A Song for A Mexican Soldier

For this blog post, I was going to focus on When Johnny Comes Marching Home Again and its Civil War origins changed for the Glenn Miller Band. I like other blog posts are striving to write for narratives that don’t just tell a story of white culture. As my final blog post, this attempts to shine light on marginalized groups and the importance of music in ties to their story.

While Glenn Miller adapted the 19th century song to his style of jazz to rally national spirit against the US enemies of World War II, using jazz as a strictly white American identity, in Mexican culture, something similar happened. Pedro Infante recorded the song, El Soldado Rosa, in 1943 for Mexican soldiers fighting in World War II.

 

The lyrics state:

 

Me voy de soldado raso
Voy a ingresar a las filas
Con los valientes muchachos
Que dejan madres queridas
Que dejan novias llorando
Llorando su despedida.

Voy a la guerra contento
Ya tengo rifle y pistola
Ya volveré de sargento
Cuando se acabe la bola
Nomas una cosa pienso
Dejar a mi madre sola.

Virgen morena
Mandale su consuelo
Nunca jamas permitas
Que me la robe el cielo.

Mi linda Guadalupana
Protejela a mi bandera
Y cuando me haga en campaña
Muy lejos ya de mi tierra
Les probare que mi raza
Sabe morir…

 

Translation:

I am going as a buck private,
I am going to the front lines
with brave boys
who leave beloved mothers,
who leave sweethearts crying.
Crying on their farewell.
I am leaving for the war content,
I got my rifle and pistol,
I’ll return as a sergeant
when this combat is over;
The only thing I regret:
leaving my mother alone.
Brown Virgin,
send me your blessing,
never allow
heaven to steal her from me
My lovely Guadalupe
will protect my flag
and when I find myself in combat,
far away from my land,
I will prove that my race
knows how to die anywhere.
I leave early tomorrow
as the light of day shines
here goes another Mexican
who knows how to gamble his life,
that gives his farewell singing:
singing to his motherland.
Brown Virgin,
I entrust my mother;
take care of her she is so good,
take care of her while I’m away.

 

I find the line that discusses one having to die in war in order to p

rove their race is worthy particularly striking. In modern media, Latinx people are not depicted with respect so I cannot imagine the kind of bigotry faced during this time of national pride and lack of representation in mainstream media.

In a correspondence with former bracero Adolfo González, he states how important these pieces were to Mexicans for their morale in the war. He states:

 “í, cÃémo no. De aquel señor Jorge Negrete que era entonces y el señor Infante, esos eran muy grandes, grandes cantantes que lo divertían a uno. Cantinflas. (risas) (“Of course. Jorge Negrete was popular back then and then Pedro Infante. They were popular, great singers. They would entertain us. Cantiflas. [laughter].”)

Recorded Interview Here

Many in Mexican culture considered Infante very popular. Many migrant workers would sing his songs including El Soldado Rosa. The content produced by record companies to support the war and music presented from the soldier’s perspective is infinite but in contemporary media, we often gloss over content of minorities (specifically Mexican) and how

the war affected the music they produced and wrote.

Bibliography:

YouTube, YouTube, www.youtube.com/watch?v=b-u-tWKr4AI.

-““El Soldado Raso”.” The American Mosaic: The Latino American Experience, ABC-CLIO, 2019, latinoamerican2.abc-clio.com/Search/Display/1481722. Accessed 18 Nov. 2019.

-“Bracero Program: Adolfo Gonzáles (Daily Life).” The American Mosaic: The Latino American Experience, ABC-CLIO, 2019, latinoamerican2.abc-clio.com/Search/Display/1741283. Accessed 18 Nov. 2019.

 

 

Another College Kid with a Guitar

I never read the Manitou Messenger (please don’t tell anyone I said this). I’m not a huge fan of the writing and as a senior, I’m trying to slowly assimilate to the outside world. Finding “Whatever folks are singing…that’s what makes it folk music” delighted me because it addresses ideas we’ve concluded with readings and in class discussion.

The article advertises a folk music festival at the college, encouraging everyone to audition. The article opens with a quote by Pete Seeger (the focus of my final paper) defining folk music as “whatever folks are singing; that’s folk music”. Later in the article, the writer attempts to categorize folk by stating it addresses themes such as love, death, work, and historical events.

I’m not sure if this is just me, but these are extremely broad topics that doesn’t narrow down or help the reader understand what they’re supposed to understand about folk. I don’t blame the writer for their lack of communication of what folk is. The writer takes a quote from another musician on campus saying, “born with a feeling, putting into words and given a melody”.

I’m also impressed that the article recognizes the debate between the self-labeled purists and commercial style that came from record labels selling folk as a specific style.

 

As discussed in class and in the beginning of the article, this genre is incredibly difficult to grasp conceptually. I’m impressed for an early 60s article of St. Olaf of how honest the writer is about genuinely not knowing to answer the folk question. They provide certain musicians’ definitions but never make a solid claim on folk music. My only issues with this article comes from its failure to acknowledge the racial component within the broad genre of folk. Part of the reason folk has so many different styles within this umbrella genre is because of the exchanges made interracially.

 

Bibliography:

-Newbury, Jan. “Universal Databases.” Welcome to East View – Manitou Messenger (DA-MM), 1963, No. 1, Vol. 76, stolaf.eastview.com/browse/fullimage?issueId=2712140&pg=6.

Joan Báez

I have to admit that although I am Chicanx, I don’t know very much about Chicano music. In general, I haven’t heard much about Chican@ art other than celebrities like Selena. Of course, there was the Chicano movement of the ’60s which I was aware of but what I didn’t know was that there was an entire Chicano Renaissance [1]. In an essay titled, “Chicano Movement Music” from The Latino American Experience, Azcona gives an overview of the music of the Chicano Movement and specifically how higher education was a major part of the movement [1]. College campuses became springboards for Chican@ musicians where bands, as well as solo artists such as Joan Báez, got their start. 

JJ6537 Joan Baez circa 1966
American folk singer Joan Baez sings and plays acoustic guitar on stage during a European tour, East Berlin, Germany.
(Photo by Hulton Getty)

Joan Báez was just this year inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Game along with Tupac Shakur, Pearl Jam, Yes, and Electric Light Orchestra [3]. Her 1974 album, Gracias a la Vida was her first and only full-length album entirely in Spanish. She collaborated with other chican@ music ensembles such as La Rondalla Amerindia where they recorded a huelga or strike song called “No nos moverán” which translates to “They will not move us” [1]. 

https://youtu.be/hMXQ026t3zY 

From early in her musical career, she was heavily involved with the civil rights movement and marched alongside MLK from Selma to Montgomery as well as a number of other protests, rallies, marches, and toured colleges to encourage young men to resist the draft [2]. Her music was, overall, regarded as a means to spread the pacifist platform during and well after the civil rights era [2].

What I found particularly intriguing about Báez was that she was the daughter of an elite professor, was educated, and primarily sang at protests. Later in life, she founded Humanitas International, a human rights organization; but later when reviving her singing career she lessened her political activism and shut down the org. The questions I am left with are primarily about how her singing domestically and internationally counted as an action that supported change. It is one thing to sing “We shall overcome” but it is another thing to put forth change, which she did, but eventually put her singing career before her human rights organization. The ambiguity of the morality of her choice is pressing, however, perhaps the net impact of her returning to music and a life of advocacy is more fulfilling as well as influential. I think there is also an assumption that individuals who are associated with a marginalized group must choose the path of advocacy over anything else or be labeled as unauthentic. 

 

Sources Cited

[1] Azcona, Estevan César. “Chicano Movement Music.” In The American Mosaic: The Latino American Experience, ABC-CLIO, 2019. Accessed November 12, 2019. http://latinoamerican2.abc-clio.com/Search/Display/1329550.

 

[2] Meier, Matt S., Conchita Franco Serri, and Richard A. Garcia. “Joan Báez.” In The American Mosaic: The Latino American Experience, ABC-CLIO, 2019. Accessed November 12, 2019. http://latinoamerican2.abc-clio.com/Search/Display/1332577.

[3] Pulley, Anna. “JOAN BAEZ TO BE INDUCTED INTO ROCK & ROLL HALL OF FAME.” Acoustic Guitar, 03, 2017, 15, https://search.proquest.com/docview/1874317065?accountid=351.

St. Louis Blues Through the Years

For my final blog post, I wanted to focus on W.C. Handy’s “St. Louis Blues” and how it has evolved and survived throughout the years as a jazz standard.  I am particularly interested in its history because I will be performing the Bob Brookmeyer arrangement with Jazz 1 on Friday, November 22nd at 7:30 pm in the Pause Main Stage (hey, nobody said we can’t use these blog posts to advertise!)

The song itself first originated from W.C. Handy’s Blues: An Anthology, which Handy used to portray blues music as folk music (even though there were some complications with classifying it as such.)[1]  But nonetheless, it was touted as such by Handy as “The First Successful Blues Published.”  Its success not only comes from its publishing, but arguably its legacy as a standard as performed by various blues and jazz artists.  For the sake of the length of this blog, I am going to include 5 performers who are icons for their place in jazz history: Bessie Smith, Louis Armstrong, Dizzy Gillespie, Dave Brubeck, and the Thad Jones/Mel Lewis Orchestra.

In Bessie Smith’s version, she ignores the tango-like interlude and the beginning she enters with the melody and the 12-bar blues form, accompanied by an organ and none other than Louis Armstrong responding on trumpet to her lyrics [2].  Her version may not be authentic to Handy’s original composition, but she owns this version and it well represents the NOLA jazz sound:

Moving into the swing era, with the likes of big bands such as Duke Ellington, Count Basie, Cab Calloway, and, as I will present here, Glenn Miller.  The Glenn Miller Orchestra was very well-known for its standards like “Pennsylvania 6-5000” and “In the Mood,” but when Glenn Miller was enlisted to serve in Europe during World War II, he made sure to keep his music going.  Here is his version of St Louis Blues presented as a march:

From the Swing era, jazz musicians started to get a little more adventurous with exploring different textures in rhythm and harmony.  Musicians like Charlie Parker, Max Roach, and Dizzy Gillespie were at the forefront of the bebop era by taking old standards such as St Louis Blues and creating bebop-ified version of their roots in Handy’s composition.  Here is Dizzy Gillespie’s version, this time featuring the tango interlude that could likely be attributed to Dizzy’s fondness of Afro-Cuban music as he explored in “Manteca” or “A Night in Tunisia”:

On the other side of the same coin, West Coast cool jazz coexisted with bebop as a mainstay in jazz music in the ’50s and ’60s.  Still using the St Louis Blues standard, Dave Brubeck also uses that tango beginning, but goes into the form with a lighter feel in comparison to Dizzy Gillespie, which is apparent in Paul Desmond’s improv solo, which couldn’t possibly be lighter or more laidback:

To close the blog post, I leave you with Bob Brookmeyer’s arrangement of St Louis Blues as performed by the Thad Jones/Mel Louis Orchestra.  While it may not necessarily be faithful to Handy’s original idea for St. Louis Blues, it represents a culmination of St Louis Blues’ place in jazz history:

Sources:

[1] Hagstrom-Miller, Karl. “How Blues Became Folk Music” in Segregating Sound (North Carolina: Duke University Press, 2010). 241-274.

[2] Smith, Bessie. “St. Louis Blues” on Nobody’s Blues But Mine. Future Noise Ltd., 2008, Streaming Audio. https://search.alexanderstreet.com/view/work/bibliographic_entity%7Crecorded_track%7C1018361.

The Accordion: Quintessential American Instrument

The Accordion wasn’t invented until the mid 1800s in Eastern Europe, and its form has had undergone countless innovations and stylistic changes since then. The accordion has long been associated with the music of lower class people, partially because it could provide the basic elements of melody and bass all within one instrument. This instrument thrived as nationalistic styles emerged throughout Europe, and later when immigrants arrived in the United States it maintained cultural specificity.

In a series of photographs taken in 1977 Chicago found in the Library of Congress Photography Collection, several cultural celebrations feature an accordion player, including a Norwegian Festival, a Lithuanian wedding, a Spanish heritage meeting, and a school ensemble. 

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In “The Accordion in the Americas,” a collection of essays about Accordion music throughout North and South America, Helena Simonett writes “The accordion reflected the zeitgeist of the industrial era of the late nineteenth century. In a time of technical excitement, the new, mechanically sophisticated instrument came to symbolize progress and modernity.” Simonett explains that the accordion was an emblem of not only cultural, but musical progress. So how did the instrument become so closely associated with small cultural expression?

The accordion is such a compelling case study for American music because while it might otherwise be thought of as a marking for “other” or closely held ethnic enclaves, in reality its history is more complicated. Just like with so many musical traditions, it wasn’t only European immigrants who held claim to the accordion. The accordion was a major part of the folk revival movement. The stories that have always been told are not necessarily the stories that we must continue telling. 

“Introduction.” In The Accordion in the Americas: Klezmer, Polka, Tango, Zydeco, and More!, edited by SIMONETT HELENA, 1-18. University of Illinois Press, 2012. http://www.jstor.org/stable/10.5406/j.ctt3fh3m4.4.

Show Me The RECEIPTS: What the Critics Can’t Predict

Artists have an ongoing love-hate relationship with critics in the press. Whether reviewers of artistic works use their words to uplift or pick apart what they’ve seen and heard, it feels like performers, producers, and audiences alike put too much emphasis on the words of critics. While I myself am certainly a fan of giving my own lengthy monologue detailing the highs and lows of any musical production I see only moments after exiting the lobby, my words are rarely given a hint of importance offered to those that take to newspapers and online sites to review professional productions. But, how important are the thoughts and words of these critics?

This question came to a head when looking for newspaper reviews for the original Broadway production of West Side Story in 1957. As a #megafan, I new that initial reviews of the work were mixed, and that the work aged quite well despite initial concerns from critics. In an article from the Daily Defender published in 1958, I though in perplexing that a review of the recent Broadway season listed a musical I had never heard of.

As seen in the article above, the show used in what should be the attention-grabbing title of the article was not my beloved West Side Story, nor the Tony-Award-winning-for-best-musical The Music Man, rather a musical entitled Jamaica. A quick google search of the musical shows an initial success and relatively positive reviews along with a slew of Tony Award nominations, but also a show that hasn’t aged well due to its musical choices and a sort of cultural cringe factor evident in too many creations of a racist America.

So this still leaves my original question unanswered: Do the voice of critics really matter? What impact do they have? It appears that to get this answered, we must follow the money (or, as the kids say these days, “show the receipts” *clap clap*). There has been scholarship that factors the opinions of critics into statistical models of successful and not-so-successful musical theatre endeavors (as well as other forms of arts and entertainment).1 While it appears the opinion of critics rarely shows any correlation of commercial success with theatrical productions, scholarly models note the importance of the opinions of critics in forming audience interest and ideas about the production prior to possibly seeing it or buying a ticket

Fig. 1: A visual model that describes the factors in determining success in Broadway Shows

So, I guess my conclusion here is that critics don’t always get it right. While they might think their educated inferences should ultimately dictate the fate of the Broadway musicals they struggle to sit through or heartily applaud, the reality is much more complicated. When I came across the newspaper article, I was confused about how the review of a Broadway season somehow featured a now unknown and unperformed musical at its heading. But hindsight is 20/20, and I have the luxury of time that was not afforded to the critics writing in the heat of battle on The Great White Way.

A quick P.S.: while it is certainly arguable whether we should look at money and commercial success as the main factor for determining a successful piece of art, this blog post fails to engage in that conversation. That is another topic for another blog post/paper/thesis/lifetime of research.

Primary Source

“Jamaica’ Tops on Broadway.” Daily Defender (Daily Edition) (1956-1960), Jan 07, 1958. https://search.proquest.com/docview/493716192?accountid=351.

Secondary Source

1 Reddy, Srinivas K., Vanitha Swaminathan, and Carol M. Motley. “Exploring the Determinants of Broadway Show Success.” Journal of Marketing Research 35, no. 3 (1998): 370-83. doi:10.2307/3152034.

Merging of the Three Americas through Music

For the title of this course being “American Music”, it is strange that we haven’t discussed the fact that “America” is not synonymous with “United States”. It is often overlooked that Canada is indeed American, as it is part of North America, and Central and South America are usually both overlooked entirely. North America, Central America, and South America are all themes within Brazilian pianist Eliane Elias’s jazz album “The Three Americas”.

The opening track of the album, “An Up Dawn” starts as a jazzy song with prominent scatting and piano, but morphs in a very latin piece. The rhythms are very danceable and syncopated, keeping true to a jazz feel while incorporating some latin instrumentation, for example the samba whistle, which pops out of the texture to provide cultural depth to the piece. 

A stand-out song on the album is “Caipora”, as its opening feels like cool jazz but with a bit more spice than usual. The piano is very expressive, and leads to the expressive climax of the song when flute and voice come in together, eventually leading to the takeover of the melody by flute in an improvisational flurry. By this point in the song, there are many drums in the background providing a samba-like rhythm underneath the voice and flute. This seamless amalgamation of North American jazz elements and Brazilian samba makes it clear that “American” culture and identity can be a mix of any two, three or more (!!) elements.

The mixing styles of jazz and the Brazilian samba throughout this album help show how the three Americas have distinct qualities, but easily morph together to become one cohesive sound. American culture is capable of the same thing, but cultural integration is often met with more backlash than in music. Although it’s very cliche, music really serves as a unifier between cultures, with Elias’s album serving as a reminder that Americaness is more than just North America.

 

Works Cited

 

The Three Americas. Rec. 19 June 1997. Warner Music, 1997. Music Online: Jazz Music Library Database. Web. 

The Rediscovery of Ragtime and Timelessness in Music

The liner notes to Ragtime Jubilee, recorded in 1947 in New York and released in 1999,  suggest that ragtime is an undying art, in much the same tone that blues musicians have suggested that the blues has always existed. While the context of the record’s quite late release date might make one immediately wary that the publishers’ desire to make money outweighs their desire to provide an accurate representation of the varied history of ragtime, considering the perspective offered is worthwhile, because it sheds light on how ragtime has been successful both as popular music and as art music.

Photograph of Rudi Blesh with his dog

Rudi Blesh, 1975

Rudi Blesh (1899-1985), a jazz critic and enthusiast (and, notable for this class, a white man), writes about ragtime in a very positive light; it is the “warmest, gayest, liltingest music ever born here” to him, and held the greatest potential to create an American sound. He remarked that Europe immediately understood its uniqueness and vitality, and while American society forgot it for a time, it persisted until “we simply discovered what had been going on all the time.” To Blesh, ragtime was not a museum piece but a living and dynamic art form worth as much as the works of Mozart.

This suggestion, that ragtime somehow has shed its need for an audience and survives on its own, simply by being passed down from musician to musician, is both strange and familiar. It once again recalls images of the blues always existing, whether or not the public knows about it, but also images from the western classical tradition. That tradition is not part of popular culture, yet lives on as conservatories and teachers pass their practices to further generations. Some elements of classical music have permeated popular culture, such as the symphony orchestra being used in movie scores, but it has largely been relegated to a niche audience. Ragtime has since fallen from the public eye as well, but it is still passed down in some form, which I can personally attest to as a pianist.

From sheet music of Scott Joplin’s “Felicity Rag;” click for a pdf

This context makes a piece of art included in the liner notes a bit ironic, as it appears to satirize the (largely German) classical tradition by implying the performer is unable to play the “new fangled stuff” that is ragtime, choosing instead to play old music that is considered to be great and timeless–not unlike how ragtime revival artists return to an earlier style when popular music has moved on to new things. There are some notable differences between genres–their respective focus on complex harmony versus complex rhythm, the varying lengths of pieces, typical orchestrations, not to mention the predominance of black composers in ragtime–potentially referred to in this record by “Jubilee,” a word which appears in famous spirituals and the names of groups which sing them. These differences aside, however, the similarities between changes in these genres’ popularity over time, as well as the continued practice and interpretation by new musicians, helps to elevate ragtime as an art form and dignified link in the evolution of American popular music.

 

Bibliography

“Jazz Scholar Rudi Blesh; Historian, Biographer, Critic,” Los Angeles Times (1985). https://www.latimes.com/archives/la-xpm-1985-08-31-fi-24324-story.html

Tony Parenti’s Ragtimers & Ragtime Gang: Ragtime Jubilee. Recorded January 1, 1999. Jazzology, 1999, Streaming Audio. https://search.alexanderstreet.com/view/work/bibliographic_entity%7Crecorded_cd%7C594645. 

Sun Ra and the Origins of Afro-Futurism

Le Sony’r Ra (Professionally known as Sun Ra. Born Herman Poole Blount) led an interesting life, to put it mildly. In addition to being one of the single most prolific recording artists of the 20th century (he recorded over 1,000 compositions on over 120 albums, according to Ra scholar John F. Szwed), he was a philosopher and mystic who worked with Amiri Baraka, in addition to many others, was possibly (probably?) the first person to integrate the concept of a “light show” into a live music performance, and was also possibly an alien abductee.

While we’ve spent quite a bit of time in class with text by Amiri Bakara, we haven’t actually touched on his role in founding the Black Arts Movement during the 1960s and 70s very much (if at all). To provide some quick context, the Black Arts Movement sought to create cultural institutions, such as the Black Arts Repertory Theatre/School (BARTS) that would allow black artists to express themselves and create without being overshadowed or governed by traditional Western (and white) critics and tastes. Sun Ra was an important member of this movement. Not only did he write many essays and pamphlets that helped to define his particular aesthetic that would crystallize into Afro-Futurism, he lived his aesthetic and philosophical ideals every day, according to everyone who knew him. Bakara wrote in his Autobiography,

“Sun Ra and Albert Ayler were always on the scene. For some, Sun Ra became our resident philosopher, having regular midweek performances in which he introduced the light-show concept that white rock groups later found out about and got rich from. When Ra would play his Sun-Organ, when he played low notes, deep blues and dark colors would light up on it. When he played high notes, oranges and yellows would light up, and we sat, sometimes maybe with fifteen or twenty people in the audience, and thought we were being exposed to the profundity of blackness” (Bakara 204).

The albums The Heliocentric Worlds of Sun Ra vol. 1 and 2 (which are bundled into one album through the database) carry good examples of the developments Ra made to jazz as a genre. For example, Ra was the first person to utilize two string basses in a jazz ensemble instead of just one (according to Szwed), and this album is an example of that.

Ra’s philosophy is a little tough to grasp. Not only did his views profoundly change over time (which is to be expected with many philosophers, so that isn’t quite the point) (he initially identified with sentiments of Black Power and Black Unification, but later started to identify less and less with any race and identified more with divine beings such as angels), his philosophy has heavy esoteric influence and is written in almost a “beat prose” style. In his essay Lucifer Means Light Bearer, he argues that the Bible was not written for black people, and that african Americans allow themselves to be rendered complacent by white power structures that utilize religion as a tool for this purpose. (Ra 133-137)

Sun Ra is a fascinating figure within the context of the Black Arts Movement, and in my opinion, he has enough of his own writing as well as scholarship about him to merit a place within the MUS 345B curriculum. Hopefully a future class will have a chance to study him.

Works Cited:

Bakara, Amiri. The Autobiography of Leroi Jones. Freundlich Books, New York, 1984.

Ra, Le Sony’r. The Wisdom of Sun Ra. Compiled by John Corbett. WhiteWalls, Chicago, 2006.

Sun Ra. The Heliocentric Worlds of Sun Ra. Recorded November 15, 2010. ESP Disk, 2010, Streaming Audio. https://search.alexanderstreet.com/view/work/be%7Crecorded_cd%7Cli_upc_825481040624.

Szwed, John F. Space is the Place: The Lives and Times of Sun Ra. Pantheon Books, New York, 1997.

 

Mexican Pentecostalism and Hybridity in American Music

“Through the open windows of a second-story room opposite Hull House on a midsummer Saturday evening come the jazz strains of a gospel hymn being lustily sung in Spanish. If we were to trace this music to its source it would lead us into the midst of a revival meeting of the Pentecostals. There in a crowded room we would find a Mexican evangelist, eyes shining and face flushed by his enthusiasm, leading the singing, while an orchestra made up of a cornet, two drums, three triangles, and a piano beats out the rhythm with a will.”[1]

This is how Robert C. Jones and Louis R. Wilson describes an evening scene in a Mexican neighbourhood in Chicago. Their article was published in 1931 and addressed how many people from the migrant Mexican population converted to and adapted the beliefs and practices, including the musical practices of Pentecostalism.

Pentecostalism being defined in the Encyclopædia Britannica as a charismatic religious movement that gained popularity during the 20th century. The belief in a “post conversionreligious experience called baptism the Holy Spirit” [2] was (and still is) a defining trait for the associated denominations. Pentecostalism and similar movements grew out of a growing disregard for traditional religious practices in late 19th century. Expression of emotion and a more spontaneous articulation of the Gospel was preferred to the traditional church service. This was (and still is) very much present in the musical practices. “[…]the jazz strains of a gospel hymn lustily sung in Spanish” as described by Jones and Wilson, is an example of  what is described as “enthusiastic congregational singing”[3], a form of this emotional religious expression. This was a world away from the Latin chants of the Roman Catholic Church, in which the majority of Mexican immigrants were raised.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=iZVteZ794xE

Just shy of a century after Jones’ and Wilson’s observations, services are still being held in Spanish in what identifies as Mexican or Spanish Pentecostal churches across America. This video from a Pentecostal service Hammond, Indiana, uploaded in 2013 around which I assume it was filmed, shows not only gospel elements but Latin elements within the music, and rightfully so. Maracas, and what could be a vihuela [4]  can be hard, as well as a variety of other rhythmic instruments.

The Spanish adaption of gospel music within Mexican Pentecostalism is a good example of the hybridity we find in so much of American music, even though the two styles of music, traditional Mexican music and the gospel music of the United States are not necessarily mutually exclusive genres. It has for instance been argued that gospel music has drawn from Latin and Caribbean influences as well as its African American and European roots.

Sources:

Melton, J. Gordon. “Pentecostalism” Ecyclopædia Britannica. August 31th, 2014. https://www.britannica.com/topic/Pentecostalism [Accessed November 11th, 2019]

“Mariachi”. Ecyclopædia Britannica. January 29th, 2016. https://www.britannica.com/art/mariachi [Accessed November 11th, 2019]

Jones, Robert C.. Wilson, Louis R. The Mexican in Chicago (1931). Comity Commission of the Chicago Church Federation. The American Mosaic: The Latino American Experience, ABC-CLIO, 2019. http://latinoamerican2.abc-clio.com/Search/Display/1449373. [Accessed November 10th, 2019]

“Sunday Service Spanish Pentecostal Hammond, IN”. Uploaded April 14th, 2013. Youtube. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=iZVteZ794xE [Accessed November 11th, 2019]

 

[1] Jones et al. 1931

[2] Melton 2014

[3] Ibid.

[4] “Mariachi” 2016

The Latin American Blues

What does the salsa have in common with the blues? Well according to Tito Puente, it too is just a broad categorization of a minority’s music:

The word salsa combines all kinds of music into one, like the mambo, the cha-cha, the merengue, all music with Caribbean origins. When they call it salsa, you don’t actually define what rhythm is. That’s why I don’t particularly care for the word. However, sometimes they call me the “King of Salsa,” so I’ll go along with it, I won’t dispute it, as long as they don’t call me the “Queen of Salsa.”1

This quote reminded me of the discussions we’ve had about the idea of “the blues,” and how throughout the term’s history it has been a broad and vague way of categorizing African American music. Likewise, Puente writes that the term “salsa” refers to an amalgamation of many musics of Caribbean origin, and that it obfuscates the different styles’ unique rhythmic identities. This leads to an at best vague conception of what salsa is among those who are not intimately familiar with it, and a lack of understanding and appreciation for the differences it encompasses — including differences in rhythm, which is an integral part and differentiator of these styles of music.

If this generalization and lack of understanding of minority cultures leads to anything, it’s stereotypes. The other parallel I saw in this quote was that to the double-sided coin of black-face minstrelsy. Puente writes that while he doesn’t “particularly care for the word [salsa],” he’ll “go along” with being called the “King of Salsa.” While against the vague misrepresentation of Caribbean music, he doesn’t complain that it is by this misrepresentation that he is risen up, much like it was through the stereotypes perpetuated by black-face minstrelsy that many African American performers got their start.

However, this compliance with stereotypes, while having benefits, also reinforces them. Louie Pérez writes about this, and how it serves as a motivator for him:

This is music made by Mexican-Americans, but if you looked that up in the dictionary, I don’t think you’d find our picture. We’re not the kind of music people would expect, which excites me. It’s nice to show that as Latinos, we can do a lot of things.2

Pérez’s showing that Latinos can “do a lot of things” sounds similar to what African American black-face performers encountered when they pushed the boundaries of what they could perform. As we discussed, their beginning to perform European art songs, for example, illustrates their expansion into an art form that not only wouldn’t have their picture in the dictionary, but would likely picture a decidedly European performer to represent a music that is decidedly European, sometimes to a racist extent.

Thus salsa might be called the Latin American blues, indicative of a broad, uninformed amalgamation of musics that are not fully understood or appreciated, indicative of the misrepresentation and pigeonholing that this categorization can cause, and indicative of the unfortunate commonalities between the oppression of different minorities in America.

1 “Tito Puente: Quote on Salsa Music.” In The American Mosaic: The Latino American Experience, ABC-CLIO, 2019. Accessed November 9, 2019. http://latinoamerican2.abc-clio.com/Search/Display/1328036.

2 “Louie Pérez (Los Lobos): Quote on Not Fitting a Stereotype.” In The American Mosaic: The Latino American Experience, ABC-CLIO, 2019. Accessed November 9, 2019. http://latinoamerican2.abc-clio.com/Search/Display/1508248.

Solidarity Forever: Unions, Unity, and Music

Delano grape workers' strike and march (1966)

In 1966, a group of grape workers organised by famous labor leader and activist Cesar Chavez marched 300 miles from Delano to Sacramento, CA to protest the low wages they worked for. While they marched, they sang a variety of songs, including both pieces in Spanish, known to the majority-Latino workers, as well as traditional union songs – a category of American music that I didn’t realise existed until finding a video source for this blog post. Here you can hear a classic union anthem, Solidarity Forever, the melody of which you will probably recognise. Below are the lyrics.

When the union’s inspiration through the workers’ blood shall run,
There can be no power greater anywhere beneath the sun;
Yet what force on earth is weaker than the feeble strength of one,
But the union makes us strong.

 

Chorus:
Solidarity forever,
Solidarity forever,
Solidarity forever,
For the union makes us strong.

 

They have taken untold millions that they never toiled to earn,
But without our brain and muscle not a single wheel can turn.
We can break their haughty power, gain our freedom when we learn
That the union makes us strong.

In our hands is placed a power greater than their hoarded gold,
Greater than the might of armies, multiplied a thousand-fold.
We can bring to birth a new world from the ashes of the old
For the union makes us strong.

There are a further 3 verses, somewhat different in tone. They are aggressive, proclaiming the evils of the wealthy who the unions are working against, and the comparative goodness of the union members. This dichotomy is probably not what was used in actual negotiations with the growers in order to get wage increases, as calling some one evil tends to not make them want to treat you very kindly. However, putting yourself of the side of justice and right does make for a very compelling and energizing song when you’ve decided to walk several hundred miles to make a point.

This type of music has some interesting nationalistic parallels, as does any music whose goal is to unify people for a common cause. This kind of parallel seems somewhat concerning to me at first glance, because anything that dehumanizes some people in order to lift others up is not a sustainable way of viewing the world. However, it’s worth remembering that humans, by nature, must simplify and group things in order to understand the world and not be constantly overwhelmed and paralysed by its complexity. As long as songs like this are able to serve their role in empowering and motivating people through trying times and also understood in a more complex way in their particular context, they can be a helpful, not harmful, tool.

Works Cited:

 

1. “Farmworker Movement: &Deg;Huelga!, March to Sacramento.” The American Mosaic: The Latino American Experience video. 2019. Accessed November 11, 2019. http://latinoamerican2.abc-clio.com/Search/Display/1662634.
2. “Delano Grape Workers’ Strike and March (1966).” In The American Mosaic: The Latino American Experience, ABC-CLIO, 2019. Image. Accessed November 11, 2019. http://latinoamerican2.abc-clio.com/Search/Display/1504482.
3. Wikipedia contributors, “Solidarity Forever,” Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia, https://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?title=Solidarity_Forever&oldid=918480009 (accessed November 12, 2019).

 

Americanizing Bizet’s “Carmen”

When I first scrolled through all the genres listed on the Alexander Street Jazz Music Library, the “Opera and Operetta” category immediately caught my eye, as jazz and opera rarely intersect. Only three results popped up, once of which was titled “Modern Jazz Performances from Bizet’s Carmen” by American jazz guitarist Barney Kessel [1]. The album, released in 1986, takes popular motifs from Bizet’s opera and transforms them into jazz tunes, featuring guitar, brass, woodwind, and percussion instruments.

Georges Bizet (1838-1875) was a French composer who wrote the opera Carmen three months before dying [5]. Carmen takes place in Seville, Spain and places heavy emphasis on the exoticisms of both Spain and the gypsy world. Bizet was drawn to the exotic cultures and music of non-Western European countries, and additionally wrote operas set in Sri Lanka and Egypt [4]. Habanera, or “Havanan Dance,” is sung by the title character Carmen as soldiers in the town square flirt with her and other female workers [3]. The aria frequently repeats the words “L’amour est enfant de bohème,” or “love is a gypsy child.” While Bizet allegedly believed the Habanera to be a folk song, he actually stole it from Spanish composer Sebastian Iradier. Bizet was forced to acknowledge Iradier after this was brought to his attention. 

I decided to focus on comparing Bizet’s famous “Habanera” with Kessel’s version, titled “Free as a Bird.” Habanera begins with a simple, pulsating cello ostinato that continues throughout the entire aria, against the soprano’s descending chromatic line. The rest of the strings join in pizzicato, along with the flute. The triangle and tambourine provide percussive elements.

 

In “Free as a Bird,” the guitar replaces the cello, and the soprano solo is traded between the saxophone and the flute. While Kessel essentially uses the same melody as Habanera, he adds other contrasting motifs and harmonies, as well as more complex percussion. Towards the middle of the track, the guitar plays a solo improvisation-sounding cadenza, taking Habanera’s basic melody and harmonizing it with 7 and diminished chords, common in jazz music. He then adds in a drumset, gives the melody to the brass, and has the guitar improvise on top. 

What I found most interesting about this album was Kessel’s choice to take Bizet’s melodies and essentially American-ize them by using jazz instruments and chord progressions. The album is also purely instrumental, thus removing all of Bizet’s French text. This choice is ironic, because Bizet did a similar thing when choosing to compose Carmen. As a French composer, he took, and sometimes stole, Spanish melodies, and made them more Western by adding French libretto and generally Western-sounding orchestration. However, Kessel’s adaptation of Bizet’s melodies is not as controversial in my opinion, because Bizet stole non-Western “exotic” music, whereas Kessel took music from a white French composer (and fully credited him).

 

  1. Barney Kessel : Modern Jazz Performances from Bizet’s Carmen. Recorded January 1, 1986. Contemporary, 1986, Streaming Audio. https://search.alexanderstreet.com/view/work/bibliographic_entity%7Crecorded_cd%7C543727
  2. “Habanera Lyrics, Translation, and History.” liveaboutdotcom. Accessed 11 Nov. 2019. https://www.liveabout.com/habanera-lyrics-translation-and-history-724328
  3. Henson, Karen. “Exoticism in Carmen.” Bizet: Carmen; Columbia University. Accessed 11 Nov. 2019. http://www.columbia.edu/itc/music/opera/carmen/exoticism.html
  4. Macdonald, Hugh. “Bizet, Georges.” Grove Music Online. 2001; Accessed 11 Nov. 2019. https://www.oxfordmusiconline.com/grovemusic/view/10.1093/gmo/9781561592630.001.0001/omo-9781561592630-e-0000051829.

Insights on Music Venue Research

I would like to start off today’s blog post with the poetic opening of a 1931 article, “the Mexican in Chicago”:

Chicago’s Jane Addams Hull-House

Through the open windows of a second-story room opposite Hull House on a midsummer Saturday evening come the jazz strains of a gospel hymn being lustily sung in Spanish. If we were to trace this music to its source it would lead us into the midst of a revival meeting of the Pentecostals. There in a crowded room we would find a Mexican evangelist, eyes shining and face flushed by his enthusiasm, leading the singing, while an orchestra made up of a cornet, two drums, three triangles, and a piano beats out the rhythm with a will. But we do not wish to loiter long within doors. There are other interesting things to be seen along South Halsted during this twilight hour. 1

This passage conjures an image of 1930s Chicago life that is not often represented in histories detailing the “Chicago Renaissance” years — the immigrant experience. This article in particular was originally published in the Comity Commission of the Chicago Church Federation that bears witness to the Protestant Mexican experience. The article, in which a few Mexican Protestants in Chicago are interviewed, makes an implicit claim about a sense of belonging. Members of these west side churches prioritized community over adherence to their Roman Catholic roots. The religiosity seemed to be a byproduct of wanting to find a community that could eat together, discuss openly together, and make music together.

As I continue to research for my final paper, I learn more and more about the overlap (and sometimes tensions) between religiosity and community. The author makes the observation that roughly 0.5% of Mexico’s population identifies as Protestant, whereas at least 3% of Mexican immigrants living in Chicago identify as such.2 These churches were not only supportive, but were also constructive in building a sense musical community. This newspaper article reminded me of an important lesson as I continue to read about venues both for my paper or in assigned readings. As researchers, we cannot project our expectations onto a historical event. If I had not read the whole article, I might have assumed that the only music was worship music. Or that most discussions happened in the context of prayer, service, or bible study. Rather, I found a  vivid account of how a space conceivably dedicated for one purpose was transformed into another. Don’t fall into the trap! When we assume, we make an … of you and me.

1 “Robert C. Jones and Louis R. Wilson: ‘The Mexican in Chicago’ (1931).” In The American Mosaic: The Latino American Experience, ABC-CLIO, 2019. Accessed November 11, 2019. http://latinoamerican2.abc-clio.com/Search/Display/1449373.

2 Ibid.

El Son Mexicano y La Canción Mexicana

El Son Mexicano, or the Mexican song, is a type of folk music derived from classical music styles of the baroque in terms of rhythms and harmonies, but incorporated into a style of folk performances with guitar and singers.  E Thomas Stanford wrote a good article on the characteristics of the style, and the history of the term and style.  Stanford emphasizes the importance of dance in the style, although there is a vocabulary difference.  A Danza, which is often used as a synonym for Son, denotes a more “primitive” or “raw” version of the word Baile, which is reserved for formal dances.  Stanford also finds that there are elements of Baroque dance performance styles that had been lost or forgotten in other mediums, but rediscovered through the Son.  It is likened to the way Madrigals have been treated in England.  The Son is closer to an authentic madrigal performance than a choir singing from a stage, as both forms are intended primarily as dances.

Image result for son mexicano

Contrasting with this is La Canción Mexicana, another form of mexican folk music.  This form is more popular in the area now known as the American Southwest and Borderlands and originated some time in the mid 19th century.  Peter J Garcia wrote an encyclopedic entry for the Latino American Experience, an online database of articles related to Latino American subjects.  Garcia characterizes the Canción as more emotionally driven than story driven, expressing feelings of intense sorrow, joy, grief, and gaiety.  Garcia claims that the Canción reached maturity in the 1850s, causing a “golden age of mexican song.”  The Canción takes its influences from Italian dramatic operas of the 18th and 19th century, using emotion as a drive rather than character motivation or storytelling.  This most cleanly fits into what Americans think of as Mariachi music, although it is not mariachi.  Mariachi is a distinct musical tradition with a set of specific instruments, although the two styles share some similarities.

Image result for mexican cancion

Now that a brief history of both terms has been established, we can get into the purpose of this blog post, which is listening to some performers of both styles and contrasting them to see if there is as clear a definition as García and Stanford would have us believe.

Our first musical example comes from the Naxos audio library, and is an album called Son de Mi Tierra (song of my earth/land) by a group from Veracruz named Son de Madera.  The tracks on this album are described by the group as a blending of old and new styles of Son, with a reverence for the traditions but an eye on the future.  Listening to the album, which can be done here, shows some link to Baroque senses of tonality, with the solo guitar line often mixing major and minor modes in a way reminiscent of Monteverdi and Allegri. The rhythmic nature of the lines, with clear beats in the bass line, also lends itself well to dancing.  The percussion (perhaps a guitar being hit, perhaps some form of drum) provides quite a bit of ornamentation around those beats, indicating a potential for some dancing ornamentation (think salsa dancing styles, with lots of hands and wardrobe accents on their dancing).  The themes of this music, being a clearer story and plot driving the narrative, also indicate that this would fit into the category of a Son.


    Son de Mi Tierra

If we have found a Son, what then makes a Cancíon.  The album “Con su Permisos, Señores” by Los Centzontles serves as our example here (found here).  The primary difference found here is the instrumental emphasis.  While the Son revolved around the stringed instruments, using the voices in conjunction, these Cancíones make heavier use of the voice.  This is to such an extent that the first track begins with an acapella chorus, beginning the themes of more emotionally driven music than plot.  In these pieces, an understanding can be gleaned without knowing Spanish or reading a translation.


    Los Cenzontles:

Works Cited

García, Peter J. “Canción.” The American Mosaic: The Latino American Experience, ABC-CLIO, 2019, latinoamerican2.abc-clio.com/Search/Display/1329518. Accessed 11 Nov. 2019.

Stanford, E. Thomas. “The Mexican Son.” Yearbook of the International Folk Music Council 4 (1972): 66-86. doi:10.2307/767674.

 

Ike For President

Barak Obama, Donald Trump, and Hillary Clinton have all used popular songs to further their presidential campaigns in recent years, but this idea is surprisingly not new to American politics.

When I began researching for my final paper, which is about presidential campaign songs, I wanted to gain a broad understanding of these songs and their usage, so I headed to Google. The first song that came up is “I Like Ike.” “I Like Ike” was used for Dwight D. Eisenhower’s presidential campaign in 1952. I wanted to take a closer look at this primary source for my blog post this week because this trend of using a pop song for a campaign song seems to have sprung up from “I Like Ike.”

“I Like Ike” was written by Tin Pan Alley songwriter Irving Berlin in 1950. It was published and performed under the title “They Like Ike,” first appearing in Berlin’s musical, Call Me Madam. The musical is centered around a Washington D.C. socialite-turned-ambassador. The show was a major hit and won a Tony Award for best score. At the time, Eisenhower was not running for the presidency, but Berlin was hopeful that he would.

The original publication of “They Like Ike” from Berlin’s musical “Call Me Madam”

Once Eisenhower announced his candidacy, Berlin switched the lyrics around a bit and changed the title to “I Like Ike.” The song became a cornerstone for the Eisenhower campaign strategy, as the phrase “I Like Ike” was widespread on advertisements, posters, buttons, and even license plates. With the change of a few words, Berlin’s Broadway hit became a driving force in winning Eisenhower’s presidency.

Some of the many forms that “I Like Ike” appeared across America in 1952

The 1952 “remix” used for Eisenhower’s campaign

The song has elements that make for a solid campaign song: a march-like accompaniment and a simple to follow melody line. If I was to take away the lyrics from the sheet music, you or I probably couldn’t tell this song apart from any other written in the lineage of Tin Pan Alley.

After Eisenhower won the presidency, Berlin continued in his role as musical fanboy for Eisenhower, as he would later update the song two more times to “I Still Like Ike,” “Ike for Four More Years,” and “We Still Like Ike.”

 

P.S. Unfortunately, all versions of “I Like Ike” are still under copyright, so we’re not able to view and compare them, except for the original publication of the campaign song that I was able to attain through The Lester S. Levy Sheet Music Collection.

Primary Sources:

Berlin, Irving. I Like Ike. New York, New York: Irving Berlin Music Corporation, 1952.

Berlin, Irving. They Like Ike. New York, New York: Irving Berlin Music Corporation, 1950.

Secondary Source:

“Irving Berlin ‘They Like Ike’ from Call Me Madam.” Yale University Library: Exhibits at the Irving S. Gilmore Music Library: Hail to the Chief: Irving Berlin, “They Like Ike” from Call Me Madam, 2010, www.library.yale.edu/musiclib/exhibits/hail_chief/like_ike.html. Accessed 11 November, 2019.

Broceros and their Songs

“Before the United States entered World War II, agricultural authorities warned the federal government that a labor shortage loomed due to American workers enlisting in the armed forces or taking jobs in the defense industry. To fill the shortage, the United States negotiated a guest-worker program with the Mexican government that led to the creation of the Bracero Program [1].” The Bracero Program allowed millions of Mexican men to come to the United States to work short-term on primarily agricultural labor contracts. From 1942 to 1964, 4.6 million contracts were signed, with many individuals returning several times on different contracts, making it the largest U.S. contract labor program.

a poster from 1941 promoting the Bracero program

In my research, I found some very painful songs that arose from this era in American history. These songs were called “corridos,” or traditional Mexican folk songs. One of the corridos I found was entitled “Corrido de los desarraigados,” or “The Corrido of the Uprooted Ones [2].” 

check out this link for a song that sounds similar to “The Corrido of the Uprooted Ones.”

I found it difficult to read the text of this song. Some of the lyrics are quite shocking:

“They work us like slaves
And treat us like dogs.
All we need is for them to ride us
And to put the bridle on us.

The men in the Bracero program were not treated well. “Guarantees for braceros were not kept. Many employers paid workers less than agreed. They also charged for workers’ food, housing, and tools. Some money was kept back in savings accounts, which were usually not given to braceros. Living conditions were often poor, and most braceros faced discrimination and hostility from local populations. Conditions resulted in some strikes by braceros, but force and threats of deportation to Mexico usually ended the stoppages [1].”

The men in the Bracero program found a way to express their suffering through music. I imagine that with all of the immigration conflicts America is currently undergoing, there is going to continue to be music that tells of the painful parts of the Latin American experience. My hope is that we as a nation will listen.

Sources

[1] Watts, Tim. “Bootstraps and Braceros, 1942–1948.” The American Mosaic: The Latino American Experience, ABC-CLIO, 2019, latinoamerican2.abc-clio.com/Topics/Display/27. Accessed 10 Nov. 2019.

[2] Castillo, Arnulfo, “Corrido de los desarraigados,” 1942, transcribed and translated in Herrera-Sobek, María, Northward Bound: The Mexican Immigrant Experience in Ballad and Song, Bloomington, IN: Indiana University Press, (1993), p. 164-165.

Contradictions in Jazz

Delving into jazz this week, I’ve realized that by own perception of the genre is full of contradictions. I simultaneously have a conception of jazz as a broad, far-reaching category of music and as a very specific sound. I would count myself as a peripheral consumer of jazz; I’ve listened to it intentionally a few times and been exposed to it in a vague sense for my whole life, but I’ve never studied it or fully immersed myself. In this sense, I’m probably fairly representative of the general public in my relationship to jazz; accordingly, I think many of the contradictions I find in my own perception of jazz show up in the way the general public talks about jazz.

Even our use of the word jazz itself reveals this contradiction; we use “jazzy” as an adjective almost constantly. It’s odd, considering that we wouldn’t really call anything “classical-y,” “rock-y,” or “country-y.” Usually, syncopation, a swing, a little dissonance, and some blue notes are what prompt us to label a music as “jazzy.” In this way, we have some very specific sounds that we think constitute jazz. Many early critics of jazz, such as Anne Shaw Faulkner and Frank Damrosch, found that these very characteristics of jazz were what made it “primitive,” “vulgar,” and even “evil.”1 I am more inclined to agree with Langston Hughes and Dave Peyton, who see jazz’s structure, style, and sound as enabling freedom of expression.2 It is this very quality that I suspect allows the span of musics that are considered jazz to be so vasts. This span is excellently illustrated just by the Wikipedia page “List of jazz genres,” which lists fifty-five distinct sub-genres of jazz.

Chico O’Farrill, circa 1950

My reflection on how we conceive of jazz was prompted by one of these sub-genres, Afro-Cuban jazz, which I stumbled upon while searching through The Latin American Experience database.The founder of the Afro-Cuban jazz genre, Chico O’Farrill, was a Cuban-born musician who is now regarded as one of the most influential figures in the forming of Latin jazz. Particularly, O’Farrill’s “Afro-Cuban Jazz Suite” fuses Afro-Cuban drumming practices, Cuban dance forms, jazz styles, and classical music form.3

Chico O’Farrill’s “Afro-Cuban Jazz Suite”

Listening even just to the first track, “Cancion,” we can hear the typical call and response solo style of jazz, the intense rhythmic drumming in Afro-Cuban style, the syncopation and melodic lines of a traditional Cuban “Cancion,” and the dissonant, sharp chords typical of big bang jazz. I think it was precisely the contradictory nature of our conception of jazz that allowed this kind of fusion to be fully embraced as a part of the genre.

1 Robert Walser, Keeping Time: Readings in Jazz History, (New York, Oxford University Press, 1999), 32-44.

2 Robert Walser, Keeping Time: Readings in Jazz History, (New York, Oxford University Press, 1999), 55-59.

3 Gail Cueto, “Chico O’farrill”, 2019.

Works Cited:

Afro-Cuban Jazz Suite. Recorded January 18, 2005. Verve Records, 2005, Streaming Audio. https://search.alexanderstreet.com/view/work/bibliographic_entity%7Crecorded_cd%7C709286. 
Cueto, Gail A. “Chico O’farrill.” In The American Mosaic: The Latino American Experience, ABC-CLIO, 2019. Accessed November 10, 2019. http://latinoamerican2.abc-clio.com/Search/Display/1326422.

Walser, Robert. Keeping Time: Readings in Jazz History. New York, Oxford University Press, 1999.

 

The Spanish-American War Meets Tin Pan Alley

I seem to have a knack for digging up old American patriotic songs. In a previous blog post, I compared three sets of sheet music written between 1916 and 1918 and compared them to Virgil Thomson’s definition of musical traits post 1910. In the Latin American Experience database, I found a piece titled “The Yankee Message or Uncle Sam to Spain” by Edward S. Ellis and Chas. M. Hattersley. This one, however, was written in 1898, a full 20 years before “Come On, America” and its counterparts exemplified Thomson’s traits of 8th note continuity, separation between dynamics and tempo, and “phonetic distortion without loss of clarity.”

Like the other pieces, “The Yankee Message” is primarily in 2/4 with the eighth note driving the rhythm. The refrain is in 6/8 with alternating quarter and eighth notes. Syllabic text setting gives it a distinctly march-like feel, and dynamics and tempo are independent. The cover art features an American flag, and the “Yankee” title situate it firmly as patriotic

The date, title, and content leaves little guess work about the context of this piece. In 1898 the Spanish-American War began and ended in a matter of months. The most immediate and oft-pointed to cause of the Spanish-American War was the explosion of the USS Maine in 1898. However, the U.S. had long had interest in purchasing Cuba, and the Cuban struggle for independence from Spain was harming US monetary interests. After the Treaty of Paris concluded the conflict, Cuba gained independence, and the US received control over Puerto Rico, Guam, and the Philippines.

The lyrics of this piece read:

“1. I hear across the waters, From out the southern sea, The wail of sons and daughters, In wo[e]ful misery, If you must act the butcher, And helpless ones roust die, I swear by the Eternal! I’ll smite you hip and thigh!

 

2. We’ve got the boys to do it, A million men and more; We’ve got our new born navy, And Deweys by the score. We’ll smash your grim old Morroe[?], And brign them round your ears, And make the measure honest, With a thousand ‘Volunteers.

 

[Refrain:] Then hurrah, hurrah for Cuba! Our free Cuba.

We strike, we strike for wage and fight the battle. We strike, we strike for liberty! Until our Cuba’s free!

 

3. We greet you gallant Cubans, We’re fighting side by side, Not yet, O fair Antilles, Hath sleeping Freedom died; We’ll make that horde “walk Spanish,” (You hear my thund’rous voice,) And as between two evils, We’ll give you ‘Hobson’s choice.’

 

4. Our tears for the dead heroes, The Maine and martyred crew; A sigh for smitten sailors, Who died as patriots do; But sure as dawns the morrow, and sure as sets the sun, We’ll avenge our murdered brothers, Avenge them ev’ry one!

 

[Refrain]”

There’s a lot to unpack in the lyrics alone, especially as they are quite lengthy. The focus on freedom, liberty, and martyrs, suggest the war was fought for purely humanitarian reasons, a narrative the US government encouraged. Many phrases would require substantial investigation to understand from a contemporary perspective.

If the previous pieces I studied fit Thomson’s ideas to a fair extent, and this piece does as well, what does this say about American music? For one, perhaps identifying music after 1910 as distinct is not particularly helpful. Or, perhaps these pieces are more representative of a different genre, that of American patriotic marches. The design of the cover suggests Tin Pan Alley and pop music. Perhaps the exclusion of popular music was implied in Thomson’s writings. Regardless, examining patriotic music is helpful because these are the pieces that explicitly try to define themselves based on a national identity. From this we can gain insight into which common sonic features are thus implicitly “American” and recognize their significance when they appear outside of this context. This piece is also a great example of how current events routinely impact musical production. “The Yankee Message” is significant because it can be viewed as both a mirror to and an active participant in the discourse surrounding the Spanish-American War.

(Like my last blog post, I was unable to find a recording of this piece. Perhaps this calls for a recording session of American patriotic marches composed during war times?)

Works Cited

Hattersley, Chas. M. and Edward S. Ellis. “The Yankee message; Uncle Sam to Spain.” Trenton, New Jersey: Chas. M. Hattersley, 1898.

“The World of 1898: The Spanish-American War.” Hispanic Reading Room. Library of Congress. https://www.loc.gov/rr/hispanic/1898/intro.html.

Thomson, Virgil. “American Musical Traits.” American Music Since 1910. New York: Holt, Rinehart and Winston, 1971.

A Eulogy for the 1963 Birmingham Bombing

September 15, 1963: A bomb goes off at the Sixteenth Street Baptist Church in Birmingham, Alabama. Four young African American girls are killed during church services, 14 more are injured.

September 16, 1963: Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and President John F. Kennedy speak on the tragedy, each calling it cruel and charged by racial hatred and injustice.

1965: Suspects of the bombing emerge. Bobby Frank Cherry, Thomas Blanton, Robert Chambliss, and Herman Frank Cash—four members of the Ku Klux Klan. Witnesses don’t speak up and physical evidence is determined insufficient, so no charges are filed.

1976: Alabama Attorney General Bill Baxley reopens the case.

1977-now: Chambliss, Cherry, and Blanton are each eventually charged with the bombing. Chambliss and Cherry died in prison; Blanton was denied parole in 2016. Cash dies without being formally charged.

However, this timeline is missing an event not typically added to timelines of the Birmingham bombing.

 November 18, 1963: Jazz performer, John Coltrane, records “Alabama” which, although never verbally confirmed by Coltrane, is known as a musical eulogy for the victims of Birmingham.

The song features a melancholy melody, a much slower tempo than many of Coltrane’s songs, and a hauntingly sorrowful tone from Coltrane’s saxophone. These aspects not only capture the tragedy and sorrow of the Birmingham event, but of the human injustice that ignited the civil rights movement.

It is said that Coltrane was motivated by Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s eulogy for the girls. This video, featuring King’s eulogy, also shows clips from the aftermath of the Charleston church shooting from 2015, which has evocative parallels to the 1963 Birmingham bombing:

In his eulogy, King states, “These children, unoffending, innocent and beautiful, were the victims of one of the most vicious and tragic crimes ever perpetrated against humanity…They did not die in vain. God still has a way of bringing good out of evil.”

Jazz can be something joyful. It can be songs like “Sing, Sing, Sing” by Benny Goodman, it can be music that dozens dance to at weddings and in bars. But it can also be something politically motivated and inspired. “Alabama” was a source of solace for many individuals shaken by the tragedy; the rawness of the song shows the devastating nature of the bombing, but also the tragedy behind all African American lives lost during the Civil Rights Movement. Coltrane, a black musician, used what he knew best to make an impact on the Movement – music.

“Alabama,” among other politically motivated songs, remains known as an anthem of a kind for the Civil Rights Movement. Not an anthem that was sung during protests or at speeches by Civil Rights leaders, but that was heard on the radio and sparked a remembrance for the four girls who lost their lives in Birmingham in 1963.

Bibliography:

“1963 Birmingham Church Bombing Fast Facts.” CNN.com. https://www.cnn.com/2013/06/13/us/1963-birmingham-church-bombing-fast-facts/index.html (accessed November 8, 2019).

A John Coltrane Retrospective: The Impulse Years. Conducted by Eric Dolphy. Recorded November 10, 1998. Universal Music, 1998, Streaming Audio. https://search.alexanderstreet.com/view/work/bibliographic_entity%7Crecorded_cd%7C694615. 

“Birmingham Bomb Planted.” New York Times (1923-Current File), Sep 21, 1963. https://search.proquest.com/docview/116602072?accountid=351.

“MLK’s 1963 eulogy after the Birmingham church bombing.” YouTube Video, 2:26. “CBS Evening News,” June 15, 2015. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=iKxb0FuFlTA

Sitton ,Claude, “Birmingham Bomb Kills Four Negro Girls” New York Times (1923-Current File), Sep 16, 1963. https://search.proquest.com/docview/116339790?accountid=351.

“The Story Behind “Alabama” by John Coltrane.” The Music Aficionado. https://musicaficionado.blog/2016/04/14/alabama-by-john-coltrane/ (accessed November 8, 2019).

Latino Experience as depicted through “West Side Story”

Above features the video “America” from West Side Story. Behind the distinctive Spanish rhythm and instrumentation Leonard Bernstein used,  there are depictions of the Puerto Ricans’ experiences in their home country versus America. When the musical debuted on Broadway in 1957, it highlighted tensions between the Puerto Rican migrants and “whites” of New York. The song, “America” serves as a testament of an interpretation and stereotypes of the Latino migrant experience.

Puerto Rican migrants arrive in New York, 1954. Library of Congress.

Migrants from Puerto Rico to New York exploded during the nineteenth century. In 1945, there were about 13,000 living in New York. That number reached a million by the 1960’s.1 One reason many migrated to New York was because they could make double the pay for the same work than what they were making in Puerto Rico, which was grappling with a depression.2 Meanwhile, New York Newspapers in the 1940’s and 50’s flashed daily headlines that emphasized the “whiteness” and good backgrounds of the victims, while painting the Hispanic assailants as unprovoked in their  horrible actions. This tension between the Puerto Rican migrants that were seen as taking over the city and their conflict and strain with other minorities in the city became the perfect canvas for the musical.

The lyrics in “America” contrast between the Hispanic girls and guys (in the 1961 version and video above). The females are optimistic, hopeful in there lyrics “I’ll get a terrace apartment”, “Industry boom in America” and “free to be anything you choose.” On the male side, their response is less bright with responses like “Better get rid of your accent,” “12 in a room in America,” and “Free to wait tables and shine shoes.”3 The contrasting feelings about being in America represent disunity in their experience, just as the musical overall represents disunity and plots the Italians against the Puerto Ricans.

While the musical may be artificial in representing the Puerto Rican experience in New York in some ways, the violence between gangs and different ethic groups is accurate. In the musical, a fight ensues between the two gangs, mostly over pride that ends deadly for both sides. One New York Times article published in 1955 has a headline “Hoodlum, 17, seized as Slayer of Boy, 15.”4 As one can imagine, the article depicts the victim as “well mannered” and a “good student.” The “hoodlum” on the other hand, Frank Santana, shot him “seemingly unprovoked.” The gang violence in this article is similar to the musical, but the “culprit” does not get to just walk away and evade the police.

If Bernstein’s main goal was to create an authentic example of the Puerto Rican experience in “West Side Story,” there are certainly better ways it could have been achieved. He does however underline the optimism some migrants had for the new country and leaving their past behind. The reckless and problematic violence in the musical between gangs is also emulated, but is lacking in the targeted blaming migrants had to face that is evident in the plethora of articles published at the time. Overall, while  West Side Story borders artificial is representing the Puerto Ricans, it is worth a watch and underlines issues faced by the Latino migrant.

1 “Immigration, Puerto Rican/Cuban” Library of Congress. https://www.loc.gov/teachers/classroommaterials/presentationsandactivities/presentations/immigration/cuban3.html

2 Wells, Elizabeth A. West Side Story Cultural Perspectives on an American Musical. S.l.], 2010. http://portal.igpublish.com/iglibrary/search/ROWMANB0001881.html.

3 Sondheim, Stephen. © 1956, 1957 Amberson Holdings LLC and Stephen Sondheim. Copyright renewed. Leonard Bernstein Music Publishing Company LLC, Publisher. https://www.westsidestory.com/lyrics

4 Hoodlum, 17, seized as slayer of boy, 15: HOODLUM, 17, HELD IN SLAYING OF BOY. (1955, May 02). New York Times (1923-Current File) Retrieved from https://search.proquest.com/docview/113364015?accountid=351

The Depression Can’t Stop the St. Olaf Choir

What better use of the Manitou Messenger than to look into the history of the St. Olaf Choir! Having just gone on tour with the choir this past summer, I wanted to look into previous “homecoming” tours such as the tour of 1930. This tour, in particular, piqued my interest as it occurred during the depression and spanned 3 months and several countries, not including the winter tour to the south. Here is what the touring schedule included:

Manitou Messenger. June 3, 1930.

Manitou Messenger. June 3, 1930.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

According to the SHAW-OLSON CENTER FOR COLLEGE HISTORY, the invitation to the celebration of the 900th anniversary of the Christianization of Norway was carefully considered and accepted [3]. This year, when preparing to leave for tour, it was emphasized that the return of the St. Olaf Choir was very much seen as a homecoming as I had stated and is further supported by Schmidt’s memoir [3].

My first question was primarily, how could students and their families afford a 3-month European tour during the Depression? One way was through selling sight-seeing tours for parties interested in touring with the choir which amounted to $6,500 then, approximates to $99,936 for adjusted inflation [2, 3]. Uff da! These additional funds were said to have alleviated some of the costs but any more details around financial issues were not mentioned [2]. More importantly, it was the celebration of Christianity being brought to Norway (as well as some good old fashioned sight-seeing!) that inspired donors and students alike. 

There was also mention of a farewell party, “to bid bon voyage” which I found endearing. Events surrounding the choir were published throughout the school year such as, “Choir Presents Concert Tonight In Minneapolis” on April 29th, 1930 and “Choir Leaves Northfield on European Tour,” June 3, 1930. A number of similar articles were published throughout the announcement of the tour and throughout the year. What I am trying to get at is 1) the events of the choir were always in the paper and 2) not even the great depression can stop the St. Olaf Choir from touring.

Works Cited:

[1] “Faculty Entertains Choir At Farewell Party Sunday; Speeches, Songs on Program.” Manitou Messenger, June 3, 1930. https://stolaf.eastview.com/browse/doc/45743203

[2] “Sale of Tickets Mounts as Norway Tour Approaches.” Manitou Messenger, January 7, 1930. https://stolaf.eastview.com/browse/doc/45744023

[3] Schmidt, Paul. “The 1930 European Tour,” Shaw-Olson Center for College History. St. Olaf College, 1967. https://wp.stolaf.edu/archives/my-years-at-st-olaf/the-1930-european-tour/

Rhapsody in Blue

After its 1924 premiere in New York City, George Gershwin’s ‘Rhapsody in Blue’ caught the attention of both critics and audiences, and Gershwin became known as the “man who had brought jazz into the concert hall” [1]. Gershwin intentionally combined musical styles from the classical and jazz worlds, creating controversy due to the African-American roots of jazz. As current discourse surrounding appropriation constantly increases among musicians, one may wonder why Gershwin, who was not black, would insert jazz music into his classical compositions.

Gershwin (1898-1937) began as a song plugger in NYC’s Tin Pan Alley when he was only 15 years old. He later became involved in writing Broadway shows, and eventually started composing concert music [1]

As Evan Rapport describes in his article “Bill Finegan’s Gershwin Arrangements and the American Concept of Hybridity,” widespread ideas surround ‘white’ versus ‘black’ music were incredibly binary and distinct from one another during the 1920s. As a result, ‘Rhapsody in Blue’ was considered a ‘symphonic jazz’ piece, a ‘hybrid’ of black and white music. Rapport states:

“[The concert] exploited the taboo appeal of playing music widely associated with popular entertainment and African Americans in a concert hall mostly patronized by wealthy white elites, with boasts such as “the first jazz concert that was ever given in the sacred halls of a symphonic hall“–although black composers and performers were absent from the concert, along with any mention of the black origins of jazz” [4].

Gershwin was so comfortable using black musical ideas because he regarded jazz as American, not specifically black, music; “In speaking of jazz there is one superstition . . . which must be destroyed. This is the superstition that jazz is essentially Negro. . . . Jazz is not Negro but American.” To Gershwin, “Jazz was ‘the voice of the American soul,’ which was ‘black and white . . . all colors and all souls unified in the great melting pot of the world’.” Others, however, believed that Gershwin was ‘diluting’ the quality of classical and jazz music by combining them [4].

Another fact to consider when speculating Gershwin’s intention behind ‘Rhapsody in Blue’ is his Jewish heritage, and the “ambiguous racial position of Jewish Americans” at the time; “His Jewish race existed between black and white, linked to blackness and European otherness, and shaped by centuries of antisemitic rhetoric.” Gershwin’s use of jazz idioms could have therefore been geared “towards the possibility of immigrant assimilation and racial and social mobility in the New World” [4].

In a 1965 annual pops concert at the St. Olaf College Gymnasium was themed around Gershwin’s ‘Rhapsody in Blue’ featuring a student as the piano soloist accompanied by the Chamber Band. The article describes the set-up:

Tables for four complete with tablecloths and candles will cover the gym floor, thus providing a cozy atmosphere. These will be on a first come, first served basis. During the first intermission refreshments will be served to those seated at the tables. During the second intermission those at the tables will be asked to change places with those in the bleachers who will in turn be served refreshments” [3]

This article echoes Rapport’s description of ‘Rhapsody in Blue’s’ premiere; St. Olaf, filled with a mostly white audience,  attempts to turn its gymnasium into a prestigious concert hall complete with tablecloths, candles, and refreshments. In my opinion, “Rhapsody in Blue” is a valuable American piece to study and perform, but one must discuss and consider its racial context and origins to understand Gershwin’s musical intentions.

 

  1. Carnovale, Norbert, Richard Crawford, and Wayne J. Schneider. “Gershwin, George.” Grove Music Online. 2001. Oxford University Press. Date of access 3 Nov. 2019, <https://www.oxfordmusiconline.com/grovemusic/view/10.1093/gmo/9781561592630.001.0001/omo-9781561592630-e-0000047026>
  2.  Gershwin, George et al. Rhapsody in blue : American in Paris. Place of publication not identified: Vox, 1901. Print.
  3.  “Pop concert features ‘Rhapsody in Blue’.” The Manitou Messenger (1916-2014),  No. 5, Vol.078, March 12, 1965, page(s): 1 https://stolaf.eastview.com/browse/doc/46103667
  4.  Rapport, Evan. “Bill Finegan’s Gershwin Arrangements and the American Concept of Hybridity.” Journal of the Society for American Music 2.4 (2008): 507-30. ProQuest. 3 Nov. 2019 .

Doc Evans and Happy, Traditional Jazz

After realizing this blog post was due 3 days ago, I decided to search the term “Jazz” in the Manitou Messenger database just to see if there was anything of note.  Lo and behold, I found an advertisement for the Carleton graduate and cornet player Doc Evans and Dixieland Band in the October 23rd, 1959 edition:

[1]

(The only available records of Doc Evans were at Carleton, so here’s a recording I found on YouTube)

The advertisement seemed a little bit strange to me.  By calling his music “traditional” and “happy” jazz, it implies that his music being aesthetically “happier” makes it somewhat significant in the spectrum of jazz.  I would agree that Dixieland jazz is much peppier sounding, but it still seems like a weird emotional signifier in the context of jazz, which isn’t always the most jubilant music.  While I am also in Dave Hagedorn’s History of Jazz course, I should also point out that this advertisement and performance take place in 1959, which is a rather significant year for jazz in that it was the same year in which Miles Davis’ Kind of Blue released (and it is still the best selling jazz album of all time).  Obviously the comparison of Doc Evans to Miles Davis is a bit silly, but I think there is an implication that Doc Evans performs jazz the way it traditionally has been in contrast to Miles Davis and his iconoclastic approach to jazz.  Just for the sake of comparison, here’s “So What” from Miles Davis’ Kind of Blue.

After learning about how jazz had been commodified throughout the ’20s, ’30s, and ’40s by featuring primarily white jazz artists like Benny Goodman, Glenn Miller, Bix Beiderbecke, and many others for consumers who were also primarily white, it does not seem unsettling to me that Doc Evans would be presented as such.  In fact, even the earliest recordings of jazz were from white groups such as the Original Dixieland Jass Band in 1917.  It’s likely that Doc Evans took it upon himself to learn jazz as it was “traditionally” performed and played in the Dixieland/NOLA style of the ’20s and ’30s because that was easier for him than learning the growing trend of swing and bebop.  Or it could have been the only thing for him to learn in Northfield, Minnesota.

Sources

[1] “Doc Evans brings Dixieland to delight Ole jazz fans.” Manitou Messenger, October 23, 1959.