Learn Your Genres (and History)!

The way white people describing Black Americans and their music never ceases to shock me, especially from an older source like a 1920s newspaper article. In the specific article I will be referring to, the title is “Dancers Need Substitute for U.S. Jazz”. At first glance, I thought it was a flier notifying its readers that dancers for a show were needed, but this is not at all what the article dives into. 

 

It was hard to tell where this “article” came from because there was no author stated and all it says at the top is “Prague, Czech Home Service”. I was unsure if this was a newspaper or a subsection of a paper. This was extra confusing because the topic was on American music but there were European countries in it. However, after a closer look, I realized that it was a transcribed message from, likely, a radio show. 

 

The very first “ear” catching statement made by the narrator was quoted from a musical composer “many people are unable to realize the difference between jazz and dance music”(Par. 1) The narrator goes on to share their own thoughts on this statement. It is a bit hard to deduce who the narrator is and anything of their background, but it seems like they have only heard the white american perspective. Comments such as “Old Negro folk songs were only sung. Their rhythm originated from the rhythm of work. So-called modern jazz has no effect on feelings, but only on the lowest primitive urges.”, and “American owners of slaves and plantations”(Par. 3-4). This second comment alone lets me know that this narrator didn’t view these people as enslavers. This to me says that they don’t understand the trauma and suffering of slavery, therefore they don’t understand the meaning behind slave songs. Slave songs also aren’t jazz. They influenced jazz, but the reverse is not true.


Work Cited:

DANCERS NEED SUBSTITUTE FOR U.S. JAZZ. (1954, March 17) Prague, Czech Home Service. Translated in DAILY REPORT. FOREIGN RADIO BROADCASTS (Publication no. FBIS-FRB-54-053, published 1954, March 18), HH2-HH3. Available from Readex: American Race Relations: Global Perspectives, 1941-1996: https://infoweb-newsbank-com.ezproxy.stolaf.edu/apps/readex/doc?p=TOPRACE&docref=image/v2%3A12895BC6AA32DB40%40FBISX-131CEE8714B10AF8%402434820-131CEE95A3BF5E00%4036-131CEE9605E97168%40DANCERS%2BNEED%2BSUBSTITUTE%2BFOR%2BU.S.%2BJAZZ.

The Power Dynamics of the Music Industry

In this post, my attention was immediately drawn. A professor of musicology at Columbia University named Paul Henry Lang made critical remarks regarding the musical education of the general public. He believed that those in the industry were failing to create a musically educated environment. These people included teachers, boards, communities and committees. His issue is basically the corruption in favor of those in power. Managers and directors use their power to make artistic decisions for the artist(s). Professor Paul Henry Lang articulated his views in response to a news magazine article (Harper’s Magazine) that stated, “practically the entire literature of music has been recorded; and from now on only duplications can be expected.” Professor Lang asks, in response to this quote, “how can such an uninformed concept of the literature of music arise?” He then goes on to talk about his inferences on why such an uninformed comment was made (these inferences being about the power dynamics in the industry as I described previously).

I find this article extremely timeless (for at least the last century). These are the same issues we deal with in the music industry today. Many artists have little to no control over their image and artistic choices. For example, Megan Thee Stallion has been forced to embody her “Hot Girl” persona and rap songs that all have the general sexual message. She sued her label, 1501 Certified Entertainment because they were not allowing her to release her new album. Here’s a link to an article that better explains it. 

Frank Ocean also had issues with his label Def Jam and decided to leave in 2016 after releasing his second studio album Endless. This allowed him to independently release another album, Blonde, very soon after. He describes his relationship with Def Jam as “a bad marriage”. Here’s a link to an article with more information.

More and more artists are beginning to release music independently because they know how controlling record labels can be. Maybe this is the answer to the abuse of power in management within the music industry. 

Chicago Defender article link: https://www.proquest.com/hnpchicagodefender/docview/493728735/60A0321019944CECPQ/4?accountid=351

Citations

Hogan, M., 2020. Why Is Megan Thee Stallion Suing Her Record Label?. [online] Pitchfork. Available at: <https://pitchfork.com/thepitch/megan-thee-stallion-suing-record-label-suga/> [Accessed 16 November 2021].

Levine, Nick. “Frank Ocean ‘Left Record Label Early’ Because It Was like a ‘Bad Marriage’, Says Report.” NME, September 17, 2016. https://www.nme.com/news/music/nme-2595-1198708.

“Musicologist Criticizes Music World.” 1959.Daily Defender (Daily Edition) (1956-1960), Jul 29, 8. https://www.proquest.com/historical-newspapers/musicologist-criticizes-music-world/docview/493728735/se-2?accountid=351.

Cuban Bishop Observer

First of all, I would like to say that I find it very cool that there are texts from the 1600s. Although the text I read was not the original copy, nor is it in the original language, it gives details on how and who translated it to a legible copy and annotations corresponding with the letter text. It is a collection of letters by Gabriel Diaz Vara Calderón, a 17th century bishop of Cuba. The purpose of his letters are clearly to observe and record his observations of Indigenous peoples and their land and forward this information to the queen (of Spain). He mainly gives information about the land and how it is utlized by the Indigenous peoples. He also details the queen with estimates of Indigenous populations within each village he finds. I’m really unsure of what the purpose for this was. My only inference is that this bishop is scouting out the land for the queen to do something with, however it sounds like at this time it was already controlled by the queen. I am surprised that when giving information about the populations of villages, the bishop distinguished the different villages instead of referring to all of them as “Native Americans”.

I cannot make this post without noting the disrespectful language used by this bishop to refer to the Indigenous peoples. In one of his entries, he describes Indigenous Carribeans as savages. He also uses the words “heathens” and “savages” throughout his letters to the queen. Although, after looking up the word “heathen” I realized it could be used to refer to someone that is a non-believer (in Christ). In modern language (and my perspective) heathen is an insult but I never associated it with religion. Now that I understand the meaning behind the term, it’s unsurprising to see it being used by this 17th century bishop as one of the main goals of colonization was to assimilate that people being colonized.

 

https://www.aihc.amdigital.co.uk/Documents/Images/Ayer_301_S6_v95_no16/2

 

Blame It On The Blues

Blame It On The Blues is a 1914 jazz/blues/stomp song by Chas. L Cooke. It is written in the key of G in simple duple time. The beginning of the piece starts off with a sequence that repeats three times, each time down an octave. The right hand retains the melody throughout the entire piece and the left hand plays an eighth note pattern that alternates from being on the beat to being syncopated. The right hand is mainly syncopated. Like many blues pieces, there are many accidentals scattered throughout the whole song. The song itself is only about three pages long, but with its many repeats, it becomes around six pages. Just by looking at it and doing a quick musical analysis of the piece, you can tell it’s jazz/blues. When you listen to it, you can feel its syncopation and it definitely sounds very repetitive, almost cyclical. When I had this thought about the piece being “cyclical” I hadn’t even realized what the image on the title page was. It is a man and woman, drawn in black and white, sitting in a coil which looks like circles going up and up. Listening to the piece also makes me feel cartoonishly upbeat and active, like I want to complete a task. I think this is because jazzy, old-timey music such as this piece is used in soundtracks for silent films. In those films, the characters/people are moving around very quickly (due to the way it was animated) doing mundane or silly activities. Still, I couldn’t help but listen to it multiple times. I started this post in a very serious and focused mood but I couldn’t help but go down a rabbit hole of popular jazz/blues tunes of the early twentieth century. I guess you might say I could “blame it on the blues”.  

http://webapp1.dlib.indiana.edu/metsnav/inharmony/navigate.do?oid=http://fedora.dlib.indiana.edu/fedora/get/iudl:339801/METADATA&pn=2&size=screen

Sylvan Worship

First of all, I would like to say that this is an incredible database! I had no idea that there was a collection of these African American newspapers that spans more than a century. 

It took me a few tries to find a nice buzz word to put into the database search. I found that the word “spiritual” got me results that most relate to this course. This text “Sylvan Worship” was a bit difficult for me to read at first. This newspaper doesn’t make clear who Curtis, the narrator of the text, was. This made it hard for me to fully comprehend what they were saying without the slightest bit of background. Because all of the texts from this database are from African American newspapers (or other types of text), I first assumed that the narrator was black. However, the more I read, the more I felt that this person was from the African American community. This is not based on his knowledge or opinions on the topic of African American spirituals, but the language he used to speak on the topic was from an outsider point of view. In this sentence, “No race is more devotional than the African and to no class of people does the camp meeting revival prove so effectual as with them.” it sounds like Curtis is making statements based on his own observations of Africans and African Americans as an outsider.

Whether or not Curtis is African American, his points are huge generalizations and he doesn’t really use specific examples to illustrate these points. This definitely would not slide in a modern-day discussion (especially in our class). 

After reading the text over one more time, I have a strong feeling that Curtis is not black.

“‘Sylvan Worship.’.” Weekly Louisianian (New Orleans, Louisiana), September 18, 1875: 1. Readex: African American Newspapers. https://infoweb.newsbank.com/apps/readex/doc?p=EANAAA&docref=image/v2%3A12B767D21CB17968%40EANAAA-12BEC31400554038%402406150-12BC002A0EA02018%400-12D621523A4D1068%40%2522Sylvan%2BWorship.%2522.

National Jukebox

I couldn’t help but think about how this process of selecting and digitizing records for the National Jukebox is sort of like the process of creating a digital map. Especially while looking at the fourth picture slide and reading its description, the way they had specific elements that were consistent with each record to easily identify each one is a lot like how we choose specific elements that we would want to show along with our maps. However, the rest of the process is much more tedious. I found it really cool that someone pulls every single copy of the same record, examines their physical conditions, then chooses the best one from that same set of records. This, of course, being after the records are chosen for the National Jukebox. (This process still remains unclear to me but clicking around different links on the websites helped.) It’s like an assembly line. Once a step is completed, they seamlessly move on to the next step and it is nicely shown by the slide of pictures which gives off the feeling of a fixed process with anticipated steps. 

I find this process to be very cool because as you go along, you see and read about how many different people are involved in this National Jukebox creation. This process requires many different people with knowledge in many different specialized fields to carry out each different step. It is no surprise at all that it took the better part of a year (2010) to complete this process.

 

“Making the National Jukebox  :  Articles and Essays  :  National Jukebox  :  Digital Collections  :  Library of Congress.” The Library of Congress. Accessed October 6, 2021. https://www.loc.gov/collections/national-jukebox/articles-and-essays/making-the-jukebox/#slide-1.

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.

 

 

Citations:

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.

Documenting Native American Song

It’s no wonder that Americans have a narrow, stereotyped understanding of Native American song. On the one hand, there are mass media representations that run from the antiquated and embarrassing…

… to the downright confusing – I’m thinking especially of all the conflations between Indian and Ashkenazi Jewish musical culture in the 1920s and 1930s, including this one, and this one (at the very end). In fact, mass media’s propensity to get Indian song wrong is so cliché that the stereotyping itself has been parodied, most famously in the irreverent Fox cartoon Family Guy:

It’s not so hard to see where these misunderstandings come from. From the colonial era to the present day, the majority of Americans have never encountered Native American song themselves; they have mainly read accounts of it written by others. For example, Chicago’s Newberry Library preserves an 1835 account by John T. Irving, Jr. (accessible via the Adam Matthew database, specifically its “American West” collection) that describes an expedition to the Pawnee Tribes. We “hear” music through Irving’s ears, for example in this description of a group of Indians assembling before a journey:

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Likening the Indians’ song to a “low, and not inharmonious cry,” a “wailing moan,” and a “mournful chant,” Irving doesn’t really tell us what the “dirge” or “death song” sounds like. Rather, he sets the sounds he heard apart from what his readers might know; he renders the Native American song utterly Other.

It’s unfortunate that accounts like Irving’s have been more influential than systematic, respectful attempts to document Native American song, like that of Frances Densmore. A native of Minnesota, Densmore undertook an enormous study of Native American culture in the late 19th and early 20th centuries under the aegis of the Bureau of American Ethnology, a branch of the Smithsonian Institution. Densmore’s prescience about the misrepresentations referenced above borders on the prophetic. In 1927 she wrote, “There is danger that the future will form its opinions of Indians from the sentimental movies and the theater music when the Indian is seen through the bushes. Neither the “love lyric” nor theater tom-tom music are genuinely Indian, in the best sense” (Qtd. in this Smithsonian Institute online archive; see footnote 5 for archival citation).

Building on the pioneering work of Alice Fletcher, another ethnologist and collector of Indian Song, Densmore published dozens of book-length accounts of music making by individual tribes, including a volume on Pawnee music.

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Her description of Pawnee music is nothing like Irving’s. Here’s an excerpt: “An important point, made evident in this comparative analysis, is the individuality of Pawnee music. It is distinct, in its entirety, from the songs of other tribes, though bearing a resemblance to one tribe or another in separate characteristics. The study of Indian music by an established system of analysis shows there are characteristics that are common to Indian songs of various tribes and different from the music of the white race, and also characteristics which distinguish the songs of one tribe from those of another. Among the former is the change of measure-lengths found in many Indian songs and the downward trend of the melody…” (Frances Densmore, Pawnee Music [New York: Da Capo Press, 1972, reprint of 1929 ed. issued as Bulletin 93 of Smithsonian Institution]). Below is another excerpt from the book, this one including a piece she transcribed from a recording made by one of her research associates.

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Densmore took Indian music as seriously as it deserved to be taken, and as a result, created an incredibly rich resource for anyone who’d like to know what music Native Americans actually made.

Other Resources:

Books by Densmore at the Carleton and St. Olaf Libraries

Minnesota Public Radio profile of Densmore

Libguide on Densmore created by the Minnesota History Center

Edward Curtis’s Photographic Ethnography of American Indians, hosted by the Library of Congress’s American Memory Project