The Ellington Band and Impact

Duke Ellington was one of the preeminent band leaders of the early 1900s. He was one of the key figures in the swing band industry and his band was among the longest enduring and more successful of the time. In addition to key musical contributions to the swing genre and Jazz at large, Ellington was a advocate for social justice and fought against discrimination and segregation1.

The swing band era in general was rife with discrimination as record companies had all the power and prioritized deals with white bands at the time. In addition, performance venues were highly segregated, giving priority to white led and white member bands2. Furthermore, the culture of the genre often led to band leaders being more in the spotlight, which combined with a set of racial stereotypes of the time often led to black led bands being more marginalized.

Ellington was also unique for his dedication to his musicians and because of his unique success as an arranger and seller of sheet music, he often relied on royalties to fund his band. His band had the longest running performance because as bands got more and more expensive to hold together, Ellington was willing to pay a premium price for his musicians and not even break even from concert sales. Although the long running prestige of the band boosted Ellington’s image, resulting in more sales of the sheet music.

Chicago Defender June 19 1948

In the 1940s, the Ellington band finally disbanded but Ellington’s impact on Jazz was still felt. He became a figure in the civil rights movement, embedding non-segregation clauses into contracts, composing works that drew interdisciplinary praise, and calling out appropriation.

Ellington’s impact these days is now seen as showcasing a unique and sophisticated development in Jazz music, highlighted by unique instrumentation, inventive arrangements, and strong stories.

 

1
Scott, Michelle R. “Duke Ellington’s Melodies Carried His Message of Social Justice – UMBC: University of Maryland, Baltimore County.” UMBC, UMBC Magazine, 19 May 2022, umbc.edu/stories/duke-ellingtons-message-of-social-justice/.

2
“Duke Ellington: ‘the Bandleader,’ Pt. 1.” NPR, NPR, 21 Nov. 2007, www.npr.org/2007/11/21/16321292/duke-ellington-the-bandleader-pt-1.

image
“Jazz Giant Died when Ellington Band Broke Up: Dominated Jazz World 30 Years, and Remade Era.” The Chicago Defender (National Edition) (1921-1967), Jun 19, 1948. https://www.proquest.com/historical-newspapers/jazz-giant-died-when-ellington-band-broke-up/docview/492732663/se-2.

Dvorak’s life in America

We know Dvorak is known for coming to America and writing the New World Symphony, but what was his life truly like and why did he come to America? When thinking of Dvorak and American music, it was always my understanding that Dvorak came to America because he was curious about the culture and wanted to compose music that incorporated a sense of American culture. Dvorak came to America because he was offered a more than decent paying job with some pretty irresistible attributes. What was so enticing for Dvorak to pack up and leave his hometown Nelahozeves in the Czech Republic and endure a sickening 9 day transatlantic voyage on the SS Saale was Jeannette Thurber who “offered Dvořák an annual salary of $15,000, about 25 times what he was currently earning as a professor at the Prague Conservatoire.” 1

2

Dvořák with his wife, children, and friends in New York.

More along the lines of Dvorak’s life in America, we can get an idea from a multitude of letters he had written. In these letters he talks about concerts, premieres, the National Conservatory, and his family. 

“The first and chief thing is that, thanks be to God, we are all well and liking it here very much. And why shouldn’t we when it is so lovely and free here and one can live so much more peacefully and that is what I need… The orchestra here, which I heard in Brooklyn, is excellent, 100 musicians, mostly German as is also the conductor.” 3

In this letter from Dvorak to The Parker House, we get a clear idea of how he and his family is settling in as well as what the caliber of orchestral musicians are like in America.

On Copland’s View of Jazz

Aaron Copland, born November 14, 1900, is a composer best known for his incredibly accessible works, with pieces such as Appalachian Spring, Rodeo, and Fanfare for the Common Man being written in the 1930s and 40s. He was an American composer, although he studied in Europe for a good portion of his early career, and returned to America around the 1920s, where he lived in New York during the height of the quest to define what ‘American’ music was.

Copland composed in a great deal of styles, ranging from piano passacaglias to full symphonies. He was part of several jazz bands while in New York, as well as the League of Composers, and was well-known and respected, writing articles for their local magazine. One such piece was about George Antheil’s Jazz Sonata for piano, written in 1922, and was not well-received by the composer, although the original article perhaps did not warrant such a response. Copland wrote a letter to Antheil, perhaps to diffuse the situation,  in which he notes:

The idea of writing that article came to me as a result of the reception given your Jazz Sonata at a concert earlier in the season. All the music critics took the stupid attitude that you were a mere bluff, trying to scandalize the musical public…1

Considering that Copland was part of several jazz bands, it can be assumed that he is referring here to the negative perception afforded jazz and similar genres, even when written by white composers, something prevalent surrounding the time of the early Harlem Renaissance, when such music was to be confined to night clubs only. Copland’s view of jazz seems to be very positive, demonstrating that he was open to a variety of music styles, especially considering that this piece was most likely performed in a concert with other works, that is to say as an art song rather than a dance number or similar. This may demonstrate the shift from jazz being considered a ‘scandalous’ genre to something worthy of a concert, something with legitimacy.

Copland’s view of the actual makers of jazz, that is to say the black community, has to be extrapolated from several different letters, as he says nothing explicit about his ideas about black musicians and performs. In one letter to Carlos Chavez, a Mexican composer of renown, he notes that “Kids are like Negroes, you can’t go wrong if they are on the stage.”2 This was in discussion about his opinion of the opera The Second Hurricane, and the child actors playing several roles within. A footnote in the Correspondence collection states that “Copland may have had in mind Four Sains in Three Acts, which sustained Gertrude Stein’s modernist libretto and Virgil Thomson’s music by means of its black cast…” which although not part of his actual letter gives some insight into Copland’s surroundings at the time of writing. Taking his sentence literally, he certainly seems to have a positive view of black performers, a view that is supported further by his thoughts on the ‘Negro Voice’:

What a music factory it is! Thirteen black men and me – quite a piquant scene. The thing I like most is the quality of voice when the Negroes sing down here. It does things to me – it’s so sweet and moving. And just think, no serious Cuban composer is using any of this. It’s awful tempting, but I’ll try to control myself.3

Although this excerpt comes from a letter to Leonard Bernstein from Havana, Cuba, written in 1941, it still is useful in giving insight into Copland’s views. He views the ‘black voice’ as something to be used more often in songs, something that is ‘sweet and moving’. Granted, this is in Cuba, not New York. There are different politics in play, and indeed, an entire different musical style. However, I believe that this is indicative of a general appreciation that Copland has for music, without much consideration for who is behind it. He has previously noted that the consideration of jazz as ‘scandalous’ is stupid, he has noted that ‘you can’t go wrong with Negro performers’ and then 20 years later goes to South and Central American and enjoys partaking in their musical traditions. In this way, a sliver of his view: that music should be appreciated and recognized, comes through.

Works Cited:

1 The Selected Correspondence of Aaron Copland, ed. Elizabeth B Crist and Wayne Shirley (New Haven: Yale University Press, 2006), 48. Accessed November 2, 2023. ProQuest Ebook Central.

2 Ibid, 118.

3 Ibid, 141.

George Gershwin and the culture of composer celebrities

George Gershwin was a composer in the early 1900s that was caught up in the culture of celebrity composer. In a letter to his brother Ira, he is excited to announce that he has finally been recognized by a stranger in public as he had just released one of his more successful songs (the musical theater number La-La-Lucille!).

Letter from George Gershwin to Ira Gershwin, February 18, 1923, 60/61, George and Ira Gershwin Collection

At this point in time, Gershwin was enjoying the pop culture phenomenon of celebrity composers. As sheet music was making its way across the US in traveling shows, purchased in staggering numbers1 (Gershwin’s own composition “Swanee” sold well over a million copies), the composer was becoming something of a celebrity2. This seems strange today as we are so well accustomed to singers being the faces of a song— many people are under the impression that they are the sole writer of the song in the first place— but in an era before visual media, the composer was king. Some looking back at history point to the American Songbook as the launch point for composer celebration, as it enjoyed massive commercial success. Indeed even well established performers like Ella Fitzgerald devoted records or albums to composers, a sign of their high culture status3.

Despite their increased visibility it may be argued that celebrity status held composers back in some ways. They became more tied to the commercial success of their music and were more pressured to reproduce previous hits rather than venture into new territory. This is maybe less true of Gershwin and more so of the Tin Pan Alley composers such as Irving Berlin. And this phenomenon didn’t last long— soon rock and roll and other popular genres shifted the focus to the performers and away from the composers. But at this point, we see Gershwin’s excitement over his emerging fame.

1
Epstein, Louis. “Worthless and Priceless: Popular Sheet Music, 1890-1930.” “Worthless and Priceless: Popular Sheet Music, 1890-1930,” 1 Nov. 2023, Northfield Mn, Northfield Mn.

2
Utzig. “The Culture of the Composer.” Medium, Medium, 18 June 2021, utzig.medium.com/the-culture-of-the-composer-8e7f82e9f17a.

3
Micucci, Matt, et al. “The Genius of George Gershwin: Retracing His Legacy in Six Songs.” JAZZIZ Magazine, JAZZIZ, 26 Sept. 2018, www.jazziz.com/the-genius-of-george-gershwin-retracing-his-legacy-in-six-songs/.

Duke Ellington “Got It Bad”

Samuel A. Floyd Jr. ‘s “Black Music in the Harlem Renaissance” quotes that “The white show world of downtown New York, where a few black musicians performed and where black shows were also presented, was active, but after hours everyone, white and black, went to Harlem to hear black music.”1

Duke Ellington began his claim to fame starting in 1923, when he moved from Washington D.C. to New York to build his musical career. Within just one year, Ellington became the leader of his own band, which regularly performed at the Cotton Club. By 1930, Ellington and his band were playing all over the country and the world, winning countless awards, including 13 grammy’s and the Pulitzer Prize Special Citation in 1999.2

George Redd’s observations imply that it was the more educated jazz musicians who helped to bring the two camps (white and black musicians) together. He points out that Duke Ellington, Fletcher Henderson, and others presented an image that was acceptable to the intellectuals. Ellington’s dignified bearing, his aristocratic flair, and his self-assurance in any company exemplified the New Negro, in and outside the jazz world.”1

And that is exactly what Ellington did. By the mid 1920s, Duke Ellington already established himself and his jazz orchestra as highly successful contributors to black music. But how could black composers further expand their brand while continuing to experience the inequalities of living compared to white people? One way that Ellington did so was by composing for a predominantly white profession: symphony orchestras, operas, and theatrical productions.
“Ellington and his peers used jazz not only to satirize white culture but also increasingly to parody the music itself thus shifting its direction from swing to bop.
Ellington reflected through his music the social and cultural changes that occurred as more African Americans were able to gain greater personal autonomy free from interference by white society.3

Ellington’s three-movement suite titled Black, Brown and Beige“ presents historical narratives of the nation. Black, Brown and Beige, a “tone parallel” to black history as Ellington describes, “uses sounds and themes associated with jungle style but recontextualizes their musical and racial meanings in ways that transform the style’s primitivist codes. The work’s three movements represent the monumental moments and movements in African American historical memory: slavery, emancipation, and urbanization in the northern metropole.4

During the same time period, a man by the name of Harry T. Burleigh was also a leading contributor to bridging the gap between black society and musicians to the white society and classically-trained musicians by composing and intertwining spirituals into the classical music tradition. Burleigh’s new ideas, however, got loads of backlash, as segregation still played a major role in American society at the time.

Van Vechten often made critical comments on Burleigh’s arrangements: “White singers have been attracted to Mr. Burleigh’s arrangements, because they include many of the ‘tricks’ which make any song successful, while the accompaniments are often highly sophisticated.”

Van Vechten claimed, when discussing the arrangements of Harry Burleigh, that Harlem Renaissance musicians should base their work on the twentieth-century music of the South. If they really wanted to preserve the spirituals, they should go to the South and do their own fieldwork. Philosopher, arts patron, and friend of Van Vechten also made strong jabs at people like Ellington and Burleigh, claiming that “the proper idiom of Negro folk song calls for choral treatment” and that Black musicians who were “in vital touch with the folk traditions of Negro music” were “in commercial slavery to Tin Pan Alley and subject to the corruption and tyranny of the ready cash of our dance halls and the vaudeville stage.” On the other hand, musicians (like Burleigh and Ellington), who had formal training, were in his opinion “divorced from the people and their vital inspiration by the cloister-walls of the conservatory and the taboos of musical respectability.”5

Regardless of the critics of the 1930-1940s, what Burleigh and Ellington did was create strides for racial equality through music. Ellington and his Orchestra will go down as one of the most influential musical groups in American history, not entirely for their catchy compositions, but for the impact they had on giving minorities a voice to make careers in whatever field they want, even with the backlash they often received from a predominantly white nation.

“What we could not say openly, we expressed in music, and what we know as ‘jazz’ is something more than just dance music.” – Duke Ellington3

Did Ethnomusicologists Know Other Forms of Notation? And Other Thoughts That Keep Me Up at Night

Among the greatest blunders committed by ethnomusicologists when interacting with indigenous cultures is their notation of that culture’s music. The process that comes with this endeavor ends up having a pretty standard formula. A musicologist will learn their notation skills in higher education, become convinced that theirs is the best (typically the standard European notation practice), and then go on to apply it when “capturing” the music of other cultures. We of course all know the tales of Densmore and her blunders, but unfortunately her story is not very unique. Take for example this French Ethnomusicologist’s transcription of indigenous American “chants”.

French Musicologist’s transcription of “Chants indiens du Canada Nord-Ouest [manuscript]”

1

Similar to Densmore, very strange notation that we can only assume is a mere approximation of what was heard. This begs the question- if western notation is restrictive, why not employ other notation styles? Why not unmetered bars of music? Why not employ a number system for microtonal music? WHY DON’T OUR TAX DOLLARS GO TOWARDS MORE PUBLIC INFRASTRUCTURE? But seriously- did these musicologists have ideas of other forms of notation? I believe that there are many answers to why western notation was forced to merge with other cultures in violent ways. For one, a precedent was set by Densmore to use western notation and to not deviate so that it was easier for western scholars to consume. Secondly, I do believe that many scholars of the late 19th and early 20th century were certainly unaware of other forms of notation. They lived in a far less globalized and more isolated society, even in the most diverse and rich academic institutions of the time.

But our time is different. We must teach at least basic introductions into other forms of notation. If not just to spread music from different cultures in less violent and in more reliable ways, but to expand our own worldview and thought processes when listening and interacting with music from varying cultures in all situations we may encounter it. To fail to learn other systems of notation, is to fail other cultures in an increasingly global society.

 

Works Cited:

https://www.aihc.amdigital.co.uk/Documents/Images/Ayer_MS_715/2

Government Documents for Indian Boarding Schools

It can be said that the worst outcomes come from the best of intentions. Of course, we look back in history and find that the definition of ‘best’ is thoroughly different between cultures, backgrounds, classes, races, etc. And obviously, if one were to take the extremely low-hanging fruit, it requires an impressive amount of logic leaps to find the ‘best intentions’ in some of the greatest historical tragedies, such as the Holocaust, any number of catastrophic wars, or the Trail of Tears.

While the history of Indian boarding schools is undoubtedly tragic, the discussion of the goals behind them is surprisingly frank and positive. As a report from a member of the Advisory Council on Indian Affairs to the Secretary of the Interior (one who had the fantastic decency to write his name in an illegible scrawl at the end of his letter to said Secretary of the Interior, at the time Hubert Work; I therefore have absolutely no idea who wrote thing beyond this) notes that the primary goal is to “place the American Indian… upon the same basis as the rest of our citizenship, politically, intellectually, and industrially…” with the disturbance of “community life or tribal or family relationships” no more “than a growing degree of general participation in economic and… political affairs has interfered with… the Negro…”1

An excerpt from page 2 of a letter written to the Secretary of the Interior Hubert Work

Piercing through the incredible wordiness of this statement, it is perhaps difficult to gauge the true opinion of the report’s author. There is much wiggle-room presented in the goal, particular in the definition of an appropriate level of disturbance, but there does not seem to be explicit mention of disrupting family groups, of squashing heritage, and the like. Indeed, the report author notes that “the average American Indian should be educationally as well equipped and as self-reliant and self-sufficient as the average citizen of any other racial descent.”2 A noble goal, if not for the fact that the peoples in question had been self-reliant for well before the arrival of Europe in the New World.

Turning attention to the boarding schools established for the purposes of educating American Indians to the degrees mentioned above, analysis of their curriculum identifies that a significant amount of effort seems to have been put in to ensure a full coverage of all subjects, in science, history, math, and more. One example from the Office of Indian affairs, prepared for use throughout the Indian school service in 1915, dedicates 30 pages in its curriculum overview to Industrial work and over 130 pages to various vocational studies (trade, agriculture, home economics, nursing, etc)3.

A excerpt from the table of contents from curriculum proposed for American Indian students. Note the wide variety of topics available, especially relating to ‘practical’ work.

A section is, of course, dedicated to music. Although there is attention given to the coverage of ‘good’ music (which is something that many others have covered, I will therefore not beat a dead horse), interesting emphasis is placed on proper vocal techniques. Notes to have a “light, pure tone”, with special exercises for “preventing huskiness” and “the elimination of monotones” in the lower grade levels, perhaps were included specifically to ‘correct’ vocal styles that are used for Native American singing 4.

A excerpt from the table of contents from curriculum proposed for American Indian students. A guideline for vocal standards lays out what to prioritize while singing.

For example, in an analysis of different pow-wow singing styles, it is noted that the Great Lakes style uses a “medium-high voice, often with a gravelly or rough timbre” while in both the Great Lakes and Midplains style the women’s part is described as “high and tense”.5 These assertions are difficult to confirm, as during the early 20th century musical analysis of Native American styles was in its infancy, and unfortunately there is little literature that refers directly to behaviors or tendencies that need to be prevented (which would have been an obvious indicator of this type of connection), but the possibility of a link is still there.

In conclusion, this serves as a slightly different approach, as I was surprised to see that reports regarding Native Americans in the 20th century were not as overtly hostile as I might have suspected, going from history. This, of course, could entirely be fancy political language, and there is the additional factor of the majority not understanding the minority and wishing to impose upon them an idea of ‘correctness’, but I found it interesting regardless.

Works Cited:

1 Member of the Advisory Council on Indian Affairs, Report on Indian Affairs (United States Government, 1923), 1-2. Retrieved from American Indian Histories and Cultures https://www.aihc.amdigital.co.uk/Documents/Images/Ayer_MS_668/3#Chapters (accessed Oct 26, 2023).

2 Ibid

3 Department of the Interior (Office of Indian Affairs), Tentative Course of Study for United States Indian Schools (Washington D.C: Government Printing Office, 1915), Table of Contents. Retrieved from American Indian Histories and Cultures https://www.aihc.amdigital.co.uk/Documents/Images/Ayer_386_U5_1915/5 (accessed Oct 26, 2023).

4 Dept. of Interior, Tentative Course of Study, 111-113.

5 Tara Browner, Judith Vander, et al., Music of the First Nations: Tradition and Innovation in Native North America (University of Illinois Press: 2009), 137-138. Retrieved from https://ebookcentral.proquest.com/lib/stolaf-ebooks/reader.action?docID=3413835&ppg=147 (accessed on Oct 26, 2023).

Goodman King of Swing?

Benny Goodman is often referred to as the “King of Swing”. He was a clarinetist and leader of the famous Benny Goodman orchestra which was one of the driving groups behind the swing craze of the early 1900s. Swing was a popular genre that was derivative of previous styles of New Orleans Jazz, borrowing elements such as off-beat emphasis, and chromatic harmonization 1. Swing was a wildly commercially successful genre but despite its economic success, there’s skepticism that the most responsible musicians were fairly compensated. The commercial success of the genre often manifested in radio and record producers being the agents with the most power, and ultimately perpetuating a system of segregation and oppression 2.

Moonlight Serenade, Glenn Miller, Johns Hopkins Sheridan Libraries, Lester S Levy Sheet Music Collection

The other result of swing was that band leaders often became the celebrities associated with the music, with artists such as Benny Goodman and Glenn Miller becoming widely known 3. Their visibility and the power of radio and record producers led to a wide disparity in success in a genre that owed its roots to Black artists. Between 1935 and 1945 the four most popular big bands led by white musicians… racked up a total of 292 Top 10 records, of which 65 were number one hits. In contrast, the four most popular Black swing orchestras scored only thirty-two top hits, three of which made it to number one on the charts. The dominance of these white musicians provides another example of the co-opting of African American music to the financial benefit of white parties.

1
Early, Gerald. “Jazz and the African American Literary Tradition, Freedom’s Story,.” TeacherServe®, National Humanities Center, nationalhumanitiescenter.org/tserve/freedom/1917beyond/essays/jazz.htm. Accessed 11 Oct. 2023.

2
Saleh, Leena. “The Swing Era: A Time of Hidden (Beauty and Limited) Oppression.” AOT, 26 June 2021, www.aotontario.org/post/the-swing-era-a-time-of-hidden-beauty-and-limited-oppression.

3
Vitale, Tom. “Benny Goodman: Forever the King of Swing.” NPR, NPR, 30 May 2009, www.npr.org/2009/05/30/104713445/benny-goodman-forever-the-king-of-swing.

Maple Leaf Rag – a start of a genre

Ragtime is an African-American art form originating in the late 1800s. Maple Leaf Rag was composed by one of the major ragtime pioneers, Scott Joplin. Joplin was so large and influential in the creation process of the ragtime genre he was titled “The King of Ragtime” 1. Joplin’s popularity only increased after he died 2. As personal audio became more retally available, Joplin’s compositions became more popular in society.

Poster for Maple Leaf Rag

Maple Leaf Rag,” one of the earliest popular pieces within the ragtime genre, and served as a foundation for subsequent ragtime compositions. Its influence is still evident, even to this day. When you listen to the composition, particularly if you are familiar with ragtime music, you can detect the distinctive rhythmic patterns and melodic structures that have come to define the genre, resulting in it as a modern-day musical topic.

An interesting perspective on the enduring influence of “Maple Leaf Rag” came when I performed the musical ‘Ragtime.’ The music, composed by Stephen Flaherty, featured this iconic composition as a primary theme. It was fascinating to hear this historic piece performed live, and it underscored the timeless appeal of ragtime music.

The structure of “Maple Leaf Rag,” with its ABab style, is another key element that has had a significant impact on the genre. This structure contributes to the piece’s engaging rhythm and catchy melody, making it a memorable and enduring piece of music.

The recording of “Maple Leaf Rag” embedded in this post is particularly special. Performed by the United States Marine Band, it is the oldest known recording of the piece. Interestingly, Scott Joplin, the composer of “Maple Leaf Rag,” only recorded his works as piano rolls for player pianos, rather than using wax recordings. This was the common recording technique at the time, and these rolls provide a unique and valuable insight into the performance style of this pioneering ragtime composer.


“Collected Works of United States Marine Band : United States Marine Band : Free Download, Borrow, and Streaming.” Internet Archive, February 20, 2004. https://archive.org/details/UnitedStatesMarineBand.

1 Joyner, David. Notes 52, no. 3 (1996): 823–24. https://doi.org/10.2307/898648.

2 Dykstra, Brian J. American Music 13, no. 4 (1995): 499–502. https://doi.org/10.2307/3052409.

 

Spirituals as Advocacy

H. T. Burleigh composed beloved arrangements of Black spirituals for voice and piano, and as a result became one of the most well known Black composers of the late 19th and early 20th centuries.1 As an influential proponent of the development of the spiritual as an art genre, much of his beliefs and practices legitimized Black folk music within the classical music tradition.2 In addition to a prolific compositional career, he had an extensive career as a vocalist and performed internationally.3

 

"Deep River" arrangement for voice and piano; by H.T. Burleigh

“Deep River” arrangement for voice and piano; by H.T. Burleigh 7

 

During Burleigh’s life, Black-face minstrelsy was the most prominent form of entertainment in popular culture.4 Minstrel shows are unquestionably racist and dehumanizing towards Black people, featuring a combination of expropriated folk music and dance performed by demeaning caricatures. In his edition of “Deep River,” Burleigh comments on the ability of spirituals, when performed well, to express hope, faith, and justice.5 Additionally, he acknowledges the prevalence of Blackface minstrelsy and warns against the use of the spiritual in a way that is an inappropriate imitation of vocal inflection and body language for the sake of racially extortive humor.6

 

H.T. Burleigh, “Deep River” preface 9

 Not only were spirituals a way to uplift the Black community and counter the damage being done through minstrelsy, but their ability to empower was recognized and used to advocate for other groups as well. An example of the use of the Black spiritual as a means for advocacy is the work of Paul Robeson, who spoke out on the behalf of the lower class and other marginalized groups. 8 It seems as though the development of spirituals as art songs coincided with the practice of minstrelsy. However, minstrelsy expropriated black folk songs as a method of dehumanizing and profiting from the marginalization of Black people, while Burleigh’s work with Spirituals helped to legitimize Black folk music and empower other marginalized communities.

 

1 Dickinson, Peter, H. Wiley Hitchcock, and Keith E. Clifton. “Art song in the United States.” Grove Music Online. 25 Jul. 2013; Accessed 5 Oct. 2023. https://www.oxfordmusiconline.com/grovemusic/view/10.1093/gmo/9781561592630.001.0001/omo-9781561592630-e-1002240068.

 

 

2 Bell, Danna. 2018. “Link to the Library of Congress: Harry T. Burleigh—The Man Who Brought African-American Spirituals to the Classical Stage.” Music Educators Journal 104 (4): 9–11. doi:10.1177/0027432118767819.

 

 

3 Ibid.

 

 

4 Lott, Eric, and Greil Marcus. Love and theft: Blackface minstrelsy and the American working class. Oxford University Press, 2013.

 

 

5 “Deep River : Old Negro Melody / Arranged by H.T. Burleigh.” Omeka RSS. Accessed October 6, 2023. https://digitalgallery.bgsu.edu/collections/item/34006.

 

6 Ibid.

 

 

7 Ibid. 

 

 

8 Riis, Thomas. “Robeson, Paul.” Grove Music Online. 31 Jan. 2014; Accessed 6 Oct. 2023. https://www.oxfordmusiconline.com/grovemusic/view/10.1093/gmo/9781561592630.001.0001/omo-9781561592630-e-1002257958.

 

 

9 Ibid.

Music as a Tool for Change: Black Music Opportunities in the Early 20th Century

As I was searching for sources to write about this week, I stumbled upon “The Appeal,” which was a moderately successful African-American Newspaper for nearly four decades until 1923, based out of St. Paul, Minnesota. African-American Newspapers were newspapers published specifically for black communities in the 19th and 20th centuries. At the time “The Appeal” was founded, there were only around 1500 black people in the twin-cities area.1 Because of this, “The Appeal” was targeted to a much larger demographic than just black residents in Minnesota, and became popular throughout the country.

While I was searching for music related topics within “The Appeal,” I noticed something interesting. By 1906, the New England Conservatory had started advertising in nearly every issue of “The Appeal.”2 This suggests that by 1906 at the latest, the New England Conservatory was seeking out black students to study music on the east coast. This is particularly notable given that many colleges wouldn’t even enroll black students until much later in the 20th century. St. Olaf’s first black graduate was in 1935, Princeton’s was in 1947, and University of Alabama’s wasn’t until 1965. The New England Conservatory’s first black graduate was Rachel M. Washington, who graduated in 1872, just five years after the conservatory was founded.3 Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s wife Coretta Scott King was also a graduate of the New England Conservatory much more recently in history.

“Popular Composers. Young Afre-Americans Who Have Attained Great Successes with Songs” – The Appeal

Another article from “The Appeal” highlights the work of Bob Cole and the Johnson Brothers.4 Rosamond Johnson also graduated from the New England Conservatory, while his brother James was a graduate of Atlanta University and a recipient of a doctorate from Colombia according to “The Appeal.” James wrote the lyrics and Rosamond composed the music of “Lift Every Voice and Sing,” which is known today as the “Black National Anthem.”

Bob Cole partnered with the Johsnon brothers to create their own vaudeville act. Their entertaining pop music is the focus of a column in “The Appeal.” Cole and the Johsnon Brothers took advantage of a society that was obsessed with Minstrelsy and black entertainment, and produced music that fought against the pejorative and negative stereotypes usually portrayed in the genre. All three men were early civil rights activists, and they used music to express their views in a way that white audiences wanted to engage with.

In the late 19th and early 20th centuries, there were not many opportunities for black people to achieve upward social mobility in the white-supremacist framework of the United States. However, with minstrelsy and black music in such high demand, many black people were able to use music to gain an education, a livelihood, and further their political messages. In the years immediately after the reconstruction, music was a driving factor towards equality for black people in America.

 

Black Music Revolt: Growth and Preservation

The development of the first two centuries of The United States proposed lots of new ideas, new morals, new plans, and of course new art. However, not all of this material, especially art, was considered “new,” but rather stolen, and a big target of this thievery was towards slaves. Slaves often expressed religious yearning, which slowly transformed into gospel, soul, blues, and then even jazz music and beyond. The preservation of this music is astonishing, as we continue to praise these styles of music today, but this preservation must not have been easy, especially with a world of inequality at the time. 

“According to the Senior Pastor of Canaan Baptist Church in Harlem, Blacks who lost faith in God following the Civil War began to sing the blues instead of spirituals. The same beat that the Black folks dance to on Saturday night is the same beat they shout to on Sunday morning.”1

This gathering and celebrating of black spirituals became a time where Black Americans could feel appreciated and grew into bigger gatherings quickly. “They gathered periodically for huge festivals where they danced in the African way to the music of homemade instruments and African songs.” However, white, often slave owners, picked up on the musical talents of black folk and realized that they could profit even further off of their slaves. “In many places black men were given music instruction so that they could serve their masters professionally: by playing classical music in the home for the personal entertainment of the slave-masters’ households.”2

“The Dance in Congo Place, New Orleans, accompanied by musical instruments and songs in various African tongues. Drawing by E.W. Kemble in 1885-1886”2

 

They would be taught popular classical instruments like violins, basses, flutes, and trumpets, to name a few. Sure, many Black Americans might have enjoyed the music of Western European tradition they were forced to perform (that is something I cannot assume, but rather can ponder), but it was not music they could call their own. The preservation of African music in America began with the reluctance of giving up African culture.

Clovis Sanders’ newspaper article from June 7th, 1969 states the following: “Let’s go over some records, such as: “We Got More Soul,””Don’t Let The Jones’ Get You Down,””Why I Sing The Blues,””Nobody To Give Me Nothin,” and “Choice of Colors.” The Impressions are truly trying to get a point across, and this point simply is to be proud. They do this by asking “if you had a choice of colors, which one would you choose my brother?”3

The pridefulness many African Americans had during the late 1800s and early 1900s was evident in their art. Their spirituals were heard in different lights, from different instruments to new harmonic ideas, to even new developments of African origin within various American cities. 

“If we speak of music, the features such as basic rhythmic, harmonic, and melodic devices were transplanted almost intact rather than isolated songs, dances, or instruments,”4 says Amiri Baraka, an American writer, in Blues People. African Americans adapted from their tradition and cultural values to the values of Western European culture, to blending the two to tie back into African culture through the implementation of new instruments (trumpets, basses, violins) that were often accessible to them because of slavery.

Samuel Floyd suggested that “black music was expressive of cultural memory, and black-music making was the translation of the memory into sound and the sound into memory. Cultural memory, as a reference to vaguely “known” musical and cultural processes and procedures, is a valid and meaningful way of accounting for the subjective, spiritual, quality of the music and aesthetic behaviors of a culture.”5 Generations after generations will continue to expand off of their differences in memory from one to another. However, visualizing the roots of African music into the United States helps us unload the deeper meaning the progression of styles of African music has on American culture.

1 “Tony Brown’s Journal. Music Tree.” Chicago Metro News (Chicago, Illinois) XX, no. 51, October 26, 1985: 14. Readex: African American Newspapers. https://infoweb.newsbank.com/apps/readex/doc?p=EANAAA&docref=image/v2%3A12912DF42BF1884F%40EANAAA-12B9C92AC10C95D0%402446365-12B9C92BA06814E0%4013-12B9C92F46B3C648%40Tony%2BBrown%2527s%2BJournal.%2BMusic%2BTree.

2 “Black Music in the United States.” Chicago Metro News (Chicago, Illinois) 11, no. 5, December 18, 1976: Supplement [5]. Readex: African American Newspapers. https://infoweb.newsbank.com/apps/readex/doc?p=EANAAA&docref=image/v2%3A12912DF42BF1884F%40EANAAA-12B88AC46A817070%402443131-12B88AC4B18F7448%4010-12B88AC6512AFD30%40Black%2BMusic%2Bin%2Bthe%2BUnited%2BStates.

3 “Black Music Revolt by Clovious Sanders.” Milwaukee Star (Milwaukee, Wisconsin) VIII, no. 88, June 7, 1969: Page 15. Readex: African American Newspapers. https://infoweb.newsbank.com/apps/readex/doc?p=EANAAA&docref=image/v2%3A12A7AE31A7B3CA6B%40EANAAA-12BE2051F16416B8%402440380-12BE20522ECC9358%4014-12BE205321328900%40Black%2BMusic%2BRevolt%2Bby%2BClovious%2BSanders.

4 Baraka, Amiri. “‘Introduction’ and ‘African Slaves/American Slaves: Their Music.’” Essay. In Blues People. Stockholm: Rabén & Sjögren, 1974. https://drive.google.com/file/d/19gMgfO42AlJ9CR_S66WrDiDDd1qDv2Ww/view

5 Floyd, Samuel A. “Pages 3-13.” Essay. In The Power of Black Music Interpreting Its History from Africa to the United States. New York: Oxford University Press, 1997. https://drive.google.com/file/d/1PxqS4c6Yeud_Au04ZVbcst1g_o0yxSag/view

Whiteness portrayed in JP Sousa’s Sousa Band

John Philip Sousa,1 commonly referred to as the “American March King” was a pivotal figure in not only conducting “American Music” starting from the end of the 19th century, but also spreading the term “American Music” outwards to countries outside of North America. Branching out the new style of music certainly gained popularity as other countries began to include styles such as ragtime, blues, and jazz into their musical framework. Little did these countries know that the composed and performed music of John Philip Sousa and the Sousa Band weren’t authentically composed from his ideas, but rather that of stereotypes and thievery of cultures appreciating this music long before “Americans.”

The stigma of whiteness in music is carried by the “broadly conceived European conceptualisation of music as a non-verbal symbolic system which becomes an object of verbal discourse, interpretations, and assessment in all human cultures. Talking about music allows people to organize sensed meanings, and further objectivise them,”2 says Professor of Musicology at University of Warsaw, Sławomira Żerańska-Kominek.

When new treatments of American Music were discovered during the late 1800s into the 1900s, white composers and musicians tried desperately to get their hands on it and make it their claim. JP Sousa was one of the many to do so, and was successful while doing it. Sure, many of his marches were authentically composed out of the musicality in his head, but many other compositions and performances were created out of stereotypes of traditions of non-white Americans. 

First, take a listen to Sousa’s Band perform “Indian war dance,” written by Herman Bellstedt (1902)3. The 2:31 recording features an array of band members making sounds with their mouths, in an attempt to represent native indian songs. Not only are the sounds utterly racist to native indian songs, but the concept of the song itself proposes red flags to the “whiteness” of native indian music. Notating when band members should scream, while a band plays assorted notes based on traditions the Europeans passed down to American music theory creates an “us” vs. “them” feel. When diving into the composition itself, the song is all white interpretation based on non-lived experiences of the “others,” being native indians.

Another example of “whiteness” immersed into non-white originating music can be heard in Oscar Gardner’s “Chinese blues” (1915)4 performed by Sousa’s Band once again. The 3:55 song highlights a stereotypical idea that Chinese music is different because it is light and dainty. The entirety of the song features trills and bouncy melodies. News flash: not all Chinese music is light and dainty, but the misconception of white, American composers writing Chinese music completely misses this point. And to make matters even worse, the composer decides to throw on the term “blues” at the end of the song title. American writer Amiri Baraka describes The blues as being what was “conceived by freedmen and ex-slaves – if not as the result of a personal or intellectual experience, at least as an emotional confirmation of, and reaction to, the way in which most Negroes were still forced to exist in the United States.”5

What is the problem with the blues, in Chinese blues, you may ask? There is no element of blues in the song! Instead of implementing notes of dissonance to signify the pain and struggle the blues originally conveyed, the song sounds of joy, happiness, and music that would get crowds of people on their feet. Sounds a lot more like ragtime to me.

Although song titles are no longer extremely racist or stereotypical, this doesn’t take away from the past of American music, and how horrible acts could be seen as ways of entertainment to white populations. This is why it is important to reflect on our pasts. The past can never fully be forgotten, and Sousa’s take on “whiteness” in non-white originated music is one prime example of this statement.

 

Misrepresentation of Indian Music

Image

[Portrait of Mr. John Comfort Fillmore]. Photographs. Place: National Anthropological Archives, Smithsonian Institution.1

In his article, John Comfort Fillmore presents his analysis of a set of songs collected by Alice C. Fletcher. Aside from the conclusions that Fillmore draws from his harmonic analysis, he provides us with much more information that alerts us to his biases toward Native American Music. He recalls Fletcher’s request of him to analyze the songs to determine “the scale on which [they] were built,”2 but the existence of this article alone proves that this simple request made by another scholar quickly ballooned into something much more presumptuous and declarative than it deserved to be. 

Fillmore presents the scales of these songs in Western notation on the ignorant basis that, “the Indians have no musical notation, no theories of music whatsoever.”3 His deprecating comments continue when describing how he felt obligated to harmonize the versions of these songs since, “the harmonic sense of these peoples is underdeveloped.”4 Fillmore’s imposition of Western notation and harmony onto these songs is an excellent example of “colonial imposition,”5 which is a term used by Beverly Diamond in Music and modernity among First Peoples of North America to describe inadequate documentation of Native American music through the use of Western notation.

Fillmore’s intentions and biases are made clear at the end of the article, where his initial intentions of using the music of Native Americans to “test the naturalness of our own musical perceptions”6 lead to his far-fetched conclusion that Native American music contains a “noble religious feeling [akin to] the central idea of Christianity.”7 Contrary to popular ideas of the time, he does advocate for Native American music as being “worthy of comparison to some of the best [music] we possess ourselves,”8 but only after his unwelcome imposition of Western notation to create versions of Native American music that “the Indians couldn’t have produced unaided.”9

Though much of ethnomusicology has changed over the course of its existence, some things remain the same, both positive and negative. Browner notes that the employment of fieldwork as the main method of ethnomusicological research has remained the same throughout history.10 Similarly, although the field has advanced greatly over time, the misrepresentation demonstrated through Fillmore’s article and research methods remains something to be aware of within ethnomusicology today.

Bibliography

1 https://library.artstor.org/asset/NMNH_125725565.

2 John Comfort Fillmore. “A STUDY OF INDIAN MUSIC.1.” Century Illustrated Magazine (1881-1906), 02, 1894, 616, https://www.proquest.com/magazines/study-indian-music-1/docview/125524446/se-2.

3 Ibid.

4 Ibid.

5 Diamond, Beverly. Music and modernity among First Peoples of North America. Edited by Victoria Lindsay Levine and Dylan Robinson. Wesleyan University Press, 2019.

6 Ibid.

7 Ibid.

8 Ibid.

9 Ibid.

10 Music of the First Nations : Tradition and Innovation in Native North America. Champaign: University of Illinois Press, 2009. Accessed September 18, 2023. ProQuest Ebook Central.

“New World” Symphony, “Old World” Racism

On December 26, 1893, the music critic and musicologist Henry Krehbiel corresponded with the famed Czech composer Antonin Dvorak (1841-1904). Two weeks prior, he’d conducted “a lengthy interview with the composer” for a New York Tribune article on Dvorak’s “Symphony No. 9 in E minor, ‘From the New World,’ Op. 95, B. 178,” before its premiere.[1] Krehbiel wished to speak to Dvorak on behalf of several Black “folk songs from Kentucky” he was analyzing and was requesting Dvorak help “suggest a harmonization” of the melodies.[2] Krehbiel—having lauded Dvorak’s music and sought his guidance on folk song collection—points to their mutual willingness to embrace African American’s contributions to folk music and develop an American school of classical music. Yet, while the cosmopolitan Dvorak straddled the line between universalism and individualism in his composition, Krehbiel’s romanticized view of slavery informing his approach to African American folk music reveals how problematic musical context can become overlooked in popular works.

Beckerman, “Letters from Dvořák’s American Period,” p. 202.

Returning to the above-mentioned correspondence, it’s notable that on December 12, 1893, with four days to the “New World Symphony’s” premiere, Krehbiel had solicited Dvorak for a separate request. As Krehbiel was going to lecture on “Folk-Song in America” at a reception, he wanted Dvorak to “attend and hear the songs which I have for illustration.”[3] The reality that both men saw America’s musical “future…founded upon…negro melodies” positions them opposite universalist stalwarts in the debate of “What is American Music?”.[4] However, it also situates Dvorak adjacent to Krehbiel, who romanticized the notion of slave labor and experience as “inviting celebration in song—grave and gay.”[5] Krehbiel brutishly brushed over the idea of African American’s epigenetic trauma through stating, “sometimes the faculty [cultural ingenuousness] is galvanized into life by vast calamities or crises of social and national existence; and then we see its fruits in the compositions of popular musicians.”[6] Dvorak’s association with Krehbiel’s problematized musicological methods calls into question a key controversy surrounding American music—when traditional African American melodies injected deeply into our cultural consciousness are predicated in racist assumptions, should they still be performed? Without due consideration of the cultural context in which pieces are created or popularized, canonical works like Dvorak’s “Symphony No. 9” may remain mired in the overwhelmingly murky history of American Music.

[1] ed. Michael Beckerman, “Letters from Dvořák’s American Period: A Selection of Unpublished Correspondence Received by Dvořák in the United States.” In Dvorak and His World, 192–210. Princeton University Press, 1993. https://www.jstor.org/stable/j.ctt7s5r0.11.

[2] Ibid.

[3] Ibid.

[4] Douglas W. Shadle, Orchestrating the Nation: The Nineteenth-Century American Symphonic Enterprise, New York: Oxford University Press, 2016, 246.

[5] Henry Edward Krehbiel. Afro-American Folksongs: A Study in Racial and National Music, 4th edition, New York: G. Schirmer, 1914, 23.

[6] Ibid, 22-23.

“First Lady of the Piano”: Intersectionality in Early Jazz

My first encounter with the composer Mary Lou Williams was upon stumbling across her choral composition “Black Christ of the Andes (St. Martin De Porres).” The dynamic range and gratifying dissonance in the harmonic texture of the piece gave me an almost ethereal and cathartic feeling, and I immediately fell in love. 

 

Born in Atlanta, Georgia in 1910, Williams almost immediately entered the jazz scene; at age 15, she was already playing alongside Duke Ellington and catching the musical attention of Louis Armstrong1. She promptly started playing the piano for different regional bands in Pittsburgh and embarking on tours with a chaperone, but she soon was navigating the music scene on her own as a young woman. Critics soon began complimenting her talents, giving her honorific nicknames such as “First Lady of the Piano” and the “lively Queen of the Ivories.”2

Portrait of Tadd Dameron, Mary Lou Williams, and Dizzy Gillespie at Mary Lou Williams' apartment (New York, N.Y., ca. Aug. 1947)

Mary Lou Williams with Tadd Dameron and Dizzy Gillespie in 1947

As a budding musician and composer, her specific positionality as a Black woman played a crucial part in her reception by critics and her audiences. Black composers, artists, writers, and performers of the time were already being pushed to be perceived in the leadership class of the “talented tenth,” wherein there was unjust pressure to “[elevate] the music of their race”.3 In regards to women, work within the entertainment industry was not seen as suitable for them, where “no self-respecting woman would pursue such interests, especially outside the realm of classical music.”4 Williams’ ability to infiltrate the male-dominated, instrumental jazz scene of the time was certainly unique in this respect. She dutifully worked to portray herself as a “serious” jazz musician by not interacting with the audience or smiling during performances—likely to set herself apart from the female musicians of her time and avoid demeaning stigmas from being placed on her as well.  The self-assuredness and resoluteness Williams demonstrated throughout her early and later career could be an additional factor, as she was often not afraid to protest injustices that she or her band members faced.

Newspaper article from the Arkansas State Press (Little Rock, Arkansas), August 1st, 1949

Williams’ existence as a woman within the jazz community put a further pressure to be perfect, enacting a sort of double-bind. Her demonstrated assertiveness may have helped with her acceptance early on, but unfortunately did not allow her to escape from misogynist rhetoric. In the late 1940s, there was a sudden change in her critical reception, where she was described as having an egregious attitude that hindered her success as a musician and composer.5,6

This seems to stem from the idea that women must always be pleasant, agreeable, and easy to digest—especially when one is a public figure, and even more so as a Black woman. It did not help that Williams had been recently dealt with hardships—she went through a divorce in 1940, and in 1942, she remarried to a man who was later believed to be physically abusive.

Portrait of Mary Lou Williams at the Piano (New York, N.Y., ca. 1946)

Mary Lou Williams at the piano in 1946

Decades later, the public was once again praising her and further illustrating her significance in jazz and American music. Newspapers were dubbing her with even mightier nicknames of “the First Lady of Jazz” and “The Queen of Jazz.”7 Williams passed soon after in 1981, and critics continued to immortalize her prowess and influence on the genre. She was certainly well-recognized for her talents, even alongside the shift towards negative judgements on her character, but does that absolve and erase the obstacles she faced during that time? Throughout the entirety of her lifetime, Williams still managed to overcome countless disadvantages as a Black woman, as a woman in jazz, and as a Black woman in jazz.

1 Time. “Music: No Kitten on the Keys,” July 26, 1943. https://content.time.com/time/subscriber/article/0,33009,802919,00.html.

2 “Mary Lou Williams Makes Big Musical Hit.” Plaindealer (Kansas City, Kansas) 46, no. 23, June 16, 1944: PAGE FIVE. Readex: African American Newspapers. https://infoweb.newsbank.com/apps/readex/doc?p=EANAAA&docref=image/v2%3A12ACD7C7734164EC%40EANAAA-12CFEF1503248508%402431258-12CFEF15258587A0%404-12CFEF15D906C8B8%40Mary%2BLou%2BWilliams%2BMakes%2BBig%2BMusical%2BHit.

What Survives of Francis Johnson

Francis “Frank” Johnson was a distinctive figure in U.S. music history, not only because of his many achievements and musical innovations, but also in his unique sociocultural position in the antebellum world. His accomplishments were fascinating, including being the first U.S. musician to tour Europe and to lead an interracial musical performance, alongside a multitude of compositional innovations—some of which are believed to have inspired other composers of and since his time.1 

However, Johnson’s concurrent involvement in white, upper-class spaces and various Black churches—as well as records exhibiting pro-Black ideals—suggest a rather dichotomous placement and standing in society and politics. While Johnson mostly avoided minstrel songs/shows—with the exception of “Miss Lucy Long” and “Sam of Tennessee and Dandy Jim of Caroline”—he primarily composed and performed patriotic band music and within European classical genres.2,3 Albeit, secondary source note that Johnson only performed “Miss Lucy Long” in England to appease the British upper-class, and “refused to cater to racism” by never performing the piece for Philadelphia.4 Even though Philadelphia was a rather progressive city with an Abolitionist society compared to the rest of the country at the time, incidents of hate, mockery, and racism were still present.5 It almost seemed as if he was living a double life, hidden between the pages of long-forgotten history periodicals—and I became deeply invested in trying to uncover whatever meager clues I could manage to find. 

Johnson, Francis. “Recognition March of the Independence of Hayti : For the Piano Forte & Flute.” Philadelphia: G. Willig, 1826. Colenda Digital Repository.

 

Kramer, Hayden James. “Six Works by Francis Johnson (1792–1844): A Snapshot of Early American Social Life.” ProQuest Dissertations Publishing, 2022. 143-148.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I was particularly drawn to his pieces “Recognition March of the Independence of Hayti” and “The Grave of a Slave” (pictured above), and what they could reveal about Johnson’s complicated relationship with white audiences and society. The lyrics of Johnson’s “The Grave of a Slave” were set to an abolitionist poem by Sarah Louisa Forten, openly admonished slavery and slave-owners in the text, and was formally published in Philadelphia. His “Recognition March of the Independence of Hayti” was arranged for piano and flute, but still carried similar abolitionist indications and was dedicated to one of the leader’s of the Haitian Revolution, President Jean-Pierre Boyer. Upon visiting his house, one of Johnson’s violin students also recorded that Johnson had President Boyer’s portrait hung over his mantle.6 Considering the many sociopolitical factors that could have negatively impacted the survival and coverage of such documents, these bits of Johnson’s worldview stand out to me as compelling possible evidence for his progressive beliefs.

Charon, Louis Francois. “Broadside : Jean Pierre Boyer, President de La Republique d’Haiti.” Between the Covers.

 

 

Densmore’s Biases in her Bulletin Writings

As our group has been researching Densmore’s work, we’ve certainly found a lot of her actual field work, but there’s significantly less available of her recounting her actual experiences. When we came across a copy of Frances Densmore and American Indian Music, which is essentially a collection of writings she didn’t place in her books, I was excited, because I knew we were going to find some juicy stuff in there. And sure enough, we did!

One aspect of Densmore’s work that we had been aiming to expand upon was her lack of respect for the boundaries of certain Indigenous groups she studied. We had found it mentioned in scholarly writings, but there were never any specific examples of it until I found this account within this book on her experiences with the Northern Utes. Essentially, she had been told in the past that the Northern Utes were “touchy by nature” (1), but she was determined to go and record songs. She set up shop in a cottage nearby a trader’s store, where she would advertise to the Utes that she would pay people to sing their traditional songs into her phonograph. The Utes instead just laughed at her, which she even put in italics in the book out of indignation! She tried to explain what she was doing with the songs to them, but none of them wanted to willingly record anything. Instead of listening to them, she decided to pull the “I have a Sioux name” card and went to a well-respected member of the tribe named Red Cap, who begrudgingly brought her singers to record with. In exchange, she had to record him speaking a message for her to bring to DC that they hated their reservation superintendent and wanted him replaced, which Densmore did follow through on (1).

She recorded several songs with these singers, but she still did not have enough, so she overstayed her agreed-upon study time with the Northern Utes by over three weeks and even went on a horseback trip that passed over that time. To them, that was the last straw, and she was quite literally booted from her cottage – they did not even let her pack her own things, saying that someone from the agency would express ship her stuff back to DC (1).

While she did manage to get recordings from the Northern Utes, even she noticed how unwilling they were to make them, yet she still went through with it and continued to push their limits of what they were comfortable with her doing. The Utes were suspicious and rightfully so. White people had done nothing but take and take from Indigenous groups like them, be it land, resources, religion and sacred spaces, culture, or hospitality, in order to manipulate them into getting what they want. The way Densmore approached this group likely looked like any other White manipulator, and, by the tone of her writings, she could probably tell that was what they were feeling and did not care. Stories like these that she so calmly recounted without remorse further problematizes her work and exposes her biases, that it was completely okay to entirely overstep cultural boundaries if it meant she could personally get what she wanted.

Sources:

(1) Densmore, Frances, and Charles Hofmann. “Incidents in the Study of Ute Music.” Essay. In Frances Densmore and American Indian Music, 39–42. New York, NY: Museum of the American Indian, 1968.

Defining ‘American Music’

It feels fitting to write a blogpost on ‘American Music’ and who owns it after studying this question for an entire semester. According to The Chicago Defender, it is the song of the enslaved people that truly inspired (or birthed, in their own words) American music. The beginning of this article describes the argument that white people are the source of American music rather than that of bipoc and enslaved people. The Chicago Defender wastes no time in correcting this absurd sentiment. The author goes on to write about bipoc composers, writers and musicians. The author similarly takes a world view that all races are musical, and the truth of their being is expressed through their music. This I agree with, music expresses more than any other medium does. This expression, according to the author is one of divinity, and is an extension of God’s Way. While I don’t consider myself religious (a source of implicit bias I have) the sentiment of the author makes sense.

While we may never have a full encapsulation of what ‘American music’ truly is, it most certainly includes those of bipoc people.

 

 

Work Cited

“… AMERICAN MUSIC BORN OF THE NEGRO RACE: “SLAVE SPIRITUALS” OF THE BONDSMAN WERE GOD’S WAY OF CLAIMING KIN TO HIM–ORIGINATION OF PLANTATION MELODIES FINDS ITS BASIS IN EQUATION OF HIGHER LAWS NEGROES LEAD MUSIC WORLD AMERICAN NEGROES WERE FAMED FOR THEIR MUSICAL LEARNING BEFORE THE EMANCIPATION, AND WERE RECEIVED THEN AS NOW IN THE WORLD’S GREATEST MUSICAL CULTURE.” The Chicago Defender (Big Weekend Edition) (1905-1966), 1916, pp. 3. ProQuest, https://www.proquest.com/historical-newspapers/american-music-born-negro-race/docview/493310451/se-2.

Lilian Evanti at the Phillips Memorial Gallery

While myself and my group have looked through many data points trying to put together a coherent argument on Lilian Evanti, I found a new source that I thought I would look further into. This program comes from the Phillips Memorial Gallery, which she has performed at on several occasions. This program was “a varied program of Classics, a group by Hugo Wolf, an Inter-American group, and a group of Negro Spirituals,” according to the performance’s brochure.

All this to be said, it was a data point I was very excited to share with my group, as we hadn’t found it yet. This program provides additional information on Evanti being an activist in her choice of repertoire. Additionally, I found a letter from the staff of the Philips Gallery regarding Lilian Evanti’s pay, in which they express their gratitude that she performed for them.

Between the correspondence, the program and the brochure, there is a sizeable amount of information on this performance. Tickets were $1.10, her pay was $100, and people clearly enjoyed the opportunity to listen to Evanti. Her program is incredible, spanning from Handel and Mozart to Hugo Wolf, to her own compositions to spirituals. Along with being impressive, these texts are incredibly meaningful and impactful, many of which are still performed today. Just under 3 years ago, for the St. Olaf Choir’s tour, they performed City Called Heaven. It’s a text I’ve performed in the past. Lilian Evanti was truly ahead of her time, and did not shy away from showing off her wide range of styles.

 

 

Work Cited

From the Archives: Lillian Evanti – The Experiment Station The Experiment Station (phillipscollection.org)

Beauty in the Eye of the Beholder: How Race and Visual Art Intersect

We always hear this phrase “Beauty is in the eye of the beholder.” The phrase refers to how certain people will think something is beautiful or not and that opinion can differ from person to person. I find this idea is particularly interesting when looking at paintings of people and other forms of portraiture.

As I’ve been researching Lillian Evanti and her life, I have come across some beautiful photographs of her like this:

She has many photographs of her in costume for the roles she has performed and there are a few presumably candid ones like this:

As someone who has a small amount of background in photography, one thing we are constantly asked about is staging of photographs and what we think the photographer had in mind when they took said picture. Every portrait of this amazingly talented woman is beautiful, but I personally don’t feel like her artistry truly comes across as much as it could. As I was scrolling through the internet to try and find more sources about this woman, I came across this painting:

This is a painting of Lillian Evanti in the main female lead, Rosina, in Barber of Seville. This was the role she had before she took on Violetta in La Triviata. When I first came across this painting, I couldn’t believe it was her. This work of art looks like it could be of a renaissance woman or someone from decades before Evanti was alive. When I learned who was the subject, I was instantly intrigued who painted it and the answer surprised me.

This is one of the most well known portraits from the Lois Mailou Jones, a Black female painter (1905-1998) who was very active during the Harlem Renaissance. This is what some of her other work looks like:

Lois led a very interesting career. She was active in both America and France and held her first solo exhibition when she was 18. She was a very accomplished painter, focusing mostly on portraying other people of color, specifically Black people in the Harlem renaissance.

I can’t find any confirmation of when the painting of Evanti was done (there is no date for the painting that I could find), but it was likely when both the women were in Europe in the 1930s. I find her depiction of Evanti to be ethereal – she doesn’t look like a real person and yet she was. Here is where we get into beauty being in the eye of the beholder.

At the time this work was done, America in particular was not very friendly (putting it mildly) to anyone that was not white. I think if a white painter had tried to paint the same scene, the painting wouldn’t look as much like a work of art as it does here. Here is what Lois had to say about the painting:

“A very unusual thing happened while I was doing the finishing touches. The Barber of Seville, the opera, came on over the radio. Of course, when the music came on, Lillian began to sing. There was the sparkle in her eyes and the gestures and everything. It was just what I needed to finish the portrait. I caught the spirit of her, which was just marvelous.”

I feel like the simple existence of Evanti in this painting would be overshadowed by her Blackness if anyone besides a Black painter made this work of art. Because of Lois, Evanti was allowed to exist both as a person and a character in this painting and nothing feels forced. Her nature as a singer, the sparkle in her eye as Lois said, is easy to see in the painting.

So often in art we feel like we have to pick something to focus on about an artist – their race, their gender, what they do, how they do it, when they do it, etc. Highlighting what makes certain artists stand out from their colleagues is important, but can we let their artistry be outside that categorization as a way to highlight what an amazing creator that artist is? Lillian Evanti’s poise and power are also easy to see in the painting, and depending on the lens of who is looking at her, they might’ve chosen her Blackness to focus on over the beauty, grace, and talent she brought to the world of opera.

Works Cited:

https://www.whitehousehistory.org/lillian-evanti

https://awarewomenartists.com/en/artiste/lois-mailou-jones/

A Racialized and Gendered Response: Examining what Motivated Densmore’s Research Methodologies and Dissemination

In 1913, Densmore published Teton Sioux Music, a dauntingly large volume containing an analysis of Teton Sioux music and a look into their culture and customs. Unlike many of her other bulletins, articles, and books, this publication includes two personal narratives of tribe members. The stories of Red Fox and Eagle Shield tell of daily life within their communities and formative experiences for these individuals as they grew up. By publishing these stories, Densmore preserves the voices of the individuals she interacted with and gives her audiences a glance into these people’s lives. But these narratives pose more questions about Densmore and her methods than they answer. Why did Densmore include so few of these narratives in her writings? Why did she choose to publish these particular stories? Perhaps it is because both stories are related to songs that Densmore recorded and analyzed. Or, should we hold on to hope that these songs and their stories were included because of a particularly strong bond between Densmore and these two Native men? While we know Densmore must have had some sort of connection to those whom she interacted with as she studied Indigenous music, her publications do not give us a strong sense of these relationships and bonds. Instead, these books offer significant evidence of Densmore’s academic and intellectual strengths. This focus on the analysis and collection is likely a reflection of two of Densmore’s values in research and study. First, a racialized desire to capture as much knowledge about these ‘dying’ community’s music, culture, and customs; and second, a response to the misogyny she likely experienced as a women researcher and academic to publish and analyze as much as humanly possible. 

Densmore’s racialized perspective towards her own study is no secret and is clearly reflected in her methods for ethnomusicological study. Just a few examples of this include her notation of Indigenous music using western standards, her desire to take images of native peoples unbeknownst to them, and her choice to use incredibly racist terminology when talking about Native Americans, such as ‘primitive’. In addition, her positionality within academia as a woman also likely impacted the way she chose to engage in study and share her findings. In Travels with Frances Densmore, Michelle Wick Patterson writes about how Densmore towed the lines of the gender norms of her time. By working in music and in the humanities, Densmore continued to engage in ‘women’s work’. This foundation allowed her to give lectures, speeches, and publish academic works which all pushed the bounds of what was acceptable for women to do at this time. 

By examining Densmore’s motivations for research, we can begin to learn yet another lesson from the work of this challenging, ractist, and tenacious women. When anaylizing the work of any humanist researcher, it might be just as important to understand their own positionality with in their field along with the positionality of their subjects. For such understanding and knowledge can shed light on the researchers motivations for their own project, and for the reception of it. 

 

Densmore, Frances. Teton Sioux Music. New York, Da Capo Press, 1972. 

 

Patterson, Michelle Wick. “She Always Said, ‘I Heard an Indian Drum’”. Travels with Frances Densmore: Her Life, Work, and Legacy in Native American Studies. University of Nebraska Press, 2015, 29-64.

 

White, Bruce. “Familiar Faces: Densmore’s Minnesota Photographs”. Travels with Frances Densmore: Her Life, Work, and Legacy in Native American Studies. University of Nebraska Press, 2015, 316-350. 

Eubie Blake’s Twisted Words

As a part of my research for Early Jazz, I’ve been collecting data points on Sidney Bechet, a clarinetist and soprano saxophonist who pioneered early jazz playing on his instruments. Bechet bounced between hundreds of jobs and gigs during his time, one of them being a part of the pit orchestra for composer Eubie Blake’s La Revue Negre, a review show that performed in France, leading him to interact on several occasions with Blake. When searching for more information about Blake, an article turned up that fascinated me, titled “Colored Artist Doesn’t Seek Much”. In the article, the author -which is not listed and is attributed as anonymous- uses comments from Blake to justify minstrelsy. Blake’s comment that “If the white minstrel be a good actor, then he gives a characterization of the Negro we admire” is used to justify the practice of minstrelsy, and is contrasted with the idea that not accepting minstrelsy is “stirring up hornets” (1).

However, that’s not what Blake intended with his comment. The keyword is “good”, which is relative to the opinions of a specific individual. In using the word “good”, Blake likely means a minstrel performer who makes a good-faith attempt to portray blackness (or whatever that means in the context of minstrelsy). However, the author breezes over this discrepancy towards his own end. The author likely means someone who is purely entertaining; this statement then becomes less about Blake’s own opinion and more about the author using a token person of color to justify his own means.

This source, while infuriating on multiple levels, highlights how complicated and diluted our understanding of historical conversations surrounding the practice of minstrelsy is. While in this article it’s easy to discern how Blake’s words were misused, this is likely the exception and not the norm. There are likely other historical articles that discuss minstrelsy that manipulate and bend the words of people of color in ways that are nearly untraceable in the present day. With this in mind, we need to have a cautious and keen eye as we look towards the past to better understand our history and the discussions around racist practices.

“Colored Artist Doesn’t Seek Much.” Advocate (Kansas City, Kansas) XI, no. 25, February 6, 1925: [1]. Readex: African American Newspapers. https://infoweb.newsbank.com/apps/readex/doc?p=EANAAA&docref=image/v2%3A12AE42418574BA80%40EANAAA-12BF19AEA32ADE60%402424188-12BF19AEB3350DF8%400-12BF19AEE80B6F30%40Colored%2BArtist%2BDoesn%2527t%2BSeek%2BMuch.

Frank Johnson: Trailblazer in the Antebellum Era

Francis (Frank) Johnson (1792–1844)— an “originator of music for the new (American) Republic”—was an African American bandleader, composer, teacher and performer from Philadelphia, Pennsylvania who was central to the cultural and musical life of his locale.[1] Johnson was born within the post-Revolutionary context of a burgeoning community of African Americans in Philadelphia, known as Society Hill.[2] Frank Johnson’s skillset was broad, and besides developing virtuosity on the violin and cornet, he achieved great admiration by Philadelphian elite, whom he composed dances for and performed them with string and brass bands at social events.[3] Johnson lived at 536 Pine Street in Philadelphia for most of his life, a site which today has a commemorative marker honoring the legacy of the trailblazing musician.[4] See below.

Francis Johnson (1792-1844), (Historical Marker at 536 Pine St. Philadelphia PA – Pennsylvania Historical and Museum Commission 1992).

Johnson also composed music for regional militia gatherings, cultivating his capabilities in the wake of a “rush of patriotism” sweeping America after the War of 1812.[5] His brass band played marches and quicksteps (the latter is a type of march)—considered “today as the earliest form of distinctly pure American marches,” Johnson set a standard of influence for American martial music in the early 19th century.[6] He would go on to compose over 200 pieces in a variety of genres.[7] By 1837, Johnson became a pioneering American musical figure in another groundbreaking way—his brass band prepared and embarked on a tour to Europe, performing in London, which was significantly “the first known performance by an American music ensemble in Europe.”[8]

Windsor Castle, Windsor, England – Johnson Performance 01-01-1838 (photograph 1854).

Frank Johnson toured in the United States, which expanded his reputation beyond Philadelphia. Notably, though, such regional tours to the Midwest and other Northeast cities were not always received well. Occupying an era predating blackface minstrelsy, Johnson nevertheless lived at a time when societal racism presented momentous challenges to even free Black communities in the North.[9] After one performance in Allegheny City, Pennsylvania, in 1843 (near Pittsburgh), newspapers reported of a “Riot near Pittsburgh- Frank Johnson’s Band robbed.” [10] Frank Johnson passed away in 1844. Though hindered by racism as an African American and largely overlooked today in American music history, Frank Johnson was an important musical figure of the Antebellum Era who can be understood as an originator of distinct American musical forms and American performance abroad.

Albany Evening Journal, Albany, New York, May 23, 1843, p. 2.

[1] Richard Griscom, “Francis Johnson: Philadelphia Bandmaster and Composer.” University of Pennsylvania Almanac, February 14, 2012; Charles Kelley Jones, Francis Johnson (1792-1844): chronicle of a Black musician in early nineteenth-century Philadelphia (United States: Lehigh University Press, 2006), 32.

[2] Jones, Francis Johnson (1792-1844, (United States: Lehigh University Press, 2006), 29.

[3] Griscom, “Francis Johnson,” University of Pennsylvania Almanac, February 14, 2012.

[4] Ibid.

[5] Jones, Francis Johnson, 46.

[6] Ibid.

[7] See quickstep in “Quickstep,” Grove Music Online, 2001, Accessed 29 Nov. 2022. https://www.oxfordmusiconline.com/grovemusic/view/10.1093/gmo/9781561592630.001.0001/omo-9781561592630-e-0000022695; See marches in Earnest Lamb, “The Music of Francis Johnson and His Contemporaries: Early 19th-Century Black Composers. The Chestnut Brass Company and Friends, Tamara Brooks, Conductor. Music Masters 7029-2-C, 1990,” Journal of the Society for American Music 8, no. 2 (2014): 266–67. https://doi.org/10.1017/S1752196314000133.

[8] Griscom, “Francis Johnson,” 2012.

[9] Ibid.

[10] Albany Evening Journal, Albany, New York, May 23, 1843, p. 2.

Frances Densmore: Can we Learn from “White Saviors?”

Pretty much everyone who’s taken a musicology course in the US has heard the name Frances Densmore. She was one of the pioneers of ethnomusicology, a scholar who traveled the country in the early 20th century recording somewhere between 2000 and 3500 samples of Native American music and speech and publishing ethnographies which integrated her analysis of these recordings with relevant cultural information from the tribes involved. Her work defined the discipline of ethnomusicology. Because of that influence, many scholars have since turned a critical eye toward her work, aiming to better understand her methods and motivations as she worked with Indigenous peoples. While the scope of her work is admirable and she single handedly created a historical record for cultural information that might otherwise have been destroyed by cultural genocide, Densmore’s work can be problematized due to exploitation and what we’d now think of as “white-savior” attitudes. After all, we can’t ignore the shameful reasons why she, a white person, was ever in a position to independently create a historical record for a cultural group to which she did not belong. The 1950 LP “Songs of the Chippewa” (Ojibwe),1 which Densmore recorded and compiled herself, is a near perfect microcosm of this dualism between historical record and material harm. This compilation of recordings, taken on Ojibwe reservations between 1907-1910, was published with a bulletin, a document similar to liner notes which proved to be extremely revealing as to Densmore’s engagement with, and attitudes toward, those she recorded.

The first page of the “Songs of the Chippewa” bulletin1

In her favor: Densmore credits her performers in the notes, lays out relevant personal information about them, and presents freely given and accurate cultural information about their tribes. In this, her engagement has some authenticity (if such a thing exists). She includes performers’ Native names and the song lyrics recorded in tribal languages, which I find to be a particularly significant example of genuine cultural engagement. Here especially, there are traces of Native voices, of Native histories as Indigenous Peoples wanted them preserved, in her work, and she showed genuine respect for them in how earnestly she preserved them.

However, her writing also reveals concerning white-saviorist attitudes toward the Indigenous people she worked with. While she may have had shining moments of respect for her performers and their cultures, Densmore often failed to consider how Native Americans wanted their music to be represented; she used writing to codify aural traditions, and she dissected music with western analytical methods instead of using the language and analytical tools that the musickers themselves used to engage with their own traditions. She engaged with Native musics on her own terms, not as the peer of those she was working with. This implies an attitude of superiority, the white-savior attitude which discards the possibility that culture-bearers have any knowledge to offer as to how intercultural engagement should take place. Densmore’s white-saviorism also took more explicit forms: she wrote that she undertook her recording projects to preserve in White institutions that which was “disappearing”2 while ignoring the fact that, as a white woman, her interests were the reason why those musics were being intentionally destroyed in the cultural genocide of the late 19th and early 20th centuries.

The juxtaposition between Densmore’s perspective and Indigenous perspectives preserved in her work complicates established profiles of this early musicologist. She’s often reduced to either the intrepid founding mother of ethnomusicology or the misguided white savior who took advantage of Native tribes all over the country; in a way, she was both. There are Native voices that shine through her texts, and to discard her writing or her recordings is to discard those valuable perspectives and pieces of cultural history. However, everything Densmore wrote has to be read with a most critical eye, because those white savior attitudes permeate every inch of her activities. She was an extremely flawed human being who preserved some genuine aspects of cultural and Native voice (almost despite her own best efforts). 

Embracing the paradox of her work, however, does not answer the question of how or whether modern musicologists should use it. Densmore’s materials teach us a lot about white constructions of identity in opposition to an Indigenous “other,” so they’re useful on a meta-musicological level, but should they be considered good source material for modern study of Indigenous traditions? I honestly think the answer is generally no. We can and we must address Densmore’s legacy, but I believe that when it comes to cultural research we should prioritize the voices of Native scholars, and focus on Indigenous cultures that willingly produce musical content to share with the broader world, or otherwise want to participate in musicological research – many, unsurprisingly, don’t. Perhaps the broader musicological community, particularly the American musicological community, should take a step back from trying to study Indigenous musics and focus on pursuing material, reparative action with Indigenous groups. When Indigenous peoples and Indigenous scholars are uplifted, there may be room for us collectively to overcome legacies like Densmore’s and more ethically engage in musicological study of vibrant, living traditions.

1 Densmore, Frances. Songs of the Chippewa. Washington, DC: Library of Congress, Division of Music, Recording Laboratory, 1950.

2 Densmore, pg. 4

The Papago People, An Industrial Tribe?

Frances Densmore was an accomplished woman who took on the task, given by the United States government, to record a vast amount of songs from indigenous tribes across the nation. By peering into this task shallowly, one might argue that she made a great and positive feet for the indigenous tribes she encountered. She is inherently responsible for keeping many traditions and songs from these tribes alive through her use of publications, notation, and recording cylinders. However, the method in which she took to force her presence on some of the indigenous people was one that often caused critique from her peers and scholars today. 

The Papago people are located in the southwest region of the United states, specifically located in the valleys of the Santa Cruz River. Called by Densmore the “desert people”, the Papago lived and recorded with Densmore in the Papago Reservation in Sells, San Xavier, and Vomari in 1920. Through Densmore’s bulletin published on the Papago, we come to learn that they are an agricultural tribe, often dedicating much of their time and resources to farming maize, beans, wheat, barley, and cotton. Interestingly Densmore shares that the Papago are “by nature and industrious people and are now finding employment in various activities incidental to the coming of the white race. For instance, many are able to make a living by cutting mesquite wood in the desert and selling it in the neighboring towns.” I wonder how “natural” this quality was of Papago, or if it was the outcome to her and the government’s push for assimilation into American society. 

 

Bibliography

Densmore, F. (2006). Papago music. Kessinger Pub.

Tsosie, N. (2012, November 9). Papago crop sowing song – traditional. YouTube. Retrieved November 29, 2022, from https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=y7RHRoN92OU

The Truth About American Music? It’s Closer To You Than You Think!

Lillian Evanti was a highly successful coloratura soprano in the 1920s-40s, performing and educating all over the country and abroad. Her success was charted in newspapers in many states, taking the form of advertisements, reviews, documentation of her appearances at dinner parties, book clubs, and other events, as well as other bits of news. One such advertisement appeared in the Plaindealer from Topeka, Kansas, on November 11, 1927.

Newspaper advertisement for her upcoming recital.
“Advertisement.” Plaindealer (Topeka, Kansas) TWENTY NINTH YEAR, no. FORTY FIVE, November 11, 1927: FOUR. Readex: African American Newspapers.

The blurb advertises a concert that evening in Kansas City, Missouri, and includes details of the time, place, and ticket pricing. Not only is this advertisement an interesting look into the culture of classical performing arts in the 1920s (imagine going to see a recital for 75 cents!), but it shows us that the history of American music is right in our communities. My hometown is only 30 minutes from Topeka, and an hour away from Kansas City. It is incredibly exciting to discover that your community plays a part in musical history, especially about an underrepresented artist that I never knew existed until we started our projects. 

Portrait of Lillian Evanti.
From this article: Forlaw, Blair. “Opera Diva Lillian Evanti.” DC History Center, March 24, 2021. https://dchistory.org/opera-diva-lillian-evanti/. Sourced from the Moorland-Spingarn Research Center, Howard University.

But this begs the question– why had I never heard about Lillian Evanti before this project? Could it be that there is simply too much history to be discovered and Evanti’s career and legacy have not risen to the top of the reading list yet? Could it be that as a Black woman she gets swept under the rug to make more space for white artists? A common term to describe artists of color is “underrepresented,” because they are precisely that. There is significantly less documentation and evidence of the careers and achievements of BIPOC artists, musicians, composers, poets, etc, which is an unfortunate effect of the legacy of racism and discrimination that was so prevalent in the past and still ingrained in the system today.

Lillian Evanti in costume for Verdi’s La Traviata.
Emilio Sommariva, Lillian Evanti wears opera costume from La Traviata, circa 1924-1935, Evans-Tibbs collection, Anacostia Community Museum, Smithsonian Institution, Box 1, Folder 3.

Perhaps the reason I never knew about Evanti is because we have been blatantly ignoring her and the other fantastic black women in music of the era in favor of white, European composers. We have a history of pushing away those that do not come from our communities. But the thing is– these artists are in our communities! I just proved that with a source from 30 minutes West of my hometown! Even though, sadly, there is less evidence of these amazing artists’ careers, it still exists! Especially in today’s age of online and digital databases and research possibilities, American musical history is right at our fingertips. The history of BIPOC artists is within our reach, we might just have to look a bit harder.

 

 

 

 

(Citations included in photo captions)

Little Trace of Buddy Bolden

Union Square Station in New Orleans, Louisiana

Buddy Bolden made a name for himself performing in Union Square. https://prcno.org/louis-sullivans-sophisticated-union-depot-welcomed-train-passengers-new-orleans-60-years/

Buddy Bolden's childhood home. https://prcno.org/buddy-bolden-father-jazz/

Buddy Bolden’s childhood home. https://prcno.org/buddy-bolden-father-jazz/

One of the most informative sources I came across for my group’s project on the origins of jazz is an article published by historian James Karst on the Preservation Society of New Orleans’ website titled “Buddy Bolden, the father of jazz, left no known recorded music, but his home still stands in Central City”. Buddy Bolden, born as Charles Bolden, was a virtuosic jazz trumpet performer and one of the main contributors to the birth of the jazz genre. Bolden, likely influenced by brass bands on the streets of his Central City neighborhood in New Orleans, rose to fame for his cornet playing in Union Square (Marquis). Karst writes that “Sometime before the turn of the century, legend has it, he began to improvise passages in existing songs, perhaps because of his inability to play them as written or as others played them. The failure to play the music the way it was intended didn’t matter, of course. The people loved it. They supposedly would come from across the city to hear Bolden play.” This being said, I was surprised to have never even heard his name until we started our project. Bolden’s career ended abruptly with three arrests and his admittance into the State Insane Asylum in Jackson, Louisiana, which is probably the reason behind Bolden’s little physical records today.

Central City neighborhood where Bolden lived. https://thelensnola.org/2013/02/01/photo-essay-central-city-languishes-just-a-short-walk-from-the-glitzy-superdome/

Like the title of Karst’s article suggests, there is no recorded music by Buddy Bolden that can be listened to today. Furthermore, the article states that there is only a single known picture of the jazz star. It is not even known where Bolden is buried. Karst uses uncertain language in the article that signifies to readers that not much is known about Bolden’s childhood, either: “He undoubtedly witnessed brass bands parading through the streets from the time he was a child. He probably went to the Fisk School [not to be confused with Fisk University, where the Fisk Jubilee Singers originated], the same school Louis Armstrong later attended, and may have even graduated. At some point, he began taking music lessons on the cornet,” (Karst) [Italicizations added to draw attention to Karst’s unsure wording].

The only known picture of Buddy Bolden. He is pictured second from left in the top row. Buddy Bolden’s childhood home. https://prcno.org/buddy-bolden-father-jazz/

These gaps in knowledge about Buddy Bolden’s life were not aided by his three arrests and consequential institutionalization. Bolden’s first arrest in 1906 (and likely his others) was connected to his deteriorating mental state as a young adult: “He had been bedridden for several weeks, according to newspaper reports on the incident from the time, including one recently discovered by this writer. In a fit of psychosis, Bolden became convinced that he was being drugged or poisoned, and he attacked his caregiver, who was either his mother or his mother-in-law. He was booked on a charge of being insane, and alcohol abuse was cited as the reason for his insanity,” (Karst). Karst writes that Bolden was arrested twice more in the following year, which eventually landed Bolden in the aforementioned State Insane Asylum. Bolden quit music due to struggles with his band and spent the rest of his life in the asylum. The little known knowledge about Bolden is likely due to his short-lived music career. This being said, it is amazing to consider the impact that Bolden had on the origins of jazz in such a quick time period. I wonder how many other incredibly influential American music are little known because of factors such as illness, lack of resources, imprisonment, or other similar issues?

 

Sources:

Karst, James. “Buddy Bolden, the Father of Jazz, Left No Known Recorded Music, but His Home Still Stands in Central City.” Preservation Resource Center of New Orleans, 30 Apr. 2019, https://prcno.org/buddy-bolden-father-jazz/.

Marquis, Donald M. In Search of Buddy Bolden : First Man of Jazz. Revised edition., Louisiana State University Press, 2005.

Lillian Evanti Finds Fame Everywhere?

The newspaper headline proudly reads “Evanti Wins Plaudits of Italians”, published in the Wyandotte Echo in Kansas City. At first glance, there is nothing particularly strange about this headline besides the fact that a Kansas City newspaper is paying mind at all to the opinions of Italians on, well, anything. But there’s so much more to it. It is true that Evanti had won the favor of many Italians, as well as plenty of others throughout Europe, but it is important to acknowledge that the reason she was really in Europe at all was for the sake that her talents were not being adequately appreciated in America. The fact that a newspaper in Kansas City would sing her praises years after she essentially gave up on a music career in America is ironic, but in a way also demonstrates the impact Lillian Evanti had and her importance to other members of the black musical community.

In her early years, Evanti performed mainly in DC, but it’s in her plea to the Crisis newspaper that we can really see how difficult that was. In her letter to W.E.B Du Bois that he ended up publishing in the newspaper, it is clear that segregation was taking its toll on her platform and audience. It was then that she decided to go to Europe (which mind you, was not known for being terribly anti-racist in the 1920s either) and proceeded to stun endless audiences with her voice. Why then, when America had all but shunned her, did the Wyandotte Echo decide to publish this piece? This newspaper, unlike the Crisis was not known for lifting up BIPOC voices, but perhaps we could attribute this all to the fact that the American obsession with fame is a very powerful thing. Opera Diva Lillian Evanti - DC History Center

Akin to the French obsession with jazz, it is likely that having an American singer become so renowned abroad was a huge deal for America. Before the 1920s, there were very limited defining factors in terms of American sound and a small number of renowned classical performers or composers. Evanti would have been extraordinary for this sake alone. Still, it is almost cruel that anyone should love her for her fame when she was so hated for her race. Nonetheless, there is something to be said for the fact that she had such a positive presence in a newspaper at all for this time period. It is possible that she opened doors for other black musicians by breaking down some of the barriers she had faced as a black woman in America by going to and finding fame in Europe. 

 

Sources 

Crisis (Firm). “Pages from The Crisis with editorial by Lillian Evanti, 1927.” W. E. B. Du Bois Papers (MS 312). Special Collections and University Archives, University of Massachusetts Amherst Libraries https://credo.library.umass.edu/view/pageturn/mums312-b175-i625/#page/1/mode/1up

The response to Francis Johnson’s promenade concerts

Francis Johnson was an African-American musician and composer during the early 19th century. He was known in Philadelphia as a professional musician but his even greater achievement was being a successful African-American composer in an institutionally racist society during a time when African-Americans were greatly discriminated against. Johnson was also well known for starting and leading an all African-American band that performed solely for Black communities. His fame would even allow him to travel to Europe, performing there and learning European musical styles. Perhaps one of his greatest accomplishments was bringing those styles of music to America.

After coming back from the first of few trips to Europe, Johnson led his all African-American band in Philadelphia’s first set of promenade concerts in 1838 and 1839. Not only was this performance a first due to the music, but it was also a first because of the racial composition of the band and composer. With the social climate in America during the time, one might wonder how this man was able to perform concerts like this or what the response to these concerts was like.  

Eileen Southern was an African-American musicologist, researcher, author, and teacher who primarily focused on Black American music styles. According to her primary source research, Johnson’s concerts were received very well, packing the concert halls for every performance and leaving the audiences impressed. 

A socialite, Sidney George Fisher wrote a review in his diary that talked about how successful Johnson’s promenade concerts were in the eyes of the public.

Although some of the comments on Johnson’s promenade concerts were bad, they shined light on how popular the concerts were. For example, in a review by a Scottish phrenologist, George Combe, who rented the floor below Johnson’s performances, the concerts were often attended by thousands of people who would applaud extremely loud after each piece.

The Public Ledger, a popular magazine, would often encourage its readers to attend Johnson’s concerts as the publishers of the magazine viewed Johnson as a very popular and well established and popular composer and band leader.

Due to the institutionally racist society during Francis Johnson’s time, reviews of this positive nature for a band composed entirely of African-Americans and led by an African-American, might seem crazy. However, due to Johnson’s prior success as a composer and musician, he was able to build a very high reputation that caused audiences to flock to his concerts. Johnson’s promenade concerts demonstrated some of his greatest accomplishments as a composer; integrating black and white audiences and bringing new styles of European music to America.

 

References:

Southern, Eileen. “Frank Johnson of Philadelphia and His Promenade Concerts.” The Black Perspective in Music 5, no. 1 (1977): 3–29. https://doi.org/10.2307/1214356.

Jazz: The Marvelous Syncopation of the African Jungle Reproduced!?

The questions surrounding the origins of jazz, including what jazz is, where jazz came from and who performs jazz, abound. Numerous articles, books, and dissertations have these or similar titles in reference to jazz. Why? What is the reason? The true origins of jazz have been up for debate for quite some time. Scholars have extensively researched this issue, due in part to its wide and deep lineage of African and African American culture, as well as possessing strong roots in ragtime and blues. 

During my end of semester research on  “Early Jazz” and the pioneers of the jazz genre, I stumbled upon a newspaper article entitled, “The Origins of Jazz” written in 1921 by Madge R. Cayton. The article was published under “Cayton’s Monthly”, a column in the Seattle Republican newspaper. Madge’s father, Horace Roscoe Cayton Sr., was an American journalist and political activist who launched the Seattle Republican. As the biracial son of a slave and a white plantation owner’s daughter, Horace Cayton created the newspaper with the intention of appealing to black and white readers alike. Below is Madge R. Cayton’s “The Origins of Jazz” article. The article obnoxiously reflects the beliefs of the average white reader of this time period rather than those of the average black reader. 

In her article, Cayton briefly explores the origins of the word “jazz” as well as the two specific types of jazz: the “Siamese jazz” which originated in China, and the “Oriental jazz” originating in Africa. Right from the outset, Cayton displays a narrow-minded view of the research on the origins of this “street rhythm” and a lackluster degree of understanding of the topic. Cayton focuses on the African “Oriental jazz” music, outlining her racist and discriminatory remarks. Throughout the article Cayton repeatedly conveys her distaste for jazz music and its glamorization of the African jungle, stating, “It is an attempt to reproduce the marvelous syncopation of the African Jungle. It is the result of the savage musician’s wonderful gift of progressive retarding and acceleration which is guided by his sense of ewing.”  The use of the word “savage” in describing the musicians is an immediate indicator of Cayton’s racist tone and underlying belief in white supremacy. The term “savages” has long been denounced as a racial stereotype for African Americans because of their basis in racially motivated scientific studies that found African Americans to be inferior to their white counterparts, making them closer to wild animals than to humans. Clayton continues her barrage of racialized and stereotyped comments on African Americans and their love for jazz music, pointing out a concern about the increasingly larger and more notable venues available to this performance tradition, “Jazz has reigned supreme for some years and most likely, will reign for many more for it has invaded our dance halls, theaters, and concert halls. Even our churches have not escaped without their share of tempestuous music. It has even snatched our very songs, classical and popular, and taken them for its own use, ragging them to death.”  This “invasion” Clayton suggests, should return its music to the “forest primeval” which is “more real and refined there than in a hall filled with dancers.” Clayton finishes expanding on the same belittling themes stating, “Because jazz is elemental bringing the savage to the surface, it is dangerous. We cannot afford in our present stage of civilization to accept the standard of the savage even if it is only through the giddy measure of a dance”. Based on Clayton’s writing, jazz puts civilization itself at stake.  

I can say with a high degree of confidence that Ms. Cayton’s article on the origin of jazz should be considered frivolous in nature, repugnant given it is rooted in Jim Crow thinking, and filled with racist ideas and a display of close-mindedness common among a large number of white folks in the U.S. in the early 1900’s. Additionally, some people of color, denied the opportunity to learn better, held similar views. For more scholarly research and accurate information into the origins of jazz, pursued by bright, open minded college students, please follow this link >>> (will put link to final project here when finished). 

Works Cited

“Cayton’s Monthly. [Volume] (Seattle, Wash.) 1921-1921, February 01, 1921, Page 10, Image 10.” News about Chronicling America RSS, H.R. Cayton, https://chroniclingamerica.loc.gov/lccn/sn87093354/1921-02-01/ed-1/seq-10/#date1=1836&index=7&rows=20&searchType=advanced&language=&sequence=0&words=jazz+Jazz&proxdistance=5&date2=1989&ortext=&proxtext=&phrasetext=jazz&andtext=&dateFilterType=yearRange&page=1

“Horace R. Cayton Sr..” Wikipedia, Wikimedia Foundation, 26 Nov. 2022, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Horace_R._Cayton_Sr

“Negative Racial Stereotypes and Their Effect on Attitudes toward African-Americans.” Ferris State University, https://www.ferris.edu/HTMLS/news/jimcrow/links/essays/vcu.htm

Jazz: the evolution or debasement of spirituals?

Jazz music emerged during the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Like early African-American music, there is an emphasis on call and response patterns or aspects. Moreover, jazz music’s lack of strict structure compared to western classical music gives the musicians freedom to develop and perform in their own distinct styles. This freedom of expression is seen by many as a way of evolving old Negro Spirituals into more contemporary forms of music. However, there are also many who see jazz music as a way of debasing the music and meanings of old spirituals. 

In a Chicago Defender article entitled “Spiritualistic Start: That’s What “Jazz Music” had, Says Rosamond Johnson”, the author quotes Johnson’s perspective that jazz music will never die because it is the evolution of plantation music. Johnson, an African-American composer and singer during the Harlem Renaissance, goes on to explain how slave songs evolved into spirituals through the societal changes that African-Americans went through. He goes on to explain how unrest took hold of African-Americans, leading to syncopation and multiple rhythms being played over each other in spirituals, which he claims is the same basic principle of jazz music. Johnson also mentions western classical music, stating that syncopation and the use of many rhythms has made the great symphonies what they are today. In comparison, Johnson claims that by following these basic principles, jazz music is aiding in the appreciation of old spirituals by evolving them into a more contemporary form of music. 

H.T. Burleigh had a contrasting opinion to Johnson in that jazz music actually debases spirituals. In a letter written to the public, Burleigh urges both races to preserve spirituals by stopping the progression of spirituals into jazz music. Burleigh claims that spirituals are the prized possession of the African-American race as they were created to demonstrate and perpetuate the struggles and emotions that African-Americans had during and after slavery. He goes even further to state that spirituals are the only legacy of slavery days that African-Americans can be proud of and that they are on the same level as great fold songs from around the world. By “perverting” the melodies and rhythms of spirituals into dance and popular songs, Burleigh says that it is destructive to the meanings of the original art forms, calling jazz music a misappropriation of spirituals. 


 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

References:

“HARRY BURLEIGH BEWAILS MISUSE OF FOLK SONGS: SAYS JAZZ DEBASES THEM; DISLIKES SPIRITUALS USED AS FOX TROTS.” The Chicago Defender (National edition) (1921-1967), Nov 18, 1922, pp. 8. ProQuest, https://www.proquest.com/historical-newspapers/harry-burleigh-bewails-misuse-folk-songs/docview/491939656/se-2.

Thompson, Noah D. “SPIRITUALISTIC START: THAT’S WHAT “JAZZ MUSIC” HAD, SAYS ROSAMOND JOHNSON.” The Chicago Defender (National edition) (1921-1967), Jan 21, 1922, pp. 7. ProQuest, https://www.proquest.com/historical-newspapers/spiritualistic-start/docview/491909144/se-2.

Dvorak and Brahms: the relationship that helped launch Dvorak into international spotlight

Antonin Dvorak is perhaps one of the most well known composers to ever live. There are many stories about Dvorak’s time in America, but another topic worth noting is his rise to fame that would eventually lead to his time in America. Although his works themselves proved his merit as a composer, Dvorak was boosted into the spotlight with the help of Johannes Brahms. Although they never lived in the same region, their relationship was very important to both of them as composers and as friends. 

In many biographies, the relationship between Dvorak and Brahms has been minimized not only by perennial placement of the two composers in separate chapters, but also by prejudices held by the chauvinistic views of the German people. Peter Petersen, a German musicologist, highlights the prejudices held by Germans in a critique of Dvorak’s history in Germany. 

Petersen also helped to establish a more objective comparison between the two composers. The first list below shows some of the similarities between the two composers:

The next list shows some of the differences between the two composers.

Dvorak first became known to Brahms after competing and winning three awards for composition competitions. However, their relationship wouldn’t begin until after Eduard Hanslick, a music critic, encouraged Dvorak to write letters to Brahms. In an attempt to flatter Brahms, Dvorak’s first letters exaggerated his familiarity and love for the great composer’s music. Dvorak’s first letter seems to try to establish a mentorship that would let him learn from Brahms.

Brahms took an interest in Dvorak right away and connected him to Simrock, Brahms’ personal publisher. Although Brahms mentioned his dislike for letter writing, Dvorak was very persistent in building a relationship with Brahms. On one of Brahms’ concert tours, Dvorak sent multiple letters to the composer, an act that most would see as rude. 

 

Through their shared composition profession, Dvorak and Brahms were able to overcome national prejudices and build a professional and personal relationship. Brahms even offered Dvorak his whole estate after his death. Dvorak’s relationship with Brahms not only helped him grow as a composer, but also helped to launch his works into the international spotlight. After his works were exposed to other countries, Dvorak would soon gain popularity, earning an honorary doctorate of music from the University of Cambridge. Moreover, Dvorak would eventually accept a position as director at the National Conservatory of Music in New York which kickstarted his time in the US where he would compose his New World Symphony. 

 

References:

Dvorák and His World, edited by Michael Beckerman, Princeton University Press, 1993. ProQuest Ebook Central, https://ebookcentral.proquest.com/lib/stolaf-ebooks/detail.action?docID=3030296.

 

“Painting & Music”: Fine Art in 1830s America

The manager of the Baltimore Museum bought an advertisement in the Baltimore Patriot on November 4th, 1831, to publicize an upcoming event, shedding light on the role of music in antebellum American society. The manager wished to advertise an exhibition that would be occurring at the museum that Saturday night at which Francis Johnson and his military band would be performing, in order that “amatures [sic] and connoisseurs in fine painting” alike would be able to enjoy “the concord of sweet sounds” of the live music.1

This advertisement reveals several details about the role of music, and art in general, in American society in the early nineteenth century. At the time, bands like Johnson’s could not distribute their music by recording. Instead, their profits came from performing live. While many ensembles, especially Johnson’s band, put on their own concerts, this article demonstrates that they also performed at events that were not necessarily dedicated concerts but simply required some musical accompaniment. Music could be combined with the experience of viewing paintings for the greater enjoyment of “amatures and connoisseurs” alike, indicating that while this was a social function, it was more about the sensory experience than about asserting the upper class identity of those who had the luxury to consider themselves “connoisseurs”. This was the same tradition of live performance that minstrel shows and vaudeville would evolve from, and the combination of different forms of entertainment in one event for convenience and accessibility actually resembles these later traditions.2 The manager of the museum describes Johnson and his band as “famous” and “excellent” and advertises that they would “perform many of the most popular and justly celebrated pieces of instrumental music”, which was a feature of much of the American concert music of the early nineteenth century. Bands and even early American orchestras would mix high-brow music with more popular and fashionable music, drawing very diverse crowds as a result.3 However, money was still a factor for the artists, and just as Johnson’s band relied on public support, the success of this museum was “so much indebted to the liberal patronage” of the public.1

By playing popular music at public events like this art exhibition in addition to their own concerts, ensembles like Johnson’s band could draw audiences from a variety of backgrounds, garnering attention for their music as well as for the art displayed at the museum. Their reliance on public support helped both institutions–that of music and that of art museums–to reach a wider audience, ultimately creating more opportunities to engage with art and in turn contributing to more widespread artistic literacy among the American public.

References:

1 “Advertisement.” BALTIMORE PATRIOT & MERCANTILE ADVERTISER. (Baltimore, Maryland) XXXVIII, no. 98, November 4, 1831: [3]. Readex: America’s Historical Newspapers. https://infoweb.newsbank.com/apps/readex/doc?p=EANX&docref=image/v2%3A107D4AD8C258B928%40EANX-108270873A425650%402390126-10827087F7BAA9A0%402-1082708C24416710%40Advertisement.

2 Lewis, Robert M., ed. From Traveling Show to Vaudeville : Theatrical Spectacle in America, 1830-1910. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 2003. Accessed November 25, 2022. ProQuest Ebook Central.

3 Locke, Ralph P. “Music Lovers, Patrons, and the ‘Sacralization’ of Culture in America.” 19th-Century Music 17, no. 2 (1993): 149–73. https://doi.org/10.2307/746331.

Thomas Dorsey, Gospel Music, and Black Resilience

 

A choir performs in Chicago in 1941. Credit: Russell Lee, Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division

White supremacy holds its roots in American music, specifically through the harmful tradition of cultural appropriation and assimilation. This instance is prevalent through multiple examples, but I will be discussing the issue of the enforcement of African American people into Christianity. By glancing into the deep history of African religions, it is obvious how diversified and vast religion seemed to be. With a variety of polytheistic religions with some Islamic influence, religion was a space encompassed by the natural and spiritual worlds. Through colonization and slavery, the European mode of Christianity began to engulf African spirituality. Though the strength and resilience of these enslaved men and women led to the cultivation of “the rites, rituals, and cosmologies of Africa in America through stories, healing arts, song, and other forms of cultural expression, creating a spiritual space apart from the white European world” (Sambol-Tosco). In terms of these rituals, one of which is ever present is the tradition of Gospel music. This genre was the gateway to combine the influential protestant tradition with cultural expressions of African culture such as call and response, improvisation, expressive rhythm, chants, dance, and storytelling. Through the Chicago Defender, I found an article outlining the history of gospel music and how black culture and freedom led to the genre’s flourishing. Specifically, the photo shown below from 1941 depicts one of the many gospel choirs still represented today.

Thomas Dorsey             Thomas Andrew Dorsey's album; The Maestro Sings

The root of African American gospel music emerged alongside other 19th and 20th-century genres such as ragtime, blues, jazz, and even black spirituals from earlier centuries. The songbook, A Collection of Spiritual Songs and Hymns, was the first hymnal written for African American worship. These arrangements were full of syncopated rhythms, improvisation, and shout traditions. One of the most prolific composers and performers of the said genre is the Father of Gospel Music, Thomas Andrew Dorsey. Born in 1899, Dorsey was the son of a revivalist preacher and grew up surrounded by the influence of blues pianists in Atlanta, Georgia. He is known today as the father of gospel music due to his compositions that have long become prevalent in gospel standards, such as Precious Lord, Take My Hand, Peace in the Valley, and Trouble About My Soul. 

Gospel tradition spread throughout Chicago due to the urges from the Chicago Defender during the Great Migration for African Americans to travel north. Dorsey was one of these individuals convinced to establish roots in this city and he took strides to tour with Jazz musicians such as Mahalia Jackson, Sally, Martin, and Ma Rainey. One album that was recorded by Dorsey was his vinyl entitled “Thomas Andrew Dorsey – The Maestro Sings” distributed by Sound of Gospel Records in 1980. After listening to a few of the recordings listed, the influences of jazz and blues become abundantly clear. Below is a recording of his song Precious Lord which includes a small sermon as the introduction and then the music, which consists of all of the elements previously mentioned, such as syncopated rhythms, shout, and blue notes. 

To refer back to the discussion of the assimilation of European Christianity, I present Gospel music as an example of black resilience and as a musical genre created by the combination of black culture and the Protestant faith. Gospel music has become an extraordinarily influential and essential part of African American music as it was created partly to establish a practice separate from enslavers. As the writer and producer, Stacey Robinson, of The Birth of Gospel, a Chicago Stories show, accurately states, “I hope when audiences see this, they realize that spirituality is at the base of our humanity. The Black church was so important and allowed us ways to get through slavery, Jim Crow, and help sustain us during the Civil Rights Movement and it continues to be a source today” (Sanders).

Citations
The Editors of Encyclopaedia Britannica. (2022). Thomas Andrew Dorsey. Encyclopaedia Britannica. Retrieved November 23, 2022, from https://www.britannica.com/biography/Thomas-Andrew-Dorsey

Gorlinski, V. (2022). Gospel music. Encyclopaedia Britannica. Retrieved November 23, 2022, from https://www.britannica.com/topic/gospel-music

Sambol-Tosco, K. (n.d.). Slavery and the making of america . the slave experience: Religion: PBS. Slavery and the Making of America . The Slave Experience: Religion | PBS. Retrieved November 23, 2022, from https://www.thirteen.org/wnet/slavery/experience/religion/history.html

Sanders , D. (2022, May 4). The “Birth of gospel” highlights Chicago’s rich history in gospel music. Chicago Defender. Retrieved November 23, 2022, from https://chicagodefender.com/the-birth-of-gospel-highlights-chicagos-rich-history-in-gospel-music/

Thomas A. Dorsey – The Maestro sings. Discogs. (1980, January 1). Retrieved November 23, 2022, from https://www.discogs.com/release/9299396-Thomas-A-Dorsey-The-Maestro-Sings

Gospel Nostalgia. (2014, May 3). “precious lord” (1980) Thomas Dorsey. YouTube. Retrieved November 23, 2022, from https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=V2ySfuUCbyA

Lillian Evanti: We see her success but cannot hear it

Lillian Evanti was a prominent opera singer, and one of the first, if not the first African-American women to tour with a European opera company. Additionally, she was a founding member of the National Negro Opera Company, performing as Violetta in their performance of Verdi’s La Traviata. As a famous performer, Evanti gave concerts and recitals all over the United States and Western Europe. One such performance was at the Hall of Americas in the Pan-American Union, celebrating many Latin American composers.

Lillian Evanti with John Hoskins at the Pan-American Union.
Robert H. McNeil, Lillian Evanti and John Hoskins perform at the Hall of the Americas Pan American Union, 1946, Anacostia Community Museum Archives, Box 26, Folder 54.

Evanti’s program included works from Mexican, Cuban, Argentinian, and Venzuelan composers (both women and men), an aria from Il Guarany, an opera composed by Antônio Carlos Gomes, as well as a few of her own original compositions. Her performance of a diverse range of composers shows that she uplifts silenced and underrepresented voices. Her contribution of original compositions for this occasion, “Himno Panamericano,” and “Honor a Trujillo,” not only shows musical virtuosity, but also a willing spirit to participate in diplomacy and international relations. 

Recital program, detailing the composers and pieces she performed, including her originals.
Program featuring Lillian Evanti and John Hoskins, Union of American Republics, 1946, Anacostia Community Museum Archives, Box 32 Folder 29.

While researching Lillian Evanti, both for this blog post and for my group mapping project, I found myself confused and frustrated at the fact that recordings of Lillian Evanti singing either do not exist, or are extremely hard to come by. It made me wonder why such a prominent and successful singer was not documented in this way. In just a few simple google searches, I found recordings from two other female opera singers who were contemporaries of Lillian Evanti. So why are there no recordings of Evanti even though her contemporaries received this kind of documentation and legacy? Of course, I cannot say the true answer because I do not know. But I can only speculate as to why Evanti’s legacy lives on in pictures rather than audio. Even if she was a famous performer and traveled the world giving performances, the fact still remains that she was African-American. Her success was revolutionary and a great step towards diversifying the Western canon, but unfortunately her identity as a member of a marginalized community may have contributed to her lack of existent audio recordings compared to her contemporaries. While you might not immediately think about the repercussions of something that happened 80-100 years ago, this proves that the effects of racism and inequity are still felt today, as now we cannot truly discover the legacy of Lillian Evanti. We can read reviews of so many concerts, recitals, and other performances telling us how beautiful and lyrical her voice was, but as far as I know, we will never be able to hear her voice and understand part of why she was so successful.

Citations included in photo captions.

The Chicago jazz scene takes… Monterey, California?

What does a beach town with a nationally renowned aquarium and Chicagoan jazz legends like Thelonious Monk have in common? If you are a jazz musician today and don’t live under a rock, you might know the answer – the Monterey Jazz Festival, one of the biggest and most prestigious jazz festivals in the country. Founded in 1958, it is the longest continuously-running jazz festival in the world, and, today, only the best of the best of professional jazz musicians get invited to perform (1).

The Festival was co-founded by Ralph Gleason, a jazz critic for the San Francisco Chronicle, and Jimmy Lyons, a jazz disc jockey. It took them over two years to organize the first festival, but they worked on overdrive to book jazz musicians from all the major jazz epicenters, like New Orleans, Harlem, and Chicago (2). In the very first festival, the two pulled the likes of Louis Armstrong, Billie Holiday (whose particular performance became famous, especially since she died suddenly about nine months later), and Dave Brubeck, who coined and was the first supporter of the idea of the festival (1).

Seen in newspaper articles from the Chicago Defender, there was not only considerable effort made by the festival to recruit top talent in jazz, but also efforts made to uplift the communities that the musicians hailed from and where there were fans. Check out this article advertising the musicians in the 1961 festival (3) and 1963 festival, which included Thelonious Monk (4):

The jazz festival has been popular for years, and has drawn as many as 40,000 people over the three days per year. It has also implemented programs for outreach, including funding music scholarships at the Monterey Peninsula College and Berklee College of Music, a summer jazz camp for students, and honor ensembles, including a big band, a vocal jazz ensemble, and women-only combos. Another outreach program of the festival is its Next Generation Jazz Festival, in which big bands, combos, singers, and jazz choirs from schools and universities across the country compete to even make it into the prestigious three-day event (5). This festival is especially cool for me because I was lucky enough to get to perform at it in high school with my vocal jazz ensemble! (I’m pretty sure we got close to the bottom of the competition rankings, though: California has a pretty fantastic jazz scene, both in general and at high schools.)

Sources:

(1) “Monterey Jazz Festival.” Wikipedia. Wikimedia Foundation, November 16, 2022. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Monterey_Jazz_Festival.

(2) “The Monterey Jazz Festival Collection.” Spotlight at Stanford. Accessed November 20, 2022. https://exhibits.stanford.edu/mjf.

(3) Monterey jazz festival boasts allstar lineup(2). 1961. The Chicago Defender (National edition) (1921-1967), Aug 19, 1961. https://www.proquest.com/historical-newspapers/monterey-jazz-festival-boasts-allstar-lineup-2/docview/492970249/se-2 (accessed November 21, 2022).

(4) Line up jazz festival for monterey, calif. 1963. Chicago Daily Defender (Daily Edition) (1960-1973), Aug 26, 1963. https://www.proquest.com/historical-newspapers/line-up-jazz-festival-monterey-calif/docview/493965032/se-2 (accessed November 21, 2022).

(5) “JazzReach – Education – 65th Annual Monterey Jazz Festival.” Monterey Jazz Festival. Accessed November 21, 2022. https://montereyjazzfestival.org/education/program/jazzreach/.

American Music: Setting Over Style?

What constitutes American Classical music? Perhaps we could define it by the Western sound of Copland, who delineated the open plains in a series of open fifths or Ellington who took Jazz, a distinctly American genre to the symphonic stage, or even Dvorak who wasn’t American at all but somehow managed to be one of the best at defining American classical music. 

For other nations, the distinction was easy. France holds impressionism, full of soft lilting melodies and making use of modal harmony when it had become somewhat obsolete. Germany was defined in Wagnerian extravagance, Italy laid claim to opera, and Russian music was re-interpreted again and again by Tchaikovsky, Stravinsky, Prokofiev, and Shostakovich in a series of controversial (and frequently politically controversial) harmonies. What did America have? I think it might be fair to say that American music is defined more by subject matter than it is by tonality or style. Charles Ives is perhaps one of the best examples of this. Remember When … - Davison Index

The headline of the Chicago Defender reads “Chicago Symphony opens with Ives’ Decoration Day”. This is one of four pieces written by Ives called “Four New England Holidays” all based on his childhood on the east coast. Decoration day (or memorial day as we know it now) is full of “simultaneity” meaning that different instruments are playing entirely incongruent parts that line up in some vertical manner. He was much ahead of composers in Europe that would eventually try the same thing (Chicago Defender). Charles Ives - Dallas Symphony Orchestra

Ives was always very dedicated to depicting a scene. In Decoration Day, there are many elements that can lead the audience to know exactly what was in Ives’s head. The movement starts with rather disturbed and incongruent parts punctuated by church bells, made to signify the “fragmented memories and melodies” that his father shared with him about the Civil War (Coffill). Eventually the piece breaks out into a full military march, before returning to an even more haunting, bare bones version of the opening. Such clear depictions of an event can be seen in many of Ives’s other works such as “Central Park After Dark” where the instruments are supposed to emulate the sounds of central park including voices and car horns (Keller). Both of these settings are inherently American, but his styling is nowhere in relation to Copland, Price, or Ellington. However, all of these composers did write about the subject matter of America, and maybe that is where the true musical nationalism lies. 

 

Sources: 

 

“Chicago Symphony Opens with Ives’ ‘Decoration Day’.” Chicago Defender (Daily Edition) (1973-), Nov 19, 1974. https://www.proquest.com/historical-newspapers/chicago-symphony-opens-with-ives-decoration-day/docview/494084643/se-2.

 

Coffill, B. (2019). Charles Ives’s Decoration Day: A Conductor’s Guide. SAGE Open, 9(1). https://doi.org/10.1177/2158244018820353

 

Keller, James M. “Notes on the Program – New York Philharmonic.” NyPhil.org, NY Philharmonic, https://nyphil.org/~/media/pdfs/program-notes/1819/Ives-Central-Park-in-the-Dark.pdf.

Appealing to White Sensibility

When looking at maps in our class, we’ve observed that many conclusions can be drawn from a map regarding the author’s intentions: how they want to use the map, and to what end. Advertisements are no different, and it’s important to acknowledge what an ad is attempting to achieve and how it tries to reach its goal. This furthers our understanding of the author and the context for when it was made. A clear example of this can be found in the 5th Annual American Negro Music Festival Program, held on July 8th, 1944 (1). The program functioned as a flyer to promote the event to potential ticket buyers as well as show audience members what they were in for.

The front cover of the program.

The inside of the program

From our modern-day perspective, the opening cover seems to be disarming and doesn’t give us much information about the concert itself. It’s held at the White Sox Ball Park, a relatively-large venue. The title is specific enough so viewers understand that the festival will feature some aspect of African-American music, but vague enough for viewers not to know which one. Could it be folk? Classical? Jazz? Spirituals? The front cover intentionally gives us no answer.

The back of the program

Then we move to the inside of the pamphlet, and much more is revealed. All of the main acts listed are African Americans who perform inside the European concert tradition and individuals respected in academic circles, or at least the program frames it as such. Names such as Madam Lillian Evanti and Langston Hughes are mentioned. The program also wants to make clear its goals as a social-justice event and goes out of its way to articulate its intentions “to create a keener and more appreciative understanding between all racial groups” (2).

Finally, the last page includes a final call to get tickets and endorses itself with the names of well-known political figures and organizations. Notably, the public figures mentioned are all white. Looking at all of the observations we’ve gathered, we can conclude that this was undoubtedly targeted at white audiences. Every aspect of the planned event and this advertisement appeals to white sensibilities. All of the African American artists listed are noted as excelling at white traditions of opera, poetry, composition, and European music. It makes no mention of Spirituals, Jazz, Blues, or Folk music – all genres that were spreading at a rapid pace among African American musicians. The endorsements come from white authority figures, rather than Black intellectuals and leaders at the time. Langston Hughes was involved with this event and was a prominent Black cultural leader. Why not have him endorse it? The fear was that doing so would scare white audiences away.

While the seeking of white approval is disappointing from our present-day perspective, it doesn’t undercut the concert’s historical intentions of racial justice. At the time, putting together an event at this scale that featured Black musicians and artists was highly unusual, and likely a huge risk for all financially invested parties. However, this does not permit filtering black art through a white lens, especially not in the present day. If we seek to dismantle implicit racism that events like these perpetuated, we must acknowledge the impact it had (good and bad) to avoid making the same mistakes.

(1) Evans-Tibbs collection, Anacostia Community Museum Archives, Smithsonian Institution, gift of the Estate of Thurlow E. Tibbs, Jr.

(2) Evans-Tibbs collection, Anacostia Community Museum Archives, Smithsonian Institution, gift of the Estate of Thurlow E. Tibbs, Jr.

Lillian Evanti making ways for diverse classical performers

1

Lillian Evanti, unknown to me before this class, is an iconic figure in the operatic world. In 1925, she emerged as the first African American to perform as a professional opera singer in Europe. The Howard University alumna was also a soror (Zeta Phi Beta), speaker, teacher, art collector, activist, and goodwill ambassador for the Department of State.

Throughout her life, she traveled across the United States and Europe as an accomplished musician. One of her most notable performances debuted in  Delibes’s Lakmé in Nice, France in 1925. 

2

Despite being praised in Europe, her success in America was exclusively highlighted by black newspapers. The Pittsburg Courier and The Oakland Tribune are some examples of black newspapers bringing Lillian Evanti to American audiences.

3

Her popularity in America compared to her popularity in Europe was fairly contrasting. In American newspapers, she would be visiting a high school and typically black schools, whereas in Europe she was endlessly praised for her beautiful voice and performances.

4

One specific sentence in this newspaper roughly translates that her pure and well-posed voice played without difficulty with the perilous air of bells. How different she is talked about in Europe.

As my group project on Lillian Evanti’s career continues to develop, I continue to learn more and more about her and what she accomplished for black classical musicians during her time.

1 Evans-Tibbs collection, Anacostia Community Museum Archives, Smithsonian Institution, gift of the Estate of Thurlow E. Tibbs, Jr.

2 Evans-Tibbs collection, Anacostia Community Museum Archives, Smithsonian Institution, gift of the Estate of Thurlow E. Tibbs, Jr. Box 1, Folder 6.

3 Soprano to Sing Tomorrow Night, Oakland Tribune, Monday, April 01, 1935

 4Messager, Jean. “Mme Lillian Evanti Dans ‘Lakmé.’” Comoedia. January 24, 1927. Accessed 11/15/2022. https://gallica.bnf.fr/ark:/12148/bpt6k7651736k/f3.item.r=lillian%20evanti.zoom

The Chicago Defender: Emphasizing Black Music

A self made millionaire, Robert Sengstacke Abbott trained as a lawyer and turned to newspaper publishing after two years of practicing law in Indiana and Kansas. Despite Abbott’s shift in career direction, his work remained rooted in social justice and an unwavering commitment to making life better for the many African Americans leaving the south and heading north during what is known as The Great Migration. While none of the nine original goals of his newspaper, The Chicago Defender, speak to the proliferation of African American musicians, composers and conductors, the existence of his newspaper provided exposure for thousands of African American musicians who would otherwise have been forgotten. Abbott’s efforts were recognized nationally and included in the Encyclopedia of Chicago website noting, “The Chicago Defender promoted black fine arts and publicized the works of artists and the institutions that supported and nurtured their creativity.” Even though Abbott’s newspaper was not established to nurture blossoming African American musicians at the time, it inadvertently was the singular catalyst for popularizing many of the black musicians we know and love today. This includes greats like Margaret Bonds, King Oliver, Louis Armstrong and Josephine Baker. Sarah A. Waits in her theses and dissertation, “‘Listen to The Wild Discord’: Jazz in the Chicago Defender and the Louisiana Weekly, 1925-1929,” confirms the subtle promotion for African American musicians when she writes, “By highlighting the gigs and engagements of New Orleans-born musicians, and of orchestras that played New Orleans-style jazz, musicians in New Orleans were aware of the economic and popular successes of former residents” (Waits, 17). 

Abbott termed the nine original goals of his newspaper the Bible, and tied his entrepreneurship to the health, safety, civil rights and expansion of African Americans and their cultural roots. This publication contributed to The Great Migration with Abbott heroically using his skill, knowledge and desire to help African Amercians dream of a life outside the Jim Crow South. In establishing, publishing and distributing information about African American representation, careers and artistic cultural events, Abbott shared a vision of what awaited them in the north and introduced them to those African Americans who were living out their dream of composing and performing in the arts and redefining the field for all.

In 1975, newspaper journalist Earl Calloway, widely known as the Fine Arts Editor and a columnist for The Chicago Daily Defender, wrote a short column regarding The Chicgao Defender newspaper putting specific emphasis on African American culture. The title of the article does not do justice to Mr. Calloway’s writing because of the emphasis on black entertainers and musicians in the text. Mr. Calloway begins the article by referencing earlier editions of The Chicago Defender highlighting African American musicians and composers such as the infamous James P. Johnson, a revolutionary pianist who was a major part of the transition from ragtime to jazz music, his pupils, as well as other young talented black artists at the time. Mr. Calloway recognizes Mr. Abbott and his contributions as well as how his “personal involvement and support continued throughout his life by attending and emphasizing artistic activity and development” in African American individuals (Calloway). Calloway further expands on the fact that there are little to no black musicians who haven’t been touched and carry the support from The Chicago Defender. Mr. Abbott’s newspaper was not only a wide success for the African American community in its fight for civil rights, it was also a newspaper that featured and amplified black excellence, something many newspaper companies and publishers are still mastering to this day. Calloway concludes his article with the names and pictures of ten talented and noteworthy African American musicians, including the famous African American lyric tenor and composer, Roland Hayes. Mr. Calloway’s final words from his article fill the reader with hope and a sense of certainty that The Chicago Defender will always recognize and uplift black musicians in their continued fight for equal opportunity around performing, access to venues, and the right to earn a living and even profit from their creative talents.  Thankfully, Abbott was educated as a lawyer but gave up practicing law to establish a newspaper that uplifted and created a platform to achieve greater justice for all African Americans.

 

Works Cited

Calloway, Earl. “Chicago Defender emphasizes African-American cultural.” Chicago Defender (Daily Edition) (1973-), May 05, 1975, pp. 69. ProQuest, https://www.proquest.com/historical-newspapers/chicago-defender-emphasizes-african-american/docview/494124522/se-2

Chicago Black Renaissance, http://www.encyclopedia.chicagohistory.org/pages/240.html

Tamblyn, contributed by: George. “Robert Sengstacke Abbott (1870-1940) •.” •, 15 Nov. 2020, https://www.blackpast.org/african-american-history/abbott-robert-sengstacke-1870-1940/

Waits, Sarah  A. ‘Listen to The Wild Discord’: Jazz in the Chicago Defender and the Louisiana Weekly, 1925-1929, https://scholarworks.uno.edu/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=2669&context=td

 

Is BIPOC Performance Always Political Resistance?

On Easter Sunday, 1939, Marian Anderson performed on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial, to a crowd that filled the National Mall.


From the Smithsonian National Museum of American History YouTube Channel, on the Anacostia Community Museum website1

Some might be familiar with the history of her journey to this performance. Barred from playing Constitution Hall by the “white artists only” policy of the D.A.R., Anderson’s representatives, Howard University, and the NAACP fought for her right to perform in DC. After years of negotiations and protest, they turned to the idea of an outdoor concert, partially out of frustration, and the iconic performance began to take shape.2

Anderson was already world-famous by this time, but this performance secured her place in the American musical identity arguably more than any other. The construction of such an identity, and the role Black Americans should have within it, was a defining cultural characteristic of this time period. The Black artistic community was actively engaged in shaping not only their musical identity separate from the white people around them, but in fighting for their rightful place in the growing commercial and artistic worlds of American music. And the arts, accordingly, were being used (and co-opted) to make arguments about social equality. This cultural landscape resulted in some essentialism and some elitism among Black intellectuals, and Anderson’s career was certainly touched by this; her renown puts her in W.E.B. DuBois’ talented tenth, and her professional work was considered representative of the whole African-American community and used to assign greater value to those peoples in the eyes of whites. For evidence of this, one need only look at this educational poster, which leverages her talent to make an implicit argument for racial equality.

From the Smithsonian National Museum of American History3

Her performance of “My Country Tis of Thee” on the National Mall relates her career specifically to the musical construction of Americanness in the 20th century. And this poster is a perfect example of Black talent being leveraged in civil rights debates. Now, of course the arts can and should be a vehicle for social messaging. But how did Anderson feel about the civil rights implications of her performance and the way it was interpreted in the following decades?

This particular rhetorical question actually has a fairly straightforward answer: she never intended the concert to be a statement or a fight. Anderson wrote on page 187 of her autobiography that she “felt about the affair as about an election campaign; whatever the outcome, there is bound to be unpleasantness and embarrassment . . . [which she] could not escape,”4 and one of her most respected biographers describes the situation thus: “the symbol that she was being made to represent was not of her own choosing and this made her feel ashamed and unworthy, even defensive.”5 In short, she didn’t want to be a civil rights crusader, but being Black in America meant (means?) she couldn’t simply be an artist without being associated with that fight. Throughout her career, people persisted in this unwilling association of Anderson’s voice, her art, her blackness, with a political message. Even worse, her voice was later appropriated by the government to reach out to Black communities via an appeal to civil rights activism. Her performance is used as a call to action for Black citizens in this poster from the 1990 census:

From the Smithsonian National Museum of American History6

The patriotism of Anderson’s performance is highlighted by the use of the American flag and the phrase “Lift Every Voice” – colloquially, the black national anthem – as a focal points of the poster, correlating Anderson’s blackness specifically to a sense of “Americanness.” The appropriation of Anderson’s performance for political ends, however noble those ends might be, raises questions about artist intention. We know none of that was her intention. But since music can’t exist in a political vacuum, how can we separate Anderson’s intentions for her art from those of the people around her? Should we do so? Moreover, is it at all appropriate or ethical for Black talent to be appropriated by the government that’s done Black communities so much historical and present harm? To the last I’d simply say no, but the other two are genuinely open questions. Political music should be looked at with a critical eye, of course, but so should music that was appropriated for political purposes. There is more to the story of any artist than one particular political message they’ve been associated with.

1 “Marian Anderson.” Anacostia Community Museum. Smithsonian Institute. Accessed November 21, 2022. https://anacostia.si.edu/index.php/collection/spotlight/marian-anderson.

2 Keiler, Allan. “The Concert at the Lincoln Memorial (Easter Sunday, 1939),” in Marian Anderson: A Singer’s Journey, 181-217. New York, NY: Scribner, 2000.

“Black Americans; Black Americans as Good Will Ambassadors.” Hayes School Publishing Co. n.d.. Poster. https://anacostia.si.edu/index.php/
collection/object/
nmah_1923343.

Anderson, Marian. My Lord, What a Morning. Madison, WI: The University of Wisconsin Press, 1956.

Allan Keiler, “The Concert at the Lincoln Memorial (Easter Sunday, 1939),” in Marian Anderson: A Singer’s Journey (New York, NY: Scribner, 2000), 204.

6 “Lift Every Voice.” US Census Bureau. 1990. Poster. https://anacostia.si.edu/index.php/collection/object/nmah_1060283

African American Music in Nashville

While perusing Chicago Defender, I came across an article from September of 2011 that announced plans to construct the National Museum of African American Music in Nashville, Tennessee. The article states that the museum “will focus on the way African Americans have influenced almost every genre of American music – from rock ‘n’ roll, to country, to rhythm and blues and gospel”. I was pleasantly surprised that The Associated Press recognized genres such as rock ‘n’ roll and country that are not stereotypically associated with African American music but are very influenced by contributions from African American musicians and traditions.

This draws parallels to Rhiannon Gidden’s “Community and Connection,” Keynote Speech at 2017 International Bluegrass Music Association Conference, which the class watched and read earlier in the semester. In her speech, Giddens identifies the roots of bluegrass as a mixture of a variety of traditions besides the commonly believed Scottish-Irish origins, such as African American and Native American sources hundreds of years in the making. The use of the banjo in bluegrass music especially derives from African American musicking, according to Giddens, and has helped to launch the genre to international recognition and success.

Banjo https://www.thomannmusic.com/harley_benton_bj_65pro_6_string_banjo.htm

Now that over a decade has passed since the Chicago Defender article was written, the National Museum of African American Music has transitioned from an idea into a fully-built establishment that thrives in the heart of Nashville. While the Chicago Defender article predicted the museum would open in 2013, it never actually opened until January 2021. That is an eight year difference! Although the COVID-19 pandemic almost certainly played a part in the delay of opening the museum, there must have been other factors that postponed the opening or construction of the museum before the pandemic began. I wonder if this could have something to do with the research and exhibit-making process taking longer than expected?

National Museum of African American Music https://nashvilledowntown.com/go/national-museum-of-african-american-music

Interestingly, the “Galleries” page of the official website for the National Museum of African American Music states that it is “the only museum dedicated to educating, preserving and celebrating more than 50 music genres and styles that were created, influenced, and/or inspired by African Americans, including spirituals, blues, jazz, gospel, R&B, and hip-hop.” This is an interesting dichotomy in regards to the Chicago Defender article in that the museum’s website specifically names and focuses on stereotypically African American genres of music. The two exhibits in the museum that are currently active (outside of the main Rivers of Rhythm experience that is the central focus of the museum) focus on spirituals and the blues. This leads me to believe that although the museum is probably a great educational resource for learning about stereotypically African American musical traditions, it may not shed light on the other genres of music (such as bluegrass) that African Americans also have contributed to and influenced.

Sources:

rtmadmincd. “Nashville Museum on African American Music Planned.” Chicago Defender, Real Times Media, 11 Sept. 2011, https://chicagodefender.com/nashville-museum-on-african-american-music-planned/.

“Galleries.” National Museum of African American Music, Tennessee Arts Commission, https://www.nmaam.org/galleries.

Povelones, Robert. “Rhiannon Giddens Keynote Address – IBMA Business Conference 2017.” IBMA, 26 Apr. 2021, https://ibma.org/rhiannon-giddens-keynote-address-2017/.

“The Power of Music”: Charles Williams and His Jubilee Singers

In an article written for the Chicago Defender in 1954, Enoch Waters writes about Charles P. Williams and the choir he had founded fifty years prior in Chicago, reflecting on “the power of music” to break racial barriers.1 Waters mentions Williams’ “refreshing” and “jaunty” personality and the benefits of professional management as factors in their success in small towns across the country, many of which had never encountered a Black person before. However, Waters writes that Williams considered their music the “most effective weapon of the group in combating racial discrimination”, and although many towns received them with hostility initially, when they returned to these towns for another performance, they would “almost invariably” find a warm and hospitable welcome and sold-out crowds.

Williams’ ensemble was sometimes billed as Williams’ Jubilee Singers, and sometimes as Williams’ Colored Singers.2 The former label was a tribute to the original Fisk Jubilee Singers, who had paved the way for Black performers (later to include H.T. Burleigh, J. Rosamond and James Weldon Johnson, and others) to bring spirituals to the white American public.3 Williams’ group, founded in 1904, was not the first choir to take advantage of Fisk’s success, but they were one of the first to sing in a quartet, rather than a larger group of ten to twelve.4 The Fisk group had sought to elevate the spirituals and prove that Black music belonged in a high-class setting, resulting in the crystallization of the genre and transforming its norms of variance into ones of fixity. These were the issues that later led Zora Neale Hurston to react to the concert performances of Burleigh and others, proclaiming that “there has never been a presentation of genuine Negro spirituals to any audience anywhere”.6 Williams’ group, made up of classically trained and educated performers, evidently wished to fit into this tradition. They were internationally known, touring several European countries and performing 130 concerts in London alone.2 However, Waters notes that by 1932, “the radio, the depression, and the public’s change in music taste conspired to end a long brilliant career”. As tastes changed, so did the circumstances that had allowed Williams’ group to have an impact on small town America.

The Chicago Defender developed in much the same circumstances as Williams’ ensemble. It was founded just one year later in the same city, and its founder, Robert Abbott, was a former member of the Hampton Singers, one of the first Black university choirs to imitate Fisk.6 Abbott envisioned a newspaper that would become the “defender” of the Black community, and by the early 1920s it had become the most influential Black newspaper in America, protesting against Jim Crow laws and acts of violence while championing the growing civil rights movement. Its calls for black people to move out of the South were a primary cause of the Great Migration, and in many ways the advances made by the Defender led the way for the Black press in general, illustrating the paper’s enormous impact. While the Harlem Renaissance was seen by many as a victory only for the elite, the Defender sought to present Chicago as an ideal destination for ordinary Black people by featuring personal accounts as well as by highlighting local artists, entrepreneurs and others who had found success in Chicago.7

While this profile of Williams’ Jubilee Singers was written retrospectively to celebrate a group which had found success in the past rather than to highlight a rising star, the article serves many of the same purposes as earlier Defender articles. This article is part of a series entitled “Adventures in Race Relations”, portraying it as an ongoing struggle (which it very much was in 1954). Waters notes that Williams had originally come to Chicago for the 1893 Chicago World’s Fair before founding the Jubilee Singers (which was also Abbott’s impetus for founding the Defender), re-establishing Chicago as a place where ordinary people could find success. Waters celebrates the Jubilee Singers’ use of “the power of music” to break down racial barriers, paralleling the Defender‘s use of poetry, music and other forms of art to portray Chicago as a center of Black culture. Williams’ group sought to adhere to the performance practices set by Fisk and to contribute to the perception of spirituals as art music. However, Waters’ emphasis of their impact on whites in small towns across the country and the context of the Defender‘s commitment to showing the contributions of ordinary Black people to Black culture serve to cast Williams’ Jubilee Singers as an important part of the Black struggle for acceptance by the white public.

References:

1 Waters, Enoc P. “Adventures in RACE RELATIONS: THE POWER OF MUSIC.” The Chicago Defender (National Edition) (1921-1967), Oct 23, 1954. https://www.proquest.com/historical-newspapers/adventures-race-relations/docview/492959620/se-2.

2 The World Famous Williams’ Colored Singers. Chicago: Press of Rosenow Co., [ca. 1925].  Accessed online via RareAmericana.com, November 14, 2022. https://www.rareamericana.com/pages/books/3727978/williams-colored-singers/the-world-famous-williams-colored-singers?soldItem=true.

3 Brooks, Tim. “”Might Take One Disc of this Trash as a Novelty”: Early Recordings by the Fisk Jubilee Singers and the Popularization of “Negro Folk Music”.” American Music 18, no. 3 (Fall, 2000): 278-316. https://www.proquest.com/scholarly-journals/might-take-one-disc-this-trash-as-novelty-early/docview/1374579/se-2.

4 Advertisement for the Williams Jubilee Singers, 1904-1910. UCLA Library Digital Collections. Accessed November 14, 2022. https://digital.library.ucla.edu/catalog/ark:/21198/z1418f71.

5 Snyder, Jean E.. Harry T. Burleigh : From the Spiritual to the Harlem Renaissance. Baltimore: University of Illinois Press, 2016. Accessed November 17, 2022. ProQuest Ebook Central.

6 Michaeli, Ethan. The Defender : How the Legendary Black Newspaper Changed America : from the Age of the Pullman Porters to the Age of Obama. Boston: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2016.

7 DeSantis, Alan D. “Selling the American Dream Myth to Black Southerners: The Chicago Defender and the Great Migration of 1915-1919.” Western Journal of Communication 62, no. 4 (Fall, 1998): 474-511. https://www.proquest.com/scholarly-journals/selling-american-dream-myth-black-southerners/docview/202724373/se-2.

Florence Price: The On-Going Debate of American Music

Florence Price

Florence Price

In 1933, Florence Price became the first ever African American woman to make her symphony debut with a US orchestra, specifically the Chicago Symphony Orchestra. Florence Price was born in 1887 in Little Rock, Arkansas, to a family that surrounded her with music, especially her mother, Florence Smith, who was a singer and pianist. Surrounded by hate and discrimination, just after Jim Crow laws passed, Price established a foundation of musical literacy through the New England Conservatory of Music in Boston, Massachusetts. First starting her career through education, Florence soon changed paths after her troubling and abusive divorce. She traveled with her daughters to the heart of the Harlem Renaissance in Chicago, where she met influential musicians like Marian Anderson and William Dawson. Her compositional journey began with spirituals and then transformed into large-scale orchestral works. These works, like Symphony in E Minor, made her an extraordinarily influential and prominent black composer. Reflecting on the debate held in class based on readings such as Samuel Floyd, Rae Brown, or Jean Snyder, I believe the contributions that Florence Price makes to the African American community and the western classical realm are significant. Through these primary sources provided, I will explore this debate even further.

Correspondence from Price to Wallace Magill

This primary source shown above is a correspondence from Florence Price to Wallace Magill, the director of Bell Telephone Hour, which “showcased the best in classical and Broadway music, reaching eight to nine million listeners each week.” This letter included Price’s gratitude towards the director in response to his acceptance of her spiritual “My Soul’s Been Anchored in the Lord” to be performed by her long-time friend Marian Anderson in the program on September 14, 1942. This letter gives excellent insight into how prominent and accepted Price had done her work in society as this popular classical radio show played her pieces alongside composers such as Beethoven, Kreisler, Brams, and many other great operatic stars. Consequently, I included a second primary source located in the music library entitled Art Songs and Spirituals by African American Women Composers. This source contains the exact sheet music of the song played on Bell Telephone Hour and lists it alongside other prominent spirituals.

My Soul’s Been Anchored in the Lord

It is abundantly clear that Price went through extreme trials and tribulations during her time as a composer and black woman, especially as one looks at the critiques from various musicians in the industry. However, it is evident through the abundance of performances and awards that Price achieved that she indeed influenced the entirety of not only the black musical spear but also the classical music realm. Her compositions and hold on the music industry lead us in one direction of the heavily discussed debate brought up early; classical music can lead to a whitewashing of black musical culture. Although, composers such as Florence Price prove that you can utilize classical music to both spread your name through white audiences and equally spread black culture in popular spaces such as she used Bell Telephone Hour to do. One question I might pose is, would Florence Price be as influential as she is if she hadn’t been as invested in orchestral works as she was?

Citations

Knight, E. (2020, October 28). Florence Price: The story of america’s forgotten musical genius. Music | Al Jazeera. Retrieved November 15, 2022, from https://www.aljazeera.com/features/2020/10/28/florence-price-americas-lost-musical-genius

Magill, W. (1945). Bell telelphone hour – OTR : Free download, Borrow, and streaming. Internet Archive. Retrieved November 15, 2022, from https://archive.org/details/Bell_Telephone_Hour

Price, F. (1942). Florence Price Letter to Wallace Magill, September 3, 1942, regarding Marian Anderson’s Performance of a Work by Price. CONTENTDM. Retrieved November 14, 2022, from https://digitalcollections.uark.edu/digital/collection/p17212coll3/id/10/

Taylor, V., King, B. J., Moore, U. S. (1995). Art songs and spirituals by African-American women composers. Hildegard Publ.

From Mentor to Colleague: George Gershwin and Jerome Kern

George Gershwin found success in his music. But earlier on in his career, he looked up to a fellow musician, Jerome Kern. Kern was a musical theater composer who Gershwin idolized. While looking further into their relationship, Gershwin started out as an accompanist for Kern, and composed on the side. Gershwin wanted to compose a full length musical, but Kern kindly told Gershwin to avoid composing full musicals until later in his career. Having heard what Kern said, Gershwin immediately composed his first musical theater piece, La-La-Lucille. His success soon became more widespread, as did his appeal. In 1923, Gershwin writes a letter to his brother, Ira Gershwin, in which he describes an interaction with a boat worker on the shore of Southampton. The worker recognizes his name, and greets Gershwin, asking about what his next work will be. This moment solidifies Gershwin’s fame in his mind, as he ends his letter to Ira with, “I felt like I was Kern or somebody.

After around a decade passes, Gershwin sees himself to be of a similar caliber as Kern. The letter that Gershwin sends to Kern in 1933 exemplifies this shift in their relation. Very kindly, Gershwin asks Kern to hear a vocalist. This is a full circle moment. Kern inspired Gershwin, and Gershwin’s ambition changes Kern’s relationship from that of a mentor to that of a colleague.

 

A Photograph of George Gershwin and Jerome Kern

Work Cited

 

Letter from George Gershwin to Ira Gershwin, February 18, 1923, 60/61, George and Ira Gershwin Collection, Music Division, Library of Congress.

Letter from George Gershwin to Jerome Kern, September 29, 1933, 136/80, George and Ira Gershwin Collection, Music Division, Library of Congress.

Photograph of George Gershwin with Jerome Kern, 1933, 103/38, George and Ira Gershwin Collection, Music Division, Library of Congress.

A for Aaron and Appalachian Spring

Aaron Copland, as most of us know, is one of the famed American composers of the late 18th-early 19th century. He is one of the big names in the American music canon.

In all honesty, I don’t know very much about Copland’s life or his collaborations. One of the pieces I knew a little bit about was Appalachian Spring, a ballet he composed the score for in collaboration with a friend of his, Martha Graham. Martha Graham was a famous American dancer whose choreography had a significant impact on the modern dance world. She is pictured below.

Copland and Graham began writing back and forth when she commissioned him to write a ballet with “an American theme.” They toyed with several ideas and until she suggested the name, Copland referred to this work as “Ballet for Martha”. I was looking for letters about this piece when I came across this one. There is no date for the letter, but it talks of hiring a choreographer, so one could assume its from during the beginning/middle stages of working on the ballet.

One thing I was not expecting to find in this letter at all was a summary of the Scarlet Letter.

I wasn’t sure why she included it at first, but then I read the beginning of the letter again and maybe it was a preliminary bouncing off point for a possible storyline of the ballet. I think they scrapped this idea because I tried to find a source that confirmed that this was the subject matter of the ballet but had no luck. The thought that something like the Scarlet Letter was even talked about as potential inspiration for Appalachian Spring is incredibly surprising to me. We usually don’t think to tie music, dance, and literature together because of the fact that these art forms are so different.

The Scarlet Letter came out in 1850 and this ballet premiered in 1944. Both of these pieces of work carry huge significance in the cannons of which they are a part. When thinking of quintessential American literature, the Scarlet Letter usually comes to mind. When thinking of iconic American classical music, Appalachian Spring usually comes to mind. This potential piece of information brings to mind more questions – why was this idea scrapped? How much of it remains in the way the ballet is performed today? Why does no one bring this up when talking about this piece?

It’s so interesting, too, to see how the potential usage of the Scarlet Letter as subject matter for this iconic American composition is leaning into such a white narrative and seemingly rejecting other cultural influences. Copland in his catalog has taken influences from other cultures to further his compositions, but I think the desire to stick with “American traditions” and the title of piece being what it is and it not being very reflective of what Appalachia looked like during the time period the piece was set in is very interesting.

Regardless of why this idea didn’t go any further, the ballet was worked on and there were more drafts – all the while Aaron and Martha kept in touch. Here is a letter she wrote him from right before the ballet premiered:

It is clear how much this work meant to the both of them, and other people were even able to pick up on it.

Collaboration is the bread and butter of the music and performing art world – without it, we wouldn’t have works of art like this. People might not want to go looking for how the sausage gets made (so to speak), but if you do, you might find a clue you never thought to factor in.

Works Cited:

Cassidy, Claudia. On the Aisle Martha Graham and Aaron Copland Good Companions in Superb “Appalachian Spring”. Chicago Tribune, Chicago, 1946. Pdf. Retrieved from the Library of Congress, <www.loc.gov/item/ihas.200153644/>.

Kraft, Victor. Aaron Copland by candlelight, studio in the Berkshires, September. Photograph. Retrieved from the Library of Congress, <www.loc.gov/item/copland.phot0017/>.

Letter from Martha Graham to Aaron Copland, n.d. Manuscript/Mixed Material. Retrieved from the Library of Congress, <www.loc.gov/item/ihas.200154125/>.

Letter from Martha Graham to Aaron Copland, May 1. Manuscript/Mixed Material. Retrieved from the Library of Congress, <www.loc.gov/item/ihas.200154119/>.

My Long-Winded Rant About Charles Ives

Charles Ives is a difficult pill to swallow. As a student studying music composition, I have been confronted with Ives and the larger body of atonal music he contributed to on several occasions; its merits as a stylistic choice, its place in academic circles, and whether to incorporate it into my own music. Each time I look at his work and read his thoughts on the arts, his philosophy towards music, and his demeanor in discussing it, his rhetoric perpetuates my disdain towards him.

Composer Charles Ives staring stoically off into the distance…

The Selected Correspondence of Charles Ives includes an exchange of letters between Ives and Henry H. Bellamann, a music critic who in April of 1921 receives a copy of Ives’ second piano sonata (1). He conveys in a letter his enjoyment of the piece, his plans to include it in his lectures, and requests for more information on Ive’s first piano sonata to relay it to audiences.

In Ives’ response to his letter, he gives Bellamann advice on possible ways to include Concord Sonata in his lecture and conveys his curiosity about how audiences react. He says “The first movements I find are severe tests for the listener as well as the player” (2). This statement could not possibly be more descriptive of the 17-minute-long first movement of his second piano Sonata, titled “Emerson” (3). His word choice, describing his music as a “test”, irks me in every wrong way imaginable. With this, he implies that listening to the movement is a rite of passage that denotes a listener or musician’s value.

Ives also appears to have the temperament or insecurity of a child (probably both). Ives receives a letter from colleague Percy Goetschius. While Goetschius makes clear his interest in Ives’ work, he does not withhold his criticism. As Goetschius states that “to my mind, these classic methods are correct ones [Ives adds between the lines ‘for soft eared cissies and aural cowards…” (4). While this does display a lack of impulse control and reveals deep insecurities about himself, this also suggests that Ives views his music as impervious to criticism, so much so he would rather write this intrusive thought down than keep it to himself.

We have talked a lot in class about the identity of American music. There is no denying the fact that Ives’ music is American. He was a composer who lived and worked in the United States, attempting to pioneer his own brand of music, so debating this is irrelevant. The question that remains is whether Ive’s music – and his contributions to atonal music – is something we want to perpetuate in the present day. If we answer this question from the perspective of the general public the answer is laid bare. The general public likely has no interest in performing his music, as seen with trends in popular music.

However, academic circles appear to be interested in continuing to engage with Ive’s music, as seen in courses that equip students to analyze post-tonal music, and new composers building upon Ive’s harmonic language in chamber and orchestral settings. If academic institutions choose to identify Ive’s work as a vital contribution to American western-classical music and worthwhile building upon, they must acknowledge that doing so deepens (both consciously and subconsciously) notions of self-deserving elitism, and encourages others to be recalcitrant to criticism of their work.

(1) Owens, Tom C, and Tom C Owens. 2007. Selected Correspondence of Charles Ives. 1st ed. Berkeley: University of California Press. https://doi.org/10.1525/j.ctt1ppr8v.

(2) Pg 84. Owens, Tom C, and Tom C Owens. 2007. Selected Correspondence of Charles Ives. 1st ed. Berkeley: University of California Press. https://doi.org/10.1525/j.ctt1ppr8v.

(3) Ives, Charles. n.d. “IVES: Piano Sonata No. 2 ‘Concord, Mass’ (Henck)”. Hong Kong: Naxos Digital Services US Inc.

(4) pg 67. Ives, Charles. n.d. “IVES: Piano Sonata No. 2 ‘Concord, Mass’ (Henck)”. Hong Kong: Naxos Digital Services US Inc.

How American was Copland’s music?

When thinking about the style of American music, one composer may come to mind more than any other. With such a distinctive voice and beloved presence, Aaron Copland was an influential figure in American music, helping define a new era of what American music means. Copland believed in popular American and traditional music and brought a contemporary feel, a comfortable feel.

Aaron Copland | MY HERO

One exciting thing about Copland, which I learned in class last year with Louis Epstein, is that Copland studied with French teacher Nadia Boulanger from 1921-1924. The challenging aspect of this relationship is that as a labeled American composer, he was taught by a French musician, a very influential genre of music in the 1920s. French music in the 1920s was largely influenced by Les Six, members such as Poulenc and Milhaud.1

2

He was different in that he incorporated known forms of American music such as folk and jazz into his pieces while also having a slight French influence, unlike other composers of the time. Above is the first draft of Appalachian Spring which would later become one of his most well-known compositions.

Copland had countless correspondence with countless people, yet I would like to focus on the correspondence between him and Nadia Boulanger. Nadia and Aaron had many years’ worth of contact. This specific correspondence below is from April 19th, 1929, and is Copland writing to Boulanger. He writes of advertisement propositions and asks Boulanger to play for him.

3

Based on this relationship, I still think that his music can be classified as very American. Copland, however much he was influenced by the French, was also influenced by numerous cultures and countries. That is what American music is. Cultivation of different music and ideas in one. Aaron Copland brought great artistry to American music and changed the way American music was defined.

1 Hitchcock, H. Wiley. “Aaron Copland and American Music.” Perspectives of New Music 19, no. 1/2 (1980): 31–33. https://doi.org/10.2307/832568.

2 Copland, Aaron. Appalachian Spring First Rough Sketches. Notated Music. https://www.loc.gov/item/copland.sket0024/.

3 Copland, Aaron. Letter from Aaron Copland to Nadia Boulanger, April 19.  Manuscript/Mixed Material. https://www.loc.gov/item/copland.corr0121/




A New Generation of American Composers: The Copland-Sessions Effect

As one of the most recognized and respected American classical composers of the twentieth century, Aaron Copland’s music reached deeply into the heart and soul of many aspiring, young American composers. Uniquely, Copland incorporated folk songs and jazz into his compositions, showcasing these popular American musical forms and creating inspiring and innovative music. Though still firmly entrenched in the rich history that accompanies jazz and folk songs (from America as well as other countries), Copland pushed the boundaries of modern day music of the late 1920s. Boundaries were also tested through his quest to repopularize European classical music and simultaneously showcase young American talent. It was this effort that led Copland to team up with another significant twentieth century American composer, Roger Sessions. 

Though both men were born in Brooklyn, New York, their first meeting was in Paris in 1924 at the apartment of famous pedagogue Nadia Boulanger. This initial encounter sparked a long correspondence of letters between the two men where they wrote about many topics  including their mutual admiration for one another and their opposing views on what constitutes American music. I find this amusing, given this echoes the overarching goal of this course, reexamining and redefining American music. This was the area of concentration in their letters during the late 1920s and early 1930s. It was during this period of correspondence that Copland and Sessions began their work on an extremely important concert series, the Copland-Sessions Concerts. The concert was put together in an effort to share the works of younger generation American composers, filled with differential musical personalities, to showcase American excellence and experimentation. This is affirmed in the first concert program which concluded with the statement  “Our only wish is to stimulate composers to more prolific activity and to develop a stronger sense of solidarity among the creators of a growing American music” (Oja, 212). 

An examination of these letters demonstrates that this concert series was made possible through their correspondence, revealing not only what was said in the letters but by the style the two composers used when writing to one another. One such letter from Copland to Sessions  dated March 18th, 1927, indicates the very warm and friendly relationship the two men enjoyed. Here Copland freely expresses his thoughts and feelings on certain subject matters, while also acknowledging the lapse of time in responding to his counterpart, “And how delightfully silly of you to have imagined that there was any shadow of a misunderstanding between us when my not writing to you is quite simply explained by the Concerto, that is finishing it and playing it.” Copland’s words to Sessions indicate a level of care and promise on his part, addressing the idea that Sessions may have thought things were up in the air between the two. Copland reassures Sessions that he was not ignoring him, and their relationship remains strong. This is an important correspondence because it speaks to the heartfelt relationship they had formed and Copland’s explicitly stated interest in Sessions’ Symphony telling him, “As far as I know Koussie expects to do it in April — he even told me he might do an All-American program, though he didn’t say whether or not he thought of doing the symphony then.” This letter was a catalyst for Sessions launching his first critical performance and subsequently a career which highlighted his specific ideas about American music. From then on through an exchange of letters, Copland carefully outlines the idea of a concert where young American and European composers present their original works in New York. The actual series went on for 4 years, ending in 1932.

Copland and Sessions were each prominent figures in this new generation of American composers, so despite some differences, it was not considered unusual for them to orchestrate and lead this concert series, “Yet they represented different orientations, possessing viewpoints that significantly colored their attitudes toward the focus of such endeavors. Sessions, although sympathetic to the plight of the young composer, spurned all chauvinistic tendencies, was not apt to support a composer on the basis of his national origin, and espoused more international philosophy; while Copland, as was already evident in his work, was conscious of the development of a national identity and proudly championed the cause of composers in his native country” (Oja, 214). It is the qualities and beliefs of the two men outlined by Oja above that  really make me curious about their relationship, their collaborative efforts and their unique ideas about American music. Specifically, how did they truly work together on such a massive project while they were at odds about American music ideals pertaining to identity? It is hard for me to imagine something more fundamental to an artist or a composer than their identity. A deeper dive into the letters between Copland and Sessions may provide the answers I am seeking, but for right now, the two men rose above their differences and accomplished their goal to introduce avant-garde pieces in the best way imaginable, The Copland-Sessions Concerts of Contemporary Music in New York.

 

Citations:

“Aaron Copland, 1900-1990.” The Library of Congress, https://www.loc.gov/item/ihas.200182578

Copland, Aaron. Letter from Aaron Copland to Roger Sessions. Manuscript/Mixed Material. Retrieved from the Library of Congress, <www.loc.gov/item/copland.corr0088/>.

Oja, Carol. “The Copland-Sessions Concerts and Their Reception in the Contemporary Press.” The Musical Quarterly, LXV, no. 2, 1979, pp. 212–229., https://doi.org/10.1093/mq/lxv.2.212

Olmstead, Andrea. “The Copland–Sessions Letters.” Tempo, no. 175, 1990, pp. 2–5., https://doi.org/10.1017/s0040298200012547

Early Fanmail; Dvorak’s relationship with Henry Krehbiel

Antonín Dvorak https://www.classicfm.com/composers/dvorak/

Antonín Dvorak is one of the most famous musical composers of all time. His New World Symphony pushed the boundaries of what was considered classical music both during and after his lifetime (1841-1904). Dvorak’s borrowing and incorporation of traditional Native American and African American tunes into his Ninth Symphony sparked quite the controversy across the United States around the time that he moved to Spillville, Iowa in 1893. A large and public debate sparked across the country of the validity of incorporating African American spirituals and traditional Native American songs and influences into Western classical music.

Henry Krehbiel https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Henry_Edward_Krehbiel

With this controversy came an equal distribution of critics and fans of Dvorak’s music. Notably, famous music critic and reviewer Henry Krehbiel sent Dvorak a number of written correspondences which are very important because “they prove that Krehbiel’s article on the [ninth] symphony, which appeared on 15 December 1893 in the New York Tribune, was based on a lengthy interview with the composer,” (Beckerman).

The letters read as follows:

Interestingly, although we have not read the Krehbiel interview on Dvorak’s Ninth Symphony from the New York Tribune for class, we have read another one of his writings for class on October 6, 2022: an excerpt from his book “Afro-American Folksongs; A Study in Racial and National Music”. In this chapter, Krehbiel used racist and problematic language such as “savage” and “primitive” to refer to African Americans and their music on pages 11 and 13 (Krehbiel).

This is quite interesting in contrast to Krehbiel’s letters to Dvorak which praise Dvorak’s Ninth Symphony and call it “beautiful”, which is based on the very music that Krehbiel marked as “primitive” and “savage” twenty-one years later in 1914. I wonder if Krehbiel was hiding his true feelings about Black American music to Dvorak because Krehbiel was a fan of his Ninth Symphony and wanted to appeal to him as a friend and colleague? Or did Krehbiel like Dvorak’s quotations of Black American music despite the fact that he thought Black American music was “primitive” and “savage”?

The above correspondence from Krehbiel insinuates that Krehbiel has a passion for collecting scores and parts of African American songs, and furthermore studying them. The fact that Krehbiel relays to Dvorak that this music is even worthy of such deep study and collection raises some further questions in relation to the language Krehbiel uses in his book and his true intentions to network with Dvorak.

Krehbiel seems to have an interesting relationship to the music of Black Americans. He collects and studies it, but through a lens of white supremacy and racial othering. It also seems as though Krehbiel may have flexed his opinions on African American music to appeal more to Dvorak since Dvorak was so popular. Krehbiel likely found a useful connection in Dvorak, especially for the opportunity for Dvorak appear at his seminars (such as the one at the Women’s University Club) to make him seem established and well-connected. All of this being said, Krehbiel was an early advocate and promoter of Black American music, which cannot be said for everyone at the time.

 

Sources:

Dvorák and His World, edited by Michael Beckerman, Princeton University Press, 1993. ProQuest Ebook Central, https://ebookcentral.proquest.com/lib/stolaf-ebooks/detail.action?docID=3030296.

Krehbiel, Henry Edward. “Chapter 1: Folksongs in General.” Afro-American Folk Songs: A Study in Racial and National Music, Kessinger Publishing, Whitefish, MT, 2010, pp. v-28.

Baseera Khan and Blackface in Contemporary Art

Blackface and minstrelsy feel as outdated as just about anything from the early 20th century but while the overwhelming idea of blackface is a strictly negative one, some black and brown artists are reclaiming the painting of their bodies for empowerment. Baseera Khan is a Muslim American contemporary visual artist working out of Brooklyn, NY who has been creating exhibits around the country for the last 8 years. 

Baseera Khan’s Braidrage reclaims her identity in the representation and expression of her own physical body using oil, hair, architecture, and art. The dark paint on her body is especially important as a commentary on her race. Our conversation about minstrelsy in class assumes the negative use of black face paint related to minstrelsy, and we look at its use from a strictly historical viewpoint. However, the use of blackface has found a recent resurgence as a form on self-expression and power, taking back from racist traditions of the past and creating empowering and powerful artistic expression.

There is a long history of blackface in art leading up to exhibits like Khan’s, with varying degrees of controversy. While some of them turn a critical eye to the past, other artists misunderstand how their artwork can reinforce stereotypes and can further the disconnection between groups of people. Vanessa Beecroft is another artist who uses blackface in her artwork, who couples race with gender in her expressions.

[ iframe src=”https://www.brooklynmuseum.org/exhibitions/baseera_khan” width=”640″ height=”480″ ]

[ iframe src=”https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Blackface_in_contemporary_art” width=”640″ height=”480″ ]

Hate Mail to Koussevitzky: Making the Canon a Home for All

During her lifetime, the work of Florence Price, a Black woman composer, was often not performed on account of both her gender and race. She struggled to find conductors and musicians who would perform her work and recognize its merits. For instance, beginning in 1935 Price wrote a handful of letters to Serge Koussevitzky, conductor of the Boston Symphony Orchestra, urging him to examine some of her scores with the hopes of having them performed. Clearly aware of her positionality within the classical music sphere as a woman of color, Price implores Koussevitzky to judge her musical works on “merit alone” (Brown, xxxv). While Koussevitzky never replied to Price’s letters, others in the industry did identify Price’s musical excellence. In 1932, Price’s Symphony in E minor won first prize in the Wanamaker Music Contest. The Chicago Symphony Orchestra, under conductor Frederick Stock, performed the Symphony in E minor 1933. Price’s work thus became the first symphony composed by a Black woman to be performed by a major American orchestra. By examining the attitudes and motivations that were behind Frederick Stock and Serge Kousevitzky’s differing responses toward Price and her music, audiences and artists of today can recognize the how the reimagination of the canon is an ever-evolving process that has been occurring for many years. 

It is clear from Koussevitzky’s lack of action and Stock’s decision to program and perform Price’s piece that these two leaders in the classical music world had differing ideas and opinions regarding what music should shape the musical world of the time. We know that Stock had a great interest in performing ‘American’ music, and he likely saw Price’s work as an example of such repertoire. His interest in Price’s work can even be seen in Price’s own diary entries, as he asks her what she is working on and even helps her to premiere a piano concerto with him and his orchestra. Koussevitzky’s lack of action towards Price makes it challenging to understand his motivations or musical values, but we do know that he was interested in the creation and performance of new works through his founding of the Koussevitzky Foundation.

Using Florence Price’s unfortunate experience as a case study, we can recognize how difficult it is for composers, especially historically underrepresented composers, to break into the classical music sphere. It is even more challenging for their work to become a part of the canon, or to see themselves in the canon which major performing arts organizations uphold today. But Price’s story offers musicians and composers a great deal of hope. As disheartening as this history is, it shows that there is a desire to open up the classical music world to new works and ideas from those who have historically been pushed to the border of this genre. The work of reimagining the canon continues, and this process of rediscovery leads towards a musical environment which prioritizes representation and equity. 

 

Bibliography:

 

Britannica, The Editors of Encyclopaedia. “Serge Koussevitzky”. Encyclopedia Britannica, 22 Jul. 2022, https://www.britannica.com/biography/Serge-Koussevitzky. Accessed 14 November 2022.

 

Brown, Rae Linda. “Black Satin Clothes at the Fair.” The Heart of a Woman: The Life and Music of Florence Price, edited by Guthrie P. Ramsey Jr, University of Illinois Press, 2020, pp. 108-117.

 

Brown, Rae Linda. “The Women’s Symphony Orchestra of Chicago and Florence B. Price’s Piano Concerto in One Movement.” American Music, vol. 11, no. 2, 1993, https://www.jstor.org/stable/3052554?seq=1#metadata_info_tab_contents. Accessed 14 November 2022. 

 

Epstein, Dena J. “Frederick Stock and American Music.” American Music, vol. 10, no. 1, 1992, https://www.jstor.org/stable/3052142?sid=primo#metadata_info_tab_contents. Accessed 14 November 2022. 

 

Price, Florence et al. “Lifting the Veil: The Symphonies of Florence B. Price.” Symphonies Nos. 1 and 3. Middleton, WI, A-R Editions, Inc. 2008. 

 

Ros, Alex. “The Rediscovery of Florence Price.” The New Yorker, 29 January 2018, https://www.newyorker.com/magazine/2018/02/05/the-rediscovery-of-florence-price. Accessed 14 November 2022. 

Beethoven is for “Aural Cowards”: Charles Ives and the Establishment of an American Musical Identity

One of the letters in Selected Correspondence of Charles Ives, edited by Tom C. Owens, is from the composer and educator Percy Goetschius, a composer and the head of the theory department at the Institute of Music and Art in New York (which later became Juilliard School of Music), acknowledging his receipt of Ives’ Concord Sonata.1 Ives’ music was not met with much acclaim during his lifetime, forcing him to adopt the rather unorthodox method of simply sending his music to anybody who might show interest, from friends to complete strangers in the musical establishment, as well as fans outside of it. Many recipients of his music were confused as to the nature and potential merits of Ives’ music, which was very unconventional, as well as why they were even receiving it at all.

Goetschius’ letter is typical of much of the correspondence that Ives received, and reveals the source of much of this confusion. He apologizes for having neglected to write earlier, but eagerly states that the piece “excited [his] deep interest”. He reassures Ives that he does not “wish to take [his] music lightly”, but confesses his dislike for it, as it does not align with the “classic methods”, which “to [his] mind[…]are correct ones” and speak to unchanging facts of physics. Goetschius even writes that he “[hesitates] to call it ‘music'”, choosing instead to refer to it as Ives’ “work” and describing his methods as “experiments”. However, Goetschius does reflect that he is biased towards the “habits[…]of the classic method”, which despite reflecting some fundamental truths in his opinion, are nevertheless to some extent “habits”. Declaring that he is not “a heartless and brainless conservative” who sees Beethoven (or Ives, or any other composer) as the end-all and be-all of art music, he ends by expressing his fervent hope that Ives’ “sincerity” and “logic” would lead to greater success in the future.

Ives’ music was highly experimental, and he deliberately abandoned many earlier traditions. Ives was already financially comfortable through his job in the insurance business, giving him the freedom to do essentially whatever he wanted musically.2 This made much of his music fantastically impractical, as he did not have to consider how it might actually be performed. Ives was part of the generation that Antonín Dvořák had declared needed to establish a truly American musical identity by drawing on spirituals and other American folk music, and many today regard him as the first composer to find success in this regard.3 Ives was one of the few white composers to include black folk music in his music as Dvořák had envisioned. His music drew on a wide variety of both white and black influences, from Protestant hymnody to spirituals and ragtime. He adapted these genres to his own idiosyncratic style and combined them to capture particular moments in the soundscape of America.4 The Concord Sonata, which Goetschius wrote his letter in response to, was an homage to the Transcendentalist philosophers of the mid-nineteenth century full of dissonance, cluster chords, and a brief flute solo.2 Ives self-consciously sought to distance his music from the music of composers who came before in an attempt to solve the “Beethoven problem” of having to establish an identity in relation to a supposedly universal but paradoxically German ideal.5 He would probably have been rather pleased, then, when Goetschius admitted that Ives’ “experiments” interested him as a rejection of the idea that Beethoven should be taken as the “Last Word” in art music.1

However, Ives reacted with frustration and defensiveness to those who did not understand his compositions, retorting rather petulantly in the margins that objective standards are “for soft-eared cissies and aural cowards!” In a different letter that Ives wrote to Henry F. Gilbert, a fellow New Englander and composer who appreciated Ives’ music, this defensiveness shines through again when he protests that he is “not a bad composer[…]though it’s inconvenient to have no one know that but [himself]!”6 This reveals the almost total lack of support he found, as well as the obstinacy with which he refused to change his methods. Although Ives found some admirers during his lifetime and achieved greater success after his death, his refusal to adhere to the objective standards set by European classical music and determination to create experimental music were reflected in the confusion, distaste, and apathy he faced in audiences who simply did not understand what he was going for. However, Ives’ total abandonment of convention in favor of experimentation and his utilization of American folk music, both black and white, ultimately helped him establish a distinctively American style.

References:

1 Goetschius, Percy. Letter to Charles Ives. Selected Correspondence of Charles Ives, 67-8. Oakland, CA: University of California Press, May 20, 2007.

2 Tomes, Susan. The Piano : A History in 100 Pieces. New Haven: Yale University Press, 2021. Accessed November 13, 2022. ProQuest Ebook Central.

3Mauk, David C. “New England Transcendentalism Versus Virulent Nationalism: The Evolution of Charles Ives’ Patriotic March Music.” American Studies in Scandinavia 31, no. 1 (1999): 24–33. https://doi.org/10.22439/asca.v31i1.1478.

4 Garrett, Charles Hiroshi. “Charles Ivesʹs Four Ragtime Dances and ʺTrue American Musicʺ.” In Struggling to Define a Nation: American Music and the Twentieth Century, 1st ed., 17–47. University of California Press, 2008. http://www.jstor.org/stable/10.1525/j.ctt1pp004.6.

5 Shadle, Douglas W. Essay. In Orchestrating the Nation: The Nineteenth-Century American Symphonic Enterprise, 242–57. Oxford University Press, 2018.

6 Ives, Charles. Letter to Henry F. Gilbert. Selected Correspondence of Charles Ives, 82-3. Oakland, CA: University of California Press, May 20, 2007.

Jazz, genre fusion as stereotyping, and Gershwin

George Gershwin was an internationally renowned composer most famous in the 1910s through the 1930s. Starting out as a song plugger, he eventually worked his way up the food chain as a composer, and he got so far up that, when he asked Maurice Ravel to teach him composition, Ravel said that Gershwin should teach him (1)! Much of his body of work is still performed today, such as “Rhapsody in Blue”, the opera “Porgy and Bess” with its most famous number “Summertime”, and “Fascinating Rhythm” (2).

The most prominent feature of Gershwin’s compositional style is the fusion of jazz with other classical advances in composition. Other composers of the time period, like Copland, were also fusing genres, but Gershwin was more outright about including specific techniques and harmonic progressions that were known to be used solely in jazz. “Rhapsody in Blue” is a prime example of this. Gershwin also was inspired by French composers like Ravel, Debussy and Nadia Boulanger, and fused those along with jazz and other American musical tropes (1).

While Gershwin helped bring attention to jazz as a legitimate genre amongst concertgoers (3), many Black musicians share understandably mixed feelings about how Gershwin adopted Black music conventions. One of the primary reasons for these criticisms comes in “Porgy and Bess” (here is a link to its most famous number, “Summertime”).

The Gershwins' Porgy and Bess and the Quest for American Opera – UMS – University Musical Society

“Porgy and Bess” is a story about Black characters that stereotypes a lot of their actions, as the novel upon which the opera was based was written by a white man and displayed how he thought Black people lived (6). Within the plot, there is a cocaine dealer with purchases made off him, a murder, and marital infidelity, which isn’t abnormal for the plot of an opera, but in the context of minstrelsy stereotyping that Black people thought infidelity was fine, it is certainly questionable (4). In terms of cocaine, it was demonized at the time and was stereotyped as a Black drug that caused them to commit more crime, especially in the South (5). Karen Henson also argues that each character in “Porgy and Bess” represent certain common minstrel characters: Porgy resembles ‘Samba’, the cocaine dealer Sportin’ Life represents ‘Trickster’, and Bess represent ‘Jezebel’ (7).

Apart from how problematic “Porgy and Bess” is, there were positives in getting actually Black actors and featuring Black styles of music more respectfully than most in the traditionally white-dominated field of opera at the time. While helping jazz and Black music become more respected and legitimized was helpful, other people were also doing it at the same time just as well as he was who were actually Black, like Burleigh and Joplin. Efforts should be made to uplift Black voices from this time period more.

Sources:

(1) “George Gershwin.” Wikipedia. Wikimedia Foundation, November 6, 2022. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/George_Gershwin#Musical_style_and_influence.

(2) Paul Whiteman Orchestra. Fascinating Rhythm. Vinyl recording. New York, New York: Victor, 1924.

(3) Downes, Olin. “Gershwin Caused New Jazz Values.” The New York Times, July 12, 1937, 86 edition.

(4) Lemons, J. Stanley. “Black Stereotypes as Reflected in Popular Culture, 1880-1920.” American Quarterly 29, no. 1 (1977): 102–16. https://doi.org/10.2307/2712263.

(5) Courtwright, David T. “The Hidden Epidemic: Opiate Addiction and Cocaine Use in the South, 1860-1920.” The Journal of Southern History 49, no. 1 (1983): 57–72. https://doi.org/10.2307/2209306.

(6) “Porgy and Bess.” Wikipedia. Wikimedia Foundation, October 23, 2022. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Porgy_and_Bess#Synopsis.

(7) Henson, Karen. “Black Opera, Operatic Racism and an ‘Engaged Opera Studies.’” Journal of the Royal Musical Association 146, no. 1 (2021): 219–30. doi:10.1017/rma.2020.27.

Analyzing American Music and Charles Ives

 

Frank Gerratana, Charles Edward Ives, 1947, http://loc.gov/pictures/resource/cph.3b10888/

Charles Ives, the early twentieth century,American composer pictured pensively above, is situated at an interesting boundary between historical debates of what constitutes “American music” that we’ve discussed in class. While Virgil Tomson’s ideas considered American music “derived from the British Isles” to be authentic—using North America’s Anglophone predominance as explanation for a continued lineage of English culture and music over all else—other critics and musicologists have proposed that American music’s essence derives from diverse folk traditions.[1] Charles Ives was descended from pilgrims and grew up with Anglo-American melodies in New England—however, his shift to avant-garde styles, combined with influence from folk traditions considered part of an “American school” of composition, demonstrates the futility of trying to narrowly define “American music.”[2] Ives’ development problematizes the work of early twentieth century music critics like Tomson and Olin Downes, who—possessing prominent influence over public perception of American classical music—used Ives to promote contradictory, limited arguments over American musical authenticity.

The debate over American Music’s standards and authenticity, especially when considering the influences of white male composers, was a means of determining what whiteness was in an early twentieth-century cultural context. Tomson saw an evolving American idiom—though in some ways diverging from European music—nevertheless marked by similarities indicating “the products of a common tradition.”[3] Tomson believed Charles Ives’ music fit the characteristics closely linking European/Anglophone lineage to American music. However, in a 1937 New York Times article by music critic Olin Downes, a contemporary of Ives, the critic glances at “native scores” and lauds the many folk music traditions informing the development of modern American composers.[4] Downes believed that not all American symphonic repertoire had been “mere imitators of European models of composition.”[5] Instead of pointing out examples of American music deriving new forms from only a foundation of European music (as Tomson did), Downes emphasized the wealth of folk music that American composers could draw from, “either grown from the soil or transplanted there from outside sources.”[6] Still, he links and celebrates the connection of this distinctly American folk music to songs like “Dixie” which immortalized the ideals of slavery and the Old South. This fact demonstrates a racialized context which—well into the twentieth century—still held mainstream influence in legitimizing problematic forms of white American culture. Nonetheless, as Tomson, who drew from racist, controversial scholarly ideas like those of George Pullen Jackson, saw American history as too short to legitimize its composers, Downes declared that the young, white male composers of the era, including Aaron Copland, Virgil Thomson, and Charles Ives, were too little performed.[7]

 

In conclusion, debates over what Ives represented showed incongruent definitions of musical authenticity, since one composer—Charles Ives—fit into both “camps.” It’s perhaps more important to consider how analyzing debates over American music through Ives and the perspectives of critics like Tomson and Downes problematizes their arguments. While they musically diverge, the convergence around attempts to define the raw materials worth lauding in American music as a reflection of whiteness (and thus white American culture) provides a glimpse into the mainstream, overtly racialized ways in which music critics influenced society and worked to further an exclusive conception of American music.

[1] Virgil Thomson, American Music Since 1910, Holt, Rinehart and Winston, 1971, 16.

[2] Harold C. Schonberg,. “Natural American, Natural Rebel, Natural Avant-Gardist: Charles Ives had no use for Mozart, Haydn, Mendelssohn,Tchaikovsky and Wagner- Charles Ives Ives at the Keyboard,” New York Times (1923-), Apr 21, 1974. https://www.proquest.com/historical-newspapers/natural-american-rebel-avant-gardist/docview/119909304/se-2; Olin Downes, “A Glance at Native Scores,” New York Times (1923-), Jul 25, 1937. https://www.proquest.com/historical-newspapers/glance-at-native-scores/docview/102135938/se-2.

[3] Thomson, American Music Since 1910, 20.

[4] Downes, A Glance at Native Scores,” https://www.proquest.com/historical-newspapers/glance-at-native-scores/docview/102135938/se-2.

[5] Ibid.

[6] Ibid.

[7] Ibid.

The use of minstrelsy to enforce racist stereotypes

The first minstrel shows performed in the 1830s by white performers donning blackface and tattered clothing imitated and mimicked enslaved African Americans in the south. These performances would characterize African Americans as lazy, ignorant, hypersexual, and prone to thievery and cowardice. Historians have said that the reason these racist stereotypes and caricatures became so popular was to help make poorer and working-class whites feel better about themselves by putting down African Americans.

Possibly the most popular blackface caricature, Jim Crow, was created in the 1830s by Thomas Dartmouth Rice, who was known as the “Father of Minstrelsy”. The Jim Crow caricature was created to mock African slaves and to enforce the idea that they are uncultured, happy-go-lucky, and wore tattered clothing. Another popular caricature was Zip Coon, an urban African American that was frequently presented as an overdressed, slow-talking, and mischievous person. Although they lived in different environments and had different backgrounds, Jim Crow and Zip Coon were both used to depict African Americans as lazy, dim-witted people and enforce racial stereotypes.

In their performances, minstrel performers would often exaggerate these stereotypes, which were already blown out of proportion, for comedic purposes. One such performer was Billy Golden, a blackface minstrel who was very active during the late 1800s and early 1900s. Golden specialized in blackface dialect comedy with some of his most famous works being “Turkey in de straw” and “Rabbit hash”. In the recordings, it’s evident that Golden is trying to imitate and exaggerate the way that African Americans would talk to enforce the idea that African Americans were uncultured and dim-witted.

Caricatures and performances that mocked African Americans might have been popular among whites, however, it is not surprising that African Americans were not happy with how blackface minstrel performers were depicting them. Frederick Douglass wrote a response to blackface imitators in the North Star that called these performers filthy scum that stole African culture and used it to make a profit. Moreover, although blackface and minstrelsy don’t seem to be a big problem in modern society (short of a few exceptions every so often), the stereotypes that were ingrained in our society still seem to be very prevalent today.

 

References:

“Blackface: The Birth of an American Stereotype.” National Museum of African American History and Culture, 22 Nov. 2017, https://nmaahc.si.edu/explore/stories/blackface-birth-american-stereotype.

Endicott & Swett, Lithographer. Zip Coon. Photograph. Retrieved from the Library of Congress, <www.loc.gov/item/00650780/>.

Golden, Billy, and Billy Golden. Rabbit Hash. 1908. Audio. Retrieved from the Library of Congress, <www.loc.gov/item/jukebox-223095/>.

Golden, Billy. Turkey in De Straw. 1903. Audio. Retrieved from the Library of Congress, <www.loc.gov/item/jukebox-243662/>.

Jim Crow. [London, new york & philadelphia: pub. by hodgson, 111 fleet street & turner & fisher ; between 1835 and 1845?] Photograph. Retrieved from the Library of Congress, <www.loc.gov/item/2004669584/>.

Nobody Knows the Trouble They Lived Through

H.T. Burleigh’s arrangements of these spirituals encapsulate the lives and struggles of enslaved people forced to work on a plantation. These two recordings are of the spirituals, Nobody Knows de Trouble I’ve Seen and Deep River, arranged by H.T. Burleigh, a prolific black composer, arranger and singer of the early 20th century. These tracks feature the voice of Oscar Seagle, a baritone and prominent musician at the time. They were both recorded in New York by the Columbia label. Burleigh arranges – and later records – these plantation songs as a way to re-popularize spirituals and to provide a rich sentiment to listeners of the culture of plantation songs. We have spent a while talking about spirituals and how they act as a lens into life on a plantation, talking in code to tell directions on how and when to escape enslavement. We also talked about the different kinds of plantation songs, those with stronger beats being work songs and others being different and more emotional. These pieces were likely not work songs, as they are melancholy and deeply emotional. Each of these pieces are also codes. Nobody knows concludes with a positive text, that soon the singer will be in heaven, and if anyone gets there before them, tell the singer’s friends that they’re coming. Deep River speaks of a campground and wanting to leave, which could have been code for if an enslaved person was going to leave. These are references to leaving enslavement and finding a better place, one without slavery, and with freedom. I wanted to look at these two pieces as they provide the listener with a deep context as to the struggles and lives of enslaved people and the looking forward that they would one day no longer be enslaved. This, at its core, is truly American music.

Bibliography
Burleigh, H. T, and Oscar Seagle. Nobody knows de trouble I’ve seen. 1917. Audio. https://www.loc.gov/item/jukebox-879940/.

Burleigh, H. T, and Oscar Seagle. Deep River. 1916. Audio. https://www.loc.gov/item/jukebox-655500/.

White Men Writing and Performing Minstrel Songs? What Could Go Wrong?

TW: blackface, racist language, minstrelsy, violence, misogyny

To any sane, sensible, and empathetic person alive today, minstrelsy is one of the great failures and shames of American history. The degrading songs and performances are deeply uncomfortable and disturbing to listen to, watch, or relive, and the lasting impacts (known, unknown, or purposefully ignored) continue to cause harm today.1 But we still study this phenomenon, whether in caution of reliving the past or perhaps to work toward bringing power back to those robbed of it.

Sheet music cover for “I’ll Make Dat Black Gal Mine,” featuring a portrait of George H. Primrose in blackface.
Charles B. Ward, I’ll make dat black gal mine. (New York, New York: T.B. Harms & Co., 78 East 22nd St., 1896). https://levysheetmusic.mse.jhu.edu/performance/72601

In its heyday, the worst of minstrel songs actively contributed to the formation of racist and sexist ideals of white Americans toward Black Americans. “I’ll make dat black gal mine,” written by Charles B. Ward and recorded in 1921 by Harry C. Browne2, is an example of the worst. With incredibly racist, sexist, and generally problematic lyrics by David Reed, and an almost satirical melody and accompaniment, this song perpetuates harmful stereotypes and shows blatant disrespect for black people. The song’s main theme features a wildly ambitious speaker who will do everything in his power to “win dat gal,” despite the protests of her father. Not only is the gal in question, Caroline, treated as property and some kind of prize to win, but the speaker will even resort to violent, racially-charged murder in order to “steal away” Caroline. The casual threats of murder and violence, the constant use of slurs, and the disregard for female autonomy (not to mention a white performer in blackface) all characterize black people as sub-human and undeserving of respect, contributing to the harmful racist rhetoric ever-prevalent in minstrelsy.

The music itself supports the mockery and comedic ridicule by providing a cartoonish, threatening and creeping accompaniment in a sort of “oom-pah” style. The recording provided by the Library of Congress3 (originally published by Columbia records) features a vocalist with banjo (both performed by Harry C. Browne) accompanied by an orchestra. Browne sings with a heavy baritone sound, prominent vibrato, and tall vowels, plucking his banjo with an almost comedic twang and liveliness. 

The first page of music, showcasing its accompaniment style and disrespectful lyrics.
Charles B. Ward, I’ll make dat black gal mine. (New York, New York: T.B. Harms & Co., 78 East 22nd St., 1896). https://levysheetmusic.mse.jhu.edu/performance/72601

White men like Charles B. Ward, David Reed, and Harry C. Browne writing and performing this awful song is not only harmful to the black people it mocks, threatens, and disrespects, but also to its white audiences, because it condones the same attitude and behavior from them. It is bad enough that a song this horrible was theorized, composed, and recorded, but then perhaps it became popular, which is even worse. Once it is popular, white listeners are subject to the song’s message, which tells them it is okay to treat black people as objects. Presenting these harmful images creates a never ending cycle of internalized and institutionalized racism and misogyny, which unfortunately has not left our culture yet. One can only hope that education has brought more awareness to the disgrace that was/is minstrelsy, and that folks today recognize how cruel and inhumane this genre continues to be to Black Americans.

Do I dare say the benefits of minstrel music?

Defining American music. What is the definition of American music? There are several answers, it’s not quite black and white. Minstrel performances are one major “art form” that I believe influenced American music today.

As is well known, minstrel shows performed by white people were designed to exploit and mock black people rather than to showcase their music. However, one could argue that black minstrel shows, such as Richards and Pringle’s Famous Minstrels, and minstrels in general could have influenced American music somewhat positively.

1

2

The two above images relate Richard’s & Pringles Famous Georgia Minstrels. Richards & Pringles Famous Georgia Minstrels was a black group of entertainers. They first started performing in 1879 and performed for over 20 years with on and off again conductor Frank Clermon. Golds W. Houseley became the conductor of Richards & Pringle’s Famous Georgia Minstrels from 1898 to 1903. An accomplished musician and conductor, as in 1898, he became a solo cornetist for both band and orchestra for the John W. Vogel’s Concert Company which was considered the “best colored band in America” and more. 3
Such an accomplished musician participating in entertainment that previously had made fun of their own culture.

I believe that minstrel shows did help bring spirituals and folk songs to light, even how very controversial they were. One example is Golds W. Houseley. American music started to develop around 1920’s, especially with American and French Music. The National Association of Negro Music was organized in 1919. The goal was to stimulate, discover and foster talent, mold taste, promote fellowship, and advocate racial expression. 4

5

Stephen Foster was a white composer who merely imitated folk styles. He is given credit for implementing the romantic image of the Old South in American popular culture. He was the most popular product of the minstrel school of songwriters and continued to bring forward folk music to the classical world.

Will S. Hays is another prolific songwriter whose lyric themes are highly reminiscent of Stephen Fosters. The song “Little Old Log Cabin in the Lane” is a long staple of country music. It was also commonly heard in minstrelsy depicting sadness of a poor old slave.6

How racist and profitable minstrel shows were, they helped develop American music by bringing attention to them and their music.

 

1 https://www.loc.gov/pictures/resource/var.0233/

2Richards and Pringle’s famous Georgia minstrels : headed by the great and only Billy Kersands, traveling in their own $10,000 hotel car. (0 C.E.). [Advertisements, Hand coloring, Promotional materials]. https://collections.library.yale.edu/catalog/16700125.

3Schwartz, Richard I. “The African American Contribution to the Cornet of the Nineteenth Century: Some Long-Lost Names.” Historic Brass Society Journal 12 (2000): 75-76.

4 Samuel Floyd, Jr. “Introduction,” Black Music in the Harlem Renaissance, 14.


5Schwartz, Richard I. “The African American Contribution to the Cornet of the Nineteenth Century: Some Long-Lost Names.”
Historic Brass Society Journal 12 (2000): 76.

6Malone C., Bill, Stricklin, David. “Southern Music/American Music.” The University Press of Kentucky. 2003. Pg. 23-24.

 

Darius Milhaud and Aaron Copland: Truly American Composers?

The word “Tanglewood” still leaves the tingle of excitement in my chest it did when I was 15. It brings to mind dreams I once had of spending a summer with the Boston Symphony in a place to which admittance would truly mean I had made it. Little did I know that Tanglewood had been this pinnacle for quite some time, and Aaron Copland had played a great part in its notoriety. In this picture, Aaron Copland- the quintessentially American classical composer- sits with Darius Milhaud, a french composer of great notoriety who immigrated to America during WWII, in the place of a summer music festival that still has great musical notoriety today (Appold, photo). I would argue that this image is in many ways an accurate representation of American classical music because the figures in the image had so much influence from different musics in the Americas, and their relationship exemplified a similar musical relationship between their two respective countries.

Copland was asked to work at “Berkshire Music Center at Tanglewood” for its first year in 1940 and “[continued] until 1965” (timeline). During that time, he composed many notable works such as the Tender Land Suites, Appalachian Spring, and Symphony No. 3 and won several awards to include the Pulitzer Prize, and an Academy Award (timeline). Copland’s dedication to Tanglewood is perhaps only comparable to Tanglewood’s dedication to his honor. From copious amounts of tribute programming, to the sculpture commissioned and installed in 2010, to the fact that his ashes were spread on the lawn of the Tappan House, one thing is made abundantly clear: America’s adamant patriotism made no exceptions for classical music (Shea).  

Perhaps the only people more infatuated with American classical music, or American music in general, than Americans, were the French. In this image, Darius Milhaud sits during one of his summers teaching at Tanglewood. Copland idealized the man, and wrote only the highest of praise saying “if France, like England, had a composer laureate, the post would rightfully be his” (Copland). Milhaud, much like Copland, was infatuated with music of South America (primarily Brazil) and their shared appropriation of such melodies could be described as inherently American. To suggest that American music has only positive defining factors would simply be false. Milhaud also used jazz and other forms of popular music very frequently in his compositions, and though he became renowned as a French composer, one could argue that his music is American because of all of the influences that he used and because much of it was in fact written here (Library of Congress). If Dvorak’s New World Symphony can be considered a work of American music, there is no reason that Milhaud’s couldn’t be on the same principle. Of course, it would be wrong to say that the music of these two composers could be accurately defined as American without acknowledging the shared trait of appropriating black and latinx ideas into something that became popularized by white composers. Unfortunately, this pattern could also be described as a shameful defining factor in American music. 

 

Sources

Appold, Juliette. “Darius Milhaud and the Americas.” Darius Milhaud and the Americas | NLS Music Notes. Library of Congress, August 6, 2020. https://blogs.loc.gov/nls-music-notes/2020/08/darius-milhaud-and-the-americas/.

Boriskin, Michael. “Aaron Copland: Timeline of a Musical Life.” Aaron Copland / Timeline // Copland House …where America’s musical past and future meet. Copland House. Accessed November 7, 2022. http://www.coplandhouse.org/aaron-copland/timeline/.

Britannica, T. Editors of Encyclopaedia. “Darius Milhaud.” Encyclopedia Britannica, August 31, 2022. https://www.britannica.com/biography/Darius-Milhaud.

Copland, Aaron. “Music Out of Everywhere.” The New York Times. The New York Times, February 22, 1953. https://archive.nytimes.com/www.nytimes.com/books/99/03/14/specials/copland-milhaud.html.

Kraft, Victor. Aaron Copland with Darius Milhaud, Tanglewood. , . Photograph. https://www.loc.gov/item/copland.phot0004/.

Rothwell, Jessie. “The Dreams of Jacob (Darius Milhaud).” LA Phil. LA Phil. Accessed November 7, 2022. https://www.laphil.com/musicdb/pieces/729/the-dreams-of-jacob.

Shea, Andrea. “Aaron Copland Sculpture Makes Its Home at Tanglewood.” WBUR News. WBUR, June 30, 2011. https://www.wbur.org/news/2011/06/30/copland-sculpture.

Extreme Hoarders Ethnography Edition: Frances Densmore’s Cluttered Basement of Native American Musical Instruments

The resume of the prolific ethnographer and musicologist Frances Densmore is significant. As someone who has carried around many of her bulletins across campus on a daily basis, I can tell you that the weight of her work is heavy in more ways than one. As one of the founding researchers who developed and fostered the field of musicology in the early twentieth century, there is certainly a lot we have to thank Densmore for. However, we are not strangers to her wrongdoings either. From her white savior perspective towards many Indigenous peoples to her view that Native musics were not as evolved as the music of the white race, Densmore is anything but blameless. While we frequently discuss the recordings that Densmore produced, we might not be so aware of Densmore’s collection of Native American musical instruments and artifacts. This collection raises serious questions related to cultural and musical ownership and the benefits of ethnographic study. These collected artifacts serve as yet another Densmorian lesson to modern musicologists about the potential harm that ethnographic study can have on those from whom we wish to learn. 

After working with the American Bureau of Ethnography at the Smithsonian, Densmore was then added to the staff at the National Mueseum at Washington D.C. where she oversaw the a collection of musical instruments. She also composed a catalog of these instruments that includes everything from drums, stringed instruments, flutes, and horns. But Densmore did more than just maintain museums and collections, she did some of the collecting herself in the field. In 1917, she sold a collection of Lakota artifacts to the Museum of the American Indian in New York. In 1930, she collected functional materials used by the Ojibwes in Grand Portage, Minnesota for the Minnesota Historical Society (MHS). She ended up sending eight crates filled with artifacts to St. Paul, and sold these crates to MHS for two hundred and sixty dollars. Further, Densmore learned to play some of the instruments which she collected, and would played them at her lectures. By 1980, when MHS created an exhibit for Densmore’s collected artifacts, Native Americans had already began protesting the loss of their cultural items to white museums and institutions. Additionally, some indigenous people had begun to question the practice of collecting for research.

Thanks in part to her collection of indigenous mundane objects and musical instruments, 

Densmore remains the primary tutor for modern musicologists as they consider the ethics of ethnographic study. Similar to many musical expressions of her time, Densmore’s work is best understood as an expression of whiteness in academic research and transmission and not as an ernest attempt to understand the cultural values and practices of another. By identifying the shortcomings in the research of those who came before, modern musicologists can develop new research methods which seek to benefit both those who are being studied as well as those who will learn form the work produced. In order to truly and deeply learn from one another, the subjects of musicological study and their cultural values and priorities ought to be placed at the forefront. Otherwise, future generations will continue to discuss how ethnographic study says more about the researcher than the subject of interest. 

 

Bibliography:

 

Densmore, Frances. Handbook of the Collection of Musical Instruments in the United States National Museum. Washington, United States Government Printing Office, 1927. 

 

De Vale, Sue Carole. “Densmore and the Smithsonian’s Instrument Collection.” Ethnomusicology. Vol. 25, No. 3, 1981, 500-502. 

 

Harris and Ewing. Miss Frances Densmore, expert in Indian music, who has been added to the staff of the Nat’l Museum at Wash., she was formerly connected with the Amer. Bureau of Ethnology, the Smithsonian. She is now in charge of the unique collection of musical instruments gathered from all lands and located in the Museum. Here shows with 2 of the oldest musical instruments of the Indians, an old violin and a horn made from elephant tusk. 1924, Library of Congress, Washington D. C. https://www.loc.gov/item/2016893319/

 

Jensen, Joan M. Patterson, Michelle Wick. “Collection with a Mission: Frances Densmore’s Chippewa Artifacts.” Travels with Frances Densmore: Her Life, Work, and Legacy in Native American Studies. University of Nebraska, 2015, 518-599.  

Cecil Burleigh and a Lack of Context

Using the search term “Burleigh” in the Library of Congress’s National Jukebox archive, what was initially meant to yield results pertaining to H.T. Burleigh presented a search result far more interesting to me: a recording of a piece titled “Indian Snake Dance” by Cecil Burleigh. The recording captured Toscha Seide on Violin and Francesco Longo on Piano (1). The record is shown in the picture below (2).

Almost immediately after finding this recording, the question of authenticity and cultural representation came to mind. As a student in this class with prior musicology experience, this piece screams cultural appropriation and misrepresentation. The piano accompaniment for the main theme is a misguided attempt to imitate the sound of the drum in Native American pow-wow music. The violin attempts to mimic voices, dancing around the beat, similar to how a western trained ear might perceive Native American singing. However, rhythmic subdivisions in the violin are too clean. This in combination with the low 5ths in the left hand creates a caricature that mocks its original source. Beyond its initial theme, it abandons its facade of representing Native American culture and adheres to its western classical musical heritage for the rest of the piece.

What’s ultimately disappointing about this recording and database entry is the lack of context surrounding it. Not everyone listening to this will have attended higher education institutions, let alone studied musicology. Those who don’t have the same background knowledge have to rely on the information provided on the page. The hyperlinks included in the entry are simply labels that pull up more loosely related content, and if you click on the composer’s name, you’ll find that “Indian Snake Dance” is his only recording in the database. There are no liner notes, no information about the piece. It was only through my own independent research that it became abundantly clear that Cecil Burleigh has no apparent cultural ties to Native Americans. He was immersed in western classical music, studying at Klindworth-Scharwenka Conservatory in Berlin, the Chicago Musical College, and playing violin professionally (3).

If these materials like “Indian Snake Dance” -from relatively unknown authors- are made easily accessible to the general public, one would hope there could be more context surrounding these recordings. Those unlike myself, unwilling to do independent research, will lack the understanding required to explore the questions of authenticity beneath the surface level of this piece.

(1) Burleigh, Cecil, Toscha Seidel, and Francesco Longo. Indian Snake Dance. 1923. Audio. https://www.loc.gov/item/jukebox-670039/.

(2) Burleigh, Cecil, Toscha Seidel, and Francesco Longo. Indian Snake Dance. 1923. Audio. https://www.loc.gov/item/jukebox-670039/.

(3) Lowens, Margery Morgan. “Burleigh, Cecil.” Grove Music Online. 23 Feb. 2011; Accessed 8 Nov. 2022. https://www.oxfordmusiconline.com/grovemusic/view/10.1093/gmo/9781561592630.001.0001/omo-9781561592630-e-1002092891.

Changing With the Times – Is It a Nightmare?

There are some who love the idea of jazz borrowing from classical and there are some who hate it. I’m not sure which camp I personally fall into, but I love to see what arrangers and other instrumentalists do with older ideas that seem taboo to touch.

On this record titled Desecration Rag (A Classic Nightmare), Felix Ardnt takes us through several rags that use themes from western classical canon composers like Dvorak, Chopin, and Liszt. The record is a 10-inch vinyl pressing so it doesn’t have that many tracks, but the ones that are there are intriguing. The above listening selection is one of the tracks from the record and unfortunately the source doesn’t say which one it is. My best guess as a listener is that this track is the Dvorak track.

Recently, topics of discussion in class have revolved around how certain kinds of music grow and change to stay with the times and the benefits and drawbacks that has. With our recent discussions of what makes up the American Music Canon, I think this is a great artifact with which to tango.

This record raises some questions – is this music truly American or is it an Americanized interpretation? Is the music being transformed here truly European or were there some American elements in it? In the case of Dvorak specifically, that was the case.

Ragtime was one of the early stepping stones of jazz and to bring composers who didn’t write jazz into that realm of music through sampling their melodies likely raised some eyebrows in the audience that heard this record. At the time, there might have been a few that were familiar with the names of Dvorak and Liszt, but for those at the time who were purist of musical forms, they probably didn’t think very high of the sampling that was done on this record. Be that as it might have been, I think transforming music like this can make certain pieces that might seem stuffy to some more accessible and enjoyable – not everyone who likes jazz likes classical music and vice versa. This record could’ve been a cool way to bridge that gap and start conversations that might not have been had previously.

This recording from YouTube is a more recent recording that I thought would be cool to put beside the record. You can hear much more of Dvorak’s original sample in the YouTube recording, but the question remains the same: is this “American Music?” I think in the case of Dvorak in particular, it’s hard to not call his music American (at least what he wrote while in the country) because he was taking themes from local music that he heard and used it for his compositions. I think there are arguments for both sides, but with this being a ragtime jazz interpretation of a theme Dvorak wrote, I’m more inclined to call it American music than to try and call it something else.

Work Cited:

Arndt, Felix, and Felix Arndt. Desecration rag A classic nightmare. 1914. Audio. https://www.loc.gov/item/jukebox-134701/

“The Political Quadrille”: The Subversion of Social Roles Through Dance

In the Prints and Photographs collection of the Library of Congress, I found a political cartoon connecting the 1857 Dred Scott case to the 1860 presidential race, portraying presidential candidates as dancers in a quadrille led by Dred Scott himself, shown playing the violin.1 By centering Dred Scott as a performer, the artist seems to give him power but ultimately consigns him to anonymity in the same way that blackface minstrelsy confined Black performers to stereotypical roles while denying them individual celebrity.

The quadrille was a dance form popular among the upper class in the first half of the nineteenth century where four couples would dance together in a set choreography to a piece with either four or six movements.2 Although some composers like Francis Johnson experimented with the genre, quadrilles were almost always instrumental and had the same structure, although the actual melody and dance steps varied piece to piece.3 For audiences in 1860, the quadrille represented an upper-class and perhaps outdated tradition of adhering to a fixed program with a partner, as well as following the music itself.

The social context surrounding quadrilles allows the cartoonist to poke fun at the figures portrayed dancing in couples. In the upper left, Southern Democrat John C. Breckinridge is shown arm in arm with his political ally and the incumbent president, James Buchanan.1 Nicknamed “Buck”, Buchanan is depicted with horns, adding a touch of fantasy to the image, perhaps to remind readers that the cartoon is not quite serious. The artist pairs the other three presidential candidates with more generic figures: Abraham Lincoln is shown dancing with a Black woman as a jab at the Republican party’s abolitionist leanings, while Constitutional Union party candidate John Bell is shown with a Native American man as a reference to his brief flirtation with Native rights, and Democratic candidate Stephen A. Douglas is shown with an Irishman, reflecting the makeup of his own supporter base. In contrast to Buchanan’s fantastical horns, the exaggerated features and clothing of these three anonymous figures are based in very real stereotypes, denying them any individuality. Having the Native man and the Irishman serve as dance partners for Bell and Douglas serves to emasculate them, showing that the interests of these groups were in the hands of male American politicians. It is not clear exactly why the artist chose to portray Lincoln’s partner as a woman while the others are portrayed as men (although fears of Black masculinity experienced by whites are probably involved), but the overall message is that all three groups are placed at the whim of white male politicians.

However, by far the most interesting figure is Dred Scott himself, shown in the center playing violin for the dancers. Scott was the plaintiff in the landmark 1857 Supreme Court decision which ruled that Black people, enslaved or free, were not considered citizens of the United States and therefore did not have the rights accorded to citizens.4 This decision divided the country and eventually contributed to its descent into the Civil War, and as the artist points out it also overshadowed the 1860 presidential election. Scott is placed in a position of power, both through his role as the musician and by being visually centered in the cartoon. In an era when Black musicians were allowed to perform only in limited contexts, giving an enslaved man a position of prestige over presidential candidates who dance along to his music might have been a powerful statement. However, the artist reminds us not to take this power too seriously. Blackface shows were primarily performed by white actors, but it also included Black actors, as they were not allowed on the stage in other contexts, and were only allowed to take part in minstrel shows by assuming the stereotyped identities of characters. Scott undergoes a similar process to Black blackface actors, who had their individual identities assimilated into white conceptions of Blackness.5 The image of Scott has a grotesquely large head and features that, while not strongly exaggerated, do not resemble Scott himself at all, and an expression of happiness or delight at odds with his situation. These features combine to take the audience’s attention away from the actual man and the suffering that led him to sue several times for his freedom, allowing them to focus on the idea that the Dred Scott case had the attention of the presidential candidates and had become a central issue of the presidential race. In appearing to give Scott agency through a musical metaphor, the artist actually erases his individual identity and ultimately thrusts upon him the same stereotyped identities that Black performers were forced to adopt in minstrel shows, and and which then applied to all Black people by extension.

References:

1 “The Political Quadrille. Music by Dred Scott.” Library of Congress. Accessed October 27, 2022. https://www.loc.gov/pictures/item/2008661605/.

2 Skiba, Bob. “Here, Everybody Dances: Social Dancing in Early Minnesota.” MN History Magazine. Accessed October 18, 2022. https://collections.mnhs.org/MNHistoryMagazine/articles/55/v55i05p217-227.pdf.

3 Kramer, Hayden James. 2022. “Six Works by Francis Johnson (1792–1844): A Snapshot of Early American Social Life.” Order No. 29162008, University of Maryland, College Park. https://www.proquest.com/dissertations-theses/six-works-francis-johnson-1792-1844-snapshot/docview/2688578944/se-2.

4 Urofsky, M. I.. “Dred Scott decision.” Encyclopedia Britannica, August 25, 2022. https://www.britannica.com/event/Dred-Scott-decision.

5 Sullivan, John Jeremiah. “’Shuffle Along’ and the Lost History of Black Performance in America.” New York Times, March 24, 2016. https://www.nytimes.com/2016/03/27/magazine/shuffle-along-and-the-painful-history-of-black-performance-in-america.html;Lott, Eric. Essay. In Love and Theft: Blackface Minstrelsy and the American Working Class, 15–37. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2013.

Blackface Minstrelsy and its Unconscious Return

Blackface minstrelsy, a nineteenth-century theatrical practice where white men would blacken their faces, dress up in racist exaggerated clothing and perform comic skits, variety acts, dancing and musical performances to their white counterparts. If the racially stereotyped mimicking of enslaved Africans working on Southern plantations wasn’t enough, we might be shocked to discover these performances were recorded and preserved in history for anyone to listen to. Should these recordings exist and be heard today? I would argue they should, for the simple reason that all must listen, view and comprehend this awful tradition and understand the impact it had on whites and their development of white identity, African Americans, and all people of color in the United States. 

One part of these musical threaticies is “coon songs,” an aspect of ragtime music built on racial stereotypes of African Americans. These songs were often heard and observed as the centerpiece of Minstrel shows, and designed for the continuous humiliation and degradation of people of color. As you may have guessed, these best-selling hits could not exist without the performances of some of the world’s most talented and famous musicians at the time. A familiar name in the realm of Minstrel shows and “coon songs” stars was Silas Leachman, a Chicago-based politician and vocalist who specialized in the art of “coon songs.” These ragtime songs, wreaking of horribly racist African American dialects and stereotypes, were how Mr. Leachman made a living, and something all too common at the time. Mr. Leachman rose to popularity making his first recordings for the Chicago Talking Machine Company during the early 1890s. Later that same decade, he also started recording for Columbia Records. What I want you to listen to and further examine, however, is Mr. Leachman’s 1902 recording of “Whoa Dar Mule” by Victor Monarch Records.

Aside from the racist text, it is difficult to listen to this recording and somehow conjure up a scholarly opinion of the music, if any at all. A syncopated ragtime, rhythmic style is common in a number of these “coon songs” so it is challenging to elaborate on their originality based on the individual song. A recording from the Library of Congress’ National Jukebox may help your ears understand what I’m trying to describe:

Link to song here: https://www.loc.gov/item/jukebox-5667/

Regardless of the obviously stereotypical lyrics, we should be more concerned with the racist dialect that is used in concert with the exquisite African American tradition of ragtime music. The contribution of the art forms of African American musicians from genres such as: spirituals, jazz, ragtime, blues, rock ‘n’ roll, soul, pop and rap, deserve respect and acknowledgement. These contributions should be embraced and amplified, never diminished. This likely was not a part of Mr. Leachman’s mindset when he committed to becoming, and being compensated, as a major vocalist for Minstrel shows and their “coon songs.” Nonetheless, as Eric Lott declared in Love and Theft: Blackface Minstrelsy and the American Working Class, “Every time you hear an expansive white man drop into his version of black English, you are in the presence of Blackface’s unconscious return.” This is a warning to stay vigilant when you are inclined to turn away and ignore mockery and other aspects of marginalization that may not directly impact you. 

When you degrade one you degrade us all. Sadly, elements of this behavior are ever present in society today. Irrespective of your lived experience and racial identification, this music is a reminder of how far from we were then, and how far we remain, from living up to the American ideal of equality for all men and women. Because it also offends all moral and religious teachings of compassion and love for our fellow people, we are compelled to watch, listen and dialog about the impact of these works as we raise children in a society that is based on a belief in the superiority of the white race. This exploitation of African Americans, while maybe not done in mainstream circles today, must be addressed by all of us to prevent giving unconscious approval to the white supremacy in our midst. 

 

Works Cited

“Blackface: The Birth of an American Stereotype.” National Museum of African American History and Culture, 22 Nov. 2017, https://nmaahc.si.edu/explore/stories/blackface-birth-american-stereotype

Leachman, Silas F. Whoa Dar Mule. 1901. Audio. Retrieved from the Library of Congress, <www.loc.gov/item/jukebox-5667/>. 

Lott, Eric. Love and Theft: Blackface Minstrelsy and the American Working Class. Oxford University Press, 2013.

“What Were Coon Songs? – May 2005.” Ferris State University, https://www.ferris.edu/HTMLS/news/jimcrow/question/2005/may.htm

Record Companies, Racism and You!

In February 1916, the Tuskegee singers were recorded singing “Swing Low, Sweet Chariot” in Camden, NJ. The spiritual is part of a rich history of Black musicking in America, a tradition that incorporates African folk, Christian hymnody, and Native American musics, among other influences, and has been made possible by Black resilience, ingenuity, and artistry despite the circumstances they as a people have faced in America. Uplifting this art and its creators was a primary goal of the Harlem Renaissance. Which was just beginning in 1916, when this recording was made.1

The image of an RCA Victor record presented in the catalog entry for the Tuskegee Singers’ 1916 “Swing Low, Sweet Chariot” recording.1

The session was organized by Victor Talking-Machine Company (today, RCA), and their role in the musicking process here became quite interesting to me after I found the catalog entry for this recording in the Library of Congress’ National Jukebox. The intentions of Black artists in the Harlem Renaissance are clear – they are well documented in writing by the artists themselves – but what about the intentions of recording companies who facilitated recordings such as this one?

According to its Library of Congress catalog record, the recording was part of an educational effort by the record company. The label “educational” was applied to folk music from all over the world, including White musics, so at first glance it doesn’t seem to be an expression of othering. In fact, it may even speak well of the company that they went out of their way to include Black art in educational efforts. However (and this is a big however), the fact that the recording’s official subtitle is “Primitive Negro chant” paints a much more concerning picture of the company’s engagement with and recording of BIPOC art. While “Swing Low, Sweet Chariot” and the Black spiritual tradition may have originated primarily in the fields of forced labor rather than in the concert hall, this recording definitely constitutes art music. It’s a presentation of Black folk material that is much more compliant with Western European musical traditions. Other presentations of such material – think Dvorak – were respected and embraced by white audiences at this time, certainly not called “primitive.” Now, there was definitely othering, fetishizing, and appropriative behavior that underlied those white audiences’ love for art music based in Black traditions. But the fact remains that they loved the material and loved it as art music.

The choice of language is extremely reductive, then, implying that spiritual art-songs are somehow lesser than other art music, and it indicates serious disrespect for Black creativity. Given the positive reception of Black music when it was appropriated and presented by a white composer, one can only conclude that the devaluing of the spiritual tradition evident in the “Swing Low” recording was a direct result of disrespect for the Black composers and performers involved in this performance. Considering the power record companies hold in marketing and branding the recordings they produce, prejudices like this, and subtitles like the one on this work, cannot be ignored. Companies have the power to perpetuate stereotypes and shape societal value systems, and they do it like this, through language that either explicitly or implicitly reduces BIPOC musics to “other.” In musicology and as we consume music in our daily lives, we ought to be cognizant of branding and the hidden power of the people who control recordings. Marketing matters.

1 Tuskegee Singers, “Swing Low, Sweet Chariot,” recorded February 16, 1916, RCA Victor/B-16512, accessed November 10, 2022, https://www.loc.gov/item/jukebox-14854/

“Poor Old Slave”

The work I’ve found is an interesting one from 1851. This manuscript is a short song arranged by a pianist by the name of George W. H. Griffin. I think this makes a particularly interesting piece to look at due to its place in history, being a work for voice modeled after slave songs, but arranged for chorus and piano. From the cover, it looks to be a work dedicated to a tenor by the name of “S. B. Ball Esq.” from the “Ordway Aeolian Vocalists.” Not much is kept on this ensemble, but as far as can be found in drawings of the composer, G. W. H. Griffin, it appears as if he is a white man.

There are certain implications to the usage of these lyrics, then, given this context. The song goes as follows: 

 

“‘Tis just one year ago today, that I remember well,

I sat down by poor Nelly’s side, and a story did she tell

‘twas ‘bout a poor unhappy slave, that lived for many a year

but now he’s dead and in his grave, no master does he fear

She took my arm, we walked along, into an open field,

and there she paused to breathe a while, then to his grave did steal

she sat down by that little mound, and softly whisper’d there,

come to me father, ‘tis thy child, then gently dropp’d a tear

(chorus)

The poor old slave has gone to rest,

we know that he is free

disturb him not, but let him rest

way down in Tennessee”

First off, being released in 1851, this song was released many years before the abolition of slavery, meaning that the lyrics are not about the past, but are a commentary on the present. Additionally, from context, the story seems to take place in the north, as it, first off, references Tennessee as being “way down,” but also brings up the idea that “Nelly,” is a black woman, and the child of a slave, who is not currently enslaved herself. With this, the song, I believe, is about empathy for those who have been and were being greatly harmed by slavery, and the intent of its singing and performance is to strengthen the idea that slavery is an immoral practice. Given the context of a presumably predominantly white choir, the context of the lyrics suggest that this is a bittersweet, but ultimately pleasant song about the white person’s perspective, knowing someone who has had a close loved one taken away from her, but is now free herself to tell her story.

-mika natal

Works Cited

Griffin, George W. H. “Poor Old Slave.” Duke University Libraries, https://idn.duke.edu/ark:/87924/r4fx7867f. 

The evolution of African American spirituals into western classical music

Since the beginning of African American music, the genre has evolved many times due in part to outside influences from other cultures and societal changes in America. Sorrow Songs became spirituals, which would eventually merge with western classical music. James Bland and H.T. Burleigh were some of the most influential African American composers in America during the turn of the 20th century. Due to their western education, they were able to effectively popularize and represent African American spirituals by combining the words and themes of spirituals with western classical compositions and arrangements.

James Bland was an African American minstrel performer and composer, some of his most famous compositions were “Carry me back to old Virginny” and “In the evening by the moonlight”. “Carry me back to old Virginny” is written from the perspective of a freedperson wanting to go back to the days of slavery. In this recording, the song is sung by a quartet of male singers and when reading the lyrics, the perspective of the singers seems to be that being enslaved wasn’t as bad as one might think. Although the song represents an African American point of view, the arrangement of the song is more western, with clear voicings for each member and more harmonized than previous forms of African American music which wouldn’t normally have this organized form.

The integration of western classical music into African American spirituals was even more apparent in Bland’s “In the evening by the moonlight”, a song about the experience of slaves. This recording starts with a western orchestral intro and much like the previously mentioned song, there is a lot more structure and harmonization in this piece. Interestingly, the pronunciations in the recording are also more “proper” English, rather than the English that was originally written in the lyrics.

H.T. Burleigh was surrounded by music from a young age, performing at local churches and events and later became famous for his adaptations of African American spirituals. Some of his most famous works are “Deep river” and “Go down Moses”. “Deep river” is a song of hope that expresses a desire for peace and freedom. From the sheet music, we can see that the piece begins with piano chords that this is not a traditional spiritual that might have been passed orally, rather it is a well notated piece meant to express the experiences of African Americans in a western style. 

The lyrics in “Go down Moses” don’t specifically relate to African Americans or even America, however, it was still meant to express many of the feelings of enslaved African Americans. When listening to this recording and looking at the sheet music, the accompanying parts are very intricate and western compared to what traditional spirituals might have done. Moreover, this song seems to have a structure where rather than having a call and response with other singers, the accompaniment has short interjections that just continue the melody.

 

I think that another important note that all of these recordings have in common is that the vocalists all seem to be classically trained compared to previous African American music where the performers weren’t necessarily trained. The main causes of this seem to be the notation of the music as well as more western influence. In my opinion, the notation of spirituals has prevented them from being lost to time or lack of representation, however, bias can also affect which spirituals get notated and which will be forgotten. The integration of western styles and instrumentation with spirituals seems to be a good idea in terms of increasing popularity and representation among other works in the US, but I wonder whether or not the songs still hold the same weight now that they have been combined with western music.

 

References:

Bland, James A, Columbia Stellar Quartette, and James A Bland. Carry me back to old Virginia. 1919. Audio. Retrieved from the Library of Congress, <www.loc.gov/item/jukebox-651610/>.

Bland, James A, et al. In the Evening by the Moonlight. 1908. Audio. Retrieved from the Library of Congress, <www.loc.gov/item/jukebox-121558/>.

Burleigh, H. T, and Oscar Seagle. Deep River. 1916. Audio. Retrieved from the Library of Congress, <www.loc.gov/item/jukebox-655500/>.

Burleigh, H. T. Deep river song: old Negro melody. G. Ricordi, New York, monographic, 1916. Notated Music. Retrieved from the Library of Congress, <www.loc.gov/item/2011562023/>.

“Go down, Moses; Let My People Go! / Historic American Sheet Music / Duke Digital Repository.” Duke Digital Collections, https://repository.duke.edu/dc/hasm/n0708.

“In Harmony: Sheet Music from Indiana.” IN Harmony: Sheet Music from Indiana – Item Details, https://webapp1.dlib.indiana.edu/inharmony/detail.do?action=detail&fullItemID=%2Flilly%2Fdevincent%2FLL-SDV-232069.

“In the Evening by the Moonlight.” High Brown Songs, 28 Apr. 2022, https://sheetmusicsinger.com/highbrownsongs/in-the-evening-by-the-moonlight/.

Lapitino, Francis J, et al. Go down Moses. 1924. Audio. Retrieved from the Library of Congress, <www.loc.gov/item/jukebox-69931/>.

 

H.T. Burleigh and Black Excellence: An Idea of Freedom Through Hard Trials

Hard trials. Something every single person on this planet can relate to. When I think of hard trials the first thing that comes to mind is a difficult experience, finding yourself in a quagmire, if you will. In actuality, it is an unpleasant experience that attempts to prevent you from further reaching your desired goals. My question to you, dear reader, is how do your goals and desires differ from, or share similarities with, enslaved African Americans of the 16th, 17th and 18th century? I’m sure there is a lot to say about the differences in end goals between enslaved African-American and members of today’s current population, but a similarity I believe both parties would attest to in some way is the desire for freedom. Freedom comes in a variety of forms and entities, from the liberation African American slaves worked relentlessly to secure, to the inner landscape of one’s mind, where the desire is to free the self from the turmoil we all encounter. What this all boils down to is that freedom in all aspects is a sacred thing, and hard trials can be the building blocks of our lives, as long as we respect and adhere to their lessons with all of our love and strength. 

There is no better example of a composer who encapsulates aspects of freedom, hardship, faith and desire into his musical arrangements than H. T. Burleigh. H.T. Burleigh was one of the first African-American composers who utilized negro spirituals in his use of composing classical repertoire (both vocal and instrumental) and enjoyed public recognition and a high degree of success as a black composer. In Burleigh’s arrangement of “Hard Trials,” written in 1917 from his collection of Negroe Spirituals, the listener is likely to be deceived by the title in comparison to listening to the piece. Rather than a somber piece, it is almost cheerful in its tempo and lyrics. When you think of hard trials you may think of some of the examples I elaborated on above, trials accompanied by frustration and heartbreak, however Burleigh’s arrangement of this spiritual is one that emphasizes joy and hope over frustration and heartbreak. The piece incorporates textual ideas supporting the strength found in religioius doctrines including the deeply held beliefs voiced by a Methodist slave. The piece speaks to the strength and preservation that religion offers an individual, especially one who is enslaved, through the lyrics, “Methodis’ is my name, Methodis’ till I die, I’ve been reciev’d in the Methodis’ church.” I believe that the way these lyrics are arranged highlights the joy and promise of an afterlife that the singer aspires to, despite the brutality of white supremacy. The melody is written in E flat major, a key that brings a bright bounce and rhythm to it, painting the picture of a woman out on a leisurely stroll contemplating a brighter future and always moving forward despite the current harsh realities. It also depicts how religious faith is an aspect of one’s life that positively uplifts yourself and others, helping you overcome hardships when face to face with a difficult situation. 

Inside the front cover of Burleigh’s book of Negro Spirituals you will find notes Burleigh instructs the listener to read and reflect on before listening to his spirituals. An important aspect of this writing is the importance for the integration of both religion and music in one’s life to create a deep seeded spiritual experience. This mindset is required in his eyes, while singing spirituals and folk songs. Burleigh refers to a sense of spirit one must have and its priority over a uniquely beautiful voice. To Burleigh, this sense of spirit is idolized through the “spontaneous outburst of intense religious fervor.” This outburst is similar to the notion within the baptist and other Christian faiths to “get happy” and accept Jesus Christ as their personal lord and savior. The spiritual musical score and its lyrics arranged by Burleigh are hopeful, aspirational and diametrically opposed to the harsh realities of day to day life as an enslaved person. The most compelling aspect of “Hard Trials” is that it is all accomplished within the realm of classical music by a black composer, and in this recording, featuring a world renowned black contralto soloist, Ms. Marian Anderson.

Works Cited

“H. T. Burleigh (1866-1949).” The Library of Congress, https://www.loc.gov/item/ihas.200035730

“Sheet Music Consortium: Home.” Sheet Music Consortium | Home, https://digital.library.ucla.edu/sheetmusic/#fieldquery=Slave%2520spirituals&amp;searchType=regular&amp;start=150&amp;rows=10&amp;keyword=Slave%2520spirituals&amp;titles=false&amp;names=false&amp;places=false&amp;publishers=false&amp;subjects=false

Simkin, John. Spartacus Educational, Spartacus Educational, https://spartacus-educational.com/USASsongs.htm

 

The Plantation Songs Known as Spirituals – Go Down, Moses, H. T. Burleigh

While looking through the Sheet Music Consortium, it occurred to me to look into songs I had some base familiarity with. Go Down, Moses is a very popular spiritual which originated from enslaved African Americans on plantations. The song itself refers to Moses and the Hebrew people. In said story, the Hebrews are held captive by the Pharaoh. God tells Moses through the story of the burning bush to free his people from the Egyptian tyrant. Through sending plagues, flocks of locus, making the red sea red with blood and more catastrophes, the Pharaoh agrees to let the Hebrew people go. To the enslaved African Americans working their lives away, this spiritual was the promise of emancipation.

Included above are the notes in the front cover from H.T. Bureigh on the difference between spiritual and minstrel, how to perform this piece, and what this piece and these words mean. H.T. Burleigh writes about how to perform this piece, and what it means for African Americans. To begin with, a spiritual is so much more than just a song. It represents a message of freedom and hope to for the performer and their audience. The goal of a spiritual is to stir the people and help them think in a different way, or further affirm their beliefs. In order to sing correctly, you have to have soul, more than correctness of pitches. Burleigh invites the singer to feel the words, so that every man will be free. Minstrelsy was a crude misrepresentation of black people and their culture. Spirituals deserve respect and recognition as pillars of American music. Few were better at arranging these soulful spirituals as H.T. Burleigh.

On the topic of H.T. Burleigh, in Music 345, we have studied Burleigh, so that name likely rings a bell. H.T. Burleigh was one of the first prominent black composers. In his life, Burleigh had a small singing career and arranged art song but focused mostly on arranging and composing spirituals. His works are still performed to this day, about a hundred years later. The song itself has stood the test of time, being one of the most popular spirituals ever. But just as the song stands the test of time, so does this story. His words, in the front cover of Go Down, Moses invoke the message of the spiritual. This, of course, is something we continue to strive for today as a society. And yet, people still need to hear these words in order to believe them, and to understand that all people must be free.

 

Go Down, Moses; Let My People Go!, Burleigh, H. T. (Harry Thacker), 1917, Accessed 10/20/2022.

Examining the Portrayal of Native Americans in Early Twentieth-Century White Popular Culture

Born in Marengo, IL, pianist and composer Egbert Van Alstyne (1882-1951) was an accomplished musician whose musical endeavors appeared on Broadway and in vaudeville. In 1903, he got his big break from a piece he composed entitled “Navajo”, which musically demonstrates racist stereotypes of Indigenous peoples perpetuated by white Americans. He and lyricist Harry Williams later composed “Oh, that Navajo Rag”, a ragtime piece with text which further pigeonholes and generalizes the Navajo tribe. Unfortunately, Van Alstyne’s work is one of innumerable examples of how music perpetuated and upheld racist stereotypes in the United States. Van Alstyne’s work, among many other composers and artists, raises significant questions about the portrayal of Native Americans throughout history, and how these portrayals might have impacted us all. 

Unfortunately, Van Alstyne and Williams’ bigoted repertoire is robust. Many more of their compositions are centered around prejudiced views towards Native Americans, such as “Cheyenne” and “San Antonio”. And many other composers were publishing similar works at approximately the same time. For instance, Don Bestor’s “That Indian Rag”, Edward Coleman’s “My Indian Maiden”, and Theodore Morse’s “Wise Old Indian” were all published around the same time as Van Alstyne and William’s works. What is especially alarming is the popularization of Van Alstyne and Williams music. “Navajo” was later included in Marie Cahill’s Broadway musical Nancy Brown, and “Oh, that Navajo Rag” was recorded and performed in 1911 by Billy Murray, one of the most famous vaudeville singers of his time. The creation of this work might be considered by some to be disappointing but unsurprising; but what is certainly appalling is that audiences were listening and applauding. 

When studying American music, it is important to be acutely and consistently critical of those artists and creatives who helped to lay the foundations of the American cultural framework we live in today. While we frequently critique musicologists in this course for their malpractices and wrongdoings, perhaps we ought to consider the sins of the artist as more significant. Our artistic ancestors in some way influence the art we make and thus the world we live in today. The effects of their art is long lasting, and it is difficult to write off these artistic pieces as a product of their time when their impacts are felt today. 

 

Billy Murray. Oh, that Navajo Rag. Victor Records. 1911.  Library of Congress, https://www.loc.gov/item/jukebox-130930/.

 

Bestor, Don. That Indian Rag. Will Rossiter, 1910. 

 

Coleman, Edward. My Indian Maiden. The American Advance Music Co, 1904.

 

Ewen, David. Popular American Composers. New York, The H. W. Wilson Company, 1962. 

 

Levy, Lester S. “Growing Pains.” Give me Yesterday: American History in Song 1890-1920, University of Oklahoma Press, 1975, 169-195. 

 

Morse, Theodore F. Wise Old Indian. Theodore Morse Music Co, 1909. 

 

“Murray, Billy.” Grove Music Online, 3 Sept. 2014, https://doi.org/10.1093/gmo/9781561592630.article.A2267265. 

 

Van Alstyne, Egbert. Navajo: Indian Characteristique March and Two Step. Shapiro, Bernstein & Co, 1903. 

 

Van Alstyne, Egbert. Oh, that Navajo Rag. Jerome H. Remick & Co, 1911. Accessed from: https://webapp1.dlib.indiana.edu/metsnav/inharmony/navigate.do?oid=http://fedora.dlib.indiana.edu/fedora/get/iudl:469351/METADATA&pn=1&size=screen.

 

“Van Alstyne, Egbert (Anson).” The Grove Dictionary of American Music. 2nd ed. 2013.

Harry Burleigh: The Transformation of Spirituals into Classical Music

Many white composers compiled and arranged a multitude of African American spirituals for the western ear to consume, although more important to discuss is the influence of the first African American arranger to change the idea of what spirituals represent. Harry Burleigh was an African American vocalist, arranger, and composer who created a foundation for African American spirituals to be represented in classical music. Growing up in Erie, Pennsylvania, in the aftermath of the civil war, Burleigh was primarily influenced by the teachings of his grandfather, who lived in slavery as a child. Burleigh connected with original spirituals such as Deep River, Sometimes I Feel Like a Motherless, and Swing Low Sweet Chariot. His experience surrounded by music as a child led to his desire to become a musician, ultimately receiving a scholarship to the National Conservatory of Music in New York City. He had a prominent career in performing and extraordinary success in putting African American spirituals in the classical realm. Below is an arrangement I discovered on the Sheet Music Consortium that is a collection of spirituals, most specifically Sometimes I Feel Like a Motherless Child, arranged by Burleigh in western classical notation.

Just as discussed throughout Southern’s book The Music of Black Americans, white Americans often have stereotyped and simplified African American music, creating a falsified notion of the deeper meaning behind spirituals. Southern points out that white observers often “misunderstood the singing and dancing of slaves, interpreting such activities as indicative that the slaves were unfeeling and uncaring.” He further shares that they saw African Americans as “a large flock of cheerful and contented slaves… ever merry and ever working with a song” (Southern, Pg. 77). This misconception seeped its way into popular culture as African Americans gained freedom and their culture was much more prominent, specifically through minstrelsy.

Minstrelsy was a meld of African American stereotypes built on the sole purpose of entertainment for a white audience, instilling a sense of shallowness in African American folk music. Burleigh used his talents to arrange fifty songs that could stand beside other classical staples to instill a feeling of respect and empathy for spirituals. For instance, he wrote that “it is a serious misconception of their meaning and value to treat them as minstrel songs or to try to make them funny by too literal attempt to imitate that manner of the Negro in singing them… their worth is weakened unless they are done impressively, for through all these songs there breathes hope, a faith in the ultimate justice and the brotherhood of man” (Bell). Alternatively, while western notation can take away the culture and freeness that might initially be in a song learned and sung through rote, Burleigh proves that western notation can shed light on a piece’s depth and seriousness.

Bibliography

Bell, Danna. “Link to the Library of Congress: Harry T. Burleigh—The Man Who Brought African-American Spirituals to the Classical Stage.” Music Educators Journal 104, no. 4 (2018): 9–11. https://www.jstor.org/stable/26588647.

Ramsey, Guthrie P. “African American music.” Grove Music Online. 4 Oct. 2012; Accessed 20 Oct. 2022. https://www.oxfordmusiconline.com/grovemusic/view/10.1093/gmo/9781561592630.001.0001/omo-9781561592630-e-1002226838.

Rubenstein, David. “Sometimes I Feel Like a Motherless Child / Historic American Sheet Music / Duke Digital Repository.” Duke Digital Collections. Accessed October 19, 2022. https://repository.duke.edu/dc/hasm/n0735.

Southern, Eileen. The Music of Black Americans a History. New York: Norton, 1971.

Musical Collections and Their Importance

Song collections can be made for multiple reasons. For memory, for keeping record, or just to have as a collection. For BIPOC musicians and composers it can be a way to get their music to a wider audience and make sure that their music lives on.

Ronald Hayes (1887 – 1977) is a notable American lyric tenor. He studied for four years at Fisk University in Nashville and spent 12 years in London and Paris after school. It was in Europe that he met other African musicians and his meeting them led him to discover the importance of the African-American folk songs that were sung by enslaved people in America around this time. He eventually obtained some recordings of African music and decided he wanted to put a song collection together for the general public as well as other Black musicians at the time.

This collection is called My Songs: Aframerican Religious Folk Songs and it is organized into several panels to make choices of what to sing from it easier. He notes a specific panel to look at if you are planning to sing any songs for an Easter service in the forward of this collection. As the collection goes from panel to panel of songs (of which there are 30 total) he writes a few paragraphs about singing these songs in concert as well as their cultural importance.

We’ve talked in class a lot about how when looking at a collection of anything, it’s vital to take into consideration who made it, what’s in it, how old it is, and observe any other bias that might be present in the collection. For this one specifically, it is interesting to think about what wouldn’t be there if a white person had put it together. There probably would not be notes about the notation or markings and how those stem from African music traditions. The collection would also probably not be categorized the way it is in this book. There is also no negative light around this being Black music – he praises the tradition because it was what he grew up with. I don’t think a white person during this time period would’ve done the same.

Collections like these are vital to the preservation of music. No matter where they come from or what kind of music is in them, it is vital that these collections live on so that musicians for generations after can learn from them and have these traditions within arms reach.

Works Cited:

Hayes, Roland. My Songs: Aframerican Religious Folk Songs. Atlantic Monthly Press. Alexander Street, https://search.alexanderstreet.com/view/work/bibliographic_entity%7Cbibliographic_details%7C355608. 

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Roland_Hayes

I Saw Three Ships Come Sailing In! They Carried Toys and Propaganda!

In 1914, during World War I, an appeal was published in the Chicago Herald, asking American children to donate toys, sweets, and money to suffering children in Europe whose Christmases that year surely would not be as joyful. These donations traveled to Europe on the U.S.S. Jason, a Navy fuel/cargo ship, branded for this special journey as “The Christmas Ship,” or, “The Santa Claus Ship.” This appeal soon became a national movement, gathering involvement from the Red Cross and other organizations, and meriting a song to be widely performed (often by the children themselves!) to persuade children to donate gifts. This song was called “Hurrah! Hurrah for the Christmas Ship!”1 and it was written by Henry S. Sawyer, who was a composer of popular piano and vocal music at the time (see on IMSLP, his incredibly problematic “Os-Ka-Loo-Sa-Loo,” among others). The song features a cheerful melody and inspiring words. It appeals to a child’s sense of wonder at the wideness of the world and the magic of Christmas, but the lyrics also raise some issues in terms of perpetuating propaganda. 

The front cover to Hurrah! Hurrah for the Christmas Ship. Notice the whimsical sailboat with Santa himself at its helm.
Henry S. Sawyer, Hurrah! Hurrah for the Christmas Ship. (Chicago, Illinois: McKinley Music Company, 1914).

The European children are referred to as “poor,” and “suffering,” implying not only their financial hardship but also poverty of spirit. The lyrics reference the “terrors” these children endure, including “fire, gun, and sword,” and homelessness. A written message on the back cover also contributes to harmful and sexist gender norms, asking girls to sew things then sell them, and asking boys to do chores and run errands for money. 

The actual “Christmas Ship,” A.K.A. The U.S.S. Jason, in November 1914. Not very whimsical, and presumably no Santa to be found.
Green, Mike. USS Jason (Fuel Ship #12) underway. Photograph. Nov 14, 1914. Library of Congress, LC-B2- 3291-3. http://www.navsource.org/archives/09/02/09021220.jpg (Accessed October 19, 2022).

However sweet the gesture and movement is, these descriptions contribute to the propaganda of wartime morale songs. While the lyrics do not directly insult enemies, the propaganda comes in the form of asking for money and instilling nationalism. If nothing else, this song trains American children that giving money during wartime is an important thing you must do for your country. Especially considering that 30 years later, many of these children will grow up to be adults during World War II, where money-pandering was a huge part of American propaganda. By asking American children to effectively be Santa Clause, this song could contribute to a superiority or savior complex that could result in nationalist ideals.  

People packing boxes of gifts for the Christmas Ship ahead of its departure.
Bain News Service, Publisher. Packing for Christmas Ship. 1914. Photograph. https://www.loc.gov/item/2014697999/.

Despite the propaganda, this effort was received very well by Europe. In an article published in November 1914 in the New York Times2
, the author reports that “the citizens of Greater Plymouth [England] manifested in every possible manner the heartfelt appreciation of the 6,000,000 Christmas gifts sent by the people of the United States to the unfortunate children in the war zone.” The receiving countries hosted banquets in honor of the ship’s arrival, and telegrams were exchanged on both sides. The ship’s arrival was met with excitement and gratitude, so clearly the propaganda worked. While this movement was a sweet idea, the execution perpetuates the nationalist propaganda that runs rampant during the wartime era, indoctrinating children into the compulsion to give money and ultimately fund the war effort.

Ragtime and the Stark Music Company

Ragtime is a genre of music created by Black pianists that was popular between 1890 and 1920. Known by such a name due to its highly syncopated nature (which was originally referred to as “ragging the time”), ragtime emerged initially in the Mississippi Valley as bar, cabaret, and club music played by “piano-thumping… black piano professors” (1) that was mostly improvisatory. This early ragtime was referred to as jig music, and was all but shunned by white populations. During the Chicago World Fair, many Black jig piano players were hired to play music written by white composers at Fair events, but they were not allowed to play their own music. As a result, they would play in the clubs, saloons, and other social spaces around the perimeter of the fair, which is where their music thrived (1).

It wasn’t until 1895 when the first ragtime tune, “La Pas La Mas”, was transcribed and actually published, starting a new subgenre within ragtime known as classic rag (2). Classic rag was published as sheet music and was not intended to be improvised off of; it was designed to be played exactly as written. Arguably the most famous classic rag composer was Scott Joplin, with his “Maple Leaf Rag” being the most popular of his works (3).

Cover art and first page of Stark Music Co.’s version of Joplin’s “Rag-Time Dance”. Full PDF here (5).

Like many composers of classic rag, Joplin was initially a jig pianist who then ventured into classic rag. In 1898, he first began submitting scores to publishing companies, but it wasn’t until meeting John Stillwell Stark, a white music publisher and music store owner, and playing for him in his store in 1899 that he entered a publishing contract. For Stark, this was the first Black and first ragtime composer he conducted business with (3), and this proved to be extremely profitable. The “Maple Leaf Rag”, Joplin’s first work published by Stark, is considered one of the first hit songs on sheet music and sold over 500,000 copies in the first 10 years of its publication (4).

With Joplin’s massive success, Stark decided that if he were going to sell more ragtime music, he would focus on publishing classic rag. Ragtime was a largely Black genre, and, predictably, Stark did not want to be seen as someone who particularly uplifted Black voices, and said that he “[advocated] no class of music”, but alternatively a publisher popular music and anything he thought to be “interesting or useful”, and ragtime just so happened to fit into those boxes. Stark didn’t just limit his classic rag roster to Joplin, but to other accomplished names like James Scott and Joseph Francis Lamb, as well as several of Joplin’s protégés. This turned his company into the primary supporter of and place to purchase ragtime music (2).

Cover art and first page of Stark Music Co.’s version of Lamb’s “Cleopatra Rag”. Full PDF here (6).

One result of the Stark Music Company churning out works by a star-studded list of ragtime composers was the spread of ragtime into white households and communities as a palatable morsel of Black American culture. The acceptance of ragtime seems to have been just another example of Black culture being appropriated and taken advantage of among the many that comprise American music history. One could argue that Stark’s opinion of neutrality rather than support could have been a factor in this, but I doubt Stark was influential enough himself to have significantly challenged his white audience’s overwhelmingly racist views.

Sources

(1) “From Piano Thumping to the Concert Stage: The Rise of Ragtime.” Music Educators Journal 59, no. 8 (1973): 53–56. https://doi.org/10.2307/3394278.

(2) Tichenor, Trebor Jay. “John Stillwell Stark, Piano Ragtime Publisher: Readings from ‘The Intermezzo’ and His Personal Ledgers, 1905-1908.” Black Music Research Journal 9, no. 2 (1989): 193–204. https://doi.org/10.2307/779423.

(3) Reed, Addison. “Scott Joplin, Pioneer: Part 2.” The Black Perspective in Music 3, no. 3 (1975): 269–77. https://doi.org/10.2307/1214012.

(4) “John Stark, 1841-1927.” The Library of Congress. LOC. Accessed October 19, 2022. https://www.loc.gov/item/ihas.200035817/. 

(5) Joplin, Scott. “Rag-Time Dance”. Sheet Music Consortium. St. Louis, MO: Stark Music Co., 1906. https://scholarsjunction.msstate.edu/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=3681&context=cht-sheet-music. 

(6) Lamb, Joseph F. “Cleopatra Rag”. Sheet Music Consortium. St. Louis, MO: Stark Music Co., 1915. https://scholarsjunction.msstate.edu/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=3482&context=cht-sheet-music.

Unconventionally Conventional: Francis Johnson’s “Celebrated and much admired voice quadrilles”

Despite being a Black composer and bandleader in Philadelphia during the early 19th century, Francis Johnson was one of the most celebrated American composers of his time, period. While this undoubtedly had something to do with the liberal and progressive atmosphere of Philadelphia, it was also due to his talent and the innovative and experimental nature of many of his compositions. However, some argue that he merely excelled in existing genres and was popular not because of his unconventional style, but precisely because he catered to white tastes.1 I found a copy of Johnson’s “Celebrated and much admired voice quadrilles” in the Sheet Music Consortium database, which Johnson dedicated to a wealthy local businessman.2 The subtitle proclaims that Johnson and his band found “much distinguished success” while embarking on what was the first tour of Europe by any American band, revealing that his celebrity was not limited to Philadelphia.1 The quadrille was an elaborate dance form that was very popular among the upper classes in the first half of the 19th century.3 The circumstances of this piece’s composition and publication reveal that Johnson’s success had much to do with his catering to upper-class interests.

However, the music itself shows Johnson’s willingness to experiment. Popular music written by Johnson and others at the time was often published in arrangements that could be performed by amateur pianists in the home.1 As a result, this quadrille, written for piano and voice, is mostly very simple rhythmically, but Johnson also embellishes the piece with a more lively and rhythmically complex cornet solo. Johnson annotates his music with instructions to the dancers, in addition to the lyrics. The very idea of a “voice quadrille” was a novel one, as the genre was traditionally instrumental.4 The lyrics themselves are lighthearted, with a “laughing finale” that literally calls for the singers to sing “ha ha ha”.

While the quadrille was a highly ritualized genre that was popular among the upper classes, Johnson’s ability to play with the conventions of that genre shows that his success was not only a result of catering to upper-class tastes but actually a result of subverting them. Johnson provides an interesting example of the kind of creative mixing of genres that occurred when Black Americans came into contact with European music, as his success came from privilege and access to white upper-class society rather than the oppression of slavery. Johnson achieved a number of firsts among American composers, showcasing his boldness and willingness to go beyond what was expected.4 In fact, Johnson was the first composer writing for white audiences to address the topic of slavery and the suffering it caused, showing that in some cases his success was actually despite this boldness. While his education in and use of European musical styles perhaps reflected a desire to fit in with the white cultural elite, along with a desire by that elite to embrace a Black person who had proved himself able to assimilate, Johnson’s success was ultimately due to his ability to engage in the musical styles of the cultural elite and bring something new to them.

References:

1 Griscom, Richard. “Francis Johnson: Philadelphia Bandmaster and Composer.” University of Pennsylvania Almanac, February 14, 2012. https://almanac.upenn.edu/archive/volumes/v58/n22/bandmaster.html.

2 Schnurmann, Claudia. “His Father’s Favored Son: David Parish.” Immigrant Entrepreneurship. German Historical Institute, August 22, 2018. https://www.immigrantentrepreneurship.org/entries/his-fathers-favored-son-david-parish/#Between_Philadelphia_and_Ogdensburg_1806-1816; Johnson, Francis. Johnson’s Celebrated and Much Admired Voice Quadrilles. Geo. W. Hewitt and Co., Philadelphia, monographic, 1840. Notated Music.

3 Skiba, Bob. “Here, Everybody Dances: Social Dancing in Early Minnesota.” MN History Magazine. Accessed October 18, 2022. https://collections.mnhs.org/MNHistoryMagazine/articles/55/v55i05p217-227.pdf.

Kramer, Hayden James. 2022. “Six Works by Francis Johnson (1792–1844): A Snapshot of Early American Social Life.” Order No. 29162008, University of Maryland, College Park. https://www.proquest.com/dissertations-theses/six-works-francis-johnson-1792-1844-snapshot/docview/2688578944/se-2.

“What are your people singing about-for they are always singing.”

After searching a bit on the database, I stumbled upon a document called, “Plea for Negro Folk Lore,” published as the Freeman on January 27, 1894. In this article, author Miss A.M. Bacon argues that within a handful of years as of the publishing of this article, the history of black Americans would dwindle, and be reduced to nothingness-completely assimilated into society with no traditions, beliefs or ideas from the past. The thought that the new generation was not aware of the sufferings of their ancestors is frightening. To combat this rising problem, the author suggests the history of black Americans, specifically enslaved black Americans to be meticulously collected. Likewise, she argues that such knowledge must be collected by intelligent and educated black scholars in order to accurately inform from their own experience. Bacon numbers the types of information that must be collected: Folktales, customs, traditions, African words surviving in speech or song, ceremonies and proverbs. Through collecting these items, the history of black Americans can be compiled, so that everyone knows the struggles of the past.

One of the best ways to explore the past of black Americans is through the surviving words through speech and song. While people had recorded spirituals at the time, Bacon focuses on different kinds of songs. She references utterances, both musical and rhythmic. Further on, she poses the question to her audience of primarily black Americans, “What are your people singing about – for they are always singing – at their work or their play, by the […] or in social gatherings?”1 Bacon presents a clear call to action to notate such music, as it is these songs that contain the history, life and identity of the black American.

Of course, it is our job and duty as musicologists to collect the history of music, but also to respect the cultures which we are observing. This article describes an issue of the past, but its effects are still felt today. The author asks black Americans to collect said data on their culture, history and music rather than white Americans. This is an ask on authenticity, and what is truly authentic. Personally, I think the most important part of any data collection is consent. The second is avoid cultural appropriation when possible. The fear that white people would culturally appropriate black culture was a fear then and continues to be a fear today. In fact, the conversation of cultural appropriation is a wide and winding one. The shades of grey cannot be less defined. I have my own definition, which looks at intent and outcome. If either category is not right, then there is cultural appropriation. Is the data collector (in this case, musicologist) going in with the intent to capture a culture and keep as much authenticity as possible? Are they doing so to publish a book, or to take inspiration? Do they have the consent of the culture to gather the data? The line between cultural appropriation and appreciation is thin and narrow and can completely reshape the way people view said culture, people, and the recorder of the data itself.

 

1 “Plea for Negro Folk Lore,” page 2, column 3, line 11-15

Plea for Negro Folk Lore.” Freeman (Indianapolis, Indiana) 6, no. 4, January 27, 1894: [2]. Readex: African American Newspapers. https://infoweb.newsbank.com/apps/readex/doc?p=EANAAA&docref=image/v2%3A12B28495A8DAB1C8%40EANAAA-12C8A12E849E6750%402412856-12C8A12E9A8258B0%401-12C8A12F1D93D6A0%40Plea%2Bfor%2BNegro%2BFolk%2BLore (Accessed October 12th, 2022).

Harry T. Burleigh: accomplished composer, talented baritone… and Dvořák’s muse?

One of the most beloved African-American composers of the late 19th and early 20th centuries was Harry T. Burleigh. Born and raised in Erie, Pennsylvania, he learned to sing spirituals from his mother and sang in various church and community events throughout his childhood. In his teenage years, he became known as a fantastic classical singer, and got to work at and see many famous people perform, such as Venezuelan pianist Teresa Carreño. Then, a few years after high school in 1892, Burleigh began to attend the National Conservatory of Music in New York on scholarship for voice (1).

But, by the title of this blog post, how does any of this relate to Czech person and well-known composer Antonín Dvořák?

Well, Dvořák happened to immigrate the United States in 1892 also to become the director of the National Conservatory of Music! He both taught classes and conducted the conservatory orchestra, which Burleigh also happened to become the librarian and copyist for. As a result of this, Dvořák and Burleigh worked together frequently, which eventually turned into a friendship. A particularly cute story from their friendship comes from a letter Dvořák wrote to his family back home that his son “[would sit] on Burleigh’s lap during the orchestra’s rehearsals and [play] the tympani” (2).

However, the relationship between the two bettered their compositions as well. Dvořák would often overhear Burleigh singing spirituals to himself while working or in the halls, and, not knowing much about spirituals, would talk to him about them and learn many of the songs from him. Dvořák then encouraged Burleigh to begin composing and arranging these spirituals (1). This would kickstart a prolific composing career for Burleigh, who incorporated spirituals into many of his original art songs, arrangements, and other compositions, and amassed a portfolio of over 200 works. Here is a review of his works from the Afro-American Cullings section of the Cleveland Gazette (3):

Dvořák also found ample inspiration in the African-American folk music he learned from Burleigh and gained a huge amount of respect for it. In fact, he was so displeased that white Americans did not care for African-American music that wrote several news articles in the New York Herald, in which he argued that the soul of American music lies in Black music, which the Herald’s white readers found difficult to swallow, to say the least. Here are a few words from an article he wrote in 1893, with even a picture of Burleigh (4):

Dvořák then composed his New World Symphony (here’s a link to its very famous Largo movement) based off several spirituals, the pentatonic and blues scale – all learned from Burleigh – and Indigenous music, and it gained massive acclaim and spreading rapidly throughout the country (3). Black communities across the country absolutely adored the work, and grew to become very fond of and proud of both Dvořák and Burleigh, as can be seen in this from the Cleveland Gazette (5):Thankfully, and radically for the time, Dvořák gave much credit to Burleigh for the conception of many of the ideas for his New World Symphony (2). One can debate the ethicality of Dvořák’s quotation of Black and Indigenous music within his own music, but at the very minimum, he supported and credited those who inspired him.

Sources:

(1) “H. T. Burleigh (1866-1949)”. 2022. The Library Of Congress. https://loc.gov/item/ihas.200035730.

(2) “African American Influences”. 2022. DAHA. https://www.dvoraknyc.org/african-american-influences.

(3) “Afro-American Cullings.” Cleveland Gazette, October 30, 1915: 4. Readex: African American Newspapers. https://infoweb.newsbank.com/apps/readex/doc?p=EANAAA&docref=image/v2%3A12B716FE88B82998%40EANAAA-12BC1B62334A2850%402420801-12BA063BD57BDCD8%403-12DBB540D0E6C840%40Afro-American%2BCullings.

(4) Dvořák, Antonin. 1893. “Antonin Dvořák On Negro Melodies”. New York Herald, May 28th, 1893. https://static.qobuz.com/info/IMG/pdf/NYHerald-1893-May-28-Recentre.pdf.

(5) “[America; Dr. Antonin Dvorak; Mr. Harry T. Burleigh; Erie; Samuel P. Warren].” Cleveland Gazette, September 23, 1893: 2. Readex: African American Newspapers. https://infoweb.newsbank.com/apps/readex/doc?p=EANAAA&docref=image/v2%3A12B716FE88B82998%40EANAAA-12C2B9DB2DFFBDD8%402412730-12C106453A9F6688%401-12D7B8B19C518AD0%40%255BAmerica%253B%2BDr.%2BAntonin%2BDvorak%253B%2BMr.%2BHarry%2BT.%2BBurleigh%253B%2BErie%253B%2BSamuel%2BP.%2BWarren%255D.

African American Sorrow Songs and Spirituals

The term “sorrow songs” was coined by W.E.B. DuBois and represented songs that expressed the suffering and unjust treatment of enslaved African Americans throughout the period of slavery in the US. Sorrow songs conveyed sadness and the lyrics and melodies were often very direct about the experiences that African Americans had while enslaved. DuBois commented that although the songs were unknown to him, he knew the songs as a part of himself. 

Many of the Sorrow Songs and Negro folk songs had lots of spiritual references because the only book that was read to slaves was the bible. Although Sorrow Songs implies hardships and literal sadness, there were still many songs that represented hopes and aspirations for a better future. The lyrics of these more hopeful songs would start with the hardships of slavery and gravitate towards a lighter topic of being enlightened by Christianity and the hope and faith that God will look over the slaves.

Due to the deep and meaningful lyrics in Sorrow Songs, many leaders and teachers recognized the significance of these songs for African American culture. They would often teach the importance of the melodies and lyrics of the songs and stress the respect that younger African Americans should have for their music. In a news article from the Chicago Defender in 1922, “A History of Music That Moved World: Story of Songs of Hope That Came From the Hearts of Slaves”, the author argues that these songs were so important for African Americans was because they were created by African Americans to express the African American experience through slavery. Moreover, the author states that certain other Negro folk songs don’t hold as much weight because although they reflected the African American experience, they were written by white men.

Although the term Sorrow Songs has become less prevalent and spirituals are more commonly known, the experiences represented through Sorrow Songs have not been lost to time. Spirituals have since evolved from the slave songs and Sorrow songs to become more polished forms of music that still maintain their characteristic moods that were created under intense hardships and deep sorrows.

 

References:

“A History of Music that Moved World: Story of Songs of Hope that Came from the Hearts of Slaves.” The Chicago Defender (National edition) (1921-1967), Dec 30, 1922, pp. 13. ProQuest, https://www.proquest.com/historical-newspapers/history-music-that-moved-world/docview/491968896/se-2.

Nobody knows the trouble I see sheet music. Easy Sheet Music. (2021, April 11). Retrieved October 10, 2022, from http://easysheetmusic.altervista.org/nobody-knows-the-trouble-i-see-sheet-music-guitar-chords-lyrics/

Peyton, Dave. “THE MUSICAL BUNCH: THINGS IN GENERAL SLAVE SONGS.” The Chicago Defender (National edition) (1921-1967), Nov 17, 1928, pp. 6. ProQuest, https://www.proquest.com/historical-newspapers/musical-bunch/docview/492211749/se-2.

Spiritual lyrics: Oh freedom. Negro Spiritual/Slave Song Lyrics for Oh Freedom. (n.d.). Retrieved October 10, 2022, from http://www.traditionalmusic.co.uk/negro-spirituals/oh_freedom.htm

W.E.B. Du Bois. “”The Sorrow Songs,” from The Souls of Black Folk”. Book excerpt, 1903. From Teaching American History. https://teachingamericanhistory.org/document/the-sorrow-songs/

White Privilege Asserting Authority Over the Narrative

African American spirituals were infused with the experiences and emotions of enslaved people in the south as they utilized these religious folk tunes for praise, worship, and community. Many of these spirituals thrive today, performed by artists such as Nat Cole King, Louis Armstrong, Bing Crosby, and many more. However, some argue about the origination of these tunes, such as the musicologists recently discussed in class, like Henry Krehbiel and George Pullman Jackson. Throughout this blog post, I will discuss how the privilege of white men allowed scholars like Jackson and Krehbiel to argue the true origin of spirituals and how the power to change the narrative has primarily laid with the European white settlers.

The Primary document below is a piece of a newspaper listing published by the Afro-American Gazette, and it lists in chronological order the history of black achievement. Listed halfway down is the 1867 published book entitled Slave Songs of the United States. This book is also seen below. Written and edited by northern abolitionists William Francis Allen, Lucy McKim Garrison, and Charles Pickard Ware, Slave Songs of the United States was published in 1867. It was prominent in introducing written notation of spirituals that were never shared before; this book was the first space where the famous folk tune Nobody Knows the Trouble I’ve Seen was published. The three authors that gathered all 136 spirituals listed spent time during the civil war with recently freed enslaved people and, in turn, learned of the songs they used for worship.

Furthermore, William Allen gives background through the writing of the introduction to the purpose of this book and the biases it might hold. Allen admits that “the difficulty experienced in obtaining absolute correctness is greater than might be supposed by those who have never tried the experiment, and we are far from claiming that we have made no mistakes” (Slave Songs, Pg. iv). His identity as a white scholar with a Harvard degree and title as an educator in the civil war gives him an abundance of authority to hold the narrative of African American Slave songs. Thankfully, the book’s authors provide some credit for the actual creators of the spirituals; however, the main argument is that the privilege the three authors hold allows them to change the narrative just as scholars like Krehbiel and Jackson have done.

The score of Nobody Knows the Trouble I’ve Seen, recorded by Charles Pickard, is a very prominent spiritual performed by many artists in pop culture. Consequently, the piece was recorded during a moment of grief, surrounded by when the population of Charleston. This song was specifically introduced to bring together the community in that moment of frustration. Those in the presence of the performance shared the intensity of emotions that flowed through the crowd. While the authors of this book were too in attendance, there stands to mention that the musicologists never could genuinely capture the integrity of the pieces through western, traditional transcription of music they later wrote down. Allen even remarks on this by stating that the mistakes embedded are “variations.” The issue, however, arises when these variations become the known versions of the original due to white privilege creating authority and power over all narratives.

One last primary document I came across is Frederick Louis Ritters’s book, Music in America, where he cites the Slave Songs of the United States and says it is “one of the best collections of old slave songs” (Ritter). At the time, it was the best collection of African American spirituals. Allen did indeed make recognition that these pieces were all derived from African Americans, that the notation depicted is the best that they can do and will only “convey but a faint shadow of the original” (Slave Songs, Pg. iv). Although, if we allow this narrative to represent African American culture and music, we allow authors like Henry Krehbiel and George Pullman Jackson to make claims of the white influence on black tradition.

 

Bibliography

Afro-American Gazette, vol. III, no. 2, 18 Jan. 1993, p. 12. Readex: African American Newspapers, infoweb.newsbank.com/apps/readex/doc?p=EANAAA&docref=image/v2%3A12A7AD36E8864712%40EANAAA-12C5F06DC6F7F750%402449006-12C5F06DF9520AB0%4017. Accessed 24 Nov. 2022.

Allen, W. F. W. (1867). Slave songs of the United States. Smithsonian Library. Retrieved October 11, 2022, from https://library.si.edu/digital-library/book/slavesongsofunit00alle

Wenturiano. (2007, August 24). Louis Armstrong – nobody knows the trouble I’ve seen (1962). YouTube. Retrieved October 11, 2022, from Louis Armstrong – Nobody Knows the Trouble I’ve Seen (1962)

Ritter, Frédéric Louis. Music in America by Dr. Frédéric Louis Ritter. New York C. Scribner’s Sons, 1890. Readex: Readex AllSearch, infoweb.newsbank.com/apps/readex/doc?p=ARDX&docref=image/v2%3A%40EAIX-147E02D592F8DF60%40-1514D940AFDB4FF0%40449. Accessed 24 Nov. 2022. 

Booker T. Washington – A Model for Engaging with Spirituals

In class on Thursday, I mentioned potential issues with the readings from Krehbiel and Jackson. While differing in their overall intentions and attitudes towards African American music, both step into pitfalls we often see with early ethnographic and ethnomusicology research: they try to engage with other cultures from an “academic”, western-central perspective. Rather than engaging with spirituals on their own terms, they attach western concepts of musical ownership and authorship to an aural tradition that was communally shared amongst African Americans.

A photograph of Fisk University

A contrary model for how we might engage with spirituals comes from Booker T. Washington. In an address on behalf of Fisk University -a historically based black university in Nashville, Tennessee- Booker T. Washington contextualizes what Fisk Day (May 19, 1905) signifies, relating it to “The Songs of Our Fathers”, and titles it as such. Washington starts his address by invoking the image of slaves coming across the Atlantic and connecting it to what he views as the cultural significance of Spirituals. “…It is from these songs of our fathers, that their children of past generation… have received the inspiration that has imbued them with courage to have faith that right may win…” (1). Washington continues this line of thought with a literary analysis of a preacher, quoting and alluding to well-known hymns and spirituals without needing to mention them by name.  He contextualizes them, inviting people to think about the spiritual in the mindset of a slave. “What encouragement to the patiently waiting slaves had been the faith songs that had banished the sight of the auction block, the separation of mother and child, father and mother…” (2).

A photograph of Booker T. Washington

In concluding his address, Washington makes the penultimate argument that Fisk day honors “the sacrifices, loving devotion and a belief in the possibilities of a despised people…” (3). While this address does not have the academic citations or research behind it that Krehbiel or Jackson exhibit in their writing, it serves as a model for how to engage with spirituals. Rather than focusing on the who, what when of spirituals, Washington focuses on the why and how which is all the more relevant to understanding the musical and cultural practice.

 

 

(1) “The Songs of Our Fathers. An Address Delivered on Fisk Day during the Louisiana Purchase Exhibition.” Plaindealer (Topeka, Kansas) VII, no. 20, May 19, 1905: [3]. Readex: African American Newspapers. https://infoweb.newsbank.com/apps/readex/doc?p=EANAAA&docref=image/v2%3A12A7EF1A4AC47F2D%40EANAAA-12C8B913302F6748%402416985-12C8B9134BFB71A0%402-12C8B913A0F80C58%40The%2BSongs%2Bof%2BOur%2BFathers.%2BAn%2BAddress%2BDelivered%2Bon%2BFisk%2BDay%2Bduring%2Bthe%2BLouisiana%2BPurchase%2BExhibition.

(2) “The Songs of Our Fathers. An Address Delivered on Fisk Day during the Louisiana Purchase Exhibition.”

(3) “The Songs of Our Fathers. An Address Delivered on Fisk Day during the Louisiana Purchase Exhibition.”

 

“Sylvan Worship”

“Sylvan Worship” is an article written by Chicago Inter-Ocean writer William Eleroy Curtis, published September 18, 1875. The article outlines a description of a trip that Curtis took to witness a ‘spiritual’ in person. Overall, the article is rich with fetishistic language and othering behaviors, describing the events Curtis witnessed as a sort of foreign and outlandish ritual. Certain possibly offensive terms will be replaced with more modern and inclusive language in direct quotes, for the purpose of this blog. 

There isn’t much information on who William Eleroy Curtis really was, but we do know for whom he wrote, the Chicago Inter-Ocean, and when he lived; Curtis was born in 1850, and passed in 1911. From the way that he writes, I assume that he was a white man, given he uses language that refers to African-American peoples as something that he is not. For example, take how he opens the article: “No race is more devotional than the African, and no class of people does the camp meeting revival prove so effectual as with them.”

With this position in mind, I’d like to look at the language he uses, and what the intent of writing this article may have been. The language used in the work is fetishistic, and while it offers high praise to the traditions that it highlights, it treats them as a sort of somewhat barbaric and foreign, indirectly invalidating the authenticity of the practices. Take, for example, this description of a spiritual: “[Black] ‘Spirituals’ will forever exist among the curiosities of music, and at the camp-meeting the ‘Spiritual’ is seen in its strangest light and found in its most unadulterated flavor.” The use of terms such as “ unadulterated flavor” permeates this article in a way that doesn’t really do it any favors. 

So what was it trying to do? I think that the article was written as either a curiosity piece, from the point of view of the white man, or as a sort of “they’re not all bad!” article, meant to highlight the good that black spiritual practices are doing. Like other earlier musicology works that we have covered, the frame of this article is one that does not paint black or minority musical practices in an equal and fair light. Either good natured or neutral, this work doesn’t seem to bring deliberate harm, but it also isn’t doing all that much good, the way that it is written. 

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

Spirituals at a Teacher’s Festival during Reconstuction

The Educational column of the Loyal Georgian written August 24th of 1867 describes a teachers festival in which the educators sent to the south by the New England Freedmen’s Society get together to celebrate the education of the recently freedmen in various locations in the south such as Atlanta, Chattanooga, Nashville, and Memphis (“Teacher’s Festival”). At this event, it is described that at least two “Negro Spirituals” were sung by various attendees of the event. One of the spirituals was sung by a mother and daughter with the lyrics “I think I see sister Hannah, I know her by her garments, She’s a blessing in the land.” (“Teacher’s Festival”). The title has proven difficult to find, but the story of Hannah is frequently used as a demonstration of the good fortune given by God (Klein). All members of the group concluded their meeting with the Hymn “Old Hundredth” also known as “All People Who on Earth do Dwell” (“Teacher’s Festival”, “Tune: Old Hundredth”). 

Though the event itself did not have a musical nor necessarily spiritual focus, these pieces of music added great joy, celebration, and fellowship for those in attendance. This Teacher’s Festival was happening to celebrate the work of those educators in the south during Civil War Reconstruction (“Teacher’s Festival”). This event in itself is significant because it is one of the few positive effects of Reconstruction (freed people getting education) and it’s very important both musically and historically to acknowledge the fact that African Americans were celebrating other African Americans with black music. This was not a performance for an audience but rather an act of fellowship for a group of people that had known and would continue to know great hardship. 

 

This article brings to mind the words of W.E.B Du Bois when he said “They came out of the South, unknown to me, one by one, and yet at once I knew them as of me and of mine.” (Du Bois). It is clear both in this column and for Du Bois that this music was of great importance in passing along and celebrating black community. 

 

Sources

 

Klein (Abensohn), Lillian. “Hannah: Bible.” Shalvi/Hyman Encyclopedia of Jewish Women. 31 December 1999. Jewish Women’s Archive. (Viewed on October 11, 2022) <https://jwa.org/encyclopedia/article/hannah-bible>.

Parkman, John, and W.E Stevenson. “Appointment: The New England Freedmen’s Aid Society, a Teacher of Freed People in North Carolina.” North Carolina Digital Archives, CONTENTdm, digital.ncdcr.gov/digital/collection/p15012coll8/id/10779/. 

“Teacher’s Festival.” Daily Loyal Georgian, 24 Aug. 1867, p. 3. 

“Tune: Old Hundredth.” Old Hundredth, Hymnary.org, hymnary.org/tune/old_hundredth_bourgeois. 

W.E.B. Du Bois. “”The Sorrow Songs,” from The Souls of Black Folk”. Book excerpt, 1903. From Teaching American History. https://teachingamericanhistory.org/document/the-sorrow-songs/ (accessed October 11, 2022).

How can minstrel shows be used to educate people on negro spirituals?

If one were to ask what a minstrel show was in today’s world, many outside of the study of music would most likely not have a solid definition foundation, but go back more or less 150 years and you will find it to be a popular event. As blackface comedy, it un-Americanizes negro spirituals that were already being told they were copies and variations of European compositions with simplified notes and less melodic melody. One example is Richard Wallschek. He states, “these negro songs are very much overrated”. 1
When a group of people is secluded to a style of living in one place, they will adopt and adapt what they learn to what they already know, how does that make it not American or stealing?

However, these minstrel shows were not creating a new genre of music, they were genuinely stealing Afro-American Folksongs. Frederick Douglass had a strong viewpoint on minstrel performers with the newspaper clipping below from the North Star article on October 27th,1848:

2

As one can see, there is a strong standpoint on how white people used their status and race to take advantage of and degrade slaves as a way of entertainment. Even the way they dressed and drew pictures was a way to demean and make fun of as if slaves could not have their own music and own culture.

3

The Virginia Minstrels quickly capitalized on popularity by showing America the first real minstrel show involving a minstrel ensemble in 1843. One could say that minstrel shows were done to show how cruel and unjust slavery could be. Or that it became popular during a time when slavery was being debated as more detrimental than beneficial and whites became more curious about black people.4

Eric Lott, the author of “Love and Theft: Blackface Minstrelsy and the American Working Class”, talks about how maybe minstrels were essential to the making of the white working class because they brought to light the issues of not only race but also class and gender. He even goes on to say that blackface potentially regulated the formation of white working-class masculinity.5

This understanding of minstrel music, unfortunately, fortunately, can lead to a deeper understanding of race and slavery.

 

1 Henry Krehbiel, Afro-American Folksongs: A Study in Racial and National Music (1914), 11. 

2 “The Hutchinson Family-Hunkerism.” Frederick Douglass’ Paper (Rochester, New York) I, no. 44, October 27, 1848: [2]. Readex: African American Newspapers. https://infoweb.newsbank.com/apps/readex/doc?p=EANAAA&docref=image/v2%3A11BE9340B7A005AB%40EANAAA-11D0A391B293AD78%402396328-11D0A391CBF9FAA0%401-11D0A39223979A50%40The%2BHutchinson%2BFamily-Hunkerism.

3Ryser, Tracey A. “‘A White Man’s Inadequate Portrait of a Slave’: Minstrel Shows and Huckleberry Finn”. Youngstown State University, August, 2004. https://digital.maag.ysu.edu/xmlui/bitstream/handle/1989/6342/b19594422.pdf?sequence=1&isAllowed=y

4   

5Winans, Robert B. American Music 13, no. 1 (1995): 109. https://doi.org/10.2307/3052314.

Credit Can Come From Surprising Places

It was no secret that enslaved people in America had their own traditions and practices outside of their labor. What can be surprising about these traditions held is who has anything to say about it.

Thomas Jefferson, this country’s third president and one of our founding fathers, was a consistent opponent of slavery. He once said, “I hope in all my soul that the day will come when slavery is a word without meaning in the English language…” The paper this quote comes from is one from the Fredrick Douglas Paper and this specific publication had his eulogy printed.

In Notes on Virginia with an appendix by Thomas Jefferson (1801), he openly praised them for being “equal in memory to the whites” and in the same sentence also claimed Black people were inferior in reason to white people. In terms of their music, however, Jefferson called Black people “generally more gifted than the whites with accurate ears for tune and time, and they have been capable of imaging a small catch.” This book is a collection of thoughts from Jefferson himself and a fair number of his colleagues wouldn’t have praised Black people this highly during this time. He was a liberal thinker for his time, though, but seeing this made my eyes go wide. It’s rare to see a white person praising Black people like this from this time period.

When we were reading sources from this time in class, we didn’t see a lot of white people talking about Black and enslaved people this way. Most white people who wrote about them at the time were quick to judge them for anything they saw or didn’t see. Opinions like Jeffersons are incredibly important because it shows that there were powerful people who did appose slavery and praised the enslaved people for some of the faculties they were trying their best to express. It shows that people saw them for more than property and in the sea of awful racist language (which some of his comments do have, mind you) it’s comforting to see those pockets of good.

Works Cited:

“Eulogy.” Frederick Douglass’ Paper, vol. I, no. XIII, 24 Mar. 1848, p. [1]. Readex: African American Newspapers, infoweb.newsbank.com/apps/readex/doc?p=EANAAA&docref=image/v2%3A11BE9340B7A005AB%40EANAAA-11D0A375F6CC4A30%402396111-11D0A376083F6788%400-11D0A376375BB120%40Eulogy. Accessed 12 Dec. 2022.

https://infoweb.newsbank.com/iw-search/we/Evans/?p_product=EAIX&p_theme=eai&p_nbid=Y4EJ4EGBMTY3MDg5NDM0OS40NDI1ODE6MToxMjoxOTkuOTEuMTgwLjU&p_action=doc&p_queryname=3&p_docref=v2:13D59FCC0F7F54B8@EAIX-147E02D7E1F80B80@5280-14B3FF2F6A857B98@218

 

“Sylvan Worship”; an example of racist attitudes in 19th-century musicology

Front Page of “The Weekly Louisianian” on September 18, 1875 https://infoweb.newsbank.com/apps/readex/doc?p=EANAAA&sort=YMD_date%3AA&fld-base-0=alltext&val-base-0=spirituals&val-database-0=&fld-database-0=database&fld-nav-0=YMD_date&val-nav-0=&docref=image%2Fv2%3A12B767D21CB17968%40EANAAA-12BEC31400554038%402406150-12BC002A0EA02018%400&origin=image%2Fv2%3A12B767D21CB17968%40EANAAA-12BEC31400554038%402406150-12BC002A0EA02018%400-12D621523A4D1068%40%2522Sylvan%2BWorship.%2522

On September 18, 1875, an author with the surname “Curtis” wrote an article for a newspaper called “The Weekly Louisianian”, which was based in New Orleans, Louisiana. This article, titled “Sylvan Worship”, documents the author’s experience at an African American church where worshippers sang spirituals as a religious experience. The lens through which Curtis analyzes their experience in witnessing spirituals as a religious experience is especially interesting considering “The Weekly Louisianian” describes itself on the front page as “Journal of the Republican Party of Louisiana”, going so far as to further demonstrate their political affiliation through the motto, “Republican at all times, and under all circumstances.” Curtis’ article therefore gives an excellent example of how Southern, Republican white people in the nineteenth century perceived the spiritual practices of African Americans and the associated church music.

All of this being said, it is important to recognize that the meaning of “Republican” in 1875 is very different than how it is interpreted today:

“After the United States triumphed over the Confederate States at the end of the Civil War, and under President Abraham Lincoln, Republicans passed laws that granted protections for Black Americans and advanced social justice (for example the Civil Rights Act of 1866 though this failed to end slavery). Again Democrats largely opposed these apparent expansions of federal power,” (Wolchover).

Regardless of political party, the “othering” attitudes in Curtis’ writing are apparent and abhorrent. For example, Curtis states in his article, “Negro character has always been one of the most curious studies among human phenomena, and, although its peculiarities have been the theme of books and lectures for a hundred years, there is always something new and novel cropping out in association with the race.” By saying this, Curtis conveys the attitude that Black people are specimens and “phenomena” that need to be scientifically studied to understand, as if they are not humans with distinct voices, identities, and experiences. Curtis drives this point home by quoting the Black musicians and worshippers he observed in African American Vernacular English (AAVE), which seems to have been used inappropriately with an overtone of condescension in order to undermine what the African American worshippers are actually saying and draw attention to linguistic differences. He even writes the lyrics of the hymn “Come, We That Love the Lord” in AAVE despite the fact that it was written by Isaac Watts, a white Anglican. Curtis does not seem to be attempting to purposely “other” the African American worshippers, in fact he praises the passion and intensity of the service. Curtis’ intrinsic racial bias comes through in vocabulary such as “primitive”, “barbaric”, and “pathetic” to describe the worship spirituals. Another interesting vocabulary choice is in the article title itself: “sylvan”. According to Oxford English Dictionary, “sylvan” is defined as “A person dwelling in a wood, or in a woodland region; a forester; a rustic”. Curtis’ use of this word almost implies that African Americans only live in rural country areas and are behind on cosmopolitan technologies and behaviors.

It is clear through the entire article that Curtis likely thought of himself as though he were scientifically observing a culture that was less developed than his own (which we know is problematic and inaccurate). This viewpoint parallels that of Frances Densmore’s while she documented Native American musical traditions around the United States in the early twentieth century. It is interesting to note that this article was released during Densmore’s lifetime (she lived from 1867-1957), so it can be inferred that racial othering and white supremacy in analyzing the music of other cultures was rampant in the late-nineteenth and early-twentieth centuries.

Frances Densmore https://www.britannica.com/biography/Frances-Densmore

Sources:

Curtis. “Sylvan Worship.” African American Newspapers, Reader, 18 Sept. 1875, https://infoweb.newsbank.com/apps/readex/doc?p=EANAAA&sort=YMD_date%3AA&fld-base-0=alltext&val-base-0=spirituals&val-database-0=&fld-database-0=database&fld-nav-0=YMD_date&val-nav-0=&docref=image%2Fv2%3A12B767D21CB17968%40EANAAA-12BEC31400554038%402406150-12BC002A0EA02018%400-12D621523A4D1068%40%2522Sylvan%2BWorship.%2522&firsthit=yes.

The Weekly Louisianian, 18 Sept. 1875.

Wolchover, Natalie, and Callum McKelvie. “When and Why Did Democrats and Republicans Switch Platforms?” LiveScience, Purch, 14 Apr. 2022, https://www.livescience.com/34241-democratic-republican-parties-switch-platforms.html.

Origins and Ownership of Spirituals (Geepers!)

Since spirituals first gained popularity in the United States – and certainly since they became a common feature of vocal concert repertoire – many theories have been published on their origins. You think those origins are simple? Just read the 1943 George Pullen Jackson paper claiming spirituals were directly plagiarized from British folk songs,1 and you’ll realize our apparent shared understanding about the origins of this genre was once far from accepted.

One particularly interesting and egregiously racist perspective on spirituals’ origins was written by a Jeanette Robinson Murphy, in 1904.2  Murphy has abhorrent ideas about black people’s intelligence and role in society. And she in part attributes the emotional power of spirituals, as she observes it in black communities, to the ongoing influence of voodoo, which is demeaning to black people and disrespectful to the religion. There’s no small share of exoticization in her writing, either, if one examines the passages where she describes black people’s voices and lives:

But what’s fascinating is that she does acknowledge that the songs originated in black communities, though a product of acculturation and some amount of cultural syncretism, and she doesn’t claim (as some have) that black people are incapable of artistry without white influence.

Of course her language here creates an artificial distance between what she categorizes as “black” and “white” music – interesting, considering her acknowledgement of cultural syncretism. But through her racist lens, she’s somehow managed to preserve the cultural autonomy of black music in a way some of her contemporaries couldn’t. She performs some logical backflips throughout her work to preserve both her racist ideals and her genuine reverence for black music (too many to cite); maybe that logic is the only thing that actuates this dissonance.

But what’s even more interesting to me than Murphy as an example of racist psychology is the overlap between the ideas of those such as Murphy and the ideas of their black contemporaries. Murphy emphasizes the deep emotion ingrained in spirituals, and that of the performers; this is a focus her black contemporaries also uplifted. W.E.B DuBois’ “Sorrow Songs,” for example, connects the emotional potency and universality of spirituals to the generational trauma of slavery, and his assertions about spirituals’ direct descent from African folk music are essentially aligned with Murphy’s claims.3 Mrs. Booker T. Washington also draws this connection between the emotional resonance of black music and the horrors of slavery in her 1905 address about Fisk University and the Fisk Jubilee singers, given at the Louisiana Purchase Exposition:4

There are undeniable similarities between how Murphy understands and experiences spirituals and how at least these black authors understand and experience spirituals. Whether this is the result of some strategic essentialism, an emerging pan-African concept leading black public figures to emphasize the commonalities of their experiences as black Americans, political maneuvering, or just a genuine shared opinion, I cannot say. But when we’re studying music that has associations of “ownership” by one racial group or another, and music that has conflicting origin stories, these are the socio-historical questions we’re going to have to get comfortable addressing.

1 Jackson, George Pullen. White and Negro Spirituals: Their Life Span and Kinship. Locust Valley, NY: JJ Augustin Publisher, 1943.

 2 Murphy, Jeanette Robinson. 1904. “African Music in America.” In Southern thoughts for Northern thinkers and African music in America. New York, NY: Bandanna Publishing Company. https://docs.newsbank.com/openurl?ctx_ver=z39.88-2004&rft_id=info:sid/iw.newsbank.com:EAIX&rft_val_format=info:ofi/fmt:kev:mtx:ctx&rft_dat=147E02CE09E20F50&svc_dat=Evans:eaidoc&req_dat=102FE1F6CA316FA2.

3 DuBois, W.E.B. “‘The Sorrow Songs,” From the Souls of Black Folk.” Teaching American History. Teaching American History, September 10, 2021. https://teachingamericanhistory.org/document/the-sorrow-songs/.

4 “The Songs of Our Fathers. An Address Delivered on Fisk Day during the Louisiana Purchase Exhibition.” Plaindealer (Topeka, Kansas) VII, no. 20, May 19, 1905: [3]. Readex: African American Newspapers. https://infoweb.newsbank.com/apps/readex/doc?p=EANAAA&docref=image/v2%3A12A7EF1A4AC47F2D%40EANAAA-12C8B913302F6748%402416985-12C8B9134BFB71A0%402-12C8B913A0F80C58%40The%2BSongs%2Bof%2BOur%2BFathers.%2BAn%2BAddress%2BDelivered%2Bon%2BFisk%2BDay%2Bduring%2Bthe%2BLouisiana%2BPurchase%2BExhibition.

 

Roundup: A Selection of Black Musical Artists of the Early 1890s

In an article published in the Cleveland Gazette on November 4th, 1893, Walter B. Hayson provides an enthusiastic endorsement of the “company of remarkable songstresses” and other talented musicians among the Black population.1 He claims that “just as the white race has its Patti, its Nordica, its Albani”, so are there similarly talented Black artists, and sets out to provide examples of this talent.

Hayson laments the “coveting of empty titles” and the trend of “purposely [aping] the conventionalities in singing of a known artist”, describing such behavior as “groveling and distracting” and praising those singers who do not fall into this trap. He provides a detailed critique of the talents of several Black male and female singers, applauding both good technical performance and “naturalness in stage presence” equally while criticizing poor execution and musical selections. He emphasizes that many of these performers are yet young while praising their talents, creating a hopeful tone for the future of Black musicianship.

However, this hope betrays bias. Hayson was a celebrated educator, music critic, and activist who was later a founding member of the American Negro Academy.2 This highly elite institution sought to bring together Black leaders in various fields with the aim of “the promotion of literature, science, and art; the culture of intellectual taste; the fostering of higher education; the publication of scholarly work; the defense of the Negro against vicious assaults”.3 This reflected the concept of the “Talented Tenth” which was espoused by W.E.B. DuBois, which held that the most highly educated and skilled Black people would be able to uplift all Black people through their achievements.4 Hayson later publicly responded to Antonín Dvořák’s support of Black music, provoking a wave of backlash against the idea of Black music being originally Black.5 This in turn prompted the work of Krehbiel and Jackson that we have analyzed.6

This ideology is present in Hayson’s article, which seeks not only to give a summary and review of the most talented Black musicians of the time, but also to claim ownership of these artists by the Black population at large. He repeatedly refers to “our young singers” in “our midst”, establishing a sense that these artists represent all Black people in some way.1 He also says of H.T. Burleigh that “the best wishes of us all accompany him in his new work”, deepening this impression and asserting that the “best wishes” of all Black people are aligned in wanting these young artists to find success. Burleigh in fact found greater musical success after the World’s Fair in which he was performing, and eventually became an activist in his own right.5 In optimistically profiling the promising young Black talent of the time, Hayson reveals the hope that their success could be used as a tool to improve the situation of Black people in America. While this hope is innocent in itself, it prescribes a specific model for success for Black people as individuals and as a group: becoming part of the Talented Tenth meant subscribing to Western ideas of correctness or success in music and other spheres, and their success meant that these values applied in turn to all Black people.

References:

1 “The ‘Queen Of Song.’ A Fair Criticism of Mrs. Flora Batson Bergen and Others of.” Cleveland Gazette (Cleveland, Ohio), November 4, 1893: 1. Readex: African American Newspapers. https://infoweb.newsbank.com/apps/readex/doc?p=EANAAA&docref=image/v2%3A12B716FE88B82998%40EANAAA-12C2BA16C77495A8%402412772-12C106455169BF98%400-12DB0D86AB1C7020%40The%2B%2522Queen%2BOf%2BSong.%2522%2BA%2BFair%2BCriticism%2Bof%2BMrs.%2BFlora%2BBatson%2BBergen%2Band%2BOthers%2Bof.

2 Moon, Fletcher F. “American Negro Academy (est. 1897).” In Freedom Facts and Firsts: 400 Years of the African American Civil Rights Experience, by Jessica Carney Smith, and Linda T. Wynn. Visible Ink Press, 2009. https://ezproxy.stolaf.edu/login?url=https://search.credoreference.com/content/entry/vipfff/american_negro_academy_est_1897/0?institutionId=4959

3 Britannica, T. Editors of Encyclopaedia. “American Negro Academy.” Encyclopedia Britannica, August 28, 2014. https://www.britannica.com/topic/American-Negro-Academy.

4 Britannica, T. Editors of Encyclopaedia. “Talented Tenth.” Encyclopedia Britannica, May 23, 2016. https://www.britannica.com/topic/Talented-Tenth.

5 Snyder, Jean E. Essay. In Harry T. Burleigh: From the Spiritual to the Harlem Renaissance, 102–11. Champaign, IL: University of Illinois Press, 2021.

6 Henry Krehbiel, Afro-American Folksongs: A Study in Racial and National Music (1914), 11-28; George Pullen Jackson, White and Negro Spirituals (1943) 265-268 and 278-289.

Garcilaso de la Vega and the Music of the Viceroyalty of Peru

Garcilaso de la Vega was born the “illegitimate but loved son of a Spanish conquistador and an Inca princess” was born in 1539 in the Viceroyalty of Peru, only about 5 years after the Spanish took advantage of the Inca civil war, and conquered the area. His peculiar situation allowed him access to both a Spanish education, and a good deal of exposure to the Inca culture of where he was raised.

In Vega’s account, he describes the various musical stylings of the Indigenous people in 1602 Peruvian culture. He mainly focuses on panpipe players who were requested to play for the court. A panpipe is an instrument of four reeds, each, as Vega described it, resembling treble, tenor, contralto, and counter-bass voices. La flutes are also mentioned (flutes with 4-5 notes often played by shepherds), and both types of instruments are used for programmatic music. 

It is interesting to note that Vega is, in some capacity, both Spaniard and Inca, but he still describes the music of “Native Americans” as an outsider. He writes with a similar stone cold curiosity as Francis Densmore in all her many accounts of Native American music centuries later, which proves both to dehumanize the people he describes without truly showing any sort of malice towards them either. 

 

However, what makes this cold curiosity so interesting is that Densmore was hundreds of years removed from the beginnings of Native American displacement. However, Vega is writing from what is truly a new empire, less than a hundred years removed from the era in which Inca was its own empire, and a well-governed, well-documented one at that (Britannica). Considering the fact that the Inca Empire was just that, an empire, makes it even more curious that Vega would consider them “Native Americans” since they held a similar governing body to Spain. 

 

 

In a way, this account could also be seen through a similar lens to Eileen Southern’s newspaper clippings of advertisements for slaves in early American newspapers. It is almost as if the musical abilities of these people who are considered to be “less than” make them more valuable, both literally and figuratively in a certain sense, where either the slaveholder or the court is slightly more reverent of servants with musical abilities. Obviously, we must address this idea with the caveat that the curiosity of the colonist as it pertains to the indigenous person or slave, does not in any way make their treatment of these people less egregious. 

Works Cited:

 Britannica, The Editors of Encyclopaedia. “Inca”. Encyclopedia Britannica, 26 Aug. 2022, https://www.britannica.com/topic/Inca. Accessed 3 October 2022.

 Densmore, F. (1929). Pawnee music. United States Government Printing Office.

 “Garcilaso De La Vega: Description of Inca Music (1609).” The American Mosaic: The Latino American Experience, ABC-CLIO, 2022, latinoamerican2.abc-clio.com/Search/Display/1541276. Accessed 3 Oct. 2022.

 Southern, E. (2006). Chapter 2: The Colonial Era. In The music of Black Americans: A history (Third Edition, pp. 25–27). essay, W. W. Norton & Company.

The Fisk Jubilee Singers: International Acclaim as an African-American Ensemble in the 19th century

The Fisk Jubilee Singers were the first and premier ensemble of Fisk University in Nashville, TN. The university was founded in 1866 as the first American university which offered a “liberal arts education to men and women irrespective of color”; the Jubilee singers began traveling and performing five years later, in 1871, where they began performing to raise money for the university. They performed for American and British audiences until 1878, including for president-to-be James A. Garfield, from who they received a glowing review and for whom they gave an inscribed version of their book of songs.

handwritten diary page of James A. Garfield from September 30, 1880

A diary entry from President James A. Garfield

handwritten inscription dated August 9, 1880

An inscribed version of “The Story of the Jubilee Singers; with their Songs” given to President Garfield as a gift by the ensemble on August 9th, 1880.

Through religious music, the Fisk singers reached audiences never thought to be possible by a group whose members were born into slavery. In 1877, they travelled to Germany on their world tour. In the land of Bach, Beethoven, and Brahms, the Fisk Singers used Christian messages and content to entice audiences to listen. While the Fisk singers made waves in the history of music, it was only through a lens of the music and the religion of the colonizer that they were able to sell themselves. Scholar Toni P. Anderson was the first to provide critical historical scholarship the Fisk singers. As Stephen A. Marini writes in their abstract on Anderson’s work, “Anderson’s principal contribution is to place Fisk University and the Jubilee Singers in the context of what she calls “Christian Reconstruction,” the AMA’s militant program of Evangelical religion, liberal education, and acculturation to Victorian values and norms designed to produce proper leaders for the four million newly freed slaves. Immediately after the war, the Congregationalist-led AMA [American Missionary Association] undertook heroic efforts to create Christian colleges in the South to serve the Freedmen. Fisk University in Nashville (1866) was designed by its leaders Adam Spence and Erastus Cravath to be a prime embodiment of this Christian Reconstruction strategy.” Fisk University’s roots in colonial and Christian traditions enabled the Fisk Jubilee singers to have the success that they had. Were it not for these connections, the Fisk singers would not have been able to sell themselves to religious audiences, especially how they did overseas.

Fisk Jubilee Singers - Wikipedia

The Fisk Jubilee Singers

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A Musical Declaration of Patriotism: Uncle Sam’s Not So Subtle Message to Spain

Today’s performers have access to a wealth of information to place their musical selection in the context of modern discourse and consider the role and presence of gender and racial stereotypes in the art and lyrics. Any performance that draws from the vast repertoire of patriotic American musical lyrics written in the late 1800’s provides an abundance of racial and gender stereotypes, fueled by the ignorance that permeated society at that time. Nowadays, the American music cannon is often seen as a source of racist ideology promoting images and lyrics that maintain the status quo of white supremacy.  A little research, coupled with the desire to find and spread the truth, exposes the tendency in American patriotic music to promote traditional and stereotypical ideologies.

 While American patriotic music is a genre that readily falls under the umbrella of misinterpreted music, the music of New Spain (colonial Mexico) also faces a similar disconnect. There is a tension in reviving its music which lacks any “local content” as a whole (Davies). According to Davies, New Spanish music, “is overwhelmingly European in character and congruent with conservative European practices. The absence of local vernacular content overwhelms its presence in this aesthetically austere music” (Davies). This is an example of music around the world that is misinterpreted and misunderstood due to a lack of education and understanding on the subject. This missing content was intentionally diminished by white European influences. 

A primary source selection that I want to draw attention to comes from the genre of American patriotic musical cannon and has also been misinterpreted time and time again. Found in the Latin American Experience database, “The Yankee Message or Uncle Sam to Spain,” written in 1898 by Edward S. Ellis and Chas M. Hattersley, glorifies the Spanish-American War, Cuba’s independence from Spain, and the impact on U.S. monetary interests. During the Spanish-American War era, songwriters were similar to yellow journalists as they made popular songs to celebrate the war and honor victories and heroes (PBS). The self interest and self righteousness of the United States is present in both the lyrics and illustrations of Ellis’ and Hattersley’s song. The cover art is composed of patriotic symbols including the U.S. Flag, an eagle, and a knife. Each illustration signals an allegiance to freedom and liberty, core values espoused by the U.S. Similarly, the lyrics point out the patriotic ideals of the U.S. government:

We’ve got the boys to do it

A million men and more

We’ve got our new born Navy

And deweys by the score

These Eurocentric lyrics make it clear that their actions are right, sending a direct message to Spain from Uncle Sam and reinforcing the notion that if they simply act like Yankees, all their issues will be resolved. 

During my research I also stumbled across an alternate edition of the piece, this time titled “Free Cuba” instead of “The Yankee Message.” This alternate title suggests a poor attempt once again at the United States trying to manipulate and influence people’s perceptions of them as a dignified nation at the time. “The Yankee Message” title suggests power and strength and boils down to a negative declaration to the opposition rather than the perception of hope and a desire to do the right thing in the alternate title, “Free Cuba.”

The lyrics in all showcase honor and patriotism however, a deeper dive reveals a surface level attempt at this. The American’s lust for Cuban independence is reflected in lyrics glamorizing combat, colonization, and the liberation of Cuba from Spain. “The Yankee Message or Uncle Sam to Spain” is a musical declaration of patriotism and power, disguised as a fun loving cannon of America’s pastimes.

Sources:

“Patriotic American Sheet Music.” The American Mosaic: The Latino American Experience, ABC-CLIO, 2022, latinoamerican2.abc-clio.com/Search/Display/1470303. Accessed 4 Oct. 2022.

Hattersley, Chas. M. Free Cuba; or, Uncle Sam to Spain. Pond & Co., Wm. A., New York, monographic, 1873. Notated Music. Retrieved from the Library of Congress, <www.loc.gov/item/sm1873.15560/>.

Public Broadcasting Service. (n.d.). Crucible of empire : The Spanish-american war – PBS online. PBS. Retrieved October 4, 2022, from https://www.pbs.org/crucible/frames/_music.html

Music in the California Missions

Mission building was one of the primary methods of conquest the Spanish used over the native peoples of California. Beginning in 1768, Gaspard de Portolà, accompanied by Father Junipero Serra, built twenty-one missions up the coast of California (then called Alta California, as opposed to Baja California) from present-day San Diego up to San Francisco (1). Here is a map made by Irving B. Richman of the approximate mission locations around 1798-1804, which was during prime Spaniard mission-building activity:

Missions were not just elaborate Catholic churches, but were the centers of communities that were built around them. The towns, run by one or two Franciscan priests and a handful of soldiers, were intentionally built around missions so the Spanish could force the indigenous folks of the area into their way of life. This included wearing woven clothing, learning Spanish and Latin, eating European produce, utilizing European agriculture methods and technology, and – most importantly – converting to Catholicism and its culture.

Music played a large role in the Catholic faith of the time, and the indigenous peoples were taught both to sing and to play instruments for masses. The Spanish introduced an entire orchestra’s worth of instruments, including organs, woodwinds, brass, strings, and percussion instruments. Evidence of the teaching of Western music theory includes this large fresco depicting a Guidonian hand, which can be compared to an old form of solfège, on a wall of Mission San Antonio.

The music performed in California missions is the most documented and preserved of any Spanish colony in the US. Musicians wrote and performed both plainchant and polyphonic music during masses, and the most popular way of recording works was by making choirbooks, both with music and with information regarding teaching (2). Pieces were written both in Spanish and in Latin, and could be either sacred or secular. Some of the standout composers of the Missions were Fray Narciso Durán of Mission San José, who was so renowned for his skill that he wrote choirbooks and manuscripts for other missions to use and teach from, and Felipe Arroyo de la Cuesta, who even wrote music in the Mutsun indigenous language (2).

While the culture of the music in missions, as well as the music itself, has had a lasting impact on Latinx culture as a whole, the treatment of these peoples within missions was horrifying. With European colonizers brought European disease, which wiped out much of the indigenous population. Indigenous inhabitants of the missions were treated as slaves with consequences of torture, starvation, solitary confinement, and execution for disobedience (3). Music may have been one of the few sources of joy for the approximately 20,000 indigenous people on the missions, and its study cannot be separated from the cruelty the Spanish inflicted upon them.

Sources:

(1) “Historical Timeline – California Missions”. 2022. California Missions. https://www.missionscalifornia.com/historical-timeline/.

(2) Summers, William John. “California Mission Music”. California Missions Foundation. https://californiamissionsfoundation.org/articles/californiamissionmusic/.

(3) Smith-Christopher, Daniel L. “Missions and Native Americans.” 2022. The American Mosaic: The Latino American Experience. https://latinoamerican2.abc-clio.com/Search/Display/2256931.

“…subordinate to a central spirit”: An 1854 Concert Review Rooted in Christian Communism

An article published in the June 17, 1854 edition of The Circular reviews a recent choral and orchestral performance at New York City’s Crystal Palace 1, an exhibition venue built to rival London’s own Crystal Palace. The Crystal Palace opened in 1853, but was soon closed in 1854 due to financial constraints. Just four years later in 1854, the building and all its contents burned down.2

John Bachman, Birds Eye View of the New York Crystal Palace and Environs, 1853. Hand-colored lithograph. The Museum of the City of New York, 29. 100.2387. Image and caption from the Bard Graduate Center’s Exhibition: “New York Crystal Palace 1853.”

The Circular, a community-written and edited newspaper, makes sure to emphasize its values to its readers. The front page of this edition features the newspaper’s “fundamental principles,” “leading topics,” and “general platform,” all emphasizing a devotion to the Christian faith and the institution of Communism and Socialism.

An excerpt from this edition of The Circular‘s front page, detailing their mission and values. “Music in the Crystal Palace.” Circular (1851-1870), Jun 17, 1854. https://www.proquest.com/newspapers/music-crystal-palace/docview/137665576/se-2.

Later on, the publication features a positive review of a concert performed by the “Musical Congress,” under the direction of Louis-Antoine Jullien. The review details the pieces performed, such as Handel’s Messiah, and, in an interesting bit of foreshadowing, an original composition by M. Jullien entitled, The Fireman’s Quadrille. According to the review, Jullien’s piece tells a story of a fire and the firefighters’ heroism, “expressing in music the silence of the night, the alarm, the rush of engines, the crackling of the fire, crash and falling of buildings, the final victory of the firemen.” The author seems entranced by M. Jullien, even calling his baton a “wand,” implying a sense of magic to his conducting. Read the sheet music for The Fireman’s Quadrille here.3

A colored lithograph of Monsieur Louis-Antoine Jullien by Edward Morton, after Alfred Edward Chalon. Edward Morton, “Louis Antoine Jullien,” digital image, National Portrait Gallery, 1840s, accessed October 3, 2022, https://www.npg.org.uk/collections/search/use-this-image/?mkey=mw195155.

But perhaps the most interesting part is the author’s thoughts on Christian Communism as it relates to the performance. They speak of the performance as a “splendid exhibition of unity, and of difference in unity.” Their remarks center around one specific idea, that each musician is bound to a sense of togetherness, in that each part of the music is essential to creating the whole sound. The author reflects that thousands of people attended this concert, each presumably leaving the venue with different thoughts on the music they just heard. This speaks to the connection of identity in music, as everyone who hears a piece of music may draw different personal conclusions and connections. One person, the author, may think from the lens of Christian Communism, but another spectator may be connecting the music to the Black experience, or listening for the French influences in Jullien’s writing. Whatever the case, this author clearly understands the significance of personal connection to music.

1“Music in the Crystal Palace.” Circular (1851-1870), Jun 17, 1854. https://www.proquest.com/newspapers/music-crystal-palace/docview/137665576/se-2.

2 Henry Raine, “What was the New York Crystal Palace, and where was it located?,” New York Historical Society Museum and Library, January 12, 2012, video, 1:00, https://www.nyhistory.org/community/new-yorks-crystal-palace

3 Music Division, The New York Public Library. “The fireman’s quadrille” New York Public Library Digital Collections. Accessed October 4, 2022. https://digitalcollections.nypl.org/items/510d47e2-cf65-a3d9-e040-e00a18064a99

Seeing Sound: What Photography Reveals About Musicking

Francisco Raúl Gutiérrez Grillo, more commonly known by the moniker Machito, spent his childhood in 1910’s Havana, Cuba.1 He grew up singing and played the maracas from adolescence, and after moving to New York in the 1930’s, Machito became a revolutionary figure on the American music scene. He recorded more than 75 albums over the course of his 50 year career, with his band The Afro-Cubans (founded 1940). Together, the group made major contributions to the development of salsa and mambo and essentially originated what we think of today as Latin Jazz, also known as bebop. “Tanga,” one of the band’s most famous Latin-jazz works (and works, period) exemplifies their style; it’s characterized by “strong multi-tempo percussion [. . .] with jazz wind instruments.”

Machito and the Afro-Cubans became beloved by the American public during their career, as is well documented by historical newspapers that note their popularity when describing their performances.2 But articles don’t capture a sound, the uniqueness of each performance of a particular piece, the mood of a club when an artist is performing; for these things, we turn to recordings, videos, and, I argue, photographs. For example, look below at this photograph of Machito and his sister Graciela Perèz Gutièrrez, who also performed with The Afro-Cubans and performed as lead singer for a time in the forties when her brother was called to military service.

Machito

Machito and Graciela, Glen Island Casino, New York, NY, c.a. July 19473

The photo was taken at the Glen Island Casino, and one could probably venture a guess about what type of atmosphere the performance had based off of the venue alone. But what does a simple venue name tell us about the act of musicking itself? Not much. This photograph, by contrast, can communicate something about the actual art being created, despite the temporal difference; we can see the body mechanics involved in playing, the facial expression, the contrast between the lit stage and the dark room. Even the intimacy of the shot itself, positioned so close to Graciela, suggests a specific sort of small-venue atmosphere, a closeness between performer and audience that must have had an effect upon how the music was experienced. The position of the camera also suggests something about how Machito and the Afro-Cubans were perceived by their audience: as I said, it’s intimate, and that suggests a comfort, even an affection, on the part of the photographer. We can read in newspapers that Machito was beloved by the public, but a photograph like this lets us experience that through the eyes of someone who was there.

What I’m getting at is that a photograph can put a viewer in a temporal moment with a performer, intimately involved in their act of musicking, just as listening to a recording transports a person, so to speak. A photograph gives a musicologist a better sense of the place in which music existed, a personal in, that could be valuable when studying music as a spatial, temporal thing. And in a world where musical performances are often thoroughly documented as pictures, it’s worth asking ourselves what unique value photographs may have to us and future musicologists for deepening our immersion in the music we study.

1 Méndez-Méndez , Serafín. “Machito.” In The American Mosaic: The Latino American Experience, ABC-CLIO, 2022. Accessed October 3, 2022. https://latinoamerican2.abc-clio.com/Search/Display/1326403.

Easily located in the ProQuest Historical Newspapers: New York Amsterdam News database. For example, this edition specifically notes his popularity, and this one’s praise of his musical ability is outright flattery

3 “Machito.” In The American Mosaic: The Latino American Experience, ABC-CLIO, 2022. Image. Accessed October 3, 2022. https://latinoamerican2.abc-clio.com/Search/Display/2234214. The photograph is also documented by the Library of Congress, and their webpage has somewhat more information about its origins.

When Worlds Collide: The Importance of Understanding Roots

There can be multiple definitions of what “American Music” actually is. There are so many cultures that exist in this country and in its history that it can be difficult to pinpoint an exact genre that is strictly “American.”

Let’s rewind a little bit in history. When the colonizers from Europe first came to this land mass initially, they were bringing a multitude of cultures with them – Spanish, French, German, etc. In addition to the cultures that already existed before they got here, the newer artistic cultures melded (both by force and by accident) to create new kinds of art and music that was a beautifully twisted combination of the two.

In the Andes in the 16th century, there was a son of a Spanish conquistador and an Incan princess – Garcilaso de la Vega. He was a poet himself and he is known mostly for his writings about Incan history, culture, and society. In those writings, he wrote about the history of both of the musical traditions from which he is descended. He brought to light how many different instruments they used in both types of music (commonly flute and organ), how each kind was distinct and how there were certain songs for each occasion, and where most of the songs were performed.

His writings were particularly special because they were the first literature by an author born in the Americas to enter the Western Canon. Without his writings, there would’ve been much less written down knowledge about the Incan culture and their cultural practices.

Writings like this are important in our work in this class for the purpose of following how cultural traditions move. The musical influence of both of these cultures can be seen in places like New Spain and later on when the territories dissolve and become the country we know and exist in today. While the flute and organ usually are not played together in early music performance practice anymore, we have records of what early court music sounded like to inform the performance practice early music groups do today.

Understanding history is vital to understanding where we come from and knowing where our short comings are so that the mistakes and disappointments of the past are not repeated.

Work Cited:

“Garcilaso De La Vega: Description of Inca Music (1609).” The American Mosaic: The Latino American Experience, ABC-CLIO, 2022, latinoamerican2.abc-clio.com/Search/Display/1541276. Accessed 3 Oct. 2022.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Inca_Garcilaso_de_la_Vega

The Role of Music in 19th-Century Mexican Churches

Church in Chihuahua, Mexico https://airlines-airports.com/aeromexico-in-chihuahua-mexico/

In 1892, James D. Faton wrote an article for “The Independent” newspaper titled “Mexico: A New Church Dedicated” that celebrates the recent erection of an Evangelist church in Chihuahua, Mexico. In the article, Faton praises the role of religion in Mexican sociopolitical life for serving as “a powerful aid to [Mexico’s] progress” and for having “deepened the sentiments of patriotism in the hearts of our people”. Mexican churches used sacred music such as alabados in order to lure citizens to church and then to further instill a sense of Mexican nationalism in worshippers and performers in order to create an original identity and sound for the recently independent country (Mexico gained its independence from Spain in 1821).

According to the U.S. Department of State Office of International Religious Freedom, approximately eighty-nine percent of Mexico’s population identifies as Christian (“2020 Report…”). One of the largest aspects of the Christian faith is the role of liturgical hymns and worship songs, and it is no surprise that there is a rich history behind Mexican liturgical music. The most traditional style of sacred song from Mexican origin are alabados. Alabados are “ancient religious hymns based on the New Testament that lament the passion and crucifixion of Jesus Christ,” (García). Similar to Aaron Copland and Charles Ives’ attempts to create a distinctly American sound by borrowing music from other cultural influences, alabados often “…reveal traces of Middle Eastern musical influence (most likely Moorish and Sephardic), mixed with Iberian medieval plain chant and traces of Pueblo (Tanoan and Keresan) Indian. Alabados were introduced to the New World by the Franciscan monks, who used them in converting the native peoples to Christianity. Eventually mixed with New World cultural elements, today’s alabados are genuine hybrid expressions of the Americas,” (García). Mexico was very clearly following in the United States’ footsteps in combining multiple cultural influences present in the area to create a new and distinct sound. In fact, Faton noted “citing the United States as a shining example” of religious freedom, which encompasses multiple different musical traditions. Alabados and other forms of nineteenth-century sacred Mexican music not only brought Mexican citizens together in worship but sought to create a unique Mexican musical tradition based on a conglomeration of cultural influences around the country. Mexico defining its musical canon at an early stage after the country’s independence from Spain signifies a desire to be more present and powerful in the international musical scene in the early twentieth century.

 

Sources:

FATON, J. D. (1892, Dec 08). MEXICO.: A NEW CHURCH DEDICATED. The Independent …Devoted to the Consideration of Politics, Social and Economic Tendencies, History, Literature, and the Arts (1848-1921), 44, 21. Retrieved from https://www.proquest.com/magazines/mexico/docview/90478917/se-2

“2020 Report on International Religious Freedom – United States …” U.S. Department of State, 12 May 2021, https://www.state.gov/reports/2020-report-on-international-religious-freedom/.

García, Peter J. “Alabados.” The American Mosaic: The Latino American Experience, ABC-CLIO, 2022, latinoamerican2.abc-clio.com/Search/Display/1329447. Accessed 3 Oct. 2022.

Las Posadas: A Reason to be Hopeful

When examining American music, it is clear to see that no musical tradition has come about without the fusion of many cultural properties. This ceaseless blending and creation is what we ought to thank for the multiplicity of beautiful and unique music that has come out of the Americas. However, such musical synthesis frequently leads to questions about the injustices and power struggles that led to the development of new musical traditions. In addition, we often also consider how these musical styles give voice to historically oppressed people today and whether this art can be a medium through which justice might be sought. The cultural, religious, and musical tradition known as ‘Las Posadas’ is an example of such cultural blending that has its earliest roots in the first attempts to Christianize the Aztecs in the early sixteenth century. As an ever-morphing ritual with centuries worth of history, Las Posadas serves as an example of how cultural amalgamation forces us to ask questions about historical and present inter-ethnic transgression.  

The tradition of Las Posadas occurs annually in the American Southwest and is a celebration of the birth of Jesus Christ. Las Posadas (“the inns”) refers more directly to Mary and Joseph’s search for lodging prior to the incarnation. During each night of this nine-day Catholic devotion, two individuals play the roles of Mary and Jospeh and ask various members of their community for lodging. They are denied a place to rest each night, and are sent on their way. This nightly ritual is accompanied by posada songs, music specific to this ritual. One of the primary songs for this event is simply titled “Las Posadas” in which Joseph asks the innkeepers for a place to stay for the night. 

While this tradition is a beautiful example of cultural blending in the United States, it has its roots in the colonization that occurred early on in the development of the New World. The history of this music and tradition begins in the early sixteenth century when Augustine priests attempted to christianize the Aztecs. By coincidence, the Aztec people celebrated the birth of their god Huitzilopochtli at approximately the same time as Christmas. The overlapping religious events made it easier for the Augustinians to convert the population, and out of this conversion came the traditions and music that is now referred to as Las Posadas. Today, many connections have been drawn between Mary and Joseph’s search for a home and ultimate rejection to the on going issue of immigration in the United States. In 2002 at the Posada sin Fronteras event in San Diego, California, alternate lyrics to the Las Posadas song were composed to demonstrate the similarity in relationships between the Holy parents and the innkeepers along with immigrants and border officals. By recognizing and connecting the power struggles of the past to those which are still ongoing, this art which once was used as a means to overpower or dehumanize becomes a medium for protest and vehicle for change. 

There is much to be learned about the tradition of Las Posadas and the multiplicity of meanings imbedded in this ritual. While there is a significant amount of cultural dissonance within this music and its history, there is just as much hope to had for its in its performance and reinvention. 

Cantos de Las Posadas and Other Christmas Songs (recorded by Elena Paz and Carlos Garcia Travesi). Performed by Suni Paz, and C. G. Travesi., Folkways Records. Alexander Street, https://search.alexanderstreet.com/view/work/bibliographic_entity%7Crecorded_cd%7C72362.

Las Posadas Student Procession.” The American Mosaic: The Latino American Experience, ABC-CLIO, 2022, latinoamerican2.abc-clio.com/Search/Display/1922421. Accessed 3 Oct. 2022.

“Traditional Las Posadas Song.” The American Mosaic: The Latino American Experience, ABC-CLIO, 2022, latinoamerican2.abc-clio.com/Search/Display/1839445. Accessed 3 Oct. 2022.

De La Torre, Miguel A. “A Colonized Christmas Story.” Interpretation (Richmond), vol. 71, no. 4, 2017, pp. 408–17, https://doi.org/10.1177/0020964317716131.

Nolan, Seth. “Las Posadas.” The American Mosaic: The Latino American Experience, ABC-CLIO, 2022, latinoamerican2.abc-clio.com/Search/Display/1329879. Accessed 3 Oct. 2022.

Hondagneu-Sotelo, P., et al. “‘There’s a Spirit That Transcends the Border’: Faith, Ritual, and Postnational Protest at the U.S.-Mexico Border.” Sociological Perspectives, vol. 47, no. 2, 2004, pp. 133–59, https://doi.org/10.1525/sop.2004.47.2.133.

Embedded in Culture and a Product of Colonizers

December 19-20th 1979, Students participate in Las Posadas.

The photograph on the left features students, portraying the characters of Mary and Joseph, participating in Las Posadas (1). Las Posadas is a Christian pageant tradition practiced throughout Latin America and Spain as part of the Las Posadas tradition. Based on the New Testament, the pageant lasts nine days and focuses on Joseph and Mary and their search for a place to stay in Bethlehem (2). While the subject matter of the tradition is not of much intrigue and doesn’t connect to the course content, its role in the colonization of Latin America does.

The Las Posadas tradition dates back to the 16th century with the Augustinian missionaries’ conversion of the Aztecs. The pageant tradition coincided with the celebration of the birth of the Aztec god Huitzilopochtli, which occurred at roughly the same time and shared the same amount of cultural weight as Christmas did to the missionaries (3). This served as a bridge between the two cultures and made Christianity easier to teach to the Aztecs.

This puts our cultural understanding of the traditional Las Posadas song in a predicament. We understand that the song was part of a larger tradition aimed at converting the Aztecs, along with other indigenous cultures. This thus westernized them and made them easier to conquer and assimilate. However, one cannot deny the fact that the Las Posadas tradition has been a part of Latin American culture for roughly 500 years, and has different cultural connotations and intentions now compared to then. Seth Nolan notes that Las Posadas has “…become a community affair with friends, relatives, and neighbors gathering together to share in a tradition that has come down through the years” (4). While the reckoning of these two identities associated with this song doesn’t present a clear answer, the ethical and moral debate it sparks around historical context and cultural significance is important.

(1) “Las Posadas Student Procession.” In The American Mosaic: The Latino American Experience, ABC-CLIO, 2022. Image. Accessed December 13, 2022. https://latinoamerican2.abc-clio.com/Search/Display/1922421.

(2) Nolan, Seth. “Las Posadas.” In The American Mosaic: The Latino American Experience, ABC-CLIO, 2022. Accessed October 3, 2022. https://latinoamerican2.abc-clio.com/Search/Display/1329879.

(3) Nolan, Seth. “Las Posadas.” In The American Mosaic: The Latino American Experience, ABC-CLIO, 2022. Accessed October 3, 2022. https://latinoamerican2.abc-clio.com/Search/Display/1329879.

(4) Nolan, Seth. “Las Posadas.” In The American Mosaic: The Latino American Experience,

 

 

Native American Exoticism in 19th- and 20th-Century Sheet Music Cover Pages

First Ever Album Cover by Alex Steinweiss (1938) https://illustrationchronicles.com/alex-steinweiss-and-the-world-s-first-record-cover

If you’ve ever seen an album cover, you might have an idea of what can commonly be found on the front page of musical scores. These score covers use visual elements to package and advertise music, often with elaborate illustrations that drew in prospective performers to the part. Score cover art for Native-American-influenced popular music (which unfortunately is more often than not inaccurately appropriated by white composers and/or artists with no indigenous backgrounds) provides an interesting insight into how Native Americans were perceived in 19th- and 20th-century America. Two common themes that I noticed in examining these score covers is the narrative of the Native American as primitive soldiers and on the contrary, as love interests.

Sioux March & Waltz—Louis Wallis https://dc.lib.unc.edu/cdm/ref/collection/sheetmusic/id/23812

The cover art for Louis Wallis’ “Sioux Waltz & March” (1856) shows “A man on horseback in uniform is about to cut down with his saber a Native American he is chasing. Behind him, another of his comrades, at whom the Native American is aiming a bow and drawn arrow, is about to shoot the Native American with his pistol. A battle rages in the background, with Native Americans and soldiers visible,” (University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill). The simultaneous use of the Native American’s bow and arrow and the white man with a pistol reflects the 19th-century attitude that Native Americans were less developed in technology and other aspects of life than that in Western civilization.

“Lackawanna: An Indian Love Song Story in Florida” by Eugene Francis Mickell (1912) https://dmr.bsu.edu/digital/collection/ShtMus/id/13

 

“A Wigwam Courtship; Intermezzo” by Sadie Koninsky (1903) https://repository.duke.edu/dc/hasm/b0229

Another interesting theme in score cover art for Native American-inspired music is the fetishization of both relationships between two Native Americans as well as relationships between one Native American and a Westerner. “A Wigwam Courtship; Intermezzo” by Sadie Koninsky (1903) and “Lackawanna: An Indian Love Song Story from Florida” by Eugene Francis Mickell (1912) show two Native Americans lusting after each other.

“My Indian Maiden” by Edward Coleman (1904) https://webapp1.dlib.indiana.edu/inharmony/detail.do?action=detail&fullItemID=/lilly/devincent/LL-SDV-083015

Meanwhile, the cover to Edward Coleman’s “My Indian Maiden” (1904) depicts a Native American woman dressed in full regalia with a pleasant expression on her face, while a European man in colonial period clothing stands in the mirror behind her.

It is inconclusive whether depicting these Native American relationships on score covers is for representative purposes or as a form of exoticism. According to Oxford Bibliographies, “exoticism is considered a form of representation in which peoples, places, and cultural practices are depicted as foreign from the perspective of the composer and/or intended audience. In earlier usage of the term, “exoticism” and “exotic” referred to an inherent quality or status of the non-Western other”. It is clear that the illustrators for the score covers thought of Native Americans as the “other” and sought to depict them as stereotypically as possible. Every album cover that I researched with Native American subjects had them depicted in full regalia, surrounded by nature, and often using weapons.

These score covers provide an interesting historical insight into how Westerners viewed Native Americans in the 18th and 19th centuries. Not only were Native Americans thought of as underdeveloped and uncivilized warriors, but Native American relationships served as an exotic spectacle to Westerners. Native Americans were treated by score illustrators as commodities to help increase score profits, instead of actual people. The cover art to “My Indian Maiden” shows that Native American women may have been fetishized by white men especially, which is a dangerous rhetoric to spread. “The Justice Department reports that one in three Native women is raped over her lifetime, while other sources report that many Native women are too demoralized to report rape.  Perhaps this is because federal prosecutors decline to prosecute 67 percent of sexual abuse cases, according to the Government Accountability Office. More than 80 percent of sex crimes on reservations are committed by non-Indian men, who are immune from prosecution by tribal courts” (Erdrich, 2013). In fact, a 1915 letter by the U.S. Board of Indian Commissioners addressed to Edward E. Ayer states that attempted rape of Native Americans is “impossible” to prosecute: “Outside of certain specific offenses provided for by the Statute, it is impossible to punish anyone who may have attempted rape, an assault, seduction under the promise of marriage, and theft,” (American Indian Histories and Cultures). There were no punishments for the maltreatment and fetishization of Native Americans during the 18th and 19th centuries.

The anti-Native American attitudes that can still be seen today are evident in the 18th- and 19th-century score covers for pieces inspired by Native American music. Cover art of scores and albums can serve as an extremely credible lens into what life looked like in the past, which can help scholars today determine when and where certain racist attitudes may have begun and how they were perpetuated.

Sources:

“A Wigwam Courtship; Intermezzo / Historic American Sheet Music / Duke Digital Repository.” Duke Digital Collections, https://repository.duke.edu/dc/hasm/b0229. 

Erdrich. L. (2013). Also the author of “The Round House.” New York Times Op Ed, February 27, 2013, on page A25: Rape on the Reservation.

“Exoticism.” Obo, https://www.oxfordbibliographies.com/view/document/obo-9780199757824/obo-9780199757824-0123.xml.

“In Harmony: Sheet Music from Indiana.” IN Harmony: Sheet Music from Indiana – Item Details, https://webapp1.dlib.indiana.edu/inharmony/detail.do?action=detail&fullItemID=%2Flilly%2Fdevincent%2FLL-SDV-083015. 

Kennedy, Philip. “Alex Steinweiss and the World’s First Record Cover.” Illustration Chronicles, 20 July 2021, https://illustrationchronicles.com/Alex-Steinweiss-and-the-World-s-First-Record-Cover. 

“Lackawanna : an Indian Love Song, Story from Florida.” CONTENTDM, Ball State University Digital Media Repository, https://dmr.bsu.edu/digital/collection/ShtMus/id/13. 

“To Mrs. Graham Atkinson. Sioux March & Waltz by Louis Wallis.” Playmakers Repertory Company Playbills, https://dc.lib.unc.edu/cdm/ref/collection/sheetmusic/id/23812. 

“U.S. Board of Indian Commissioners Files [Manuscript]: 1912-1922 [ Box 3, Folders 15 to 18].” AMD, American Indian Histories and Cultures, https://www.aihc.amdigital.co.uk/Documents/SearchDetails/Ayer_MS_911_BX03_1#Snippits.

Insider Knowledge from an Outsider’s Perspective

As the illegitimate son of a Spanish conquistador and an Inca princess, Garcilaso de la Vega had a unique perspective on both cultures within Peruvian society. His writings betray a respect for the Inca flautists and the music they played on their panpipes, while his observations shed light on the role of music in 16th-century Inca social customs.1

As a member of the cultural elite, de la Vega evidently had at least some musical training, allowing him to describe in detail the structure and voicing of the Inca panpipes and the characteristics of the music they played. He admires the skill of the flautists, noting that they were “always in tune” when they played together and that their skills were not limited to their own repertory, but translated to European music as well, which they could sightread. However, he does display hints of elitism when describing the general lack of singing in Inca culture, stating his belief that this was because the Inca “were not sufficiently good [singers]” and “did not understand singing”.

The panpipes are closely tied with Inca culture even today, and in the 16th century they carried great ritual importance. De la Vega discusses the significance of the panpipes in Inca courting, noting that young men played the flute to woo young ladies, with each tune conveying a unique message to the object of one’s affection, so that “it may be said that [a man] talked with his flute”. Thus, both the instrument and the tune had a specific purpose, and other types of songs were “not fit” to be played on the panpipes, revealing the importance of the instrument and of music in general to everyday social practices.

With his intimate experience of Peruvian society, de la Vega’s honest and open admiration of the skill of the flautists and the comparisons he makes between Inca and European music is rare to see among early accounts of the music Europeans encountered through colonization. This makes his work very valuable for ethnomusicology, which is impressive considering he was writing over two hundred years before the field existed at all. This kind of insider status and the insights it brings is exactly what makes Tara Browner’s work in studying pow-wows so valuable, as she departs from a traditional theory-based approach in favor of “[writing] about music and dance as [she has] experienced them”.2 Despite the fact that ethnomusicological research is traditionally undertaken by outsiders who attempt to remain as neutral as possible, these examples demonstrate that the intimate cultural knowledge and understanding of an insider is a valuable tool in investigating musical traditions which may be a result of a different value system.

References:

1 The American Mosaic: The Latino American Experience. Retrieved October 1, 2022, from https://latinoamerican2.abc-clio.com/Search/Display/1541276

2 Browner, Tara. “All about Theory, Method, and Pow-Wows.” Essay. In Heartbeat of the People: Music and Dance of the Northern Pow-Wow, 1–17. Urbana, Illinois: University of Illinois Press, 2004.

Wampum and its importance to Eastern Woodland Native Americans

Wampum is a traditional shell bead of the Native American tribes of the Eastern Woodlands. The beads are harvested from the shells of Western North Atlantic hard-shelled clams and are typically white and purple. Native Americans would harvest the clams in the summer and eat their contents before working on the shells. The process of creating wampum was long and hard, usually taking a full day to make just one bead. Shells would be ground or drilled down very carefully using rocks. Not only was the process difficult, but it was also somewhat dangerous, fine dust from the shaved off shells could cut up the lungs if ingested so Native Americans would often use water to limit the dust.

Wampum belt made of shell beads, buckskin, & ribbon. Anthro #A738.1

After the beads were made, they were placed on strings made of either plant fibers or animal tendons. They were often worn decoratively and sometimes even formed into belts which were used to tell stories and mark agreements between peoples. There were usually only two colors of wampum, white and purple, each having their own meanings. White wampum usually denoted purity or light while purple wampum typically represented war, grieving, and death. The two colors would often be combined to represent the duality of the world. 

 

 

Wampum strings and belts had many uses such as currency, gifts, and a means of telling stories. Tribes would often trade wampum with each other in exchange for other goods. Due to the meaning of each color of bead, wampum was also used as a gift, white wampum being given to celebrate things like births or marriages and purple wampum being used for condolences after the loss of loved ones. Moreover, mixed belts, which represented the duality of the world, were given as peace treaties and used to tell stories to others and future generations. 

 

 

 

The worth of wampum was also recognized by many European settlers. A letter written to Thomas Penn from James Logan in 1937 shows that the Europeans knew the significance of wampum. In a proposal to meet the chiefs of the Six Nations at Albany, Logan proposed that Governor Gooche accompany his letter with 2 to 3 fathoms of wampum as a peace offering. Wampum beads and belts even became a commodity in Europe. In a receipt written from Isaac Low in 1769, a paper bundle of wampum was sold to someone in Europe for £15 11s. 6d. 

Although the significance of wampum has dwindled for non-Native Americans, wampum and the process of making it is still unquestionably important to the culture and traditions of Native Americans. This video shows the traditional process of making wampum by hand, still followed by Native Americans today.

References:

Manuscripts and Archives Division, The New York Public Library. “Letter to [Jelles Fonda, Caghnawaga]” New York Public Library Digital Collections. Accessed September 23, 2022. https://digitalcollections.nypl.org/items/b8a373ad-28d8-942d-e040-e00a18065263

Manuscripts and Archives Division, The New York Public Library. “Letter to the Proprietary [Thomas Penn]” New York Public Library Digital Collections. Accessed September 23, 2022. https://digitalcollections.nypl.org/items/bb4ebb8a-0e86-c85e-e040-e00a18063bc4

Scott Dressel-Martin. Wampum belt. 7/26/2010. Retrieved from the Digital Public Library of America, https://dmns.lunaimaging.com/luna/servlet/detail/DMNSDMS~4~4~11333~100798. (Accessed September 20, 2022.)

Traditional Wampum Belts. PBS. Public Broadcasting Service, 2018. https://www.pbs.org/video/traditional-wampum-belts-gy05in/. 

Tweedy, Ann C. “From Beads to Bounty: How Wampum Became America’s First Currency-and Lost Its Power.” ICT. ICT, October 5, 2017. https://indiancountrytoday.com/archive/from-beads-to-bounty-how-wampum-became-americas-first-currencyand-lost-its-power. 

Tweedy, Ann C. “From Beads to Bounty: How Wampum Became America’s First Currency-and Lost Its Power.” ICT. ICT, October 5, 2017. https://indiancountrytoday.com/archive/from-beads-to-bounty-how-wampum-became-americas-first-currencyand-lost-its-power.

Wallace, Anthony F C. “The Iroquois Wampum Belts.” Anthropology News (Arlington, Va.) 12, 4 (1971): 7–7. https://doi.org/10.1111/an.1971.12.4.7.2.

Wampum Belt. 1682. Retrieved from the Digital Public Library of America, https://dlgadmin.galileo.usg.edu/iiif/2/dlg%2Fguan-dpla%2Fartsus%2Fguan-dpla_artsus_in26%2Fguan-dpla_artsus_in26-00001.jp2/full/1000,/0/default.jpg. (Accessed September 20, 2022.)

 

Alice C. Fletcher and Ethnomusicolgy’s Origins

Alice Fletcher, Meepe, and Martha, ca. 1887-1889, BAE GN 4439, National Anthropological Archives, Smithsonian Institution. https://transcription.si.edu/articles/alice-cunningham-fletcher-and-francis-la-flesche-transcription-center

As a class, we recently learned about Frances Densmore’s ethnographic research on Native Americans, in which she recorded and documented myriad songs and information about the culture of multiple Native American tribes in Minnesota and the US.  Densmore approached her research on these groups as a scientific endeavor—viewing Native Americans through a nineteenth-century racialized lens that perceived them as tantamount to the natural landscape and representative of a primitive European past. However, she was not the first, nor the only ethnologist learning about and extracting the sonic resources of Great Plains tribes at that time. Consider Alice C. Fletcher, who “began collecting ethnological and musical data in 1883 among the Omaha and Dakota Indians.”[1]As both Densmore and Fletcher’s work perpetuated cultural imperialism, understanding how it contributed to the development of ethnomusicology at the expense of native cultures perhaps leads to a better understanding of the discipline’s tainted, yet prolific, roots.[2]

An 1893 news clipping from the scrapbook of Ely Samuel Parker describes Alice C. Fletcher as  “A Woman Who Worthily Stands for Her Sex,” referring to her work as President of the Anthropological Society.[3]  Having studied “Indians in our Western Territories,” the writer declares that “there is no one in this or any other country whose knowledge on the subject approaches hers.”[4] For her research, Fletcher “…spent years among the Indians, living in their camps unprotected, learning their language, studying their customs, music…”[5] The writer states that at the time of this publication, she was in the midst of “revising…an important work on the music of the Omaha Indians…”[6] Two decades later into her career, she published a 600+ page work on the history of the Omaha Tribe that I tracked down in the library.[7] Like Frances Densmore in numerous works like Chippewa Customs, she notates indigenous songs using western notation (reinforcing its colonial hierarchy), and uses a social scientific lens to try and explain their culture. Yet in the 1893 clipping, the writer assures us that her “work among the Indians has a benevolent as well as scientific side”[8]

 

Ely Samuel Parker scrapbooks: Vol 11, 1828-1894, The Newberry Library, 34.

The article goes on to describe her friendship developed with the tribe, and how she leverages this to “secure for the Peabody museum trophies and relics from the different tribes which had never ever been seen by a white man.”[9] Ultimately, this transactional relationship unfortunately outlines how researchers of her era thought it ok to exploit the trust of tribes. Native Americans fit a Western narrative believing that “these supposedly primitive musical cultures were part of a dying world that was succumbing to American civilization and that scholars needed to preserve what they could before their assumed extinction.”[10] Fletcher’s work was profound—she published the first ethnographic presentation of a Native American tribe’s music in 1893 (the aforementioned work on the Omaha) and she wrote more than 97 entries for the Bureau of American Ethnology’s Handbook of American Indians North of Mexico in 3 years—however, it was grounded by racist assumptions all too common at the turn of the century.[11] It’s important to conceptualize how Fletcher’s work as among the first to record Native American music provided detailed documentation of their history while perpetuating biased beliefs of a racialized musical hierarchy that others, like Densmore, would build upon.

[1] Sue Carol DeVale, “Fletcher, Alice Cunningham,” Grove Music Online, 2001. https://www.oxfordmusiconline.com/grovemusic/view/10.1093/gmo/9781561592630.001.0001/omo-9781561592630-e-0000009816.

[2] Krystyn R Moon, “The Quest for Music’s Origin at the St. Louis World’s Fair: Frances Densmore and the Racialization of Music,” American Music 28, no. 2 (2010): 191-210. muse.jhu.edu/article/379952.

[3] Ely Samuel Parker scrapbooks: Vol 11, 1828-1894, The Newberry Library, 34. https://www.aihc.amdigital.co.uk/Documents/Images/Ayer_Modern_MS_Parker_VL11/24#VisualMaterials

[4] Ibid.

[5] Ibid.

[6] Ibid.

[7] Alice C Fletcher (Alice Cunningham), and Francis La Flesche, The Omaha Tribe, Washington: [publisher not identified], 1911.

[8] Ely Samuel Parker scrapbooks, 34. https://www.aihc.amdigital.co.uk/Documents/Images/Ayer_Modern_MS_Parker_VL11/24#VisualMaterials

[9] Ibid.

[10] Moon, “”The Quest for Music’s Origin at the St. Louis World’s Fair,” 191-210. muse.jhu.edu/article/379952.

[11] Alice C. Fletcher, et al., Life among the Indians: First Fieldwork among the Sioux and Omahas  (Lincoln, Nebraska, 2013): 61, 71.  http://ebookcentral.proquest.com/lib/stolaf-ebooks/detail.action?docID=1495860.

 

Learning Culture Through Immersion

Francis Densmore was an ethnomusicologist working in the early 20th century to try and save American Indian music which she thought was going extinct. We criticize Densmore’s ethnographies of American Indian music because it uses Western musical notation and form, as well as statistics, to try and describe music which it does not reflect accurately. Native musics cannot be accurately represented by Western standards because the songs were not, in the slightest, based on Western musical practices.

So the question arises: how can we more accurately describe Native American musicking? How do we more accurately describe any historical practice that has been put through a process of Westernization? As practitioners of Western musical notation, form, and math ourselves, we may be at a loss for how to represent music, or any of the aforementioned “historical practices” we wish to learn more about or preserve in a way that is true to the culture from which it came without imparting our unconscious bias, embedded in the way that we learn, onto the culture of another. We must do this not for the mere respect of peoples whom the majority of Americans owe our stolen land, but because we must provide more accurate information based of the findings of people like Densmore. We could not do the work we do without the information that she and others like her have gathered, and at the same time we must make this data more accurately represent the history of the culture from which it came, in a way in which we can understand, if we truly believe in the pursuit of the truth.

So, how do we more accurately describe and learn about American Indian music, given that using Western notation does not accurately reflect these cultures? Furthermore, to expand (and with the aim of avoiding generalizations), this goes for the music of individual tribes as well as American Indian music on the whole as well as any music for which Western music does not accurately represent.

If we choose to avoid Western methods, then what should we use? The first thing that comes to mind would be to use the methods which Native Americans themselves use to learn, teach, and depict their music. Pow-wow, for example, is a way in which members of certain tribes pass along information through generations.

Wendake Pow-wow, 2019

Another method that Native Americans use to depict their music is through pictographs.

Kokopelli Pictograph

By learning what we are able from a certain culture’s portrayal or demonstration of their own art, we can create scholarship about a different culture while avoiding shoehorning their customs into the dimensions of another.  While it may not seem like we can glean much from pictographs, or maybe even pow-wows at first, opening our minds to different expressions of art and culture immerses us more deeply in the lives of other people. It is necessary to go through this process of experiential learning in order to give the correct context for what we discover, not only because it greatly reduces the chances of Westernizing something that is not but also to come to more accurate conclusions.

https://books.google.com/books?id=HyZ6EAAAQBAJ&printsec=frontcover&source=gbs_ge_summary_r&cad=0#v=onepage&q&f=false

Click to access PowWows.pdf

 

The Studying of Native American Music: Is it Ethical?

When one thinks of Native American music, what comes to mind? For me, I think of powwows which consist of dancing and music and fancy regalia. I additionally think of bison burgers and jewelry buying stations (where I still own a piece I bought 10 years ago). My experience, however, is not the full truth.

Frances Densmore, a name popular in the musicology world for studying Native American music, was one of the first people to attempt to understand more about the world of Native American music. In 1919-1920 (not too long ago), Densmore conducted a study among members of the Skidi and Chaui Bands near Pawnee, Oklahoma. 1  The first treaty between specifically Pawnee and the Government was in 1818 with the Ratified Indian Treat 92: Grand Pawnee – St. Louis, June 18, 1818.

Ratified Indian Treat 92: Grand Pawnee – St. Louis, June 18, 1818.2 

With this treaty, it felt that Natives were becoming more known about and taken into account for living in the United States. But some would say how problematic it would still become. The chart below documents the tonality and takes into account the first note and how that affects the key of the melody.

However helpful this may be to the Western culture in understanding the first hearings of Native American music. It almost disrespects their culture and tradition. It is not ethical or right to fully understand and teach others about Native music through a Western Lens then it would be for Natives to teach classical music through a Native American Lens. It’s like teaching an animal to read a book!

A study done by Mark Evarts, published in 1967, shows a different type of notation after hearing Native American melodies.3  For example, the first melody is titled “A Bear Song of Peter Wood” and “Old Hand Game Song” and explains the story behind these songs by analyzing through explanation with only a bit of notation. Evarts writes that the song symbolizes two opposite parties in war which is acted out emotionally and song on “meaningless” syllables. Evarts says meaningless but how do we know it is or isn’t? He writes the words below and attempts to show the song in stanzas. I believe it is better notation than completely composing it to look Western-styled.

Overall, I feel that as society progresses, the understanding of other cultures’ music will continue to grow with respectful and helpful learning. We have to be able to understand through two different perspectives, ours and theirs, to get as complete of a picture as possible. We will not always be able to understand the meaning or why one part of the song says a certain word, but we can treat them as humans.

1  Frances Densmore, Pawnee Music (New York: Da Capo Press, 1972 [1929])

2 Ratified Indian Treaty 92: Grand Pawnee – St. Louis, June 18, 1818. The Indigenous Digital Archive. https://digitreaties.org/treaties/treaty/162559362/

3 Evarts, Mark. “Music of the Pawnee – Sung by Mark Everts. Internet Archive. (Folkways Records; Kahle-Austin Foundation, 1967).

Ethicality of Researching Native American Tribes

Along the border of New Mexico and Arizona one can find the Zuni people, a North American Indian tribe. Believed to be the descendants of the prehistoric Ancestral Pueblo, they have a long history of connection to the Pueblo tribe, including the involvement in the Pueblo Rebellion against the spanish. Their culture is deeply rooted in religion, spirituality, and the earth, specifically being known as the “Sun Worshippers”. Additionally the Zuni people, much like many other native tribes, utilize music in order to create a community space while completing activities like fire starting or welcoming the sunrise. The main primary source that I would like to share is a journal written by Castañeda de Nájera as he described his journey to Cibola, New Mexico. The book begins with his departure from Compostela on February 23, 1540 to Cibola. This happened to be the “poor pueblo village of the Zuni Indians”. There are also accounts of discovering as they travel America, but I will primarily focus on the Zuni tribe. Additionally, the later section of this book described the native american tribes including the making of their houses, customs, religion, agriculture, and dress. The book then ends with their unsuccessful expedition back to Mexico.

The infamous 16th century Spanish explorer Francisco Vasquez de Coronado led an important expedition in 1540 to New Spain in search of gold. Much like many other explorers of the time forced his way into many tribes including the Zuni tribe of Hawikuh, where modern New Mexico remains. This was the first discovery of native tribes for Coronado and it ultimately ended in violence as he attempted to take the town, which caused the tribe to flee their homes. This failure led to further exploration and several more battles with various tribes. As Coronado inserted himself into tribes such as the Tusayan, Triguez, and Acoma, he accounted for more and more traditions that the Native American tribes took part in, leading to the manuscript shown above.

Alongside the score that I have described, attached is a book written by Carlos Troyer entitled Indian Music Lecture published in 1913. This book encapsulates Troyer’s life and experiences as he traveled various spaces in order to discover and share various tribes’ religion, government, and lifestyle. Troyer is yet another example very similar to the primary source journal shown earlier in which an outsider takes initiative to research and implement their presence on a Native Tribe; interestingly enough both Coronado and Troyer both research the Zuni Tribe.

Carlos himself is a musician born in Frankfurt in 1837 who then traveled to America at a young age and began teaching music, composing, and traveling to a variety of countries to learn and share native culture. His contact with the Zuni people occurred when he was entrusted to interpret their songs through his work in California. Instead, Troyer visited the tribe and learned of their sacred dances, ceremonies, and “traditional lore”. His goal of the trip, just like his work with other tribes like the Incas, was to give insight to mainly American and European people about indigenous culture.

While it can be said that he achieved his goal and spread awareness on the tribe’s way of life, the way in which Troyer went about entering the tribe is questionable in terms of ethics. It appears that he gained permission and was well received, but one wording in a letter at the beginning of the book by Charles Cadman claimed that he “conquered ” other tribes. Whether liked or not, it comes to reason that his privilege of power as a white man allowed him privileges to expect acceptance for researching the tribe. Lastly, there is the occasional phrasing that invokes a sense of superiority such as the title of the book which is “an address designed for reading at musical gatherings, describing the lives, customs, religions, occult practices, and the surprising musical development of the cliff dwellers of the south west”. Wording like “surprising” gives indication that little was expected of the tribe and it places indigenous culture in an othering position.

2019 Buffalo dance/Pueblo of Zuni,NM @ Sañto Ñino

Bibliography

Castañeda de Nájera, Pedro de. “Narrative of the Expedition to Cibola Undertaken in 1540
[Manuscript]: Translated into English by Brantz Mayer.” American Indian Histories and Cultures – Adam Matthew Digital. The Newberry Library, 1851. https://www.aihc.amdigital.co.uk/Documents/Images/Ayer_MS_1058/4.

History.com Editors. “Francisco Vázquez De Coronado.” History.com. A&E Television
Networks, November 9, 2009. https://www.history.com/topics/exploration/francisco-vazquez-de-coronado.

Mateya. “2019 Buffalo Dance/Pueblo of Zuni,NM @ Sañto Ñino.” YouTube, YouTube, 6 Jan. 2019, www.youtube.com/watch?v=o74Z0ZZOTEI.

Robert Stevenson. “Troyer, Carlos.” New Grove Dictionary of Music and Musicians, Oxford
University Press, 2001, https://doi.org/10.1093/gmo/9781561592630.article.28481.

Stevenson, Robert. “Troyer, Carlos.” Grove Music Online. Oxford University Press. Date of
access 22 Sep. 2022,
https://www.oxfordmusiconline.com/grovemusic/view/10.1093/gmo/9781561592630.001
.0001/omo-9781561592630-e-0000028481

Troyer, Carlos, and Charles Wakefield Cadman. Indian Music Lecture: The zuñi Indians and
Their Music: An Address Designed for Reading at Musical Gatherings, Describing the
Lives, Customs, Religions, Occult Practices, and the Surprising Musical Development of
the Cliff Dwellers of the South West. Theo. Presser Co., 1913.

An Exploitative Explorer: Émile Petitot’s Legacy

CONTENT/TRIGGER WARNING: sexual assault, pedophilia, sexual trauma

I found this manuscript 1 by Émile Petitot, a French missionary who conducted research among the Indigenous peoples of Northern Canada. His work looks much like that of Frances Densmore, with transcriptions of musics that he observed within the tribes. Accompanying each transcription is the tribe it comes from, a note about what kind of song/dance/game it is, and occasional extra notes. For example, in the screenshot provided, Petitot provides the tribe, “Tchippewayans,” (or Chippewa/Ojibwa), the type of song, “jeu de mains” (hand game- perhaps hand clapping?), and notes below explaining how they whistle the melody through their teeth, and that this example is possibly of Cree origin, though I could be translating the French incorrectly (Petitot, 3). 

A sample of Petitot’s manuscript, Chants Indiens Du Canada Nord-Ouest, from 1862-1892, 1899. 

Petitot completed significant research on the native languages of Northern tribes, and according to Savoie in 19822, it “remains the best in the field” (Savoie, 446). But however groundbreaking or useful Petitot’s research was, his treatment of the Indigenous people was less than stellar. His notes seem to be overtly subjective and somewhat condescending, and according to Lévy,3 he also showed concerning sexual desires. He was rumored to engage in sexual relations with “young indigenous people,” as well as a woman who became so uncomfortable she attempted “self-circumcision as a way of suppressing his sexual desires” (Lévy, 2014). Clearly his methods were exploitative and harmful to those around him. Lévy also mentions that these acts eventually caught his missionary order’s attention in France, so he was exiled back home to write his “ethnographic and geographical” work (Lévy, 2014).

Petitot, wearing a priest’s collar 4

His research, controversy, and legacy is still discussed. In 2001, Struzik wrote an article 5 in the Edmonton Journal (Alberta, Canada) about the returning controversy surrounding Petitot. Buildings and parks named after him were quickly being renamed at the request and vote of Indigenous voices. Struzik exposes both sides of the controversy surrounding his sexuality and divergent sexual habits (Struzik, 2001). There are those who still consider him a genius for his work and research, and there are many who expose him for his exploitation, abuse, and madness. Some would say that any press is good press, but with all of his controversy exposed and the reason for his exile laid out in the open, I would say the legacy Petitot leaves behind is not one to be celebrated. 

1 Petitot, Émile. Chants Indiens Du Canada Nord-Ouest. 1862-1892, 1899. Manuscript. Mackenzie: The Newberry Library, 2022. American Indian Histories and Cultures. Medium, https://www.aihc.amdigital.co.uk/Documents/Images/Ayer_MS_715/2. (accessed September 21, 2022)

2 Savoie, Donat. “Emile Petitot (1838-1916).” Arctic 35, no. 3 (1982): 446–47. http://www.jstor.org/stable/40509367.

3 Lévy, Joseph. “Éros Et Tabou. Sexualité Et Genre Chez Amérindiens Et Les Inuit.” Recherches Amérindiennes Au Québec 44, no. 2 (2014): 170-174. https://www.proquest.com/scholarly-journals/éros-et-tabou-sexualité-genre-chez-amérindiens/docview/1681918022/se-2.

4 Image from ‘The Amerindians of the Canadian Northwest in the 19th Century, as seen by Emile Petitot. Volume 1: The Tchiglit Eskimos,’ found on Inuvialuit Living History (https://www.inuvialuitlivinghistory.ca/wiki_pages/Father%20%20%C3%89mile%20Petitot).

5 Struzik, Ed. A genius … and a pariah: Emile Petitot left a legacy of controversy in Canada’s Arctic. Online Archive. Edmonton: CanWest Interactive, 2001. Edmonton Journal (Alberta). Medium, https://advance.lexis.com/api/document?collection=news&id=urn:contentItem:45HN-N1D0-003N-14GF-00000-00&context=1516831.(accessed September 21, 2022).

The Cannon: Educational Fundamentals, or Cultural Genocide?

First Cherokee Female Seminary

The original building housing the Cherokee National Female Seminary, which burned down in 1987.

In 1951, the Cherokee Nation – having recently been forcibly moved to Oklahoma and re-formed their government in Tahlequah – opened the doors of the Cherokee National Female Seminary.1 The school was run by the tribal government and was extremely well regarded, generally considered better than the public school systems of several nearby states.2 On the Kaw (or Kanza) land3 that would one day become Northeastern State University, young Native women had what essentially amounts to a liberal arts education, including the study of music.

Music curriculum at the Cherokee National Female Seminary (Ayer 1906, 24)

The school’s music curriculum, depicted here, was collected by Edward Ayer, a Field Museum of Natural History benefactor who evidently had some interest in salvage anthropology and Native cultures, and donated to Chicago’s Newberry Library in 1911.4 The text itself states that this donation was for the benefit of the Native peoples whom the school served – that is, in support of preserving their histories. Thankfully, Native communities seem to have been involved in assembling these texts, according to the collection itself, but I’m a touch skeptical of our white sponsor’s benevolence. What seems most likely to me is that this, like Frances Densmore’s work, is a product of good intentions, but would be taken less than positively if produced today. This is supported by the casual white-saviorism of the historical statement that opens the book; a statement which describes a European education as the “seed of civilization” and thereby strongly suggests that the curricula were a product of “civilizing” influence. Really the curriculum is quite similar to what a young piano student might begin with today, assuming their teacher were willing to center their education on the European canon; several technique and method books are employed, and the progression from grades I-VI moves from simple Clementi sonatinas to Chopin etudes and ballades.

Therein lies the interest of this artifact. As beloved as this school may have been to some attendees and some members of its community (according to the testimony at the beginning of the Ayer collection, that is), there seems little doubt that the Cherokee National Female Seminary was complicit in the whitewashing of Cherokee students following the Trail of Tears. If the curriculum is indisputably Eurocentric, implicitly devaluing the Native musical traditions which would have surrounded these students growing up, and taught exclusively by white teachers, how could it be anything else? It was a victory for the community, in a way, but one that was only necessitated by the awful realties of the white man’s westward expansion. The existence and community status of schools such as this adds another shade of nuance to the consideration of education as a tool for cultural erasure during this time period.

What I can say, however, is that this artifact makes a strong case for the rejection of the cannon that’s happening in music education today. If the cannon is part of what we now consider to be a heinous cultural genocide, how could we possibly justify not expanding our musical borders and changing our approaches to pedagogy from the very first days of a student’s musical life? Exclusion of a student’s cultural traditions from their music curricula, while it isn’t on the level of the violence inflicted on too many children at too many white-run boarding schools over the past several centuries, is an act of cultural violence. Music education must be rooted in a student’s internal musical self, in the music of the student’s community, to avoid the racist, classist valuation of music that’s persisted for centuries in the western world. Some pedagogical methods, like Kodaly, incorporate elements of this belief, and are gaining significance in the pedagogical world. But we have a long way to go yet toward the goal of making music education more equitable, just, and culturally inclusive.

Footnotes

1 U.S. Department of the Interior. (2019). Cherokee Female Seminary, OK (U.S. National Park Service). National Parks Service. Retrieved September 21, 2022, from https://www.nps.gov/places/cherokee-female-seminary-ok.htm

2 Brad Agnew, “Cherokee Male and Female Seminaries,” The Encyclopedia of Oklahoma History and Culture, https://www.okhistory.org/publications/enc/entry.php?entry=CH018.

3 I attempt to name the original tribe here out of respect for the land’s origins and to acknowledge (first steps) the settler-colonial history of the US. But a quick Google search will reveal that even the Kaw people may have immigrated to this area from the east coast in the 1600’s, and it’s difficult to trace the history any farther back than that. I include this footnote as a form of full disclosure and to encourage any interested reader to do some more digging into the topic.

4 Ayer, Edward E. 1906. An illustrated souvenir catalog of the Cherokee National Female Seminary, Tahlequah, Indian Territory, 1850-1906, Printed Book; Tribe Record. N.p.: Indian Print Shop. http://www.aihc.amdigital.co.uk/Documents/Details/Ayer_F389_T128_c522_1906.

Contemporary Meets Traditional: Modern Day Native American Music

When studying Native American music, it is common to hear the earliest recordings of indigenous music taped by Francis Densmore in the early twentieth century. As students and musicologists, we turn to these recordings for many reasons. We listen in order to observe and acknowledge the history embedded in this music. We hear both the beauty of the long-standing traditions of Native American people, along with the racist beginnings of our own field of study. Numerous intense emotions are wrapped up in these recordings: awe and curiosity along with disappointment and generational pain. While there are many excellent educational and valuable reasons to listen to these recordings, what if we continued our study of Native American musicking by fixing our gaze on the more recent past, or even the present? Perhaps by observing the recordings and music being created and produced by Native Americans during the more recent past, we can begin to understand what this music sounds like today and what influences and is influenced by this music. By examining a music review from a 1996 publication of Akwesasne Notes along with some of the music that the artists mentioned in the article wrote and produced, we might begin to learn more about what the soundscape of the modern Native American has begun to sound like in recent history.

When reading through Radioactive Indians – Music Reviews by Alex Jones, the variety of musical influences used in modern Native American music becomes operant. For example, Jones describes the music of the ensemble Brian Black Thunder “as country music with some rock flourishes”. The instrumentation of Brian Black Thunder’s music also includes. “mandolin, strings, piano, [and] organ” (Jones 114). A musical feature from the same periodical entitled Howard Lyons: Traditional Roots Empowering Contemporary Music, also describes the way that genres and influences intersect in the music of Indigenous musicians. In this feature, Lyons’ album Hope and Dreams is described as a combination of “the beautiful rhythms and repetition of traditional native music” and “the acoustic instrumentation and simple melodies of mainstream folk music” (117). Both of these examples, along with many others in these articles, exemplify an effort made by Native musicians at the time to embrace some musical features which would be beyond the boundaries of what might be considered traditional Native American music. 

There does seem to be a variety of ideas about the role of genre bending in Native American music today. In an article in News from the Indian Country, Lyons states, “I would like to stay close to my roots because there is so much that can be said through my music and through our history that people can benefit from”. In addition, Lyons stated that he does not wish to capitalize on the sacred musical traditions of his tribe. While his music is clearly inspired by his identity, he appears to value having a separate spiritual life rooted in the music traditions of his tribe. 

By turning our eyes towards music made by Native American composers and performers in the recent past and present, we might begin to see this music as a living, ever-changing and developing art rather than something stuck in antiquity with Francis Densmore. If we claim to value representation in our field of study, we ought not allow Densmore to clearly stand out as a primary figure for native musics. Instead, we ought to look to present and past musicians and artists who continue to the work of creating this music. In so doing, we can work towards creating more accurate portrayals of what a certain musical community looks and sounds like. 

Bibliography:

Jones, Alex. “Radioactive Indians – Music Review.” Akwesasne Notes, 1996, 114-116. 

Lyons, Howard. “Howie Lyons Music.” Howard Lyons: Native American Musician. https://www.howielyons.com/music.html. Accessed 21 September 2022.

Murg, Wilhelm. “Musical Spirit Walker – Interview with Howard Lyons.” News from Indian Country, Jul 15, 2002. ProQuest, https://www.proquest.com/newspapers/musical-spirit-walker-interview-with-howard-lyons/docview/367717161/se-2.

“Howard Lyons: Traditional Roots Empowering Contemporary Music.” Akwesasne Notes, 1996, 117.

Musical Performance or Spectacle? Documenting Native Music and Ritual

I came across a journal kept by George Catlin, an explorer and painter traveling the American West in the 1830s, in which he documents a yearly Mandan ceremony commemorating a great flood, in the American Indian Histories and Cultures database. While Catlin describes the ceremony as a dance and documents the role of singing and drumming in the ritual, he spends far more time describing the elaborate costumes of the dancers and the story they are telling than he does describing the music itself.

This is typical of a wider attitude which prevailed among ethnomusicologists, historians, and the public until fairly recently that Native American musical traditions were little more than primitive chants and drum beats and were certainly not artifacts of high culture like the European musical canon.1 This attitude meant that Native music was often not taken seriously by early observers like Sir Francis Drake and John Smith, whose descriptions of “a most miserable and doleful manner of shreeking [sic]” and “such a terrible noise as would rather affright” the listener echo those of Catlin.2 Even the work of later authors like Frances Densmore and Alice Fletcher, who pioneered serious ethnomusicological investigation of Native traditions, often relied on theories of social evolution to justify the idea that Native Americans and their music could not possibly be as advanced as European culture and music.4

Catlin’s focus on the story being told seems more appropriate to a play or pantomime rather than a musical performance. He does not analyze the music itself beyond a few short comments, but describes at length the elaborate costumes of the dancers and the many animals and natural phenomena they represent, noting that “many curious and grotesque amusements and ceremonies” took place over the four days of the ceremony.3 Besides devoting several pages of text to describing the ceremony, Catlin also preserved it in several paintings. Catlin mentions that large water-filled sacks were used as drums, along with rattles, to accompany a song which is repeated many times throughout the ritual, and notes that it was impossible to obtain a translation of this song, as it was a closely guarded secret even within the tribe. However, beyond these observations he makes no attempt to analyze the lyrics, composition, or instrumentation of the song, focusing instead on the visual spectacle of the bull-dance, which he describes as being “of an exceedingly grotesque and amusing character”.3

As an explorer who was clearly dedicated to documenting the rituals he saw both on the page and the canvas, it is fair to assume that Catlin was truly interested in preserving the details of the ceremony he was witnessing. Of course, Catlin was far from a trained ethnomusicologist, as the field didn’t even exist for fifty years after he was writing, and therefore did not have the same goals or values and was probably not musically trained. However, this amateur status actually reveals that Catlin’s attitude that the ceremony was simply too far outside of his experience to count as music and was not worth preserving or even really discussing was a common reaction to Native music. While these cultural attitudes clearly had nothing to do with formal training or education, they were still taken as scientific truth for decades.

HBCU Marching Band- Quo Vadis?

As an extension to our semester group project on Historically Black College and University (HBCU) Marching Band, I’m going to explore and reflect on the topic of gender roles and implications in HBCU marching band traditions and visions going forth.

First emerging as a military tradition, the marching band experience can be closely associated with not just musical talents but also discipline, hard work, as well as conservative values such as traditional gender expectations and roles. And indeed when we think about a marching band performance on a football stadium, it’s not hard to picture groups of girls doing their dancing routines while their male counterparts doing heavy percussion and marching routines.


A YouTube video documenting the 2019 North Carolina A&T State University Marching Band routine.

As our society is gradually progressing from our learned gender dichotomy towards an intersectional lens to understand, respect and welcome non-binary and LGBTQ community into the different facets of social structures and system, more research and studies are starting to take an interest on the gendered structure of a marching band. However, even though interests have been taken into this matter, literature concerning such are focused on Predominantly White Institutions (PWI) and not so much for student experiences in HBCU.

“While professional educational literature concerning racial identity, sexual identity and sexual orientation of students have been emerging, the literature is widely from White, Euro-American perspectives and excludes the Black gay male experience.” (Carter, 27)

In a research done by Bruce Allen Carter, he revealed that all the four participants who all identified as black gay male shared the sentiment that there’s a constant state of anxiety surrounding their participation in HBCU marching band and that “there’s nothing better or nothing worse than being Black, gay and in the Marching band” (Carter, 37)

In a essay Reclaiming the Beat: The Sweet Subversive Sounds of HBCU Marching Bands written by Antron D. Mahoney, he also shed light on the experiences of non-binary communities in the marching band and pointed out an underground performance practice “J-setting” or “bucking” that is an outlet for self-expression and community building for many non-binary or LGBTQ black males. These underground practices, similar to what females partake on a regular basis in marching bands, are being criticized and ostracized as a transgressive art form. This documentary When the Beat Drops as referenced in Mahoney’s essay further elaborates on the experiences of non-cis black men as well as origins, significance and development of “J-setting” and “bucking” as a new fledging art form.



According to HBCU marching band scholar, Yulanda Essoka, she attributed the success and competitiveness of HBCU bands to their distinct style that integrates and meshes up different genres and styles of music and routines than their PWI counterparts.(Mahoney, 83) This is often celebrated as the pride of HBCU bands, an ode to musical experiences of blackness and diversity. Will we take the next step to embrace also queerness, gayness, intersectionality and celebrate their embodied pride and experiences through marching band?

As I continue to contemplate on this topic, I envision a more in-depth extension to our HBCU marching band mapping project to be focusing on mapping data of existing scholars’ findings and statistics of intersectional, LGBTQ participation and experiences at HBCUs as well as collaborating with HBCUs in further research, data collection, support and even reformation in the band culture for a more inclusive experience for the non-binary and LGBTQ community.

Sources:

Carter, Bruce Allen. “‘Nothing Better or Worse Than Being Black, Gay, and in the Band.’” Journal of Research in Music Education. 61, no. 1 (2013): 26–43. https://doi.org/10.1177/0022429412474470.


2019 HBCU HOMECOMING & BAND SHOWCASE | NC A&T State Takes Field Highlights. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vIX3AuqPKLs

Mahoney, Antron D. “Reclaiming the Beat: The Sweet Subversive Sounds of HBCU Marching Bands.” Southern Cultures 27, no. 4 (2021): 78–97. https://doi.org/10.1353/scu.2021.0059.

When the Beat Drops. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WxLY1Aydebo

“A Dying People”

Through the digital archives of the American Indian Histories and Cultures, I came across some Akwesasne Notes newspaper articles and as I read through them, this article struck me deeply, especially in juxtaposition to some of the texts and journals we read in class written by European settlers and expansionists.


Screenshots of the article titled A Dying People in the Akwesasne Notes, Vol 13, No. 5, Winter 1981.

To begin with, Akwesasne Notes is a newspaper publication of the Mohawk Nation, named after the location Akwesasne, situated between the New York and Canadian borders. The publication first started in 1968 and continued irregularly through 1992 until a hiatus until 1995 in which new series were published until 1997.

In this news article, a journalist from Albany was struck by the state of constant decay at Akwesasne both environmentally and culturally and went around town seeking opinions from some locals. The response he got from Marcy was painful and saddening. Marcy attributed big parts of the cultural disintegration and the fading sense of community towards the young generations’ reluctance in learning their own traditions– the white assimilation.

A video documenting the importance of the water bodies in Akwesasne, its pollution and the potential for works of restoration.

“The white man’s ways, money, it confused us… it weakened us. We forgot about the real things… How to fight for the real things… They poisoned us, they tricked us.” – Marcy


The assimilation process as she described was characterized with deceit and dishonesty, using temporal materialistic gains such as money as bait for natives to abandon their traditional ways and beliefs. The consequences of a collective assimilation was devastating and irreversible. On one hand we see the issue of clashing ideals and different ways of life between the natives and the Americans; on the other hand, there’s the question of how to make amends and restore the damage and disruption.

The colonizers, settlers and the United States government in their misguided attempts to “convert”, “educate” and “civilize” the Native Americans, failed to acknowledge and respect an alternative way of living and belief system just as valid as their own realities. Marcy in the article wishes the white men to stop using their ways to make amends and instead just leave it alone. Maybe instead of forcing our ways and realities on others, we should make the effort to learn from them, to restore and rebuild the community and cultural heritage in their ways instead of ours.

In terms of folk tunes, poems and music-making, I’ve seen many attempts in academia to analyze and make sense of Native American music using western music terminology and descriptions. Although it is a gateway of connection, it is still a reluctant refusal to really see and experience a different culture that is different from our realities. I hope in academia, scholars will start becoming more aware of their own positionality and use terminologies accurate of Native American cultures.

Sources:

mdigital.co.uk/Documents/Images/Ayer_Akwesasne_Notes_1981_12Wnt/2?v=1652413313&SessionExpired=True

https://youtu.be/L1ePZtYxy7A

https://onlinebooks.library.upenn.edu/webbin/serial?id=akewsasnenotes

https://www.fold3.com/collection/native-american

A Blog on Bert Williams


In today’s blog post, I want to dive in to talk about Bert Williams (1874-1922), a popular black comedian, singer and film director in the entertainment industry at the turn of the century. He was also a pioneer of bringing African-American participation and involvement in the entertainment and music industry in the early 20th century. I came across Bert Williams as I browsed through the sheet music consortium, finding a printed sheet music of Somebody Else, Not Me published with Bert Williams at the front cover in blackface.


The piece titled “Somebody Else – Not me” was composed by Hanley, James F. (James Frederick), 1892-1942 with lyrics by Ballard MacDonald (1882-1935) for voice and piano. It was famously performed and introduced by Bert Williams in the musical Broadway Brevities at the New York Winter Garden. Featuring Bert Williams himself in blackface, the cover was printed by New York : Shapiro Bernstein & Co, c1920.

The following are the lyrics and recording of the piece “Somebody Else, Not Me” performed by Bert Williams.


To begin with, “blackface” was a racist performance tradition popular in the United States a century or two ago where white Americans of European descent put on temporary black pigments in minstrel shows to portray black Americans in a theatrical or even derogatory manner with the intention to entertain white audiences. Although nowadays, we consider this to be a deeply racist tradition, it was unfortunately a socially-acceptable common practice in the 19th and early 20th century. With the start of racial awakening and awareness stemming from the civil rights movements in the 1950s, the Blackface tradition started to decline and was beginning to be considered as an outright racist practice.

Now, jumping back in time to Bert Williams’ contemporary in the late 19th to early 20th century when minstrel shows and blackface traditions were prominent, that was also a time when racial inequality and discrimination led to the exclusion and devaluation of black people in most industries and professions. Bert Williams himself was born in the Bahamas and migrated with his family to Florida in the United States when he was 11. Despite being a black American, he was determined to be in the entertainment industry and started performing, joining various minstrel troops around the states in 1886 even if it meant that he also had to smear black pigments on his face to partake in shows and entertainments that essentially taunted his own racial identity and experiences. He later met the dancer George Walker and together, they created the first all-black performance cast and was one of the most famous African American performance troupes ever.


Some of the interesting and important things to note is that in Bert Williams’ famous silent-film “Natural Born Gambler”, he appeared in a self-imposed blackface as many other of his works. It presents highly racialized stereotypes and themes such as black people being deceitful and dishonest and taking advantage of wealthy white people. However, as Williams created this as entertainment for white audiences, this film was a great success congruent with societal dynamics. Partly because his role as a black producer and performer himself enables the white audiences to feel even more at ease knowing it was created willingly by a black person himself with the intention to entertain. However, in the ending of the story, the black man is arrested while the white man has a three-day grace period to leave town, reflecting the racial injustice congruent to the time that is still relevant even to this day.


In a way, we can see Bert Williams as a successful breakthrough for black people’s involvement in the entertainment industry even though through his works, he had to reinforce or create racial stereotypes for humor and entertainment. “Blackface” as a practice is in a way a means to be included in a highly racialized society. We see a lot of BIPOC comedians even nowadays participate in self-deprecating humor as a way to entertain or relate to the BIPOC identity and experience.

Black Music origins: Identity, Integration, Assimilation

Nowadays if someone is to debate whether Black Music, however they define it, is simply a copy or imitation of white music, it would be outrageously offensive and unacceptable. However, back in just the past few centuries, in the somewhat recent past, (white) scholars have differing views and have even attempted to conduct pseudo-“scientific” research to prove otherwise. For instance, George Pullen Jackson, in 1943, attempted to compare black folk songs and spirituals to many white folk songs and hymnals, trying to prove it using a flawed, and biased style of commentary.

Continuing my attempt to learn and search for the origins of “Black Music”, I looked into the archives from the African American Newspaper collections. What caught my attention was this article called “Plea for Negro Folklore” published in The Freeman in Indianapolis, Indiana, dated January 27, 1894.

Black cultural heritage and performance practices have been endangered and “whitewashed” since the early times. In an attempt to seek and preserve the roots of the black cultural heritage, both tangible and intangible, this piece of news article calls for action to connect with and rediscover authentic Black experience instead of passively accepting the predominantly whitewashed, assimilated cultural stereotypes.

“Plea for Negro Folklore” published in The Freeman in Indiannapolis, Indiana, dated January 27, 1894.


The writer is concerned that an immeasurable amount of black cultural heritage such as folklores, songs and poems are in imminent danger of being lost as younger generations of black Americans are eager and swift to embrace and integrate themselves into the white dominated academia, society and culture.



“The common school system with its teachings of eradicating the old and planting the seeds of the new, and the transition period is likely to be a short one.”
(quote from the news article)


I then looked further for some African-American folklores and stumbled upon this audio visual narrative of The Myth of the Flying African on youtube. This story is also told by Virginia Hamilton in her narrative of African-American Folklores series- The People Could Fly.


“Kum kuba yali
Kum buba tambe
Kum konku yali
Kum konku tambe”
(In the legend, these words and many variations of such are believed and spoken by many enslaved for their freedom from bondage, according to Virginia Hamilton as well as many other sources)


The following is an audio recording of a tune in which the origins can be attributed to this folklore, sung by an African American female. Although this is only one among the many existing as well as lost folksongs and folklores of African American heritage, it speaks to the authenticity of Black Culture and Music.





Bibliography / Source:

Freeman (Indianapolis, Indiana) 6, no. 4, January 27, 1894: [2]. Readex: African American Newspapers.https://infoweb.newsbank.com/apps/readex/doc?p=EANAAA&docref=image/v2%3A12B28495A8DAB1C8%40EANAAA-12C8A12E849E6750%402412856-12C8A12E9A8258B0%401.

George Pullen Jackson, White and Negro Spirituals (1943)


Henry Krehbiel, Afro-American Folksongs: A Study in Racial and National Music (1914).

AFRICAN-AMERICAN FOLKLORE SERIES | Episode III: The Myth of the Flying African. https://youtu.be/F1NjulB7v1Y?t=669

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.