The Day of Jubilee

In his essay-review The day of jubilee, published February 27, 1959 in the Los Angeles Tribune , Chestyn Everett confronts issues concerning the commercialization, dilution, and decontextualization of black spirituals. Everett, who was a scholar, civil rights activist, and later, a professor at Cornell University, starts his essay with a more general condemnation of black and white artists alike for corrupting their renditions of spirituals and remaining less and less faithful to the genre and the historical background. He goes on to make generalized characters and condemning them for each way they have warped the genre.

“We must admit, however, that the average white artist approaches the Negro spiritual as if the Negro slaves who had created these songs, had studied “lieder” composition and voice at some classic conservatory in which they attended evening classes after a day’s session in the cotton fields. On the other extreme, the white popular “singers” approach the negro spiritual as if, instead of the conservatory in the cotton fields, the negro slaves had a “rock and roll” band by which they rhythmically picked cotton and did little chores around the house for the “missus”, and that the “kind ole massah” had put up a “dark town strutters bistro”– and that each night this “tired-happy, free loving, fun loving, maddening throng of dark humanity” converged upon the DTSB singing “When the saints go marchin’ in” to the insane-frentic backing of “Old Black Joe and his Cotton Picking Ramblers”

He continues with several critiques of certain black musicians. First, he critiques black musicians who “clean up the language,” that is, editing the southern slave dialect into more modern english. He argues that this is the same as saying that the slaves who created the spirituals lacked “the finer points of musical intelligence,” (Everett 9). His next critique is of incompetent black musicians who rationalize the validity of their performances by recalling that slaves would have had no formal training. “[this singer] labors under the unfortunate assumption that being a Negro establishes the assumption that he can sing Negro spirituals, and further that any vocal ability he is conspicuously lacking is inconsequential to the fact that he “feels” what he is (not) doing,” (Everett 21).

His main issue with many modern practices of spirituals is with the recontextualization of this music. Similar to what we have learned in class, the way that music, and more specifically, information, is portrayed in the present paints firmly guides how many view the past. While he characterizes and exaggerates these examples, his worry holds true.

Works Cited:
Everett, Chestyn. “The day of jubilee: an essay-review.” The Los Angeles Tribune, February 27, 1959, pp. 9, 21. African American Newspapers. Accessed on October 3, 2019.

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