesche in the Transcription Center.” Smithsonian, 2023, transcription.si.edu/articles/alice-cunningham-fletcher-and-francis-la-flesche-transcription-center.

3 Curtis, N. (1919, Mar 05). MR. ROOSEVELT AND INDIAN MUSIC: A PERSONAL REMINISCENCE. Outlook (1893-1924), 399. Retrieved from https://www.proquest.com/magazines/mr-roosevelt-indian-music/docview/137007546/se-2

Britannica, The Editors of Encyclopaedia. “Natalie Curtis Burlin”. Encyclopedia Britannica, 22 Apr. 2023, https://www.britannica.com/biography/Natalie-Curtis-Burlin. Accessed 20 September 2023.

Post-War Reconstruction to Post-War Redefinitions of American Music

American idealism and the ever-changing concept of the “American Dream” seem to be well accompanied by the arts. The idea of setting music or text to American fantasies-which typically involve gaining large amounts of wealth, owning a huge plot of land, and/or embracing patriotism- is typically enjoyed by those that the American Dream has been realized within or sold to as an idea.

In the post-Civil War reconstruction era United States, the American Dream was changing alongside the rapid industrialization of the country. People were getting richer faster, and a drab new landscape of factories and mills replaced expansive picturesque farms. The American Dream of creating wealth off of plantations (and subsequently slaves) was shifting towards making money off of factory labor and its exports. This was changing how music accompanied the idea of the American Dream during the late 1800s.

The Industrial Revolution Pt. 2: By Land and River

4 /> Steamboats at a Nashville Dock in 1863

The simultaneous need to hold onto the musical trends and racial injustices of yesteryear turned many musicians sour to a new wave of music that continued selling American idealism. Boston Conservatory music scholar and lecturer Dr. Louis Elson stated in periodical The Christian Observer as part of an interview in 1898 that “I am a firm believer that American Music is just Southern Music. I have often said that the reason “Dixie” is the most characteristic outcome of the War is because you can’t set a calico factory or flour mill to music, but that Southern plantation life is characteristic and poetic…”2

Elson then goes on to name Dvorak’s New World Symphony2 expressing his hope that someone will provide an equivalent for Southern music- reinforcing his belief that Southern music is true American music- and that the slave economy is easier to romanticize than an industrial economy. This is laughable considering Dvorak’s New World Symphony
was based heavily off of themes of immigration, diversity,3
and shared culture- the antithesis of the kind of music Elson advocates for while simultaneously calling Native American the music of “savages”.

Dvorak's New World Symphony Manuscript1

The redefining of American music has happened several times over, but a pattern has certainly emerged. American music favors diversity, adaptation (following the nature of American music itself), and justice. As diversity, justice, and social consciousness evolve as principles in America, so too will American music, and the American dream that accompanies that music.


http://www.classicalmusictoday.net/blog/new-world-symphony-manuscript-comes-to-the-new-world


https://www.proquest.com/americanperiodicals/docview/136125214/F1B647EEFC6D4BADPQ/24?accountid=351


https://www.youtube.com/watch?vbVTIlMc5Fuo


https://tnmuseum.org/junior-curators/posts/the-industrial-revolution-pt-2-by-land-and-river?locale=en

Native American influence on American Music

Charles Wakefield Cadman was an American pianist and composer who was a so-called musical “Indian Expert.” He incorporated Native American music into many of his compositions, and gave talks based on his compositions and experiences living with Native Americans all over the US. I stumbled upon an article about him in the The Chicago Defender while looking for white and Native American musicians drawing influence from each other, primarily in the Midwest. This article, dated from 1925, talks about a new kind of American music, as one that is as “characteristic of America as the music of Spain is characteristic of that nation” (The Chicago Defender).1 The article lists Charles Wakefield Cadman as supporting and expressing this view and goes on to both identify Cadman as a man ahead of his time and describes him as an influential figure in ethnology and composing.


This article relates directly to Francis Densmore’s work and Beverly Diamond’s opinions about how to study Native American music. While what we can tell from this article is limited, the text specifically describes Cadman as “spend[ing] many years living among the Indian tribes of the West.” While ‘living among’ could have many different meanings, he likely was much more attached to Native American music and their cultural context than Francis Densmore was.2 In addition, Cadman seems to follow Beverly Diamond’s opinion more closely by living among and most likely learning about the cultures and traditions of the Native Americans.3 Instead of studying this music as an outsider, Cadman attempts (though we don’t know how successfully) to become an insider and therefore get to know the music much better than Densmore’s categorical analysis and recordings. It is possible that Densmore’s intentions were a bit different than Cadman’s in that she wanted to record these songs if they were to die out. In contrast, Cadman’s goal might have been more to get to know Native American so well to use it for his own good.

Through Cadman’s work, this article not only attempts to describe current American music based on his insights, but also tries to predict the future of American music. Not only was Cadman an ethnologist, but also a composer. According to the article, his compositions were the first of its class and the future of American music. It is best compared with other articles that outline others’ work in ethnography and ethnomusicology, and so it has direct ties to Francis Densmore’s and Beverly Diamond’s work. While it is hard to confirm, this article makes it appear as though Charles Wakefield Cadman was a man ahead of his time who pioneered views and practices that came decades later.

“Folk Songs Called Root of New Music.” The Chicago Defender, 25 April 1925. 

2. Densmore, Francis. “Pawnee Music.” New York, 1972. 

3. Diamond, Beverly. “Music and Modernity among the First Peoples of North America.Wesleyan University Press, Middletown Connecticut.

Ricky Valens and Rock ‘n’ Roll

Many Americans tend to have a basic image of Chicanos/Latinos as a component of American culture that has just recently begun within the country because of how often immigration concerns are covered in today’s media. Chicano/Latino communities have existed in the United States for many years, notably in the southwest, despite the fact that immigrants and their children make up a sizeable portion of the present-day Latino population.However, many Americans appear to be ignorant of these historical occurrences and their impact in influencing the historical course of American society, much like the historical and musical effects of Chicano/Latino musicians.1

In Justin D. Garcia’s article “Ignored, But Not Forgotten: The Historical and Musical Influence of Chicano/Latino Rock ‘n’ Roll and Hip-Hop Pioneers“, Garcia discusses how Latinos/as influenced the creation and growth of rock and roll. Garcia takes a lot of time informing us about Latino performer Richie Valens. As shown in the image above2, Ritchie Valens was one of the most well-known Latino performers. Despite having a relatively short career, Ritchie Valens had a significant impact on rock ‘n’ roll with his 1958 hit “La Bamba,” which he adapted from a Mexican folk song by adding rock rhythms. At the request of his manager Bob Keane, who believed that Ricardo Valenzuela, his actual name, needed to ‘anglicize’ his name in order to boost “his marketability to white audiences in pre-civil rights 1950s America”, Valenzuela chose the stage name Ritchie Valens.1 His untimely passing in 1959, at age 17, left an absence in the Latinx music scene, but he also left behind a lot of inspiration for others to draw from. Journalist Ed Morales “At almost every turn in the history and development of rock and roll there has been a Latino influence. . . . Long before there was such a thing as Latin rock, there were Latino musicians in various rock groups. Many people today have only a vague idea of the Latin influence on rock.”3

We can look to “La Bamba”, in the video above, as a clear depiction of this cultural hybrid. The song is in verse-chorus format. Valens was initially reluctant to mix “La Bamba” with rock & roll because he was proud of his Mexican roots, but he soon agreed. Many musicians, like Selena, later imitated this kind of musical hybrid, or the blending of traditional Latin American music with rock, and it is still practiced today.1

1 Garcia, Justin D. “Ignored, but Not Forgotten: The Historical and Musical Influence of Chicano/Latino Rock ‘n’ Roll and Hip-Hop Pioneers.” In The American Mosaic: The Latino American Experience, ABC-CLIO, 2023. Accessed September 28, 2023. https://latinoamerican2.abc-clio.com/Search/Display/1660209.

2“Ritchie Valens.” In The American Mosaic: The Latino American Experience, ABC-CLIO, 2023. Image. Accessed September 28, 2023. https://latinoamerican2.abc-clio.com/Search/Display/1674854.
3 Orellana, Carlos. 2003. Morales, Ed. The Latin Beat: The Rhythms and Roots of Latin Music from Bossa Nova to Salsa and Beyond.(Young Adult Review). Booklist. Vol. 100. American Library Association.

“Othering” Native American Music

Fletcher’s fieldwork collection from observing Sioux and Omaha Native Americans.1 

Alice C. Fletcher is thought to be the first scientist of ethnology to live among the Native Americans in the 1880s.2 In this excerpt of an article written by Fletcher, she details her time observing a ceremony done by the Native Americans she was living with. She continues by explaining every detail of what she sees and how she feels throughout the duration of this event.

Fletcher page 1 Fletcher page 2

One of Fletcher’s first feelings upon entering this tent and seeing the ceremony is one of fear. She was “startled by a sudden mighty beating of the drum, with such deafening yells and shouts that [she] feared [her] ears would burst.”3 She describes the women sitting around the drum as being the only people wearing color. She details the bangles they wear around their wrists as “glints of brightness” which “only added to the weirdness of the place.”4 Fletcher’s vocabulary usage in her descriptions throughout this article excerpt insinuates a sense of “othering” between her and the ceremony. The impression she gives the reader is one of fear, where the reader might want to be wary of Native Americans and their music.

Fletcher moves on to discuss the music she hears. She states that she was “distressed and perplexed, [her] head was ringing, and [she] was fast becoming mentally distraught.”5 The visuals of the ceremony, the dancing and singing, lead her to call upon “every picture of savages [she] had ever seen,” as well as “every account of Indian atrocit[y] [she] had ever heard,” and it “gave her a horrible interpretation to the scene.”6 So much so that she would have escaped if she could. Eventually, she states that she comes to her senses and realizes that she was witnessing this very ceremony by her own choice, and she needs to put her personal emotions aside.

Fletcher admits it took her a long time for her ears to adjust to what she was hearing. She even acknowledges that the Native Americans struggled to listen to their music when played on a piano.7 They were not accustomed to the piano the same way Fletcher was not accustomed to their singing. It wasn’t until she fell ill and the Native Americans sang to her that she finally began to understand the beauty of their music.

It is really easy to discuss other culture’s music in a way that makes it seem so far away from us. It is so easy to “other” their music as seen here in the way Fletcher writes about how she felt while experiencing their ceremony. Fletcher’s feelings demonstrate exactly why there is misunderstanding and misrepresentation of Native American music. People begin with a preconceived idea and understanding that it makes it difficult to learn about and appreciate local and global music for what it is.

Bibliography

“Alice Cunningham Fletcher.” History of American Women, April 2, 2017. https://www.womenhistoryblog.com/2015/05/alice-cunningham-fletcher.html.

Fletcher, Alice C. “INDIAN SONGS.: PERSONAL STUDIES OF INDIAN LIFE.” Century Illustrated Magazine (1881-1906) XLVII, no. 3 (01, 1894): 421, 1-2, https://www.proquest.com/magazines/indian-songs/docview/125523852/se-2.

“Life among the Indians.” Nebraska Press, January 27, 2017. https://www.nebraskapress.unl.edu/nebraska/9780803241152/.

1https://www.nebraskapress.unl.edu/nebraska/9780803241152/

2“Alice Cunningham Fletcher,” History of American Women, April 2, 2017, https://www.womenhistoryblog.com/2015/05/alice-cunningham-fletcher.html.

3Alice C. Fletcher, “INDIAN SONGS.: PERSONAL STUDIES OF INDIAN LIFE,” 1.

4Fletcher, 2.

5Ibid.

6Ibid.

7Ibid.

From Rags to Riches: How Ragtime Entered the American Canon

A poem entitled “Ragtime” from the Washington Star, 1913

Ragtime, from Scott Joplin to Jelly Roll Morton, has been deeply integral to America’s sense of musical identity.  Also known as “jig piano” In the late 1800’s, black musicians would travel to bars and saloons to perform “ragged” versions of popular tunes.  Although ragtime as a genre would not be formerly recognized until the very end of the 19th century, this was the true infancy of ragtime as a genre1.  Ragtime existed under the radar of the general public as it was a mostly oral tradition that existed within the black community at the time, although white people were exposed to the genre as an accompaniment to minstrel shows2.  It wasn’t until the 1893 World’s Fair in Chicago where ragtime started to garner attention from the white masses, with artists such as Joplin performing their rags to crowds who had likely never heard the genre before.

1893 World’s Fair in Chicago

As white people became hip to the genre, white musicians began to imitate their black contemporaries and transcribed simplified versions of rag melodies for public purchase, and thus, “ragtime” as an established American genre was born.  This isn’t to say that ragtime was completely beloved by the American public.  Because of its iconic use of syncopation, and its origin as a form of Black American Music, ragtime was initially met with resistance from musical conservatives.  Its detractors, who worshipped the canon of Western European classical music, saw ragtime as a scourge on the genre, lacking harmony for the sake of bizarre, chopped rhythm.  This sentiment was shared by many white composers at the time.  Leo Oehmler, a composer and violinist wrote in a periodical in a 1914 issue of the Musical Observer, “Let us take a united stand against the Ragtime Evil as we would against bad literature, and horrors of war or intemperance and other socially destructive evils. In Christian homes, where purity of morals is stressed, ragtime should find no resting place. Avaunt with ragtime rot! Let us purge America and the Divine Art of Music from this polluting nuisance”3.

As shown in the somewhat tongue-in-cheek periodical at the top of this post, even those that were fans of ragtime saw it as a risqué genre, even it if was irresistible: “We stoutly disapprove it/ And we threaten to remove it/ But it gets us all a-dancing all the same” 4.  White audiences saw ragtime music as a sort of forbidden fruit; an attitude that would extend to jazz and other forms of Black American Music throughout the 1900’s.

 

 

 

Citations

Star, Washington. 1913. “Ragtime.” Life (1883-1936), Jun 26, 1278. https://www.proquest.com/magazines/ragtime/docview/90727291/se-2.

Hatt, Nicholas Ryan. 2018. “A Portrait of Diversity: Exploring Underrepresented Violin Literature of the United States from 1893-1916.” Order No. 10784520, The Florida State University. https://www.proquest.com/dissertations-theses/portrait-diversity-exploring-underrepresented/docview/2102140606/se-2.

Harer, Ingeborg. “Defining Ragtime Music: Historical and Typological Research.” Studia Musicologica Academiae Scientiarum Hungaricae 38, no. 3/4 (1997): 409–15. https://doi.org/10.2307/902493.

Sabatella, Matthew. 2022. “Ragtime: About the Genre.” Ballad of America.
https://balladofamerica.org/ragtime/#roots-of-ragtime
1 Sabatella, Matthew. 2022. “Ragtime: About the Genre.” Ballad of America. https://balladofamerica.org/ragtime/#roots-of-ragtime

Harer, Ingeborg. “Defining Ragtime Music: Historical and Typological Research.” Studia Musicologica Academiae Scientiarum Hungaricae 38, no. 3/4 (1997): 409–15. https://doi.org/10.2307/902493.

3 Hatt, Nicholas Ryan. 2018. “A Portrait of Diversity: Exploring Underrepresented Violin Literature of the United States from 1893-1916.” Order No. 10784520, The Florida State University. https://www.proquest.com/dissertations-theses/portrait-diversity-exploring-underrepresented/docview/2102140606/se-2.

4 Star, Washington. 1913. “Ragtime.” Life (1883-1936), Jun 26, 1278. https://www.proquest.com/magazines/ragtime/docview/90727291/se-2.

 

Latin American Music and the Argentinian Tango

There seems to be a major misconception to what the first large wave of Latin American music was in the United States. Many seem to believe that the first large wave was in 1930 with the large wave of immigration from both Cuba and Mexico, this isn’t entirely incorrect. That was a large wave of immigration that brought along music, but the first large foray into Latin music was in 1910. A duo of husband and wife brought over the Argentinian Tango from France.1 Quite the interesting road map… Vernon and Irene Castle were the two that brought the Tango over from France in 1913, confusing right?

“Advertisement: Tango (Tango).” 1977.Vogue, Aug 01, 47.

When the two performed this on Broadway, it was a smash hit and took off immediately.  While it took off in the United States, there was a different version centralized in Buenos Aires, Argentina. The Tango scene in Buenos Aires would seem much different from the United States. The Argentinian Tango is characterized by an emphasis on improvisation and the music that accompanies it. If the dance is not accompanied by Argentinian Tango music, it would not fit the bill.

There is a slight problem with the Tango in the United States, they lack any connection to Argentinian composers or performers. Developments that are seen in Argentina, aren’t seen in the United States. This isn’t all bad, there are some good things that came from this problem. Tango is being used on Broadway more frequently, and there are some *fusions* starting to happen, particularly in the jazz scene. Some of the earliest examples include classics like “A Night in Tunisia” played by Dizzy Gillespie. There are also some new tunes written specifically around Tango, “Tango Land” by Henry C Lodge2 is a perfect example. Listen for the syncopation, it’s a defining characteristic of the Tango.3

Around the 1950’s there was a huge stylistic shift in the jazz community, emphasizing fusion. The Mambo, Rumba, and other Latin influences. This was the golden period for Latin American music. Astor Piazzolla, an Argentine composer, was also taking the world stage at this point. Many took notice of his tango and jazz fusion in a Western classical lens, causing a large upset. The upset aside, the French government awarded him with a grant to come and study with the best, Natalie Boulanger.

The tango was taking the world’s attention, and it wasn’t going to let go. It influenced many different genres, and even took Broadway by storm. Its influence cannot be denied in the sects of jazz, symphonic rep, opera, dance, and many more.

Citation:

“Advertisement: Tango (Tango).” 1977.Vogue, Aug 01, 47. https://www.proquest.com/magazines/advertisement-tango/docview/904335846/se-2.

Argentine Tango. Directed by Suzanne Reid and Norah Dale Allen. Spirit of Dance, 1996. https://search.alexanderstreet.com/view/work/bibliographic_entity%7Cvideo_work%7C2628254

Denniston, Christine. 2003. “Couple Dancing and the Beginning of Tango.” Www.history-of-Tango.com. 2003. http://www.history-of-tango.com/couple-dancing.html.

Kozhevnikova, Evgeniya. (2019). “The Boundaries of Modern Jazz Composition: Interaction between Tango and Jazz Music” master’s Theses. 4727.

León, Javier F. “South American Music in the United States.” In The American Mosaic: The Latino American Experience, ABC-CLIO, 2023. Accessed September 18, 2023. https://latinoamerican2.abc-clio.com/Search/Display/1329969.

Muñoz, Cristina K. “Tango.” In The American Mosaic: The Latino American Experience, ABC-CLIO, 2023. Accessed September 18, 2023. https://latinoamerican2-abc-clio-com.ezproxy.stolaf.edu/Search/Display/1329987.

1León, Javier F. “South American Music in the United States.” In The American Mosaic: The Latino American Experience, ABC-CLIO, 2023. Accessed September 18, 2023. https://latinoamerican2.abc-clio.com/Search/Display/1329969.

2Kozhevnikova, Evgeniya. (2019). “The Boundaries of Modern Jazz Composition: Interaction between Tango and Jazz Music” master’s Theses. 4727.

3Denniston, Christine. 2003. “Couple Dancing and the Beginning of Tango.” Www.history-of-Tango.com. 2003. http://www.history-of-tango.com/couple-dancing.html.

Misrepresentation of Indian Music

Image

[Portrait of Mr. John Comfort Fillmore]. Photographs. Place: National Anthropological Archives, Smithsonian Institution.1

In his article, John Comfort Fillmore presents his analysis of a set of songs collected by Alice C. Fletcher. Aside from the conclusions that Fillmore draws from his harmonic analysis, he provides us with much more information that alerts us to his biases toward Native American Music. He recalls Fletcher’s request of him to analyze the songs to determine “the scale on which [they] were built,”2 but the existence of this article alone proves that this simple request made by another scholar quickly ballooned into something much more presumptuous and declarative than it deserved to be. 

Fillmore presents the scales of these songs in Western notation on the ignorant basis that, “the Indians have no musical notation, no theories of music whatsoever.”3 His deprecating comments continue when describing how he felt obligated to harmonize the versions of these songs since, “the harmonic sense of these peoples is underdeveloped.”4 Fillmore’s imposition of Western notation and harmony onto these songs is an excellent example of “colonial imposition,”5 which is a term used by Beverly Diamond in Music and modernity among First Peoples of North America to describe inadequate documentation of Native American music through the use of Western notation.

Fillmore’s intentions and biases are made clear at the end of the article, where his initial intentions of using the music of Native Americans to “test the naturalness of our own musical perceptions”6 lead to his far-fetched conclusion that Native American music contains a “noble religious feeling [akin to] the central idea of Christianity.”7 Contrary to popular ideas of the time, he does advocate for Native American music as being “worthy of comparison to some of the best [music] we possess ourselves,”8 but only after his unwelcome imposition of Western notation to create versions of Native American music that “the Indians couldn’t have produced unaided.”9

Though much of ethnomusicology has changed over the course of its existence, some things remain the same, both positive and negative. Browner notes that the employment of fieldwork as the main method of ethnomusicological research has remained the same throughout history.10 Similarly, although the field has advanced greatly over time, the misrepresentation demonstrated through Fillmore’s article and research methods remains something to be aware of within ethnomusicology today.

Bibliography

1 https://library.artstor.org/asset/NMNH_125725565.

2 John Comfort Fillmore. “A STUDY OF INDIAN MUSIC.1.” Century Illustrated Magazine (1881-1906), 02, 1894, 616, https://www.proquest.com/magazines/study-indian-music-1/docview/125524446/se-2.

3 Ibid.

4 Ibid.

5 Diamond, Beverly. Music and modernity among First Peoples of North America. Edited by Victoria Lindsay Levine and Dylan Robinson. Wesleyan University Press, 2019.

6 Ibid.

7 Ibid.

8 Ibid.

9 Ibid.

10 Music of the First Nations : Tradition and Innovation in Native North America. Champaign: University of Illinois Press, 2009. Accessed September 18, 2023. ProQuest Ebook Central.

Out with the old, in with the old: Jazz with respect to Classical Music

 

Illustration 26 (Feb. 26, 1920): The Composer Gets Inspiration For Some Jazz Music0

 

What is jazz? In order to discover what it is, we must discover where it came from. Jazz originated on the West coast of Africa, and was transported to America by slave labor in the late 1800s. In the few holidays that slaves were given when working on plantations, Africans from the west coast would sing spirituals, and songs of celebration. The term “Jaz” was a cry for means of celebration, and would cue high speed music the accentuate the excitement of their holidays off of tedious work.1 

Jazz isn’t a specific form of music, but rather a treatment applied to different aspects of music. Jazz was a detail of music so different from the rest, to the point where communities wished it was banned from being listened to. From the usages of new syncopations to the idea of improvisation, Jazz created such a different outlook on what music would sound like, but this certainly isn’t the first time the world has heard of such drastic changes.

Take Beethoven, Wagner, Debussy, and Stravinsky, to name a few, for example. What did all of these composers have in common? They all changed musical conventions to what they felt music should feel and sound like, further “distorting what before them had been accepted as conventionally correct.”2 Just like in the origins of jazz, many were disgusted in the new ideas of such prolific composers. However, if we zoom out of their roles with respect to their creative ideas, we can see the impacts they each had on the effects of music today.

These composers created new emotions that the music brings forth to its audience and to its musicians. This is comparable to that of the experiences between indigenous people and European settlers in “Music In The USA” edited by Judith Tick.3

The European settlers were exposed to new sources of tradition and music. Meanwhile, this same music of the indigenous people had been celebrated for centuries prior to the Europeans settling. Experiencing these new characteristics of music make it difficult for indigenous and jazz genres of music to be boxed into a set category of music – improvisation and restriction of theory skills are not extremely important in these two treatments of music compared to its European Classical counterpoints of music.4 If they are two completely different types of music that come from different backgrounds, then why do we continue to push them together as a whole?

Jazz created a new outlook on music, and thus created a new outlook on life, one that served great prominence in American culture, and continues to do so today.

“New World” Symphony, “Old World” Racism

On December 26, 1893, the music critic and musicologist Henry Krehbiel corresponded with the famed Czech composer Antonin Dvorak (1841-1904). Two weeks prior, he’d conducted “a lengthy interview with the composer” for a New York Tribune article on Dvorak’s “Symphony No. 9 in E minor, ‘From the New World,’ Op. 95, B. 178,” before its premiere.[1] Krehbiel wished to speak to Dvorak on behalf of several Black “folk songs from Kentucky” he was analyzing and was requesting Dvorak help “suggest a harmonization” of the melodies.[2] Krehbiel—having lauded Dvorak’s music and sought his guidance on folk song collection—points to their mutual willingness to embrace African American’s contributions to folk music and develop an American school of classical music. Yet, while the cosmopolitan Dvorak straddled the line between universalism and individualism in his composition, Krehbiel’s romanticized view of slavery informing his approach to African American folk music reveals how problematic musical context can become overlooked in popular works.

Beckerman, “Letters from Dvořák’s American Period,” p. 202.

Returning to the above-mentioned correspondence, it’s notable that on December 12, 1893, with four days to the “New World Symphony’s” premiere, Krehbiel had solicited Dvorak for a separate request. As Krehbiel was going to lecture on “Folk-Song in America” at a reception, he wanted Dvorak to “attend and hear the songs which I have for illustration.”[3] The reality that both men saw America’s musical “future…founded upon…negro melodies” positions them opposite universalist stalwarts in the debate of “What is American Music?”.[4] However, it also situates Dvorak adjacent to Krehbiel, who romanticized the notion of slave labor and experience as “inviting celebration in song—grave and gay.”[5] Krehbiel brutishly brushed over the idea of African American’s epigenetic trauma through stating, “sometimes the faculty [cultural ingenuousness] is galvanized into life by vast calamities or crises of social and national existence; and then we see its fruits in the compositions of popular musicians.”[6] Dvorak’s association with Krehbiel’s problematized musicological methods calls into question a key controversy surrounding American music—when traditional African American melodies injected deeply into our cultural consciousness are predicated in racist assumptions, should they still be performed? Without due consideration of the cultural context in which pieces are created or popularized, canonical works like Dvorak’s “Symphony No. 9” may remain mired in the overwhelmingly murky history of American Music.

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

[2] Ibid.

[3] Ibid.

[4] Douglas W. Shadle, Orchestrating the Nation: The Nineteenth-Century American Symphonic Enterprise, New York: Oxford University Press, 2016, 246.

[5] Henry Edward Krehbiel. Afro-American Folksongs: A Study in Racial and National Music, 4th edition, New York: G. Schirmer, 1914, 23.

[6] Ibid, 22-23.

“First Lady of the Piano”: Intersectionality in Early Jazz

My first encounter with the composer Mary Lou Williams was upon stumbling across her choral composition “Black Christ of the Andes (St. Martin De Porres).” The dynamic range and gratifying dissonance in the harmonic texture of the piece gave me an almost ethereal and cathartic feeling, and I immediately fell in love. 

 

Born in Atlanta, Georgia in 1910, Williams almost immediately entered the jazz scene; at age 15, she was already playing alongside Duke Ellington and catching the musical attention of Louis Armstrong1. She promptly started playing the piano for different regional bands in Pittsburgh and embarking on tours with a chaperone, but she soon was navigating the music scene on her own as a young woman. Critics soon began complimenting her talents, giving her honorific nicknames such as “First Lady of the Piano” and the “lively Queen of the Ivories.”2

Portrait of Tadd Dameron, Mary Lou Williams, and Dizzy Gillespie at Mary Lou Williams' apartment (New York, N.Y., ca. Aug. 1947)

Mary Lou Williams with Tadd Dameron and Dizzy Gillespie in 1947

As a budding musician and composer, her specific positionality as a Black woman played a crucial part in her reception by critics and her audiences. Black composers, artists, writers, and performers of the time were already being pushed to be perceived in the leadership class of the “talented tenth,” wherein there was unjust pressure to “[elevate] the music of their race”.3 In regards to women, work within the entertainment industry was not seen as suitable for them, where “no self-respecting woman would pursue such interests, especially outside the realm of classical music.”4 Williams’ ability to infiltrate the male-dominated, instrumental jazz scene of the time was certainly unique in this respect. She dutifully worked to portray herself as a “serious” jazz musician by not interacting with the audience or smiling during performances—likely to set herself apart from the female musicians of her time and avoid demeaning stigmas from being placed on her as well.  The self-assuredness and resoluteness Williams demonstrated throughout her early and later career could be an additional factor, as she was often not afraid to protest injustices that she or her band members faced.

Newspaper article from the Arkansas State Press (Little Rock, Arkansas), August 1st, 1949

Williams’ existence as a woman within the jazz community put a further pressure to be perfect, enacting a sort of double-bind. Her demonstrated assertiveness may have helped with her acceptance early on, but unfortunately did not allow her to escape from misogynist rhetoric. In the late 1940s, there was a sudden change in her critical reception, where she was described as having an egregious attitude that hindered her success as a musician and composer.5,6

This seems to stem from the idea that women must always be pleasant, agreeable, and easy to digest—especially when one is a public figure, and even more so as a Black woman. It did not help that Williams had been recently dealt with hardships—she went through a divorce in 1940, and in 1942, she remarried to a man who was later believed to be physically abusive.

Portrait of Mary Lou Williams at the Piano (New York, N.Y., ca. 1946)

Mary Lou Williams at the piano in 1946

Decades later, the public was once again praising her and further illustrating her significance in jazz and American music. Newspapers were dubbing her with even mightier nicknames of “the First Lady of Jazz” and “The Queen of Jazz.”7 Williams passed soon after in 1981, and critics continued to immortalize her prowess and influence on the genre. She was certainly well-recognized for her talents, even alongside the shift towards negative judgements on her character, but does that absolve and erase the obstacles she faced during that time? Throughout the entirety of her lifetime, Williams still managed to overcome countless disadvantages as a Black woman, as a woman in jazz, and as a Black woman in jazz.

1 Time. “Music: No Kitten on the Keys,” July 26, 1943. https://content.time.com/time/subscriber/article/0,33009,802919,00.html.

2 “Mary Lou Williams Makes Big Musical Hit.” Plaindealer (Kansas City, Kansas) 46, no. 23, June 16, 1944: PAGE FIVE. Readex: African American Newspapers. https://infoweb.newsbank.com/apps/readex/doc?p=EANAAA&docref=image/v2%3A12ACD7C7734164EC%40EANAAA-12CFEF1503248508%402431258-12CFEF15258587A0%404-12CFEF15D906C8B8%40Mary%2BLou%2BWilliams%2BMakes%2BBig%2BMusical%2BHit.

What Survives of Francis Johnson

Francis “Frank” Johnson was a distinctive figure in U.S. music history, not only because of his many achievements and musical innovations, but also in his unique sociocultural position in the antebellum world. His accomplishments were fascinating, including being the first U.S. musician to tour Europe and to lead an interracial musical performance, alongside a multitude of compositional innovations—some of which are believed to have inspired other composers of and since his time.1 

However, Johnson’s concurrent involvement in white, upper-class spaces and various Black churches—as well as records exhibiting pro-Black ideals—suggest a rather dichotomous placement and standing in society and politics. While Johnson mostly avoided minstrel songs/shows—with the exception of “Miss Lucy Long” and “Sam of Tennessee and Dandy Jim of Caroline”—he primarily composed and performed patriotic band music and within European classical genres.2,3 Albeit, secondary source note that Johnson only performed “Miss Lucy Long” in England to appease the British upper-class, and “refused to cater to racism” by never performing the piece for Philadelphia.4 Even though Philadelphia was a rather progressive city with an Abolitionist society compared to the rest of the country at the time, incidents of hate, mockery, and racism were still present.5 It almost seemed as if he was living a double life, hidden between the pages of long-forgotten history periodicals—and I became deeply invested in trying to uncover whatever meager clues I could manage to find. 

Johnson, Francis. “Recognition March of the Independence of Hayti : For the Piano Forte & Flute.” Philadelphia: G. Willig, 1826. Colenda Digital Repository.

 

Kramer, Hayden James. “Six Works by Francis Johnson (1792–1844): A Snapshot of Early American Social Life.” ProQuest Dissertations Publishing, 2022. 143-148.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I was particularly drawn to his pieces “Recognition March of the Independence of Hayti” and “The Grave of a Slave” (pictured above), and what they could reveal about Johnson’s complicated relationship with white audiences and society. The lyrics of Johnson’s “The Grave of a Slave” were set to an abolitionist poem by Sarah Louisa Forten, openly admonished slavery and slave-owners in the text, and was formally published in Philadelphia. His “Recognition March of the Independence of Hayti” was arranged for piano and flute, but still carried similar abolitionist indications and was dedicated to one of the leader’s of the Haitian Revolution, President Jean-Pierre Boyer. Upon visiting his house, one of Johnson’s violin students also recorded that Johnson had President Boyer’s portrait hung over his mantle.6 Considering the many sociopolitical factors that could have negatively impacted the survival and coverage of such documents, these bits of Johnson’s worldview stand out to me as compelling possible evidence for his progressive beliefs.

Charon, Louis Francois. “Broadside : Jean Pierre Boyer, President de La Republique d’Haiti.” Between the Covers.

 

 

Densmore’s Biases in her Bulletin Writings

As our group has been researching Densmore’s work, we’ve certainly found a lot of her actual field work, but there’s significantly less available of her recounting her actual experiences. When we came across a copy of Frances Densmore and American Indian Music, which is essentially a collection of writings she didn’t place in her books, I was excited, because I knew we were going to find some juicy stuff in there. And sure enough, we did!

One aspect of Densmore’s work that we had been aiming to expand upon was her lack of respect for the boundaries of certain Indigenous groups she studied. We had found it mentioned in scholarly writings, but there were never any specific examples of it until I found this account within this book on her experiences with the Northern Utes. Essentially, she had been told in the past that the Northern Utes were “touchy by nature” (1), but she was determined to go and record songs. She set up shop in a cottage nearby a trader’s store, where she would advertise to the Utes that she would pay people to sing their traditional songs into her phonograph. The Utes instead just laughed at her, which she even put in italics in the book out of indignation! She tried to explain what she was doing with the songs to them, but none of them wanted to willingly record anything. Instead of listening to them, she decided to pull the “I have a Sioux name” card and went to a well-respected member of the tribe named Red Cap, who begrudgingly brought her singers to record with. In exchange, she had to record him speaking a message for her to bring to DC that they hated their reservation superintendent and wanted him replaced, which Densmore did follow through on (1).

She recorded several songs with these singers, but she still did not have enough, so she overstayed her agreed-upon study time with the Northern Utes by over three weeks and even went on a horseback trip that passed over that time. To them, that was the last straw, and she was quite literally booted from her cottage – they did not even let her pack her own things, saying that someone from the agency would express ship her stuff back to DC (1).

While she did manage to get recordings from the Northern Utes, even she noticed how unwilling they were to make them, yet she still went through with it and continued to push their limits of what they were comfortable with her doing. The Utes were suspicious and rightfully so. White people had done nothing but take and take from Indigenous groups like them, be it land, resources, religion and sacred spaces, culture, or hospitality, in order to manipulate them into getting what they want. The way Densmore approached this group likely looked like any other White manipulator, and, by the tone of her writings, she could probably tell that was what they were feeling and did not care. Stories like these that she so calmly recounted without remorse further problematizes her work and exposes her biases, that it was completely okay to entirely overstep cultural boundaries if it meant she could personally get what she wanted.

Sources:

(1) Densmore, Frances, and Charles Hofmann. “Incidents in the Study of Ute Music.” Essay. In Frances Densmore and American Indian Music, 39–42. New York, NY: Museum of the American Indian, 1968.

Defining ‘American Music’

It feels fitting to write a blogpost on ‘American Music’ and who owns it after studying this question for an entire semester. According to The Chicago Defender, it is the song of the enslaved people that truly inspired (or birthed, in their own words) American music. The beginning of this article describes the argument that white people are the source of American music rather than that of bipoc and enslaved people. The Chicago Defender wastes no time in correcting this absurd sentiment. The author goes on to write about bipoc composers, writers and musicians. The author similarly takes a world view that all races are musical, and the truth of their being is expressed through their music. This I agree with, music expresses more than any other medium does. This expression, according to the author is one of divinity, and is an extension of God’s Way. While I don’t consider myself religious (a source of implicit bias I have) the sentiment of the author makes sense.

While we may never have a full encapsulation of what ‘American music’ truly is, it most certainly includes those of bipoc people.

 

 

Work Cited

“… AMERICAN MUSIC BORN OF THE NEGRO RACE: “SLAVE SPIRITUALS” OF THE BONDSMAN WERE GOD’S WAY OF CLAIMING KIN TO HIM–ORIGINATION OF PLANTATION MELODIES FINDS ITS BASIS IN EQUATION OF HIGHER LAWS NEGROES LEAD MUSIC WORLD AMERICAN NEGROES WERE FAMED FOR THEIR MUSICAL LEARNING BEFORE THE EMANCIPATION, AND WERE RECEIVED THEN AS NOW IN THE WORLD’S GREATEST MUSICAL CULTURE.” The Chicago Defender (Big Weekend Edition) (1905-1966), 1916, pp. 3. ProQuest, https://www.proquest.com/historical-newspapers/american-music-born-negro-race/docview/493310451/se-2.

Lilian Evanti at the Phillips Memorial Gallery

While myself and my group have looked through many data points trying to put together a coherent argument on Lilian Evanti, I found a new source that I thought I would look further into. This program comes from the Phillips Memorial Gallery, which she has performed at on several occasions. This program was “a varied program of Classics, a group by Hugo Wolf, an Inter-American group, and a group of Negro Spirituals,” according to the performance’s brochure.

All this to be said, it was a data point I was very excited to share with my group, as we hadn’t found it yet. This program provides additional information on Evanti being an activist in her choice of repertoire. Additionally, I found a letter from the staff of the Philips Gallery regarding Lilian Evanti’s pay, in which they express their gratitude that she performed for them.

Between the correspondence, the program and the brochure, there is a sizeable amount of information on this performance. Tickets were $1.10, her