The Oblivious Indian School Curriculum

Currently, there have been over 1000 children’s graves recovered at the sites of Indian Residential Schools in Canada. These schools were an assimilation tactic used by both the United States and Canada from the 1880s-1980s and were the site of horrific abuse and tragedy.

The curriculum for these schools in the US was ascribed by the book Tentative Course of Study for United States Indian Schools, published in 1915 by the US government’s office of Indian Affairs. In every grade, the children were made to study music. There’s a section about the study of music, and the way in which the curriculum is written helps to highlight the ambivalence of the US government to the native communities. 

 

This is an excerpt from page 111. It explains the topics of instruction.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The beginning of the second paragraph reads, “The first requirement for musical training in the schoolroom is to permit the pupils to only hear good music.” I found this particularly interesting, because, as we know, it’s almost impossible to label music as “good music.” This may be implying that native music is bad, but the text never says that outright. But what it does go on to mention is that singing should always be done with a “good, smooth, sweet, light, and pure tone.” This is important to note because a pure tone (in the western sense) is not something that is highly valued in Native American music. In many native songs, the vocal quality is more raw and focused, as can be heard in this recording of “War Dance Song,” music of the Plains Indians.

There’s also a strong focus on drilling intervals and sight singing. We know from countless charts and attempts to measure native intervals that our scales are not the same, so intervals and sight singing must have been extremely challenging for these children. There’s also a mention of music “stories,” where the teacher would be expected to give information about the history of Mozart and Beethoven. This is especially disheartening, given how we know that many native tribes used song and dance to tell their own stories. 

In all of this writing, there’s no mention of native culture or references to these children being from native tribes. It really seems as if the US government was trying to create a blank slate for these children, not talking about them as “less than” or being outright racist. But by erasing their history, the authors of this book are contributing to the violence enacted against them. These children entered these schools against their will, bringing with them the extreme trauma of being stolen from their homes and forced into a new environment. Erasing all aspects of their history is cultural genocide, and definitely made it easier to ignore the atrocities enacted by the authorities in these schools.

Citiations

Office of Indian Affairs. “Tentative Course of Study for United States Indian Schools.” Accessed November 1, 2021. https://www.aihc.amdigital.co.uk/Documents/Images/Ayer_386_U5_1915/61.

Young, Robin, and Camila Beiner. “Indigenous Kids’ Bodies Recovered – Not Discovered, Says Canada’s Assembly of First Nations Chief.” WBUR, July 20, 2021. https://www.wbur.org/hereandnow/2021/07/20/canada-indigenous-schools.

Duality of Dave Reed Jr’s Compositions

There’s little information about composer Dave Reed Jr. available online. And although many records of his compositions exist in Databases, there are few recordings and even fewer quality recordings. What I’ve learned from my research is that Dave published his sheet music, for which he was the composer and lyricist, from 1894-1921. His father was Dave Reed Sr., a famous minstrel performer. That being said, I still couldn’t figure very much out about either of these men.  

In all of my research, what I was most interested in finding was the context for some of Dave Reed Jr.’s published songs. On the sheet music consortium, I found 3 pieces by Reed that piqued my interest. They were all about women, specifically women of color (two about black women and one about a native American woman). Interestingly, all of these songs describe these women as beautiful, graceful, and even aristocratic. Take a look at these lyrics from “Lady Africa”

“…She is de Queen of color’d high society

They shout Hurrah for Lady Africa

For she’s the perfect essence of propriety…”

I found myself wondering, are these songs actually celebrating black women? Spoiler alert: I don’t know. But in researching and reasoning, I ended with one final thought: Perhaps it doesn’t matter. I’ll elaborate.

First, I was curious about the race of the composer, since I figured there would be a higher chance for celebrating black women if the composer was a black man. Some of the songs are also written with a black-American dialect. Dave Reed Sr. was part of a group called Bryants Minstrels, who at first glance seem to be a white troupe since the leaders (the Bryants) were white. But with further reading, I learned that they did have at least a few black performers. Additionally, I found a picture of David Reed Sr. wearing blackface, where he looks white, but of course, I can’t say that definitively. 

Next, I examined the music in relation to the time period. These songs were all published before 1920, placing them in the minstrel time period, yet there was no evidence that they were ever performed as minstrel songs. But when comparing the music to other music at the time, it is not very different. The instrumental parts all seem similar to a ragtime style, which we know came almost directly from minstrelsy. Furthermore, the subject matter is the same as that in minstrels. The lyrics simply talk about romantic themes and black women: something that doesn’t seem out-of-place now but could’ve been satirical in that time. 

After researching, it seems as though Dave Reed Jr. was not intending to celebrate black women. But without context, it might not matter. These songs talk about black women in high standing, from beautiful lands, who are desirable in many ways. I think it’s possible that these songs could be reclaimed today, given that the lyrics could be seen in a positive light.

Citations

Music Division, The New York Public Library. “My Hannah lady, whose black baby is you” New York Public Library Digital Collections. Accessed October 25, 2021. https://digitalcollections.nypl.org/items/510d47df-f04d-a3d9-e040-e00a18064a99

Books and Media, Duke University Library. “Lady Africa” Duke University Library Digital Collections. Accessed October 25, 2021. https://find.library.duke.edu/catalog/DUKE005411564

Arizona State University. “My Kickapoo Queen” Arizona State University Sheet Music Collection. Accessed October 25, 2021.https://hdl.handle.net/2286/R.A.127822

Discography of American Historical Recordings, s.v. “Reed, David,” accessed October 25, 2021, https://adp.library.ucsb.edu/names/107887.b0807

Who was Francis Johnson

While researching in the Afro-Americana Imprints database, I came across the cover for sheet music dedicated to musician Richard Willis, which included music written by Francis Johnson. Immediately, I was interested in the identity of these men, particularly Francis Johnson. Initially, I found that he was born in 1792 either in Philadelphia or Martinique (A Caribbean Island), and that there’s not much known about his personal life, other than that he was a free black man who lived in Philadelphia.

Upon further investigation, I found that Frank has the most impressive resume. It was rumored that he played all instruments, taught black and white students, toured the US and Europe, composed hundreds of pieces, and was gifted a silver trumpet from Queen Victoria her

self! This is especially impressive, given that during his lifetime, slavery was still thriving in the South. But this information is all from secondary sources, namely the African American Registry website, and the University of Pennsylvania archives website. I was interested in finding first-hand accounts of Francis and his music, yet it seems like there’s almost no primary source material available. 

I tried searching the Frank Johnson Musical Association, band, players, groups, etc., to no avail. Almost everything was either irrelevant or about another Francis Johnson. I was only able to find one writing that mentioned the accomplishments of Francis Johnson the musician. It’s titled “Music and Drama,” published in the People’s Advocate, published in 1880. It reads:

“[He] could play on every instrument then known, In 1839 he visited Europe with a portion of his band and was rumored to play the silver six-keyed bugle… was a tutor on the bugle of Willis…  was a composer of no mean celebrity”

Upon further examination, I found that this was a republication of an article from a newspaper called the Elevator (which took a lot of sleuthing to figure out), which was most likely written by a woman named Jennie Carter. Still, I don’t know who that is or if she is reliable.

This has all made me ask: Why is it so hard to find information about this man who seemed to be so successful? Perhaps not much was written about him, but to me, it seems more likely that not much was saved about him. Although the white newspapers and print were getting archived and filed away, did black people have these resources? Once again I’m seeing how my view of black Americans is so hugely shaped by racist history and the fact that white people have always been in control. I find myself wondering if we can ever uncover the true history of black Americans. 

Citations:

“The Death of Willis.” Flot, Meigan & Co. (Philadelphia, Pennsylvania), 1837: Readex: Afro-Americana Imprintshttps://infoweb.newsbank.com/iw-search/we/Evans/?p_product=EAIX&p_theme=eai&p_nbid=T5FA5DYSMTYzMzk5NjYzNy40NDg2NDE6MToxNDoxOTkuOTEuMTgwLjE0OA&p_action=doc&p_queryname=16&p_docref=v2:13D59FCC0F7F54B8@EAIX-154E9B11D0F03650@S2316-@1-160CC4A8734732F2&f_mode=printCitation

“Music And The Drama.” People’s Advocate (Washington (DC), District of Columbia), May 1, 1880: 1. Readex: African American Newspapers. https://infoweb.newsbank.com/apps/readex/doc?p=EANAAA&docref=image/v2%3A1314AA70AC23F712%40EANAAA-1318B7EB28CCA808%402407837-1317FCEBA03D18F8%400-138B6D055378A841%40Music%2BAnd%2BThe%2BDrama.

“Frank (Francis) Johnson, Musician, and Teacher Born.” African American Registry, June 16, 2021. https://aaregistry.org/story/frank-johnson-a-first-for-black-music/.

“Francis Johnson.” University Archives and Records Center. Accessed October 12, 2021. https://archives.upenn.edu/exhibits/penn-people/biography/francis-johnson.

 

Black American Musicians Through the White Lens

From the many sources we’ve read in class, we know that black American instrumentalists existed, playing many instruments that could be classified in the  “folk” or “blue-grass” genre today. In Eileen Southern’s book, we learn about the runaway slaves who were fiddlers, singers, and guitar players. We also know the banjo originated from a West African stringed instrument made out of a gourd.  (https://music.si.edu/spotlight/banjos-smithsonian). And from Rhiannon Gidden’s speech, we learned that bluegrass has always been a black genre. So I wanted to know: What stories do the pictures tell?

Factually, the same thing. These instruments have always been a part of black history. But of course, with almost anything from these time periods, the narrative is always in the hands of white people. And that’s especially true with the photographic sources that are available today.

This first photo is taken from a popular (in the 1800s) cartoon by Currier and Ives called Blacktown, a satire aimed at making fun of black people. Its one of the first images that results from the search of the word “banjo,” yet we know that banjo was a popular instrument in black communities. Its a useful source to pair with Southern and Gidden’s points, because it places the banjo in the black musical canon, yet it’s entirely controlled by the white people who made it.

Gassman PickaninniesThis picture, from 1901, is of a “picaninny” performing child, a popular vaudville act, in which children performed for white spectators, often for humor, under the hand of a white adult female. The children often travel with the troupe without their families. Again, the mandolin places the instrument into the black music narrative, but the picture is likely taken by a white person for other white people. I find this picture especially disturbing, as the child is nameless, naked, and smiling (is she happy?). She is viewed as an object for entertainment; property to the act. This is another example of white people in control: not only of the picture and narrative, but of the life of this child.

"Retrospection". Old Negro man sitting and leaning on his banjo

Although pehaps not as sinister, this 1902 image isn’t light-hearted either. Once again, we see the banjo and the player, yet he looks somber– Is it because a white man is taking his photo?

When looking at these pictures I keep asking: where is the joy? For me (and for most of us, I think) music is about expression, joy, happiness, and freedom. I want to see pictures of black people playing their instruments joyfully, like we know they must have; like Southern and Giddens both provide proof for; like we might’ve gotten if black people were allowed to control their own narrative.

 

bibiography

Retrospection, Old Negro man sitting and leaning on his banjo. United States, 1902. Photograph. https://www.loc.gov/pictures/item/2006687460/

“Banjos.” Smithsonian Music. Accessed October 5, 2021. https://music.si.edu/spotlight/banjos-smithsonian.

Currier & Ives, creators. Thumb it, darkies, thumb it-o how loose i feel!. United States, 1886. Cartoon. https://www.loc.gov/pictures/item/91724110/

Gassman Pickaninnies. United States, 1901. Photograph. https://www.loc.gov/pictures/item/2003665236/

Giddens, Rhiannon. “Community and Connection.” IBMA, April 26, 2021. https://ibma.org/rhiannon-giddens-keynote-address-2017/.

“The Picaninny Caricature.” Jim Crow Museum – Ferris State University. Accessed October 5, 2021. https://www.ferris.edu/HTMLS/news/jimcrow/antiblack/picaninny/homepage.htm.

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. 

 

bibiolography:

“Mariachi Band Leads Protesters.” The American Mosaic: The Latino American Experience, ABC-CLIO, 2021, latinoamerican2.abc-clio.com/Search/Display/1602762. Accessed 27 Sept. 2021.

Hameed, Fatimah. Millions in the U.S. Protest Immigration Policy, 2006, https://nvdatabase.swarthmore.edu/content/millions-us-protest-immigration-policy-2006. Accessed 26 Sept. 2021.

“LA History.” COUNTY OF LOS ANGELES, 15 Nov. 2017, https://lacounty.gov/government/about-la-county/history/.