Joan Báez

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

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

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

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

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


Sources Cited

[1] Azcona, Estevan César. “Chicano Movement Music.” In The American Mosaic: The Latino American Experience, ABC-CLIO, 2019. Accessed November 12, 2019.


[2] Meier, Matt S., Conchita Franco Serri, and Richard A. Garcia. “Joan Báez.” In The American Mosaic: The Latino American Experience, ABC-CLIO, 2019. Accessed November 12, 2019.

[3] Pulley, Anna. “JOAN BAEZ TO BE INDUCTED INTO ROCK & ROLL HALL OF FAME.” Acoustic Guitar, 03, 2017, 15,

The Depression Can’t Stop the St. Olaf Choir

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

Manitou Messenger. June 3, 1930.

Manitou Messenger. June 3, 1930.












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

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

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

Works Cited:

[1] “Faculty Entertains Choir At Farewell Party Sunday; Speeches, Songs on Program.” Manitou Messenger, June 3, 1930.

[2] “Sale of Tickets Mounts as Norway Tour Approaches.” Manitou Messenger, January 7, 1930.

[3] Schmidt, Paul. “The 1930 European Tour,” Shaw-Olson Center for College History. St. Olaf College, 1967.

A European Composer with Opinions on American Music

© National Portrait Gallery, London Poldowski (Régine (née Wieniawski), Lady Dean Paul) by Bassano Ltd

The composer I’d like to center this blog around is one whose music I was introduced to last year when I was searching for female composers. Although she went by a handful of names, her pieces were published under the name of Poldowski, a nom de plume that had no signifier of her gender. She was born in Brussels in 1879, moved to England around the turn of the century, adopted British citizenship when she married in 1901, and composed art songs in french [2,3]. She isn’t an American however I found the intricacies of her background parallel to how we have been discussing identity in music. She did, however, “concertize” in the United States for two winters and a summer. Her passing in 1932 led to some striking obituaries, one in particular was in the New York Times ten years after she had visited. The obituary discussed the fame she had gained in both Paris and London and how her concerts in the United States helped to establish her as a great “writer of songs” in comparison to Debussy [2]. In that same obituary, certain musical qualities were associated to parts of her race:


“Through an Irish mother, she inherited an added gift of the fantastic and paradoxical in humor with the mixture of Polish ancestry, which gave her music the complex sadness and gaiety of harmonization….”

We don’t often discuss the essentialization of white composers since whiteness has become a term of homogeneity but it’s informative to see articles such as these that othered composers of different nationalities. 


What caught my eye, in particular, was an article she had written called, “The Influence of Jazz” in 1927. She is reflecting on the influence of Jazz on orchestrated music and her conclusion is:

“To admit the influence of jazz on music, is to admit the influence of cocktails on vineyards, or the cinema on painting! A composite American device is not a new creation, or any sort of creation, it is a stimulant, and a very good and healthy one, if kept in its own sphere.” [2] 

She compares jazz musicians to Wagner and Stravinsky and claims that the two were geniuses whereas jazz musicians are “stunt-monger[ers]”[2]. This type of critique is outdated but important to look back on, especially when choosing art-song composers to perform.  

Although she asked as she was dying, “Do look after my music!” I feel hesitant to continue to do so [1]. 

Works Cited

[1] Drucker, Ruth et al. “A Collection of art songs by women composers .” 1998: n. pag. Print.


[3] Kness, Karen. “An analytical comparison of the art song style of Poldowski with the styles of Debussy and Fauré.” (2012).

Does Music With Problematic Origins Deserve the Right to be Performed?

I would like to take a quick step back from minstrelsy to discuss a comment I made in our last class about cultural sharing. This past Tuesday, in conversation with the idea of people of European descent making up 1/3 of those who perform Taiko in the United States, I suggested that this type of cultural sharing would not be problematic if there were not a history of colonization in this country. This is an idealized notion that I recognize to be a trying if not nearly impossible task, that is, undoing those parts of colonization which have made people unequal. The reality, however, is that colonization is far more widespread in its aftermath than I could personally be able to explain and begin to combat individually.

Take this video my father sent me called, “White people Pow-Wow song “Going To A Pow-Wow” and really focus on the way it evokes particular emotions.

It’s pretty blatantly… cringey. It also makes me laugh due to the sheer lack of knowledge of Native Americans, well, anything. 

My point is, the people in this video are not engaged in cultural sharing because they have fetishized and created their own ideal version of what Native American culture and music should be. On the contrary, I would like to still believe that cultural sharing can be possible but it is the adoption of marginalized identities by a white-majority that remains the issue. 

For example, this department had an open dialogue last year sparked by the presence of Marti 

Newland on the topic of white students singing spirituals. With her guidance, we ultimately came to the conclusion that it was okay for white people to sing spirituals and specifically in dialect however the composition of spirituals by white composers was to be abandoned. This brings up the issue of authenticity and what race of composers are allowed to compose what and profit off of a marginalized culture. Tying this back into minstrelsy, I feel the need to point out that the ambiguity in whether or not we should give attention to songs that were created for racist purposes is an act of liberal violence. There is an essay by Gareth Griffiths titled, “The Myth of Authenticity” from the collection of essays he Post-Colonial Studies Reader, I have felt helpful in the discussion of what this blog is titled. Although Griffith is not speaking to an American experience, the fetishization and mystification of marginalized groups are applicable, in part, to the discussion on marginalized identities in the United States. The claim he makes is that even though an entity may be claiming to be “even-handed” in discussing two sides of a story between an oppressed group and their oppressors, the act of giving each truth equal weight is an act of “liberal violence” [1]. This mode of thought does not give proper weight to the constant fetishization, institutional racism, or a number of other societal factors that negatively impact a marginalized group yet we give outsider voices equal weight. Take from this what you will. 


Sources Cited

Ashcroft, Bill, Griffiths, Gareth, and Tiffin, Helen. The Post-Colonial Studies Reader London : Routledge, 1995.

Minstrelsy in the News

The primary source that I looked into for today was a republication of an article from the Little Rock Gazette from the year 1880. It was actually printed in the Topeka Tribune which claimed to be the sole colored publication in the state of Kansas. The title read, “A Prodigy In The Pulpit. A Boy Who Creates a Sensation by Preaching Lorenzo Dow’s Sermon” and the validity of the story told is arguable. The article itself was located on the fourth/last page of the tribune along with a number of reprinted articles from various newspapers nation-wide. Rather than search key-words such as “minstrelsy” I decided to search words associated with the topic and landed on “burnt-cork”. Oliver, the white boy the article centers around, utilizes components of black-face such as blackening his skin with burnt cork and donning a minstrel wig to swindle a black congregation out of their money. It was, in a way, refreshing to see minstrelsy contextualized by people who were living during the era. The story ends with the condemnation of Oliver who is publicly lashed once discovered to be a fraud. This particular lens of condemnation and specifically retribution I found captivating in that I had yet to hear such conversations of minstrelsy. Sentiments expressed in the article are clearly aimed at a black audience as the anger which turned to violence could have been a true story however the sensationalized air of the article warrants it to be more of a cautionary tale. My reasoning in particular as to why I believe the article to be false is that I don’t find it very likely that no one in the congregation would not be able to discern that the young preacher was in fact in blackface and wearing a wig. Second, I found the use of the word “prodigy” ironic which is what I assume the author’s intention to be. 


**I will link the article below as my computer had difficulties uploading the jpeg

Works Cited
“A Prodigy In The Pulpit. A Boy Who Creates a Sensation by Preaching Lorenzo Dow’s.” Topeka Tribune (Topeka, Kansas), November 6, 1880: 4. Readex: African American Newspapers.

Huddie Leadbetter (Leadbelly): Musicking in U.S. Prisons

What caught my eye whilst perusing the Lomax archive was this photograph:

The men depicted are both in prison uniforms, and on the back of the photograph is handwritten, “poss. Leadbelly”; Angola, Louisiana, July, 1934; “Huddie Leadbetter”.

I guess I wasn’t the first to be captured by this image because when I googled the description, the Lomax collection, of course, came up; what I didn’t expect to see was an Amazon link that resold reprints of the image. Further investigation led me to not just one, but several documentaries surrounding the culture of the Angola Prison (AKA: The Louisiana State Pen). Angola is currently the largest maximum-security prison in the United States and resides on 18,000 acres of property [1]. The land which was a plantation pre-civil war was “transformed” into a privately-owned prison by a former confederate general in the late 19th century where slave labor was replaced by inmate labor[1]. Huddie Ledbetter (Leadbelly) was in a way discovered by Alan Lomax while collecting in the south and aiding Lead Belly in recording an album, helped to secure his early release by sharing the album with Louisiana Governor O.K. Alan [2]. 

Whether or not the inmate in the photo is Heddie Ledbetter is unclear, however, the photograph provides evidence that musicking did not stop once people were convicted. 

I have a few questions in regards to the motives of the Lomaxs that include: Why did the Lomaxes decide to collect from prisons? Did it have to do with concepts of the authenticity of black music? Similarly, how did Jim Crow Era politics and criminal justice have to do with the perpetuation of black musicks? Josep Pedro’s biography on Leadbelly suggests that there was indeed a power dynamic at play. 

Leadbelly was effectively liberated in 1934 and the popular legend – backed by both the Lomaxes and the artist himself – made the white ‘ballad hunters’ responsible for the black man’s liberation.” [4]

The Lomaxes created a short film surrounding the liberation of Leadbelly and his transformation into a blues star. The video feels rehearsed (Leadbelly stumbles over a line at 2:28) and is shot skillfully with the usage of continuity editing and non-diegetic noise. Lastly, the film declares the Lomax discovery of Leadbelly’s music was, “the greatest folk song find in 25 years” [3]. The physical copies of his music were then to be stored in the same archive as the original copy of the Declaration of Independence [3]. The juxtaposition of the two is certainly evoking and ethos in legitimizing Leadbelly’s music as authentically American. 

Works Cited

[1] Schrift, Melissa. “Angola Prison Art: Captivity, Creativity, and Consumerism.” The Journal of American Folklore 119, no. 473 (July 1, 2006): 257–274.

[2] “Leadbelly.” In Chambers Biographical Dictionary, by Liam Rodger, and Joan Bakewell. 9th ed. Chambers Harrap, 2011.

[3] March of Time. Volume 1, Episode 2. “Leadbelly”. [New York, NY] Home Box Office, 1935. Accessed September 26, 2019.

[4] Pedro, Josep. “Leadbelly.” In The Cambridge Companion to the Singer-Songwriter, 111–119. Cambridge University Press, 2016.

The Native American Princess

     Whilst perusing the “Hearts of Our People” exhibit this summer at the MIA, an exhibit featuring exclusively female Native American artists. What I found striking was a video from the early 1950s of a woman named Maria Tallchief who was in fact not in traditional regalia, but an elaborate ballet costume, pointe shoes, and dancing to Igor Stravinsky. I thought to myself, “Wow, a Native Ballerina? If I would have seen this video as a kid I probably never would have quit ballet.” 

     The findings of Densmore as well as of the explorer’s accounts we read in class point to a correlation between Native Americans and dance. I would find it safe to say that not all of the dances Densmore recorded, let alone what those who made first contact saw, made it to the 21st century in their original form due. The role of the U.S. government in intentionally trying to vanish Native Americans, leading to the “Vanishing Indian” sentiment which eventually evolved into what Rebekah Kowal refers to as the Termination Era (early-mid 20th century), created the environment out of which Tallchief had her start. The article that caught my eye was titled, “American as Wampum” and was published in TIME magazine in 1951 following her performance with the New York City Ballet Company in Balanchine’s adaption of Firebird [1]. The article claims she was produced by the same era that created Shirley Temple and that:

“Onstage, Maria looks as regal and exotic as a Russian princess; offstage, she is as American as wampum and apple pie.” 

Taken from TIME Magazine

The discussion of her lineage only mentions that her father was a full-blooded member of the Osage tribe [1], further exoticizing her and leaving out the fact that her mother had European heritage: Scotch, Irish, Dutch [2]. It is possible that the author of the article simply didn’t know that Tallchief was mixed-race but I find it more likely that her choice in self-identifying primarily with her Native heritage contributed to her fame and success as the first American Prima Ballerina. Her image, both literal and social, is another aspect of her life I found compelling. It was her front page of Newsweek that crowned her, “the finest American-born ballerina the twentieth century had ever produced…” [2]. The use of a literal crown in both articles, Newsweek and Time,  the image of the “Native American Princess”. This brings us back to depictions of the idealized Native woman, the peace bringer such as Pocahontas, a role model of femininity and what was called civilization, integration, or assimilation[3]. Toll argues that the trope Tallchief embodies is more complicated than simply playing the civilized Indian in that her achievement of being the first-ever American Prima Ballerina, that she was a creator of western culture rather than an “assimilated Princess” [3].

Works Cited

[1] “American as Wampum.” TIME Magazine, vol. 57, no. 9, Feb. 1951, p. 78. EBSCOhost,

[2] Kowal, Rebekah J. “‘Indian Ballerinas Toe Up’: Maria Tallchief and Making Ballet ‘American’ in the Tribal Termination Era.” Dance Research Journal, vol. 46, no. 2, 2014, pp. 73–96., doi:10.1017/S0149767714000291.

Toll, Shannon. “Maria Tallchief, (Native) America’s Prima Ballerina: Autobiographies of a Postindian Princess.” Studies in American Indian Literatures, vol. 30, no. 1, 2018, pp. 50–70,