After thorough investigation of Frederic Remington’s life and travels, I found no evidence of him traveling to China or studying Chinese people… So I will do my best to interpret the Chinese Figure Study that Remington drew in the late 1800s, in relation to rap music of the 1990s. The Chinese Figure Study (see below) is and ink on paper drawing of three figures, presumably Chinese men. The most striking element of the drawing is the differences in each three men. From left to right they represent a different Chinese man: the far left, a Chinese man in traditional garb, perhaps more wealthy and to the far right, a westernized Chinese cowboy who represents a lower class immigrant.
Chinese Figure Study – Frederic Remington
If my interpretation is correct, the above artwork can be compared to the hip hop music from the 80s and 90s we studied. Rap/Hip-hop culture emerged in the Bronx, New York among young African Americans. This new hip-hop movement was a musical outlet for expressing the voices of the low-income Americans. The lyrics of hip hop music is very indicative of this internal and external battle the youths were facing. Public Enemy’s song “Fight the Power” exemplifies the battle of white and black social hierarchy:
“While the Black bands sweatin’
And the rhythm rhymes rollin’
Got to give us what we want
Gotta give us what we need
Our freedom of speech is freedom or death
We got to fight the powers that be
Lemme hear you say
Fight the power”
In the song, Public Enemy talks about the rights of man and that they should fight for their rights. The painting displays a sort of classifying of man by race and socio-economic value. The binding similarities of an oppressed people are illustrated in both Remington’s Chinese Figure Study and Public Enemy’s “Fight the Power.”
American composer and performer, Edwin Pearce Christy, was an influential person in the history of Minstrelsy and theater in American history. His career in minstrelsy began in New York in the 1840s and from there he became a sensation. He and six other performers performed around the country in black-face and eventually he began composing his own minstrel songs and sketches. In 1855 he retired as a performer, but he continued to be involved in the theater as he managed his original group Christy’s Minstrels. This early form of minstrelsy was surely racist and prejudice, as slavery was still legal in the southern states. Here are a few examples of his work (note the cherubs are in black face surrounding Christy’s portrait… narcissistic racism at its’ finest.):
The tune in the image above, “Happy Are We Darkies So Gay” is yet another false portrayal of the African American sentiment. Slaves were not happy to be enslaved, and the minstrel shows went out of their way to satirically demonstrate a falsehood among white audiences that African American individuals liked doing menial work on plantations. Stephen Foster, a colleague of Christy but more well-known, created similar portrayals of plantation life through music and sketches. However, Foster was perhaps more admirable in that he sought to ‘eliminate objectionable lyrics’ that didn’t serve any purpose but to degrade that African American race. This was either a tactic to gain more supporters, thus a social and political move to further his career or maybe he truly had a kind(er) heart.
Fun fact: Christy committed suicide during the American Civil War for fear of money troubles…
Saunders, Steven. “The Social Agenda of Stephen Foster’s Plantation Melodies.” American Music 30.3 (2012): 275-89. JSTOR. University of Illinois Press. Web. 13 Apr. 2015.
Christy, Edwin Pearce. “Happy Are We Darkies So Gay.” New York : Jaques and Brother: 1847. The Mills Music Library Digital Collection. http://digicoll.library.wisc.edu/WebZ/FETCH?sessionid=01-64337-741693744:recno=1:resultset=1:format=F:next=html/nffull.html:bad=error/badfetch.html&entityimageSize=x
I’m certain that if I asked the class if they’d ever heard to Sister Rosetta Tharpe, not many would recognize the name. Tharpe grew up a gospel singer, both of her parents preachers, but what set Tharpe apart and probably what kept her from reaching the fame of the Arethas and the Ellas was her Rock ‘n Roll influence. Tharpe struggled to find a place as a successful musician while remaining a devout religious woman. Her inability to claim a single genre and run with it made Rosetta so remarkable, yet it is what kept her from reaching the top. Her unique guitar style along with her gospel like vocals made her a sensation, but her audience wasn’t one that could follow her as she wore too many hats. In an article in the New York Amsterdam News writes of Tharpe’s bounce back and forth between singer and church-goer.
The author, Jay J. Aye detailed her flip-flop between nightclubs and church and wrote, “Earlier this year after she [Tharpe] announced she was through with night clubs and would sing only in churches… Now, it looks as if the night club bug has stung Sister Tharpe again.” One wonders if Tharpe felt pressured by the music industry to go outside of the church, or whether her familial ties to the church held her back from truly reaching her full potentials as a Rock ‘n Roll singer with a gospel edge. Tharpe’s performing medium, while varied and inconsistent, was one she must’ve grappled with and one that music historians must take into account when studying her interesting and unique career.
Aye, Jay J. “Claims Sister Tharpe Torn between Church, Cabaret.” New York Amsterdam News (1943-1961), Dec 28, 1946, City edition. http://search.proquest.com/docview/225952495?accountid=351.
In June of 1921, Aaron Copland sailed to Paris, France to study music composition at the Palais de Fontainebleau. He gained much knowledge and experience with the help of his instructors Paul Vidal and Nadia Boulanger, as well as meeting new comrades like Harold Clurman. These individuals were formative in the early stages of Copland’s composing career and thus left an immense impact on his life and music. During his time in Paris, Copland had a great correspondence with his parents back in the United States.
Copland in early 1920s
One particularly amazing written account of Copland’s early success in Paris is in a letter he wrote to his parents. Merely three months into his stay in Paris, Copland had an opportunity that excited him more than ‘any debut in Carnegie Hall ever could.’ The following shows a portion of his letter to his parents:
(Selected correspondence of Aaron copland, p. 39)
Copland’s gained great success in Paris very early on in his stay. In the next letter to his parents, he writes of another great victory–he sells his first composition to one of the biggest publishing companies in all of Paris. Copland writes to his parents with a delightful voice, comfortable expressing his unadulterated joy with his loved ones. Readers are lucky to be able to get such a glimpse into an intimate exchange of letters from a composer to his parents. Copland has left such a mark on music history in America, and to be able to read more closely at the details of the beginning of his career is unique and very telling of what he was experiencing in the moment.
At the end of his letter about selling his composition, with a charming tone Copland signs off saying, “So, we have a composer in the Copland family, it seems. Who says there are no more miracles. Lovingly, Aaron.” (Copland, p. 41)
Copland, Aaron. Selected Correspondence of Aaron Copland. New Haven, CT, USA: Yale University Press, 2006. Accessed March 23, 2015. ProQuest ebrary.
Image found at: http://lcweb2.loc.gov/diglib/media/loc.natlib.copland.phot0020/ver01/0001.tif/225
Folk music is one that draws many questions from American music historians. Questions like, “who owns folk music?”, “where did these tunes originate?”, and “what is a folk song?”. One perspective that is particularly interesting and comes to a strong conclusion is that the origin of American folk music is based upon African Tradition. An article in The Chicago Defender claims that from African Americans and slave music, the genre of folk emerged. The argument is that the melodies of African American music prior to the Civil war were considered true American folk songs. Some original, but also based on African traditional music. The English, French, and Spanish all brought their own style of song to the United States, so their music isn’t naturally American. Oscar Saffold wrote in his article, “There is, however, a real indisputable folk song in America, an American production, born in the hearts of slaves — expressing a part of the life of our country.” This can be argued against, saying that the music of the slaves is originally from Africa, but Saffold’s argument is moreover strong, in that the African American traditional music had a large influence on proceeding music styles such as the blues and then jazz.
During the time of the Civil Rights’ Movement, there were many protests in southern United States, to express the desires and rights of equality among people; To blur the racial lines. These protests were filled with demonstrations that used art to promote equality, and the folk song emerged as an effective protest song. This incorporated the melodies of the old slave songs, but with new words. For example:
This type of folk song is called a freedom song. It was used as a way to unite a community of people during the Civil Rights’ Movement, and was thought to communicate and express sentiments when words weren’t enough. This is tied into the work songs of slaves during the Antebellum South.
A poignant quote from the article says, “while there is no American folk song in the sense of expressing American life as a whole, still there is a folk song in America, and that is the music of the Negro” (Saffold). The roots of American folk music go deep into the history of the African American slaves of Southern American, and since, folk music has taken on many other attributes with the Folk Revival of the late 20th Century.
Saffold, Oscar E. “How american folk songs started.” The Chicago Defender (National edition) (1921-1967), 25 Feb. 1933. http://search.proquest.com/docview/492356076?accountid=351
“Songs seen Vital in Albany Demonstrations.” Chicago Daily Defender (Daily Edition) (1960-1973), 22 Aug. 1962. http://search.proquest.com/docview/493909703?accountid=351.
Jazz is a musical style native to the United States, that emerged in the early Twentieth century. Jazz was influenced from Blues music, which was established most notably by W.C. Handy in 1917. Jazz has new sound that incorporates both the African American musical stylings and the European American form of music. This hybridization of the two heritages created a unique style of music which we now call under a big genre “umbrella,” Jazz. In the Library of Congress photo archives, a photo of the reputable Sarah Vaughan was present among many photos of white jazz singers. She became popular in the late 40s and early 50s when Jazz was really hitting it’s stride as popular music, with the likes of Frank Sinatra.
Vaughan was highly influenced by the early blues style, of W.C. Handy. Handy’s invention or development of the Memphis Blues, drew on the folk style of the old southern plantation music. The emotional context of this music is heard in the vocal stylings of the renowned Sarah Vaughan. The memphis blues eventually took shape to the 12-bar blues, which also led to the development of Jazz.
While Vaughan represents a big part of the Jazz era, more commonly was the presence of white artists, such as Doris Day, Peggy Lee, and Sinatra. They emulated the sounds of a soulful Vaughan, singing on topics that go back to the days of slavery.
“St. Louis Blues” is a great example of an old dixieland jazz band song that evolved over the years. In the recording provided in the above link, the instrumentation, while has elements of a traditional jazz band also still has southern sounds to it… likely from New Orleans. In the video below, the song is presented in a different style of blues and jazz, one that emerged later with artists like Bessie Smith, Louis Armstrong, and Sarah Vaughan.
Gottlieb, William, photographer. “Portrait of Sarah Vaughan in Café Society (Downtown).” Photograph. New York, N.Y.: Library of Congress Prints & Photographs. Aug. 1946. Online.
Shape notes are a style of music notation most popularly printed in the songbooks of The Sacred Harp, and is categorized as sacred choral music. Shape note singing originates in the New England region of America as way to help illiterate Americans read music and participate more freely in religious activity. This style of singing was mainly found in the Protestant sect of Christianity. Shape notes reinforce the importance of congregational style of singing in church, allowing for a broader inclusion of church-goers.
The first iteration of shape note notation, invented by Psalmodist Andrew Law, was meant to simplify singing by assigning different shapes to different syllables (fa, sol, la, and mi) so that singers knew which syllables to sing without needing to read lyrics. In 1801, the system was developed by William Little and William Smith and assigned these shapes to different pitches on a staff. This resulted in the creation of The Sacred Harp tunebook. In an article posted in the Common School Advocate in the year 1838, the tunebook was regarded as “decidedly the best and most permanently useful work yet published… made up of the finest compositions of the great masters of ancient and modern times, with new music.” A review that pays homage to the times, as this was a fairly new invention that gave a church goers a new and inclusive experience participating in the singing of psalms and hymns.
A popular hymn that is sung today that The Sacred Harp transcribed into shape note notation is “Amazing Grace.” Largely sung at funerals, this originally baptist tune transcribed in shape note notation is a great example of the choral music of the Antebellum south period. The Christian Observer, an Anglican evangelical periodical that existed between 1802 and 1874, wrote highly of the Sacred Harp tunebook, posting numerous recommendations of its publication. One that particularly stood out, read “The volume is composed of very beautiful melodies; and harmonies of almost unequalled richness… The tunes are admirably adapted to the effective expression of poetry, a circumstance upon which the happiest effect of Christian Psalmody depend.” A boasting review of a simple style of music, which goes to show the nature of music during this time period in America. Neither monophonic nor polyphonic, this unique style, which is heterophonic in texture, has a surprising sound that is unfamiliar, even to a trained ear. The more popular hymnody has a far more recognizable polyphonic texture that most trained and un-trained ears are accustomed to.
At the annual conventions, there is a specific structure to how they sing each song, whether or not that is how it was performed in 1850 is unbeknown to me, but the format is as follows: “sung through once on the solfege syllables, then sung in its entirety, with the final phrase repeated as a conclusion” (Miller). Despite the repetitive nature of such singing style, the participants are very enthusiastic in their singing of such tunes, and often clap and stomp along with the beat. Through shape-note singing a community emerged, one that is based around the Protestant faith, but is much more than that.
Shape note notation is important in American music history, as it is seen as the first original American music style and it is a defining style that influences genres to come. Some music historians say that African American spirituals were influenced from the shape note singing of groups like the Sacred Harp. If this is in fact true, the shape note style is an important one in American history that continues to influence music today.
Miller, Sarah Bryan. Post-Dispatch Classical, Music Critic. “Amazing Grace at The Missouri Sacred Harp Convention, Shape-Note Singing Isn’t for Listening, It’s for Participation.” St. Louis Post – Dispatch, Mar 28, 2001.
“VALUABLE MUSIC BOOKS,” 1841. Christian Observer (1840-1910), Oct 29, 176. http://search.proquest.com/docview/136098231?accountid=351.
“A VALUABLE music book,” 1838. Common School Advocate (1837-1841), Vol. 14: pp. 95. http://search.proquest.com/docview/124760960?accountid=351