More on Florence Price

Florence Price was one of the countless Black musicians in America to compose and perform during the 19th century. She was a classical pianist, composer, organist, music teacher, and the first Black woman to have her composition played by an orchestra. Doing a Google search for her though turns up many articles about how America has forgotten about her. During the time of her life, however, audiences seemed quite delighted with her performances. A search on reveals many reviews of her doing all kinds of performance.

This clipping from Chester, Pennsylvania in 1917 reads: “Mrs. Florence Price was greeted with a complimentary audience at the auditorium where she made her debut a few years ago…Her rich, clear contralto voice was never heard to better advantage. She carried her audience throughout the program, and the hearty applause she received showed the appreciation.”1 Interestingly, the rest of the review goes on to talk about what she was wearing that night. I did not look, but doubt performance reviews for H.T. Burleigh capitalized on his wardrobe choices. Perhaps this is one of the reasons America has forgotten about her. After all, she won the Wanamaker prize just as H.T. Burleigh, Nathaniel Dett, and William Dawson all did. Her symphony in E minor for which she won the Wanamaker award for in 1923 is particularly interesting to analyze. According to a review by notorious commentator Alain Locke, her symphony provided a way for any person to enjoy music in an “un-racialized” way because it did not include overt references to recognizable African American music. Instead, the way it incorporates folk songs is by use of the pentatonic scale, juba rhythms, polyrhythms, and call and response.2

[1] 31 Jan 1917. Delaware County Daily Times.

[2] Floyd, Samuel A. Black Music in the Harlem Renaissance: A Collection of Essays. Knoxville: University of Tennessee Press, 1993.

What we can learn from the Harlem Renaissance

So often throughout history, research evidence has been used to enforce master narratives of White supremacy and anti-Black racism while also conditioning us to believe that this social order is, in fact, legitimate. To not have to acknowledge the use of research evidence in the maintenance of White supremacy and anti-Black racism is itself an act of White supremacy and anti-Black racism.

David E. Kirkland, No Small Matters: Reimagining the use of Research Evidence from a Racial Justice Perspective

This is how higher educational music departments are maintained in my opinion. In other words, sometimes it’s hard to recognize when courses are exclusionary because we have been conditioned to believe it is natural. Specifically, I justified the exclusion of people of color performers and musicians in most of my music education for a long time with the idea that white power led to underrepresentation. It seems antiracist enough, until I realized that underrepresentation is an illegitimate social order which we have the power to change. If you saw my last blog post, I talked more in depth about how music departments are shaped by white power after reading Philip Ewell’s, Music Theory’s White Racial Frame. Here though, I would like to provide some examples to support a future of inclusion in music courses. 

Studying music of white composers is so easy because it does not require much historical knowledge to understand, but why should it be a problem to give historical context to the pieces we study in theory? Ewell encourages students to challenge their professors on why they elect to share pieces with complicated histories without providing context. Dare I suggest, we might even change some of the material we study by including more pieces from historical events such as the Harlem Renaissance. Samuel Floyd Jr. writes about the creativity of Black musicians during the Harlem Renaissance in his book, Black Music in the Harlem Renaissance. He writes, “The music of Black theater shows, the dance music of the cabarets, the blues and ragtime of the speakeasies and the rent parties, the spirituals and the art songs of the recital and concert hall all provided an ambiance for Renaissance activities and contemplation.” 2 He also writes about the theft committed by white composers. The song, “Lady Be Good” is a piece by Black composers which was then ripped off by Gershwin later. I could not find the original composers in my search. Instead, here is Gershwin’s version:

Oh, Lady Be Good

With all this music making happening, at the very least there are great pieces of music that can fit into existing course structure for analysis. Ewell states that musicologists tend to be better at grappling with representation issues than music theorists, but imagine if the responsibility for representation was shared across the whole music department. Ewell writes to students, “You have power, more than you know,”3 and I do believe that we have power to chip away at our white male history. 

[1] Quoted in Ewell, Phillip. “Music Theory’s Quantitative and Qualitative Whiteness.” Music Theory’s White Racial Frame. June 26, 2020. Accessed December 14, 2021.

[2] Floyd. (1990). Black music in the Harlem Renaissance : a collection of essays . Greenwood Press.

[3] Ewell, Phillip By Philip. “Music Theory’s Quantitative and Qualitative Whiteness.” Music Theory’s White Racial Frame. June 26, 2020. Accessed December 14, 2021.

Race, Identity and Representation, but in Music Departments

I have often thought my music education is racist. There is a clear cut canon from which undergraduate students gain their foundational knowledge, and to deviate concerns what we conceive as entirely other genres. Most students at my liberal arts school utter disdain for the white male dominance of music theory and musicological course materials. And while it is true that the ability to recognize such power structures is necessary, the simple knowledge of them often soothes white discomfort into complacency. Overturning this form of dominance has its valid challenges, as we have seen in our musicology class, Race Identity and Representation in American Music. Adequate representation, however, is attainable. 

Philip Ewell, African American cellist, scholar, writer and music theorist articulates just how limited our music theory and musicology courses is his blog, Confronting Racism and Sexism in Music Theory. First, I think it bears repeating that 98.3% of the examples in the seven most common music theory textbooks are written by white composers, and only two pieces out of 2930 total were written by Asian composers. What music theory textbooks do include, however, are songs written for blackface minstrel shows such as “Oh Susanna!” by Steven Foster as examples for music theory concepts. (Indeed, you can find it on a webpage about binary form on Hello Music Theory). Ewell writes, “The inclusion of a white supremacist composer like Foster in our music theory textbooks represents the extraordinary insensitivity of music theory’s white frame—and of the textbook publishers I hasten to add—with respect to racial matters. It also points to our utter inability to recognize how whiteness has shaped the field.” 1 

Original sheet music for “Oh Susanna!” from the Christy minstrel troupe. See Edwin Christy

Trigger warning: The last page of “Oh Susanna!” with racist alternate verse text. 2










Whiteness has also shaped the design of music departments by compartmentalizing course topics and genres. For example, at St. Olaf we have multiple levels of music theory and musicology, but any other courses seem to fit into separate topics courses like history of jazz or world music. When considering that the core of our required courses is limited to mainly white theorists and composers, and supplemental courses consist of music mainly by person of color (POC) artists, I think it sends a clear message to students that music by white people is more worth studying, even if none of the individuals in the music department hold that belief themselves. It’s not just a subliminal message either, because our knowledge of music after graduation likewise privileges white people. Graduates enter school classrooms, higher education institutions or the workforce with their highly educated yet biased definition of music. 

As I’m sure you’ve gathered, the existence of jazz courses and world music courses and their content is not the problem. In fact, I think these musics should be integrated into our entry level music theory and musicology courses. Ewell has a wonderful section on the future of music education in his blog which I intend to highlight in my next blog post. Stay tuned…

[1] Ewell, Phillip By Philip. “Music Theory’s Quantitative and Qualitative Whiteness.” Music Theory’s White Racial Frame. June 26, 2020. Accessed December 14, 2021.

[2 ]Oh! Susanna. C. Holt, Jr., New York, monographic, 1848. Notated Music.


The Georgia Minstrels Break Tradition

We often focus importantly on the elements of minstrelsy which tie each troupe together; the costumes, dialect, racial humor, and urban audiences, however the Georgia Minstrels were breaking this tradition as early as 1876. Black people doing minstrelsy is complicated as though minstrelsy poked fun at Black people, the performing arts were one of a very limited number of spaces where Black people could occupy during the reconstruction era. 1 Although the idea of white people consuming Black performance art meant to dehumanize the performers is repulsive, the autonomy, creativity and talent of the Black performers involved should not be overlooked. The Georgia minstrels created for themselves a path to spaces where Black people could not occupy just over 10 years earlier. They were often asked to perform in vocal ensembles in churches and classical music performance venues, often part of a larger organized group’s performance.

One such performance was on March 12 1876 at the Boston Theatre where the Georgia Minstrels were invited to perform at the Grand Sacred Jubilee Concert, featuring the Grand Jubilee singers and others presenting works by Haydn, Rossini and other classical composers as well as Negro spirituals. Here is one piece which is from Peter Devonear’s Plantation Songs (1878):

“Run Home Levi” from Peter Devonear’s Plantation Songs.3


Peter Devonear was a songwriter for the Georgia Minstrels who relied heavily on the conventional minstrel or “plantation” song rather than the spirituals. This piece is similar to many minstrel songs which invent new material for verses that rely on character creation, “Run home Levi, run home for de sun’s down.” The line, “Den I dont want to stay here no longer” then draws on plantation song sentiment. Eileen Southern writes of the intricacy behind an all-Black troupe performing songs rooted in slavery, “The Georgia Minstrels undertook to produce shows which were novel and distinctly ‘genuine,’ planation Black-American, and, at the same time enough in conformity with minstrel traditions to please their interracial audiences and keep them returning for more.” 2

One of the other groups on the program for the night were the Hyers Sisters, a group of three Black female performers who toured around the U.S. during the nineteenth century, impressing audiences with their musical talent. They, like the Jubilee Singers, performed repertoire in the Western music tradition yet are also an example of the opposition of Black performers to predefined role fulfillment. Jocelyn Buckner writes, “They pushed boundaries of acceptable and expected roles for black and female performers by developing works that moved beyond stereotypical caricatures of African American life.”4

Taking a look at Black performance groups during reconstruction has dramatically challenged my knowledge of racial power dynamics. In my opinion, criticizing minstrelsy for its racism alongside acknowledging the accomplishments of Black performers is one way in which students today can seek an antiracist, critical knowledge of American history. Of course this is just an opinion, and if you as the reader think I am misguided, I would love to hear what you have to say!


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

Women in Minstrelsy?

Mary Barnard Horne [1845-1931] was one of the first female authors of minstrelsy scripts. She wrote various musicals, school productions, adapted others’ performances for the stage and of course, minstrel shows. Interestingly, she dealt with the social and political status of women during this time in America where voting rights for black men and white women were similar. Here is one of her shows, entitled, “Jolly Joe’s Lady Minstrels.” The text is highly racist yet also is one of the first shows in which women were cast on stage. It contains a phrase in the introduction reading,

"Until recently the field of Amateur Minstrelsy has been open solely
   to the male sex. It was, however, only necessary for the weaker sex
   to turn its attention to burnt cork, to eccentric costumes, to
   negro songs, and to fun generally, to draw upon it the attention of
   the public and the verdict that, in this field as in many others,
   it could hold its own."1

Given that Horne’s plays were often performed for the white middle class, I was curious about the reception of a play which appeased one pillar of white male power but subverts the other. A quick search on reveals this 1913 review from a Brooklyn newspaper.

Clipping from The Chat, Brooklyn, New York. 22 November 1913.2

The subheading reads, “Up-to-date minstrel performance with some modern improvements given by clever members of the Church of the Evangel.” The performance was apparently put on by the leader of the women’s association at the named church. I find it fascinating that ‘modern improvements’ seem to refer to women’s rights but there is no consideration of the racism which the play contains. This is, as it turns out, quite a surface level observation of the fight for civil rights at the time. For context, Black men were granted the right to vote in 1870 whereas women were not granted the right to vote until 1920. During this time period, though, feminism took on many forms. Abolition-feminism equated the bondage of slavery to the bondage of women in order to fight for civil rights, yet the way this often played out privileged white women only. Clare Midgley writes, “In the United States, the fear of anti-slavery women was that their meetings would be disrupted by racist mobs.”3 Given this intersection, we can see how white women might take on the ‘modern’ cause for women’s rights without any concern for Black rights. 

This little snippet from a seemingly niche subject, women in minstrelsy, is an example of a much broader trend in U.S. history, that is, white women weaponizing their status to further Black oppression. Zooming out now, we see the same trend continuing today, in the very same cities that minstrel shows were being performed. You may recall white woman Amy Cooper calling 911 on a Black man who asked her to leash her dog in Central Park, New York. In falsely accusing him of harassing her, she pandered to the cause of women while simultaneously posturing her white status. Can we blame her if she is just a product of our history? Yes, and we should look inward to change our own racist habits too.


More on Henry Krehbiel

When reading selections from Henry Krehbiel’s 1914 publication of Afro-American Folksongs: A Study in Racial and National Music,1 Music 345 was perplexed to compare his eagerness to embrace African American folksongs as American creations attributed to Black people in America to the writings of George Pullen Jackson in White and Negro Spirituals (1943). 2There was a general consensus among us that as history progresses, so do our politics. So I want to know: what was Krehbiel inspired by, and what can his background tell us about his research and publications?

I do not seek to answer this question in full with a blog post, however I do think it is worthwhile to consider where his inspirations came from. Henry Krehbiel was a first generation American growing up in a German speaking family. He started working for the New York Tribune around 1880 and soon rose to the title ‘music editor’ which gave rise to his writings on American music. His 1914 publication cited above is said to be inspired by his attendance of the World Columbian Exhibition of 1893 in Chicago. The World Columbian Exhibition in Chicago was quite frankly a great show of American exceptionalism meant to celebrate the 400th anniversary of Christopher Columbus in 1492 featuring over 200 buildings boasting neoclassical architecture as well as artists and musicians, including African American music from the Dahomean village. 3

First page of the program for the World’s Columbian Exposition of Chicago, 1893.4

The very music Krehbiel heard from the Dahomean village at the World Columbian Exchange inspired the musical, In Dahomey, a piano-vocal score written by Will Marion Cook and vaudevillians Bert Williams and George Walker. According to some sources, this was the first publication of its type and was performed over 1100 times in the United States and England from 1902-1905.5,7

Johns, Al, and Frank Saddler. In Dahomey. Sol Bloom, New York, NY, 1903. Notated Music.

The history behind the Dahomey village as it existed in America has somewhat of a different origin story. The kingdom of Dahomey was a West African kingdom located in present day Benin that was colonized by the French, so many of the artifacts on display at the World Columbian Exchange were actually collected by the French Colonial Office during the scramble for Africa between 1880 and 1885.7 Knowing that the Dahomey village in America was the product of colonialism and that Krehbiel was probably enthralled in an exotic fascination of their music greatly informs how we think about his research. This being said, Krehbiel’s colonial bias does not detract from the impact of  Dahomean music on American music as a genre. We must instead lend some more credence to the instrumental role African Americans played in creating the genre of American music.

Krehbiel’s interest in the music of the Dahomean village is somewhat analogous to Dvorak’s fascination with folksongs that inspired the New World Symphony which was also written in 1893. This work supposedly also contributed to his own research in gathering music from Americans and immigrants to study and write about. Knowing that Krehbiel, though not an anti-racist by any means collected his own research and information perhaps lends more credence to his work than Jackson who relies strictly on conjecture and other researchers.


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.