Black Is King

Non-Africans have such a narrow view of what Africa is and its diversity. In recent years, much of the culture, such as dances, music, and food, has become “trendy”. In 2020, Beyoncé released the visual album “Black Is King”. It has been over a year and I still have not seen it. I love Beyoncé. She is one of my biggest role models and the person who got me into music. However, I have an underlying dislike for this body of work. 

As a Nigerian American, it is frustrating to see my culture being glorified after many years of feeling ashamed of my heritage. As a child, I was made fun of for my name, certain words in my vocabulary, and my parents’ accents. I did not want to watch “Black Is King” because I thought it wasn’t fair for Beyoncé to receive so much credit for popularizing the culture that many of us have had to ride for their whole lives. Although I am not saying African culture isn’t their culture and I want Black Americans to feel connected with us, it is exasperating to see them profiting off the culture after it took them so long to fully claim it.

This is almost similar to the creators of the “Map of Slave Songs of the United States” researching and accrediting white abolitionists.

In this text, Ghanaian-American writer and editor Karen Attiah talks about the collaborations Beyoncé made for the “Black Is King” album. Attiah also addresses the criticism Beyoncé received for the album. A one-dimensional view of Africa is that the men are kings and the women are their wives, mothers, and guardians and this perspective is reinforced in “Black Is King”. I think that non-Africans believe this perspective is empowering for us, and it can be, but not when it is the only perspective. This is a narrative that is repeated in The Lion King and Black Panther. These are two of the most popular African-based movies and they share the same father-to-son becoming a king theme for men and wife/mother/guardian theme for women. While I appreciate that some of these stories are trying to bring to light “African culture”, in the long run, this repeated portrayal might do more harm than good. 

In regards to the author of the text, I validate her credibility because she is African. Validation by white american means (PWI education and experience) carries no weight with me in this context. This is completely separate from white people. To me, her validity lies in the fact that she is well connected to her Ghanaian roots and has knowledge of Black America and perceptions of Africa because she has grown up experiencing both.




Attiah, Karen. “‘Black is King’ is Built on Problematic Narratives. Still, its Power is Undeniable.” WP Company LLC d/b/a The Washington Post, last modified Aug 07.

Hot Takes with Henry Hanchett

I have to commend Henry Granger Hanchett, a musician, doctor, and lecturer, on one thing: his choice of title for this piece, which was published in The Outlook (a New York magazine) in 1896. Posing the question, “What is ‘Good Music’?” in the title of an article implies to me that the author intended to answer that question to some degree of certainty within approximately one page, something most authors would be cautious of. In fact, Hanchett appears to have had few reservations about answering such large musicological questions, having also written during his lifetime a book with the title, “The Art of the Musician. A Guide to the Intelligent Appreciation of Music.”

In this particular article, “What is ‘Good Music’?”, Hanchett explores typical themes such as church music, the purpose of music, personal tastes, the roles of instruments and performers, and so on. However, what I found to be the most telling about Hanchett in this article, as well as the role of race and identity in his musical opinions, were his offhand comments about “Gospel Hymns”. He uses the example of the song “Way Down Upon the Suwanee [Swanee] River” being performed by a beloved opera singer, Christine Nilsson, to illustrate that even the most inferior compositions can be made into good music through a virtuosic  performance. In the midst of an article otherwise dominated by a casual and exploratory tone, Hanchett shifts to an exasperated condemnation of what he believes to be gospel music. He describes these “Gospel Hymns” as “not really worth the paper upon which [they are] printed,” having “no musical sense or meaning,” and overall, “not good music.”

As I attempted to get a clearer understanding of what Hanchett’s definition of a “Gospel Hymn” was, I searched for recordings of “Way Down Upon the Swanee River” (also called “Old Folks at Home”). This immediately led me to a video of Al Jolson, a popular minstrel show performer in the 1900s, performing the song in blackface in the movie Swanee River.

Diving deeper into the background and the lyrics of this song, it turns out that “Way Down Upon the Swanee River” is, in fact, a minstrel song written by Stephen C. Foster (and currently the Florida state song??). In addition to being written by a white guy for other white guys in blackface to perform, the song makes no reference to religion or the gospel. I may not know a perfect definition of what a Gospel Hymn is, but I’m pretty sure that this is not it. All available evidence leads me to assume that Hanchett hates this particular song, as well as the musical style, not because it is rooted in the racist practice of minstrelsy but because he actually perceives it to be genuine Black music and he’s just super racist. Although Henry G. Hanchett had his knack for musicological confidence, behind that confidence was the privilege and ignorance that make his opinions irrelevant today.



Crawford, R. (2005). America’s musical life: A history. W.W. Norton.

Goldstein, H. (2001, January 20). Jolson, Al. Grove Music Online. Retrieved September 28, 2021, from

Hanchett, Henry G. “What is “Good Music”?” Outlook (1893-1924), Feb 15, 1896, 287,

Martin, S. L. (2015, May 28). Hanchett, Henry Granger. Grove Music Online. Retrieved September 28, 2021, from

Old folks at home. Song of America. (2018, July 16). Retrieved September 28, 2021, from

Root, D. L. (2013, October 16). Foster, Stephen C(ollins). Grove Music Online. Retrieved September 28, 2021, from

Southern, E. (1983). The music of Black America: A history. Norton.

Complicated Crossroads of Colonialism

In the grand search of defining the term “American Music”, the deeper you dig, the more muddy and complicated it gets. It is seen even in this simple sheet music cover published in 1898 that the so-called “Yankee message” was something that was emphasized at one point or another, having an impact on what they coined as “patriotic music” (“Patriotic American Sheet Music.”)

The phrase “The Yankee Message” caught my eye and caused me to want to research the context and intention of this particular music. This piece of music was published and written in the midst of the Spanish-American War. According to an article from the American Mosaic talking about the Spanish-American War, for the United States, much of this war was ignited by the desire and push for American Expansionism (“Spanish-American War.”). Most Americans saw the conflict between Cuba and its colonial combatant Spain as an “in” for greater expansion and influence:

“Some were attracted by the idea of new financial markets; others were inspired by the notions of spreading the twin ideals of Christianity and American conceptions of liberty and equality to other peoples.”

This raised the question for me: “How can we look at music from this time period without the harsh influence of the American urge to be a world power?” The concept of “spreading the twin ideals of Christianity and American conceptions” made me think of the article we read by Richard Crawford pertaining to the Early Christian Music-Making that took place in colonial America where much European influence took place in the beginning formations of music in general of America when it came to sacred music-making and how colonization had a huge part in this movement of music at the time. This can point to the fact that this piece of music pointed to a sort of “patriotism”, even though much of the surrounding context revolved around wanting to gain total power and influence. It also made me think of the article we read by Drew Edward Davies discussing the topics revolving around “local music” and the music of “New Spain.” Reading about the influence that Spain had on the Latin music that has survived up until the present day (“villancico” and the Latin-Baroque style) compliments the backdrop and context of this sheet music cover from the Spanish-American war. The ideas that Davies raised at the end of their article pertaining to challenging the assumptions of particular genres of music involving various cultures that Spain (and eventually America) dominated and dialoguing about the “repertoire’s problematic issues” are ones that should be taken in consideration about these types of pieces as well.

Looking into the greater context of this piece of sheet music greatly coincided with the topics discussed around the locality and dominant influences of Europe when it comes to music produced and composed in times like the Spanish-American war and beyond. Terms like “The Yankee Message” can go beyond a simple phrase and raise questions around the context of various music composed and what directly and indirectly influenced the music of that time.

Davies, Drew Edward. “Finding ‘Local Content’ in the Music of New Spain.” Early Music America 19, no. 2 (2013): 64–62.

“Patriotic American Sheet Music.” The American Mosaic: The Latino American Experience, ABC-CLIO, 2021, Accessed 28 Sept. 2021.

“Spanish-American War.” The American Mosaic: The Latino American Experience, ABC-CLIO, 2021, Accessed 28 Sept. 2021.

Cohen Quest: Marian Anderson’s Lincoln Memorial Concert


Welcome to Cohen Quest! In the very first installment, I have some exciting letters, telegrams, and newspaper articles to share and discuss that solidify our guy Chas’s1 place in history. Spoiler alert, it has to do with Marian Anderson’s Lincoln Memorial Concert; but you already knew that, didn’t you? You’re so smart. 

I should start with an explanation of what the Cohen Quest series is: last year, I received the art song “Epitaph for a Poet” composed by a Cecil Cohen. In doing my song research, I had extreme difficulty finding information on the composer besides two short biographies from the African American Art Song Alliance and the African Diaspora Music Project, respectively. This lack of information is indicative of a greater issue:  composers of color are often left out of history, their stories forgotten and pushed to the side. Who was this man who composed a “deceptively simple”2 but absolutely gorgeous piece? And why is it that I, an undergraduate vocal performance major in Minnesota in 2021, am seemingly the first person to try to piece together a narrative of Cohen’s life? This series, I hope, will get to the bottom of both of these questions. So let’s get started before I hit the word count!

Dorothy Maynor sings Cohen’s “Epitaph for a Poet” live at the Library of Congress, accompanied by Arpád Sándor.

On April 9th, 1939, the very famous contralto Marian Anderson gave a concert on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial in Washington, DC.3 The story goes, after being denied access to Constitution Hall because she was black, Secretary of the Interior Harold Ickes invited her to perform in front of the Lincoln Memorial, an extraordinarily high honor even for a celebrated singer like Anderson. What does this have to do with Cecil Cohen, you ask? Well, at the time, Cohen was the chairman of the Howard University Concert Series, and therefore in charge of organizing and producing Marian Anderson’s concerts in Washington, DC, and therefore directly involved with one of the largest classical music concerts in modern American history.4

Newspaper article describing Marian Anderson's concert at the Lincoln Memorial on April 9th, 1939.In early January 1939, Charles Cohen approached the manager of Constitution Hall, Fred Hand, inquiring about renting it for a concert on April 9th. Cohen was informed of two things restricting their use of the space: firstly, the National Symphony Orchestra was already set to perform that afternoon, and secondly, a 1932 DAR policy restricted use of the hall to white performers. Due to the enormous popularity of Anderson, Cohen needed to book an auditorium large enough to accommodate at least 1,500 people; outstanding circumstances prevented the use of other sizable auditoriums in the area.

Cohen contacted the impresario and Anderson’s manager Sol Hurok about the issue who then contacted the DAR and was informed that Constitution Hall was available April 8th and April 10th.5 When Cohen again contacted Fred Hand to book the hall, Hand once again denied him, saying it “will not be available on either April 8th or  April 10th for the Marian Anderson Recital.” 6 The reply is short and sweet, and it speaks to Hand’s dismissiveness and callousness in the face of mounting pressure to open the hall to non-white musicians. That March, several prominent members of the DAR, including Eleanor Roosevelt, resigned from the organization, further increasing the conflict’s presence on the national stage.7 Then Secretary Ickes stepped in and Anderson performed for thousands of people at the Lincoln Memorial and the day was saved.

A news clip from Marian Anderson’s concert on April 9th, 1939, at the steps of the Lincoln Memorial in Washington DC.

Obviously, the story is a little more complex than that, but we’ll save those primary sources for next time. The point is, there was an extremely important figure completely left out of the narrative to make a cleaner, more concise story; not to mention his exclusion from history as a talented and forward-thinking composer and pianist. Hopefully we’ll continue to uncover more secrets of Cohen’s life as the semester goes on, the guy certainly deserves it.

1 O’Day, Caroline. [Supporters [arranged alphabetically] M-W: O’Day, Caroline]. Telegram. Marian Anderson Papers (University of Pennsylvania). Colenda Digital Repository. (accessed September 27, 2021).

2 Story, Rosalyn M., [liner notes to] Dorothy Maynor, soprano, Historic Performances from the Library of Congress, December 18, 1940, compact disc, 16.

3 Special to the New York Times. Throng Honors Marian Anderson in Concert at Lincoln Memorial. Newspaper. New York: The New York Times, 1939.

4 Cohen, Charles C. [Howard University, 1939: Cohen to Hurok]. Letter. Marian Anderson Papers (University of Pennsylvania). Colenda Digital Repository. (accessed September 28, 2021).

5 Hurok, Sol. [Howard University, 1939: Hurok to Cohen]. Telegram. Marian Anderson Papers (University of Pennsylvania). Colenda Digital Repository. (accessed September 28, 2021).

6 Cohen, Charles C; Fred Hand. Letter from Cohen (Howard) to Hand with his reply. Letter. Daughters of the American Revolution. NSDAR Archives Marian Anderson Documents January-April 1939.
Howard%29%20to%20Hand%20with%20his%20reply.pdf (accessed September 28, 2021).

7 Roosevelt, Eleanor. Letter of resignation from Roosevelt to PG Roberts. Letter. Daughters of the American Revolution. NSDAR Archives Marian Anderson Documents January-April 1939.
om%20Roosevelt%20to%20PG%20Robert.pdf (accessed September 27, 2021).

Rise and Shine – African American Religious Music

In Eileen Southern’s writing, there were a lot of passages where she talked about hymnals and prayer music. She also introduced us to different practices, traditions and schools of psalmody singing, which all work with each other in the dome of music sung and played by the enslaved. While in class and doing readings, I have been thinking about what the music actually sounds like when they were sung by the enslaved African Americans: will they add their own harmonies? Any changes to the melodies? I found a source that also aimed to look into that.

This is an article that is, in my opinion,  “woke” for the time. The point of view of this article is neutral and unarrogant (unlike a lot of writings from that time), respectful of the culture, and the author acknowledges that more research needs to be done. The title of this article is Music: The Slave as a Revitalist. It was written by Horatio C. King, and was published in the Christian Union periodical on January 26, 1876. This article analyzed the music of African American religious gatherings (that are referred to in text as “sperichuals”… so is it spirituals?), and King provided information on what that is like, “To a stranger the peculiarity most striking is the intense emotion which pervades their singing and prayers as well as their preaching (pp. 78).” The outpour of emotions is not the only thing that stood out to him; he highlighted the importance of singing by stating that a meeting without singing will not accomplish much, and will also not uplift and enlighten people (pp. 78). 

King also pointed out some of the problems he encountered in his research. He stated that the harmonized melodies in the articles “must not be inferred that the ex-slaves sing thus strictly; nor on the other hand that they sing only in unison (pp. 78).” This is a slippery slope when it comes to musicological research because when music from a non-European tradition is transcribed into staff notes… you might lose some of that spice. King used the word “weird” when describing the tones of the music, and he is not the only one: in another periodical article, Penick, someone who is not a musician, said, “I am not able to analyze the weird melodies of the negroes.” (pp. 33) I bet some of that “weirdness” is lost in translation. 

I felt a bit lost with the property of this source, because it occurred to me that it is a combination of primary and secondary sources. It was written back in the days, and it has music scores from that time. However, it clearly states that some of the sources King cited were melodies heard from other people, and he understood that the melodies can’t be fully dictated, thus making it less authentic… Maybe this is the curse of doing research! 🙂 I think this topic is very interesting because you can’t avoid the discussion around authenticity, and the author approached the topic in an interesting way by combining African Americans’ religious life with their musical practices, and I find that quite interesting.


Works Cited

King, Horatio C. “Music.: THE SLAVE AS A REVIVALIST. THE OLD ARK’S MOVING. MY LORD, WHAT A MORNING. RISE AND SHINE.” Christian Union (1870-1893), vol. 13, no. 4, Jan 26, 1876, pp. 78. ProQuest,

Penick, C. C. “NEGRO MUSIC AND FOLK LORE.” The Musical Visitor, a Magazine of Musical Literature and Music (1883-1897), vol. 24, no. 2, 02, 1895, pp. 33. ProQuest,

Southern, Eileen. The Music of Black Americans, 3rd Edition. New York, W. W. Norton & Company, 1997.

Credit where Credit is Undue

While reading Eileen Southen’s passage about psalmody and hymnody practices in New England meetinghouses in the 1600s, I was interested to learn more about the separated and unseparated musical practices in the church based on skin color. Specifically, I was interested to learn more about when the separation of parish choir members shifted to include members of the black community — and why.

This curiosity led me to learn about H.T. Burleigh, dubbed “The First of His Race to Sing Among Vested Vocalists in a White Parish” by the New York Herald in 1894. The article highlights Burleighs trailblazing position as baritone soloist at St. George’s Church in New York City. The author, though unnamed, outlines Burleigh’s musical achievements, and throughout the article, praises all of the people that helped him along the way — people who are most likely white. 

While I’m sure it is true that Burleigh received much help along the way, this help is what the article focuses on. In doing so, the author seemingly takes much of the focus away from Burleigh and instead focuses on the people who made his success possible for him. With the likelihood that the author of this article is also white, it is impossible to ignore how their own musical experiences and perspective influence the means in which Burleigh’s story is presented.


This writing and tone of this article is therefore like many others of its time when the subject is the accomplishments of African Americans and Black people in the United States in that it either highlights or focuses on the role that white people played in such accomplishments. The tone of these writings intend to take some or all of the credit for the success of Black people in America and instead contribute it to the resources and doings of white Americans. 


A common theme in African-American and Black music-making, this portrayal of Burleigh’s success points to the overwhelming role that oppression played and has continued to play in American history. With this in mind, it is important to compare and contrast this primary source with other written histories in order to find the “truth”.

One way to do this is to read and learn about these histories in sources written by people with differing musical experiences, similarly to how we learned contrasting histories surrounding the origins and highlights of American bluegrass music. Though it is not a primary source, G. Yvonne Kendall’s recount of Burleigh’s career successes and highlights in The American Mosaic: The African American Experience paints a very different picture as to how Burleigh came to be the first Black chorister in a white parish, attributing it to his success at the Chicago World’s Fair.

This history considered, it is also hard for me to ignore the very title of this article, “No Color Line in this Choir”. The title attempts to diminish and ignore the role that race and ethnicity play in the lives and successes of African Americans and Black people. This title is nearly equivalent to the phrase “I don’t see color” and ignores the history and sacrifices that needed to be made in favor of continuing the oppression of African American and Black success.]



Kendall, G. Yvonne. “Concert Music: 1861-1919.” The American Mosaic: The African 

American Experience, ABC-CLIO, 2021, Accessed 28 Sept. 2021.

“No Color Line in This Choir.” New York Herald, 1894.

Southern, Eileen. The Music of Black Americans : a History 2nd edition. New York: Norton, 1983.


Mexican Corrido and Music Born of Revolution

The beginning of the 20th century brought about a slew of cultural and political revolutions in Mexico, more specifically 1910-1920. Fleeing the political turmoil, typically as a result of stolen land from wealthy capital owners, hundreds of thousands, left from the one tenth of the population’s live lost, of immigrants migrated to the US. With blooming inductres in the sector of mining, agriculture and ranching, the hundreds of thousands of hungry Mexican immigrants answered the call, and were met with radicalized violence and discrimination, as was probably customary at the time. It was in this time of integration that the Mexican tradition of Corrida was born, or folk songs that were sung between migrant workers to bring them together. 

Understanding the Corrido tradition requires close examination of the political turmoil happening at the time. Pofrio Diaz ruled Mexico from 1876-1911. Under his administration, the goals of the government lied towards bringing in investments from outside the country and revitalizing the country’s infrastructure. However altruistic, these goals were met from direct exploitation of the peasant working class, and many were forced from their land. Work conditions were incredibly terrible.

Corrido de la Cucaracha broadside by artist José Guadalupe Posada showing a full-length figure of a simply dressed woman with a shawl around her shoulders and hands on her hips, 1915. The song conveys the story of la cucaracha, which literally means “cockroach,” but during the Mexican Revolution this term was synonymous with “camp follower” and referred to women who would follow and live with their male partners in the war camps.’

These songs were sung by the Mexican immigrants working in America’s booming industries. Due to the nature of this musical practice’s tradition, many of the contents of it citation do not exist, though the primary source I’ve chosen to analyze is, in fact, written down. 

Music born from political roots, and born form the direct experience of assimilating into another culture, is something we’ve touched on in this class and classes previous. Not necessarily born in Mexico, thought deeply rooted in existing Mexican musical tradition, Corrido is an interesting mix of assimilationist hardship and musical creation. I found this practice particularly interesting as it relates to our conversations about American music being a shared experience, not necessarily born from one group with one distinct sound.

Christian faith, the role of music, and comfort zone

During a recent picnic social with our ELCA church congregation in Lonsdale, I get acquainted with a retired pastor who so happened to be talking about the brief founding histories of early colonizers in Minnesota from different parts of Europe who used church, religion and congregation as a way of reinforcing identity which inevitably set rules and definitions to exclude “others”. This led me to reflect on the purpose of music and musical practice in religious settings which I’ve been learning and putting much thought into for a musicology class about Race, Identity and Representation in American Music at college.

In Eileen Southern’s book, Music of Black Americans that we are currently studying, she pointed out that commercial and religious outreach formed the basis for Europe’s settlement of North America which confirms what the retired pastor was sharing with us during the picnic. Considering the first book published in the United States (the colonial America) was the “Bay Psalm Book”, printed by Stephen Daye in 1640 in the Massachusetts Bay Colony, in Cambridge, Massachusetts, it is not hard perceiving truly how significant a role Christian faith played in people’s identity formation as well as the development of music in the colonial America.

“Bay Psalm Book”, the first printed book in colonial America.

By searching through the American Periodicals Series Online 1740-1900, I came across a primary source publication, Western Recorder (1824-1833) volume 2, by American Periodicals Series II in Apr 26, 1825. In the column “Poetry and Music”, they first presented a translation of an ancient Spanish Poem, then followed by a reflection of the purpose and performance practice of music in religious congregational settings during services.

“The following is a translation from an ancient spanish poem, which, says the Edinburgh Review, is surpassed by nothing which we are acquainted with, in the Spanish language, except the ode of Luis de Lean.”

Extremely few background or ethnographic information was provided except describing the piece as an “ancient Spanish poem” and it is interesting that no effort was made to at least include the original Spanish title of the poem. Instead, only “Kindled only at the skies.” This stands out to me as a form of using language (English) as a way of creating a new collective identity. Given that the language, the shape and sound of it plays a significant role in poetry, I’m surprised that zero efforts were made to include original texts in this column. I’ve tried briefly searching for the original texts with the English translation with no success.

In the section that follows, the writer discusses the fine line of the use of music during worship, that is to invoke a state of deep contemplation on the end of the worshipper without making the music too much of a distraction. The writer argues that in achieving such an ideal state of worship, the repertoire must be drawn from familiar tunes, with minimal use of dissonance or technical brilliancy or skills displayed by the musicians. While using familiar psalms and tunes provides security being within the comfort zone for the congregation to engage in contemplations and worship, it raises the question of how far the church and its congregations is willing to engage in truthful yet difficult topics that reflects Christian values and how progressive the church congregation is.

The religious movement, “Great Awakening”, during the 1730s has greatly shifted the music scene at congregations throughout colonial America. Slow, dragging and sometimes monophonic psalms are gradually getting out of favour while the more lively and vibrant hymns take over in many congregations. While this Western Recorder article was published in the early 19th century, it somewhat reflects a conservative drawback on the congregation and Church leadership.


Southern, Eileen. The Music of Black Americans : a History 2nd edition. New York: Norton, 1983.

POETRY & MUSIC. (1825, Apr 26). Western Recorder (1824-1833) Retrieved from

Art as Social Community mid 1800s


The art of Musicking is seen throughout generations, across oceans and countries, throughout the vast variety of cultures that fill our world. It links together humans by allowing us to see similarities between all people groups in the way they do music. As I started researching I was reflecting upon the use of music in cultures and people groups. We have been discussing in class how the colonists and the people in America during the 1700s and 1800s used music.

Upon reflecting on that I was thinking about music as a social construct. In class we had been mostly focusing on the psalmody and different forms of church music of the time. Simply looking at the way slaves used an excited celebration style of music for church while their slaveowners focused more on the liturgical aspect. However, we haven’t yet really delved into the use of social music.

I found a newspaper article from January 3, 1856 written in Brooklyn. The article is title “Social Music” and found in the “Home Paragraphs” portion of the paper. Reading through the article, the unknown author uses a poetic writing to describe the beautiful uses of social music in the mid 1800s. Beginning their article, the author introduces other “studies” of the time that fall short of the enticing aspect of music such as history, arithmetic, and French. None of these can compare to the stunning use of music that brings a people together.

“Community as this, to the pleasure we experience in listening to music discoursed by a great variety of instruments, in the hands of skillful players, and all making beautiful harmony with each other… When this is done–when an individual produces a perfect sound–it brings every other member into sympathy with him. It kindles the elements of love and unity in his own heart and in the hearts of all around him.” –Home Paragraphs

The picture above is just one of the fine ways people used music as a social construct. The artist, John Doyle, portrayed this “Rehearsal” as an opportunity for the beauty that the Home Paragraphs described as “bringing every other member into sympathy with him.

A journal article from February 17, 1855 titled “Music and the Pianoforte” from the Scientific American opens with,

“In all civilized nations has mustc been cultivated as one of the fine arts, and even among savages has it received some attention. Any country may well be judged of its advancement  in civilization by the musical progress and education of its people. Inspired by the love of melody, man has made and used various instruments for the production of music, from the eights generation to the present time.” -Music and the Pianoforte


Works Cited:

Artist: John Doyle (Irish, Dublin 1797-1868 London), et al. Ancient Concerts – A Rehearsal / HB Sketches, No. 538. p. 1, The Metropolitan Museum of Art;

B. “Music and the Pianoforte.” Scientific American, vol. 10, no. 23, Scientific American, a division of Nature America, Inc., 1855, pp. 179–179,

C, A. R. “Home Paragraphs.: SOCIAL MUSIC.” Circular (1851-1870), Jan 03, 1856, pp. 199. ProQuest,


The Persisting Whiteness of Bluegrass Music in the Media

By, R. S. (1959, Aug 30). BLUEGRASS STYLE: MOUNTAIN MUSIC GETS SERIOUS CONSIDERATION. New York Times (1923-) Retrieved from

NPR. (n.d.). Carolina Chocolate Drops. NPR. Retrieved September 28, 2021, from

When someone has a question they want answered quickly, their first instinct is to take out their phone and Google it. Usually, a quick Wikipedia blurb will pop up at the top of the page and that’s settled, your question is answered. But what if it wasn’t? Not to the fullest truth anyways. 

If anyone is curious about the bluegrass genre and looks up the term “bluegrass music” on Google, they would find that “the genre derives its name from the band Bill Monroe and the Blue Grass Boys.” A little further down they would find that the originator of bluegrass music is in fact Bill Monroe. Our hypothetical casual researcher would likely be satisfied with their answer and put their phone away after this. 

They shouldn’t be. 

Bluegrass musician, Rhiannon Giddens explains in her 2017 Keynote Address at the IBMA Business Conference that bluegrass is the result of cultural exchange. “[it] is actually a complex creole of music that comes from multiple cultures, African and European and Native” not from “a Scots-Irish tradition with ‘influences’ from Africa”.1

Going back to our hypothetical casual researcher Googling terms on their phone, if they wanted to learn a bit more about bluegrass music, they would find that the fourth search result when you Google “bluegrass music” is a link to the Bluegrass Music Hall of Fame website. A quick skim through the list of inductees would show them that every person ever inducted to the Bluegrass Music Hall of Fame is white. 2 

Similarly, a Rolling Stones Article titled “The New Bluegrass: Five Acts to Watch” names five bands where almost all musicians are white. 3 

So, where does the media’s fascination with equating whiteness and bluegrass come from? A New York Times article on bluegrass from 1959 gives us some insight. 4

…a form of ‘hillbilly’ music known as ‘bluegrass’ (for Kentucky, the Blue Grass State, where it was born)”.4

Shelton also continues to list many bluegrass artists such as Mike Seeger, Don Stover, Chubby Anthony, and Eric Weissberg, who, like from the Rolling Stones Article, are almost entirely white. 

Shelton, R. (1959, August 30). BLUEGRASS STYLE; Mountain Music Gets Serious Consideration. The New York Times.

This issue extends beyond black music. Latino artists also contribute to and create bluegrass music. Jerry Garcia is widely known as the lead singer of the Grateful Dead, but his work with his bluegrass band, Old and in the Way, is not discussed nearly as much. 5 

When we look at early reports on bluegrass along with the complicated history of American Music, it is not entirely shocking that credit is not given where it’s due. A good step in the right direction is to acquaint ourselves with some bluegrass artists who aren’t just white, because they exist and have for a long time. 

Some Artists to listen to and know:

Reverence, Ignorance, or Danger

When approaching a musical tradition that I find unfamiliar, I hope to analyze that particular tradition with the reverence it deserves. Additionally,  I aim to avoid making sweeping statements that describe this music in terms that fit only my personal musical experience. 

In today’s entry, I will examine some of the dangers of failing to do these actions within research through Reverend George H. Griffin’s article “The Slave Music of the South,” published in The Musical Visitor, a Magazine of Musical Literature and Music in February of 1885. It is important to note that even though this article is published years after slavery became illegal, the scars of its horrors were still fresh and did not dissipate immediately (if at all). 

At first, when I stumbled onto this article, I was taken aback by the glowing praise of slave songs packed into such a short blurb. This author not only labels African American songs as exhibiting the “real genius of music,” but also describes their emotional power on all who experience it. However, after further contemplation, I find his language ultimately misleading and maybe even dangerous.

In this article, Griffin begins with an examination of how the music of enslaved people feels to “outside” listeners. He introduces the concept of the “soul of music” and how this music provokes a “responsive thrill in every human breast.” I find that  beginning an article in this manner is interesting. In a lot of musical discourse, authors seem to dive into the sonic descriptions of the music they study before tackling the emotions that these sounds promote. For example,  Griffin points to the hauntingly pure melody of “Nobody Knows the Trouble I See.”  Ultimately, I think genius for Griffin seems to be primarily how the music makes him feel, not the way it sounds. 

The sound of a slave song, however, does contribute to Griffin’s categorization of a “genius” piece of music. Upon his listening, this author points to different aspects of African American song that co-exist with Western Classical ideals. These songs contain balanced and rich harmonies, interesting melodies, abrupt “resolutions,” expressive bass line, common tempo, and “strange points of emphasis put upon syllables and unexpected cadences in rhythm, which are well nigh unreducible to musical notation.” Even though “[n]o exhaustive analysis of slave music is here attempted,” Griffin manages to describe this music in purely western musical terminology (e.g. “harmony,” “resolution,” ad libitum) . The crux of his description is how all “the children of bondage knew nothing of the methods of the school”  This music sounds  like “genius” to Griffin because these European-esque characteristics appear in enslaved people’s music without a “proper” musical education.

Despite both of these problematic ideas, I found that Griffin’s ending line made my stomach churn the most:

“The sweetest utterance of the sacred poets of all the centuries have been those ‘song in the night’ that came forth from the bitterest experiences of human woe.”

This line may seem bittersweet, because it sounds as though all beautiful creations come from absolute despair — then, “real genius” will manifest. I am somewhat surprised Griffen did not make a reference to ye olde Ludwig Van Beethoven at this moment. Anyway, what I find most troubling about this line is what is the audience supposed to do with this assertion. It seemingly justifies the horrors of slavery with reference to the beautiful music that resulted from the suffering of the enslaved. What are we supposed to do with this conclusion? These questions remind me of Mark Monmonier’s article regarding the way scholarship (in this case, maps) can deceive and justify the unimaginable. Here, Monmonier references the way “Nazi propagandists also used facsimile maps to prove their opponents’ treachery and justify Germany’s advancing western front” (Monmonier 104). I wonder if Griffin is subtly engaging in something similar–with intent, I am not sure. 

After sifting through this primary source, I include some questions that came up while writing this post:

  1. Could an article praising the beauty, emotional power, and “naturally” Western-ness  of  slave songs justify the actions of those participating in the horrid institution? 
  2. Is this an article to alleviate white guilt? 
  3. Or was the purpose to canonize slave songs within Western Classical Music by pointing out the sonic similarities?

Leave a comment if you have some thoughts!



Griffin, George H. “THE SLAVE MUSIC OF THE SOUTH.” The Musical Visitor, a Magazine of Musical Literature and Music (1883-1897), 02, 1885. 35,

Monmonier, Mark S. How to Lie with Maps  Third edition. Chicago, IL: The University of Chicago Press, 2018.–ubpi6ivwKxafR71b9xA 

“Nobody Knows the Trouble I’ve Seen.” Streaming Audio. Recorded by Water Garrick. U.S.A. South Negro Folklore Collection.

Corridos and the Stories They Tell Us

I have always found that one of the most powerful aspects of music is its ability to tell a story, whether that story is triumphant, despondent, funny, or meant to act as a soothing balm to the soul. There is a folk genre among the Mexican community that encompasses all of the previously mentioned stories and more; it’s called Corrido.

Corridos have a documented history to pre-colonial Spain during the medieval era, but they were called “romances” instead of corridos. They were epic tales and lyrical poetry composed to entertain the people of Spain, from the poorest laborers and servants to the courts of nobility. Romances were tailored to their audience, exemplified by shorter pieces and the addition of refrains due to public demand for favored passages to be repeated, but missionaries found they could also be tailored to emulate the epic tales of the Indigenous people they resolved themselves to convert.

Corridos didn’t truly take hold in Mexican culture until around the time of the Mexican Revolution, but that isn’t to say that it was an immediate transition from religious propaganda romances to corridos. Nothing exists in a vacuum, and to that point, once the romances arrived in the colonies(especially the northern colonies) there began to be a shift in the format and topic of the epics. Instead of serenading audiences with religious stories and tales of love, the subjects changed to infidelity, incest, the majesty of the landscape, and other more novel topics. Examples of the shift from romance to corrido date back to 1808 in New Mexico and 1824 in Santa Barbara, California.

It was with the Mexican Revolution, beginning in 1910, that corridos really became a part of Mexican culture. They were used for communication between various regions and towns, to relay information during battle, and as a way to proliferate propaganda across the country. It was these very practices that led to the corrido form used today; it’s known to have a three-part structure(introduction, events, and farewell) to chronicle the great deeds of those that came before us.

There are also subgenres within corrido: border ballads are one of them. The border ballads were a social unionizer of sorts; they told stories of resistance against the ruling class and an oppressive society, and it helped to create a national identity due to many Mexican citizens being able to empathize with the heroes of the story and their desire to be free from societal oppression. These ballads wove tales of exploits and daring escapes, but they had various endings too. Some were triumphant with the escape of the bandit and others showed the bandit’s defeat, at times from double-crossing confidants or the bandit’s surrender. An example of this is the corrido of Aurelio Pompa who killed a man in self-defense, was convicted by an all-white jury, and killed.

The link below will take you to the transcript:

Through learning more about corridos, I have come to understand how much information and how many stories can be told through music. I also have greater respect for everything Mexican citizens and immigrants have gone through to be able to share corridos with their communities. We have a chance to learn from these corridos, to understand the issues facing Mexican communities today, but that also means we are given the chance to try and help fix these issues. Stories are told so that younger generations may learn from previous mistakes, so let us listen and learn to ensure that the subsequent generations have just a little less to fix when it is their turn.


“‘Life, Trial, and Death of Aurelio Pompa’ (1928).” In The American Mosaic: The Latino American Experience, ABC-CLIO, 2021. Accessed September 26, 2021.

Kanellos, Nicolás. “Corrido.” In The American Mosaic: The Latino American Experience, ABC-CLIO, 2021. Accessed September 26, 2021.

Avila, Jacqueline. “Corrido.” Grove Music Online. 16 Oct. 2013; Accessed 26 Sep. 2021.

“‘Venimos De Matamoros’ [3:13].” The American Mosaic: The Latino American Experience audio. 2021. Accessed September 27, 2021.

Pompa, Carlos A. “Aurelio Pompa (CORRIDO).” May 17, 2018. Youtube video. 6:04.

Leadbelly, Lomax and Leftism

On the first day of musicology the class had a candid, inquisitive discussion about the origins of American music. We gracefully came to the conclusion that what we consider American music likely did not start with Bill Monroe and the Bluegrass Boys in the 1940s, and that it is more plausible that American musicking had been going on for hundreds of years before then, as Rhiannon Giddens suggests. We concluded by emphasizing the subjectivity of what American music is, and how identity and power often manipulate our definitions.

In researching early American music for this blog post, I noticed that much of the research I turned up quoted a father and son by the names of John and Alan Lomax. Alan Lomax is quoted as a credible historian and ethnomusicologist of the time who travelled across the US and Haiti documenting and recording local musics. One especially enthusiastic source exclaims that few sources deserve greater praise than him for “the preservation of America’s folk music.” It is astounding that he recorded over 5,000 hours of song recordings from people across the world during his travels which is mostly all accessible through online databases.

I rested on one particularly interesting set of recordings which features a singer by the stage name of Leadbelly. The story goes that Lomax discovered Leadbelly (Huddie William Ledbetter) and his music when visiting the prisons in Louisiana where he was imprisoned for murder. When he got out, the Lomaxes took him on tours around the United States where he performed and gained popularity to the point where many of his songs are today considered folk classics.

At this time in America during the depression of the 1930s the Lomaxes were in search of a cohesive identity for Americans to find in music. The fact that they looked to cotton plantations, ranches, and segregated prison music was purposeful and undeniably has altered the documentation of American music. However they also altered the music in which Leadbelly was able to perform. Listen to a Leadbelly original, Mr Tom Hughes Town as it was originally recorded in 1934:

…and now listen to this recording which was for the American Record Company:

For our purposes, I think it is most important to understand simply that these recordings are much different in their storyline and musical style. The Lomaxes often changed his music or told him to learn new music in order to appeal to audiences, specifically Whiter audiences. The second recording is thought to appeal more to Northern, whiter audiences as it is less “sharp-sounding.” In order to gain popularity, they would even have him dress in his prison clothes and purposefully include his backstory in shows to get people interested.

Retrieved from, Monaco, J. (1977). Gordon Parks’ LEADBELLY. Cinéaste, 8(2), 40–40.

This is a stark contrast to the movie made about him some 40 years later in the 1970s in which he ends up in prison for playing music in a segregated country club. (see newspaper clipping attached)

I think the alteration of Leadbelly’s music illustrates importantly how progressivism may act as a convenient disguise for perpetuating the inequalities that such an ideology seeks to overcome.




Lomax, Alan, 1915-2002, by Jason Ankeny, All Music Guide. (2001). In All Music Guide: The Definitive Guide to Popular Music (p. 1). San Francisco, CA: Backbeat Books. Retrieved from Music Online: African American Music Reference database. 

Field Recordings Vol. 5: Louisiana, Texas, Bahamas (1933-1940) [Streaming Audio]. (1998). Document Records. (1998). Retrieved from Music Online: American Music database. 

FERRIS, W. R. (2007). Alan Lomax: The Long Journey. Southern Cultures, 13(3), 132–143.
Filene, B. (1991). “Our Singing Country”: John and Alan Lomax, Leadbelly, and the Construction of an American Past. American Quarterly, 43(4), 602–624.
Leadbelly: Important Recordings 1934-1949 – Disc B [Streaming Audio]. (2006). JSP Records. (2006). Retrieved from Music Online: American Music database. 
Monaco, J. (1977). Gordon Parks’ LEADBELLY. Cinéaste, 8(2), 40–40.

Music Shaped by Oppression

As Eileen Southern points out in The Music of Black Americans, African Americans had many opportunities to make music during colonial times, whether it be psalm singing, slave songs, or fiddle playing. Additionally, many enslaved people were valued for their musical abilities (Southern 26) due to a high demand for plantation dance fiddlers. While reading Southern’s chapter, it struck me that African Americans were able to learn new instruments by teaching themselves and practicing during odd hours of the day. Learning a new instrument is difficult enough the way it is, and even more so given the constraints imposed on them through slavery.

This brings up the point that much of African Americans’ music making was shaped by oppression. A common reason for fiddle playing in the first place was to fulfill the demand for colonists, and other music making was a response to oppression. African Americans had to learn new instruments because they did not have access to the ones they were accustomed to from their homeland, and they were given no other option but to find the time to practice during odd hours of the day. Additionally, they were forced to give up their native tongue.  This does not mean, however, that all of the music of black Americans was devoid of their African roots. There were many ways of infusing music with traces of Africa, whether this be with musical tools, imagery, or language. 

An excerpt from an 1847 magazine features a conversation about a slave song that highlights how the music of African Americans can be shaped by oppression, yet carry with it its roots:

This evening the female slaves were unusually excited in singing, and I had the curiosity to ask my negro servant Said, what they were singing about. As many of them were natives of his own country, he had no difficulty in translating the Mandara or Bornou language. I had often asked the Moors to translate their songs for me, but got no satisfactory account of them. Said at first said, ‘Oh! They sing of Rubee,’ (God.) ‘What do you mean?’ I replied impatiently. ‘Oh, you don’t know,’ he continued, ‘they asked God to give them their Atka!’ (certificate of freedom.) I inquired, ‘What else?’ Said: ‘They remember their country, Bornou, and say – Bornou was a pleasant country, full of all good things; but this is a bad country, and we are miserable!’ ‘Do they say anything else?’ Said: ‘No; they repeat these words over and over again, and add-O God! Give us our Atka, and let us return again to our dear home.’


Those who sung this song did so in their Native tongue, with references to their own religion and homeland. Although we can’t know what it sounds like, these markers in their language show how music continued to carry traces of Africa in it.

However, it is important to note that at its core, this song is still shaped by oppression because it functioned to comfort those who faced the horrors of slavery, and connect them to a homeland that they were torn away from. 



Boahen, A. Adu. “JAMES RICHARDSON: THE FORGOTTEN PHILANTHROPIST AND EXPLORER.” Journal of the Historical Society of Nigeria 3, no. 1 (1964): 61–71.

J, G. WHITTIERNational Era. A Song of Sorrow: Song of the Slaves in the Desert. Christian Secretary (1822-1889), Feb 05, 1847. 4, (accessed September 26, 2021).

Southern, Eileen. The Music of Black Americans : a History 2nd edition. New York: Norton, 1983.

Humanizing Narratives of Incan Musical Practices

We understand music through the lens of our identity and lived experiences. Musical narratives differ, and the predominantly-known history of music is written by those whose identities hold power by associating their idea of musical skill with the self.

I thought of Neil Rosenberg’s book on the development of bluegrass, which focused on the impact of Bill Monroe’s Blue Grass Boys. 1 Rhiannon Giddens offers a more holistic perspective and insists that bluegrass is a blend of African, European, and Native traditions. 2

Musical histories like these are even harder to uncover when their records are further removed from the present and written by colonizers. One of those histories is that of the pre-Columbian Incan Empire in present-day “Peru.”  Continue reading

A Critical Look at a Liberator Article



TW: racism and violence

Francis or “Frank” Johnson, an African-American composer and performer, is said to have helped pave the way for Jazz and Ragtime, and therefore modern music as we know it. Johnson published works in a variety of genres and he was the first black composer to have his sheet music published and also the first black musician to tour Europe. His music was enjoyed by white and black people alike and he reached immense fame. However, he was still confronted by racism, hatred, and violence1

The text I would like to focus on this week is an article entitled “Riot Near Pittsburgh— Frank Johnson’s band mobbed”. The article was published in the Liberator in 1843 and covered the violence against Johnson and his band on March 17th in Pittsburgh after a performance benefitting the temperance movement. The writer reports 

A large rabble of men and boys gathered around the doors and windows, and by their hooting and yelling did what they could to mar the pleasure of those within, who had previously paid their money for a rare musical treat”“Francis Johnson”2

My first instinct was to applaud this author for condemning the appalling racist behavior of the mob. However, upon digging deeper and thinking more critically I came to the realization that they were not condemning racist behavior per se, but disruptive behavior. Behavior that made themselves and their peers miss out on something they paid for. A commodity. There was no mention of the effect on Johnson or his band members beyond their physical injuries. The author then goes on to describe the attack on Johnson and his band after the show. 

“The mob followed Mr. Johnson and his company shouting (a racial slur)… and hurling brick-bats, stones, and rotten eggs… One poor fellow was severely, it is feared dangerously wounded in the head, and others were more or less hurt… Every well disposed citizen deeply regretted the disgrace thus brought upon our city…”2

The word choice leads us to believe the author was less concerned about the safety and well-being of Johnson and his band, but rather how the actions of the mob made the city look.

 I do want to be clear that the article was written in a time where condemning the violence at all was very progressive, but I cannot help but wonder at the reasoning for the condemnation. Beyond the feelings of being sighted out of a show they paid for, the author likely has other motivations.

 In their parting words in regards to this event, they state “of course no friend of the temperance enterprise could be engaged in this cowardly affair”2

Clearly, not only is the writer offended by the ruining of their evening, but they also want to use it to push their own political agenda. By stating only people against the temperance movement would engage in violent mob behavior the reporter demonizes those against the abolition of alcohol. 

Overall, the fact the creator of this article condemns the actions of the mob is a step in the right direction, but their motives do not feel pure to me.


1“Francis Johnson.” University Archives and Records Center,

2 “Riot Near Pittsburgh— Frank Johnson’s Band Mobbed.” Liberator, 9 June 1843, p. 93. ProQuest, Accessed 26 Sept. 2021.

One Man’s Perception of Music in America


Having your own opinions is a good thing. Feeling the need to make your opinions heard is sometimes a good thing. When looking through stacks of newspaper articles from the mid-19th century, sometimes what you really want is a good opinionated article to take you inside the mind of a minister from 1838. 

Portrait of Rev. John Todd.

Rev. John Todd

Take Reverend John Todd from Philadelphia. He has a lot of opinions, but the one he felt the need to publish in Christian Register and Boston Observer on October 6th, 1838 was this one: Music is good.

Well, that’s cool.

But why does Todd feel so emphatic about music? What would a minister from Philadelphia in 1838 have to say about music? Probably that it’s a glorious gift from God so therefore must be used to praise God in worship, right? Well, yes, but he says more too.

As I read through this article, I realized that it’s essentially an opinion piece with a clear argument and a bit of rambling.

In his article, Todd brings up religion, as well as national pride and status, as things music can fortify in one’s life. I thought it was interesting that he spent so much time discussing one’s status and national price, especially because the title of the article would lead me to believe that it would be entirely about religion. Just look at the opening line:

“God has created the soul for music, and made provision to supply its desires1 ”.


A few paragraphs later, Todd says: “Any price will be paid for exquisite music”. 

He goes on to describe how a famous violinist would make more money in a year than “eighty of our ordained missionaries”. According to Todd, these examples show the strong love we all have for music.

Next, Todd discusses how music contributes to one’s sense of national pride and identity. He talks about “Yankee Doodle” and how the song “will probably create an American feeling as long as our nation exists”.

However, the point which Todd focuses on the most is how music is innate to children. He demonstrates his point by describing instances where music was included in school teachings. According to Todd, German schools commonly taught singing and music, and every child was expected to read, write, and perform music.

In Todd’s view, this has been widely successful, and in the few cases in which it has not, was most likely because the songs were too lengthy or complicated. This can be connected with Eileen Southern’s descriptions of the movements led by Elias Neau at Trinity Church in New York to educate servants in psalmody. According to Southern, Neau at one point taught over one hundred servants in the singing of psalmody2.. However, Todd never explicitly mentions Black musicians – in fact, he never mentions race at all.

Elias Neau

Elias Neau

An interior view of Trinity Church, New York.

An interior view of Trinity Church, New York.

I would like to compare this source with some primary sources from Black musicians at the time to see where and how they differ. I wonder how the perception of music would differ by author, and if it does, why? Does it have to do with social status, race, location, occupation, or all of the above?


[1] Todd, John. “RELIGIOUS MISCELLANY.: VALUE OF MUSIC. SINGING IN SUNDAY SCHOOLS.” Christian Register and Boston Observer (1835-1843), Oct 06, 1838, 1,

[2] Southern, Eileen. The Music of Black Americans : a History 2nd edition. New York: Norton, 1983.

Music and Identity at American Protests

In December of 2005 an immigration bill was passed that greatly increased the restrictions on immigration and undocumented immigrants. And although people from every country immigrate to the US, one community always seems to get singled out in the discussion: the Hispanic community. In response to the bill, protests occurred all across the country, with over a million people protesting in Los Angeles alone. 


This picture, taken in Los Angeles during one of the protests, depicts a mariachi band leading the protest, framed by signs and waving american flags. To me, this image is a perfect representation of a cultural identity existing in America, being celebrated with music. The mariachi music is displaying feelings of pride in one’s culture and in one’s immigration status. The band, with their traditional clothing, displays a strong hispanic pride, while protesting in america shows a unity to the country and to their community. In fact, the sign behind the band reads, “If you think I’m ‘illegal’ because I’m a Mexican, learn the true history. Because I’m in my homeland,” most likely referring to the Pobladores, a group of Mexican families who lived in (and named!) Los Angeles before the USA existed. 

I think that by performing and leading this protest, the mariachi band is completing the highest form of protest: celebration. By celebrating hispanic heritage and culture with mariachi music– something that’s usually joyful and special– their placing the joy of their culture and their community within the view of people outside of their community (ie. white people). Their adding to the significant history of protest music in the US, a genre that captures the emotions and qualms of politic unrest in the US. 

The music at the protest also somehow makes the atmosphere more lighthearted, which is sometimes needed at a protest, to remind people that their is hope and a future worth protesting for. 

Interestingly, many of the areas in which mariachi is suspected to have originated are the same areas from which mexican immigrants are from. Zacatecas, Guanajuato, and Sinoloa are all areas with heavy emigration and areas in which there is a strong mariachi presence. 

Below is an example of mariachi music being played at a protest– this time against Donald Trump, who is famously anti-hispanic immigration. 



“Mariachi Band Leads Protesters.” The American Mosaic: The Latino American Experience, ABC-CLIO, 2021, Accessed 27 Sept. 2021.

Hameed, Fatimah. Millions in the U.S. Protest Immigration Policy, 2006, Accessed 26 Sept. 2021.

“LA History.” COUNTY OF LOS ANGELES, 15 Nov. 2017,

Is generalizing all white people at the time of slavery as monsters a way for us to separate ourselves?


As I was doing my class reading in Eileen Southern’s book “The Music of Black Americans” something she mentioned caused me to pause, mainly, the way that she describes the relationship between white and black settlers. She makes multiple mentions of the almost nurturing nature of certain relationships between slave and master, as she mentions:

“Throughout the region, slavery a assumed a milder form than in the southern colonies, although in some places the harsh and severe treatment of black slaves provoked more than one rebellious uprising. Generally, slavery tended to be paternalistic, slaves being regarded as part of the family” (Southern 35).

She also mentioned the encouragement by members of the clergy to convert black Americans to Christianity (Southern 36). These views completely shook up my view of slavery and how it occurred in the Americas. In school, we were fed the narrative that slave masters and owners, treated all slaves as subhuman. Slave owners whipped their slaves, beat them, and treated them as livestock. Although these things were common, Southern for the first time made it seem as if this were not always the case.

To be clear, I am not looking to diminish the horrors of slavery. Even “milder forms” of slavery (as Southern puts) are disgustingly immoral. However, Southern challenged my assumptions and brought me to ask the question: Was the degree of severity and inhumane treatment of slaves something that was dependent upon region? Was it dependent upon religion? How did the ideologies of the time shape the treatment of American slaves? And what were some of the different ideologies surrounding the treatment of slaves around at the time? These are some the questions that I grappled with after reading through Southern’s book.

Which brings me to the primary source that I want to highlight today.

I decided to explore some letters written in 1835 and 1836 by clergy member brother Jacob Zorn. The letters are addressed to someone known as “Brother” referring to another member of the clergy. Zorn seems to imply that the state of life for American slaves seemed to be improving by means of the Church. He quotes:

“When we call to mind the very different state of things thirty years ago, we bless the Lord for the special interest taken in these poor outcasts by the Christian of our day. By means of schools much good has been effected, perhaps as much indirectly to the parents as directly to the children. A few years ago the idea of schools for Negro children was ridiculed; now instruction is gradually spreading and many have already learned to read those precious pages on which are inscribed the truths of salvation”.

He also seems to imply that his church is particularly invested in including slaves in their congregation. Jacob Zorn makes this enthusiasm clear stating:

“Not a word, I am confident, need to be added to press the value of early religious education upon the friends of the negro race; they will not leave their work half done, by suffering the children to grow up in ignorance”.

Although Zorn makes it seem as if the church is bettering their treatment of slaves and encouraging their involvement in the church, this does not always seem to be the case. Southern argues that many slave owners were resistant to the baptism and conversion of their slaves to Christianity. And, to be clear, the conversion of Slaves to Christianity does not always reflect their treatment, as Christianity was also used to justify slavery.

By looking at these letters, it gives us a more accurate and nuanced look of the sentiments surrounding slavery and the treatment of slaves. Instead of generalizing that every white person treated slaves as subhuman, this letter gives us a small amount of insight into other ideologies surrounding this topic that were present in society around the time of slavery. The generalization of all white people as monsters during the era of slavery makes the current day population too quick to separate themselves from them. By making known a more nuanced version of the ideas surrounding slavery, we are reminded that we are just as likely to commit similar atrocities.


The Harp: Do You See It As A White Instrument?

If the average American were asked what they envision when they think of harp music, it is likely that their description would most closely match Western classical music. Their image of a harpist might match that of either a white woman, angel, or cherub.

Angel with Harp – The Art of N.A. Noël

a white-faced angel playing the harp in white robes1

Conversely, if the average American were asked what instruments they think of when they think of mariachi music, son jarocho music, or Mexican music more broadly, the harp would unlikely be one of the first instruments named.

Behind the Doodle: Exclusive Music from Celebrating Mariachi - YouTube

a Google Doodle of a mariachi band featuring a guitar, a violin, and a trumpet2

Traditionally, however, the harp was integral to the music of Mexico. Two primary source documents from 1875 and 1881, one detailing a visit to Mexico and one detailing a visit to Albuquerque, New Mexico, list the harp as one of the primary instruments of Mexican and Mexican American musical performances.

Detailing his experience in La Venta, which is present-day Tabasco, Mexico, a man by the name of D.S. Richardson writes in a publication of the Californian (1880-1882),

“… by the time we had finished our supper the music of harp and bandalon could be heard, and the dance was once more in progress”3

It is worth noting that the harp was the first instrument listed. J.T. Lippincott, in his Magazine of Popular Literature and Science (1871-1885), also highlights the use of the harp, although critically, during a Christmas Eve Celebration in New Mexico:

“A native harpist adds the music of his many strings; and not bad music either, though he does not know a quaver from a semibreve, and his harp is of his own manufacture. The sameness, however, caused by playing always and everything in the same key is perceptible.” 4

To clarify, the harp used would have been an arpa jarocha, a standing harp without pedals, which would explain why the key remained the same.

Clearly, harps were once known to be central instruments to Mexican music. Why is harp not so readily included in a modern American perception of Mexican music? The simplest answer would be commercialization.

The commercialization of son jarocho and mariachi music led to the erasure of harp from the average American’s perception of Mexican music. 

To support this case, I will use the popular song “La Bamba”, recorded by Ritchie Valens in 1958, the first Spanish song to take a number one spot on American charts.


Before it was popularized by Ritchie Valens as a rock song, La Bamba was a folk tune, part of the Mexican genre son jarocho. It was a wedding song, and, as part of the son jarocho genre, it featured the harp.6

(Here is La Bamba with harp:)


In Ritchie Valens’ recording and many covers that followed, however, including the famous Los Lobos cover, the sound of the harp is not found in the accompaniment. A likely reasoning for this is that harps are not very easy to tote around for commercial performances. Adrian Perez, who won SFA’s 2019 Master-Apprentice Artist Award for his dedication to teaching traditional forms of the Mexican folk harp to new generations, agrees with this reasoning, saying of the harp,

“It’s not practical to take to gigs. Because mariachi is a rural type of music. Later, it became commercialized and came down to Mexico City, from rural areas of Mexico, due to producers wanting to put money in film in the golden cinema age of Mexico and create an identity for Mexico backed with regional music. But the guy with the harp–everybody walks down with their violin, their guitar and, you know, they’re down there having a beer and stuff, and the poor guy’s still up there in the mountains slugging this thing down.” 8

(Below you’ll find Ivan Miranda and Adrian Perez playing the Mexican folk harp:)


Adrian Perez & Ivan Miranda on the Mexican Folk Harp from Southwest Folklife Alliance on Vimeo.

It is understandable why the harp is not as popular or easy a choice for accompaniment in commercial styles of Mexican music, but commercial styles of Mexican music are the styles that the average American is familiar with.

All this is to say, it is important that white Americans not conflate commercial music as being a full picture of the musical culture of a region. Additionally, if we think of an instrument and its music as being “white”, “Western”, or “classical”, that likely says more about us and our biases than a historically accurate picture of the instrument and its diverse uses.





1 Noël, N.A. Angel with Harp. Painting.

2 Laughlin, Kevin. Celebrating Mariachi. Drawing.

3 J, T. 1875. “A NEW MEXICAN CHRISTMAS EVE.” Lippincott’s Magazine of Popular Literature and Science (1871-1885), 01, 129.

4 “TWELVE DAYS ON A MEXICAN HIGHWAY.–I.” 1881.Californian (1880-1882), 05, 440.

5 Valens, Ritchie. “La Bamba (Recorded at Gold Star).” YouTube. 2:09.

6 Arrieta, Rolando. “’La Bamba’.” NPR, NPR, 15 July 2000,

7 Smithsonian Folkways. “José Gutiérrez & Los Hermanos Ochoa – ‘La Bamba’ [Live at Smithsonian Folklife Festival 2004].” YouTube. 1:47.

8 Staff, SFA, and Jim Johnson. “‘It Sounds Like Mexico’: Lessons in Mexican Folk Harp.” Borderlore, 25 Aug. 2020,

9 Southwest Folklife Alliance. “Adrian Perez & Ivan Miranda on the Mexican Folk Harp.” Vimeo. 2:00.

“Bad Singing Is Forbidden” – American Church Music in the 19th Century

We all know the feeling of standing out, and it’s no different in a group of singers: maybe you don’t quite know the words, sing a little off pitch, or a little too slow. Perhaps you’re afraid your singing might seem “unharmonius, complicated, strange” and perhaps, if you were a Methodist living in Cincinnati in 1837, you’d wake up one day to see those exact words printed in the newspaper under the ominous direction “Bad singing is forbidden.”

So then, where does this sentiment come from? And what exactly is “bad singing”?

Liturgical and congregational singing has a long history in Europe that was transported and developed in colonial churches. Psalm singing, or psalmody, was especially important to early worship functions — the practice of lining out, for example, was imported from England and involves a minister or leader singing or “lining out” each line before congregation sings it back  (“Lining Out”). In the 1720s, a reform movement that promoted “correct” singing, singing schools, and instruments to help people stay on pitch began to gain traction, and slowly the traditional practices of congregational singing began to be replaced with new ones, called by the reformers “regular singing” (Southern).

Of course, not all churches agreed with the reformists. Methodists generally promoted and underscored the act of congregational singing as a devotion to God for all and frowned upon the performance of any difficult works by soloists or choirs, as these were seen as exclusive and inaccessible (Tucker). They were also vehemently opposed to the addition of instruments like the organ well into the 19th century (Temperley).


The Winston Place Methodist Episcopal Church, Cincinnati, constructed 1884

Many of these discourses about congregational singing were reflected in the Cincinnati newspaper article mentioned earlier, “Congregational Singing: Of the Spirit and Truth of Singing” published in the Western Christian Advocate in 1837. The article is very strongly worded, and very opposed to the introduction of “foreign elements” to congregational singing.

“Satan is ever watching to insinuate superstition and other foreign elements into the pure and simple worship of God.”

The “foreign elements”, later described as “rituals of heathenism”, are supposed to come from (and blamed on) several groups throughout the article — Jews, Pagans, Roman Catholics, some American Protestants, and British Methodists — and refer primarily to difficult, complicated, pieces sung by soloists and choirs or played by instrumentalists. To combat this, the article offers a list of rules and regulations for singing.

“These [regulations] are so Scriptural, so full of good taste, and so well calculated to do good, and to promote the very best congregational singing”

Included in these regulations is the requirement that singing must be done with understanding of what is sung, everyone must sing, and only the Methodist tune books should be used. Interestingly, it also instructs that singing must not be too slow, for this would be too formal. Slow singing is more characteristic of the old way of singing (Southern), which this author generally tends to support rather than the reformed way, so it’s an interesting contradiction to note that there is an instruction to avoid slow singing in this text. Perhaps this is an example of a musical concession that has already been made to the reformers at this point in the history of Methodism.

And to prevent any “heathen” elements being adopted, the article concludes with a list of “what here is forbidden”, a list which seems to precisely forbid anything related to the reform movement — singing schools, instruments, choirs, and complicated music are expressly singled out. And, just to drive the point home, it concludes:

“Bad singing is forbidden: it is bad when unharmonius, complicated, strange, or confined to a few”

And here we come full circle. And so, what is “bad singing”? In the case of this 1837 newspaper, it is not just a general complaint about the quality of singing, but rather a targeted critique of an important religious discourse of the time.

The author of this article would probably be pleased that everyone appears to be singing, but horrified that this modern day United Methodist Church hymn is complete with a church choir and organ.


“CONGREGATIONAL SINGING.: “OF THE SPIRIT AND TRUTH OF SINGING.” Western Christian Advocate (1834-1883), vol. 4, no. 33, Dec 08, 1837, pp. 130. ProQuest,

“Lining out.” Grove Music Online. Oxford University Press. Date of access 27 Sep. 2021,<>

Southern, Eileen. The Music of Black Americans: A History. Third Edition. New York, NY. WW Norton Company, 1997. 

Temperley, Nicholas. “Methodist church music.” Grove Music Online. . Oxford University Press. Date of access 27 Sep. 2021, <>

Tucker, Karen B. Westerfield. “Methodism.” Grove Music Online. 16. Oxford University Press. Date of access 27 Sep. 2021, <>



Samuel Coleridge Taylor: the African American Perspective

TW: Discussions of racism and mention of lynchings. 

Coleridge-Taylor’s preeminent work, Hiawatha’s Wedding Feast.

Samuel Coleridge-Taylor, the Anglo-African Composer – Mary Church Terrell Article from “The Independent …Devoted to the Consideration of Politics, Social and Economic Tendencies, History, Literature, and the Arts”


Before Samuel Coleridge-Taylor’s first American tour, writer Mary Church Terrell traveled to London to profile Coleridge-Taylor as a prominent “Anglo-African Composer” for an American audience. Within her writing, we can see how an African American audience would perceive Coleridge Taylor’s music and status as a prominent British composer. Continue reading