The Chicago Defender possesses a number of music reviews and articles describing contemporary performances of the time. These are a valuable resource as they give insight into the way both audiences and critics of the time received or reacted to new music, composers, and performers. Articles written within days of the performance can help distinguish between ideas or sentiments about a particular piece or composer that developed at the time, or were formed later. Reading in a newspaper article from 1959 that William Billings was “the first American composer” carries with it a different tone than a music historian much later in history ascribing this title to Billings as an after thought or reflection.
Reading that Ella Fitzgerald performed and sang William Billings February of 1959 also gives insight into the nature of performers and who was performing Billings, and to what audience they were performing to.
Similarly this article from March also describes the prevalence of Billing’s legacy and popularity. Also describing his music as “American” the attribution of Billings music possessing some type of uniquely American quality to it, is a longstanding concept that these articles demonstrate has been around for a while. Using newspaper articles of more recent history are a valuable insight into discovering the roots or at least history and prevalence of an idea.