Indian Tunes and Protestant Hymns: Early Assimilation of Native Music

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Many people have a clear and narrow impression of Native American music, broadly amounting to a simple, percussive beat and non-syllabic unison melody atop it. As is the case for many such clear-cut descriptions, this is a gross oversimplification. Through the work of musicologists such as Frances Densmore, we can be secure in the understanding that the music of North America’s native tribes in the 20th century was far more complex than that impression, and assuming that complexity extends both forward and backward through history is natural.

Exemplifying the diversity of Native repertory is a collection of shape-note hymns called Indian Melodies, compiled by Thomas Commuck, a member of the Narrangaset tribe from the East Coast, now living in Wisconsin [1]. The Christian verses, set to choral, sometimes-chromatic textures, are a far cry from the stereotype. Yet its distance raises another concern: that of appropriation.

Sheet music of a shape-note hymn, Missionary

An example of the distinctly European harmonization of “Indian Melodies.”

While Commuck himself professes Christian sentiments–referring to himself as being enlightened “under the blessing of God” and expressing a desire to “spread the knowledge of the Redeemer”–it is informative that his work be titled as it is. The combination of traditional tunes with Protestant verse is seen by the author as an expansion of Indian repertoire in a collaborative, rather than parasitic, light. But that is still not enough to pick apart the dialogues surrounding this work. In the preface, Commuck makes his intentions with the writing clear.

“[The author] feels willing to acknowledge frankly and openly the truth, and he assures his friends and the public, that notwithstanding all other ends which may result from the publication of this work, his object is to make a little money.”

This statement opens up the possibility for concessions made in the interest of financial sustenance. Perhaps, as James Page suggests [2], Thomas Hastings’ involvement in arranging the music was forced by the publisher, thereby obscuring the intended blending of worlds with the one-sided use of the Native as a touchstone for American identity, thereby contributing to the story of the Vanishing Indian. If Commuck was desperate enough for the publishing of the book, it is at least plausible.

However, as a refutation of this line of thought, Commuck’s parting words in the preface emphasize the merely ceremonial usage of the Indian elements of the work. After stating that the tunes will use Native titles, he insists that “This has been done merely as a tribute of respect . . . also as a mark of courtesy.”

If these final words can be taken as genuine (without financial concern forcing his hand), Commuck himself may have been a participant in the era of the Vanishing Indian, at least in part. Referring to the elements of Native American culture which inform the work in such brief terms suggests their non-importance. At the same time, the most apparent part of the book remains the most potent proof of its expansion, rather than narrowing, of Indian culture–its title. Protestant hymns may also be Indian tunes after all.

References

  1. Thomas Commuck, Indian Melodies, (New York, Lane & Tippett, 1845). Accessed at https://acdc.amherst.edu/view/asc:479052/asc:479130
  2. James Philip Page, “Thomas Commuck And His Indian Melodies, Wisconsin’s Shape-Note Tunebook”, (1989). Accessed at https://brothertowncitizen.com/thomas-commuck-and-his-indian-melodies-wisconsins-shape-note-tunebook/

The “Vanishing Indian” Ideology in 19th Century Poetry

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Reading the melancholy words of an 1841 poem entitled “The American Indians,” I can practically hear the final F major chord of Edward MacDowell’s “Indian Idyl” fading gently into the background. The two works could easily be based on each other. In her poem, Emeline Smith describes Native Americans as “passing away like a dream,” a sentiment echoed perfectly in the soft closing passage of “Indian Idyl”.1
As Daniel Blim discusses in his paper, MacDowell’s work evokes a wistful nostalgia that reflects a white American vision of a cohesive Native American culture confined to the past. According to Blim, this is just one instance of the “vanishing Indian” ideology, an assertion that is supported by the presence of the exact same sentiments in Smith’s poetry.2

Emeline Smith, writing her poem as an entry in the monthly issue of A Lady’s Companion, is blatant in her perpetuation of the “vanishing Indian” trope. She refers to Native Americans as “doom’d,” “passing away like a dream,” and even “hastening on to decay,” clearly displaying the same attitude we discussed MacDowell as guilty of during class.3 Smith treats Native American life and culture as a relic of the past. What MacDowell does artistically in his New England Idyls, Smith does verbally in her poem. 

Just as the cover art of the collection presents an image of Native Americans that reduces them to a part of the landscape, Smith couples nearly every reference of Native Americans to a description of nature.4 She views Native American existence as merely a fading memory that is now incorporated into the natural landscape of white America.

The cover art of a collection of Edward MacDowell's music.

Lanman, Charles. “Farmyard.” 1838. Naxos of America. https://stolaf.naxosmusiclibrary.com/catalogue/item.asp?cid=8.559010

Furthermore, the title of Smith’s poem, “The American Indians,” implies that the subject will have something to do with Native American life or culture. What follows the title, however, contains little more Native American identity than superficial references to “chieftains,” “warriors,” and “relics”. Even in her remembrance of Native Americans, the only details Smith describes are a warrior’s shout and the “low music” of an echo of Native American life that lingers in the hills.5 These two auditory remnants simultaneously represent a distant memory of a powerful culture and a dwindling present existence – exactly what we hear in MacDowell’s music as well. The lively opening passage (a “warrior’s shout”) reflects a dramatized view of Native American life, while the way each phrase subsides into nothingness (“low music”) marks this life as something of the past.6

What struck me most about Smith’s poem was how evident the “vanishing Indian” perspective was in a seemingly ordinary piece of poetry. If it took me only a few searches and clicks to stumble upon such a blatant example of the “vanishing Indian” ideology, then surely this is some indication of how pervasive the concept is. From music to poetry, representations of Native Americans as a vanishing race are ubiquitous.

1 Emeline Smith, The American Indians, (New York, The Ladies’ Companion, 1841), 220.

2 Daniel Blim, “MacDowell’s Vanishing Indians”, (Vancouver, 2016), 3.

3 Smith, The American Indians, 220.

4 Blim, “MacDowell’s Vanishing Indians”, 10.

5 Smith, The American Indians, 220.

6 Blim, “MacDowell’s Vanishing Indians”, 9.

Works Cited

Blim, Daniel. “MacDowell’s Vanishing Indians.” Vancouver, 2016.

Smith, Emeline S. 1841. The American Indians. The Ladies’ Companion, a Monthly Magazine; Devoted to Literature and the Fine Arts (1834-1843). 02, https://search.proquest.com/americanperiodicals/docview/137132400/6BB11667D9D44544PQ/1?accountid=351 (accessed September 15, 2019).

The “Vanishing Indian” Materializes Before Audiences

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The opening imagery of Daniel Blim’s conference paper “MacDowell’s Vanishing Indians,” that vividly describes the setting of Chicago World’s Fair and Columbian Exhibition, stuck with me after class. What would it be like to walk down a corridor in the natural history museum to have real people and animals stare back at you? Historical newspapers and current scholars describe these events as half circus, half Night at the Museum.

Blim’s article introduced the idea of the “vanishing Indian,” a symbol of Native America(ns) that “could be reappropriated in the national imagination as a nostalgic figure rather than a living oppositional force.”1 We know that Native Americans were (literally) put on display at the 1893 World’s Fair, but in what other instances were Americans, and other nationalities in the case of the World’s Fair, witnessing and consuming Native American culture? Based on research via newspaper archives from the 19th-century, World’s Fairs, International Expos, and museums were the primary contexts in which non-Natives could interact with actual tribes. 

To further investigate the “vanishing Indian” trope, I found an article originally printed in Scientific American in 1898. The article, titled “the Omaha Exposition and the Indian Congress,” described the Trans-Mississippi and International Exposition of 1898. After quickly mentioning the technological advancements of fireworks, the author lays out the newest and most attractive addition to the Expo ⎯ the Indian Congress. The Indian Bureau of Washington, D.C. allocated $40,000 to find, deliver, and enclose 35 distinct Native American tribes. Nearly 500 members of these tribes were camped out over four acres of Expo premises. For three months, anthropologists, sociologists, and the general public could observe Native American musics, rituals, and all modes of living in between as if they were zoo animals.

“Representative Indian Chiefs, Indian Congress, Omaha Exposition.” from left to right: Four Bulls, Assiniboin; Antoine Moise, Flathead; Different Cloud, Assiniboin; “Killed the Spotted Horse”, Assiniboin; Eneas Michel, Flathead

The article, read by thousands across the U.S. every year during this time, delivered the story triumphantly:

It is a curious and interesting fact that less than half a century ago the same docile Omaha Indians who peacefully doze by the camp fires within the Exposition gates were waging the war of the tomahawk and arrow on these very grounds, which is gratifying proof of the triumphal march of civilization.2 

No wonder the “vanishing Indian” trope was recognized by music consumers and the general public ⎯ the only times Native Americans were presented as apart of American society were part of a curated experience:

The agents were instructed to send old men, and, as far as possible, “head men,” who would typically represent the old-time Indian, subdued, it is true, but otherwise uninfluenced by the government system of civilization… some [tribes] have become so civilized, like the Creeks, Choctaws, Cherokees, and Seminoles, that their presence would add little interest from an ethnological point of view; so the government did not assemble it most civilized proteges at Omaha, but the tribes it has conquered with the greatest bloodshed are the most important at the congress.3

Not only curated, but curated to show their defeat and vulnerability in the face of America’s power. 

Black Female Pop Artists and “Being too White”

The idea that a black female pop artist is “too white” is unfortunately nothing new. In a 1988 article published in Ebony magazine (a magazine written by and for an African American audience), Lynn Norment talks to Whitney Houston. Norment claims “Black disc jockeys chided her for ‘not having a having a soul,’ and ‘being too White,’ while other critics [said] she [was] ‘too distant and impersonal [1].’” I thought Houston’s response was very interesting. Houston explains:

“‘Picture this […], you wake up everyday with a magnifying glass over you. Someone is always looking for something- somebody, somewhere is speaking your name every five seconds of the day, whether it’s positive or negative. Like my friend Michael [Jackson] says, ‘you want our blood but you don’t want our pain.’ […] Don’t say I don’t have a soul or what you consider to be ‘Blackness.’ I know what my color is. I was raised in a Black community with Black people, so that has never been a thing with me. Yet, I’ve gotten flak about being a pop success, but that doesn’t mean I’m White…pop music has never been all-White. […] My success happened so quickly that when I first came out Black people felt ‘she belongs to us,’ […] and then all of a sudden the big success came and they felt I wasn’t theirs anymore, and I wasn’t within their reach. It was felt that I was making myself more accessible to Whites, but I wasn’t.’”

Whitney Houston, 1983.

 

This idea of not belonging seems to be a common theme among female pop singers of color. In a recent example, pop artist Lizzo has experienced the tug-of-war between being in the black community, yet appealing to largely white audiences. She is also a classically trained flautist, who often pulls out her flute during performances (between twerking), and this further complicates people’s perceptions of what “black pop music” really is.

 

 

People from the black community are releasing tweets like the following:

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Another Tweet in Response:

On the “white” end of the spectrum, “white girls” are posting pictures about attending concerts and using Lizzo’s song lyrics for captions:

There are some strong opinions present here, and these social media posts are obviously not representative of entire communities, but I think it is important to see how the general public is perceiving Lizzo as an artist. 

So what can I do as a listener and performer to break down these stereotypes? Is it okay for me as a white woman to attend concerts or to perform music by these black female artists? Professor Louis Epstein, of St. Olaf College, says that it is a “good idea for people who live “whiteness” to feel limited- but it also reinforces boundaries [2].” These boundaries can cause even more limitations. He goes on to explain that “it’s ok to group people together if you’re doing it for positive reasons.” Rhiannon Giddens, on the subject of bluegrass, says “the question is not, how do we get diversity into bluegrass, but how do we get diversity BACK into bluegrass [3]?” This idea readily applies to pop music. We as audience members, listeners, and performers need to bring diversity back into pop music and make it okay to have artists included from a variety of different backgrounds. As Whitney Houston says, pop music has never been “all-White,” so the idea that we need to make subdivisions between “black pop music” and “white pop music” seems like a step in the wrong direction. Giddens explains that”we have a lot of work to do. We need to build on these moments, on these incredible opportunities [like going to a Lizzo concert] to expand understanding [3].” 

I have a hard time knowing how to handle issues like this. On the one hand, I love the music that black female pop artists are releasing (because it’s honestly so incredible), on the other, I don’t want to take their life experience and claim it as my own. I think the most important thing that listeners and performers who are not part of the African-American-women’s experience is to educate ourselves. Go out and find artists of color that may not have gotten the same publicity as their white counterparts- this is especially important in music genres that are typically considered “white” music (classical, country, pop, etc.). Another way is to keep up the conversation. Talk to peers, other musicians, and people outside of your own community. This issue isn’t going to be fixed overnight, but with conversations I believe learning and understanding will take place.

Bibliography:

[1] Norment, Lynn. “Whitney Houston Talks About the Men in Her Life- and the Rumors, Lies, and Insults that are the High Price of Fame.” Ebony (1848-1921), vol. XLVI no. 7, May 1991.

[2] Epstein, Louis. Lecture to his American Music class, September 2019.

[3] Giddens, Rhiannon. “Rhiannon Giddens Keynote Address.” Paper presented at the IBMA Business Conference, Raleigh, NC, September 2017.

The Camera Lens vs. the Public Lens: Perceptions of African Americans in the South

Portrait of Bill Tatnall1

When visiting the Library of Congress’s Lomax Collection, I was intrigued by the photos on the main page, which featured an African American man playing guitar (right). Clicking on the image, I saw “African Americans–1930-1940” listed as one of its categories, and clicking on that led me to a list of other images of African Americans in this time frame—standing, sitting, walking, running, and doing other normal, everyday activities, including more guitar playing (below).

Hurston and others2

Hurston and others3

 

 

 

In contrast to these photos, the following two images also caught my attention, captioned according to the Library of Congress’s summaries:

Left: “The new South facing its knotty land tenure problem:” Seven illustrations from Mid-Week Pictorial, May 23, 1936, showing conditions in the South, including a man with a horse, poor children, a shack, an Alabama steel mill, construction of a house, and African American cotton pickers.4 Right: Cartoon shows two men with rifles, walking away from a lynching victim hanging from a…5

These were some of the few images listed that were not plain photographs, but images of commercial publications. As both feature whites, they were likely both intended for white audiences. More striking, though, is their representation of African Americans. The title of the first image, “The new South facing its knotty land tenure problem,” in addition to the summary’s indication that it is seven illustrations “showing conditions in the South,” would indicate that it is attempting to portray a broad view of the South. African Americans, though, are depicted only as cotton pickers, confining their place in the South to the cotton fields. The second image is even more striking; the two figures in the foreground are whites with guns, and in the background is an African American hanging from a tree, a lynching victim. This shows an even more explicit and extreme racial dynamic.

Neither of these images are surprising in their content, but stand in stark contrast to the many other images in the collection showing African Americans engaged in non-stereotypical and non-confining activities—acting like “normal” people and even playing “normal” Southern music. These two publications publications serve as a reminder that, for most of the commercialized white South of the early 20th-century, African Americans were African American first and Southerners second. They were cotton pickers and lynching victims, separate from the culture of white Southerners, from their horses and poor children to their banjo- and guitar-playing, despite the evidence we have that they were part of these cultural and musical phenomenon just as much as Southern whites.

1 Lomax, Alan. Portraits of Bill Tatnall and Susie Herring, Frederica, Georgia, from recording expedition to Georgia, Florida and the Bahamas. 1935. Photographic prints. Lomax Collection, Library of Congress, Washington, D.C., https://www.loc.gov/pictures/item/2007660097/.

2 Lomax, Alan. Zora Neale Hurston and other African Americans, probably at a recording site in Belle Glade, Florida, 1935. 1935. Photographic prints. Lomax Collection, Library of Congress, Washington, D.C., https://www.loc.gov/pictures/item/2007660344/.

3 Lomax, Alan. Zora Neale Hurston, Rochelle French, and Gabriel Brown, Eatonville, Florida. 1935. Photographic prints. Lomax Collection, Library of Congress, Washington, D.C., https://www.loc.gov/pictures/item/2007660101/.

4 The new South facing its knotty land tenure problem. 1936. Photomechanical prints. Miscellaneous Items in High Demand, Library of Congress, Washington, D.C., https://www.loc.gov/pictures/item/98519128/.

5 Chase, William C. Man and son walking with guns, and man hanging from tree in background, and the / Chase. 1935. Drawing on illustration board, crayon. Cartoon Drawings, Library of Congress, Washington, D.C., https://www.loc.gov/pictures/item/2016679638/.

Tradition and the New Chocolate Drops

Southern music is often categorized as predominantly “white,” due to the prevalence of famous white country stars and white bluegrass groups throughout history.  And while the history of Southern music, and bluegrass in particular, would be incomplete without legends such as Bill Monroe or JD Sumner, the contributions of musicians of other races and ethnicities should not and cannot be brushed over.  The art of Black String Bands goes back to the 19th century, predating the Blues, Bluegrass, and Country by several decades.  A paper by Sean K McCollough explores the background of bluegrass as it relates to race (article found here).  McCollough points out that fiddle playing in the America’s grew in the south, with many African slaves being trained to play the fiddle and accompanying dances or parties that their master’s threw.  This tradition of fiddle playing was then passed down through the generations as a new part of the distinctly African-American culture that was arising (which I differentiate from Black American culture, as not all Black Americans can trace their lineage back to Africa and the slaves taken from their).  This tradition then grew in the late 19th century to become the Black String Bands.

An early band of this style was the Tennessee Chocolate Drops, but they’re not who this blog post is about.  Instead I’ll be looking at a group that may have taken inspiration in both their name and makeup, the Carolina Chocolate Drops.  This group is much more recent, having been founded in 2005, and bases its style on the string bands of the early 20th century.  In the groups “About” page, which can be found here, they describe their founding as having been something of a happy accident.  The three founding musicians (Rhiannon Giddens, Dom Flemens, and Justin Robinson) would travel together to the home of fiddler Joe Thompson to hear stories and “jam,” as they put it.  Thompson himself inherited much of his fiddle technique from generations of family musicians, potentially stretching back to the slave musicians described by McCollough.  Now Thompson was passing down his skills to a new generation, and when he passed away the three students chose to form a group to honor his legacy and continue the musical tradition.  The group has since changed membership slightly, losing their fiddle player and gaining a cellist, and has gone on to win several Grammies.

Article Cited:

McCollough, Sean K. “Hear John Henry’s Hammer Ring: Moving Beyond Black and White Images of Appalachian Music.” Kaleidoscope of Cultures: A Celebration of Multicultural Research and Practice: Proceedings of the MENC/University of Tennessee National Symposium on Multicultural Music. R&L Education, 2010.

MacDowell vs. Ballard: A Comparison of American Indian Identity in Classical Music

As we discovered in our readings last week, Edward MacDowell’s “Indian” Suite for Orchestra represents a point in American music history where composers felt obligated to present the Indian identity in their compositions.  This is often referred to as the “Indianist” movement inspired by Antonin Dvorak in his use of Native American and African-American thematic elements used in his prolific Symphony No. 9 “New World.” 1 However, we look back on it today as a example in a long line of misunderstood interpretations of the American Indian identity by primarily white people at the top of a hierarchy, whether it be at the helm of a government entity or a religious, social, or cultural sphere.  To drive the point home, here is an excerpt from an article written by Henry Finck as a tribute to Edward MacDowell’s legacy.  This particular excerpt was written in response to hearing the “Indian” Suite performed by the Boston Symphony Orchestra:

“The Indian suite played at this concert was interesting from many points of view, which I can touch on only very briefly.  It is based on genuine American Indian Melodies.  The introduction has almost a Wagner touch thematically, but it is note for note Indian, and there is also a curious Northern ring in some of the theme… we might say that the MacDowell suite is civilized Indian music.” 2

By presenting the notion that MacDowell refined American Indian songs to become more “civilized,” Finck asserts that American Indian music is something uncivilized or perhaps “savage.”  This perception of Native American culture by Americans was commonly accepted and was a longstanding notion in the use of programs sponsored by the United States government, with one of the many examples being the use of Indian Boarding Schools as a way of brainwashing American Indian children into becoming more “American.”

While the “Indianist” movement did portray a negative connotation of Native American music, it would later inspire other composers to counteract with their own take on how American Indian identity should be portrayed in classical music.  Take for example, “the father of Native American Composition,” Louis W. Ballard:

name

As a Quapaw Cherokee Indian, Ballard wanted to blend the styles of Western classical music with “the music and dance traditions of his culture.”  He studied with several different composers in the 1940s and 50s, such as Darius Milhaud, Mario Castelnuovo-Tedesco, Carlos Surinach, Felix Labunski, and Bela Rosza, meaning that he was very dedicated to the craft of composition in the style of Western classical music.  As a composer, he wrote several pieces of varying instrumentation from solo works like the one presented here by Italian pianist Emanuele Arciuli  (Louis Ballard: Four American Indian Piano Preludes, Emanuele Arciuli, piano,) to woodwind quintet pieces with Native American flute, ballets, symphonies, and even a chamber orchestra piece titled Incident at Wounded Knee, which was commissioned and performed by the Saint Paul Chamber Orchestra in 1974.  Alongside his compositions, he also served as the National Curriculum Specialist for the Bureau of Indian Affairs from 1968 to 1979 and wrote American Indian Music for the Classroom which served as a curriculum “for teachers who wanted to incorporate American Indian music in classroom instruction.” 3

With his contributions to American music, Louis Ballard and several other Native American composers provided their unique voice from the precedents set by composers like MacDowell and Dvorak to write “Indianist” works.  Even Ballard himself accredited Dvorak’s prediction as an inspiration to compose his music, saying that “‘…[he] was in good company when [he] took up [his] pen to express the sufferings of [his] people, their regeneration and hopes for a better future life…'”

Notes
1. Blim, “MacDowell’s Vanishing Indians” 1
2. Finck, “An American Composer” 448
3. Berkowitz, “Finding a Place” 4-16

Bibliography
Berkowitz, Adam E. “Finding a Place for the Cacega Ayuwipi within the Structure of American Indian Music and Dance Traditions.” Florida Atlantic University, May 2015. 4-16
Blim, Dan. “MacDowell’s Vanishing Indians.” AMS, 2016. 1
Finck, Henry T. “AN AMERICAN COMPOSER: EDWARD A. MACDOWELL.” Century Illustrated Magazine (1881-1906), 01, 1897. 448, https://search.proquest.com/docview/125517908?accountid=35

Double standards? In MY America? It might be more common than you think.

In Dan Blim’s paper, “McDowell’s Vanishing Indians,” he exposes a contrast between how post-emancipation white Americans viewed Native Americans and African Americans. He argues that the view that Native Americans were “vanishing” as part of a natural process allowed them to be parodied in their portrayals in a way that Black Americans could not, as many Americans were deeply uncomfortable with America’s slaveowning past.

The document I chose juxtaposes two hymns with each other; one from a “converted indian” and the other from “a little slave boy. The two have a stark contrast in the language they use. The “indian hymn” uses an extremely vernacular dialect of english, whereas the “slave boy’s hymn” is rather eloquent. To illustrate further, I will show the first stanza of each.

“ In de dark wood no indian nigh, den me look heaben and send up cry, upon my knees so low. Dat God on high, in shinee place see me in night wid teary face: de priest he tells me so.”

“There is a book, I’ve heard them say, which says ‘thou shalt not work or play on God Almighty’s holy day.’ On Sundays then, O let me look, in God Almighty’s holy book” (Christian Advocate).

Regardless of whether either text’s authorship is genuine as the publishers describe it (I’m not sure that it is. I couldn’t find another publication of the “slave boy’s hymn”, but the “Indian Hymn” has been included in numerous publications, including several that assert origins for the hymn, all of which conflict with each other. One such origin is even verifiably false. Friends’ Review published a version asserting that it was written down by Reverend William Apess in 1798. Rev. Apess was a renowned public speaker and activist for Native American rights in his day, not to mention that he was himself from the Pequot tribe, but he was born in 1798, so whatever plausibility the publishers of the Review sought to gain by using his name is lost when the facts are checked. While the exact history of the hymn is unknown, it is certainly sketchy.) , we can see even from their choice to include these contrasting texts that some dynamic akin to what Blim describes is at play. Even though the readers of the Advocate might not have assumed that either party would be educated, the slave boy is shown to have some eloquence, while the Indian is portrayed as a caricature that would be familiar to their audience.

The column concludes with a paragraph that echoes McDowell’s own comments on slavery. “Thank God that the old days of slavery, with all the enforced ignorance, the bitterness of bondage, and the cruel seperation of families, are gone forever, and that so much now is being done to give the freedmen both the ability and the opportunity to read in ‘God Almighty’s holy book,’” (Christian Advocate). This supports the narrative that Blim illuminates, where White Americans seek to uplift Black Americans in order to forget the horrors of slavery, but feel comfortable enough to portray the “vanishing indian” as a caricature.

Works Cited:

“Two Quaint Old Hymns.” Christian Advocate, 18 May 1893. American Periodicals, https://search.proquest.com/americanperiodicals/docview/125850496/767F6D35CC094709PQ/1?accountid=351, Accessed 19 September 2019.

 

The Reception of Edward Macdowell Throughout The 20th Century

In our studies of Native American music, I have come across the name “Edward Macdowell” several times.  Most recently in an article by Daniel Blim entitled “Macdowell’s Vanishing Indians.” This peaked my interest in the composer to see what his general reception was amongst the musical community.  Much of his music uses themes from Native Music that is fraught with problems in respect and appropriation (to modern listeners), as can be represented by the Blim article. There are two reviews of Macdowell that I will be exploring to do this, one from 1944 in the Music Educators’ Journal and one from American Music in 1987.  

The first review takes Macdowell’s Second “Indian” Suite under fire as a piece for High School Orchestra.  The full text is short and is reproduced below:

The piece is lauded for its musical accessibility and distinct “Americanness” and its ability to rekindle interest in Macdowell, who it describes as “much neglected on our present day concert programs.”  The only acknowledgement of source material in this (very short) review are that the melodies are suggested by the North American Indians. The score can be found here, for reference to the melodies that it describes.  Despite the short nature of this review, there are a few things we can safely extrapolate from it.  The first surrounds the “much neglected” comment. This shows that Macdowell was not a key facet of many, if any, concert programs in 1944, just 36 years after his death.  The reason for this is not specified, but it does go to show that the use of such Native American Melodies was not popular for composers to do, as Macdowell did with a number of pieces (he has at least two full Indian Suites as the title of the piece suggests).  This could be for a number of reasons, among them being a general disdain for non-white-sounding music (possible, but severe speculation) or a loss of interest in the music of American Composers who weren’t Aaron Copland (again, speculation).  

The second review is much longer, and is regarding a recording of several piano works by Macdowell.  For our purposes, we can just look at the material regarding the piano work itself. The reviewer, Margaret Barela, found Macdowell to be compositionally important to the development of American Music, but not because he “lacked foreign influence.”  Barela likens Macdowell’s music to that of Liszt and Chopin, although Chopin died before Macdowell was born and Liszt died when Macdowell was 26, so they were not contemporaries. Barela praises the first two sonatas of Macdowell for their narrative splendour, but had little good to say about the second two.  This might shed some light on why Macdowell was “much neglected,” even by the 1940s. Macdowell, while an important composer in the development of American music, did not do enough to revolutionize it to gain a spot on the pedestal of history that we historians reserve for the “greats.” It would indeed be ironic if the music of Macdowell “vanished” with history, just as his Indians did.

Works Cited

Barela, Margaret Mary. American Music, vol. 5, no. 2, 1987, pp. 231–233. JSTOR, www.jstor.org/stable/3052177.

Louis G. Wersen. Music Educators Journal, vol. 30, no. 4, 1944, pp. 42–42. JSTOR, www.jstor.org/stable/3386289.

The role of the Medicine Man in Native American Music

A Native American Medicine Man standing beside a sick woman, c. 1870. Photographed by O.C. Smith (American, active 1860s – 1870s).

In almost every Native American tribe, there is a medicine man or healer, as seen in the picture above. These men, and occasionally women, had to go “beyond human power” to use their herbs and chants to heal ailing tribesmen. A medicine man gained his power to heal through dreams, visions, and even during the song, as discovered in class while looking through many primary sources. During visions and encounters with the Great Spirit, healers were told how to heal ailments and advised on which herbs, roots and plants to use, and which to avoid. To aide their power, healers often lived in quiet seclusion to be in tune with nature its power sometimes giving them the name “forest folk”.

A traditional medicine mask used to scare off evil spirits and disease in tribe members. https://indianspictures.blogspot.com/search/label/Navajo%20indians

Ely S. Parker, born in 1828, was from the Iroquois tribe and in newspapers, recounts the practices of the medicine man through public and private ceremonies. Native American medicine men treated the sick and ailing in public ceremonies followed by a private meeting. The public ceremony was attended by tribesman of high power and influence and took place over several days. During those public and private healing sessions, the medicine man may have told narratives, chanted, and sing. A “sacred song” is chanted only by one medicine man. If anyone else chants the “sacred song,” it is expected that evil events will follow.2   To further aide him, he may have used tobacco pouches and the herb of choice sent to him by the Great Spirit. There are times when the the medicine man is not able to heal the sick, but this is viewed as the will of the “Great Spirit” who is asked to “guide the red man and choose for his best, always.”

Most songs were accompanied by a regular drumbeat, dubbed as the heartbeat of the Earth, to help calm and relax the sick. Additionally, the drumbeat expanded the mind of the medicine man to the awareness of self and spirit. Other instruments like the rattle, shook away disease, and bells borrowed from Christianity invoked God’s healing power.3  It is told that “he who holds the medicine has time to die.” That is, they can choose their successor because their death is never sudden and “has time to die.” This background of the medicine men’s rituals which were alien and exotic to foreigners such as John Smith helps shed a light on what outside visitors encountered.

1 Hofmann, Charles. American Indians Sing New York: John Day Co., 1967. 46

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2 Ely Samuel Parker scrapbooks: Vol 11, 1828-1894, © The Newberry Library, 96 http://www.aihc.amdigital.co.uk/Documents/Images/Ayer_Modern_MS_Parker_VL11/55?searchId=c2aa61ad-bbdf-48e6-a160-bba150f8d14e#VisualMaterials

 

The Native American Princess

     Whilst perusing the “Hearts of Our People” exhibit this summer at the MIA, an exhibit featuring exclusively female Native American artists. What I found striking was a video from the early 1950s of a woman named Maria Tallchief who was in fact not in traditional regalia, but an elaborate ballet costume, pointe shoes, and dancing to Igor Stravinsky. I thought to myself, “Wow, a Native Ballerina? If I would have seen this video as a kid I probably never would have quit ballet.” 

     The findings of Densmore as well as of the explorer’s accounts we read in class point to a correlation between Native Americans and dance. I would find it safe to say that not all of the dances Densmore recorded, let alone what those who made first contact saw, made it to the 21st century in their original form due. The role of the U.S. government in intentionally trying to vanish Native Americans, leading to the “Vanishing Indian” sentiment which eventually evolved into what Rebekah Kowal refers to as the Termination Era (early-mid 20th century), created the environment out of which Tallchief had her start. The article that caught my eye was titled, “American as Wampum” and was published in TIME magazine in 1951 following her performance with the New York City Ballet Company in Balanchine’s adaption of Firebird [1]. The article claims she was produced by the same era that created Shirley Temple and that:

“Onstage, Maria looks as regal and exotic as a Russian princess; offstage, she is as American as wampum and apple pie.” 

Taken from TIME Magazine

The discussion of her lineage only mentions that her father was a full-blooded member of the Osage tribe [1], further exoticizing her and leaving out the fact that her mother had European heritage: Scotch, Irish, Dutch [2]. It is possible that the author of the article simply didn’t know that Tallchief was mixed-race but I find it more likely that her choice in self-identifying primarily with her Native heritage contributed to her fame and success as the first American Prima Ballerina. Her image, both literal and social, is another aspect of her life I found compelling. It was her front page of Newsweek that crowned her, “the finest American-born ballerina the twentieth century had ever produced…” [2]. The use of a literal crown in both articles, Newsweek and Time,  the image of the “Native American Princess”. This brings us back to depictions of the idealized Native woman, the peace bringer such as Pocahontas, a role model of femininity and what was called civilization, integration, or assimilation[3]. Toll argues that the trope Tallchief embodies is more complicated than simply playing the civilized Indian in that her achievement of being the first-ever American Prima Ballerina, that she was a creator of western culture rather than an “assimilated Princess” [3].


Works Cited

[1] “American as Wampum.” TIME Magazine, vol. 57, no. 9, Feb. 1951, p. 78. EBSCOhost, search.ebscohost.com/login.aspx?direct=true&db=tma&AN=54161559&site=ehost-live.

[2] Kowal, Rebekah J. “‘Indian Ballerinas Toe Up’: Maria Tallchief and Making Ballet ‘American’ in the Tribal Termination Era.” Dance Research Journal, vol. 46, no. 2, 2014, pp. 73–96., doi:10.1017/S0149767714000291.

Toll, Shannon. “Maria Tallchief, (Native) America’s Prima Ballerina: Autobiographies of a Postindian Princess.” Studies in American Indian Literatures, vol. 30, no. 1, 2018, pp. 50–70, https://muse.jhu.edu/article/692228.

The Choctaw Hymn Book and Native American Hybrid Music

While we weren’t able to take much time on it, I was intrigued by the article we looked at in class on Native American hybrid music.  In my research, I happened upon the names of a few hymn books, but the one that interested me the most was the Chahta Vba Isht Taloa Holisso of the Choctaw.  I was also able to find corresponding letters from the missionaries who had shared their hymns with them, which I found interesting.  

 

[1]

Missionary Paragraphs [2]

misc. Choctaw hymn alphabet [3]

The hybridization of Native American music and Christian hymnody adds complexity to the oftentimes oversimplified narrative of the erasure of Native American culture.  While the Choctaw welcomed the missionaries and adopted the tradition of hybridized music, other groups reluctantly converted, and “…people [who] had initially pretended to convert in order to survive, went on to ask, ‘At some point, did we forget we were pretending?’”[4] Such practices oftentimes came about through generations of forced acculturation; however, for some groups, they were accepted into the culture, expanded upon with original works and have been ingrained within their practices to the point of becoming a part of their musical tradition. 

While we’ve been talking in class about the “Vanishing Indian” trope in the context of 19th century classical music, I believe the same ideas of misplaced nostalgia and oversimplification are prevalent today and relevant to the delegitimization of modern Native American culture.  As hinted at in some of the letters above, Choctaw were thought to be more receptive to conversion due to the available access of their language in printed form. This aspect might have aided in their conversion; however, it also aided in the preservation of their language and the transmission of what is now seen by them as their own traditional music.  The collection and performance of these hymns, original and translated, have helped the Chactaw maintain its ethnic identity through frequent meetings and the continued use of native language [5]. While these hybrid forms were born out of the gruesome history of Native American genocide and cultural erasure, to invalidate this living tradition due to its western sound is, in my opinion, just as problematic as the commodification of a curated characterization of what this music ‘should’ sound like.

  1. Chahta Vba Isht Taloa Holisso : Choctaw Hymn Book. Richmond, Va: N.p., 1872. Print.
  2. MISSIONARY PARAGRAPHS.: AGENCY TO THE MEDITERRANUEAN. BOOKS IN THE CHEROKEE LANGUAGE. HYMNS IN THE CHOCTAW LANGUAGE. BOOKS IN THE SENECA LANGUAGE. (1829, Nov 13). Christian Watchman (1819-1848), 10, 1.
  3. MISCELLANEOUS.: CHAHTA VBA ISHT TALOA. CHOCTAW HYMN BOOK, 18MO, PP. 84. BOSTON: CROCKER & BREWSTER. ALPHABET. (1831). American Annals of Education (1830-1839), 1(11), 537.
  4. “Musical Interactions.” Garland Encyclopedia of World Music Volume 3 – The United States and Canada. Ed. Ellen Koskoff. Routledge (Publisher), 2000. 510-20. Music Online: The Garland Encyclopedia of World Music Database. Web. 
  5. STEVENSON, G. W. (1977). The Hymnody Of The Choctaw Indians Of Oklahoma (Order No. 7802869). Available from ProQuest Dissertations & Theses Global. (302857576).

Noise, More or Less: White Ethnologists and Their Role in the “Vanishing Indian”

Upon decades and even centuries of reflection, scholars can debate the true motivations and implications of the cultural observation and study of Native Americans. At best, the efforts of ethnologists like Frances Densmore and James Owen Dorsey can be hailed as necessary archival work that preserved cultures on the verge of extinction from a colonialist nation. At worst, their work can be essentialized as the groundwork necessary to provide a basis for the “Vanishing Indian” discussed at length by scholar Daniel Blim and our class. 

The latter is my understanding of the work of Rev. Myron Eells. In his article “Indian Music” published in an 1879 volume of The American Antiquarian: A Quarterly Journal Devoted to Early American History, Ethnology and Archaeology, the anthropologist and missionary studied many indigenous groups of the American Northwest.1 In his article, his first topic sentence immediately eases the fear of any upstanding, white American enjoying some ethnology from the safety and comfort of their log cabin: Eells assures readers the music of the American Indian is nothing complicated or culturally relevant.

“Music… consists more of a noise, as a general thing, than of melody and chords” – Rev. Myron Eells describing the music of Native Americans in the Pacific Northwest

Eells compares the musicality of the Clallam and Twana people of the Pacific Northwest. Despite detailed accounts of the percussive instruments created and the diverse use of song in the daily lives of these peoples, Eells summarizes the music as plain and dull, with little variety save for loud or soft moments. The reverend does notate the various melodies described in his prose, but his level of analysis and specificity is but a shadow of the work of Frances Densmore- a scholar discussed at length in class who will release volumes of her own works just a few decades later. Eells’ work is important in providing a sort of early “part one” to the “Vanishing Indian” condition, assuring white audiences that the music of the Native American groups he’s studied the sophistication to deserve attention beyond defining their music as simply cacophony.

To further contextualize the “Vanishing Indian”, we look to an article published The Atlanta Constitution in 1906. In this article, we are informed that an ancient relic has been preserved that upends decades of historical understanding of Native American music. The article claims a portion of the “first, genuine Indian melody” has been found. Overlooking the concerning lack of scholarly oversight in this sweeping statement, the article focuses instead on composer Abe Holzmann’s2 arrangement of this melody while in-process. After further digging, I was able to procure both a recording of a military band arrangement and a score of a piano rag arrangement of the piece.

Scan of Holzmann’s “Flying Arrow” Rag for Piano

This sheet music was found in a rag piano collection at the music library of St. Olaf College

Recording of a military band performing Holmann’s band arrangement of “Flying Arrow”

The work of ethnologists like Rev. Eells signaled to broader American society a subordination and savagery of Native Americans, which allowed composers like Abe Holzmann to create music that glorified indigenous melodies (whether truly authentic or not). By comparing these two examples, we see how the passage of time allowed for conclusions from earlier ethnologists to be realized by the musicians of the early twentieth century.

1
https://www.northwestanthropology.com/myron-eells

2
http://ragpiano.com/comps/holzmann.shtml

Music as a Priority in Native American Culture

As a part of a personal diary, William T. Parker, M.D. and Indian War Veteran of the U.S. Army, wrote of his experiences with Native American populations and peoples in New Mexico, California, Canada, and Kansas between 1867 and 1885.

The section of his journal I found most topically interesting and pertinent to our class learning is titled: “Concerning American Indian Womanhood – an Ethnological Study.” In this section, Parker discusses the role of women in music and the arts in Native American society. 

Parker places most of the importance of this section of his writing on, what he takes to be, the poor prioritizing of Native American tribes. Unlike Macdowell’s “Vanishing Indians,” Parker’s writing does not discuss attempts to appropriate and commodify Native American music and art for white consumption, but instead belittles Native American emphasis on music and art. He consistently reinforces his biased belief that American Indian populations place too much importance on art, music, and religion, and not enough on health and traditional (European) gender roles, with respect to home life. He names Native American women as the reason for the poor education of children, particularly female children, in that they are taught music and art before they are taught homemaking skills. He also blames spikes in women’s health issues on this “poor education,” saying “if hygiene and manual labor could be looked after more carefully, then might follow the cultivation of the arts.” In stating this, Parker ignores the intersection between religion, the arts/music, and health, that we know existed and still exist in Native American culture, particularly the medicinal qualities of Native American music.

Parker’s accounts and opinions of his time spent with Native American populations seems typical of someone of his background at the time of his writing. Unlike Densmore, he did not write critically about Native American lifestyle as a viable and rich culture, but instead stuck to a pre-defined, Eurocentric view of what makes for an acceptable lifestyle. 

 

Parker, William T. 1913. Personal experiences among our North American Indians from 1867 to 1885. Available through: Adam Matthew, Marlborough, American West, http://www.americanwest.amdigital.co.uk/Documents/Details/Graff_3197 [Accessed September 17, 2019].

Blim, Daniel. “MacDowell’s Vanishing Indians.” Paper presented at the Annual Meeting of the American Musicological Society and the Society for Music Theory, Vancouver, BC, November 2016.

Full text of “Frances Densmore and American Indian music : a memorial volume”. Accessed September 17, 2019. https://archive.org/stream/francesdensmorea00hofm/francesdensmorea00hofm_djvu.txt.

 

Alice Fletcher: “Indian Songs: Personal Studies of Indian Life”

Alice Fletcher (1838-1923) was an American ethnologist who worked for the Peabody Museum of American Archaeology and Ethnology. She extensively studied the Great Plains Indians, and was frequently able to gain their trust and immerse herself in much of their daily lives. She recorded and transcribed hundreds of songs and recorded observations of their rituals and music (using Western notation, similar to Frances Densmore). While she seemed to care about the Native Americans she interacted with, and even helped one woman get a loan to attend medical school, she also advocated for the Dawes Act, which redistributed reservation land and broke up tribes with the goal of assimilation (1).

 

This excerpt narrates her experience living on an Omaha reservation. She begins by asking to observe a dance, and her “Indian guide” leads her to a white tent filled with men and women sitting around a large drum (2). She states, “I was startled by a sudden mighty beating of the drum, with such deafening yells and shouts that I feared my ears would burst” (page 1); this echoes Drake’s description of Native American singing as shriek-like. As the music and dancing continues, she describes, “I felt a foreignness that grew into a sense of isolation…I was oppressed with its strangeness…It was nothing but tumult and din to me; the sharply accented drum set my heart to beating painfully and jarred my every nerve” (page 2). She doesn’t see the sounds she hears as music because it doesn’t sound like typical Western classical music, and she, along with many others, holds Native American music to a Western standard. She additionally writes, “The outstretched arms brandishing the war-clubs…called up before me every picture of savages I had ever seen,” calling the Native Americans “terrible creatures” (page 3). The use of the word “savage” relates to all of the course readings we have done so far, which contrast the white view of Native Americans as violent and savage while also nostalgic.

 

However, in the next paragraph she says that she later “had a laugh with her red friends” over this incident; she sees some Native Americans as savages, and others as her friends. Fletcher grew ill and Native Americans would come sing softly to her without a drum; “the last vestige of the distraction of noise and the confusion of theory was dispelled, and the sweetness, the beauty, and the meaning of these songs were revealed to me…from that time forth I ceased to trouble about scales, tones, rhythm, and melody” (4). She seems to finally realize that she shouldn’t base all musical analysis off of Western scales, and finishes her account by describing different types of songs and transcribing several.

 

  1. DeVale, Sue Carole. “Fletcher, Alice Cunningham.” Grove Music Online. 2001; Accessed 16 Sep. 2019. https://www.oxfordmusiconline.com/grovemusic/view/10.1093/gmo/9781561592630.001.0001/omo-9781561592630-e-0000009816.
  2. Fletcher, Alice C. “INDIAN SONGS.: PERSONAL STUDIES OF INDIAN LIFE.” Century Illustrated Magazine (1881-1906), 01, 1894, 421, https://search.proquest.com/docview/125523852?accountid=351.

What’s in a Fight Song?

As an Iowan growing up in a college town, Saturday football games were unavoidable. I’m from Ames which is home to the Iowa State Cyclones, and the biggest game of the year is when we play our in-state rivals the University of Iowa Hawkeyes. This last weekend was the biggest rivalry game yet, when some 160,000 extra people came to town just to celebrate and watch football. So when I went searching for a text that stood out to me, I was stopped in my tracks by the words written for a celebratory song called “The Proud Hawkeye State” by Richard B.B. Wood. I found the lyrics as part of an 1884 reunion for “The Tri-State Old Settlers’ Association of Illinois, Missouri, and Iowa”1 to be performed after a series of speeches celebrating what it meant to be an “Old Settler,” or in this case, someone who lived in one of the states prior to 1860 or who had been there for the last 25 years. Amid the triumphant chorus these lines stand out to me

They were long and tedious hours

When we sought these western bowers

Grown with rude uncultured flowers

In that time long ago

Now this happy land is beaming

Bright as angels that are dreaming

With the harvest that is teeming

On our own Hawkeye soil

Iowa became a state in 1846, only 38 years prior to the year the convention was held. While it is unclear, the general consensus by Iowa historians is that the “Hawkeye” nickname comes from fans of “The Last of the Mohicans” an 1826 novel by James Fenimore Cooper set during the French and Indian War in which “According to Cooper’s story, the Delaware Indians bestowed the name of “Hawkeye” upon a white scout and trapper, who lived and hunted with them, who also braved their perils in war against the Iroquois and Hurons.”2
It seems absurd but the nickname was bestowed by white Iowan newspaper men, inspired by a story by a white writer, in which Native Americans give a white man a Native American name. In Iowa, almost all of the Indigenous population was forcibly removed by the government by 19303, except for the Meskwaki Tribe which still exists to this day, so when this reunion was held there were likely attendees who were very familiar with this history.

“The Tri-State Old Settlers’ Association of Illinois, Missouri, and Iowa”

The Tri-State Old Settlers’ Association of Illinois, Missouri, and Iowa

In Dan Blim’s “MacDowell’s Vanishing Indians”4
Blim explores the concept of the “Vanishing Indian” as demonstrated in Edward MacDowell’s compositions. Blim explains that by creating art that claimed to eliminate any threat from Native Americans, Europeans could incorporate that imagined other into their cultural heritage, and that by establishing that Native American culture had “died,” it outlined white, European culture as something triumphant and unifying. 

Similarly in these lyrics, Richard B.B. Wood celebrates  “Old Settlers” as a powerful group of people who arose from some sort of tension to create a shining and glorious land on “their own Hawkeye soil.” However, while history is no doubt alluded to with racist coding like “rude uncultured flowers” these tribes are never named. The song is more about proving the excellence of the “Old Settlers” whose identity is literally grounded in economic prosperity tied to the richness of the land. 

The act of singing a song meant to celebrate an identity in opposition to something is unifying. Anyone who cheers for a certain sports team can feel a sense of camaraderie with perfect strangers if they wear the same colors as us, hate the same people as us, and sing the same song as us. In the case of “The Proud Hawkeye State,” the team is the “Old Settlers” and the opponent is effectively unworthy of a name since it was defeated. “The Proud Hawkeye State” claims that something that once was “uncultured” has now been replaced to use a farming analogy as Iowans love to-do, it was uprooted. 

1Tri-State Old Settlers’ Association of Illinois, Missouri, and Iowa. 1884-1887. Report of the first-[fourth] reunion of the Tri-State Old Settlers’ Association, of Illinois, Missouri and Iowa. Keokuk, Iowa: Tri-state Printing. Available through: Adam Matthew, Marlborough, American West.

Pocahontas: a History Vanished into the World of Disney

In 1995, a new Disney princess was introduced: one that did not follow the typical “damsel in distress.” This princess may have not been a damsel in distress, but she certainly sparked new conversations regarding a people overlooked and often forgotten, considered vanished, even.

This princess is Pocahontas, and the people are Native Americans.

The Disney producers’ goal in creating Pocahontas was to “address the rise in public criticism from various ethnic groups over racial stereotyping in their most recent productions” (1). In order to prevent another cultural appropriation outbreak in Pocahontas, the producers hired Native American advisors to join their team and cast Native American performers to provide the voices for the main Native American roles.

(Gary Edgerton and Kathy Jackson’s article, “Redesigning Pocahontas: Disney, the ‘White Man’s Indian,’ and the Marketing of Dreams.”)

However, by creating a story about Pocahontas (while attempting to incorporate love, drama, and music), they risked continuing the stereotype of the “Hollywood Indian,” as outlined in Gary Edgerton and Kathy Jackson’s article, “Redesigning Pocahontas: Disney, the ‘White Man’s Indian,’ and the Marketing of Dreams.” This stereotype is an image focused on representative types and traits that are typically used to depict Native Americans in films, such as dress and spirituality (1). Beyond the “Hollywood Indian” stereotype, the producers of Pocahontas also allowed the “Vanishing Indian” theory to strengthen.

It all began in their marketing campaign, specifically their partnership with McDonald’s.  A 20 second McDonald’s commercial from 1995 opens with a flute-like instrument playing, accompanied by a rhythmic drum sequence. The camera zooms in on two children, wearing what looks like modern-day Native American Halloween costumes and feathers in their hair, playing with the Pocahontas toys from the McDonald’s Happy Meals. Next, an older man beckons the children into a teepee, where they start watching the Disney movie Pocahontas. The commercial concludes with two individual dressed in what looks like wooden masks and armor playing with the Happy Meal toys. This commercial exudes stereotypes from the “Hollywood Indian” stereotype, such as the dress, non-historical teepee, and the men in wood, which seems to inaccurately symbolize spirituality and tradition.

(The 1995 McDonald’s commercial advertising Pocahontas)

This ties into the liberties that Disney took throughout the movie, such as distinguishing the violent and traumatic experiences that the real Pocahontas endured, such as her kidnapping, isolation from her people for a year, marriage, and eventual death at age 21 from tuberculosis. By leaving them out, they strengthen the “Vanishing Indian” theory, as discussed in Dan Blim’s paper, “MacDowell’s Vanishing Indians”, with Pocahontas a specific example of an Indian vanished into history, ignoring her true fate and primarily remembered by her Disney-depicted fate (2).

However, Disney is not entirely to blame for the diminishing of Pocahontas’ true story.  A May 1907 edition of Ladies’ Home Journal published an article titled “The Love Story of the First American Girl”, written by Laura Spencer Portor. This article begins, “Few of us know the entire story of Pocahontas. Yet it is a delightful story so full of romance that it might fitly begin in the old romantic way, ‘Long, long ago,’ or ‘Once upon a time’.” (4)  It continues talking about a romance between John Smith and Pocahontas, portraying her history as one like a fairytale. As shown by this article, the idea of the “Vanishing Indian” in terms of Pocahontas was a concept that was initiated very early on, much before Disney; people didn’t want to acknowledge the dark, violent aspects of her life brought on by their ancestors. Rather, they wanted to think about a Native American princess falling in love with an Englishman, saving the colonies from disaster from the “savages.” Disney, however, only further prompted these stereotypes and false account of Pocahontas’ life.

As summed up by Edgerton and Jackson:

“The film’s scriptwriters chose certain episodes from her life, invented others, and in the process shaped a narrative that highlights some events, ideas, and values, while suppressing others…Disney’s Pocahontas is, once again, a parable of assimilation.” (1)

 

Bibliography:

[1] Edgerton, Gary and Kathy Merlock Jackson. “Redesigning Pocahontas: Disney, the “White Man’s Indian,” and the Marketing of Dreams.” Journal of Popular Film and Television 24, no. 2 (Summer, 1996). 90.

[2] Blim, Daniel. “MacDowell’s Vanishing Indians.” Paper presented at the Annual Meeting of the American Musicological Society and the Society for Music Theory, Vancouver, BC, November 2016.

[3] OnTheTelly. YouTube. YouTube, September 14, 2016. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ybOxxshm7YA.

[4] By Laura Spencer Portor Author of “A Gentleman of the Blue Grass,” “‘The Light of,Other Days. “The Love Story of the First American Girl.” The Ladies’ Home Journal (1889-1907), 05, 1907, 10, https://search.proquest.com/docview/137050608?accountid=351.

Densmore and the uninterested Ute Tribe

When studying Frances Densmore’s notes on the music of the Pawnee people, I was impressed that many recordings were supplemented with written European musical notation such as sheet music. Phonetic pronunciation of words and sounds were provided. It’s very clear that for the time, Densmore used all the resources available to her to put together an archive of Native American tribal music.
When reading through her memoir of Frances Densmore and American Indian Music, Densmore accounts on instances where her plans of recording tribes became difficult due to lack of cooperation. In this primary source dating from 1916, she recounts her first encounter with the Ute tribe, located on their Southwest Colorado reservation, and their disinterest in making an archive and recording.
She writes:
Not all Indian tribes have the same disposition and before I went to the Utes I was warned that they were “touchy” by nature. Events proved this to be correct. From the day of my arrival the Utes did not like the idea of my work. I had a pleasant cottage for an office, far enough from neighbors so the singing could not be overheard, and on a street conveniently near the trader’s store. I set up the phonograph in the front room, secured a good interpreter and hoped for singers. Many Indians came out of curiosity, looked in the windows, sat around the room and laughed. In vain I explained through the interpreter, that I had been with many tribes who were glad to record their songs. I told of the building in Washington that would not burn down, where their voices would be preserved forever, but still they only looked at each other and laughed (Densmore 39).

The lack of desire from these tribes to work with Densmore poses a problem. Densmore is a pioneer in her attempt to preserve the believed to be disappearing traditions of Native American tribes. Through all the work we have studied as a class, I believe her intentions were to give the most accurate preservation of the music and such is shown in the visceral work she provides through writing and recordings. This primary source makes me question the authenticity of the work Densmore strived for (the musical practices and songs of Native American tribes) given that there were clearly Native people who had no interest in cooperating with Densmore. There are many factors that make me question whether Densmore achieved the goal she set out. Not only were the people clearly apprehensive but their songs had been taken out of their ceremonious context.
This source opens the audience up to the possibility that Densmore may have not achieved her goal. In the book, Densmore labels this section as “Incidents In The Study of Ute Music”. The format in which Densmore chooses to present the encounter becomes a question of biased. If the passage begins with her warning the reader of the tribe being “touchy” and continuing on to what allegedly happened, it stands to reason that other tribes may have felt uncomfortable taking part in Densmore’s work but had not spoken up.

Works Cited

-Hofmann, Charles, and Frances Densmore. Frances Densmore and American Indian Music; a Memorial Volume. Museum of the American Indian, Heye Foundation, 1968.

Misconceptions of Native American Music and Tradition

The source that I found for this blog post is Personal Experiences Among Our North American Indians 1867 to 1885 by William Thornton Parker. Parker was an author from New Mexico who studied at both Harvard and the Institute of Technology. One particular section of his book felt very relevant to our conversations from class, and was similar to the first assigned primary source readings we had. One segment focused in on the connection between dance and music that is so essential to Native American music, but is often left out in our education about it as a recording cannot fully convey what the Native American musicking experience was like. After he had personally observed a war dance, he states that “he [the dancer] dances with the peculiar motions of the Indian, so indescribable, yet so suggestive that he is able to convey to the onlookers the passions which sway him” (Parker, 14). I think this excerpt helps to demonstrate the complicated ways that Americans have historically, and currently, interact with native culture, and especially their music. They know it is passionate and feel the meaning but at the same time they find it odd and crude; simplifying it to be insignificant rather than putting effort into understanding.

Like in MacDowell’s Indian Suite, he is taking the elements from Native American music that he perceives to demonstrate the brute force and ignorant simplicity that Native Americans were inaccurately thought to have. He does this while wrapping it in a package of typical Western orchestration that is more palatable to a white audience, allowing them to further generalize and stereotype the culture from which this music was derived. Parker views these Native Americans in such a light, shown by his journals stating “the drums are, in fact, musicians skilled in this particular are of war-dance music” (14). The use of “in fact” in such a contrary way shows that the default idea is the Native Americans could not be skilled as musicians, and it’s almost as if he is patting himself on the back for noticing that there is actual depth to a cultural practice that has been going on for hundreds of years.

Works Cited

Parker, William T. 1913. Personal experiences among our North [[American]] Indians from 1867 to 1885. Available through: Adam Matthew, Marlborough, American West, http://www.americanwest.amdigital.co.uk/Documents/Details/Graff_3197 [Accessed September 15, 2019].

Woah Look at That! Colonial Tourism Within Chicago’s 1893 World’s Fair

Moving pictures from the 1983 Chicago World’s Fair

There is strong evidence to suggest that sensationalism occurred within the 1893 Chicago World’s Fair, specifically within the Native American exhibit. Professor Dan Blim of Denison University speaks to historian David Beck’s argument that “the fair provided Native Americans one of their earliest opportunities to self-represent rather than the familiar caricatures featured in Buffalo Bill’s traveling shows,” and that “the exhibit also generated interest in anthropological ethnography for some visitors, including Frances Densmore, who had her first encounter with Native American culture there [1].” Beck believes visitors came away from these exhibitions with a strong impression of Native Americans. For Blim, the exhibit “undoubtedly offer[ed] visitors a chance to engage in some form of colonialist tourism [1].” This idea of “colonial tourism” has made me question how visitors saw themselves in the context of the exhibit. Were visitors truly interested in gaining a deeper understanding of Native American culture, or were they there purely for entertainment?

In order to understand more about what the general public’s perception was about these exhibitions, I did some digging. I first looked at an article published in The American Antiquarian and Oriental Journal, called “Man and His Works,” written by Harlan Smith in 1892 before the fair had happened. The article speaks to the proposed plans of an “Indian school exhibit.” Smith explains the exhibit will show how “our government represents its method of educating and civilizing them, […] and will occupy four acres of land [2].” 

Students from the Haskell Indian School

To get a second perspective on what the general public thought of this specific exhibit, I looked at an article published in The Independent, an article that is published in 1893 after the fair had taken place. In the article, Carl Johnson describes an exhibit of the Haskell Indian School from Lawrence, Kansas “decidedly animate and correspondingly interesting[…] [3].”  The children in this exhibit were between ten and twenty years of age, and Johnson describes them as “a remarkably intelligent-looking lot of young people, who had none of that stolid, indifferent look common to the average Indian.” Johnson goes on to explain that the Native Americans “plainly desire to reverse that popular sentiment that ‘there is no good Indian except a dead one’.” 

In my opinion, I think the Native American exhibit at the 1893 World’s Fair was there not only to entertain (which supports Blim’s argument of colonial tourism), but also to support the idea that the United States government was “saving the savages.”As we see in Smith’s article, the government specifically wanted the Indian school front and center as a tribute to “Man and His Works,” and while some visitors might have been there to gain a better understanding of Native American culture, the exhibit was so edited and controlled by those outside of the Native Americans that it had to have been nearly impossible to gain an accurate understanding. Both articles are heavily influenced by racist views (especially when Johnson explains what the “popular sentiment” of Native Americans was at the time). I was honestly kind of shocked that these articles were printed and accepted as the norm, and am thankful society has (mostly) developed a deeper understanding of respecting cultures. We still have a long way to go!

[1]. Blim, Daniel. “MacDowell’s Vanishing Indians.” Paper presented at the Annual Meeting of the American Musicological Society and the Society for Music Theory, Vancouver, BC, November 2016.

[2] Smith, Harlan. “Man and His Works.” The American Antiquarian and Oriental Journal (1880-1914), vol. 15, Mar. 1893.

[3] Johnson, Carl. “World’s Fair Letter.” The Independent … Devoted to the Consideration of Politics, Social and Economic Tendencies, History, Literature, and the Arts (1848-1921), vol. 45, July 1893.

 

Cultivating Compassion: an Unexpected Plea for the Native Americans

Figure 1                                   Figure 2

 

 

For this blog post I will examine the book History of Oklahoma and Indian Territory and homeseekers’ guide (Fig. 1), published in 1906 and written by James L. Puckett. The book itself is based on statements given to the author by different people that were in some way affiliated with the native American tribes in the area. The specific primary source is the experiences as stated by Ora. A. Woodman (Fig. 2)[1], after his capture during an Indian raid and the subsequent adolescence as part the tribe. Puckett stated that there is little to no evidence of Woodman’s ancestry or background, other than being born somewhere in western Texas before the civil war[2]. In the section I chose from this account, Woodman explains how the Native American music might be wrongly perceived (Fig. 3)[3] and how he views it.

Figure 3

Why did Puckett include this rather nuanced encounter, stating somewhat radical opinions on Indian music, in his book? Woodman, with no recollections of his life outside the tribe and one could argue without the biases that comes with western, Eurocentric society, has an interesting platform for promoting the Native American cause. Or did Puckett simply include this story as a curiosity for the readers, a local Tarzan of sorts? Does he want to show the world the depravity attainable when one fraternizes too much with the natives? To find meaning and take pleasure in their music?

When it comes to Puckett’s personal views and credibility it is worth looking into his life story according to his own recollections, a separate chapter of the book, he began his career moving cattle in Arkansas of which he soon tired. After a failed courtship with a Cheyenne woman he went to Oklahoma where he had close friendship with a Cherokee man (Fig. 4 a and b)[4] culminating in him attending gatherings for the native tribes an interacting with them.

Figure 4 a

Figure 4 b

He ended up being married to three Cherokee women, separately, throughout his life and the book names the third one as a co-author (Fig.1). It seems to me that this is a life and the actions of a somewhat progressive thinker, through marriage and friendship he interacted a lot with native tribes and collected testimonies from them directly. in spite of this   it is important to highlight the somewhat autobiographical nature of this collection of experiences.

As far as the original or intended audience for this book Puckett writes that he believes what he calls his “memories” will be “worth something to people seeking homes in the new country”[5]. Considering this statement in light of what might be perceived as sympathetic undercurrents in the text, I would be inclined to assume that Puckett’s intentions were conscientious; That he wished that newcomers to the territory would have a better understanding of the land, its people and consequently their music.

Source:

Puckett, James L. History of Oklahoma and Indian Territory and homeseekers’ guide. Vinita, Oklahoma: Chieftain Publishing Company. 1906. Available through: Adam Matthew, Marlborough, American West, http://www.americanwest.amdigital.co.uk/Documents/Details/Graff_3399 [Accessed September 15, 2019].

[1] Puckett 1906: p. 71

[2] Ibid p. 73

[3] Ibid p. 77

[4] Ibid p. 123-124

[5] Ibid p. 149

Skulls: a 19th-Century Justification for Racism in Music

 

Anyone could read this short passage and recognize that the author is approaching music with a problematic, racist mindset, but I had no idea the undercurrent of “science” propelling these opinions until I dug a little deeper…

The pseudoscience of phrenology was running rampant in mid-19th century society. Racist beliefs and actions were justified through this “science.”[1] Phrenologists argued that a person’s character, intelligence, and opinions could be deduced from the shape and size of their skull.[2] This was fodder for 19th-century minds to be opposed to whole races and ethnicities, solely based off the external shape of their skulls. Samuel George Morton wrote Crania americana; or, A comparative view of the skulls of various aboriginal nations of North and South America[3] in 1839. Crania americana allowed racism to reign in 19th-century thinking under the guise of science, as the book was published in great quantities and spread across the continent and across the ocean to Europe.[4] Through drawings like the ones below, Morton provided “reasoning” for the acceptability of racism against Native Americans. Phrenology directly influenced how people viewed Native American music and musicians.

Looking back at the first excerpt,[5] it is easy to witness how this undercurrent of phenological thought influenced the cultural norms of the 19th century about racism towards Native Americans. This passage comes from the American Phrenological Journal, a publication by scholars of this pseudoscience. Much to my chagrin, this journal would have held great authority over its original audience, an audience well-accustomed to phrenological thought. American Phrenological Journal deems the music of the “wild Indian” to be lesser, because they believed that a Native American’s brain did not physically have the same capacity for music making as a European did. Before even hearing the music, phrenologists had deduced the music to be less advanced than “Christian” music, purely because of the shape of the musicians’ skulls. Along with making assumptions about the music before listening to it, the author makes conclusions about the whole people group based off of the music. They say that “it is a fact” that people can be judged by their music, and that this serves as confirmation that white European-descendants are “superior,” as organs and pianos are a testament to.

 

 

[1]  SciShow. “Victorian Pseudosciences: Brain Personality Maps.” YouTube. YouTube, December 1, 2016. Accessed September 14, 2019. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=iBv1wKinQXw.

[2]  Britannica, The Editors of Encyclopaedia. “Phrenology.” Encyclopædia Britannica. Encyclopædia Britannica, inc. Accessed September 16, 2019. https://www.britannica.com/topic/phrenology.

[3]  Morton, Samuel George. Crania Americana, or, A Comparative View of the Skulls of Various Aboriginal Nations of North and South America to Which Is Prefixed an Essay on the Varieties of the Human Species. Philadelphia: J. Dobson, 1839.

[4]  “Skulls in Print: Scientific Racism in the Transatlantic World.” University of Cambridge, March 19, 2014. Accessed September 13, 2019. https://www.cam.ac.uk/research/news/skulls-in-print-scientific-racism-in-the-transatlantic-world.

[5]  “MUSIC, AS A PHYSICAL AND MORAL AGENT.: MYSTERIES OF MUSIC. 1. MUSIC AS A PHYSICAL AGENT. 2. MUSIC AS A MORAL AGENT. 3. MUSIC AS A COMPLEX AGENT. MUSIC AS A CIVILIZER.” American Phrenological Journal 43, no. 4 (April 1866). https://search.proquest.com/docview/137924894?accountid=351.

Henry Finck & the Construction of An American Sound

Henry Finck’s 1906 article “Creative Americans: Edward MacDowell, Musician and Composer” was published in Outlook, a New York-based magazine in operation from 1893-1924. The article’s opening lines casually establish Finck’s authority on MacDowell by stating that in the summer of 1895 he “spent a few days with Edward MacDowell in a hotel on the shore of Lake Geneva.”[1] He further drops a subtle brag that MacDowell was “sorely tempted to ask my advice about various details, but refrained for fear of breaking into my vacation.”[2]

[3]

This is Henry Finck. In addition to having an impressive mustache, Finck was an American music critic. Although German and a Wagnerite, he distrusted Germany. His 18 publications include Wagner and his works: the story of his life, Richard Strauss: The man and his works, Songs and Song Writers, an autobiography, and books on gardening and food. Finck was a music critic at the Evening Post for 43 years and a lecturer at the National Conservatory of Music (alongside Dvorak).[4]

The purpose of Finck’s article is not consistent. The first page seem to build up to the thesis that “It is time to drop the ludicrous notion that a truly national art can be built up only on folk-songs.”[5] This theme, particularly the importance of individuality, is further developed through the third page. Finck then suddenly switches to a lengthy discussion of MacDowell’s education. Interestingly, in this section Finck uses the same revering tone that he describes MacDowell using towards his own idols (particularly Liszt and Raff), even going so far as to assert that MacDowell was “the greatest pianist this country has produced.”[6] Finally, Finck ends with a quick overview of what he considers to be MacDowell’s best pieces and mourns the “loss to American music” caused by MacDowell’s death. He never seems to return to his “thesis” that individuality is the key to building a national art. In this way the article has a unique mix of informal musicological argument and half reverent biography.

I came upon this source about MacDowell while searching for more context on Dan Blim’s essay “MacDowell’s Vanishing Indians.” I was excited to find this article because it seems to contrast some of Blim’s arguments. Blim’s essay states that:

“[A] so called “Indianist” movement had emerged, placing Native American subjects at the fore of US musical nationalism. Pisani attributes the success of this movement in large part to the participation of Edward MacDowell, the preeminent American composer of the day, who premiered his Second Suite for Orchestra with the moniker ‘Indian,’ in 1896.”[7]

While Blim only quotes Pisani on this point, he does not refute it, leading me to the conclusion that he agrees with this argument. Blim in fact seems to take the argument for granted as it is presented in the portion of the essay dedicated to context. Although it perhaps was a personal issue that I didn’t catch this distinction the first time around, my first experiences with the article led me to think that Pisani’s claim was indeed a central pillar of Blim’s own argument.

However, Finck’s article gives evidence that MacDowell specifically didn’t want to create a new American sound based on Native American music. Finck states that MacDowell:

“…never indorsed the view… that a great American Temple of Music might and will be built with Indian songs as the foundation-stones. Nor has he ever countenanced the widely prevalent opinion that negro melodies form the only other possible basis of a distinctively American school of music.”[8]

In combination with his own argument that individuality is the key to building up an American school of music, Finck’s interpretation of MacDowell’s intentions (or lack thereof) contrasts with Pisani’s claim that the “Indianist” movement was conscious and deliberate. Finck only speaks towards MacDowell’s intentions, and because actions and intentions are not the same, it is highly plausible that both Pisani and Finck are correct. I synthesize these conflicting arguments into the claim that MacDowell did not intend to participate in the ‘Indianist’ movement but was nevertheless accidentally a key player in the construction of a US musical nationalism.

This was but one interesting tidbit in a rather long article. Other intriguing morsels that I don’t have space to unpack in this blog post include:

  • Your daily dose of sexism/engrained hypermasculinity (“exquisite feminine tenderness” and “sturdy, manly spirit”)
  • Condescension poorly hidden by Finck’s belief in his own open-mindedness (“The aboriginal Iroquois and Iowan songs which form its main themes are in themselves by no means without charm…”)
  • Was Finck in love with MacDowell? He’s really quite complimentary of his musical accomplishments, not to mention his handsomeness (“His face retains its unearthly beauty… and his eyes still have the light of genius in them.” However, Mark Grant says “Finck was an unabashed enthusiast, not a paid puffer but a booster, and he did not hesitate to write articles about his particular favorites… that bordered on press agentry.”)
  • Finck has strong opinions on what a “real American,” so much so that perhaps the establishment of an American identity can be better examined in the way music is talked about rather than in the music itself

 

Footnotes

[1] Henry Finck, “Creative Americans: Edward MacDowell, Musician and Composer,” Outlook 84, no. 17 (1906), 1.

[2] Ibid, 1.

[3] “Henry T. Finck,” Lapham’s Quarterly, https://www.laphamsquarterly.org/contributors/finck.

[4] Mark Grant, Maestros of the Pen: A History of Classical Music Criticism in America, Boston: Northeastern University Press, 1998.

[5] Ibid, 1.

[6] Ibid, 7.

[7] Dan Blim, “MacDowell’s Vanishing Indians,” Vancouver, 2016, 2.

[8] Finck, “Creative Americans,” 1.

Works Cited

Blim, Dan. “MacDowell’s Vanishing Indians.” Vancouver, 2016.

“Henry T. Finck.” Lapham’s Quarterly. https://www.laphamsquarterly.org/contributors/finck.

Finck, Henry T. “Creative Americans: Edward MacDowell, Musician and Composer.” Outlook 84, no. 17(1906).

Grant, Mark. Maestros of the Pen: A History of Classical Music Criticism in America. Boston: Northeastern University Press, 1998.

 

 

The Expansion of the “Vanishing Indian”

In his paper “MacDowell’s Vanishing Indians,” Dr. Daniel Blim writes that the “Indianist” movement of using Native American inspiration for American music owes its success largely to the composer Edward MacDowell, and especially to his Indian Suite, premiered in 1896. Blim connects this to the “vanishing Indian” trope: “the Indian as a cultural figure . . . began to ‘vanish,’ and no longer a threat, could be reappropriated in the national imagination as a nostalgic figure rather than a living oppositional force.” He discusses MacDowell’s Westernization of Native American music as one way in which it aligns with this trope. Regarding MacDowell’s piece “From an Indian Lodge,” Blim writes, “the subject of this work is not Native America, but a reenactment, subtly Westernized.”1

Reviews of the Indian Suite support this view, showing a strong alignment with the “vanishing Indian” trope and praising MacDowell’s Westernization of Native American music. Blim uses the Indian Suite as an example of MacDowell’s music before it reflected the shift to the “vanishing Indian” view, still depicting Native Americans as a “living oppositional force.” However, the following two reviews, though approaching the Indian Suite from opposite directions, both project the “vanishing Indian” trope onto the piece.

In 1898, the magazine The Critic published a review (right) praising MacDowell’s ability to “weave a series of tone-pictures out of . . . purely native material.” It contrasts his suite with Dvořák’s ninth symphony, stating that MacDowell “clings to what is elemental and more thoroughly representative, . . . carefully avoiding as inappropriate a too complex treatment of native themes.”2 Rather than seeing Native Americans as a living opposition still in need of Westernization, The Critic praises MacDowell for getting to the core of what is Native American, showing the extent to which their opposition had been replaced by an opportunity for inspiration.

In 1939, 41 years later, the magazine Forum and Century also published a review (left) praising the Indian Suite, but comparing it favorably with Dvořák’s symphony: “The Suite is in no sense a sequence of Indian tunes. It is a sweeping orchestral work, symphonic in nature, that evokes auditory images of our ancestors, their mores, and their cherished aspirations and bitter frustrations.”3 For Forum and Century, rather than Westernization being an obstacle, it allows the Native American to be more effectively appropriated, so much so that they are now “our ancestors,” and the music’s frustration that Blim associates with their oppositional position now reflects the “bitter frustrations” of the Native Americans themselves.

From only two years after the premier through the following several decades, MacDowell’s Indian Suite was fully enveloped by the trope of the “vanishing Indian.” Though approaching the piece from opposite directions, both reviews celebrate MacDowell’s synthesis of Native American music. They do not make Blim’s differentiation between the suite and pieces that more explicitly align with this trope. Rather, due to the strength of the national shift spurred by MacDowell himself, they project onto this piece the concept that the Native American has vanished and transformed into fodder for American music.

1. Blim, Daniel. “MacDowell’s Vanishing Indians.” Paper presented at the Annual Meeting of the American Musicological Society and the Society for Music Theory, Vancouver, BC, November 2016.

2. “Music: Notes of the Season.” The Critic: A Weekly Review of Literature and the Arts (1886-1898), Feb 05, 1898, 97, https://search.proquest.com/docview/124892533?accountid=351.

3. ARTHUR, WALLACE HEPNER. “THE RECORD REVIEW.” Forum and Century (1930-1940), 11, 1939, 1, https://search.proquest.com/docview/90883079?accountid=351.

The Way from Marginal to Mainstream: Another Early Example

 

I can freely admit that this playbill announcement caught my attention because I share a name with it. Helena, Montana and its musical and theatrical scene is almost as far from the musical encounters we have discussed between Europeans and coastal Native American tribes as I am, but I do believe that it has some connection to the development of an “American” music.

Native American references are markedly absent from this particular theatre’s presentation, although they seem to have been fairly common in other places at the time. The Montana Territory, not yet a state in 1866 when this playbill was published, was a frontier territory. Clashes between Native American tribes and European settlers were still common. Perhaps this continuing conflict is the reason for this music’s absence; theater is designed to be an escape, and comedy, farce, and melodrama were particularly popular in this period (1).

However, there are plenty of interesting and multicultural features of this program.  “Exotic” features or tidbits of a marginalised culture are often used as a draw in entertainment, so it is probable that this is the case here. Prominently displayed are the acts of Ethiopian comedian Ned Ward and the play “The Irish Diamond.” In discussion of anti-blackness and the racism particularly directed at non-white groups as a society and a class, we often neglect to be aware of the struggles of other groups, such as the Catholic Irish who were marginalised in both Protestant America and Britain after the English Reformation. This playbill was published not terribly long after a large wave of Irish immigrants came to the United States in the 1840s. This type of wave of immigration often comes with mixed feelings toward the group in question, and the Irish certainly were not met with arms all open. The prominence of an Irish drama in this program could be another example of what was discussed in our very first class session: the construction of a distinct American identity through reference to and use of the art and culture of marginalised American groups. There is even a second Irish play in what appears to be a “coming soon to theatres” section at the bottom – Arrah-na-Pogue, which was written in 1864 and adapted into an early silent film in 1911 (2)!

American music and art has always been an amalgamation of cultures, and that of frontier Montana in the 1860s is no different. Home to mostly young, male miners (3), this playbill from a theatre in Helena, Montana nonetheless draws on different styles of music, dance, and theater, and conveys an interesting picture of the artistic landscape that people from this time would have encountered. Much like music of the time, American theater was moving away from its European counterpart and searching for a new identity in the cultural resources of the “New World.”

  1. Meserve, Walter J. An Outline History of American Drama, New York: Feedback/Prospero, 1994.
  2. Williams, Henry Llewellyn, and Dion Boucicault. Arrah-Na-Pogue; (Arrah-of-the-Kiss.) or, The Wicklow Wedding. Founded on the Same Incidents as the Celebrated Drama. New York: R.M. De Witt, 1865.
  3. Wikipedia contributors, “Montana,” Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia, https://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?title=Montana&oldid=915390740 (accessed September 16, 2019).

Sister Rosetta Tharpe: A Gospel Great

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

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

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

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

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

Announcement of Tharpe’s performance.

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

 

1980’s Music Censorship: NWA vs. FBI

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

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

NWA

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

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

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

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

 

Sources Cited:

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

 

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

 

Jimi Hendrix: Balancing identity and talent

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

Trap Skateboard Company advertisement influenced by a famous Jimi Hendrix portrait

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

Jimi Hendrix poster housed in the National Portrait Gallery

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

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

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

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

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

Tracy Chapman

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

Public Enemy

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

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

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

Marian Anderson (1897-1993)

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

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

Marian Anderson Singing at the Lincoln Memorial

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

Sources:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Bibliography:

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

Abolition, Music, and the Imagined Slave

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Road to Cultural Appropriation

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Type Characters and Tap Dance

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

4 Ibid, pg 90-91.

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

Activism Through Song: The Freedom Singers

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

3 Shelton,“Negro Songs Here and Rights Drive.

4 Ibid.

A Black Choral Group in a White World

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

Samuel Coleridge-Taylor Choral Society

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Works Cited

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

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

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

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

Picture of EXO

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

Sources:

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

Exploring the Minstrel Show

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

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

SIDESWIPE: I was de smartes’.

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

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

INTERLOCUTOR: And that?

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Some Jazzy Blues… And Also Ragtime?

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

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

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

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

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

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

Another interesting portrait is painted by the lyrics:

Down in Louisiana in that sunny clime,

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

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

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

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

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

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

Ending On a Question

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

4 Ibid.

5 Ibid.

6 Ibid.

7 Ibid.

Jamaica: Exploring the Caribbean on Broadway

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

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

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

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

Advertisements frame the list of scenes in Jamaica.

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

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

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

3 Oja, “Jamaica on Broadway,” 1.

4 Oja, “Jamaica on Broadway,” 2, 18.

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

6 Ibid.

Racial Colorblindness, Privilege, and the Monterey Pop Festival

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

Monterey International Pop Festival, 1967

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

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

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

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

Sources:

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

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

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

Broadway Musicals, Mixed Race Identity, and Internalized Racism

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

Segment from the San Francisco Bulletin in 1886

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

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

Chris and Kim in “Miss Saigon”

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

Sources:

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

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

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

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

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

The History and Reception of “Roll Jordan, Roll”

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

Slave Songs of the United States by William Francis Allen

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

What Makes a Spiritual?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Works Cited

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

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

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

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

Politics and Music: Reconciliation Through Celebration

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

Rev. H. H. Garnet

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

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

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

Cultural Appropriation: Is It Bad?

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

Cultural Appropriation

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

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

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

Mexican Cultural Appropriation

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

 

 

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

[Bruno Mars Acknowledges His Influences in 2018 Grammys]

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

[Seren Sensei]

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

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

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

Elsie Janis – Anti-Ragtime Girl Sheet Music

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

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

Sources:

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

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

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

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

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

 

Harry Burleigh–A Nice Post for Once

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

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

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

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

Photograph of Harry T. Burleigh by Carl Van Vechten

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

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

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

–H.T.B.

Let My People Go: Moses in African American Spirituals

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

3 Ibid.

4 Ibid.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

H. T. Burleigh (1866-1949).

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

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

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

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

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

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

Lullabies and Mother-Child Relationships in Slavery

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

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

Letter to President Taylor – The North Star – Mar 1850

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

Letter to President Taylor – The North Star – Mar 1850

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

Liberty is our motto, (3x)

In the Old Granite State,

We despise oppression,

And we cannot be enslaved.

 

Yes we’re friends of Emancipation

And we’ll sing the Proclamation

Till it echoes through our nation

From the Old Granite State.

That the tribe of Jesse,

That the tribe of Jesse,

That the tribe of Jesse

Are the friends of equal rights.6

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Who gets to be American?

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

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

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

 

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

 

 

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

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

 

Sources:

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

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

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

Different Times, Different Troubles (Same Song)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Amos ‘n Andy: An American Legacy

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

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

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

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

Amos ’n’ Andy

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Martin Luther King. Jr. Quote

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

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

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

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

New Orleans, LA Population Bar Chart of Ethnicity

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

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

The Black Law in Missouri, 1861

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

 

Sources:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Jim Crow: Song, Character, and Symbol

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

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

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

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

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

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

Masculinity and Minstrelsy: Intersectional Issues in Blackface Performances

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

Thomas Rice as the original Jim Crow

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Harlem Globetrotters performers today.

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

Minstrelsy and the Impermeable Permeable Color Line

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sources:

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

Performing Jim Crow: Stereotyping a People

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Catchy Past: Separating the Song from the History

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

William Henry Lane “Master Juba”

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

1848 Portrait of William Lane.

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

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

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

Lane Performing in England.

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

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

Works Cited:

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

War Songs of the South Edited by “Bohemian” 3

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Art of Generational and Racial Division

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

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

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

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

Sources:

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

Children’s Songs Become Folk–“Rosie”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Folk Music and Square Dancing: Expression of Rural Whiteness

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

4 Ibid.

(Not) Finding Female Musicians in Mountain Music

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Vera Hall: The Exception to the Rule?

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

Bluegrass: A generational experience

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Bukka White and the Record Companies

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Making Black Influence in Bluegrass Visible

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

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

 

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

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

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

Sources:

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

Do you know any black, contemporary folk artists?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Railroad Songs and Gandy Dancers

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

Native American Music and a New Approach to Anthropology

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

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

Clark Wissler, (1870-1947)

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

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

The title page and accompanying picture from The American Indian.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

5 Ibid. Page 146-148.

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

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

Access: Map of Guadalajara & Zacatecas

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

La Ciudad de Guadalajara

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

 

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

 

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

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

Sources:

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

 

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

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

Music as a Cultural Weapon: Indian Schools

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

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

3

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Ute Bear Dances and Notched Sticks

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Misinterpretation in the Ghost Dance of 1890

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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The Sioux Sun Dance and the Right to Reinterpretation

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

Sioux Sun Dance

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Dancers from the Hoopa tribe.

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

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

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

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

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

The Grass Dance and Ankle Bells

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

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

3. Ojibwa Ankle Bells c.1900-1950

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

 

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

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

Trustworthiness of a Handwritten Recording

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

“Notes on the Iroquois language”

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

Book by Eleazer Williams

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

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

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

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

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

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

(Mis)representation: The Westernization of Native American Music

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

Chickasaw Composer, Jerod Tate

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

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

Choctaw Hymn #53 (2/2)

Choctaw Hymn #53 (1/2)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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

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

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

Sources:

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

When Classical Music Was Cool – Mid-1900s America

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

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

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

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

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

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

Brudder Bones and Minstrel Song

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

Lyrics to “Brudder Bones’ Trip” a Minstrel Song

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

Cover, Brudder Bones Book Stump Speeches

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

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

Sources:

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

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

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

Samuel Coleridge-Taylor

Samuel Coleridge-Taylor

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Sources

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

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

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

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

“Isn’t it a Wonder?”

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

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

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

Sources

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

Lead Belly and folk music

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

WATCH HERE ->15:15 

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

Sources:

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

Birth of Jazz

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

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

Louis Armstrong – Music, Meaning, and Marijuana?

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

Louis Daniel Armstrong

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

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

Marijuana

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

 

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

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

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

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

Sources

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

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

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

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

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

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

Swing music as presented in “dark” Harlem.

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

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

Bibliography

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

The Depression’s Effects on American Concert Life

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

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

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


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

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

Why “American” Music?

A poster from War time used as propaganda to rally spirits

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

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

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

March of Time Series: Upbeat in Music episode 5

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

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

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

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

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

Work Cited

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

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

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

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

John Lomax “saves” Lead Belly in promotional film

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

For more reading on this subject, see links below:

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

New York Times article 

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

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

“Southern Thoughts for Northern Thinkers”

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

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

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

“Fifty years from now, when every vestige of 

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

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

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

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

 

Sources

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

Sexism in 1940s Night Clubs

Screen Shot from March of Time “Night Club Boom”

 

 

 

 

 

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Works Cited

Night Club Boom

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

John Lomax as Creator in the Narrative of Leadbelly

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

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

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

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

Link to the film

Works Cited:

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

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

 

Upbeat in Music

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

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

Committee determining “Hit-Kit” songs

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

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

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

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

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

 

Sources

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

March of Time Archive

 

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

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

Celia Cruz

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

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

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

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

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

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

Work Cited

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

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

Charles Ives’ Modernism

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

Charles Ives

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

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

E. Robert Schmitz, Franco-American pianist and composer

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

 

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

HRR

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

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

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

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

A short foray

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

Charles Ives and Harmony Twitchell

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

 

Harmony

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

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

Dvořák in Spillville

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Bibliography

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

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

The Bromance of Carlos Chávez and Aaron Copland

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

Sources

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

Dvorak as an American Artist

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

 

Copland’s El Salón México

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

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

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

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

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

Sources

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

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

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

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

Percy Grainger and Henry Cowell: BFFs?

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

Grainger and Cowell in 1951

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

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

Grainger responded to this by writing

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

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

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

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

Grainger and Cowell having a jam session

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

 

Sources

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

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

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

Copland’s Inspiration and Fears for El Salón México

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

Copland and Chávez

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

Copland’s October 1934 letter to Chávez

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

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


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

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

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

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

Yaddo Festival Brings Music of Copland and Ives Together

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

In this letter included in The Selected Correspondence of Aaron Copland, Copland writes to Ives to gain approval to perform these works as part of the festival and to obtain scores to begin work. Although Copland does not overtly mention why he has chosen to include Ives’ pieces in the festival, the editors propose that Copland included Ives’ pieces to provide historical background for the more contemporary pieces on the program.2

Ives’ art songs performed at Yaddo, a few of which are included here, marked a turning point in his reception among critics. Critic Paul Rosenfield wrote of sensing “the presence of a first-rate composer of Lieder in the ranks of American Music.”3 The festival, while giving voice to numerous contemporary composers of the time, also served as a chance for Copland to moderate a forum between critics and young composers, greatly benefiting the reputation of Ives’ compositions while simultaneously making Copland out to be exceedingly disapproving of the way journalists impacted contemporary music.4

Although Copland’s preferences for simple, easy-to-understand music which we discussed in class last week seemed in conflict with Ives’ ultra-modernist “push-the-envelope” styles, it’s enlightening to see that parts of both composers came together successfully in the Yaddo Festival. While there are many things that set these composers apart, it still is important to note that they were able to appreciate one another for the contributions they were making in a period of economic turmoil and financial hardship for a majority of the United States.

Duke Ellington’s, Music is my Mistress

“My favorite tune? The next one. The one I’m writing tonight or tomorrow, the new baby is always the favorite”    -Duke Ellington

The opening words from Duke Ellington’s autobiography: Music is my Mistress. This autobiography was considered by Duke to be “more of a performance than a memoir”. Ellington never wanted to write an autobiography about himself, and he hasn’t. Divided into 8 separate acts (or sections) this book is an account of the people he has met, the experiences he has had, and the music that he has made throughout his life.

Duke Ellington

Ellington was born just before the turn of the 20th century in Washington D.C. and raised primarily in New York city. With a career spanning over 50 years, Ellington is considered to be one of the most influential Jazz composers of all time. Being a pianist, composer, and bandleader, Ellington primarily gained fame with his orchestra’s performances in the Cotton Club in Harlem as well as the touring of Europe. He was an essential figure in the world of Jazz by redefining what was considered to be American Music. He considered himself an American Composer, not simply a composer and performer of Jazz music. Having over 1000 cataloged works, Ellington has certainly made his mark on history.

One particular correspondence that I feel really draws the character of Ellington was a passage describing Dizzy Gillespie, Miles Davis, and John Coltrane. Ellington does on to describe how it was working with these 3 men and how privileged he felt. It is a real glimpse into the humble person that was Duke Ellington.

“The only time I had the privilege of working with John Coltrane was a record date… John Coltrane was a beautiful cat, I am proud to say that I loved every minute of it”

Works Cited

Ellington, D. (1973). Music is my mistress (1st ed., African American music reference). Garden City, N.Y.: Doubleday.

Florence B. Price

On June 15th, 1933, Florence Price made history: the Chicago Symphony premiered her Symphony in E minor, making her the first African-American woman composer to have a work performed by a major orchestra.

This work, originally subtitled “Negro Symphony,” draws on many of the stylistic traits of African-American folk music without ever explicitly quoting folk melodies;  instead of writing symphonic music around a 12-bar blues or a spiritual tune, as did many of her contemporaries, Price instead incorporates some of the harmonic and melodic elements of blues and spirituals into her own unique voice.  The resulting composition is strikingly original.

Despite the high quality of her music, Price had difficulty attaining performances of her work.  In a 1943 letter to Sergei Koussevitzky, she explains the manifold struggles she faces as both a female composer and a composer of color:

“Unfortunately the work of a woman composer is preconceived by many to be light, frothy, lacking in depth, logic, and virility.  Add to that the incident of race – I have Colored blood in my veins – and you will understand some of the difficulties that confront one in such a position”

In the remainder of the letter, Price asks Koussevitzky to consider one of her compositions, insisting that he make “no concession” on the basis of race or sex, but rather evaluate the score on its musical merit alone.  Despite receiving many such letters from Price, Koussevitzky never programmed a single one of her works.

The underrepresentation and erasure of Florence Price continues to the present day: after searching several databases, I found that there is only one recording of the Symphony in E minor that is readily available to the public.  Scholarly research on Price’s life is also relatively sparse, with the writings of late musicologist Rae Linda Brown existing as some of the only works that honor Price’s life and pay homage to her music.  The conspicuous silence surrounding Price in scholarly and musical discourses clearly illustrates the racist and sexist systems that ceaselessly oppress female composers of color.  Performing, researching, and recording the music of these underrepresented composers is essential if we ever hope to dismantle these systems and construct a new musical landscape that truly offers equal opportunities for all people.

Sources

Fabre, Geneviève, and Michel Feith. Temples for tomorrow: looking back at the Harlem Renaissance. Indiana University Press, 2001.

Price, Florence B. “Recorded Music of the African Diaspora, Vol. 3.” Albany Records, 2011.

 

Dvořák and Krehbiel

In DvorÃjk and His World,  Michael Beckerman collections of various correspondents between Dvořák and critics and fan. I found one letter that stood out to me in particular was from Henry Edward Krehbiel. He was writing with praise of Dvořák’s New World Symphony.

Second from the left: H.E. Krehbiel

We know from Simon Plum’s blog post titled Henry Edward Krehbiel published on October 10th, 2017. We know from Simon’s post that Krehbiel was a musicologist and author known for his work on bringing black folk music into the spotlight to be recognized. He was born on March 10, 1854 in Ann Arbor and passed March 20, 1923.

Correspondance from H.E. Krehbiel to A. Dvorak. From Berkerman’s collection.

In this letter, composed by Krehbiel on December 12th 1893 in New York invited Dvorak to attend a lecture he was giving at the “Women’s University Club” on “Folk Songs in America”. Krehbiel wanted to talk with Dvořák about his New World Symphony to write an article on it for the New York Tribune.

After doing some additional research, I was able to find a newspaper article published 5 days later after the correspondence. While there is no author listed, it fits the style and time frame of Krehbiel. It is a short article titled Dr. Dvorak’s Symphony located under the Music header of the Tribune.

Work Cited

Bain News Service, Publisher. Paderewski & wife and H.E. Krehbiel. Photograph. Retrieved from the Library of Congress, link.

Beckerman Michael, DvorÃjk and His World. Princeton University Press. Princeton, New Jersey. 1993.

Plum Simon, Henry Edward Krehbiel. Music 345: Race, Identity and Representation in American Music. Pages.StOlaf. link.

Why Nadia Boulanger is Kind of Like Master Yoda

You know that scene in Star Wars: The Empire Strikes Back, Episode V when Luke Skywalker visits Dagobah to learn from the great Master Yoda? And there’s an awesome training sequence where Luke learns all this awesome stuff about the Force and raises his ship from the swamp. Now imagine that Dagobah is 20th century Paris. And Master Yoda is Nadia Boulanger. And George Gershwin is Luke Skywalker.

Okay, so maybe Star Wars and Les Annes Folles Paris are two very different thigns, but the concept is the same. In June of 1928 George Gershwin went full Luke Skywalker and sent Nadia Boulanger this letter:

Letter from Gershwin to Boulanger

The text of this letter reads;

Dear Mademoiselle,

I am in Paris for a short visit and would like very much to meet you again. I believe we met when I was here two years ago, through the Kochanskis. I have a letter to you from Maurice Ravel.

Please be so good as to telephone me at the Hotel Majestic or write me a note letting me know when and where we could meet. With all good wishes I am,

Most sincerely, George Gershwin

When they met, Gershwin requested that Boulanger instruct him in composition. Boulanger (unlike Master Yoda) declined. She told Gershwin that she couldn’t give him anything he didn’t already have. When one takes into consideration Gerswin’s musical styles,this letter and Boulanger’s refusal to teach Gershwin represent a unique perspective on developing American musical identity. While Gershwin’s contemporaries were building on European idioms and attemping to legitimize American identity thorugh the adoption and adaptation of American Folk idioms. Gershwin, one could argue, was also doing this, but instead of Anglo Folk idioms, relied on Jazz. His brand of symphonic jazz, already popular in 1928, has a unique sound. I posit that Boulanger’s recognition of this unique sound represents the changing perceptions of American music on the European continent. Boulanger recognized that jazz was one of the most unique idioms to come out of American music. Her approval of Gershwin’s symphonic jazz mirrors the world’s tacit approval of the appropriation of jazz in a symphonic sense. While white American elites, and (as evidenced by this letter) white European elites applauded the “raising up” of jazz idioms, composers and performers of color were struggling to gain a tenth of recognition composers like Gershwin were able to achieve. This notion reveals that the source material from which Gershwin drew was stil considered by many, even those in Europe, to exist outside of Art Music as an exotic “other”. Perhaps Boulanger’s refusal to teach Gershwin and mold his composition to her “refined” (read white westernized) musical ideals, as she did Copland, Glass, and others, helped American music to continue its unabashed appropriation of musical idioms from marginalized people. Perhaps this is the true identity American music.

More on Boulanger

Nadia Boulanger is practically the undisputed master teacher of the 20th century. From Copland to Bernstein, her mark on American music is distinct and far reaching.

Boulanger

Boulanger was born on the 16th of September in 1887. She officially began studying composition at the Paris Conservatoire at the age of 9 working with masters of composition like Gabriel Fauré. Boulanger herself was a gifted composer, but nearly stopped composing completely after the devastating death of her sister, Lili, in 1920. While this personal tragedy blighted a promising compositional career, it opened the doors for her teaching to come through.

While you finish reading this post about Boulanger’s influence on American composers, listen to some of her compositions in this playlist.

Please take a minute to learn more about Nadia Boulanger here. As a teacher, composer, and scholar, Nadia Boualanger had an immense effect on our modern perceptions of American Music and deserves to be considered as a major facet of American Musical style along with her many pupils.

Sources

Spycket, Jérôme. Nadia Boulanger. Stuyvesant, N.Y.: Pendragon Press, 1992.

Potter, Caroline. “Boulanger, Nadia.” Grove Music Online. Oxford Music Online. Oxford University Press. Web. 15 Jun. 2017. <http://www.oxfordmusiconline.com/subscriber/article/grove/music/03705>.

Portrait of Nadia Boulanger from https://blog.edmodo.com/wp-content/uploads/2014/03/NadiaBoulanger_portrait.jpg.

Portrait of Yoda from https://vignette.wikia.nocookie.net/starwars/images/d/d6/Yoda_SWSB.png/revision/latest?cb=20150206140125