“We’ll Never Turn Back”: Gaining Sympathy and Forcing Intervention in the Voter Registration Struggle

John Poppy, “The South’s War Against Negro Votes” in Look vol. 27, no. 10. May 21, 1963, http://content.wisconsinhistory.org/cdm/ref/collection/p15932coll2/id/5401, accessed April 29, 2018.

Discouraged by the violence and disappointment, a 21-year-old woman sings with tears in her eyes. She sings of the horrors she has witnessed. She sings of the friends and leaders she has lost. She sings of her hopes for the future. Bertha Gober’s singing of “We’ll Never Turn Back” in the Student Non-violent Coordinating Committee Atlanta field office exemplifies the struggle and dedication of the fieldworkers trying to register black voters in the Deep South. Furthermore, the news article featuring the description of her performance works to gain the sympathies of readers.

John Poppy opens his article with the emotional scene of Gober singing. He uses her singing to usher in his discussion of the hardships and barriers, such as violence and withdrawal of aid, which fieldworkers and anyone who talks to them face in the Deep South. Poppy then inserts the question: “Why does Bertha Gober sing, ‘We’ve had to walk all by ourselves’”.1 He uses this lyric to emphasize the fieldworkers’ demand and need for federal intervention and their frustration that they have not received help at this point.

As an article published in Look, a popular magazine covering anything from sports and fashion to “social issues such as the Civil Rights Movement and women’s changing roles,”2
it had the power to reach people across the United States. The use of music in the article demonstrates how SNCC and their demonstrators utilized music as a tool of propaganda. Poppy illustrates the students’ determination and passion through describing a young woman’s performance of a freedom song. The poignant account of Gober singing “We’ll Never Turn Back” and working alongside her fellow young volunteers to gain equality, worked to gain the sympathies of readers, shifting popular opinion and eventually forcing the federal government to intervene.

1John Poppy, “The South’s War Against Negro Votes” in Look vol. 27, no. 10. May 21, 1963, http://content.wisconsinhistory.org/cdm/ref/collection/p15932coll2/id/5401, accessed April 29, 2018.

2 Library of Congress, “About This Collection,”  Look Collection, https://www.loc.gov/collections/look-magazine/about-this-collection/, accessed April 30, 2018.

Activism Through Song: The Freedom Singers

Robert Shelton, “Negro Songs Here and Rights Drive: Mahalia Jackson, Freedom Group at Carnegie Hall.”  New York Times (New York), June 23, 1963. Digital Public Library of America. http://content.wisconsinhistory.org/cdm/ref/collection/p15932coll2/id/21078.

The Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC) gained national attention in 1960through staging sit-ins at Nashville lunch counters, igniting a sit-in movement across the country. They continued to lead the Movement in the Freedom Rides of 1961 as well as a number of other protests, marches, and voter drives across the South. In the midst of their protesting, SNCC members sang songs that reflected their passion for the cause, lifted their spirits, and stood as a symbol of resistance against segregationists.

SNCC protestors Bernice Johnson, Ruth Harris, Cordell Hull Reagan and Charles Neblett emerged from the Albany Movement in 1962 to form the Freedom Singers. This quartet of singers, all between the ages of 19 and 21, sought to draw attention to and raise money for SNCC’s fight for racial equality through performing the songs of the Movement. 1 The young singers captured the hearts of people across the country with their musical ability and passion for social change. Performing songs composed in jail cells, on the Freedom Rides, or in other protests,2 the Freedom Singers traveled thousands of miles and shared their music and message to audiences at over 100 concerts.

This newspaper clipping from the New York Times reviews the Freedom Singers’ performance at the esteemed Carnegie Hall in New York City. The Freedom Singers collaborated with renowned gospel singer Mahalia Jackson, but the reviewer Robert Shelton reveals, “There was perhaps even greater interest in the Freedom Singers and their songs, which echoed with the immediacy of today’s headlines, the integration battle in the South”. 3 Shelton goes on not only to praise the singers’ passion for their cause but their musical ability as well. He further commends their performance: “Even if the quartet were not dealing in matters so urgent as the topical freedom songs of the integration movement, it would be outstanding for its singing…. The Freedom Singers [are] in the top level of American folk groups” 4 Shelton’s review indicates that the Freedom Singers were successful in gaining the sympathies of audiences across the country through their passionate and impressive musical talent.

In many ways, the Freedom Singers resemble the Fisk Jubilee Singers. Both groups sing music intimately connected to the black culture of the past and their present. This is problematic in that they are performing for predominantly white audiences in order to raise money for their causes. Both groups experience the pressure of upholding something important at a young age: a newly founded black college and a student movement fighting for racial equality. Like the Jubilee Singers, the Freedom Singers’ commitment to their cause is admirable. They demonstrate how the power of music can bring people together in one common cause.

1 Robert Shelton, “Negro Songs Here and Rights Drive: Mahalia Jackson, Freedom Group at Carnegie Hall.”  New York Times (New York), June 23, 1963. Digital Public Library of America. http://content.wisconsinhistory.org/cdm/ref/collection/p15932coll2/id/21078.

2 “The Freedom Singers.” Werner-SNCC Documents, Articles and Clippings. Box 2, Folder 5. (Atlanta, GA), 1962-1965. Digital Public Library of America. http://content.wisconsinhistory.or g/cdm/ref/collection/p15932coll2/id/21078, 48.

3 Shelton,“Negro Songs Here and Rights Drive.

4 Ibid.

Exploring the Minstrel Show

For my final project, I am writing a children’s book on blackface minstrelsy. To better understand what minstrel shows actually looked like, so that I can more accurately discuss them, I found a book called Minstrel Breezes by Arthur Kaser, a “collection of up-to-the-minute first-parts, sketches, skits, monologues and afterpieces.” The book was published in 1937 and was essentially a collection of scripts meant for amateur minstrels to use in their own minstrel shows. Reading through the scripts, I found that most of the humor comes from highlighting the dim-wittedness of the “black” characters, especially through pun and complicated faulty logic. For example, here is a selection from a conventional minstrel first-part, with an interlocutor and an Endman named Sideswipe:

INTERLOCUTOR: …you bragged to me the other day that you were the smartest pupil in school.

SIDESWIPE: I was de smartes’.

INTERLOCUTOR: Your sister told me this morning that you couldn’t even get out of the fourth grade.

SIDESWIPE: Dat was account of mah report card. Everything on dat report card was “A” except one.

INTERLOCUTOR: And that?

SIDESWIPE: Just one “B” on dat card, an’ dat’s what stung me.

I also found some videos on Youtube from a  1951 film, “Yes Sir, Mr. Bones,” in which popular minstrel performances are reproduced. This clip (Content Warning: Blackface) was a popular comedy routine called “28.”

The comedy routines in their contexts are quite disturbing; the blackface, the gross caricatures, the belittling of black folk all culminate into a disappointing picture. However, I raise a question: could these sort of routines be funny today if the blackface and racism was removed? Many of the jokes are puns and general silliness. Perhaps this is a controversial question, and by no means am I arguing in favor of minstrelsy, but it does make me wonder what are the limits of humor? When is a joke going too far? Is there any comedy from minstrel shows that can have any value, or do the implications mean too much? I suppose I am also thinking along the lines of the old minstrel tunes and that we know from childhood, that we know are from that tradition, but still hold onto. What do you think?

 

Jamaica: Exploring the Caribbean on Broadway

After reading Carol Oja’s article “West Side Story and The Music Man: Whiteness, Immigration, and Race in the U.S. During the Late 1950s” for class, I found myself wondering what other musicals premiered on Broadway during the 1957-1958 season.1
A quick google search revealed that, along with West Side Story and The Music Man, three other shows were nominated for the Tony Award for Best Musical in 1958: New Girl in Town, and Oh, Captain, as well as one name that stuck out to me: Jamaica. Knowing nothing about Jamaica, I was immediately intrigued by the idea that another musical dealing with American-Caribbean relations was on Broadway at the same time as West Side Story.

Cover of the opening night program for Jamaica, which opened at the Majestic Theater on October 31st, 1957.

Using a modified Calypso musical style that was popular in New York, Jamaica (book by E.Y. Harburg and Fred Saidy, music by Harold Arlen, and lyrics by E.Y. Harburg) tells the story of a Caribbean island community and its experience with tourism and other current events of the late 1950s. The musical was not a critical success, but became “the longest running black-cast Broadway musical up to that time.”2
Theater scholar Shane Vogel remarked that “Jamaica parodied the colonial system, Caribbean tourist economies, and the ideological struggles that subtended a cold war that was never very cold. It may be the only Broadway musical to stage, just before intermission, a mushroom cloud.”3 Through a variety of artistic changes made just before opening (including replacing the original Jamaican star Harry Belafonte with Lena Horne) the political critique of the show was somewhat watered down. (It is also interesting to note that Alvin Ailey appeared in the ensemble.)

West Side Story and Jamaica uses similar themes of connection between Caribbean islands and the United States, but in dramatically different ways. While West Side Story focused on the trials of racial and cultural integration of white and Puerto Rican American youth in New York City, Jamaica emphasized the detrimental effects of colonialism on the inhabitants of the fictional Pigeon Island, at least at first. By the time it got to Broadway,

Advertisements frame the list of scenes in Jamaica.

and despite the intentions of the writers, “the show appeared as a typical instance of mid-century Broadway Caribbeana: a tourist production that traded on notions of an undifferentiated Caribbean landscape and a tropical aesthetic of “calypso” rhythms, moonlight romance, and folk simplicity” “where blackness was staged as a site and possibility for diasporic political consciousness,” according to Vogel.4 Reflecting this change, advertisements that appeared in the opening night playbill were for cruise ships, clothes, and alcohol.5
While the songs still contained critiques of American intervention (for example “Yankee Dollar,” and “Leave the Atom Alone”), the Playbill synopsis now reads “A Jamaican woman dreams of moving to New York City, despite her boyfriend’s contentment with the island life.”6
Despite giving a platform to black artists, many of whom became involved with the Civil Rights Movement, Jamaica was a far cry from giving a unique political voice to black island communities. For further reflection on the evolution of musicals with Caribbean themes, it would be interesting to compare Jamaica to the current Broadway musicals that take place on Caribbean islands, such as Once On This Island, and Escape to Margaritaville.

1 Oja, Carol. “West Side Story and The Music Man: Whiteness, Immigration, and Race in the U.S. During the Late 1950s” Studies in Musical Theatre 3, no. 1 (2009): 13-20.

2 Oja, Carol. “West Side Story and The Music Man: Whiteness, Immigration, and Race in the U.S. During the Late 1950s” Studies in Musical Theatre 3, no. 1 (2009): 2. ProQuest. Accessed April 15, 2018.

3 Oja, “Jamaica on Broadway,” 1.

4 Oja, “Jamaica on Broadway,” 2, 18.

5 “Jamaica,” Playbill Vault. http://www.playbill.com/production/jamaica-imperial-theatre-vault-0000006056.

6 Ibid.

Politics and Music: Reconciliation Through Celebration

1865 was one of the biggest years in the history of the United States of America. The end of the American Civil War was fast approaching and the 13th amendment was ratified early that year. Celebrations, both public and private, erupted all over the country. With these celebrations came some historic national firsts. One particular first came in a religious celebration that took place in the Capitol soon after the completion of the 13th Amendment. Reverend Henry Highland Garnet was invited by The Chaplain of the House of Representatives, Reverend William H. Channing to speak and perform religious ceremonies to honor this historic moment. 1

Rev. H. H. Garnet

It was not only the first time that an African American preacher had performed a religious ceremony in the Capitol but, according to public letters, it was also the first time a black man had spoken there. 2 The significance of this event was not lost on Washington residents and both white and black men came to hear him speak. To further the momentous occasion congregants of the local black Methodist church, joined by a variety of members of nearby white churches, sang for the occasion. This interracial choir showcased both an ideological and political commitment to the expansion of rights for African Americans.

Article reflecting on Rev. Garnett’s appearance in the Capitol

Spirituals are such an integral part of the African American experience, in many cases they represent hope and strength in times of strife. 3 It’s fitting that they would be included in such a historically important moment. The combination of politics, religion, and music symbolize the progressive and creative changes happening in the United States at this time. This celebration is ultimately representative of how music and ceremony can provide an outlet for people to come together and represent the multi-faceted nature of change. This moment in time shows how music can help to bring people together and how it can provide a platform for the celebration of progress.

Cultural Appropriation: Is It Bad?

From pop sensations Bruno Mars to Iggy Azalea to old school entertainers like Elsie Janis, musical cultural appropriation has always been and is still a problem to many people. Is music appropriation a bad thing? Here is some background to understanding why musical cultural appropriation is a problem.

Cultural Appropriation

First, before we get to it, we need to understand what “appropriation” means. According to TheFreeDictionary.com the definition of music appropriation is: “the use of borrowed elements (aspects or techniques) in the creation of a new piece,” (TheFreeDictionary.com).

Now, appropriation of music styles in itself is not bad. However, once those music styles are being re-interpreted by people who didn’t originally create that particular genre or song style, we start to find problems. This is called “Cultural Appropriation”. According to The Free Dictionary, “Cultural appropriation is the adoption or use of elements of one culture by members of another culture.[1] Cultural appropriation may be perceived[2] as controversial, even harmful, notably when the cultural property of a minority group is used by members of the dominant culture without the consent of the members of the originating culture; this is seen as misappropriation and a violation of intellectual property rights” (TheFreeDictionary.com).

An example of cultural appropriation is when someone who is not Mexican throws on a Charro suit as a costume for Halloween.

Mexican Cultural Appropriation

It is completely misrepresenting its origins. Cultural appropriation in music has been an issue in the Western world, especially in the United States. The reason is most, if not, all music that is “American” is originally black music. Most jazz, blues, ragtime, hip-hop, country, spirituals, and other songs we have discussed in class have found their origins in African-American culture.

 

 

Today, artists such as Bruno Mars and Iggy Azalea are being criticized for creating music in genres that originated from black musicians. Even after Bruno acknowledged his influences at the 2018 Grammy’s for example,

[Bruno Mars Acknowledges His Influences in 2018 Grammys]

an article was written about his role as a racially ambiguous artist in today’s music industry. Even Seren Sensei posted a video on Twitter defending her argument that Bruno Mars is using his racial ambiguity to further his credit in creating black music.

[Seren Sensei]

However, this issue is a bit more complex than it seems. To understand why, we must allude back to the cultural music appropriation of black music by white artists in the early 20th century United States.

[Elsie Janis – Anti Rag-Time Girl (Audio)]

2nd: Elsie Bierbower, aka: “Elsie Janis” was a singer, songwriter, actress and screenwriter from Columbus, Ohio. She moved to Los Angeles to live her dreams in the entertainment industry, and travelled around the world performing for vaudeville, Broadway and Hollywood. She was immortalized by her nickname, “the sweetheart of the AEF” when she would entertain the troops during World War I.

Elsie Janis – Anti-Ragtime Girl Sheet Music

Elsie Janis could be described as a someone who made it in Hollywood. She was very famous in her time. However, as with everything that seems to good to be true, Elsie utilized ragtime, an African-American genre, to write her 1913 song “Anti-Ragtime Girl”. By 1913, Ragtime was in its prime as a popular American genre, similar to how hip-hop is dominant in mainstream culture today. It is clear that she uses ragtime to create this piece. Are her actions considered cultural appropriation? Yes and no. Yes, because she did not invent ragtime music, and it is clear that she is living lavishly for herself based off the income of her music’s success. Some may argue that it is not moral for one to use another’s culture to re-interpret in another perspective. It is still very complicated.

That leaves us with today. Eminem, Iggy Azalea, Bruno Mars, and Macklemore have all won Grammys for their success in performing music that is arguably black music. However, differences in opinion leaves us with an open-ended question: Where does the line between creating original art and committing cultural appropriation sit?

Sources:

Collins English Dictionary – Complete and Unabridged, 12th Edition 2014. S.v. “appropriation.” Retrieved March 19 2018 from https://www.thefreedictionary.com/appropriation

Harriot, Michael. “The Bruno Mars Controversy Proves People Don’t Understand Cultural Appropriation.” The Grapevine. Retrieved March 19 2018 from https://thegrapevine.theroot.com/the-bruno-mars-controversy-proves-people-don-t-understa-1823709412

Janis, Elsie. “Anti Rag-Time Girl.” Oregon Digital. Retrived March 19 2018 from https://oregondigital.org/catalog/oregondigital:w66343646#page/1/mode/1up

Sheet Music Singer. “Anti-Ragtime Girl (1913).” YouTube. Retrieved March 19 2018 from https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=anQzoJQZerk

Wikipedia.org. S.v. “Appropriation (music).” Retrieved March 19 2018 from https://encyclopedia.thefreedictionary.com/Appropriation+(music)

 

Let My People Go: Moses in African American Spirituals

The traditional lyrics and melody. Burleigh, H.T. “Go Down, Moses (Let My People Go!),” in Negro Spirituals (New York: G. Ricordi, 1917),https://library.duke.edu/dig italcollections/hasm_n0708/.

After relentless, long and hard days working in the fields, enslaved black people had little in forms of comfort. Singing spirituals was one way for enslaved people to come together, to sing about their hardships, to praise God, and to lift their spirits. Although some scholars, such as George Pullen Jackson,1 have argued that spirituals stem directly from white Protestant music, spiritual songs centered on Moses and the Israelites’ escape from Egyptian slavery, such as “Go Down, Moses”, highlight how the slave experience distinctly shaped African American spirituals.

In the numerous songs featuring the biblical character of Moses, “Go Down, Moses” is the most popular. This as well as other Moses songs directly reflects enslaved people’s longing for freedom. For many enslaved people, Moses was representative of the brave “conductors” of the Underground Railroad, such as Harriet Tubman, that guided enslaved people to freedom.2 The lyrics of “Go Down Moses” indicating that Moses, someone who did not have as much power as the Pharaoh, could defy him and demand “to let [his] people go!” was incredibly powerful for enslaved people who dreamed of defying their master. In many ways it became a way of defying their master even if they did not run away.3

Although this version of “Go Down Moses” remains the most popular, other versions also highlight connections between the African-American slaves and the Israelites. In John Davis’s version of “Go Down, Moses”, he reveals that the chariot symbolizes the Underground Railroad and the “rivers rolling” as the rivers that runaway slaves would cross though to lose their scent.4 Although the lyrics are different, the message remains the same: a dream and a reflection on the fight for freedom.

Krehbiel’s assertion that “Nowhere save on the plantations of the south could the emotional life which is essential to the development of true folksong be developed”5 rings true in “Go Down, Moses”. Although whites may have shared Christianity with enslaved blacks, they could not emote the same connection with the enslaved Israelites. The emotion present in the slow, melancholy song in the video and sheet music above reveals the deep sadness of living in slavery and a longing for freedom that only enslaved people could understand.

1 Jackson, George Pullen. “Negro-Borrowed Tunes are Traced Back to Britain: Did the Black Man Compose Religious Songs?,” in White and Negro Spirituals, Their Life Span and Kinship: Tracing 200 Years of Untrammeled Song Making and Singing Among Our Country Folk, (New York: J.J. Augustin, 1943): 264-289.

2 “Georgia islands: Biblical Songs and Spirituals,” Southern Journey 12 (1998): 14.

3 Ibid.

4 Ibid.

5 Krehbiel, Henry Edward. “Songs of the American Slaves,” in Afro-American Foksongs: A Study in Racial and National Music, (1914): 22.

“Carry Me Back to Old Virginny”–how should we feel about it?

In our readings and listenings on minstrelsy, we have come across the minstrel song, “Carry Me Back to Old Virginny,” a sentimental tune seeming to long for simpler slave life back in the South. In an address to the State Legislature of Missouri, Dr. Joseph McDowell mentions this song as “the song of the old African,” arguing that it holds such a special place in the hearts and minds of former slaves because “no negro over left her soil but carried in his bosom a desire to return, and a vivid recollection of her hospitality and kindess”.1 The lyrics, pictured below, begin “Carry me back to old Virginny, There’s where the cotton and the corn and tatoes grow…. There’s where the old darkey’s heart am long’d to go.”

“Carry Me Back to Old Virginny” notated music, composed by James Bland. https://www.loc.gov/item/ihas. 200000735/

“Carry Me Back to Old Virginny” notated music, composed by James Bland. https://www.loc.gov/item/ihas. 200000735/

Written in 1878, the song was a “longtime staple” of minstrel shows2, a renowned favorite, bearing what we would deem now to be controversial lyrics. It was performed by many minstrel troupes, notably by the Georgia Minstrels, the “first successful all-black minstrel company,” of which the composer of this song was a prolific member.3 Furthermore, in 1940, the song was adopted by the state of Virginia as the official state song, and remained as such until 1997 when it was withdrawn due to complaints that the lyrics were racist, and was instead made the state song emeritus (an honorary state song).4

James Bland’s 3 Great Songs
http://www.blackpast.org/files/ blackpast_images/James_A__Bland __public_domain_.jpg

The element of this that I find most intriguing and complex is that the song was written by a black man, James Bland, to be performed in blackface minstrelsy. As we discussed in class, white people performing in blackface is an inappropriate and, quite frankly, a disgusting practice, but the morals get a bit trickier when it comes to black people performing in blackface. Bland used minstrel shows to his professional and financial benefit, using the stage as a platform to broadcast his musical compositions.5 In light of this, should we reconsider his song, “Carry Me Back to Old Virginny”? Is this a racist song? Or could it be a satire, “illustrating Southern white slaveholders’ longing for the past when they were masters and African Americans were under their subjugation”?6 Either way, is it wrong to discount a song that was a prominent feature of a man’s career that likely would not have come to fruition if it wasn’t for the popularity of minstrel shows, for better or for worse, blurring the color line and giving blacks the opportunity to participate in American popular culture?

Masculinity and Minstrelsy: Intersectional Issues in Blackface Performances

As long as the entertainment industry has sought to reach the masses it has caused controversy. Minstrel shows, the first form of mass entertainment in the United States,1 is one of the most prolific examples of this. Minstrelsy relied heavily on songs and dances performed in blackface, the act of covering one’s face in burnt cork to give the illusion that the actor or actress is black themselves. Characters that were in blackface were played as caricatures of stereotypes in the African American community.

Thomas Rice as the original Jim Crow

These performances not only relied on racist notions of identity but also gendered ones. White male performers could experiment with identity and commodify it by playing on the entertainment quality of challenging racial and gendered notions of identity.2 Thomas Rice, the actor who created the Jim Crow character, is one example of these performers.3 The Jim Crow character was modeled as a former slave who wished to return to the way things had been during the antebellum years. During and after reconstruction real, living, breathing black American men lived in fear and persecution due to racist beliefs that created a scary and wild image of them. Minstrel shows furthered these images by showcasing them as stupid and brutish. The Jim Crow character was an emasculating and oftentimes pitiful version of the African American man.4 This portrayal stood as a stark contrast from the expectations of white men during this time period. A poster from a five person minstrel show shows this contrast. In it you can see through their difference in posture, clothing, and personality the inferiority of their African American characters.

The cover to sheet music for a five part piece designed for a blackface minstrel show

Jokes at the expense of the African American men were the real cherry on top. For example, the Jim Crow character’s wish to return to plantation life also included his desire for the protection of his master. This falsely portrayed wish for domination says more about white men than it does about their black counterparts. It exhibits the racist and sexist values of the United States and the too slow change in societal acceptance. Minstrelsy was a popular and important part of the American entertainment industry. Like many forms of entertainment, though, it helped to fuel the fire of hate a prejudice and that cannot be forgotten.

1 Weiner, Melissa F. “Minstrelsy.” In The American Mosaic: The African American Experience, ABC-CLIO, 2018.

2  Locke, Joseph. “Blackface.” In The American Mosaic: The African American Experience, ABC-CLIO, 2018.

3 Burns, James. “Thomas Rice.” In The American Mosaic: The African American Experience, ABC-CLIO, 2018.

4 Nuruddin, Yusuf. “Jim Crow Racial Stereotypes.” In The American Mosaic: The African American Experience, ABC-CLIO, 2018.

Performing Jim Crow: Stereotyping a People

Williams Clay, Edward. “Mr. T. Rice as the Original Jim Crow”. In Jump Jim Crow: Lost Plays, Lyrics, and Street Prose of the First Atlantic Popular Culture by W. T. Lhamon, Jr. (Cambridge, Massachusetts: Harvard University Press, 2003).

In 1828 a New York City native, Thomas Rice, created the character of Jim Crow while performing in Louisville Kentucky. Performing in blackface, Rice presented the character of Jim Crow as a ragged, lazy, child-like, and irresponsible black man. Rice’s performance turned him into a celebrity, igniting the popularity of blackface minstrelsy throughout the United States.1

Blackface minstrelsy perpetuated and exaggerated stereotypes of blacks and thus served as a means of justifying slavery. Jim Crow was no exception. Jim Crow or the Sambo character quickly became the stereotype of black men. Depicted as ignorant, lazy, childish, and completely dependent on their master, minstrel performers justified slavery by implying that blacks were incapable of taking care of themselves. Spectators preferred this depiction of black men as loyal to their masters rather than the alternative stereotype of the Savage who was rebellious and would attack white women.2

“Minstrel Music with African American Jim Crow Caricatures.” In The American Mosaic: The African American Experience, ABC-CLIO, 2018. Image. Accessed March 6, 2018. https://africanamerican2.abc-clio.com/Search/Display/1612304.

Published in 1847, the cover of the Jim Crow Jubilee sheet music, “a collection of Negro melodies” promotes the Jim Crow caricature and blackface minstrelsy. The cover mirrors the staging of a minstrel show: one central figure surrounded by three other performers with a fiddle, mandolin, and bones. The crowd of people in the background also suggests that this image is set on a plantation and that this characterization of black people’s appearance and behavior is representative of the black population.

The central figure of Jim Crow greatly resembles the original image of Jim Crow that advertised for Rice’s performances. Both feature a smiling black man with exaggerated and comical facial features and ragged clothing, including torn pants and shoes. While we discussed in class that performers often wore fantastical clothing on stage, the earlier characterizations of Jim Crow highlighted this disheveled appearance. In both images, the Jim Crows also strike a similar pose as if they are in the middle of dancing to the blackface minstrel music.

The origins of Jim Crow in black face minstrelsy highlight how a character’s name came to be a symbol of black people as a whole, discrimination, and institutional segregation across the South. Depictions of Jim Crow and other black characters demonstrated to audience members that blacks were inferior to whites in their appearance, speech, intellect, and general behavior and personality. This characterization reaffirmed color boundaries and led to the establishment of Jim Crow segregation laws.

Burns, James. “Thomas Rice.” In The American Mosaic: The African American Experience, ABC-CLIO, 2018. Accessed March 6, 2018. https://africanamerican2.abc-clio.com/Sear ch/Display/1606088.

Nuruddin, Yusuf. “Jim Crow Racial Stereotypes.” In The American Mosaic: The African American Experience, ABC-CLIO, 2018. Accessed March 6, 2018. https://africaname ri can2.abc-clio.com/Search/Display/1407153.

Children’s Songs Become Folk–“Rosie”

Unsure of what to research, even after spending hours scrolling through and skimming journals, narratives, pictures, and musical selections, I inevitably turned to children’s songs on the Library of Congress Lomax Collection. I have always been fascinated by culture and media for children, be it stories, rhymes, or whatever else–I’m even writing a non-fiction book on Nigeria for children right now.

An intriguing aspect of these children’s songs is their folk quality. For example, I dug quite a bit into the song “Rosie.” There are several recordings available in the Lomax Collection and each–despite being recorded within days of each other (May 1939) and in the same area (Livingston, Alabama)–is a little different. These are the versions: Vera Hallthe McDonald Family, and Ed Jones.

This is a classic call and response song, with a leader calling out and the group responding emphatically as a whole. The chorus is essentially the same in each with the “ha ha Rosie” and referring to her as either “baby” or “pretty girl.” The verse lyrics differ, but the overall structure remains the same, as well as the clapping beat underneath. Another recording, from the Smithsonian Folkways Records, is of children at Brown’s Chapel School in Alabama singing the tune:

“Rosie Darling Rosie” appears alongside various other play songs, including ones we may recognize, such as “Mary Mack” and “Loop de Loo.” The lyrics of this one also fall in line with those mentioned above, the chorus following “Rosie darling Rosie / ha ha Rosie / Rosie darling Rosie / ha ha Rosie” and the verses having different words but the same structure. The verse seems to suggest that the song (or at lease this particular rendition of lyric) is from the time of slavery, a slave calling upon his baby to run away with him to Baltimore (a notedly free place in those days) to escape their bondage.

“Rosie Darling Rosie” lyrics from Folkways Records https://media.smithsonianfolkways.org/liner_notes/folkways/FW07004.pdf

The pamphlet that accompanies this record also includes lyrics which the kids do not sing in this particular recording but are still often sung (pictured at right). In the recording of Vera Hall above, she uses these lyrics, except her rendition replaces “preacher” and “two” with “nigger.” Otherwise, it is the same. This illustrates both how folk songs change over time and place and simply who is singing the song, as well as that these folk songs from the days of slavery may be reworked over time to be more palatable to the general populace.

Vera Hall at the home of Mrs. Ruby Pickens Tartt, Livingston, Alabama http://www.loc.gov/pictures/collection/lomax/item/2015645819/

I delved a bit deeper into Vera Hall, as I was most drawn to her rendition of “Rosie.” Apparently, nearly a decade after Alan Lomax recorded her singing in Livingston, AL in 1939, Lomax invited her to come perform at the 1948 Fourth Annual Festival of Contemporary American Music at Columbia University in New York City. She accepted and left Alabama for the first and only time in her life. During this time, she stayed at Lomax’s apartment where he recorded more of her singing (including two more renditions of “Rosie”) and commentaries on the songs and her life. She describes “Rosie” as a song she and the other children in her area would sing and play as a line game. It was a song passed around purely by word of mouth, which is a wonderful example of how folk songs such as this survive.

Folk Music and Square Dancing: Expression of Rural Whiteness

In 1939, John Lomax and his wife Ruby Terrill Lomax set out on an adventure into the homes and communities of the American South to collect folk music. Their trip documented music that had developed in the American South and stood as a symbol of southern rural white culture. Their collection of recordings includes the American classic “Turkey in the Straw” performed by Elmo Newcomer and his son Theo Newcomer, available below. 1The song represents the simplicity of the “down home” feeling represented in folk music.

Like much folk and country music, “Turkey in the Straw” features both the banjo and the fiddle. Although folk and country music are often considered white genres , the presence of the banjo indicates the influence of the African American community, as the banjo has African origins.2 In addition to standing as a representative of traditional Southern music, the song features the duple meter and 16-bar units popular to bluegrass music These features indicate how this song and others like it influenced later Southern and Appalachian Mountain music.

“Members of the Bog Trotters Band, posed holding their instruments, Galax, Va. Back row: Uncle Alex Dunford, fiddle; Fields Ward, guitar; Wade Ward, banjo. Front row: Crockett Ward, fiddle; Doc Davis, autoharp” in Lomax Collection (Galax, Virginia: 1937 )http://www.loc. gov/pictures/collection/lomax/item/2007660127/ (accessed February 25, 2018).

“Bent Creek Ranch Square Dance Team dancing at the Mountain Music Festival, Asheville, North Carolina” in Lomax Collection (Asheville, North Carolina: 1938-1950) http://www.loc.gov/pictures/ colle ction/lomax/item/2007660059/ (accessed February 26, 2018).

This recording, performed in the Newcomers’ home, demonstrates how folk music was part of the lives of the poor rural family and the community. The lyrics in the Newcomers’ performance, “Went out to milk/ And I didn’t know how/ I milked the goat/ Instead of the cow” reflect the everyday lives of rural white farm families.

In addition to being performed in their homes, the themes of this classic song related to the rural farm community at large. White rural Southerners shared this music at gatherings and this song like many other folk songs were popular square dancing tunes. Square dancing has been a tradition in the Appalachian Mountains since the 19th century.4 One place that folk music and square dancing came together is at the  Mountain Music Festival in North Carolina. This gathering and the general union of folk music such as “Turkey in the Straw” and square dancing celebrates folk music and the “down home”, simple lives of the rural white communities.

As we discussed in class, this song like many other folk and country songs gave rural Southern whites a voice, art, and setting to express their culture. This often came at the expense of the black community who were excluded from the memory of folk music by the music industry and scholars such as John Lomax.

Newcomer, Elmo and Bill Newcomer, “Turkey in the Straw” in John and Ruby Lomax 1939 Southern States Recording Trip (Pike Creek, Texas: 1939) http://www.loc.gov/item/lomaxbib00159/ (accessed February 25, 2018).

2Allen, Ray. “Folk Musical Traditions” in Encyclopedia of American Studies, edited by Simon J. Bronner (Baltimore: John Hopkins University Press, 2017) http://eas-ref.press.jhu.edu/view?aid=650&from=search&query=square%20dance&link=search%3Freturn%3D1%26query%2520dance%26section%3Ddocument%26doctype%3Dall (accessed February 26, 2018).

3 Root, Deanne L., Linda Moot, and Pauline Norton. “Square-Dance”, in Oxford Music (2001), http://www.oxfordmusiconline.com/grovemusic/vieew/10.1093/gmo/9781561592630.001/omo-9781561592630-e-0000026476?rskey=pkHftn&result=1 (accessed February 26, 2018).

4 Ibid.

Bluegrass: A generational experience

The concept of “nurture versus nature” is a scientific and ideological question that haunts every single academic field. Not even the immortal and ever changing world of music can escape. In her 2017 IBMA Keynote address bluegrass musician Rhiannon Giddens notes that the intersection between her biracial identity and love for bluegrass music are just an examples of why it is so important to “celebrate the greater diversity of the people who have shaped the music that is so much a part of [her] identity”. 1 There is a generational thread that exists within bluegrass music that is not simply resigned to Rhiannon Giddens’ story. The Lomax family, a similarly generational act, documented families all across the American South during the late 1930’s, some who are participating in the musical traditions associated with folk and bluegrass music. 2  

Bog Trotters Band members seated with instruments, Galax, Va. Includes Doc Davis, with autoharp; Crockett Ward, with fiddle; Uncle Alex Dunford, with fiddle; Wade Ward, with banjo; Fields Ward, with guitar

Music is so often attached to particular aspects of identity, it goes beyond family and represents tradition within an entire line of people. One aspect of the folk musical tradition is the way in which it can, and has, reinforced gender and age roles within a tradition. In many songs there may be particular parts mapped out for different vocal ranges, allowing for mother, father, and children to talk their place within the musical tradition. 3 A slightly more contemporary example that S.W. Mills uses in Bringing the family tradition in bluegrass music to the music classroom, is Johnny Cash’s “Daddy Sang Bass”. 

The idea of this broad category of music bringing people together didn’t exist just in communities of white Americans.The racial makeup of these traditions is something explored both by Giddens in her keynote address as well as the Lomax family. Their documentation spanned the gamut, showing musicians in each tradition.

Stavin’ Chain playing guitar and singing the ballad “Batson” accompanied by a musician on violin, Lafayette, La.

One thing that connects these two racially divided traditions is the generational role of music, especially folk music. It shows its importance not only in the formation of modern folk music but also its role in the formation of family values. Though documentation (and misuse) is a relatively controversial topic the ability to study such things wouldn’t exist without the resources provided from people like the Lomax family. Ultimately, it’s important to acknowledge the beautiful and meaningful way music brings people together.

1 Giddens, Rhiannon. “Community and Connection.” IBMA Keynote Speech 2017, Nashville, TN, 2017.

2 Cohen, Ronald D.. Alan Lomax, Assistant in Charge: The Library of Congress Letters, 1935-1945. University Press of Mississippi, 2007.

3 Mills, S. W.. Bringing the family tradition in bluegrass music to the music classroom. General Music Today, iss. 22, p. 12-18.

Dear Mexico, También Somos Aleman (We are also German)

This artifact intrigued me not necessarily the word, “uber” which is seen nearly of every street corner of most major U.S. cities today in the form of a car. Rather, what caught my attention was the name, “Guadaljara” which is actually spelled Guadalajara today. This is where my parents were originally born, near a city with a name derived of an Arabic translation, as stated in the official Ayuntamiento de Guadalajara website.

Access: Map of Guadalajara & Zacatecas

“In its distant origins, Guadalajara was linked to Celtoberian culture, though the earliest historical references tell of its strategic military importance to the emirs and caliphs of Córdoba. It was then known as Madinat al-Faray in memory of its conqueror, and Wad al-Hayara, Arab translation of its pre-Roman name, Arriaca.” (Guadalajara.se)

La Ciudad de Guadalajara

My father actually went to college in Guadalajara, and had essentially gone through what I am experiencing now, “a home away from home.” His decision to sacrifice that education in Guadalajara in Mexico just to seek a better quality life in the United States without citizenship has allowed me to write this blog on this St. Olaf webpage for today. Had he not done so, I would not be here, in this very moment, writing this blog. Now you see why Guadalajara caught my attention. This city’s name creates an emotional response in myself because it symbolizes my family’s origins.

 

The map is a piece of cartography recorded in 1832 and completed in 1855 by German explorer, Carl de Berghes. One can easily (not actually) identify this source by its title, “Beschreibung der Ueberreste Aztekischer Niederlassungen auf ihrer Wanderung nach dem Thale von Mexico durch den gegenwärtigen Freistaat von Zacatecas

 

According to a dear friend and Berlin, Germany native, Leander Krawinkel, the title translates into — “The Map which shows the directions and through which ways the Aztecs emigrated to Mexico” Aztecs were a group of the indigenous peoples who occupied a majority of the territory of today’s Mexico. By this account, it is fair to state that this was one explorer’s observation of how the indigenous people lived and traveled in their land. However, one may be skeptical of Berghes’s perspective on these people’s reason for migrating.

In this following image of a map titled, “Mexico, Texas und Californien” by a German explorer, Heinrich Kiepert indicates the different locations of French and German colonies near Mexico. This is significant because it is a clear reminder to all that that which makes up today’s Mexicans ethnically, around the world and especially the United States, is not just Spanish and Aztec blood, but also German and French blood, as evidenced in the presence of these European explorers in these areas. These cultural encounters were written solely from the perspective of the European explorer’s eye. This blog analysis should aid in the modern Mexican and white-American community’s understanding of their ethnic diversity and similarities as a whole, in hopes of encouraging a more united attitude rather than a separatist attitude from both cultures in a time of political and racial turmoil.

Sources:

Berghes, Carl de (1792-1869). 1832-1855. Beschreibung der Ueberreste Aztekischer Niederlassungen auf ihrer Wanderung nach dem Thale von Mexico durch den gegenwärtigen Freistaat von Zacatecas [manuscript]. [Manuscript]. At: Place: The Newberry Library. VAULT Ayer MS 1045. Available through: Adam Matthew, Marlborough, American Indian Histories and Cultures, http://www.aihc.amdigital.co.uk/FurtherResources/VisualResources/Image/Ayer_MS_1045/61# Accessed February 20, 2018.

 

Kiepert, Heinrich, 1818-1899. Mexico, Texas und Californien., map, 1847; Weimar. (texashistory.unt.edu/ark:/67531/metapth231410/:accessed February 20, 2018), University of North Texas Libraries, The Portal to Texas History, texashistory.unt.edu; crediting University of Texas at Arlington Library.

The history of the city, from the Celtiberian origin until today.” The history of the city, from the Celtiberian origin until today. – Ayuntamiento de Guadalajara. Accessed February 20, 2018. https://www.guadalajara.es/en/tourism/discover-guadalajara/history/.

Music as a Cultural Weapon: Indian Schools

Indian Schools were designed by the United States government to eliminate a threat of a generation of people whose predecessors they had slaughtered by assimilating them into the dominant Western culture. Part of this ‘Westernization’ was the role of music in the lives of the students.

1
This text from 1915 is a review of an Indian School in Pennsylvania that had been put in place to train them into the “American” culture. What is of note is the focus on music as a form of entertainment as well as education. Another example is this:

3

As can be seen in this other guidelines of an Indian School, music is a part of the total enculturation of the students. Music had become a cultural weapon with which the United States established it’s authority. Although it never explicitly states the institution’s intention to erase and replace an entire culture, this can still be seen in the rhetoric used. One can read at the bottom of the image that these student associations that management is required to “see that the true purpose of the associations is maintained.” For those managing the school, the true purpose was the study and practice of Western music.

Music in the Indian schools had to fall within the ‘Course of Study’ prepared by the Commissioner of Indian Affairs, who, in 1915 wrote “Music opens the way to a new world of joy.” but a sentence later explains this music must be “only good music” and then lists a series of operas and patriotic music to use.2

All of these examples set up the framework and intention behind the use of music in these institutions. Music was used as a two-pronged weapon to encourage assimilation. On the one hand, it did attempt to increase an appreciation of Western music because then the students would be less inclined to look elsewhere for that fulfillment. At the same time, it worked to ignore and eliminate the multitude of Native American cultures that had existed before it. This was necessary so these students would not have these other cultural practices that could define them and create a distinct identity separate from an “American” that could present a threat against the government.

Music and these schools were a part of the larger cultural narrative that encouraged the supremacy of Western culture over anything that had been produced by the indigenous people before it and created these schools to asset that. These Indian Schools were a powerful tool that used music as a way to eliminate a threat the US Government saw to its power.

1.Carlisle Indian Industrial School. 1915. Catalogue and synopsis of courses, United States Indian School, Carlisle, Pennsylvania. Carlisle: Carlisle Indian Press. Available through: Adam Matthew, Marlborough, American Indian Histories and Cultures, http://www.aihc.amdigital.co.uk/Documents/Details/Ayer_389_C2_C2_1915 [Accessed February 20, 2018].

2. Bureau of Indian Affairs. 1915. Tentative course of study for United States Indian schools. Prepared under the direction of commissioner of Indian affairs. Available through: Adam Matthew, Marlborough, American Indian Histories and Cultures, http://www.aihc.amdigital.co.uk/Documents/Details/Ayer_386_U5_1915 [Accessed February 20, 2018].

3. United States Indian Service. 1913. Rules for the Indian School Service, 1913 / Department of the Interior, United States Indian Service. Available through: Adam Matthew, Marlborough, American Indian Histories and Cultures, http://www.aihc.amdigital.co.uk/Documents/Details/Ayer_386_U5_1913 [Accessed February 20, 2018].

Misinterpretation in the Ghost Dance of 1890

Historically, most Americans lack a thorough appreciation of Native American culture. One way we can begin to understand this rich culture is through a study of Native American music, which often closely relates to culture and religion. One example is the Ghost Dance, a religious ceremony in which tribal members sing and dance on four consecutive nights. The songs include repeated chants (usually an a-a-b-b phrase) while members of the tribe dance enthusiastically in a circle. Included here is an  example of a Ghost Dance song from a tribe in the western Great Plains. It was recorded as part of James Mooney’s recordings of American Indian Ghost Dance Songs in 1894.

Although specifics rituals and song patterns differ depending on the region or tribe, each Ghost Dance represents an intensely cultural experience during which “communal performance of song and dance” is the center piece of [the] religion” (Vander 113).

We now know and understand the elements of this dance, but there were (and still are) gross misconceptions about the meaning of the Ghost Dance. One letter from the Pine Ridge reservation in South Dakota highlights this lack of appreciation for Native American culture. The letter, written in 1890, by John M. Sweeney, a white schoolteacher, is addressed to a U.S. Indian responsible for implementing federal policies on reservations. Sweeney echoes Chief Little Wound’s sentiments that the Ghost Dance is not a threat, and that U.S. troops are encroaching on the reservation with no justification. His letter asserts that the Dance will continue until Spring no matter the consequences.

Letter Excerpt #1 – John M. Sweeney dictating words of Chief Little Wound

At first, it appears that Sweeney is sympathetic towards the Native Americans, yet he later comments on the stubbornness of those who continue to dance. He notes that those who lead the ceremony are also those who refused to sign the Sioux Bill, a government-forced bill that reduced Sioux Reservation land mass, broke up tribes, and placed further restrictions on Native American groups (North Dakota Studies).

Letter Excerpt #2 – John M. Sweeney reflecting on Native American stubbornness

In fact, Sweeney speculates that this Ghost Dance was indicative of the Native Americans’ plan to revolt. He shows a blatant disregard for Native American culture. It acts as a real-life example of how tensions plagued relationships between the Native Americans and European immigrants. U.S. government fear that the Ghost Dance in 1890 was a threat led to the Battle at Wounded Knee, where approximately 300 Native Americans were murdered. This widespread misunderstanding ultimately carried forward through the recording of U.S. history.

The Ghost dance by the Ogallala Sioux at Pine Ridge Agency … Dakota / Frederic Remington, Pine Ridge, S. Dak.

Through the Ghost Dance, Native Americans connected to nature with expressive song and dance, hopeful that their spirits would restore prosperity and the Indian way of life. Historians now understand the cultural importance of musical ceremonies like the Ghost Dance. There is much to glean from this culture that can, hopefully, create a new understanding of ways in which historical biases have caused harm, and restore an appreciation for the rich culture of Native American peoples.

Continue reading

Native American Dance and Music: A Dueling Struggling for Appropriate Representation

Music is a multifaceted art form that intersects with many other forms of expression and has both a creative and cultural importance to many Native American communities. One prolific intersection, especially in Native American cultures, that exists is that of music and dance. In some of the earliest entries from European explorers, their experience with native tribes comes hand in hand with music and dance.1 One of the issues we have talked about in class is the appropriation and misuse of Native American cultural practices. This is not an issue that exists solely in the realms of music and other object-like representations. Within many European cohorts “American” dance was seen as something exotic, a form of entertainment that was both culturally intangible to them yet consistently available for general consumption.2 Unlike with Native American songs the technology to record the movement of dance was not widely used until the 1950’s. This meant that the visual representations of dance, outside of live performances, was concentrated in the lens of photographers.

Emma B. Freeman was a popular American photographer during the late 1910’s.

Emma B. Freeman was one such photographer. Freeman’s work concentrated on stylized portraits of indigenous people, culture, and fashion. She was a relatively controversial artist in that she was not always consistent in her portrayal of specific tribes and groups of people.3 She would accidentally mix, match, and generalize certain aspects of the tribes she was studying. Music and dance were both subjects she played with at times, documenting ceremonial dancers lined up before a dance. She also introduced musical instruments into the portraits of unmoving patrons.

Dancers from the Hoopa tribe.

Members of the Klamath tribe preparing for the white deer skin dance.

Emma B. Freemen’s style idealized the Native experience and tokenized their appearance through objectification. This stands as an example of the balance between appropriation and preservation and shows just how complicated the intersection between art and representation can be.

1Music in the USA : A Documentary Companion, edited by Judith Tick, and Paul Beaudoin, Oxford University Press, 2008. ProQuest Ebook Central, https://ebookcentral.proquest.com/lib/stolaf-ebooks/detail.action?docID=415567.

2Haines, John. 2012. “The Earliest European Responses to Dancing in the Americas.” U.S. Catholic Historian 30, no. 4: 1-20. America: History and Life with Full Text, EBSCOhost.

3 Clark, Gus. 1991. “Emma B. Freeman: photographer romanticized, stylized Native Americans.” Humboldt Historian 39, no. 5: 5-10. America: History and Life with Full Text, EBSCOhost.

The Grass Dance and Ankle Bells

Image

From the accounts of early settlers and newcomers to America, from Judith Tick’s Music in the USA : A Documentary Companion we know that Native Americans used drums, flutes, canes, and rattles in their music.1 I have been to the Mahkato Association’s Pow Wow in Mankato, MN a few times and there was a certain instrument that was not only decorative to the attire, or regalia, of the Native American dancers but to the rhythm and beat of the music. Many of the dancers wore bells on their ankles to add an element to the dance or what is called the “Grand Entry”.

The ankle bells appear in the Grass Dance that has been passed down and is still performed and preserved today by many tribes originating from the Great Plains region.  According to the descendents of Omaha-Ponca and Dakota-Sioux tribes, this dance is so integral to these tribes today because “in an attempt to stabilize during a period of rapid cultural conversions by the United States government, it became important to both preserve and spread dances—including the merging of many tribal dances that formed what we now know as grass dance—to preserve indigenous unity.”2

3. Ojibwa Ankle Bells c.1900-1950

The bells in the Grass Dance, and other dances like the Grand Entry, help keep the rhythm with the beat of the music.2 These bells were often fastened to sheep skin and then tied to the ankle. These ankle bells can now today help represent the merge of tribes during a difficult time and the effort that has gone into preserving dances. The bells that appeared in the Pow Wow in Mankato are a part of an annual event that remembers and aims to reconcile the 38 lives that were lost as a conclusion to the Dakota War in 1862.

  1. Tick, Judith, and Paul E. Beaudoin. Music in the USA: A Documentary Companion. Oxford University Press, 2008.
  2. ICT Staff. “Origins of the Grass Dance.” Indian Country Media Network. April 06, 2011. Accessed February 19, 2018. https://indiancountrymedianetwork.com/news/origins-of-the-grass-dance/.
  3. Peterson, Alfred. “Ojibwe ankle bells · Digital Public Library of America.” DPLA: Digital Public Library of America. Accessed February 19, 2018. https://dp.la/item/2ffa4bc517c99d0c0c2ab8d6cfe11a29?back_uri=https%3A%2F%2Fdp.la%2Fsearch%3Futf8%3D%25E2%259C%2593%26q%3D%2522ankle%2Bbells%2522&next=3&previous=1.
  4. Mahkato Wacipi. Accessed February 19, 2018. http://mahkatowacipi.org/index.php.

Lead Belly and folk music

This video shows John Lomax collecting songs in the Louisiana from a black prisoner named Lead Belly. This video is a good representation of part of what went into collecting and preserving folk music. We also get a good look at the differences in power and how race plays into that.

John Lomax is known for his work in the field of folk musicology, and we can be grateful for his work. The Lomaxes have been recognized for their contributions. John Lomax influenced the repertory of folk music that helps define American folk music, and he also helped establish Leadbelly who, along with other artists, helped pave the way for future artists and genres such as rock music. Yet, it is important to remember the way in which the Lomaxes impacted folk music. Their goal was not only to preserve, but to popularize folk music, too. They specifically picked songs that matched this agenda. Once they were recorded, they were preserved and created into a history by design.

Once Lead Belly was released from prison, he continued working with the Lomaxes in order to advance his career outside of prison. Lomax’s praise of Lead Belly’s songs, can be heard in the video; “I never heard so many good negro songs.” Yet, Lomax often presented a romanticized view of the hardships that African Americans went through. Lomax made sure that Lead Belly would perform in his prison uniform, even during the time after his release. Lead Belly was also advertised as being dumb and violent, despite his gentle nature. The Lomaxes were able to get away with presenting a kind of folk music that they thought would beat the commercial tendencies of the time at the expense of black folk artists like Lead Belly.

“Leadbelly” in March of TimeVolume 1, Episode 2 (New York, NYHome Box Office1935, originally published 1935)http://search.alexanderstreet.com/view/work/bibliographic_entity%7Cvideo_work%7C1792710

Filene, Benjamin. “”Our Singing Country”: John and Alan Lomax, Leadbelly, and the Construction of an American Past.” American Quarterly 43, no. 4 (1991): 602-24. doi:10.2307/2713083.

Birth of Jazz

In the March of Time archives has a short video entitled Birth of Swing. The makers of this video trace swing back to around 1917 when the Dixieland Jazz Band was formed. The narrator explains that swing music has become extremely popular at the time of its creation (1937) and dives into the history of it. The video tells the story of a Victor Talking Machine (a brand of record player) music scout visiting a cafe where the pianist was playing a “kind of swinging music.” In response to being asked what his band’s name was, the pianist replied “Dixieland Jazz Band.” The scout decided to bring them from New Orleans to New York City to the recording studio. Since then they became extremely popular across the United States. This was when jazz started to become a term commonly used in the popular music idiom. Somewhere over the course of time between then and 1937, the term jazz however, had received negative connotations as a lowly, cheap kind of music and therefore was undesirable by white audiences. A simple marketing strategy to change the word on albums from “jazz” to “swing” enabled the popularization and dissemination of the music all throughout the country. And so during the days of the production of the video swing one of the most popular music genres in the country. Swing music, it gets concluded, was simply jazz music from an earlier period in American History.

Birth of Swing. Produced by Home Box Office. http://search.alexanderstreet.com/view/work/bibliographic_entity%7Cvideo_work%7C1792778. 

Louis Armstrong – Music, Meaning, and Marijuana?

Louis Daniel Armstrong, born on August 4th 1901, has always been a staple of 20th century Black music. Growing up, he was constantly referenced as a musician, both a trumpeter, vocalist, as well as composer. His life may have seemed to be glamorous as ever, but he lived his life not without struggles, some struggles that many of us can only pale in comparison to.

Louis Daniel Armstrong

Louis Armstrong was abandoned by his father and rarely was ever in contact with his mother during his early years. He primarily raised himself growing up in a ghetto in New Orleans. He survived in those early years by singing on the street corner for tips. When he was 11, he formed his first vocal quartet, this became his source of income for this time. In January 1913, Armstrong was sent to the Colored Waifs Home after firing a gun in public. It was at this home that he joined the school’s band, playing drums. After being a part of the group, he found he was more attracted to horn instruments, so he switched to the trumpet, which is how we primarily know him as today.

During this time he was able to continue his music and get a piece published. His first public work was titled “I Wish I Could Shimmy like My Sister Kate’ which was a moderate success. He continued to grow his musicianship by joining an orchestra, even though he was unable to read music still at this time. He kept up with his composing and began to record Jazz Albums in 1924/1925. Armstrong was able to influence jazz, blues, and rock vocalists alike. Predating rap, his scat style later peaked with the piece “Basin Street Blues.”

Marijuana

Sometime during the 1920’s, Armstrong was introduced to marijuana by white jazz musician Mezz Mezzrow, Armstrong enjoyed smoking it heavily throughout his life, this is one contributor to the calm, cool demeanor that we know him by today. By 1929, Armstrong took a more commercial route, singing more popular tunes and replacing his combo with that of larger orchestras. Armstrong was always much more a featured soloist than a bandleader.

 

In 1934, Armstrong severely damaged his lips, so while he kept his playing to a minimum, his preference to singing took the centerpiece for his career.

Armstrong was considered an innovator for his styles, predating rap, as well as in the early 1940’s, Armstrong predicted the fall of a larger band style and began to work back to his smaller combos. He was one of the first Black musicians to “Break the Color Barrier” by performing in the largest concert halls all over the world. It is his career that defines him as an important figure.

Armstrong was considered an innovator for his styles, predating rap, as well as in the early 1940’s, Armstrong predicted the fall of a larger band style and began to work back to his smaller combos. He was one of the first Black musicians to “Break the Color Barrier” by performing in the largest concert halls all over the world. It is his career that defines him as an important figure.

Arguably his most popular number, Armstrong has held his position of international fame with the recording of the song “What a Wonderful World”. This song speaks to the good things and the joys in this world, focusing less on the negative, he attempts to paint a picture of the beautiful things that can still be found on this planet. While the initial release of this song wasn’t immediately popular, it wasn’t until after his death where this song really found its popularity in the 1988 Robin Williams movie “Good Morning, Vietnam”

Sources

Talveski, Nick. “Louis Armstrong.” In The American Mosaic: The African American Experience, ABC-CLIO, 2017. Accessed November 15, 2017. https://africanamerican2.abc-clio.com/Search/Display/1461506.

What a Wonderful World. August 7, 2016. Accessed November 14, 2017. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CWzrABouyeE.

It Don’t Mean a Thing (If It Ain’t Got That Idealized Swing)

The video series The March of Time was shown from 1931-1951, and provided Americans with a subjective take on current affairs or history. It reached a large amount of the American people, and “informed” many on issues they otherwise might be ignorant to. The video segment I will be focusing on is titled the “Birth of Swing”, published in 1937. To trace the history of any one branch of jazz is a difficult task, and it is all too easy to romanticize the story. Unfortunately, The March of Time does exactly that. However, the video does provide insight into one narrative that was widely disseminated on the origins of swing music. I would encourage you to watch the full, seven minute video here.

The popularity of swing music is undeniable, and The March of Time certainly addresses this. But not all swing is created equal. Swing music is described as being “accepted at Manhattan’s ultra-formal Rainbow Room” and “is indispensable at dark Harlem’s hot and noisy Savoy”. This fits into the picture painted by other musical accounts as well. To white audiences, as well as some champions of the Harlem Renaissance, jazz was music that had to be lifted up to a higher state and accepted by systems that previously would have turned from it.

Swing music as presented in “sophisticated” clubs like the Rainbow Room.

Swing music as presented in “dark” Harlem.

Ultimately, the video concludes that the Original Dixieland Jazz Band not only contributed to jazz idiom, but also was the foundation for swing music. This conclusion is not inherently flawed, and certainly has convincing evidence. Yet the context in which it is examined has some significant flaws. The narration states that “In England, Oxford students form a Hot Club. Members seek to determine whether this new music originated with the African or the Indian.”

The verbiage of “the African” and “the Indian” point towards an inherent bias in viewing those people as “other”. Arguably a third option should be included, one called “the white American”. Instead, the Original Dixieland Jazz Band becomes the savior of a sort. No, white Americans don’t need to worry about the popular swing style as coming from “the African or the Indian”. One can be perfectly comfortable enjoying the civil music developed by a group of white musicians for a respectable audience.

Bibliography

Birth of Swing. Produced by Home Box Office. http://search.alexanderstreet.com/view/work/bibliographic_entity%7Cvideo_work%7C1792778

The Depression’s Effects on American Concert Life

During the Depression, American concert life survived on patronage, but that was hardly enough to keep them afloat because potential audiences didn’t have the financials to attend live performances. Audiences turned to radios to listen to orchestras and the invention of sound film eliminated the need for silent film orchestras. The first half of the Depression left about 70% of all musicians unemployed, and the government was able to create the Federal Music Project to support these musicians. At its peak, the program employed 16,000 musicians and supported 28 symphony orchestras, creating more abundant access to music.

However, America’s post-Depression concert life thrived more than it had before. Thanks to the efforts of musicians during the Depression, concert halls were bringing in broader and larger audiences than ever before. The episode Upbeat in Music from Time Magazine’s The March of Time discusses America’s post-Depression concert life. One of the highlights of classical music’s growing audiences was the healthy state of 200 symphony orchestras (compared to the 28 government-backed orchestras of the Depression).

Perhaps the biggest accomplishment in concert music directly following the Depression years was the American Federation of Musicians’ efforts for royalties in 1943. Because the Depression put such an emphasis on radio broadcasts and recorded music, the AFM made a move to fully share the profits made from commercial use of recorded music. James Caesar Petrillo, AFM’s president, led these efforts; he demanded that royalties on classical recordings be paid to a union employment fund and forbade union musicians from performing for any recording company. Despite heavy public criticism, he was backed by 138,000 union members and they found success when all but the two largest recording companies of the time agreed to their terms. With the success of these efforts, the AFM used these funds for the advancement of live concert music.


Crawford, Richard. America’s Musical Life. New York: W. W. Norton & Company, 2001.

Upbeat in Music. Produced by Home Box Office. http://search.alexanderstreet.com/view/work/bibliographic_entity%7Cvideo_work%7C1792615. 

Why “American” Music?

A poster from War time used as propaganda to rally spirits

What is the purpose of defining American Music? At least in our class setting, we have treated the desire to define American music as the intellectual endeavor to become an independent nation and establish a sense of musical nationalism separate from Europe. For example, jazz history is often narrated as a quest for an independent, truly American sound. Folklore has also been a source of inspiration; so many composers and musicians have drawn on folk music to establish an unprecedented sound.

Other than for pure enjoyment or education, music also plays an important role in politics and society in most, if not all cultures. Why is having a “national” sound so important? Was it to simply have pride in having a uniquely American sound? Or was it to become an independent nation not only politically, but also culturally? Because music is so prevalent in everyday life, it can be a positive or negative force.

In the newsreel series March of Time, one of the episodes, “Upbeat in Music,” shows just how powerful music can be on a large scale.

March of Time Series: Upbeat in Music episode 5

 In “Upbeat in Music,” music is being used as a rallying force to encourage people to go to war. It uses the “American” sound to evoke feelings of pride in the US and also excites people with a delusional image of war and what it means to serve your country. The narrator mentions many composers such as Gershwin and Copeland that represented the American spirit. In The Songs That Fought the War: Popular Music and the Home Front, 1939-1945, by John Bush Jones, he states that every song does its part in fighting the war.

Entertainment is always a national asset. Invaluable in time of peace it is indispensable in wartime . . . All those who are working in the entertainment industry . . . are building and maintaining national morale both on the battlefront and on the home front’’ ~Franklin D. Roosevelt

Since music had such an influential role on society, and also in a sense worked in favor for the government, it had political power. How crazy is that? Because music had political power, there were people who desired to maintain that power. One way music was used as a political tool was through censorship. In Marie Korpe’s article Shoot the Singer! Music Censorship Today, she claimed that music had an important position in organizing political opposition or enforcement. For example, if a certain song relayed messages of rebellion, the government would ban it. Music had the power to evoke excitement, nostalgia, homesickness and many other feelings that could contribute to the productivity of the war.

The idea that music can be used for political or social advancement is not a novel concept. In the time of slavery, instruments were banned from slaves because they could be used as communication and songs to resist masters. The music itself was used to keep spirits up, and also regulate the speed at which they worked. Because this music aided slaves with their work, its use was encouraged because it proved to be useful to the slave masters. This is one example in which musical censorship was employed to control a group of people on a larger scale.

Music saturates society and everyday life much more than we realize. With the power that music can hold, it is necessary to be responsible in educating ourselves how it may affect people both positively and negatively.

Work Cited

Jones, John Bush. The Songs That Fought the War: Popular Music and the Home Front, 1939-1945. Waltham: Brandeis University Press, 2006. 31.

Street, John. Popular Music 24, no. 1 (2005): 153-54. http://www.jstor.org/stable/3877600.

Korpe, Marie. Shoot the Singer! Music Censorship Today. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. 2005.

Upbeat in Music. Performed by March of Time . New York, NY: Home Box Office, 1943. Film. 2011. http://search.alexanderstreet.com/view/work/bibliographic_entity%7Cvideo_work%7C1792615.

John Lomax “saves” Lead Belly in promotional film

As I am researching the Lomaxes for my final paper and for future work this spring, I took this opportunity to look through March of Time for any evidence regarding Lead Belly and his interactions with John Lomax. I was not disappointed. In a video that Professor Charles Dill calls “disturbing,” Lomax and Lead Belly “recreate” their meeting and the story of their travels together through the Northeastern United States.

Image result for 1933 new york herald LEad bellyThe March of Time series on the whole appeared quite groundbreaking in the 30’s through 50’s, when it ran. The mini documentaries of March of Time tackled some uncomfortable topics like Nazi sentiment in Hoboken, New Jersey in 1938. Though today we might see this as a shining example of forward, positive thinking and challenging the public, the series also is a little strange – many of the videos there aren’t actual film, they are in fact recreations of events. Think of a worse version of the producers of “Survivor” re-filming the players’ dramatic moments.

The video in question regarding Lead Belly and John Lomax, titled “Leadbelly,” is a recreation of the meeting of Lead Belly and Lomax. It says that Leadbelly was released from prison (where he was being held on charges of murder) due to Lomax’s influence, and that Lead Belly was so grateful that he dedicated his life to following Lomax. In real life, however, Lomax and Lead Belly’s song for the governor had no influence on his release. The myth lives on, however.

More concerning than the false story, however, is the marketing of Lead Belly and the marketing of Lomax in the film. Lead Belly, in prison clothes, speaking of murder so openly, is a man in need of a friend. Lomax, the one who acts almost as Lead Belly’s conscience in the dialogue, appears not only as a friend, but as Lead Belly’s white savior figure. Follow this link to watch the video yourself (hopefully this will be available to embed on this page if I can get WordPress to cooperate).

This is not the only instance of the media portraying Lead Belly as a big, bad, convict. In the New York Herald, they title an article of Lomax and Lead Belly “Lomax Arrives with Lead Belly, Negro Minstrel; Sweet Singer of the Swamplands Here to do a Few Tunes Between Homicides.” 

I have a lot of words to describe my reactions to that heading but I can sum all of them up with an all-encompassing “yikes.” I believe that the Lomaxes, despite whatever intentions they had to the contrary, contributed to the othering of black folk music in the way they “introduced” black folk singers like Lead Belly to the general public and made them hit sensations. I look forward to further researching this in my work this semester and this coming spring.

Here is a Lead Belly spotify playlist, for reference to his work.

 

 

For more reading on this subject, see links below:

https://www.smithsonianmag.com/smithsonian-institution/incomparable-legacy-of-lead-belly-180954390/

New York Times article 

http:// search.alexanderstreet.com.ezproxy.stolaf.edu/view/work/bibliographic_entity%7Cvideo_work%7C1792710

https://books.google.com/books?id=YywLDAAAQBAJ&pg=PT209&lpg=PT209&dq=lead+belly+march+of+time+video&source=bl&ots=L-7hTRFsBb&sig=-2GGxoYKALizBEs9K9S77gatNHc&hl=en&sa=X&ved=0ahUKEwiJ96qcm8LXAhVF2yYKHUyZC1gQ6AEIQTAF#v=onepage&q=lead%20belly%20march%20of%20time%20video&f=false

“Southern Thoughts for Northern Thinkers”

In 1904, a musician and lecturer by the name of Jeannette Robinson Murphy published an unusual volume entitled “Southern Thoughts for Northern Thinkers,” in which she voices several complex and controversial opinions about black music in the American South.  Murphy, who grew up in the South, was intimately familiar with black spirituals and became well-known for giving lectures and demonstrations of spirituals to Northern audiences.  

Although her academic approach to teaching and preserving spirituals certainly demonstrates her respect for the spiritual-singing tradition, she also exoticizes black music in a way that is deeply problematic, especially when viewed through a modern lens.

The opening paragraph of Murphy’s text reveals the deep respect she has for black spirituals.  She writes:

“Fifty years from now, when every vestige of 

slavery has disappeared, and even its existence has become a fading memory, America, and probably Europe, will suddenly awake to the sad fact that we have 

irrevocably lost a veritable mine of wealth, through our failure to appreciate and study from a musician’s standpoint the beautiful African music, whose rich stores will then have gone forever from our grasp”

Modern-day readers may scoff at Murphy’s naivete in believing that slavery will be quickly forgotten, but it seems to me that her basic impulse is praiseworthy: she is arguing that African-American music is rich and beautiful, and that it is worthy of musicological study and preservation.  Later on in the same chapter, she goes on to condemn blackface minstrelsy.  Calling minstrel songs “base imitations” of African music, she insists that “the white man does not live who can write a genuine negro song.”

Despite her making several laudable arguments, Murphy still ends up voicing some seriously racist opinions about black music, at one point describing its melodies as “strange, weird, untamable [and] barbaric” but with a “rude beauty and a charm.” These exoticist statements make it difficult to endorse Murphy as any sort of progressive figure.   In her writing, she simultaneously endorses black music and demonstrates a perverse fetishization of black culture.  Although it may be tempting to try to read her work as simply an anti-racist text that champions black spirituals as important musics that are worthy of study, the truth seems to be far more complicated than that.

 

Sources

Murphy, Jeanette Robinson. “Southern thoughts for Northern thinkers.” New York: Bandanna Publishing, 1904.  America’s Historical Imprints, accessed Nov. 15 2017.

Sexism in 1940s Night Clubs

Screen Shot from March of Time “Night Club Boom”

 

 

 

 

 

 

March of Time, in 1946, did a feature on the boom in night clubs in the United States. For relevant numbers, March of Time cites that there were 70,000 nightspots in the U.S. is 1946. In the central hub of night clubs in the 40’s, New York was home to several thousand of that number.

Clearly nightclubs were prevalent in society, so the roles that employees took in such spaces may reasonably reflect the standard across the U.S. at that time. It is incredibly striking how much March of Time emphasizes the various important role’s that females play in nightclubs. However, is is equally disappointing to see the women constantly referred to as objects for monetary gain.

The documentary starts by describing the various jobs at a nightclub. Once the narration moves past the roll of the door-man, they come to the job of the coatroom or “checkroom girls.” The narration describes that

In most clubs, the checkroom girls are hired at a fixed salary by an outside concessionaire. He picks them for the kind of personality that will attract tips and everything they collect goes into their employer’s box, which is securely locked.

The rhetoric implies a distrust to these girls, and emphasizes that their social interactions are strictly for monetary gain. Certainly, it would not have hindered the narration to indicate the useful service that these women provided for the nightclub.

In contrast to these women, the head waiter does not need to put his money in a lockbox to give to the employer. Rather, the head waiter is seen dealing with thrifty costumers by putting them at poor tables until they tip him generously. On screen, the costumer is seen giving the head waiter a $5 bill to change seats. This was drawn in direct opposition to the checkroom girls who received a half-dollar and needed to put it in a check box immediately.

This March of Time documentary short was meant as an education tool for those who did not go to nightclubs to understand their “social order.” The depictions in this documentary continue to label the women in the nightclub business as objects to be examined and payed according to their visual aesthetic while labeling the men in the nightclub business as individuals who grant a service. This, of course, reflects the social attitudes of mid 20th century America. Nevertheless, it is valuable to examine and take note of such subjugating examples because patriarchal attitudes certainly have not died out by the year 2017.

The value of this documentary short, specifically for american music, is its emphasis on nightclub culture. In the postwar era, genres such as bebop was born in late night club sessions (after the patrons would leave), but most of the music being played was dance music. The music itself is mentioned a number of times as an important key to success for any nightclub, but the individual musicians are never mentioned.  This attitude toward musicians views them as providing a function service (much as how the checkroom girls are presented). These social situations are what provided the motivation for beboppers to focus their music on their own personalities.

One of the most prevalent clubs in Harlem was the Cotton Club, where Duke Ellington played frequently. Although Duke was not mentioned in the video, his music was played throughout. Therefore, I have left a song here for you to enjoy.

 

Works Cited

Night Club Boom

in March of Time, Volume 12, Episode 8 (New York, NY: Home Box Office, 1946, originally published 1946), 21 mins 

John Lomax as Creator in the Narrative of Leadbelly

John Lomax recording Leadbelly singing and playing guitar at Louisiana State Penitentiary

Huddie Ledbetter, or more widely known as Leadbelly, remains to this day as one of the most significant blues musicians of the 20th century, sparking inspiration in countless musicians throughout the past century like Bob Dylan, Little Richard, and Brain Wilson. His iconic singing voice and guitar playing have also been key in defining for many people a truly American “folk” music. This association as a significant music for American identity, however, did not happen by chance or solely due to Leadbelly’s virtuosity and musicianship. John Lomax, the American folk music collector, is responsible for the first recordings of Leadbelly, which happened when Lomax was visiting American prisons in search of “unadulterated” American folk music. The story of Leadbelly and Lomax’s intermingled careers is told in the March of Time episode titled “Leadbelly,” showing their first meeting and recordings at the Louisiana State Penitentiary where Leadbelly was serving time, as well as further into Leadbelly’s career and how Lomax was largely responsible for Leadbelly’s success, taking him around the country to colleges, concert halls, and to Lomax’s own home in the North. While the short film’s focus seems to be a celebration of the musicianship and career of Leadbelly, John Lomax’s immense influence on the narrative of Leadbelly seems to overshadow the musician himself.

The film’s awkwardness seems to come not only from the fact that Lomax and Leadbelly both seemed to be following a script to reenact their meeting and interactions together, but also from the relationship between the two that the film depicts. Specifically, it is hard to ignore the issue of race here, as the film seems to depict a sort of idealized version of a master/slave relationship. The way Leadbelly is shown to have begged to be Lomax’s “man” and his referring to Lomax as “boss” and “sir,” as well as Lomax presenting himself in a way that makes him to be the hero of the story for taking in the underprivileged minority, all give the film a tone that feels problematic, though this may be a product of viewing such a film in the 21st century.

The importance the film places on Lomax is, however, appropriate in a way that was perhaps not intended. The creation of a national identity through the folk music of particular black musicians uninfluenced by commercial music of the time was a deliberate act by John Lomax, scholar Benjamin Filene claiming that the Lomax brothers were “creators as much as caretakers of a tradition” (Filene 604). Essentially, what became known as true American folk music was shaped by people like the Lomaxes’ own visions of what that means. Viewing this film under such a lens perhaps makes John Lomax’s significance within the film make a tremendous amount of sense, even though it may take away from the incredible musician that is Leadbelly himself.

Link to the film

Works Cited:

Filene, Benjamin. “‘Our Singing Country’: John and Alan Lomax, Leadbelly, and the Construction of an American Past.” American Quarterly, Vol. 43, No. 4, pp. 602-624.

N.A. “Leadbelly.” March of Time, Vol. 1, Ep. 2, Home Box Office, 1935.

 

Charles Ives’ Modernism

Though Charles Ives has gained a reputation of being one of the most private and mysterious

Charles Ives

American composers, through his many verbose writings about his own music as well as his correspondence with other musicians and publishers, many insights can be found about his unique musical processes and his own feelings about his music’s place within the larger musical world.

In particular, a letter from Ives to Franco-American pianist and composer E. Robert Schmitz from 1923, found in Selected

E. Robert Schmitz, Franco-American pianist and composer

Correspondence of Charles Ives, addresses Ives’ relationship with his own music and his interest in a modernist musical drive. The letter is in reference to an article by Ives featured in the bulletin published by Schmitz’s Franco-American Music Society about the use of quarter-tones. He writes about some parts of the article that were omitted that he decides “would probably be better left in,” parts that he feels would “bring out more fully the underlying idea that the use of quarter-tones is but one of the ways by which music may be less encaged by some of the restrictions of custom and habit” (Ives 143). This alone to me shows an interest by Ives in the ability of music to break free of norms and push forward out of tradition, an interest shared by many composers during this time in the early 20th century.

 

Ives, Charles. Selected Correspondence of Charles Ives. Edited by Thomas Clarke Owens, University of California Press, 2007.

HRR

Let me begin this post by apologizing for where I’ve acquired my artifact of the week. The assigned library to dig through was the Halvorson Music LIbrary, but while browsing St. Olaf’s Catalyst I found a book that I feel would be too valuable to our learning and the theme of this course not to write a post on. The Harlem Renaissance Revisited: Politics, Arts, and Letters by Jeffrey Ogbonna Green Ogbar is an amazing resource for anyone interested in looking at the Harlem Renaissance as a time period, or simply a person who wants to look at African-American identity and racial tensions in the United States in the 20th century. The book is made up of single chapters written by many different authors in order to cover a wide variety of topics and give readers a comprehensive view of the many different ways to view the problems addressed. The author divides these chapters into five different sections: Aesthetics and the New Negro, Class and Place in Harlem, Literary Icons Reconsidered, Gender Constructions, and Politics and the New Negro. Ogbar writes in his introduction of the book:

“This volume brings together fresh perspectives from recent scholarship on the Harlem Renaissance. Although it covers only part of the story, it asks again what the Harlem Renaissance was all about, especially in terms of its major figures and its arts, letters and political landscape.”

I would highly recommend to anyone looking into any related topics for their papers to visit this book as a potential resource as there are many different scholarly voices present and though music isn’t the primary focus of this book, it does touch upon popular figures such as Gershwin and Ellington, but more importantly, as is written in the introductions, the book articulates the major figures of the time as well as the political landscape in which a lot of the music we’re studying was written and produced.

Ogbar, Jeffrey Ogbonna Green. The Harlem Renaissance Revisited : Politics, Arts, and Letters. Baltimore [Md.]: Johns Hopkins University Press, 2010.

Copland’s El Salón México

This letter from Leonard Bernstein was sent to Aaron Copland in October of 1938. The letter was written in response to Copland’s El Salón México.

It is important to note the effect that Copland’s piece had on Bernstein and how it reflects views of music during the time. One of the first things that Bernstein mentions is how Copland’s music got stuck in his head. He is also able to easily notate the opening theme of El Salón México. This goes to show that Copland accomplished music writing that was simple enough to be remembered, and he incorporated themes that would recognizable.

Bernstein acknowledges that he admires Copland’s work and calls him a “master in America.” Copland’s simplified style of this time period is well-known as Copland’s own sound as well as an American sound. Copland was working to move contemporary composition from appealing to a select few towards appealing to the masses. It seems that Copland accomplished this with the success of El Salón México and other works. In fact, Elizabeth B. Crist argues that Copland’s El Salón México was able to project political ideologies onto the concert public.

Crist acknowledges that, the ideological dimensions of Copland’s works have been generally lost within the music’s enduring success, obscured by the legacy of anticommunist historiography and its formalist reification of art.” Bernstein focuses on Copland’s technique and the “solid sureness of that construction.” This makes me wonder more about Copland’s other non-musical intentions.

A recording of Leonard Bernstein conducting Copland’s El Salón México:

Sources

Crawford, Richard. America’s Musical Life. New York: W. W. Norton & Company, Inc., 2001.

Crist, Elizabeth B. “Aaron Copland and the Popular Front.” Journal of the American Musicological Society 56, no. 2 (Summer 2003): 409–465.

Pollack, Howard. “Copland, Aaron.” Grove Music Online. Oxford Music Online. Oxford University Press, accessed November 7, 2017, http://www.oxfordmusiconline.com/subscriber/article/grove/music/06422.

Simeone, Nigel, ed. The Leonard Bernstein Letters. New Haven and London: Yale University Press, 2013.

Copland’s Inspiration and Fears for El Salón México

Schaal, Eric. Aaron Copland and Carlos Chávez. , . Photograph. Retrieved from the Library of Congress, https://www.loc.gov/item/copland.phot0014/. (Accessed November 06, 2017.)

Copland and Chávez

In a letter to Mexican composer/conductor Charlos Chávez, Copland wrote “I am terribly afraid of what you will say of the Salon Mexico–perhaps it is not Mexican at all and I would look so foolish,” which shows his concern regarding appropriation. He may have gone ahead with orchestrating and publishing the piece, but he was well-meaning in the same way that Dvorak was with his New World Symphony. Some differences here are that Copland interacted mostly as a tourist in Mexican culture and drew on more accurate sources for Mexican folk melodies.

Copland’s October 1934 letter to Chávez

In addition, Copland published The Story Behind My El Salón México in the quarterly journal Tempo. He discusses that the music he heard during his two summers in Tlaxcala, isn’t what inspired this piece as much as the spirit of Mexico, specifically regarding “their humanity, their separate shyness, their dignity and unique charm.” He, like many other composers writing in this style, relied on the use of folk melodies, but his goal was never to quote them directly, instead choosing to heighten without falsifying the natural simplicity of the songs.

On the subject of whether this was good or bad appropriation, I would argue that this was good appropriation because of his genuine approach to the piece; Copland never claimed or exploited Mexican folk traditions. Additionally he was aware of his position as a white man composing in a Mexican style (even calling himself a gringo) and was completely taken aback by the support that he received from the Orquesta Sinfónica de México (who premiered the work with Chávez in 1937). The group viewed his composition as a foreigner finding their melodies as worthy in the world of Western repertoire which gave him affirmation regarding his fear that the piece would be perceived as a foolish attempt of claiming Mexican culture.


Crist, Elizabeth B. and Wayne Shirley. The Selected Correspondence of Aaron Copland. New Haven: Yale University Press, 2006.

Copland, Aaron. “The Story Behind My El Salón México.” Tempo, no. 4 (1939): 2-4. http://www.jstor.org/stable/943608

Copland, Aaron. Letter from Aaron Copland to Carlos Chávez, October 15, 1934. Manuscript/Mixed Material. Retrieved from the Library of Congress, https://www.loc.gov/item/copland.corr0191/. (Accessed November 07, 2017.)

Schaal, Eric. Aaron Copland and Carlos Chávez. , . Photograph. Retrieved from the Library of Congress, https://www.loc.gov/item/copland.phot0014/. (Accessed November 06, 2017.)

Duke Ellington’s, Music is my Mistress

“My favorite tune? The next one. The one I’m writing tonight or tomorrow, the new baby is always the favorite”    -Duke Ellington

The opening words from Duke Ellington’s autobiography: Music is my Mistress. This autobiography was considered by Duke to be “more of a performance than a memoir”. Ellington never wanted to write an autobiography about himself, and he hasn’t. Divided into 8 separate acts (or sections) this book is an account of the people he has met, the experiences he has had, and the music that he has made throughout his life.

Duke Ellington

Ellington was born just before the turn of the 20th century in Washington D.C. and raised primarily in New York city. With a career spanning over 50 years, Ellington is considered to be one of the most influential Jazz composers of all time. Being a pianist, composer, and bandleader, Ellington primarily gained fame with his orchestra’s performances in the Cotton Club in Harlem as well as the touring of Europe. He was an essential figure in the world of Jazz by redefining what was considered to be American Music. He considered himself an American Composer, not simply a composer and performer of Jazz music. Having over 1000 cataloged works, Ellington has certainly made his mark on history.

One particular correspondence that I feel really draws the character of Ellington was a passage describing Dizzy Gillespie, Miles Davis, and John Coltrane. Ellington does on to describe how it was working with these 3 men and how privileged he felt. It is a real glimpse into the humble person that was Duke Ellington.

“The only time I had the privilege of working with John Coltrane was a record date… John Coltrane was a beautiful cat, I am proud to say that I loved every minute of it”

Works Cited

Ellington, D. (1973). Music is my mistress (1st ed., African American music reference). Garden City, N.Y.: Doubleday.

Florence B. Price

On June 15th, 1933, Florence Price made history: the Chicago Symphony premiered her Symphony in E minor, making her the first African-American woman composer to have a work performed by a major orchestra.

This work, originally subtitled “Negro Symphony,” draws on many of the stylistic traits of African-American folk music without ever explicitly quoting folk melodies;  instead of writing symphonic music around a 12-bar blues or a spiritual tune, as did many of her contemporaries, Price instead incorporates some of the harmonic and melodic elements of blues and spirituals into her own unique voice.  The resulting composition is strikingly original.

Despite the high quality of her music, Price had difficulty attaining performances of her work.  In a 1943 letter to Sergei Koussevitzky, she explains the manifold struggles she faces as both a female composer and a composer of color:

“Unfortunately the work of a woman composer is preconceived by many to be light, frothy, lacking in depth, logic, and virility.  Add to that the incident of race – I have Colored blood in my veins – and you will understand some of the difficulties that confront one in such a position”

In the remainder of the letter, Price asks Koussevitzky to consider one of her compositions, insisting that he make “no concession” on the basis of race or sex, but rather evaluate the score on its musical merit alone.  Despite receiving many such letters from Price, Koussevitzky never programmed a single one of her works.

The underrepresentation and erasure of Florence Price continues to the present day: after searching several databases, I found that there is only one recording of the Symphony in E minor that is readily available to the public.  Scholarly research on Price’s life is also relatively sparse, with the writings of late musicologist Rae Linda Brown existing as some of the only works that honor Price’s life and pay homage to her music.  The conspicuous silence surrounding Price in scholarly and musical discourses clearly illustrates the racist and sexist systems that ceaselessly oppress female composers of color.  Performing, researching, and recording the music of these underrepresented composers is essential if we ever hope to dismantle these systems and construct a new musical landscape that truly offers equal opportunities for all people.

Sources

Fabre, Geneviève, and Michel Feith. Temples for tomorrow: looking back at the Harlem Renaissance. Indiana University Press, 2001.

Price, Florence B. “Recorded Music of the African Diaspora, Vol. 3.” Albany Records, 2011.

 

Father and Son

Mercer Ellington was the son of Duke Ellington. Mercer was born in Washington D.C. in 1919. It is fitting that Edward Kennedy Ellington had the nickname of “Duke,” (and for that matter perhaps Mercer should have been nicknamed the Earl) because their family became jazz royalty. Duke, a fantastic and prolific composer, brought a lot of attention from white audiences to the jazz community. Duke wrote an autobiography titled Music is My Mistress, and Stanley Dance also wrote a strong biography on Duke titled The World of Duke Ellington. In 1979, Mercer Ellington wrote Duke Ellington in Person: An Intimate Memoir hoping to strike a balance between these two previous works on the Duke. Mercer said,

I should like to think that [this biography] sheds light on the relationship between father and son, and in such a way that each person can be seen as the other’s alter ego.

I value Duke Ellington in Person for the incredible insights it can give into the personal life that it can give on a figure steeped in a pre-written historical tradition.

If you are unfamiliar with the works of Mercer, it is perhaps because he continued on the Duke Ellington Orchestra after Duke passed away. Duke Ellington’s name went onto a lot of Mercer’s works, but here are a few great tunes to check out:

Duke Ellington in Person highlights, perhaps better than other sources, the racial tensions that Duke constantly dealt with in his career. In a section on Irving Mills, Duke Ellington’s front man for a number of years, Mercer discusses how Duke and Irving were both interested in reaching white audiences with their music. In the writing of the hit, “Mood Indigo,” the title of the song was manufactured for a clean reception. Mercer highlights the process when he states that Duke

originally titled it “Dreamy Blues,” which described its character; but the other title [of Mood Indigo] had a more sophisticated sound to the public of that era. Irving understood the importance of adding prestiege to the produce, almost, I would say, of packaging it. So did Ellington.

Anecdotes like these are incredibly important from Mercer’s perspective because they can help clear some of the tone behind the racial issues that Ellington dealt with on a daily basis. As you ponder this, I will leave you with several popular renditions of Mood Indigo. I hope you are able to view this piece within the context it was created.

 

 

–Brock Carlson

Works Cited

Ellington, Mercer, and Stanley Dance. Duke Ellington in person: an intimate memoir. New York: Da Capo Press, 1979.

Why 4 minutes and 33 seconds of silence might just be about as American as music gets

While considering which art music composer to dive into this week, I became overwhelmed with the infinite details that envelope one of the course’s essential questions,

“What is considered to be true and authentic American music?”.

After nearly 2 1/2 months of research and lectures I still feel as if I have barely scratched the surface of what defines the American sound. Take MacDowell, for example, who felt that he was capturing the true essence of the American landscape by banking on the romanticized notion of the “dying” Native American tribes. Or Gershwin who, while successfully transcribing the musical idiom of jazz into a symphonic setting, borrowed extensively from traditional blues, folk, and jazz genres, creating pieces defined by a diverse and hazy collection of backgrounds and identities. Even artists practicing extended techniques, such as Henry Cowell, relied on East Asian influences amidst his tone clusters and “vanishing chords.”

 

This thought process ultimately led me to the year of 1952, where American experimental composer John Cage composed a piece of music entitled 4’33“. Equally famous as controversial, the piece centers around three movements (intended for any instrument or combination of instruments) that consists of four minutes and thirty-three seconds of silence. While at a surface level this piece could easily be described as a joke (or even be seen as an early example of what the kids are now calling “memes”), I think that Cage’s intentions behind it could potentially bring the silent work to the forefront of that dreaded and loaded essential question.

Live Performance of 4’33”: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JTEFKFiXSx4

In a series of revised letters and interviews by Richard Kostelanetz, Cage introduces and defines the purpose behind 4’33”:

“You know that I’ve written a piece called 4’33” which has no sounds of my own making in it…4’33” becomes in performance the sounds of the environment.”

Rather than writing for the sake of originality, Cage composed a piece that does not will any sounds from the composer or the audience, ideally causing both to merely become observers of their surrounding environment. It exemplifies a motion towards the music found behind “nothing” and the acceptance of non-intentional sounds in an artistic setting. While other American composers, including the aforementioned, have borrowed and elaborated on musical elements from a diverse background of sound (often resulting in an unintentional act of cultural appropriation), Cage was the first American composer to create an artistic space that captures an “environment” of sound void of any racial or ethnic infringement.

This is not to say that Cage could consider himself free of any cultural breaches throughout his career (or that this component of composition is intrinsically negative), but 4’33” is an interesting example of a composer temporarily distancing themselves from that reality. Unfortunately, Cage himself deemed 4’33” an unsuccessful attempt at making a non-dualistic structured piece of music (as he created and determined certain set “bounds” of the piece), but it certainly is, if not anything else, a commendable example of how music listeners should take a step back from the world of symphonies and sonatas and enjoy the natural, indeterminate sounds of the world around them.

Sources

Joelyhberg. “John Cage’s 4’33”.” YouTube. December 15, 2010. Accessed November 05, 2017. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JTEFKFiXSx4.

Shultis, Christopher. Silencing the sounded self: john Cage and the American experimental tradition. Univ. New Hampshire Press, 1998.

Once Upon a Time White Folk had a Small Falling Out With Native Americans, The End.

I would like to preface this by stating any criticisms to the article are not specifically directed at the author, as I believe it is a common mistake and something that we are currently all working on more, especially within newer discussions that have emerged recently.

In searching for a topic to write about for this blog post I was searching for something relating to Native Americans, as I’ve been focusing on that topic in my blog posts. I was having trouble finding sources as each article in the Manitou Messenger only had the word a couple times and the actual focus was not Native Americans. I found the word once or twice in each article used as a supporting fact but nothing more. I was going to try to find something else to research because I was afraid I wouldn’t be able to find enough information, when I realized that the lack of information I had found was the exact thing I needed. Where were articles on Native Americans? Why weren’t they ever talked about or discussed? Why have we, as “Americans,” generally effaced Native Americans from conversation and discussion?

I eventually found an article regarding the creation of Indigenous People’s Day vs Columbus Day. This article provided some good information about the importance of this type of change, especially considering that as people become more #woke Columbus day isn’t necessarily something to be proud of. Sure, he “discovered” America, but at the same time how can something truly be “discovered” if it’s already inhabited. I expected the article to provide some insight on this, but it almost seemed as though it was skirting around the subject. It did provide a small portion of the issue by stating

The American Indian culture has been repressed since America’s origins. They were torn from the land that was theirs for centuries and forced to live on Indian Reservations. As the demand rose from white settlers, pieces of that land were taken away until the enactment of the 1934 Indian Reorganization Act.

On the other hand, while this statement is true and something we should focus on, I still feel that a 3 sentence excerpt on the issue at hand of the utter massacre of Native American’s doesn’t do the situation justice let alone respect. Massive groups weren’t simply told to move, which is an issue in itself, but were rather murdered and utterly erased from The Land of the Free. Simply skipping the fact that this happened isn’t doing anyone a favor as it’s a part of the history that we cannot ignoring. Ignoring it is almost just as sinful as disrespecting it, as it’s basically the same thing.

I found a vinyl of American Indian Music in the Southwest: Sound Recording, which provided a fascinating insight into recordings of some music that was passed down. Of course, I cannot be completely sure of the authenticity of the recordings, but it’s something that can still be studied alongside legitimate sources.

This sound recording is something that we would have possibly never been able to listen to had we completely and utterly effaced the existence of Native Americans. If we had ceased to have discussions and respectful learning, which often times it seems we are on our way to doing so, we would not have been able to learn about this culture that we mistreated so horribly in the past. Discussions like the Manitou Messenger had on Columbus Day, while it had it’s faults, are good in enlightening the folk around who are not aware of the issues. Discussion of current issues and movements as well as historical events are what we need to continue keeping our history alive. It’s not all pretty, and in fact some of it was a downright bloodbath, but we cannot pick and chose what we want to remember in our history.

Rhodes, Willard. “American Indian Music of the Southwest : Sound recording” (Folkways Records, 1951). Link

Haggstrom, Katie. “New indigenous peoples day challenges the status quo,” (Manitou Messenger, May 13 2014). Link

 

Did Everyone Like Jazz?

LP Album Cover. Rhapsody in Blue: the 1925 Piano Roll, Michael Tilson Thomas, Columbia Records, 1976.

One of the most notable compositions that comes to mind when ruminating on symphonicjazz is Gershwin’s “Rhapsody in Blue” (1924). Listen Here. In thanks largely to Paul Whiteman’s clever marketing as an “Experiment in Modern Music” and its premiere performance in a well-known venue, the Aeolian Hall, the piece was largely well-received by audiences and critics.1 Much of the praise for Gershwin’s work was that it encompassed what American’s wanted out of distinctly “American Music.” As Crawford points out, it encompassed three strands of development: blues as popular music, the spread of instrumental jazz, and a want for modernism in the classical sphere.2

As we’ve discussed in class, the perception of Gershwin’s music as uniquely American can be troublesome because to some it seeks to exploit and adjust music of cultures aside from Gershwin’s own for the profit of symphonic tastes. As Crawford also points out, it was certainly not the first to present black dance music or jazz in concert settings although many think it to be so simply because the previous works by composers like Will Marion Cook or W.C. Handy are less well known simply because of their minority in that era’s society.3

Manitou Messenger, Feb. 14, 1933.

A story that’s less-often told is that some people really did not enjoy “Rhapsody in Blue” or jazz elements in general. When exploring writings on jazz, I came across an article from our very own campus paper, The Manitou Messenger. Interestingly, an article from 1933, nine years after the premiere of “Rhapsody in Blue,” conveyed stern opposition to jazz band at St. Olaf saying “jazz is profanity in music.”4

“Many…students who aspire to and cherish the higher things in life despise this type of music.”5

Is this negative reception of jazz a sign of the times at St. Olaf in the 1930s? It seems pretty forthright, which at first lead me to think there was room for anti-jazz, conservative thinking on campus at the time. However, in the publication later that month, another student wrote an opinion article which countered that the former article “was of very little consequence” and “hardly worthy of a serious reply.”6 This author claimed that this jazz band nay-sayer was fueling the fire that the college was attempting to paint itself as heavily religious.

Manitou Messenger, Feb. 28, 1933.

“Why be afraid to admit St. Olaf is not a monastery?”7

Interestingly, both authors simply signed their articles with their first initial leaving some room for anonymity. Although we don’t know who these students sharing their opinions were, what they were studying, or where they are now, we do know that responses to jazz were not all in loving favor.

1 Richard Crawford, America’s Musical Life: A History, (New York: W. W. Norton & Company, 2001), 573.

The Forgotten Great

Thelonious Monk is referenced in 5 Manitou Messenger articles. In each, he is referred to as a “great” or treated as a hallmark of sound to which campus bands strive. However, he was not always well known. For years, Monk’s cabaret card was revoked because of a narcotics charge. This meant that Monk could not play in any club in New York that served alcohol, which was all of them. But instead of giving up, Monk sat in his room and practiced.

When Monk finally got another break, it was 16 years later. He had been left behind and was no longer considered a forefather of “modern music,” which would become bebop. The reason Monk made it back into the mainstream was largely due to a favorable review by jazz critic Nat Hentoff (who just passed away this last January). With his comeback, Monk started recording for Riverside Records. The St. Olaf Library had Monk’s 10th album with Riverside on vinyl. It is Five by Monk by Five.

   

The rhetoric is that of a lost opportunity for Monk, with his review saying that he “has only in the past few years begun to receive the general acclaim he has long deserved.” However, the rest of the album review praises Monk’s intellectuality. The liner notes suggest that Monk’s two new compositions for the album were fresh. However, there is even more emphasis on the fact that Monk’s three older songs do not lack ingenuity with their rediscovery of “his own neglected earlier material.” In fact, Monk is praised for his approach to each recording session, “regarding each as a fresh challenge and a fresh opportunity to speak his mind.” You can hear such ingenuity for yourself in this Spotify playlist of the album.

Monk certainly was to become known as a musician who speaks his mind. Five by Monk by Five was recorded in New York on June 1st and 2nd in 1959. In just 9 months time ,the Greensboro Lunch Counter Sit-ins would occur. Monk and his friends would get together (normally an apolitical group), and hold a benefit concert to support the sit-ins (Monson). Monk, however, had always been pouring his voice into his music. Here is a youtube vide to demonstrate what the lunch counter sit-in meant to the individuals who started it.

I can only imagine to someone like Monk, who had been put out of his career for several years due to issues surrounding racism and segregation, would have felt being around these brave people. I encourage you to go back to the 1959 recordings on the above Spotify playlist and listen to the stories and experiences Monk’s quintet screams into the music. Even when he tried, Monk could not be completely apolitical, because his work was nothing but intellectual.

Works Cited

Monson, I. T. (2010). Freedom sounds: civil rights call out to jazz and Africa. New York: Oxford University Press.

History channel Website on the  Greensboro sit-ins.   http://www.history.com/topics/black-history/the-greensboro-sit-i

 

 

Judd group takes on Steely Dan, the Doobie Brothers, and Skoglund Auditorium

What on earth could Steely Dan, The Doobie Brothers, and St Olaf all have in common?The band “Judd.” The Judd Group found popularity in the 1970’s with their original songs and covers of the music of Steely Dan and the Doobie Brothers. They toured for 10 years, had two hit singles, and opened for Lynard Skynyrd, The Beach Boys, and Tina Turner. A group of a few white, midwestern young men, their sound, which infused black music traditions into their rock sound (such as blues, soul, jazz, and folk), stands as a hodge podge representation of more popular bands of the time.

Article on Judd by S. Crumb in The Manitou Messenger (1916-2014), No. 8, Vol. 91, November, 1977

On Sat., Nov. 12th, 1977, Judd played a gig at St. Olaf College in Skoglund Auditorium. As the equivalent of the current St Olaf MEC fall concert, it was quite an event. Their covers of the Doobie Brothers’ “It keeps you Runnin” and Jeff Beck’s “Freeway Jam” were well received.The Manitou Messenger covered the group and praised their playing and overall entertaining.

They drew inspiration from Steely Dan’s incorporation of jazz into rock, and from the Doobie brother’s use of folk and later soul music into their work. These groups all help represent a movement from the 60’s and 70’s of incorporating black music genres into rock music. As we can see, this movement was quite popular, and I think we should consider the implications from this.

Since popular rock bands incorporated certain genres in their sound, they essentially bridged a gap between their sound and genres often associated with black Americans, like jazz, soul and blues. They labelled themselves as “folk rock” – but more accurately, it was “black folk rock” – though it was more often than not sung by white musicians.

This could be seen as a good thing – a way to expose these genres (which admittedly had exposure already from plenty of other white performers and POC’s) to a crowd which was perhaps more concerned with rock and newer genres. However, I believe that it also helped erase some of those older black folk genres and create impressions of these genres that weren’t necessarily true.

In the Manitou Messenger article above, for example, the reviewer refers to the percussion of the Judd group as “Latin” inspired, but on listening to examples of the group’s work from their website, it isn’t “Latin” inspired at all – the reviewer falsely attributed a different (but also marginalized) culture to the music because they weren’t familiar enough with the black folk genres they were hearing to tell a difference between that and something else. They perpetuated their stereotype of what they thought Latin percussion to be instead of relaying what actually was in the music. The video below shows the group performing some original works and covers, and here you can listen for yourself to hear the inaccuracies in the Manitou article.

While the Judd group is not quite popular enough to merit a space in the St Olaf vinyl collection, they do have records of the Doobie Brothers and Steely Dan – both of which I believe would be excellent additions to our exhibit as we explore the implications of white performers incorporating and appropriating black music genres into their works.

 

St Olaf owns vinyl of “Best of the Doobies,” which includes “It Keeps You Runnin'” and “Black Water”

While Judd’s work cannot be found at the St Olaf Library, I think that the records St Olaf does have of the Doobie Brothers could be a nice addition to our library exhibit here at St. Olaf. It would display a group that used black folk elements in their rock sound, like in “It Keeps You Runnin” and “Black Water,” where they incorporate blues and soul and say “like to hear some funky Dixieland, pretty mama come and take me by the hand.” Particularly in “Black Water,” the pitch bending, dialect, and instrumentation all point to folk genres in the black tradition. I also think that this would accurately represent what St. Olaf Students at the time were listening to, and it would be nice to do a snapshot portion of the exhibit to look at St Olaf Student’s perception and reception of black folk music and its incorporation into rock.

 

 

Symphonic Jazz Opinions

This Manitou messenger article is a report on a talk given by a St. Olaf professor about jazz music. Even though the article is more of a report on what happened, it seems to be a good representation of students’ opinions and other opinions of the time because the author didn’t feel the need to argue against what this professor said.

It is clear that Overby doesn’t think that jazz music is “good.” The criteria that he sets up for this judgment doesn’t speak well for what jazz is, but it conveys the thoughts that show the well-established differences in popular and classical music. Overby claims that jazz has some goodness through the “modern school of composition.” Walter Damrosch’s view from around the time of Gershwin’s Rhapsody in Blue reflects a similar claim. He argues that jazz is a very low form of art, but that a great composer could lift it up into something with more emotion.

So, Overby is saying that not all jazz is to be condemned. Yet, according to the views expressed in this article, jazz is only praiseworthy once it has been made into symphonic jazz. This goes back to the fact that many things get changed and appropriated to suit audiences so that the product can be acknowledged and respected. Often people validate their actions of appropriation by saying that it comes from a place of respect for the original, but did composers have to respect original jazz sources to begin with in order to use them? Paul Whiteman, known as “the King of Jazz,” called it primitive, which seems inherently disrespectful to me. His orchestra can be heard on this LP titled, “Jazz.” Most people can recognize that the nature of developments like symphonic jazz aren’t entirely favorable for everyone involved all the time, but it is important to reflect on this in order to apply modern issues of cultural appropriation.

 

Sources

Crawford, Richard. America’s Musical Life. New York: W. W. Norton & Company, Inc., 2001.

Harrison, Max. “Symphonic jazz.” Grove Music Online. Oxford Music Online. Oxford University Press, accessed October 31, 2017. http://www.oxfordmusiconline.com/subscriber/article/grove/music/27249.

Oja, Carol. Making Music Modern: New York in the 1920s. New York: Oxford University Press, 2000.

Ramsey, Frederic, Jr. Jazz. The Blues Folkways Records FJ 2804, LP, 1958.

St. Olaf in Blue

While browsing the Manitou Messenger archives, I came across an interesting article from March 12, 1965 entiteld Pop Concert Features ‘Rhapsody in Blue.’ The article is essentially an advertisement for a cabaret-style concert performed by the St. Olaf Band, Chamber Band, and several soloists from a then upcoming performance of the musical Camelot. According to this article, St. Olaf put on an annual concert of pop music which leads me to ask the question: what happened to it? Surely this event would have been popular among students within and outside the music department, by definition it surely was. The highlight of the concert during this year was a performance of George Gershwin’s Rhapsody in Blue. The piece was performed during the second half of the evening, in which the audience members sitting at tables with refreshments would switch places with audience members sitting in the bleachers. The final section of the concert was a performance from the Manitou Singers featuring The March of the Siamese Children from the musical The King and I.

St. Olaf’s Halvorson Music Library contains numerous copies of George Gershwin’s Rhapsody in Blue on vinyl records. I believe that this would be a great contribution to our museum exhibit. George Gershwin’s music was hugely influential as he was a central figure in the United States who combined the realms of jazz and classical art music in ways that provoked many to reconsider what they consider the boundaries of these two musical genres. It interesting to see how St. Olaf decided to feature this work during a pop music concert, clearly taking a strong stance that it does not belong in the typical art music world that St. Olaf has built its traditions on. Not that I necessarily agree with this decision, but I felt it was an important fact to point out. Although, any opportunity to perform Rhapsody in Blue is an opportunity worth taking, right?!

original article: http://stolaf.eastview.com/search/udb/doc?art=0&id=46103667&hl=Rhapsody

Attempting to Define “Authenticity” in Folk Music

Today, in the twenty-first century, musicians and scholars struggle just as much with how to define the abstract umbrella term that is “folk music” as they did at the beginning of the twentieth century when the importance and recognition of such music started to become accepted in the US. Even more difficult is recognizing what folk music counts as “authentic” within its respective context, a difficulty extending well beyond folk music but into any category of music with enough history behind it, such as early Renaissance music, jazz, and these days even hip-hop.

Such a conversation was even had here at St. Olaf during the 1960’s, a time when folk music rose into the popular sphere and was embraced by a wide variety of musicians and listeners. An article published in the campus newspaper The Manitou Messenger on February 15, 1963, entitled “Whatever folks are singing…that’s what makes it folk music” after a Pete Seeger quote, discusses this popularization of folk music and the various ways of defining it, as well as the conversations had on campus about the authenticity of various folk musicians. It specifically mentions student Jan Clausen’s KSTO radio program in which she played what she defined as “authentic” folk music, a word which, according to the article, “represents an argument which has arisen with the commercial popularity of folk singers.” Some of the artists that Jan would play, artists whom she defined at authentic folk musicians, included people like Pete Seeger, Lead Belly, and Erik Darling.

The inclusion of these particular artists leaves interesting questions about what this woman in particular defined as “authentic” in respect to folk music. Lead Belly, the nickname of Huddie Ledbetter, was a black blues and folk guitarist and singer from the early twentieth singer from Louisiana who was recorded by the Lomaxes for their Library of Congress archive recordings, and influenced later popular folk artists like Bob Dylan. Lead Belly’s race and place of birth point toward what many would consider “authentic” folk as the image of folk is often associated with minorities from more rural areas who generally have little access to the more commercial or “art” music worlds at the time. Next, we look at Pete Seeger, a white folk musician of urban origin with almost no connection by birthright to any sort of folk tradition. However, he did in fact mentor under the prominent folk music revival figure Woody Guthrie. Oral tradition is a key aspect of folk music, and such a musical mentorship almost certainly entailed passing down music orally. Pete Seeger was also part of the movement of urban folk musicians that strongly opposed commercial music and sang of political themes focused on “the people.” So perhaps Jan’s definition of authentic folk music is more complex than solely based on race or origin or tradition, but instead takes these into account as well as intention, musical philosophy, and legacy.

Below are recordings off of Lead Belly’s Lead Belly’s Last Sessions and Pete Seeger’s self titled album, both of which are available on vinyl in the music library.

Works Cited:

Hare, Steve and Jan Newbury. “Whatever folks are singing…that’s what makes it folk music.” The Manitou Messenger. 15 Feb 1963: 6. East View. Web. 30 October 2017.

Diversity at St Olaf. . .

As I was perusing the Manitou Messenger archives, I stumbled upon a very provocative and passionate article written by first-year student Catherine Mckenzie in the year 1989.  In her article, entitled “Music department needs diversity,” Mckenzie decries the lack of representation among music students and professors at St. Olaf, as well as the conspicuous absence of a jazz music degree program.  She feels that, as a music student of color, she has no role models to look up to and no way to learn about her cultural heritage.  

Pondering Mckenzie’s words, I can’t help but feel that nothing has changed since 1989.  There is still no jazz program.  There are still astonishingly few music professors of color.  There is still no one to teach students like Catherine Mckenzie about their musical and cultural heritage.  Mckenzie, writing in 1989, might just as well be describing the college I attend today.  Despite the many outraged cries for help from diverse members of the student body, St. Olaf remains a bastion of whiteness and privilege.

“It would benefit all to see how diverse the music field is becoming”

-Catherine Mckenzie

 

Despite the egregious lack of representation among students and faculty, the college does present a wide array of music by black artists in its collections of audio LPs and CDs.  In Mckenzie’s article, she lists several artists of color who have inspired her and paved the way for other artists, including Jessye Norman and Wynton Marsalis.  Both are represented in the collections at Halvorson.

 

 

In this way, it seems as though St. Olaf College, like white America as a whole, at once embraces black art and distances itself from that art’s creators.  There is black music in our record bins and there are black spirituals on our concert programs, but are there black students at our desks?  Black professors behind our lecterns?  Celebrating great artists like Norman and Marsalis is a good place to start, surely, but St. Olaf has a long way to go before it can truly call itself a diverse institution.

 

 

Sources

Marsalis, et al. “Wynton Marsalis Plays Handel, Purcell, Torelli, Fasch, Molter.”  New York, CBS Record Masterworks, 1984.

Mckenzie, Catherine. “Music department needs diversity.” Manitou Messenger, 28 Apr. 1989.

Weber, et al. “Euryanthe: [Romantic Opera in Three Acts. Libretto by Helmina Von Chezy].” Angel Records, 1975.  

John Coltrane – A Love Supreme

Amidst the vast collection of Vinyl records found within the Halverson music collection, one album that stands above so many is “A Love supreme” by  John Coltrane. This album, recorded in January of 1965, has become one of the most popular and well known records ever created. The release of this album brought John Coltrane to a new level of recognition and fame and it serves as a staple of Hard Bop and free form Jazz and spiritual music. Being a 4 part “suite” the album is divided up into multiple movements, beginning with the “Acknowledgement” then moving to the Resolution”, “Pursuance”, and “Psalm”. This album, which was intended to be a spiritual album, makes a direct connection to Coltrane’s mindset that his talents and abilities come not from himself, but rather, from a spiritual higher power.

Album Cover for “A Love Supreme”

One of the things that makes this album so unique is that it was recorded in a single studio session, in a single day of January 1965. The group was a single quartet featuring pianist McCoy Tyner, bassist Jimmy Garrison, and drummer Elvin Jones. Coltrane was featured solely on Tenor Saxophone. The piece was recorded at Van Gelder Studio. Rudy Van Gelder is regarded as the most important Jazz recording engineer of all time who had worked with other Jazz legends such as Thelonious Monk and Miles Davis. This album was a representation of Coltrane’s person struggle with faith and purity, expressing his deepest gratitude for the spiritual gifts he had been given.

A Love Supreme: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=clC6cgoh1sU

The only recorded live performance of the “Love Supreme” suite, was from a July 26, 1965, performance at the Festival Mondial du Jazz Antibes, Juan-les-Pins, France. This performance was also remastered and released in a 2002 two-CD set by Impulse! Records with the original album and additional studio outtakes.

Sources

Falsariochicote. “1964 – John Coltrane – A Love Supreme.” YouTube. February 27, 2014. Accessed October 30, 2017. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=clC6cgoh1sU.

Moon, Tom. “Music Review: ‘ A Love Supreme: The Complete Masters,’ John Coltrane.” Music Review: ‘ A Love Supreme: The Complete Masters,’ John Coltrane. December 21, 2015. Accessed October 30, 2017. http://www.npr.org/2015/12/21/460602057/music-review-a-love-supreme-the-complete-masters-john-coltrane.

A comparison of St. Olaf’s contribution to the oppression of marginalized composers

From the perspective of St. Olaf, our institution has supported the oppression of marginalized composers, and it is evident when looking through the archives of the Manitou Messenger. For example, when searching Amy Beach’s name, only one article comes up: Month showcases women’s work. The 2008 article discusses a student recital of works by female composers as well as a faculty recital honoring Amy Beach’s work.

Extending the search to female composers, 3 articles appear, only 2 of them holding relevant information in support of female composers. The 2002 article Cecilia’s Circle visits discusses the four-woman ensemble Cecilia’s Circle, who came to St. Olaf for a week-long visit in order to honor female composers from the Middle Ages, Renaissance, and Baroque eras. St. Olaf was lucky to have the opportunity to have a group like this come to give recitals, masterclasses, and guest lectures, but it’s also very disappointing that there has only been one other major occasion in which female composers have been celebrated on our campus in 15 years. In addition, the Halvorson music library only has six LPs that feature her works, five of them compilations with other composers and just one focusing on her piano works (The Piano Music of Mrs. H. H. A. Beach).

On the other hand, there are no results in the Manitou Messenger archive when searching “William Grant Still,” and only one article from 1979 when searching “black composers.” The article Lecturer to appear for Black History Month discusses St. Olaf guests William Nelson (Ohio State University political scientist) and Raymond Jackson (pianist) and Jackson’s recital of piano music by black composers. To me, this seems like an enthralling event that is long overdue to be done again on this campus. The article also cites the composers whose pieces Jackson played, so it is possible to use that as a starting point when searching for music by black composers. When turning to Halvorson’s LP collection, we only have two compilation albums that feature Still’s work, and no albums of only his works.


Mitchell, Elizabeth. “Month showcases women’s work.” The Manitou Messenger, No. 14, Vol. 121 (2008): 1.

Dion, Laurie. “Cecilia’s Circle visits.” The Manitou Messenger, No. 13, Vol. 115 (2002): 14.
Unknown. “Lecturer to appear for Black History Month.” The Manitou Messenger, No. 12, Vol. 92 (1979): 3.

Take Down the Monuments: A 150-Year-Old Dialogue

A push to remove confederate monuments has swept the news in the past few months. This has sparked debate and dialogue across the nation, drawing attention to civil war history. The conversation extends from what the monuments themselves represent to the intention behind the civil war. It is important to acknowledge these issues today, and therefore it is also valuable to see how far back this conversation extends.

The Civil War lasted from 1861-65. While groups like the Sons of Confederacy try to push the message that the war was fought over states’ rights, historians cannot deny the major role that slavery played in the war (Dew). This debate and the attempted historical erasure is important to recognize at the heart of the monument debate. The question that remains difficult to answer is if Confederate monuments represent a system of oppression or simply the fallen soldiers in battle. In Portsmouth Virginia, Trinity Church put up a stained glass window that can be seen here.

 

This window tries to pay homage to soldiers fallen in battle. However, the Union did not like the wording on the window, so they made the church take it down in 1872. This action elicited a response from composer, George Camp. He wrote the song “Memorial Window” for the congregation of Trinity Church. The inscription on the cover page for the printed music gives a brief history, saying that

“the congregation of Trinity Church at Portsmouth, Va. placed an appropriate window in their church edifice if memory of Virginians slain during the war, which they were forced to remove, in consequence of offense taken by the U.S. Authorities.”

Camp’s disgruntled tone carries over into his lyrics as well. To camp, this monument was respectful of the soldiers who gave their lives in battle. However, it is clear that others saw the monument as a symbol that individuals were so invested in systems of oppression that they were willing to give their lives for it. This connotation casts monuments such as these in a different light.

Unfortunately, a recording of Camp’s “Memorial Window” does not exist. Nevertheless, I felt compelled to write about this object because of the political parallels that it seems to cary through to today. It has been 145 years since the 1872 debate of the window in Portsmouth Virginia, but the citizens are still trying to decide what to do with similar objects. In the past few weeks, the Mayor of Portsmouth has voiced a desire to move a civil war monument from the center of town. The story is covered here. I hope that highlighting examples such as these shows that efforts to combat racism and oppression need to be constantly pursued. These issues have been discussed in our country for a long time now.

Works Cited

Dew, Charles B. Apostles of disunion: southern secession commissioners and the causes of the Civil War. Charlottesville: University of Virginia Press, 2016.

Trinity Episcopal Church: HISTORY. (n.d.). Retrieved October 24, 2017, from http://www.trinity-portsmouth.org/anniversary-info

Camp, G., & Hope, J. B. (1872). The Memorial Window. Savannah, GA: Ludden & Bates.

Dedicated to the Congregation of Trinity Church (Portsmouth, Va.)

Is sexism in music better now than it was a century ago?

The cover for Amy Beach’s 4 Sketches, Op. 15, from the Americana Sheet Music Collection

It is without question that Amy Beach was among the early influential American composers, with a decorated career of both composition and performance. Her career took place during the late 19th century and the first half of the 20th, which was prime time for white male hegemony, yet Beach still found great success. She was privileged to have taken music lessons and married young, which in turn allowed her to hone in on her compositional and piano performance skills. With the death of her much older husband in 1911, Beach was able to go abroad to Europe for a performance tour, returning to the States in 1914 because of World War I. This did not stop her from performing though, since she took on a cross-country tour of the United States. Beach often took her performance opportunities to play her own pieces, which is clearly shown with her extensive piano repertoire. Featured below is a the fourth sketch titled Fireflies, from her 4 Sketches, Op. 15.

A 1915 opinions article by the Morning Oregonian defends not only Beach’s piano skills, but her compositional feats as well. Discussing how major composers of the time such as Claude Debussy or Hugo Wolf didn’t write a single symphony like Beach did, the author claimed that hers was one that demanded the highest respect. Despite sexism of the time, Beach was still regarded as a great composer, but why don’t we hear about her music anymore?

In September 2017, the New York Times honored Amy Beach’s 150th birthday with an article on her life and works. The biggest takeaway I found in this article was that her “Gaelic” Symphony shot her to compositional fame, but no orchestras have programmed hersymphony or any of her orchestral works for this season. While Beach experienced sexism at the height of her career, it is clear that sexism in classical music is still alive and well when none of our major orchestras will honor her works on this anniversary.


Robin, William. “Amy Beach, a Pioneering American Composer, Turns 150.” The New York Times. September 01, 2017. Accessed October 24, 2017. https://www.nytimes.com/2017/09/01/arts/music/amy-beach-women-american-composer.html.

“Capacity House Greets Kathleen Lawler in New York Recital. Tom Dobson, Also, among Oregonian Singers to Occupy Limelight.” Morning Oregonian (Portland, Oregon), March 28, 1915. (found on America’s Historical Newspapers)

 

MacDowell’s “New England Idyls”

In Edward MacDowell’s “New England Idyls,” he combines classical European harmonic elements with titles and epigraphs that evoke a purely American setting.  The resulting character pieces are incredibly descriptive and strive towards an American musical national style equivalent to the Russian style created by Mussorgsky and the Polish style created by Chopin.

the original art featured on the cover of “New England Idyls”

European harmonic idioms of the 19th century are very prominent in “New England Idyls.”  The third piece in the set, entitled “Mid-Winter,”is particularly rich in Romantic German- and French-sounding harmonies.  Throughout the movement there is intense chromatic saturation, typical of Wagner and Strauss.  Also reminiscent of these composers is the harmonic shifts by third instead of by fourth and fifth, which MacDowell employs to very dramatic effect.  MacDowell also writes colorful non-functional harmonies that are reminiscent of Debussy (of whom MacDowell was an almost perfect contemporary).

 

one example of MacDowell’s epigrap

Complementing his Romantic harmonies are MacDowell’s epigraphs. Similar to the titles of Debussy’s piano preludes, these short snippets of text frame the colorful, descriptive music, lending a sort of program to each piece.  Unlike Debussy’s brief and cryptic inscriptions, however, MacDowell’s texts are substantial and highly specific, evoking images of the New Hampshire countryside.  Most of the movements describe natural features such as An Old Garden, In Deep Woods, To An Old Pine.  Two others describe other facets of the American experience: Native American culture is represented (for better or for worse) in Indian Idyl, and a facet of white America’s religious history is portrayed in From Puritan Days.

http://webfiles.wulib.wustl.edu/units/music/supplcat/b10311282.pdf

As we have seen, MacDowell strives to create an American classical music by adopting a European musical style and imbuing it with American textual imagery from his own personal experiences in New Hampshire.  Whether or not he succeeds in this endeavor is up to the listener to decide.

 

Sources

Crawford, Richard. The American Musical Landscape. Berkeley, University of California Press, 1993.

Dolores Pesce and Margery Morgan Lowens. “MacDowell, Edward.” Grove Music Online. Oxford University Press, accessed 24 Oct. 2017.

MacDowell, Edward. New England Idyls. Boston: Arthur P. Schmidt, 1902.

 

Women and the Piano

This cover of a piece of piano sheet music shows a dedication to Jonas Chickering. Jonas Chickering contributed greatly to the prominence of the piano in the 19th Century. Manufacturers like Chickering were reacting to a demand for the piano, but they also contributed and helped shape this demand. The piano was a sign of gentility and decorated the home. Within the 19th Century, the piano was an instrument for female amateurs. Women were expected to keep the domestic area refined, and since the piano was accepted as a sign of refinement, women seemed to like using it as a way to improve their home. This use of the piano as a source of refinement by women in the home is reflected in the many design changes that the instrument underwent. In the early 19th Century, manufacturers capitalized on this idea of women using the piano in the home, and they created a design that functioned as a piano, as well as a sewing table, which could be used for the sewing that specifically women would do.

 

Women were also seen as having an emotional core to their being. Piano music published during and after the 1840s has an emotional character, and this demonstrates how the expectations for women, and beliefs about women also reflected the notion that the piano was a feminine instrument.

 

Manufacturers like those involved with Jonas Chickering perceived what people were looking for in a piano and in piano music. Their products came from preconceived notions about femininity and what people wanted and needed in music. It may seem like there is no way of telling whether or not manufacturers were reacting to the true demands of consumers, or creating a demand by perpetuating a perceived want, or need; yet, the manufacturers’ views and the composers’ views of women’s practical needs and musical tastes are evident.

Sources

Crawford, Richard. America’s Musical Life. New York: W. W. Norton & Company, Inc., 2001.

Dempster, William R. and Reynell Coates. “Oh Show Me Some Blue Distant Isle.” Philadelphia: John F. Nunns, 184 Chesnut St., 1841. Accessed October 23, 2017. http://levysheetmusic.mse.jhu.edu/collection/124/022.

Kornblith, Gary J. “The Craftsman as Industrialist: Jonas Chickering and the Transformation of American Piano Making.” The Business History Review 59, no. 3 (1985): 349-68.

Leppert, Richard. “Sexual Identity, Death, and the Family Piano.” 19th-Century Music 16, no. 2 (1992): 105-28.

Alexander Reinagle: A Force in Home-Music Making

The end of the eighteenth century leading into the nineteenth saw the rise of a significant, new market within the world of music that had a major impact on most aspects of musical culture in America, that being the home music making business. During this time, more and more families owned their own keyboard instruments in their homes and took part in singing notated music at an amateur level. Along with redefining amateur musicians’ relationship with notated music as no longer solely a listener but an active participant in it, this also of course lead to a new demand for works specifically targeted toward these non-professionals.

A leading musical figure at the head of this shift was Alexander Reinagle, a native of England who immigrated to New York in 1786 seeking work as a teacher of piano, harpsichord, and violin. However, his main musical practice was composition, having had some success in Europe with his own harpsichord compositions. This success was similarly had in the US, with the publication of his song America, Commerce, and Freedom in 1794 gaining immense success as it was very popular at its premiere performance and was simple enough for amateurs to play it in their own homes.

Reinagle’s understanding of the possibilities of success within this market of home music can be seen here by his Preludes. In Three Classes for the Improvement of Practitioners on the Piano forte, published in June of 1794. This piece is specifically intended for beginners at the piano to practice fundamental keyboard techniques, perfectly tapping into this new demographic of amateur musicians in America.

The score, linked below, was found through the Sheet Music Consortium.

Reinagle Prelude score

Works Cited:

Crawford, Richard. America’s Musical Life. New York: W. W. Norton and Company, 2001. Print.

Frank Kidson, et al. “Reinagle.” Grove Music OnlineOxford Music OnlineOxford University PressWeb24 Oct. 2017. <http://www.oxfordmusiconline.com/subscriber/article/grove/music/23124pg2>.

Reinagle, Alexander. Preludes. In Three Classes for the Improvement of Practitioners on the Piano forte. N.d. Philadelphia: Carr and Co’s Musical Repository Pr., June 1794. Print.

Lowell Mason

In Richard Crawford’s America’s Musical Life, the role of Lowell Mason as a composer of sacred and secular music in America is briefly touched on. What Crawford overlooks is the role Mason played in the development of music education in America. Aside from composing over a thousand hymns, Mason is widely considered to be the father of public music education in America. The addition of music into the standard curriculum was largely due to the efforts he made in Boston in the mid 19th century. In 1837, Mason made a proposal to the Boston public school district, saying:

“Once introduce music into the common schools and you make it what it should be made, the property of the whole people. And so, as time passes away, and one race succeeds to another, the true object of our system of Public Education may be realized, and we may, year after year, raise up good citizens to the Commonwealth, by sending forth from our schools, happy, useful, well-instructed, contended members of society.”

The board agreed to let Mason teach a class for one year. Thankfully, the experiment was a success, and the board decided to include music education into the standard curriculum. At this point, music was only studied in America in private singing schools. Mason maintained a teaching position within the Boston school district until 1851. In response to the growth of music in public schools, and drawing from his experiences teaching, Mason compiled a guide for future teachers, titled How Shall I Teach?; or, Hints to Teachers (1860).

The system that he presented was ahead of it’s time, and much of his practices are still used today. On the learning process, Mason wrote that there were 3 ways in which something can be learned. These ways are through the immediate senses, through reason, and through faith. Rather than having students conform to a mold, Mason wanted students to pursue their own interests. It is the job of the teacher to nourish their students creativity and curiosity. Reflecting on music teachers that had a significant impact on me, it seems that many of them carried similar mentalities to Mason’s. Realizing the impact that Mason had on following generations is an impossible task. Learning and spreading his ideas is the only appropriate way to honor him for the countless generations of music lovers he is responsible for.

Citation

Mason, Dr. Lowell. How shall I teach?; or, Hints to teachers. Ditson, Oliver, Boston, monographic, 1875. Notated Music. Retrieved from the Library of Congress, https://www.loc.gov/item/sm1875.06030/. (Accessed October 23, 2017.)

Rich, Arthur. “Lowell Mason, Modern Music Educator.” SAGE Journals. 2017. http://journals.sagepub.com/doi/abs/10.2307/3385901

Amy Beach

Amy Beach was a prominent composer of American music during her lifetime. While I was browsing UCLA’s Sheet Music Consortium I was led to some interesting findings. However, much to my disappointment all of the artifacts I found were not accessible online and therefore I felt the need to search outside sources. I browsed the library of congress for Beach’s works. In it I found a sound text that I was familiar with, but in a different musical context. Because of this I was intrigued by it and decided to take a closer look at it. This artifact is Beach’s setting of the Shakespearian text Take, O Take Those Lips Away. This score is the second of three scores from a collection of Shakespearian texts set by Beach. The first and third being O, Mistress Mine, and Fairy Lullaby.

Beach was not only significant because she was a composer of American music, but that she was the first female composer of American music to gain success and recognition in the art music world. She was a musical prodigy. According to Grove Music Online

“At the age of one she could sing 40 tunes accurately and always in the same key; before the age of two she improvised alto lines against her mother’s soprano melodies; at three she taught herself to read; and at four she mentally composed her first piano pieces and later played them, and could play by ear whatever music she heard, including hymns in four-part harmony.”

As a vocalist, it’s hard to believe that these statements aren’t exaggerated, but it certainly emphasizes the point that Beach was an amazing musician who is definitely worthy of our attention as musical scholars.

Bibliography

Beach, H. H. A., Mrs, and William Shakespeare. Take, O take those lips away. Op. 37, No. 2. Arhut P. Schmidt, Boston, 1897. Notated Music. Retrieved from the Library of Congress, <https://www.loc.gov/item/ihas.200215426/>.

Adrienne Fried Block and E. Douglas Bomberger“Beach, Amy Marcy.” Grove Music OnlineOxford Music OnlineOxford University PressWeb23 Oct. 2017.<http://www.oxfordmusiconline.com/subscriber/article/grove/music/A2248268>.

 

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

 

Jonas Chickering: The Life and Legacy of an Important Historical Figure You Probably Have Never Heard Of

After spending a solid century or so focusing on issues surrounding settlement, local politics, and a good old fashioned war for independence, the new America was finally ready to tackle “the good stuff” (A.K.A. the development of a nationwide practice of music). While the reforms of sacred music launched efforts to create music based education in schools and the constantly evolving state of folk music struck the heart strings of different American communities and cultures in the early nineteenth century, there still lacked a realistic and affordable market for purchasing family instruments. How, you may wonder, did earnest, well-adjusted middle class early Americans perform their favorite appropriated spirituals and secular but not sacred Billings hymns? The sad truth is: they simply couldn’t…

That is, until our good friend Jonas Chickering entered the musical scene!

Born and raised in the heart of New England, Chickering spent the first chunk of his career in small piano manufacturing partnerships, cranking out around 30-40 pianos a year. It wasn’t until 1830, when he joined forces with a wealthy Boston shipping merchant by the name of John Mackay, that he was able to create an affordable, international market of square, cabinet upright, and grand pianos. Not only did Chickering lay down the base of the American piano manufacturing system, but he also, with the help of cohort Alpheus Babcock, developed a revolutionary one-piece cast-iron frame that gave the piano a higher resistance to the state’s harsher climate and allowed for higher tension in the strings, resulting in richer tones.

My purpose in writing on this seemingly historically insignificant 19th century piano developer and distributor is not to offer a thinly veiled biography, but to establish the importance of Chickering’s work in his time. While singing schools and music education systems spread like wildfire in the late 1700’s/early 1800’s, there still was very few means for the “common” middle class society to enjoy music through practice and performance. Especially in an era of America where folk music was being compiled and distributed into the hands of individuals, Chickering’s development and market for an affordable, durable piano was crucial in a time that lacked professional and amateur musicians alike. Since Chickering’s company became a global business in 1851, it is estimated that the amount of piano’s sold to individuals has gone from 1 in 4,800 Americans to 1 in 252 by the year of 1910. This is absolutely vital to the stories of countless musicians, including Pete Seeger, who was inspired by folk music that was performed by his parents at a young age. Chickering helped music become a common, daily occurrence in an average American household, and as a result is partially responsible to the pianos located in my own and most, if not all, of the consumer’s of this blogpost’s childhood homes.

As a closing statement for the story of Chickering, I feel as if it’s worth mentioning several primary sources that disclose to us the appreciation and praise that fellow musical visionaries had for the piano maker’s impact. Louis Moreau Gottschalk, an influential and well known pianist and composer in the 19th century says the following of Chickering’s piano:

“I like their tone, fine and delicate, tender and potetic.” [addtionally, it allowed him to achieve] “tints more varied than those of other instruments.”

In addition to receiving praise from fellow musicians and prestigious honors (his square piano won a medal and was displayed at the Great Exhibition in London in 1851), Chickering received a posthumous tribute in the equally booming sheet music market. In a publication of a piece entitled “Funeral March, Op. 10 in C Minor: Composed as a Sincere Tribute of Respect To the Memory of Jonas Chickering,” composer William R. Babcock offers his condolences not only through music, but with an additional portrait, a not to his family, and a humbling illustration of angels surrounding his grave. It is clear that Chickering not only gave the gift of music to countless Americans, but was also praised on the quality and impact of his work.

 

SOURCES

Babcock, Wm R. “Funeral March.” 164.019 – Funeral March. | Levy Music Collection. Accessed October 23, 2017. http://levysheetmusic.mse.jhu.edu/collection/164/019.

Crawford, Richard. Americas musical life: a history. New York: W.W. Norton, 2005

Cynthia Adams Hoover“Chickering.” Grove Music OnlineOxford Music OnlineOxford University Press, accessed October 23, 2017http://www.oxfordmusiconline.com/subscriber/article/grove/music/05571.

Poetry in Motion: Amy Beach

Amy Beach was one of the most influential composers on American music during her life. Her grand works like the Mass in E-flat and the Gaelic Symphony made her stand out amongst composers in a newly emerging American classical scene. Beach also wrote many songs for piano and voice and one in particular that I would like to highlight is With Violets, Beach’s first official work.

With Violets was published in 1885 and the text comes from the poet Kate Vannah, and is presented in an original setting by Beach. Not much scholarship exists on Beach’s first work, in fact I was unable to find any recording of With Violets. I find this a little surprising, as With Violets captures elements of Beach’s compositional style that stayed consistent throughout her life.

Amy Beach, composer of “With Violets”

The first page of “With Violets”

 

In 1943, Beach commented on her creative process and composition in general by comparing it to poetry. In her words, a poet is “stirred by a vigorous emotional impulse” then “reflects more calmly upon this emotion” and finally “seeks to clothe the combination of emotions plus thought with the most beautiful and suitable words, meters, and rhymes.” She goes on to say that “that, in the most general way, approximates the stages in musical creation, as well.” As you read the text to With Violets (no recording exists as of yet), try conjuring up music in your head.

The violets I send to you
Will close their blue eyes on your breast;
I shall not be there, sweet, to see,
Yet do I know my flowers will rest
Within that chaste, white nest.

O little flowers, she’ll welcome you
So tenderly, so warmly!
Go, I know where you will die tonight.
But you can never, never know
The bliss of dying so.
If you could speak!

Yet she will know
What made your faces wet,
Although I fain would follow you, and tell.
There, go and die, yet never know
To what a heav’n you go.

Beach describes a very similar experience to the one you might’ve just had when she was composing her setting of Canticle of the Sun. In her words,

“The text called melodies to my mind. I went out at once under a tree, and the text took possession of me. As if from dictation, I jotted down the notes of my ‘Canticle’.”

I think it’s a stretch to say that every piece composed by Beach had this sort of musical epiphany, but the intentionality of her composition can’t be denied. For her first published work to be a setting of a poem says a lot about the artistry she saw in her compositions. Her songs exude many of the same feelings that poetry does, and I would argue that point as a major reason for her musical success.

Bibliography

Beach, Amy Marcy Cheney. With Violets. Arthur P. Schmidt & Co., Boston, monographic, 1885. Notated Music. Retrieved from the Library of Congress, https://www.loc.gov/item/sm1885.13562/. (Accessed October 22, 2017.)

Brooks, Benjamin. “The ‘How’ of Creative Composition: A Conversation with Mrs. H. H. A. Beach,” Etude, 61, no. 3 (March 1943), 151, 208-9.

Crawford, Richard. America’s Musical Life: A History. New York: W.W. Norton & Company, Inc., 2001

Anderson and Jackson: Voices of Hope

When slavery was abolished in 1865, it did not simply disappear overnight, rather, it evolved. Racism and Discrimination became the new form of slavery in the united states and has continued to be a pressing issue, even in 2017. The middle of the 20th century brought the beginnings of people standing up against this injustice and speaking out a message of hope for the future. Two of these people were Mahalia Jackson, and Marian Anderson. Both of them, around the same time period, used their musical influence to stand up and peacefully strive for equality.

Marian Anderson

What these two woman have in common was their use of song to make a statement against political opposition and oppression. In an article from 1939, it discusses Marian Anderson sinning American Folk Songs, as well as Gospel on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial. Anderson was to have a performance at Constitution Hall in D.C. but the “Daughters of the American Revolution” (DAR) refused to allow her to perform to an integrated audience This performance was a demonstration of her strength and unwillingness to back down. Closing her performance with a performance of the spiritual “Nobody knows the trouble I’ve seen” gave a solid stance of her strength.

https://search.proquest.com/docview/492549785?accountid=351.

Mahalia Jackson was a gospel singer who also used her voice in  a similar way to

Mahalia Jackson

Anderson. While she herself was not considered an opera singer, she was considered to be the “queen of gospel” and known as…

“the single most powerful black woman in the united states” -Harry Belafonte

In a quote from Jackson she describes her singing: “I sing God’s music because it makes me feel free”

Jackson once said about her choice of gospel, adding, “It gives me hope. With the blues, when you finish, you still have the blues.” The power to which this woman sang was an obvious representation of her pride and hope for peace. In a world where even with all of her fame she was still considered a “colored” person. To have such strength and an the attitude to fight for what you believe in so strongly is incredibly commendable and admirable. Their connection to Americana Folk music, while still sticking to their gospel traditions was their attempt to bridge the gap between races and to sing for an America that is equal and free. 

Sources

“MARIAN ANDERSON SINGS TO 75,000 IN OPEN AIR RECITAL.” 1939.The Chicago Defender (National Edition) (1921-1967), Apr 15, 1. https://search.proquest.com/docview/492549785?accountid=351.

Thejazzsingers. “MAHALIA JACKSON PRECIOUS LORD TAKE MY HAND.” YouTube. June 18, 2009. Accessed October 17, 2017. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=as1rsZenwNc.

“The Ordering of Moses” and Robert Nathaniel Dett’s compositional output

Photo courtesy of Library of Congress

Robert Nathaniel Dett (1882-1943) was a popular African American composer who used spirituals and gospel songs as his inspiration for larger works. His works like the Juba Dance were performed by the Tommy Dorsey Orchestra, and Dett conducted and performed as a pianist in Carnegie Hall.

 

His 1937 oratorio, “The Ordering of Moses,” was seen in its time as controversial, but largely lauded. It was called “the most impressive Negro contribution to music” in the Chicago Defender‘s May 1937 issue. It combines “spirituals such as “Go Down Moses,” reworked into a fugue; the lush romanticism of Dvorak; a seguidilla-like dance complete with castanets; and jazzy inflections throughout.”1

When it was originally performed at the May Festival of 1937, the live recording on radio suddenly stopped midway through, supposedly due to scheduling difficulties, but in later years it is largely believed that too many people called in complaints about the composer’s race for the broadcast to continue. Dett faced much discrimination for this work, and he felt it on both sides. He was told his symphony was too black, and that he was too black, but other people told him it wasn’t black enough. Critic Olin Downes of the New York Times had this to say:

Image Courtesy of The Chicago Defender May 1937 Issue2 

The oratorio can be heard in this playlist below.

 

In addition to creating large-scale works that provoked conversation, Dett made plenty of statements about the difficulties of black composers in a largely white-dominated field. At that time, spirituals when composed and sung by white performers was more acceptable than black people doing the same thing, and Dett made it known the many problems that accompanied that mindset.  In the July 1943 edition of the Chicago Defender, he is quoted saying that black composers and performers should not try to confine to the popular, white and westernized version of songs that were originally from the black community in the first place. He also notes that the black community should “aspire to the top because of spirituals, not in spite of them.”3

Additionally, Dett mentions the difficulties of being a black person in the institutional music system. He says that many African Americans who graduate from insitutions with degrees in music aren’t able to fully cultivate their talent, because if they rise to fame they outshine even the president of the institution (on account of the novelty of being a famous black performer).

Dett’s work “The Ordering of Moses” contradicts his own statements in two ways. First, it conforms more to western European musical standard practices than to traditional practices in the black community. This is something he directly condemned above. Second, it helped him rise to great fame, rather than let him meekly compose semi-successful pieces. However, he did not seem to outshine the reputation of Oberlin University, where he obtained his degree.

There is more to the story, however. If his work had conformed even more toward traditional spiritual practices, white audiences never would have heralded it as such an inspiring and important piece. Then, he might not have gained as much fame and thus wouldn’t even have had an opportunity to share his opinions on the state of black composers and performers in the Chicago Defender. He played the game where he had to in order to balance both black and white audiences. If he hadn’t, he’d have been lost to history, and we wouldn’t remember his works or his name. So before we are too quick to judge the contradictions between his composition output and his musical philosophies, we should remind ourselves of the complex situation of being a POC in America. This should especially be taken into account regarding black musicians operating in a largely western European controlled system.

 

 

 

1 Amanda Angel, “Heavy-Handed Presentation undermines Cincinnati Symphony Revival of Dett’s ‘Moses'” New York Classical Review, May 10, 2014. http://newyorkclassicalreview.com/2014/05/heavy-handed-presentation-undermines-cincinnati-symphony-revival-of-detts-moses/

2 (1937, May 22). DETT’S ‘ORDERNG OF MOSES’ LAUDED AS RACE’S BEST CONTRIBUTION IN MUSIC. The Chicago Defender (National Edition) (1921-1967) Retrieved from https://search.proquest.com/docview/492486822?accountid=351/

2 Alfred E Smith (1937, July). “Dett Sees Music as Potent Weapon Against Race Hate.” The Chicago Defender (National Edition) (1921-1967) Retrieved from https://search.proquest.com/docview/492486822?accountid=351/

Artist Files: Tommy Dorsey , 1950-1975 © The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and Museum. Popular Culture in Britain and America, 1950-1975.

Motown, and the Impact of The Jackson 5

The Jackson 5 were a staple of the Motown era, and brought with them performance and musical styles from black spirituals and popular music to propel them into the spotlight. Time magazine describes the Motown Sound as containing “great melodies, lots of tambourines and hand clapping, blaring horns, interplay between the lead singer and his or her backup vocalists, driving bass lines and foot-slapping drum parts”. The parallels between these musical sounds and black spirituals and ring shouts are quite evident. The “interplay between the lead singer and his or her backup vocalists” is representative of the interaction seen in many ring shouts. “Foot-slapping drum parts”were played on percussive instruments, but emulate the liveliness and excitement of pattin’ juba.

The Jackson 5 experienced incredible success, and one article published in the Chicago Defender reports on the group’s wildly popular performance in Chicago in 1971. “[T]he teenage idols of the entertainment world took their places on stage beneath roving spotlights while the frantic screams of young girls, waving and stomping their feet at the mere sight of the Jackson 5, spill; lit the air with feignish delight.”

The Jackson 5 in a scene from their TV special “Goin’ Back to Indiana”

Performance had certainly come a long way since the singing of songs in slave fields. I also would argue that Motown musicians, and The Jackson 5 in particular, broke past performance practices of viewing black performers as “exotic” or “other”. Indeed, the article in the Chicago Defender comments on their performance ability rather than their racial identity. “The young entertainers swept through the evening ordeal with tremendous poise and with the assurance of old-timers. Their performance was [characterized] with a crisp sense and refreshing sense of buoyancy.”

One of the songs performed that night in Chicago was their number one hit single “I Want You Back”. This song showcases many of the Motown characteristics. Listen to the “driving bass line” in the opening of the song, and the “interplay between the lead singer and his or her backup vocalists” throughout the song.

As you’ve heard, The Jackson 5’s music is infectious, and it is no surprise that they reached international success. One critic writes on the successful aging of The Jackson 5 in the music -focused newspaper Zoo World. “Each new album releases keeps getting better and better…The musicianship is of course of the highest quality”. 

Again, commentary is focused on the music of the group. This represents a huge shift in cultural perception. While Motown groups contained predominately black musicians, it was the music that sold and topped popular music charts of the day. Musical elements dominated the conversation surrounding Motown and The Jackson 5, and such discussions highlight the past musical influences of spirituals and ring shouts on the Motown sound.

Works Cited:

Calloway, Earl. “Jackson 5 Thrills Fans, Set for TV show.” Chicago Daily Defender (Chicago IL) , Sep. 9, 1971. https://search.proquest.com/docview/494356816?accountid=351.

Cruz, Gilbert. “Motown.” Time, Jan. 12, 2009. http://content.time.com/time/arts/article/0,8599,1870975,00.html

Stein, Dave. “Skywriter.” Zoo World, May 24, 1973. http://www.rockandroll.amdigital.co.uk/Contents/ImageViewer.aspx?imageid=990610&searchmode=true&hit=first&pi=1&vpath=searchresults&prevPos=905648

Mahalia Jackson, Developing Hybridity, and the Inescapable Political Machine

Mahalia Jackson (from the Jimmy Haynes collection at the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame)

If I’ve learned anything from the past few years of music history courses, it’s that music of all kinds has a complicated and intertwining history. Music doesn’t exist in a bubble, and often, the development of assumed distinct musical genres depended on contemporaneous cultural and musical influences. Rock and Roll is no exception to this statement. In fact, this 1969 article from the Chicago Defender argues that Rock and Roll owes many of its musical traits from the Gospel genre. Despite the apparent disparity between Gospel and Rock and Roll, Earl Calloway, the article’s author, argues that the chord progressions and “uninhibited style of singing” found in rock music are derived directly from gospel music sung in church. Mahalia Jackson, who Calloway mentions later in the article as one of the first Gospel singers to break into pop culture, is a perfect example of this hybridity. In fact, Jackson was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1997. Rock stars like Little Richard count her among their major influences and the syncopation that can be heard in songs like ““Move On Up a Little Higher,” and “He’s Got the Whole World in His Hands” served not only to popularize Gospel music (“He’s Got the Whole World in His Hands” reached the top 100 on the Pop charts), but as a foundation for later rock idioms. Take a listen to “Move on Up a Little Higher” and see if you can hear some Rock and Roll:

Article from Chicago Defender

In listening to Jackson’s recording, however, it is also evident that the Gospel style she used didn’t develop in a vacuum. Thomas Dorsey, who some (like Richard Crawford in his book American Musical Life) identify as one of the founding forces in Gospel Music worked and toured with Mahalia Jackson to develop the Gospel Sound. What is impossible to ignore in these recordings is the similarity it has to earlier Blues traditions. Mahalia Jackson drew inspiration for her vocal technique from the likes of  Ma Rainey and Bessie Smith. However, instead of traditional Blues topics for her songs, she sang sacred music. Mahalia Jackson demonstrates the increasing readiness of popular music in the 20th century to change and rely on the music that came before it while influencing the music that would come later. While Gospel certainly was and is a distinct tradition from Blues or Rock and Roll, the interaction between these genres cannot be denied.

While the article from the Chicago Defender and the photograph of Jackson now housed in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame demonstrate the complicated history of musical development and transmission, they fail to acknowledge another fundamental part of music: politics. Musicologists and musicians alike, myself included, sometimes like to think of music as apolitical. I find it all too easy to hide behind theoretical analysis and stark historical facts when considering the development of musical genres. To do so, however, is to help erase and negate narratives of privilege and oppression that infected all aspects of history, including our beloved music.  Mahalia Jackson’s recordings and life as a whole serve as an example of how music works as part of an inescapable political system. Her music was an influential part of the Civil Rights movement. She worked with Martin Luther King Jr. throughout the Civil Rights campaign and even sang at the 1963 March on Washington. By the very value of her identity (being a black woman in the 1960s), she and her music had no choice but to be deeply embedded in the social struggles of the 1960s. Click the play icon below to listen to this interview where Jackson speaks about her struggle to maintain Dr. King’s policy of nonviolence when confronted with egregious acts of racism throughout her career and in her personal life.

As interesting as Mahalia Jackson’s involvement with the developing hybridity of popular music in the 1960s is, equally important are her efforts to mobilize music as a political tool.

Sources

Crawford, Richard. America’s Musical Life: A History. New York: W.W. Norton, 2005.

Henry Pleasants, et al. “Jackson, Mahalia.” Grove Music OnlineOxford Music OnlineOxford University Press, accessed October 17, 2017http://www.oxfordmusiconline.com/subscriber/article/grove/music/A2249902.

Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. “Mahalia Jackson.” Rock & Roll Hall of Fame. Accessed October 17, 2017. https://www.rockhall.com/inductees/mahalia-jackson.

The Story: A project by American Public Media

Archives

Chicago Defender

Pop Culture in Britain and America: 1950-1975

 

 

Sarah Gertrude Knott, an Influential Figure in Folk Festivals

Folk festival organizer, Sarah Gertrude Knott

While American folk festivals are a thing primarily associated with the latter half of the twentieth century with festivals like the Newport Folk Festival starting in 1959 and the Smithsonian Festival of American Folklife starting in 1967, festival organizers like Sarah Gertrude Knott were working to collect and illustrate various folk musicians much earlier in the century. Sarah Gertrude Knott was born in Kentucky and attended various drama schools throughout the country, later organizing community theater events in North Carolina and St. Louis until founding the National Folk Festival in 1934 in St. Louis. The National Folk Festival went on to be held in many more locations around the country and influenced regional folk festivals in these areas like the American Folk Festival on the Bangor Waterfront and the Richmond Folk Festival.

The National Folk Festival was not, however, the only festival of its kind that Knott organized, as she travelled the country in search of various folk traditions to give a stage to. An article in the Chicago Defender from April 1936 entitled “FOLK MUSIC TO BE FEATURED IN TEXAS FESTIVAL: Race Members Are Urged To Co-Operate” announced Knott’s plans to represent every “American Race folk expression” in the third annual folk festival at the Texas Centennial Exposition. The article urges racial minorities to participate in the festival as Knott and the organizers wish to represent the plentiful “race music” in Texas, as Knott says she has “discovered a greater wealth of Race material in Texas than in any other part of the country.” I found this association of folk material with minority, particularly African-American, traditions to be interesting as folk festivals in the latter half of the twentieth century focused on primarily white traditions like bluegrass, though here there seems to be an emphasis on more authentic folk traditions being that of underrepresented peoples. This is likely due to the general lack of familiarity and exposure to this music from most white Americans during this time, so there still remains a certain “authenticity” to it.

Link to the newspaper article

Bibliography:

Dee Baily and Nathan Platte“Festivals.” Grove Music OnlineOxford Music OnlineOxford University PressWeb17 Oct. 2017.<http://www.oxfordmusiconline.com/subscriber/article/grove/music/A2240951>.

“FOLK MUSIC TO BE FEATURED IN TEXAS FESTIVAL.” The Chicago Defender (National edition) (1921-1967), Apr 04, 1936, pp. 10, ProQuest Historical Newspapers: Chicago Defender, https://search.proquest.com/docview/492448756?accountid=351.

“Knott, Sarah Gertrude.” The Hutchinson Unabridged Encyclopedia with Atlas and Weather Guide, edited by Helicon, 1st edition, 2016. Credo Reference, http://search.credoreference.com/content/entry/heliconhe/knott_sarah_gertrude/0.

 

Ayyyyye B.B.

While browsing the Chicago Defender archives I discovered a newspaper article in which the author writes a short tribute to the legendary B.B. King. The author acclaims B.B. as well as other popular blues artists’ musical performance style saying that they communicate “simple and beautiful truth” that “touch[es] the inner core of black lives leaving us only to say, ‘he knows, he knows.'” In the poetic tribute, the author refers to B.B. as if he were a great king at the top of a royal ladder. He “beg[s] for forgiveness” and wishes to “further dedicate ourselves to the spirit of life and love that is ours and yours (B.B.’s).”

 

In the Popular Culture in Britain and America, 1950-1975 database I found another article praising B.B. King. The article in fact, was actually a response to comments made in a Mick Hutchinson interview. The author clearly has a strong opinion from the very first sentence in which he writes “In an interview with MickHutchinson (MusicIT/73) it was said among other stupidities, that BB King’s style lacked originality.” Clearly offended by these remarks, the author dives into an analysis of Mick Hutchinson’s musical ability in which he claims Hutchinson “can’t MOVE people, he hasn’t anything to lay on them.” The argument made is that though B.B. King is known for using simpler melodies and licks, he conveys far more meaning in it than Mick Hutchinson ever could. And if that wasn’t enough, the author even finishes the paragraph with an aggressive “(So UP YOURS Mick Hutchinson!!).”

 

 

Little Richard: an unsung Rock & Roll icon

Little Richard achieved international fame in 1955 with the release of his hit single “Tutti Frutti.”  His unique sound, blending aspects of rhythm and blues and boogie woogie, came to be known as “rock and roll,” and marked the beginning of an exciting new trend in American popular music.  Despite Little Richard’s extraordinary success and far-reaching influence, he experienced significant resistance when trying to create a music that was palatable to white audiences.  

In an interview with Andy Gill, Richard described some of the frustrations he had with  record companies early on in his career: “They wanted me to sound like other people, to be a blues singer. I had this other thing, they’d never heard nothin’ like it, so they was afraid of it. But when I went to Specialty with Awopbopaloobopalopbamboom! they said, ‘OK!’ ” (Rip It Up). Hesitancy on the part of record companies to endorse Little Richard’s unique new style illustrates a racial bias in the popular music industry: they believed that a African-American popular musicians could only sing the blues, and that a black artist singing anything else would not be financially successful.  When Specialty published “Tutti Frutti” in 1955, however, the exact opposite proved to be true, with the track rocketing to No. 2 on Billboard’s Rhythm and Blues chart and No. 17 on Billboard’s Hot 100.

Little Richard also had to combat racist attitudes when crafting his band’s public image.  White audiences oftentimes stereotyped black men as lascivious sexual predators, and white men often discouraged their wives from attending concerts by black artists such as Little Richard.  To subvert this harmful and untrue stereotype, Richard cultivated an effeminate, androgynous image, attempting to convince audiences that he and his bandmates were gay.  He wore heavy makeup and hairspray and donned flamboyant clothing, all in the name of crafting an image that was “palatable” to white audiences.

Although Little Richard was clearly one of the first rockers, white artists like Elvis Presley are more frequently celebrated as the early leaders of the genre.  To this day, Little Richard’s legacy continues to struggle against the racist structures that he struggled with during his life.  It is important that we keep these structures in mind when we study the popular music of America.

Sources

Brown, David P. Noise Orders: Jazz, Improvisation, and Architecture. University of Minnesota Press, 2006. ProQuest Ebook Central, accessed 17 Oct. 2017.

https://open.spotify.com/track/4ZnqFqoT9TFKWR6fUmrmhoGaines, Grady. I’ve Been Out There: On the Road with Legends of Rock ‘n’ Roll. Texas A&M University Press, 2015. ProQuest Ebook Central, accessed 17 Oct. 2017.

Little Richard. Mirrorpix Photographic Archive, 1966. Popular Culture in Britain and America, 1950-1975, accessed 17 Oct. 2017.

“Little Richard Scores Triumph.” The Chicago Defender (National edition) (1921-1967): 14. 02 Jun. 1956. ProQuest, accessed 17 Oct. 2017 .

“‘Little Richard’ Wows Way to Top.” The Chicago Defender (National edition) (1921-1967): 17. 12 May 1956. ProQuest, accessed 17 Oct. 2017 .

Rip it Up: The Black Experience in Rock ‘n Roll. Edited by Kandia Crazy Horse. Palgrave Macmillan, 2006. ProQuest Ebook Central, accessed 17 Oct. 2017.

Marian Anderson: A Defiant Voice

Marian Anderson was an incredibly accomplished African American opera singer, having performed for European royalty, even garnering a song written specifically for her by Finnish composer Jean Sibelius. Her success in Europe was welcomed back home in the States with a debut at Carnegie Hall in 1935. However, her decorated performance history was not invincible to America’s racism. Like any other African American, Anderson was restricted to use of “colored only” waiting rooms, hotels, and train cars.

The Chicago Defender reported on Marian Anderson’s iconic performance on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial. Howard University and Anderson’s manager arranged for her to perform at Constitution Hall in Washington D.C., but were met with common racial bias of the time. The Daughters of the American Revolution owned the hall and refused to host her, likely because of her race. In response, Eleanor Roosevelt and the Marian Anderson Committee made alternative arrangements for Anderson to perform on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial on Easter Sunday of 1939.

Her first set of songs opened with “My Country ‘Tis of Thee,” followed by standards from the classical repertoire. However, the real defiance came after intermission, in which Anderson performed a set of spirituals. Because of the history that spirituals hold, Anderson was essentially making a political statement that she would not let the barriers of racism hold her back from performing for the masses (in fact, there were 75,000 people at this performance). Having built a career off of opera, singing spirituals and closing the concert with an encore of “Nobody Knows de Trouble I’ve Seen” showed her strength in her refusal to be held back by racial bias of the time.

“MARIAN ANDERSON SINGS TO 75,000 IN OPEN AIR RECITAL.” 1939.The Chicago Defender (National Edition) (1921-1967), Apr 15, 1. https://search-proquest-com.ezproxy.stolaf.edu/docview/492549785?accountid=351.

“Marian Anderson: Musical Icon.” PBS, Public Broadcasting Service,
www.pbs.org/wgbh/americanexperience/features/eleanor-anderson/.

Bluegrass and “Folk”

The folk revival in the United States showed a growing interest in American folk music styles and was accompanied by various folk festivals. The first newspaper article advertises a folk festival that happened in 1970. Bill Monroe and the Bluegrass Boys are listed first, and there are other performers listed, such as blues guitarist Bukka White, a Mexican-American band, and two American Indians. With bluegrass music grouped alongside, and even above these other prominent folk music styles, it is interesting to look at bluegrass music and how and when it became recognized and categorized.

 

From my experiences of growing up with “folk” music, I would have assumed that bluegrass music would be at the heart of any discussion of American folk music. Most of the folk music I knew about was bluegrass, and the bluegrass music seemed to embody the meaning of folk. One article I found claims that bluegrass music is “the purest type of music in the world today.” For what reasons would this author claim that bluegrass music is the purest music? Perhaps they are the same reasons that led me to believe that bluegrass music was the most “folk” out of any other music I knew.

This bold claim may just be a strategic advertisement that simply reflects a desire to attract audiences, but there is no doubt that it connects to the role of bluegrass music in the folk revival. “Pure” in this context most likely means historically authentic. We have to question how “authentic” bluegrass music is. There are a few things that contradict the idea that it is purely folk music by definition. Richard Crawford notes that bluegrass music is based in the popular sphere, but looks towards the traditional sphere. Bluegrass music is defined by its old-fashioned instrumentation and older influences, such as Anglo-American folk singing and field hollers. While the connections to the past are strong, it is still a and it is known as a modern representation of Appalachian folk music with ties to popular music. Another contradiction has to do with the conception that folk music doesn’t have a clear original source. While bluegrass has many earlier influences that contributed to its existence, there is a more clear beginning with Bill Monroe and Earl Scruggs at the Grand Ole Opry. These facts don’t mean that bluegrass music isn’t folk music or that its history is too different from other folk music styles. However, I wonder what gave the writer of the second article and myself the impression that it was the purest form of music, or that it was the epitome of folk music.

Sources

Crawford, Richard. America’s Musical Life. New York: W. W. Norton & Company, Inc., 2001.

Evans, David. “Folk Revival Music.” The Journal of American Folklore 92, no. 363 (1979): 108-15.

Haring, Lee. “The Folk Music Revival.” The Journal of American Folklore 86, no. 339 (1973): 60.

Tribe, Ivan M. Mountaineer Jamboree. Lexington: University Press of Kentucky, 1984.

 

Fighting the Tide

Who gets to decide the name of a genre? Should the artist or the consumers? The managers or the publishers? This question has constantly bothered me as we have looked at the racial influences put upon the blues and the traditions that have grown out of it. As jazz came out of the blues and bebop came out of jazz, the story of a genre’s name always tends to tell me a lot about its birth.

Charlie Parker and Dizzy Gillespie are generally thought to have been the founding fathers of bebop. However, a competing theory is that Thelonious Monk deserves a majority of the credit for the music we know today as bebop. Considering that this month marks Monk’s centennial, I think that the Monk-centered theory deserves more examination.

A notable article in The Chicago Defender on March 27, 1948 is titled “Creator Of “Be Bop” Objects To Name And Changes In His Style.” Already this Monk-centered theory is sounding fairly authoritative. In the article, Monk is set in opposition to Dizzy Gillespie and Charlie Parker, and it starts out by a quote from Monk saying,

“I don’t like to think of my music as bebop-but as modern music. I don’t dig the word. It doesn’t mean anything, [Be Bop] is just scatting.”

I think Monk is trying to get people to understand how much thought and intention goes into his music. He wants to avoid any chance that his music might be written off as nonsense. Monk goes on to say that

“I like music to sound melodious. People have to know harmony. It’s harder for people to understand bebop who don’t know music… You should always have melody in the piece,”

which, to me, further asserts that Monk’s music has a certain intelligence behind it. Of course, if Monk’s “modern music” really became widely known as “bebop,” then what happened?

Just 2 years later, in 1950, Monk’s name appears on this poster. He is clearly under Charlie and Dizzy’s influence by then. Bebop appears in the poster, and it is certainly not his name in the biggest font. So what happened? Well, one of Monk’s biographers, Robin D. G. Kelly, says in an interview with The Atlantic that Monk lost his cabaret card during this period; this was one of the major influences leading to Monk’s loss of prominence. Kelly says that this period was called “the ‘un- years,’ when Monk had lost his cabaret card and could not play in nightclubs that served alcohol—which was pretty much all of them” (Gorney).

Could this really have affected Monk that much? I looked into the history of cabaret cards for my answer. As it turns out,

The cabaret card could be revoked at the whim of the police, usually for narcotics infractions, however slight or untried… As an embodiment of the institutional distrust stirred up by jazz musicians, especially African-Americans, [the cabaret card is] a key to our understanding of the odds those musicians faced in civil society” (Chinen).

I suppose that I am thankful that Monk was still able to work with giants like Parker and Gillespie. However, I have to wonder what would have come to the genre of bebop if Monk has stayed in prominence from 1948-1950 and had been able to push his idea of what “modern music” should have been. To honor Monk and what modern music could have been, I have put together a Spotify playlist with the first 4 blue note singles recorded by Monk.

These singles were cited in The Chicago Defender article as a hallmark of Monk’s “modern music” style. If you have heard these songs before, I hope you are able to listen to them now with a slightly different perspective. If you have never heard them before, I also beg you to listen to them… because they are simply really good and intelligent music.

-Brock Carlson

Works Cited

Creator Of “Be Bop” Objects To Name And Changes In His Style. (1948, March 27), Chicago Defender. Retrieved from ProQuest Historical Newspapers: Chicago Defender

Parker, Charlie with Dizzy Gillespie, Thelonious… , 6 Jun 1950 © The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and Museum. Retrieved from Popular Culture in Britain and America, 1950-1975.
Gorney, D. (2010, March 29). The Secret Life of Thelonious Monk. Retrieved October 16, 2017, from https://www.theatlantic.com/entertainment/archive/2010/03/the-secret-life-of-thelonious-monk/38128/

Chinen, N. (n.d.). The Cabaret Card and Jazz. Retrieved October 16, 2017, from https://jazztimes.com/columns/the-gig/the-cabaret-card-and-jazz/

Sherman H. Dudley’s Theater and Support of Theater Owners Bookers Association

Whilst looking through the database of America’s Historical Newspapers, I stumbled across a 1919 advertisement for S. H. Dudley’s theater, a place where they showed photoplay and vaudeville acts. In the ad, they assert that they are “the only theatre on Seventh Street catering to people of color that does not DISCRIMINATE.” This piqued my interest.

The Sherman Houston Dudley theater was founded by its namesake, a man from Texas who had been a minstrel show performer and who had experience performing in the group “The Smart Set.” As Sherman saved money and became an entrepreneur, he slowly bought out a circuit of theaters and used them as safe spaces for black performers.

Sherman was one of the most popular black performers in the late 19th c, adding his skills as a musician with those of a comedian to his sets. Despite his popularity, he apparently never recorded.1

Image result for sherman dudleyEventually, Sherman Dudley’s circuit of theaters for African American performers, the “Consolidated Circuit,” merged into the Theater Owners Bookers Association (TOBA)2 as a way to help promote black artists and vaudeville performers in particular – famous blues singers like Bessie Smith had their start there.3 Dudley’s support of the theater and TOBA helped create a safe space for African American performers who often were still discriminated against despite their in-demand status. As an African American performer himself, he understood the struggles of his fellow black performers and wanted to help even out the playing field and give them fair and safe opportunities.

 


While Alexander Street Jazz Archives provide rather dismal results, I was able to find a recording uploaded to Youtube that supposedly was recorded by S.H.Dudley. There’s no way to really know if it was him, or if the uploader has any credibility. This is also a problem with materials that were recorded, particularly by African American performers – the exploitation and discrimination against them could have led to false advertising, incorrect records, marketing schemes, and deceptive contracts between performers and their companies. The Library of Congress site has many recordings by an S H Dudley, but here, his first name is Samuel – furthering the confusion. In an attempt to capitalize on Dudley’s talent, did someone else record this song under his name? Or intentionally use the first two initials to maintain ambiguity in the hopes that people would mistake this singer for Sherman Dudley? Did Sherman Dudley go by two different names? This could point to a further line of inquiry.

1 Tim Brooks. Lost Sounds: Blacks and the Birth of the Recording Industry. Chicago: University of Illinois Press (2010) 520.

2 Tim Brooks. Lost Sounds: Blacks and the Birth of the Recording Industry. Chicago: University of Illinois Press (2010) 520.

3 Thomas Riis and Howard Rye. “Theater Owners’ Booking Association.” The New Grove Dictionary of Jazz, 2nd ed.. Grove Music Online. Oxford Music Online. Oxford University Press, accessed October 10, 2017, http://www.oxfordmusiconline.com/subscriber/article/grove/music/J445700.

Advertisement, “Dudley’s Amusements” in the Washington Bee (May 24 1919). America’s Historical Newspapers http://infoweb.newsbank.com/iw-search/we/HistArchive/?p_product=EANX&p_theme=ahnp&p_nbid=J61W62EXMTUwNzU4NTA0OC41MTA1MDg6MToxNDoxMzAuNzEuMjQwLjI0Mg&p_action=doc&s_lastnonissuequeryname=5&d_viewref=search&p_queryname=5&p_docnum=3&p_docref=v2:12B2E340B2C9FFB8@EANX-12BA623D08261EE0@2422103-12B9B0B664446C80@4-12DCFE90E2C1B868@No%20Headline

Mamie Smith’s “Crazy Blues”

Mamie Smith’s 1920 recording of “Crazy Blues” was the first successful recording of a song by a blues singer. “Crazy Blues” is an important contribution to black music, but it presents some ethical problems. Mamie Smith’s success with “Crazy Blues” came as a surprise to record labels, but they soon realized that making records of blues songs was profitable. A newspaper article by a black writer from 1921 talks about the exploitation of black musicians by phonograph companies. The companies used these musicians of color to sell blues music to black record buyers, but still excluded other musicians of color who performed different kinds of music. This picking and choosing of what music to produce and sell contributes to the problem of erasure in black music. There are certain kinds of music that are recorded and preserved, but others aren’t, even if they are equally important.

“Crazy Blues” also brings up concerns with the development of blues. According to Elijah Wald, the discovery of race records by white people led to their reinterpretations and creation of new definitions that became very different from the original source. Karl Hagstrom Miller also acknowledges the fears of some people and their worry that the success of blues that stems from commercial record businesses covers up the Southern rural roots of blues. There were other arguments against Smith that mentioned that since she was from Cincinnati, she was not connected to the blues roots and was not a real blues singer. There are also complaints of Smith’s abilities as a blues singer, criticizing that she was not any better than other white singers.

Yet, Smith has been a key contributor to the development of blues, specifically the blues that became established and accepted. Wald defines blues as whatever the mass of black record buyers called the blues. This second newspaper article from 1920 calls Mamie Smith, “the only colored girl that sings for records, which we all like to hear.” Even though Mamie Smith’s recording contributed to record companies that not only perpetuated racial inequalities, but possibly altered the advancement and preservation of blues, it doesn’t change the fact that she was popular in the black community as a blues singer and helped define the true meaning of blues.

Sources

After You’ve Gone. Recorded June 18, 2014. 2014 Railroad, 2014, Streaming Audio. Accessed October 10, 2017.

“At the Howard Theater.” Washington Bee. December 18, 1920. Accessed October 9, 2017.

Crawford, Richard. America’s Musical Life. New York: W. W. Norton & Company, Inc., 2001.

Gussow, Adam. “‘Shoot Myself a Cop’: Mamie Smith’s ‘Crazy Blues’ as Social Text.” Callaloo, 25, no. 1 (2002): 8–44.

“In the World of Music.” Washington Bee. February 19, 1921. Accessed October 9, 2017.

Miller, Karl Hagstrom. Segregating Sound: Inventing Folk and Pop Music in the Age of Jim Crow. Durham: Duke University Press, 2010.

Wald, Elijah. Escaping the Delta: Robert Johnson and the Invention of the Blues. New York: Harper Collins, 2004.

A ’60s Update to Spirituals

On the subject of authenticity, I think it is fair to say that one should deeply understand the context of the music they are performing in order to reproduce it in a manner that respects and preserves its roots. For example, spirituals come from an African American slave tradition, and several people reproduce spirituals outside of the gospel.

Elvis Presley – Joshua Fit the Battle (1966)

The jazz setting of Green’s recording is pretty appropriate for the song, especially when the history of jazz is taken into account. In our readings, we have learned that a large part of the African musical tradition includes improvisation, which appropriately takes places in spirituals, the blues, and jazz. In other words, Green’s performance furthers the tradition of African music in America.

A small comparison between the two recordings is that Green’s album lists the song as Joshua Fit de Battle of Jericho while Presley’s is listed as Joshua Fit the Battle of Jericho. The subtle change of “de” and “the” actually show the difference between how the two artists likely absorbed the song for the first time. The fact that Presley’s album lists it as “the” buys into the idea that “de” is not proper English, and should therefore be corrected, while Green leaves it as is because that is how slaves created and sang the song.

Grant Green – Feelin’ the Spirit (1963)

Lastly, I think a big fault in Elvis’ recording is that he decided to sing this spiritual in a major mode, which fails to pay true homage to the origins of the piece. I’m not trying to say that every spiritual must be in a minor mode to depict the anguish of the tradition that it comes from, but I think that altering the mode of specific songs poses a problem, especially when the performer will never experience the context in which these spirituals were originally sung in. In addition, it seems that Elvis recorded spirituals because he enjoyed them, which was not the reason why they existed in the first place. Spirituals were a means of consolation for the suffering of slavery, and Green’s album, Feelin’ the Spirit (1963), captures this in his time-appropriate era of the Civil Rights Movement. Green did not necessarily want to reproduce the music in its original context, but to bring this music to the nation at a time when they needed the same hope for equality that slaves did.

Where is THAT in the blues?

W.C. Handy is the “Father of the Blues”

Headline: Seen and Heard While Passing; Article Type: News/Opinion
Freeman (Indianapolis, Indiana) • 09-26-1914 • Page 6

W. C. Handy became the “Father of the Blues” when he titled his autobiography that same name in 1957. However, this legacy started decades sooner, when Handy published the first “blues” with “Memphis Blues” in 1912. This blues became an immediate commercial success.

I was interested by the fact that “Memphis Blues” was the first blues ever written down, so I tried to find an early review of the work. In 1914, an Indianapolis newspaper, Freeman, ran a review of Handy praising the “Memphis Blues.” What surprised me most was a comment near the end of the article,

[Memphis Blues’] rapid increase in popularity everywhere makes it a psychological study and it is bound to become a classic of its kind just as the real Negro compositions of Will Marion Cooke, Scott Joplin and other Negro composers are now considered to be the only real expression of the Negro in music and the only genuine American music.

 

The “only genuine American Music?” Have you heard “Memphis Blues?” In case you have not, here is an early recording of it from 1944 by Lu Watters’ Yerba Buena Jazz Band

Does that sound a little like ragtime to you? To me, “Memphis Blues” simply does not sound like what I know as The Blues. Of course, is this a problem? Furthermore, who am I to decide what the blues should sound like? Well, thankfully, we have musicologists for that.

In Elijah Wald’s book, Escaping the Delta, notes:

“[experts argue] that Dock Boggs was a blues singer but that W. C. Handy’s songs were ragtime… Musicologically, that makes sense.” 

So I’m not crazy! There is something going on in “Memphis Blues” that makes it feel like ragtime instead of a blues! A further look at the sheet music published by W.C. Hardy indicates something unique… “Memphis Blues” is not in a standard 12-bar form! Its a 16-bar form. A 12-bar like figure appears in the chorus, but it is not clearly laid out.

Perhaps this was just an initial form that became updated over time. Perhaps my notion of “the blues” is simply chronologically later. I looked into another take on “Memphis Blues” by Louis Armstrong, and as you can hear it is just the same confusing 16-bar form.

But this track also brought me to the bonus track on this album. The bonus material includes an interview of the producer of the track with W.C. Handy himself regarding Louis Armstrong. I was surprised to hear how much Handy emphasis “naturalness.” Handy thought that audiences most liked Louis because he brought a “pride of race” to his playing.

I struggled to understand why Handy valued “naturalness” so highly. Especially when he took samples of black musical culture, polished it, and commercialized it. I think perhaps Handy gave a title to the movement of the Blues, but he soon watched it expand to engulf several different genres and become mainstream popular music. As the consumers enjoyed the folk aspect of the music, Handy tried to make this more of a selling point to his music. He soon began to place a lot of value on Authentic Black American Music, after the fact of Memphis Blues’ initial publication.

So why don’t I think of the Memphis Blues sound as “The Blues?” Well, likely it is due to the influence of Robert Johnson as recorded by the Lomaxes and other influences. This may have led to the B.B. King, Jimi Hendrix, and Eric Clapton sounds that I associate with the blues today. To know for sure  I would have to start looking into Robert Johnson’s history.

Nevertheless, Handy should be praised for being the Father of the Blues, even if some of his music feels unauthentic to me. As Wald comments in Escapign Delta,

“to say that the artists who gave the music its name and established it as a familiar genre are not “real” blues artists because they do not fit later folkloric or musicological standards is flying in the face of history and common sense” (7).

Wald highlights an important point. Handy certainly put a lot of work into the genre, and he should be remembered for that.

Works Cited

Handy, W., & Bontemps, A. (1957). Father of the blues : An autobiography. London: Sidgwick and Jackson.

Handy, W., & Handy’s Memphis Blues Band. (1994). W.C. Handy’s Memphis Blues Band.

Willie Bunk Johnson/ Lu Watters’ Yerba Buena Jazz Band: Bunk & Lu [Streaming Audio]. (1990). Good Time Jazz. (1990). Retrieved October 10, 2017, from Music Online: Jazz Music Library. 

Whitney, S.H. (1914, September 26). “W.C. Handy, Composter of the Memphis Blues, the Man Who is Making Memphis Famous.” Freeman, pp. 6. Retrieved from newsbank.com.

The Evolution of the “Cakewalk”

With its beginnings in the late 19th century, the Cakewalk has become a staple of the early African American dance culture in the United States. This style of dance first found popularity on black slave plantations came about during forms of “prize-walks” in which people would dance or “walk” to receive prizes. It is called a Cakewalk because at the end of the dance, the winning couple would be presented with a cake as a reward for their dancing efforts. This dance began as a part of minstrel shows and was exclusively danced by men until the 1890’s when women were allowed to participate. 

With this dances beginnings, it was done primarily by small ensembles of either brass or piano and banjo. This recording from the album “Rusty Rags: Ragtime, Cakewalks & Stomps” shares with us a prime example of an early cakewalk. While the original

recording date is unknown, what we can hear is an example of a simple melody and chord structure with a small brass ensemble.

http://search.alexanderstreet.com/view/work/bibliographic_entity%7Crecorded_cd%7C1037073

An Advertisement for a Cakewalk

As this dance develops from a minstrel dance into a full fledged art form, we begin to hear transitions in its structure and instrumentation. Here is a recording by pianist Lincoln Mayorga from 1937. In this recording we have just a solo piano, but the rhythmic and harmonic structure are beginning to become more complex while still maintaining its jaunty and consistent driving motion.

http://ezproxy.stolaf.edu/login?url=https://search.alexanderstreet.com/view/work/1019889

In modern times, the Cakewalk is not a regularly performed, but modern interpretations have led to this style of music being continued mostly in forms of Jazz, which also has roots in black culture. A prime example of this is this recording by the Oscar Peterson Trio on their album “Nigerian Marketplace”. This takes the final evolution of the Cakewalk. This recording from 1988 keeps the same style with adding a large influenced jazz flair to the music, while still keeping the piano prominent.

http://ezproxy.stolaf.edu/login?url=https://search.alexanderstreet.com/view/work/597040

 

Sources

Cakewalk. 1898. Prints and Photographs, Library of Congress, Washington D.C.

No Cakewalk On The Program For the State Convention of Afro-American Leagues–A Haytian Lecturer’s. March 5, 1890. New York. New York, NY: NewsBank/Readex, 1890. Accessed October 9, 2017. America’s Historical Newspapers.

Rusty Rags: Ragtime, Cakewalks & Stomps. Recorded July 1, 2009. Qualiton – Saydisc, 2009, Streaming Audio. Accessed October 9, 2017. http://search.alexanderstreet.com/view/work/bibliographic_entity%7Crecorded_cd%7C1037073.

Pianist On Tour. Recorded October 17, 2006. TownHall Records, 2006, Streaming Audio. Accessed October 9, 2017. http://search.alexanderstreet.com/view/work/bibliographic_entity%7Crecorded_cd%7C1019879.

Oscar Peterson Trio: Nigerian Marketplace. Recorded January 1, 1988. Pablo, 1988, Streaming Audio. Accessed October 9, 2017. http://search.alexanderstreet.com/view/work/bibliographic_entity%7Crecorded_cd%7C597035.

A New Music Born in New Orleans

New Orleans at the beginning of the 20th century was a hotbed of musical innovation. The rich oral traditions of African Americans and the upbeat, commercial dance music of the day collided in the city’s thriving nightlife, ultimately giving rise to a new style of dance music that melded the harmonic and formal idioms of the blues with the rhythmic vitality of ragtime.  This new music was called “jazz.”

The 1917 recording of the Original Dixieland Jazz Band playing Livery Stable Blues (linked below) clearly illustrates the blending of ragtime and blues styles that forms the basis for jazz music.  Each “stanza” basically follows a standard 12-bar blues progression: four bars of tonic harmony, two bars predominant paired with two bars of tonic, concluding with two bars of dominant harmony leading back to the tonic.  This harmonic scheme is paired with catchy melodic material that is reminiscent of popular song.  Clearly meant for dancing, Livery Stable Blues features the driving pulse and jaunty syncopations of ragtime.

http://ezproxy.stolaf.edu/login?url=https://search.alexanderstreet.com/view/work/be|recorded_cd|li_upc_888831096023

Another key element of jazz music is improvisation; it is likely that most of the music played by the Original Dixieland Jazz Band was improvised.  In his 1946 article entitled “This is Genuine Jazz,” Douglas S Enefer claims that “real jazz is composed by the executants – both individually and collectively – as they play . . . often the theme may be stated only once; thereafter the melodic line is implied rather than stated.”  This melodic treatment can be heard in Livery Stable Blues: melody lines are clearly stated in the clarinet and trombone at the very beginning, and are varied, embellished, and commented upon in subsequent verses.  Improvising variations in this way is an integral part of the jazz style.

Finally, jazz music is often associated with a spirit of free-spiritedness and abandon.  In Livery Stable Blues, the ODJB takes this freedom to an extreme degree, with rooster crows on the clarinet, horse whinnies on the trumpet, and cow moos on the trombone.  This musical evocation of a barnyard could be understood as a simple comedic gimmick, or could be interpreted as a critique of the extreme formality and stuffiness of classical concert culture.  Either way, it is clear that light-heartedness and subversion are central tenets of the ODJB’s musical style and public image.

New Orleans may have been the birthplace of jazz, but the music quickly spread throughout the nation.  The ODJB itself played in many major cities, including Chicago and New York.  The new style took hold, and jazz continued to evolve and proliferate throughout the world.  Today jazz is studied, performed and enjoyed by a global audience.  

 

Sources

Charters, Samuel. Trumpet around the Corner: The Story of New Orleans Jazz. University Press of Mississippi, 2008. ProQuest Ebook Central, accessed 8 October 2017.

Crawford, Richard. America’s Musical Life: a History. 1st ed., New York, Norton, 2001.

Enefer, Douglas S. “This is Genuine Jazz.” The Negro, 1 Feb. 1946.

Livery Stable Blues. Rec. March 1917. Vintage Vinyl, 2014. Music Online: Jazz Music Library. Accessed 9 Oct. 2017.

“What is ‘Jazz’?”

Link to pdf of the article

This article located on the African American Newspapers database provides an interesting and useful African-American perspective on the wake of jazz music and the usage and history of the word itself. The article, titled “What is ‘Jazz’?,” was published in 1926 in The Negro Star, a newspaper run by Hollie T Sims that circulated during the former part of the twentieth century that featured African American news intended for an African-American audience, one of the few newspapers to do so at the time. Having access to commentary during the early stages of jazz from an African-American perspective here is very useful as most of the primary scholarship on the primarily African American genre is from white musicians and scholars. This article in particular offers interesting insight, especially in regards to the coinage and use of the actual term “jazz,” as it points out that much of the reason it is relevant to even discuss is due to the fact that famous white musicians had been using the word to describe certain black music and made claims about its origins, the paper even calling composer W. Franke Harling’s transposition of a black spiritual “a so-called jazz transposition.”

In answering the question of “what is jazz?”, the article describes the complex history of what this term may more accurately refer to and the origins of this style of music described by these white musicians, calling it “the child of ragtime,” and further explains the importance of the unique instrumentation common in early jazz music. But in the end, it tells the truth of the complicated nature of trying to answer the question and locate the origin, as it is the “‘chop suey’ of the musical world.” It is very telling to me to read of a primary source written by an African American during the time the complicated genre of jazz was being born and to see that what is normally thought of as purely an invention of African Americans in fact may have been a sort of appropriation of a term by white musicians to describe a more diverse and complicated array of black music that at the time was colliding.

 

Sims, Hollie T. “What is ‘Jazz’?” The Negro Star [Wichita] 17 Sep. 1926: 1. Web.

 

Thelonious Monk’s Centennial

With today being what would be Thelonious Monk’s 100th birthday, I thought it would be appropriate to honor his legacy by making my blog post about him. Monk is widely considered to be one of the greatest jazz pianists, and as a jazz pianist, I consider him to be one of my personal idols. Monk had a unique, unpredictable style while improvising, characterized by his angular melodies, use of dissonance, and a highly percussive attack. Monk is often credited as one of the founding fathers of bebop, the dominant style of jazz in the United States from the 40s to the 60s. Monk’s mastery at the keys is rivaled by his ability as a composer. A large amount of his compositions have made it into the standard jazz repertoire, including “’Round Midnight”, “Straight, No Chaser”, “Blue Monk”, “Epistrophy”, and many more. Almost as unique as his playing style is his sense of fashion, which typically included a suit, sunglasses, and a wacky hat.

 

The Monk song I decided to share in this blog post is “Straight, No Chaser” which is one of Monk’s most popular compositions. In this tune, Monk uses simple a simple 12 bar blues progression and a single melodic idea. The melodic idea is continuously displaced within the measure and has a unique ending each time. The result is extremely original and creative. Since it’s original recording in 1951, the tune has been covered by an array of jazz giants, including Miles Davis, Bill Evans, Keith Jarret, and Cannonball Adderley. Monk’s uniqueness and abrasive style made the general public slow to embrace him, but his genius was slowly realized over time. Thelonious Monk’s passed away in 1982, but he was certainly not forgotten. His impact on the state of jazz is immeasurable.

http://search.alexanderstreet.com/view/work/bibliographic_entity%7Crecorded_track%7C546472

Enjoy this recording of Monk playing with his combo in Italy in 1961.

Sources

ABBOTT, FRANCES. “Monk, Thelonious: (1917–1982) JAZZ MUSICIAN.” In The New Encyclopedia of Southern Culture: Volume 12: Music, edited by MALONE BILL C., by WILSON CHARLES REAGAN, 294-96. University of North Carolina Press, 2008. http://www.jstor.org/stable/10.5149/9781469616667_malone.135.

Givan, Benjamin. “Thelonious Monk’s Pianism.” The Journal of Musicology 26, no. 3 (2009): 404-42. doi:10.1525/jm.2009.26.3.404.

Nina Simone: Little Girl Blue

In her Los Angeles Tribune article published in 1959, Almena Lomax reviews the newly released debut album Little Girl Blue by Nina Simone. In this review, she traces Simone’s influences to several big-name jazzers at the time including, but certainly not limited to Duke Ellington, Billie Holiday, and Louis Armstrong. The article also notes of how Simone draws upon her classical piano studies and how she freely dances across the lines of classical and jazz styles, combining them in such a way as to never stray too deep into one of those musical territories, but consciously being aware of the genre mixture she was playing with. In this respect she also can be compared to George Gershwin, from who she also draws much inspiration, this is evident by her cover of “I Loves You, Porgy” from Gershwin’s Porgy and Bess. The article further goes to suggest that Nina Simone is “ an ethnic American Negro who is so ‘ethnic American Negro’ that we feel like the expression was coined for her. Already ecstatic about her quick rise to fame, little did the author know that Nina Simone would eventually become a common household name and her music a staple in the American Jazz idiom. Now we face the question: was Lomax right? On the one hand, to say that Nina Simone’s music is a holistic representation of African American music is certainly inaccurate. However, Simone’s influence over not only African American music but all of American popular music from the time she first released her Little Girl Blue even to the present day still goes strong. We can see this through numerous recordings and live performances of her music put on by contemporary jazz and popular musicians today.

Nina Simone For Lovers. Cond. Hal Mooney and Horace Ott. Rec. 25 Jan. 2005. Verve Records, 2005. Music Online: Jazz Music Library. Web. 9 Oct. 2017. 

TY  - NEWS
N1  - Provider: NewsBank/Readex, Database: America's Historical Newspapers, SQN: 12C5FE5C375C5530
TI  - Notes for Showfolks by Almena Lomax an Ethnic American Negro
PY  - 1959/12/04
JF  - Los Angeles Tribune
VL  - 19
IS  - 43
SP  - 19
CP  - Los Angeles, California
ER  -

Stavin Chain: A Strong Voice

[Stavin’ Chain playing guitar and singing the ballad “Batson,” Lafayette, La.]

As African Americans tried to find their own individuality they needed to define their own culture.  The question often lies in where to look? In Blues People Jones and Baraka comment that African American peoples often turned to their African rituals for their roots. However, as generations were born into slavery in the united states, these traditions were intrinsically mixed with the plantation life: brewing a new synthesis culture altogether.

Often times, stories that exemplify this mix come out in African American blues tunes. Coming from the African American work song tradition, a crucial part of these tunes is that they tell a story. One blues, in particular “Stavin’ Chain” tells the story of a train engineer. He was hailed as strong and powerful. This figure was so strong and unique that Wilson Jones, one of the artists who recorded a version of “Stavin’ Chain” also went by the nickname, “Stavin’ Chain.”

This begs the question for the story how Wilson Jones came to adopt “Stavin Chain.”

[Stavin’ Chain playing guitar and singing the ballad “Batson,” Lafayette, La. (fiddler in the background)]

Unfortunately, historical documentation is sparse on Wilson. Nevertheless, one could speculate that such a name would give Wilson Jones a figure of prominence and strength in the African American community. When John Avery Lomax took a series of photographs of Wilson Jones, he simply labeled them all as photos of simply “Stavin Chain,” and were later labeled fully as Wilson Jones. Perhaps this was also an attempt to preserve Wilson Jones’ anonymity. Unfortunately, all too often in history, African American musicians were subject to terrible prejudice, especially if they became a well-known figure in society.

Nevertheless, Wilson Jones became “Stavin Chain,” a figure of strength and prominence. This term may refer to the American tradition of arms manufactures in the late 19th century utilizing chains to hold barrel staves together, or perhaps it refers to chains used to bind ankles on chain work gangs (Americanbluesscene.com). I believe that this term could easily have come from a blend of the two stories, as African American folk so heavily relies upon cultural blending.

–Brock Carlson

[Portraits of Stavin’ Chain and Wayne Perry performing, Lafayette, La.]

Works cited

Lomax, A., photographer. (1934) [Stavin’ Chain playing guitar and singing the ballad “Batson,” fiddler also in shot, Lafayette, La]. Lafayette Louisiana United States, 1934. June. [Photograph] Retrieved from the Library of Congress, https://www.loc.gov/item/2007660068/.

Lomax, A., photographer. (1934) [Stavin’ Chain playing guitar and singing the ballad “Batson,” Lafayette, La]. Lafayette Louisiana United States, 1934. June. [Photograph] Retrieved from the Library of Congress, https://www.loc.gov/item/2007660069/.

Lomax, A., photographer. (1934) [Stavin’ Chain playing guitar and singing the ballad “Batson,” Lafayette, La. fiddler in the background]. Lafayette Louisiana United States, 1934. June. [Photograph] Retrieved from the Library of Congress, https://www.loc.gov/item/2007660070/.

Baraka, A., & Harris, W. J. (2000). The LeRoi Jones/Amiri Baraka reader. New York: Thunders Mouth Press.

The Alteration of Spirituals in the Civil Rights Movement

In Amiri Baraka’s Blues People: Negro Music in White America, he regards African music in terms of its intent, saying that one of its stark differences from Western music was that it was purely functional; it wasn’t meant to exist as art. We see that this African tradition appears in the life of the slave, with work song and spirituals existing as a means of necessary expression that called to God for freedom.

Zora Neale Hurston’s also discusses slave song in Spirituals and Neo-Spirituals, and how they never remain in their original form regardless of publication because each rendition depicts a different mood. For example, the spiritual “Gospel Plow” was originally a work song, but it was performed in during the Civil Rights Era, changing its context, which proved her statement that spirituals are not confined to slavery. In this situation, lyrics have been altered to fit the context of the performance. Looking at “Keep Your Eyes on the Prize” we see the lyrics of “Gospel Plow” change to fit the context of freedom marches. The tunes stayed the same but the verses changed as folks improvised them. In addition, the lyrics vary between each recording, so the side by side comparison is only one example of the lyrical change.

Gospel Plow and Keep Your Eyes on the Prize with commentary

Keep Your Eyes on the Prize

 

So when Hurston says “Each singing of the piece is a new creation,” the Civil Rights Era literally made a new creation out of this spiritual to adapt to special events such as freedom marches. This also connects back to Baraka’s argument that work song and spirituals were a necessary means of expression because these songs gave a message of perseverance during the freedom marches, no matter what they protesters were faced with.

Sing For Freedom: The Story of the Civil Rights Movement Through Its Songs. Recorded January 1, 1990. Smithsonian Folkways Recordings, 1990, Streaming Audio. Accessed October 3, 2017. 

WNEW’s Story of Selma. Folkways Records, Streaming Audio. Accessed October 3, 2017. 

Hurston, Zora Neale. “Spirituals and Neo-Spirituals.” In Music In the USA: A Documentary Companion, edited by Judith Tick and Paul Beaudoin, 506-509. New York: Oxford University Press, 2008.

The Fisk Jubilee Singers and Their First Record

http://media.loc.gov/playlist/view/5A9DB5B664340160E0538C93F1160160

In 1871, George White organized the Fisk Jubilee Singers at Fisk University in Tennessee, in order to raise money for the school. They were a group of black students from Fisk University who performed spirituals in the concert setting. While previous black concert artists performed standard white repertoire, the Fisk Jubilee Singers gave performances of black music, and this music did not follow the prevalent minstrel stereotypes. In 1898, John Wesley Work II, a later director of the group, helped get the Fisk Jubilee Singers recorded. This recording here is “Swing Low, Sweet Chariot,” which was one of the Fisk Jubilee Singers’ best tunes of the time.

The Fisk Jubilee Singers had a major influence on the introduction of the spiritual into American repertoire, but the group had to adapt their style in order to have that effect. The director of the group, John Work, carried out a deal with Victor Talking Machine Company in hopes of reaching a wider audience. In Richard Crawford’s America’s Musical Life, he states that the purpose of the Fisk Jubilee Singers was to bring the history of Southern slaves into the present culture of Northern urban Protestants. The Jubilee singers dressed very properly and were polished in both behavior and musicality. They also didn’t sing in a dialect. This recording from Victor seems to have the typical sound of the Fisk Jubilee Singers, but it may not be representative of how the slaves in fields would have sung these songs. The Fisk Jubilee Singers were working against preexisting stereotypes and a racist society, so they found a more appealing sound that still maintained the idealized fervor of slave music to resonate with the white audiences. This reflects the idea of white people adapting music from other cultures or forcing others to match their own tastes of music, like we can see with Theodore F. Seward’s arrangement of Go Down Moses, in that it takes a standard spiritual and sets it within white hymnody.

While they did everything they could to appeal to their white audience, and were successful in that, they were still not always taken seriously. Even the Victor record company claimed that “they sometimes excite to laughter by their quaint conceptions of religious ideas.” The white audiences thought of them as novelties. Yet, Victor praises the Fisk Jubilee Singers’ emotional appeal to all. We should be grateful for the contributions of the Fisk Jubilee Singers, as they helped with the acceptance, development, and preservation of spirituals. It is also important to acknowledge their struggles in promoting this music and how that has affected the development of the genre.

Sources

Brooks, Tim. Lost Sounds. Champaign: University of Illinois Press, 2004. Accessed October 2, 2017. https://www.jstor.org/stable/pdf/10.5406/j.ctt2jcc81.19.pdf?refreqid=search%3Ab6add585f9e3810555f5c47c576075a2

Crawford, Richard. America’s Musical Life. New York: W. W. Norton & Company, Inc., 2001.

Fisk University Jubilee Singers. Swing Low, Sweet Chariot. Victor B-8420, 1909. mp3 Accessed October 2, 2017. http://media.loc.gov/playlist/view/5A9DB5B664340160E0538C93F1160160

Roy, William G. Reds, Whites, and Blues. Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2010. Accessed October 2, 2017. https://www.jstor.org/stable/pdf/j.ctt7rgqw.5.pdf?refreqid=search%3Aeac284c272f71c57421ddda9fc0c5238

 

The Significance of Negro Spirituals

Slavery has had roots in this country almost as long as the country itself. Prior to 1865, the majority of Africans who were brought to this country were as slaves. These people were forced to labor under harsh conditions without any freedoms or graces. It was during this time where workers were allowed to sing songs and attend church, either with the gospel given by a white male, or while being supervised by a white mediator. Both in the congregation and in the fields, workers would sing songs that became known as “Negro Spirituals” to express personal feelings, and to cheer for one another.

This picture above is from the Library of Congress’ Alex Loman Collection. This picture is from a congregation at an all Black Baptist church on the Alma Plantation in False River, Louisiana 1934. This shows a small congregation that would sing these songs together to praise the lord and look for a brighter future. As well, these songs would help to give strength to those were tired and weak.

Music was such a vital part of survival for these people. Many of these black people would use and create instruments for their worship and singing times. The picture below is an example of a few instruments that were created between 1934-1950. These instruments were mostly horn-like instruments designed to use in singing and creating music together.

In 1865, Slavery was abolished. It was after this time that some African Americans were allowed to go to school to become educated. One such establishment – Fisk University, was one of the first universities for African Americans in Nashville Tennessee. It was here that the “Fisk Jubilee Singers” were founded. This group was organized in 1871 with the intention of sharing African American spirituals with the world on several tours. This group recognizes the significance of singing and performing these songs, not for fame or recognition, but rather to use their music as a lens to glimpse at what the life for these slaves could have been like and how their music affected them and their lives. The mistreatment of these people were horrid, and their music reminds us of their struggles and the raw emotion that was poured into this singing.

http://http://www.loc.gov/jukebox/search/results?q=spirituals

Sources

Lomax, Alan, photographer. Baptist congregation, Alma Plantation, False River, La. False River Louisiana United States, 1934. July. Photograph. Retrieved from the Library of Congress, https://www.loc.gov/item/2007660048/. (Accessed October 02, 2017.)

[Folk Musical Instruments Including Homemade Horns]. , None. [Between 1934 and 1950] Photograph. Retrieved from the Library of Congress, https://www.loc.gov/item/2007660366/. (Accessed October 02, 2017.)

American Missionary Association, Black, James Wallace, photographer. Jubilee singers, Fisk University, Nashville, Tenn. / negative by Black. Nashville Tennessee, 1872. [Place not identified: Publisher not identified, ?] Photograph. Retrieved from the Library of Congress, https://www.loc.gov/item/2015650289/. (Accessed October 02, 2017.)

Fisk University Jubilee Quartet — Vocal group, Noah Walker Ryder — Bass Vocal, Alfred Garfield King — Bass Vocal, John Wesley Work II — Tenor Vocal, and J. A. Myers — Tenor Vocal. “Swing low, sweet chariot.” Browse All Recordings | Swing low, sweet chariot, Take 3 (1909-12-01) | National Jukebox LOC.gov. December 01, 1909. Accessed October 03, 2017. http://www.loc.gov/jukebox/recordings/detail/id/1797.

“Lightnin'” Washington and his group

This photograph from the Lomax photography collection, depicting a group of African-American prisoners singing while working in the Darrington State Farm woodyard in Texas, interested me upon first sight as it seemed to me to be familiar to what we have learned about slave-era music and musical functionality despite being shot in 1934. In this photograph is featured “Lightnin’” Washington, an African-American prisoner during this time whose singing was recorded multiple times alongside his group who usually accompanied him in these recordings, also pictured here. The act of physical labor accompanied by singing is a type of functional music very familiar to slave music, specifically work songs, in which slaves would sing to the rhythm of physical labor to keep a consistent work pace and pass the time working, among other things. This photograph shows that such musical tradition had not died out after slavery had ended and likely retained its musical functionality to some extent.  

Field Recordings CD

Washington and his group were some of many African-American musicians during the early twentieth century to have been recorded for the Library of Congress by John Henry Faulk. In 1933, Faulk recorded the group performing a call-response song called “The Grey Goose,” which is featured alongside other of Faulk’s recordings of African-American music on this CD collection entitled “Field Recordings Vol. 10-11; 1933-1941.” These CDs, released in 1998, contains interesting narratives and images along with the cover and descriptions, as it talks of how slavery was “a scathing indictment of human rapacity and greed,” while also featuring on the cover a slightly shocking image of an antiquated advertisement for buying slaves alongside large instances of the word “Negroes.” The narrative is clearly intended to be a condemnation of the evils of slavery and racism, but certain imagery as well as the fact that it is intended to advertise to people to buy the CD makes it a bit complicated. 

*While I was not able to find a insertable recording of the mentioned song, here is a link to a page containing a recording. Just press “Listen” on the top right of the page. http://kodaly.hnu.edu/song.cfm?id=616#analysis

Sources:

Field Recordings Vols. 10 & 11, 1933-1941. Web. 3 Oct. 2017. <http://search.alexanderstreet.com/view/work/bibliographic_entity%7Cliner_notes%7C313399#page/null/mode/1>.

Lomax, Alan, photographer. [“Lightnin'” Washington, an African American prisoner, singing with his group in the woodyard at Darrington State Farm, Texas]. Apr. Photograph. Retrieved from the Library of Congress, <https://www.loc.gov/item/2007660013/>.

Characteristics of Black Church Music

A new religious tradition emerged when slaves were brought to America, which blended elements of indigenous West African worship with the Protestant worship traditions of Euro-American whites.  Along with this new form of worship came a new form of music.  This African-American church music expresses both the deeply religious feelings of a passionate people and the profound pain and suffering of a people ravaged by years of enslavement.

As we explore some of the unique characteristics of Black church music, it is important to acknowledge that “Black music” is not a monolithic, homogenous entity: instead, it is made up of countless independent styles and traditions.  That said, many of these musical traditions share common cultural influences, and as such share some general stylistic qualities that are worthy of study and analysis.  It is in this spirit that we discuss the rich musical landscape of Black church music.

Rev. Haynes’s Methodist Church, Eatonville, Florida

Perhaps one of the most notable characteristics of African-American religious music is its vociferous, improvisatory quality.  This quality can be observed in the recording below; here, the Reverend Henry Ward leads a prayer in a chant style, similar to the way a white congregation might intone a psalm.  At the :54 second mark, however, a woman from the congregation chimes in with a response, weaving a florid melisma above the preacher’s chant.  Other voices join in, either adding to the melismatic accompaniment or offering a shouted “Amen!”  Later on, the florid melismas give way to a simple, passionate humming.  The resulting heterophony is both deeply moving and, presumably, entirely improvised.

These musical outbursts are no mere embellishments, but rather are integral parts of the worship experience.  In Shane White’s book, The Sounds of Slavery, he quotes Elizabeth Ross Hite, a former slave, who claims that “you gotta shout and you gotta moan if you wants to be saved” (102).  Indeed, the melismas, hums, and interjected “amens” are just as holy and full of meaning as the Reverend’s chant which they are decorating.

Another hallmark of African-American sacred music is its focus on Old Testament texts, to the near exclusion of the New Testament.  Slaves identified closely with the narrative of Exodus, seeing reflections of themselves in the enslaved Israelites.  Because of their constant yearning to escape captivity, many African-American spirituals use Old Testament language to describe themes of liberation and freedom.

Having examined just a couple of the many unique features of African-American church music, we can begin to understand how fascinating and complex this tradition is.  The collision of Indigenous African worship traditions with white Protestantism, when filtered through the horrors of American chattel slavery, produced a rich and multifaceted musical tradition which can still be observed in Black churches throughout America today.

 

Sources

Lomax, Alan, photographer. Rev. Haynes’s methodist church, Eatonville, Florida. June. Photograph. Retrieved from the Library of Congress.

Murphy, Joseph M. Working the Spirit: Ceremonies of the African Diaspora. Boston, MA, Beacon Press, 2003.

Ward, Henry Rev., et al. Prayer. Livingston, Alabama, 1939. Audio. Retrieved from the Library of Congress.

White, Shane and Graham J White. The Sounds of Slavery: Discovering African American History through Songs, Sermons, and Speech. Boston, Beacon Press, 2005.

Sinful Tunes and Spirituals: Black Folk Music to the Civil War

In her book entitled Sinful Tunes and Spirituals, Dena J. Epstein explores black folk music in the United States up til the civil war. The tunes analyzed are all slave songs that have been notated on musical staff paper, something that is inherently separate from the traditions that black folk musicians established in their practice. These songs were all sung by slaves, mostly in the fields where they worked. Sometimes these songs were used to communicate messages, making use of metaphors or other poetic techniques that disguised their meanings to the slave owners that may have heard them, but to other slaves, the message would be clear. Through this kind of code, a sort of secretive communication started to develop. I believe that this book would make an excellent contribution to the museum exhibit because it provides high-quality scholarly insight into the history of black folk music and makes use of artifacts leftover from that time period where some of these songs were recorded in our standard western musical notation. This book also makes use of images to provide a supplemental visual aid to the reader to be able to picture the events and the parts of history that are described within it. Furthermore, there are tons of scores contained within the book, so if one wanted to attempt to recreate these songs in the present day, it would be possible to do so to some extent. Obviously, like we’ve mentioned in class, there are lots of stylistic performance techniques that are lost in the process of notating these songs, but having the notes at least preserves it in some sense as to not let it die out.

Epstein, Dena J. Sinful Tunes and Spirituals : Black Folk Music to the Civil War. Urbana, University of Illinois Press, 1977.

The Importance of the Preservation of Children’s Singing Games

While looking at my of the photos on in the Lomax Collection, I was drawn to some photos of children who were playing singing games near Eatonville, Florida in 1935.1 I was curious not only about these games, but about what music was sung, and in what situations these specific games were played. Unfortunately, I can already tell those who are reading this that I had immense trouble finding answers to these questions, and instead am simply going to be drawing connections between the photographs of these events, and the broader importance of the maintaining of music in children’s lives.

The photographs that I observed were taken of a group of children playing singing games. These photos included one of a girl who was a soloist, as well as the children dancing around, holding hands, and going in a circle.2 In one of the photos, writer Zora Neale Hurston is seen dancing with the children, and experiencing it for herself instead of simply documenting it and moving on.3

These photographs and the interviews that were performed with those associated were made possible through new technology, and the advancement of humanity’s capability of remembering and documenting through recordings and photography. In fact, one recording begins with

“Dear Lord, this is Eartha White talkin’ to you again. I just want to thank you for giving mankind the intelligence to make such a marvelous machine [the portable recorder], and a president like Franklin D. Roosevelt who cares about preserving the songs people sing.”4

It is thanks to this kind of technology that we can preserve these kinds of songs and dances, and the games and fun associated with them. It also allows a continued study of the importance it held, perhaps not even in a specifically cultural context, but to those, such as the children in the photos, who enjoyed the music for what it was.

At the same time, it is advancements in technology that give me cause to worry. As a kid, I remember music played an important role in my life through games outside with friends where we would sing London Bridge and then fall into a heap giggling at the end of the song, or Ring Around the Rosy in the park. Nowadays, kids are playing video games and using technology to have fun, instead of the good old music. Now, I’m not here to preach against video games or specific age limits to which we should introduce our kids to these types of new technologies, but instead I’m here to touch on the importance of at least remembering the past, and the different ways in which people entertained themselves.

As we’ve learned in our courses, music tells a story not only about the composers and musicians performing the pieces, but also of those who listen to it. Music connects us to our emotions, whether we be children or adults, and our tastes are affected by our states of existence and being. As children, this is the same, and the preservation of these experiences – children playing singing games – through photos and recordings helps us understand our ancestors, as well as just differing ways of life due to the passage of time. Preserving these events in our daily lives is something I believe to be important, just as it will likely be important to preserve how children entertain themselves nowadays, whether or not we agree or disagree with it, because it’s defining of the times we live in.

1 Lomax, Alan. African American children playing singing games, Eatonville, Florida. June, 1935. Lomax Collection, Library of Congress Prints and Photographs. Accessed October 2, 2017.

2 ibid.

3 NPR. The Sound of 1930s Florida Folk Life. February 28, 2002. Black History Month, NPR. Accessed October 2, 2017.  

Lomax, Alan. African American children playing singing games, Eatonville, Florida. June, 1935. Lomax Collection, Library of Congress Prints and Photographs. Accessed October 2, 2017. http://www.loc.gov/pictures/collection/lomax/item/2007660109/

Lomax, Alan. African American children playing singing games, Eatonville, Florida. June, 1935. Lomax Collection, Library of Congress Prints and Photographs. Accessed October 2, 2017. http://www.loc.gov/pictures/collection/lomax/item/2007660110/

NPR. The Sound of 1930s Florida Folk Life. February 28, 2002. Black History Month, NPR. Accessed October 2, 2017. http://www.npr.org/programs/atc/features/2002/feb/wpa_florida/020228.wpa_florida.html

Appropriation of Native Music in the Early 20th Century Entertainment Industry

Link

Many harmful stereotypes and mischaracterizations remain about Native American culture, driven by well over a century of its appropriation by the entertainment industry. While more recent examples of inappropriate use deserve much of our attention, it is often helpful to reach into the past and examine the ways in which Native American music was being appropriated a century ago in the entertainment industry.

One example of appropriation is the opera–referenced as the “Indian Opera”– “Shanewis” by Charles W. Cadman. The work was premiered on March 23, 1918, nearly one hundred years ago. The linked newspaper article declares that this work “captivate[d]” its audience with “Native scenic art” and was “beyod question of authentic originality and Native worth.” The paper continues to praise the authenticity of the opera which supposedly “carried a thought of the cool morning of life on this continent in aboriginal ages long ago.”

An interesting aspect of this assessment is the presumption of an understanding for authentic Native American music. The article makes no attempt to define any standard of authenticity to which it measures the opera. The author seems to feel that a certain level of understanding on the topic is self-evident–that the listener will know real Native American music when they hear it. This carries the implication that a common perception of the music was already being carried in 1918, which is undeniable. However, another implication of this article is that by 1918, the perception of an ‘authentic’ versus ‘inauthentic’ production of Native music was already mainstream and factored into audience appreciation.

Sadly, the opera which was celebrated (and achieved great financial success) for its authentic portrayal of Native culture and music was still horribly inaccurate. While the article states that “Mr. Cadman had taken the origin of some of his songs from melodies of the Cheyennes, the Omahas, the Osages,” it also makes clear that a “sophisticated” orchestration was provided and that “in performance the songs told their own story.”

The story it told, which has been told over and over again for over a century, is the story of the appropriation of Native music as a stylistic enhancement for the benefit of the predominantly white-run entertainment industry. The story it told was the erasure of the actual context of cultural elements.

Source:

‘SHANEWIS,’ INDIAN OPERA, CAPTIVATES. (1918, Mar 24). New York Times (1857-1922) Retrieved from https://search.proquest.com/docview/100018451?accountid=351

Rude and Beautiful

Frederic Remington was a late 19th century artist whose goal was to study the “Wild West.” Born into the Civil War and reconstructionist America, Remington’s age was one of “modernized” westward expansion including rail roads, telegraph, and other modernizing technology.  Consequentially, the “Old West” was starting to die out and Remington wanted to preserve it with “a romantic fascination” (Remington, F. (2010)).

In an attempt to chronicle the American West, Remington was assigned by newspapers and publishers to accompany cowboys, Indians and cavalrymen (Remington, F. (2010)). This resulted in extensive time spent with many different types of individuals on the frontier. The result? Beautifully sketched images of the grand “Old West” of American folklore. Below, is an image from an 1897 book titled Drawings by Frederic Remington. The caption below the image is “The Pony War-Dance” (Remington, F. (1897)).

This sketch shows an unidentified group of Native Americans riding their horses in a choreographed dance. These war-dances were often common of the Plateau region, the Plains region, and the Eastern nomadic region of Native Americans (Bruno Nettl, et al.). Often the war dances were accompanied by instruments like “rattles incorporating deer-hooves” (Bruno Nettl, et al., Plateau region) or “strips of rawhide to which deer-hooves were attached” (Bruno Nettl, et al., Plain region) for the purpose of imitating the sound of horses. Whereas Remington’s sketch shows a unique development of this tradition that includes the actual horses in a choreographed celebration. Such an act must have taken incredibly skill and control over the horses.

What is perhaps most surprising about Remington’s quest to chronical the “Old West” is his utter lack of descriptive documentation and context. There is no way to know which tribe is sketched in “The Pony War-Dance.” The description at the start of Remington’s Drawings indicates that the dance is a

“wild fury of religious, that splendor of savagery crashes down to us from the Stone Age. If you will open the Old Testament where Joshua delayed the course of the sun, or they blew down a city wall with a trumpet, you will come upon the same spirit… time and the present world have no part here!” (Remington, F. (1897)).

Stone Age savagery!? Are you kidding me? Horses were not introduced into the continent until 1519, at which point they had to escape from their owners and radiate up throughout the American Great Plains before the Native Americans could get to them (“Wild Horses and Native North American Wildlife”). This tribe is a group who has found, captured, tamed, and then mastered horses to the point of being able to choreograph them into a dance. It is surprising how Remington and his commenter can see this sketch as anything but advanced.

Of course, Remington’s audience in 1897 was one who wanted to picture the folklore of a west that was rough and wild. For them, “tales of the American frontier [began] to assume a haziness, an unreality, which makes them seem less history than folklore.” (Remington, F. (2010)). It is understandable, considering Remington’s goal and his audience’s attitudes to American Indians possessing western land, that they would be portrayed in a uncivilized light. Nevertheless, one would think that Remington, having spent enough time with Native Americans to be able to sketch beautiful images like the Pony War-Dance, would have grown to respect the beauty and adaptability of their culture.

 

–Brock Carlson

Works Cited

Bruno Nettl, et al. “Amerindian music.” Grove Music OnlineOxford Music Online. Oxford University Press, accessed September 26, 2017, http://www.oxfordmusiconline.com/subscriber/article/grove/music/45405.

Remington, F. (1897). Drawings. R. H. Russell, New York.

Remington, F. (2010). Remington. Retrieved from https://ebookcentral.proquest.com

Wild Horses as Native North American Wildlife. (n.d.). Retrieved September 26, 2017, from https://awionline.org/content/wild-horses-native-north-american-wildlife

Dvorak and the Spirit of Indian Music

In this 1893 New York Herald article, Czech composer Antonin Dvorak discusses his 9th symphony, From the New World. Dvorak says that “since he has been in this country, I have been deeply interested in the national music of the negroes and Indians,” later concluding that the two styles of music were nearly identical as a national genre. Because of his interest in the national American style of music, he studied Indian melodies that a friend gave to him, becoming inspired by the spirit of their being, later composing this symphony on the basis of that spirit.

However, the manuscript that was given to Dvorak wouldn’t have been enough for him to authentically understand Indian music. As we have encountered in Richard Crawford’s America’s Musical Life, Europeans at the end of the Civil War found that the culture of Indian music was worth preserving, though their transcribing methods were fairly limited. Because there are several forms in which Indian music can exist and because those forms can be dependent on their purpose in the moment of a ritual, transcribing what one hears in a single performance then fixes the identity of that music. In addition, most of the documented Indian music was from the perspective of non-Indians and the Indian music that Dvorak studied followed this trend.

With that in mind, it’s evident that Dvorak’s attempt at composing in the “spirit of Indian music” is completely removed from Indian culture. Even though he studied a “certain number of Indian melodies,” his encounter is secondhand, failing to understand the circumstances in which that music would have been performed. In addition, we don’t have records of what music he was looking at, so the credibility of that source dwindles further. Had he experienced an Indian ritual in person, his compositional approach would have likely been more legitimate and true to its source.

Article sources

  • [No known author], “Dvorak on His New Work,” New York Herald (New York City, NY), Dec. 15, 1893.
  • Richard Crawford, America’s Musical Life, (New York: W. W. Norton & Company, Inc., 2001), 389.

Understanding and Respect: The Nez Percés

One of the most discussed topics regarding the traditions and beliefs of other cultures and other people outside of western traditions is that of how one can attempt to understand and learn of them, without stepping into the realm of appropriation. This discussion, reflected in our class discussions on the differences between cultural sharing and cultural appropriation, is one that must be discussed, else there are consequences. As someone whose heritage lies in the Nez-Percés tribes of old in Idaho, I often question how much I can delve into the traditions without stepping on the toes of those who came before me. As someone raised in a white household, being brought up on French traditions, I do not know enough of the traditions of my ancestors, yet I have always been raised with the utmost respect for them. This respect is what leads me to crave knowledge in learning more regarding my heritage, yet it’s important to understand that I will never truly understand the traditions and beliefs of the Nez-Percés, as one cannot truly understand without being born and raised in the culture.

Cultural Misunderstandings

There are many types of cultural misunderstandings, two of which that I will discuss in this post being that of malicious cultural misunderstanding compared to ignorant cultural misunderstanding. In regards to the Nez-Percés, the first type of misunderstanding was what they encountered initially with white folk. One document I looked into was a recount written by a white man named Lawrence Kip, who was with the Escort from the 4th Infantry, regarding the 1855 Indian Council.1 What I focused on primarily in the recount was his descriptions of the Nez-Percés tribe before and throughout the council. In his first encounter with the Nez-Percés, he refers to it as his “first specimen” of the Nez-Percés.2 This initial vocabulary, in referring to the approaching tribe as the first “specimen” he encountered already places them below the white man. Without any experience with the tribe, he has already assumed them to be inferior beings to himself, and this will continue throughout his experience with the tribe, as it did in the minds of many other white men.

In continuing his description of the natives he encountered, the western world’s infatuation with the exotic was also portrayed. He described them in a majestic light, claiming that they assumed the grace of centaurs, being one with their steeds. They were “gaudily painted,” had “fantastic embellishments flaunted in the sunshine,” and had “fantastic figures” covering their bodies. In the end, he wrapped up his initial description as “wild and fantastic.”3 To him, they were wild savages, yet they were fascinating, fantastic, and something utterly exotic from what he’d experienced before.

The Nez-Percés were known to be one of the kindest tribes to the white men, yet while visiting one of the Nez-Percés chiefs, Kip lumped them and their enemies, the Blackfoot tribe, together as savages.4 The lack of distinction between two tribes, one seemingly more violent to the white men than the other, shows the lack of care and thought that the white folk gave the tribes, no matter how kind.

It has been greatly discussed that the musical accomplishments of native americans stray from those in western culture, although that does not in any way diminish their music. Pitches and rhythms that are not in the western music cannot be dismissed as lesser, or incorrect, but must rather be adopted, as they are all music. Kip described their musical instruments as of the “rudest kind,” their singing as “harsh,” and overall “utterly discordant.”5 Even one who was not adept in music couldn’t find a way to appreciate what he heard, and instead described it in the words that we don’t dare use to describe music. While something may be discordant, it is still appreciated in western culture, unless, it seems, it is a part of another culture altogether, in which case it is dismissed as something that is not music, and something we cannot appreciate in the same manner.

Kip’s description of his experience with the Nez-Percés tribe is not to be taken as a factual and perfect account, as he had his biases. It is important to search other references, as I shall continue to do so in later blog posts. This original conception of the Nez-Percés tribe was something that was later to bring on the Nez-Percés Campaign, where the white men went to war with the tribe. This misunderstanding and refusal to understand other cultures was what brought on violence, and is what I’m referring to as a malicious misunderstanding. While it was not explicitly malicious to begin with, the fact that the newcomers found the native american tribes to be inferior to them was the beginning of homicide. What could be considered a misunderstanding was not solved in an equal and understanding manner, therefore there was no resolution.

Nez-Percés Campaign

Another very interesting document that I found was a map of the Nez-Percés Campaign. It depicts the path taken by the newcomers in their war against the Nez-Percés, as well as drawings of fighting grounds, military movements, and notes of times and dates when specific events occurred.6 It is the prime example of the consequences that can happen from cultural misunderstanding and more specifically, the lack of respect and attempt for peace with other cultures.

Nez-Percés Traditions and Religions

The second misunderstanding I’m going to discuss occurs often in today’s world, and is something I’m experiencing currently when researching the Nez-Percés. I am aware that for all of the research I can do, I can only gain a small glimpse into the truth regarding the culture of the Nez-Percés, and I cannot hope to truly understand their culture and traditions. At the same time, in my attempts to research it I hope to gain more insight on something that is both important to me, and should be important to everyone else out there, as it is important to learn and respect other cultures.

In R. L. Packard’s “Notes on the Mythology and Religion of the Nez-Percés,” he goes into detail of first hand accounts of a very small amount of traditions of the Nez-Percés. He gets his information in a discussion with James Reubens, who is a member of the Nez-Percés tribe. Even at the beginning of the conversation, the concept of misunderstanding and lack of respect in learning as portrayed in Reubens’s statement that he was worried Packard only had the “idle curiosity of a white man,”7 rather than a true passion for learning and respecting Nez-Percés traditions. This statement is a prime example of the issue at hand, where people are ignorant of the cultures they are stepping on and appropriating, yet make no attempts to learn about them in depth. Sometimes, it is due to pure ignorance, as they do not know that there is an issue, but other times it is due to laziness, which is something else altogether that we must combat.

As Reuben continued to discuss Nez-Percés traditions and beliefs, he touched on another prominent barrier in true understanding. He said that “the way we (the Nez-Percés) get our names is a beautiful thing when told in our language, but I cannot tell it well in English.”8 The language barrier that exists is extremely inhibiting, yet unavoidable. Without knowledge of the language and time spent with the culture, one cannot hope to gain true understanding of it. At the same time, this is another reason people are unwilling to learn, and wish to simply continue living their lives in an ignorant manner.

One tradition that was extremely interesting to learn about was the tradition of how children received their names in Nez-Percés culture. I do not dare to paraphrase the process, as it is complex and deserving of a true description. Even now, I am using a paraphrasing that Packard received in his discussion with Reubens.

“When a child is ten or twelve years old, his parents send him out alone into the mountains to fast and watch for something to appear to him in a dream and give him a name. His success is regarded as an omen, and affects his future character to some extent. If he has a vision, and in the vision a name is given him, he will excel in bravery, wisdom, or skill in hunting, and the like. If not, he will probably remain a mere nobody. Not to every child [boy or girl] is it given to receive this afflatus. Only those serious-minded ones, who keep their thoughts steadfastly on the object of their mission, will succeed. The boy who is frivolous, who allows his attention to be distracted by common objects on his way to the place of vigil, or who while there succumbs to homesickness, or gives himself up to the thoughts about hunting in the woods he has passed, or fishing in the streams he has crossed, will probably fail in his undertaking. On reaching the mountaintop, the watcher makes a pile of stones three or four feet high as a monument, and sits down by it to await the revelation. After some time – it may be three or four days – he “falls asleep,” and then, if fortunate, is visited by the image of the thing which is to bestow upon him his name and the wisdom and power belonging to it.”9

Why does this matter to me?

One thing in particular rang with me in reading this description, and that was the line “the watcher makes a pile of stones three or four feet high as a monument”10 atop the mountains. Towards the end of the section, Packard mentions that “there are many of these little monuments referred to on the mountains of Idaho.” Growing up, I often came across these monuments, as did others, but people simply believed they were put there by others hikers, and added their own stones to the piles. I did the same. Never once did it occur to me that the piles of stones were monuments to something more important, something that I should have been respecting throughout my entire childhood.

Why does this matter to anyone?

In learning about one simple tradition, I gained a deeper understanding and respect for the culture, and it is something that I will spread to all those who I am with when I run into these monuments. I believe that it is important to take the time to learn about other cultures, and it is important to learn to respect them. Objects such as the first hand accounts regarding some old white man’s first experience with the Nez-Percés tribe, albeit biased, is something that we must study in order to understand past mistakes, and in order to never make them again. Maps of conquests, while violent, are something that we must view in order to understand the occurrences and events that formed the present. First hand accounts are something that we must listen to, and something that we must always respect, especially when they are difficult to share. While we cannot truly understand, we must make an effort in order to avoid the mistakes of our predecessors and ancestors. Through research, discussion, and open-mindedness to learn, we must work to understand and respect everyone.

1 Lawrence, Kip, “Introduction,” in The Indian Council in the Valley of the Walla-Walla. (1855), (henceforth Kip).

2 Kip, 12. 

3 ibid.

4 Kip, 14.

5 Kip, 16-17.

6 Oliver Otis Howard and Rob H. Fletcher, “Map of the Nez Perce Indian Campaign.” (1878)

7 R. L. Packard, “Notes on the Mythology and Religion of the Nez Perces,” in The Journal of American Folklore 4, no. 15. (1891), 327 (henceforth Packard).

8 Packard, 329.

9 Packard, 329-330.

10 Packard, 330.

Howard, Oliver Otis (1830-1909); Rob H. Fletcher. 1878. Map of the Nez Perce Indian campaign. Available through: Adam Matthew, Marlborough, American West, http://www.americanwest.amdigital.co.uk/Documents/Details/Map_6F_G4241_S55_1878_F5 [Accessed September 26, 2017].

Kip, Lawrence. 1855. The Indian Council in the valley of the Walla-Walla. 1855. Available through: Adam Matthew, Marlborough, American West, http://www.americanwest.amdigital.co.uk/Documents/Details/Graff_2342 [Accessed September 26, 2017].

Packard, R. L. “Notes on the Mythology and Religion of the Nez Perces.” The Journal of American Folklore 4, no. 15 (1891): 327-30. http://www.jstor.org/stable/533388?origin=crossref.

 

 

 

The Misrepresentation of Native American Culture in Mass Media

In the modern day of 2017, so much of our lives are spent online. We as people have the universe at our fingertips – with so much information out there, what all can be considered trustworthy? An issue with the concept of Mass Media is that anything and everything can be found somewhere online. Anyone who is able to access the internet is able to contribute their information and knowledge. Like moths to a flame, we are instantly bound to the first bit of information we see and accept it as fact. This leads to many issues spanning across many topics. In the past few years, the concept of “Cultural Appropriation” has exploded across everywhere and everything. To be correct when describing, defining, or demonstration any form of culture is so incredibly vital that issues arise when someone does this incorrectly. With it being so easy to misappropriate a culture in Media, what are we able to trust and how does the mass media change our perception of different cultures through their ideas of appropriation?

Native American culture is found in the roots of this country’s foundation. Often, when considering American history we forget that America was populated BEFORE 18th century colonization. The culture of Native Americans is one that has been appropriated for hundreds of years, through music, art, dance, etc. Because of this, our concept of this culture has been warped by pop culture and media as demonstrated in this cartoon…

This cartoon presents the problem of misappropriation. This boy only identifies “Indians” as the overly stereotypical form displayed in movies, sports teams, or cartoons. To him, this girl who looks “normal” doesn’t fit that stereotype and thus he questions her cultural authenticity.

Another example of this kind of appropriation occurs in cartoons. One example in particular is in Seth Macfarlane’s TV cartoon comedy “Family Guy”. In the episode The Life of Brian the episode begins with Stewie and Brian running from a band of Indians in a modern day city. They explore and make racist remarks about their ways of transportation, medicine, clothing, and music.

These two clips, both from the same episode, demonstrate the racist humor that Macfarlane is demonstrating. Examples like having the doctor at the hospital stand in a bunch of poses to try to cure disease, using smoke signals instead of phones, and having their most popular song be mono-tonal unison chanting are prime examples of Native American Appropriation. This kind of appropriation Macfarlane uses can even be found in other forms of music, such as Dvorak Symphony No 9 movement 2, largo. In this movement he references Native American tribal melodies. Of course, what he notates is only a small, itemized fraction of what the actual melody would have been and what it was to represent. Was Dvorak trying specifically to be incorrect, probably not, but still – some find this use of melody an unfair representation of the true culture. 

In 2017, being able to rid our minds of ignorance and to be able to fully understand and be aware of the sensitivities of other cultures is imperative. The massed media and pop culture has shaped our minds around what being a Native American or an “Indian” means. These stereotypes are preventing us as a nation from knowing the rich and long history of Native Americans and their culture. As Russell Means says in this video: “A nation that does not know its history, has no future”

Sources

Kanke, Marie. “The Harm of Native Stereotyping.” Blue Corn Comics — The Harm of Native Stereotyping:  Facts and Evidence. August 08, 2006. Accessed September 25, 2017. http://www.bluecorncomics.com/stharm.htm.

TheUlleberg. “Family guy – Native American/Indian Radio.” YouTube. March 07, 2014. Accessed September 25, 2017. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=octtLcjJshw.

Jinpaul11. “Family Guy – Native Americans.” YouTube. May 07, 2017. Accessed September 25, 2017. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PGcW3kjcFSU.

Diesillamusicae. “Dvořák: Symphony №9, “From The New World” – II – Largo.” YouTube. September 02, 2011. Accessed September 26, 2017. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ASlch7R1Zvo.

Framesinmotion2007. “How Hollywood stereotyped the Native Americans.” YouTube. October 31, 2007. Accessed September 25, 2017. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_hJFi7SRH7Q.

Ethnographic analysis of Cheyenne Tribe from 1910

During my search through the American West archive, I found a scan of a rare book which exhibits early features of ethnographic analysis and contribution to literature. This book, written by a white man, is an interesting and complicated portrayal of events that occurred in the tribes he lived with. However, I think that despite its problematic and complicated nature, this mostly first-hand account of events can shed light on important aspects of certain tribe’s cultures. Specifically, I will analyze his account of two chiefs singing a “death-song” before entering into a battle in which they knew they would die.

In 1910, James McLaughlin, who had been living among the Native American Tribes for 38 years, wrote of his experiences with the native peoples. His book, My Friend the Indian, is an ethnographic account of his time spent with the Native American tribes from “Standing Rock, North Dakota to Round Valley, California.” In the preface to his book, he notes that he tries to give the Indian account for events that transpired during his time with the native people. He explicitly notes that he hopes that his account does not come across as a white account, but as a native account.

picture of Two Moons, one of the Cheyenne Chiefs who died in McLaughlin’s account

While I doubt anyone would ever actually consider it a native account, it does bring into question the status of the author, and therefore, his trustworthiness. This author was obviously not native, but he did live among them for nearly 40 years… I would not qualify him as a native, but he isn’t so much an outsider, either. As a non-member participant, ethnographers are, in a Nick Carroway from Gatsby-esque way, both “within and without.”

So, how trustworthy can they be? I believe this account is fairly trustworthy, for a couple of reasons.

In contrast to the people who wrote their first impressions of limited encounters with Native Americans in the 1600’s, McLaughlin shows finesse and respect for the culture of the people. While some people in the late 19th century began a new movement of acknowledging the native presence in the US, much of this does so with a “vanishing culture” hermeneutical lense.

McLaughlin writes with almost the opposite of the “vanishing Indian” idea – he wants to preserve the culture it in its true form and acknowledges that the culture is still alive, still a contributing, oppositional force, rather than a passive, nostalgic issue of the past, as mentioned in Blim’s article.1 Additionally, he does not shy away from calling out the problematic people who have decided to ignore the way that their colonizing culture snuffed out many people of a culture that was just as valuable.

Specifically, he recalls how, at one point when a Cheyenne tribe was surrounded and the chiefs asked to surrender, that the Chiefs sang their “death-song” and showed white men how natives could die honorably. The reverence with which he regards the song and actions of the Chiefs shows his respect. Additionally, his writing about the death of these two men kept their stories alive. It kept them in the minds of all who heard of them, and let people know that though these Chiefs were gone, the practices of their culture, like the death-song, lived on.

Importantly, McLaughlin notes how the chiefs sang while they fought a battle they knew they would lose. The singing here is not a passive part of the culture and history of the Cheyenne people. It is an active part of the fight which parallels the fight of the Native American people. In the “vanishing Indian” idea, the “native american problem” is finished and dealt with, and so the native people will all assimilate or die out. However, this use of music in an active fight against white men shows that even when the tribe knew they were outnumbered, they would fight till the end. Similarly, the Native American people written off by the vanishing Indian theory were not in fact slowly fading as an ember. They were energetically and vigorously fighting until the end, like a firework.

So, McLaughlin gives a fairly credible voice to people who were ignored. However, we also must remember that “determining who speaks for a culture and how much consensus is required to define a culture is only one of  several problems of theory and method faced by an ethnographer of music.” (Nettl).2 While I do not think that McLaughlin’s account should be taken as the be all end all interpretation of the Cheyenne tribe he spoke of, I do think he genuinely wanted to use his privilege as a white author to lift up the stories of those who were marginalized.

While this can be problematic, the sincerity and intention behind his retelling (especially in light of his place in history) gives his account more positive attributes than negative. Importantly, he also set out with extreme humility and intent to tell these stories from the perspective of the native people. After living among them for almost 40 years, I think that his telling of their history comes from a place of utmost respect. His caveats at the beginning of his book – which warn the reader that he does not know everything, and that his own place is problematic – almost anticipate the criticism which we might apply to his work today.


Footnotes

 

Daniel Blim, “MacDowell’s Vanishing Indians,” paper delivered at the annual meeting of the American Musicological Society, Vancouver, BC, November 4, 2016.

 

Sioux Sun Dance Account

out (1)

This is a firsthand account written by Moses K. Armstrong from a periodical titled The Youth’s Companion. Armstrong was a member of Congress from 1871-1875 for the Dakota Territory and spent time living in the area. Armstrong offers a brief, but comprehensive narrative of the Sioux Sun Dance that he witnessed somewhere in the Dakotas around the turn of the 20th century. The Sun Dance was an important ritual of song, dance, and self-mutilation.

By referring to the music as “the usual sorrowful Indian dirge” and  “monotonous Indian notes,” Armstrong references a preexistent concept of Indian music. The use of the word “usual” and the indication of “Indian notes” shows that Armstrong is recalling a common familiarity with Indian music that the readers would have had, even if the familiarity is with stereotypes of Indian music, and not from the musical source itself. By adding the descriptors “monotonous” and “sorrowful,” Armstrong is imparting his own opinions about the music onto the reader. There are also some more obvious negative word choices, like the use of “hideously” to describe the face paint of the Sioux women, which convey certain images and ideas that entail more than a simple observation.

While not all accounts have blatantly negative opinions embedded within them, a lot have underlying meanings. One account in Judith Tick’s book describes a “doleful manner of shrieking.” In some cases like this account that Tick included, it is hard to discern to what extent an observer’s bias is conveyed. Although, as Richard Crawford argues in America’s Musical Life, non-Natives’ perceptions are often based on their political and economic advantages. Whether or not accounts are obviously negative or not, many seem to share a similar motivation or effect for recording their encounters. I see the effect being the creation of a space for which non-Natives to contemplate the encounters they have.

When I looked at the first volume of The Youth’s Companion from 1827, I found that the purpose of the periodical was to provide education and entertainment for young people. It also clearly states that a lot of its content was to be religious. I think it is important to consider the religious goals of this periodical because it could parallel the lens through which Armstrong and other observers might have seen the Sioux Sun Dance. As someone like Armstrong writes about a Native American ceremony with specifically chosen words, he is actually contemplating it by relating it to his own experiences, and the readers are invited to compare it to their own sacred beliefs, rituals, and music.

Sources

Myers, Helen and Kay Edwards. “Sioux.” Grove Music Online. Oxford Music Online. Oxford University Press, accessed September 26, 2017, http://www.oxfordmusiconline.com/subscriber/article/grove/music/A2257292.

 

Rand, Willis. 1827. “Prospectus of the Youth’s Companion.” The Youth’s Companion (1827-1929), Apr 16, 1.

 

Ragsdale, Bruce A. and Kathryn Allamong Jacob. Biographical Directory of the United States Congress, 1774-1989 : The Continental Congress, September 5, 1774, to October 21, 1788, and the Congress of the United States, from the First through the One Hundredth Congresses, March 4, 1789, to January 3, 1989, Inclusive.Washington D.C.: U.S. G.P.O., 1989. 100-34.

 

Tick, Judith, and Paul Beaudoin. Music in the USA: A Documentary Companion. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2008.

 

“The Sioux Sun-Dance.” 1901. The Youth’s Companion (1827-1929), Sep 12, 1.

Indians’ Music Provides Ideas for Composers

This article first appeared in the Los Angeles Times newspaper on March 29th of 1925. The author of the article is unknown. The article talks about an attraction on Hollywood Boulevard called Indian Village, which showcases, or rather exploits, Native American song and dance. Sid Grauman, the showman who is well known for creating the Egyptian and Chinese theaters in Hollywood, is responsible for bringing the tribe members from Wyoming to Los Angeles. They were brought to the theater by Sid as a form of promotion for a film that was playing at his Egyptian Theater, titled The Iron Horse. At the theater, the Natives played their traditional music and danced. The author explains that this music has attracted musicians and composers from the area to come and experience the music. In talking about the music, it appears that the author has very little knowledge of Native American music. By applying words like crescendo, tempo, baton, airs, and diminuendo to this music, the author’s classical western perspective becomes apparent. The author also shows his lack of respect for the music by describing it as “weird” and “uncanny”. The author goes even further in disrespecting the Native Americans by refereeing to them as “squaws” and “Indians”. The one part that the author gets right about the music is in their description of the importance of the aural tradition in Native cultures. The Indian Village is a clear example of exoticizing a marginalized group for commercial gain. This is something that happened frequently in the past, and still happens to this day. It is important to talk about these issues to prevent them from happening in the future. With the Chinese Theater, Egyptian Theater, and Indian Village, it seems as if Sid Grauman made a career out of exoticizing other people’s cultures.

 

A Medicine’s Man Music: Lessons in Notation

“[The medicine man] gives no drugs, but he beats his tom-tom; he makes no prayers, but sings his incantation”

Found in a work titled “Our Wild Indians”, Colonel Richard Dodge recounts, to the best of his ability, his thirty-three years spent amongst Native American tribes. This chapter comes from his observations of the Nez Perce people. As seen in both Frances Densmore and Bruno Nettl’s works, the processes of codifying and immersion in a culture demand a high level of intent. Dodge’s recollections are more similar to the other primary sources we have seen of white settlers’ experiences with various Native American tribes.

The music of Native American people left many white settlers and anthropologists struggling to describe the sounds they heard, and led to inaccurate notations of the music. Attempts at notating non-Western music in a Western fashion have their own flaws, but it’s important to recognize that like most forms of music, Native American music exists beyond the realm of recitation and enjoyment. Therefore the notation of ceremonial music inaccurately relays the sounds, and strips the music of it’s greater purpose.

Colonel Dodge presents the music of a Nez Perce medicine man at work, and there are certain aesthetic parallels consistent with some of the sounds we have studied to be common in Native American music. One example is the constant beating of a drum. “All night long a tom-tom was beaten…”. Taken aurally out of context, the drums are no different from other drums one might hear in music. Yet in this situation, the drums were part of a larger cure for a sick infant. “All night long a tom-tom was beaten immediately over the head of the poor baby; this music accompanied by the sing-song incantations of the priest and the mournful howls of half a dozen old women”. The medicine man’s music is highly functional. It can’t, and I would argue shouldn’t, be notated as a means for performance. From an ethnography perspective, any notation of this music could be one facet of preserving the Nez Perce culture. However, beyond preservation, notation serves only to Westernize the Nez Perce.

Dodge’s full chapter from which excerpts where quoted can be found here:
Medicine Man Music

Works Cited:
Dodge, Richard Irving. 1882. Our Wild Indians: Thirty-three years’ personal experience among the Red Men of the great west. Hartford: A. D. Worthington and Company. Available through: Adam Matthew, Marlborough, American West, http://www.americanwest.amdigital.co.uk/Documents/Details/Graff_1114 [Accessed September 23, 2017].

Charles Wakefield Cadman’s Exploitation of Native American Melodies

In Charles Wakefield Cadman’s 1909 work, “Four American Indian Songs,” he attempts to create a “purely American” music by setting original Native American melodies, as transcribed by Alice Fletcher, in a traditional Western harmonic idiom.  This musical effort, sometimes described as “Indianism,” may appear at first to be a laudable one.  By adding English words and Western harmonies, Cadman ensures that these Native American melodies will be heard by a wide variety of people.  If he could bring these Native American folk melodies into the mainstream of American song, they could be preserved and celebrated for years to come.

Artwork from the First Edition of “Four American Indian Songs”

Surely enough, Cadman purports to have a certain amount of respect for Native American culture, and his methods do strive for a sort of “authenticity.”  In his article “The ‘Idealization’ of Indian Music,” Cadman cites the importance of understanding the Native cultures that he borrows from.  He recommends that an Indianist composer should learn about Native American legends and rituals, attend powwows, and even spend time living on a Reservation if possible, before attempting “idealize” (read: Westernize) Native music.

Despite his lofty aspirations of sympathy and understanding, however, Cadman ultimately falls short of the mark.  Throughout his article, he consistently describes Native American people as “primitive,” and makes the claim that “only one-fifth of all Indian thematic material is valuable in the hands of a composer.”  Cadman does not view Native American musical traditions as inherently valuable and worthy of study, but rather as a quarry of raw materials that he can mine for his own profit.  His musical project, which initially appeared to be a beautiful marriage of two disparate traditions, instead smacks of exploitation and imperialism. . . is it possible, then, that perhaps he has succeeded in writing “purely American” music after all?

 

Sources

Blim, Dan.  “MacDowell’s Vanishing Indians.”  AMS 2016, Vancouver.

Cadman, Charles Wakefield. “Idealization of Indian Music.” Musical Quarterly, vol. 1, July 1915, pp. 387-396. EBSCOhost, accessed 24 Sept. 2017.

Cadman, et al. Four American Indian Songs : Op. 45, for Voice and Piano. Boca Raton, Fla., Masters Music Publications, 1989.

Garrett, Charles Hiroshi. The Grove Dictionary of American music. Second ed., vol. 2, New York, Oxford University Press, 2013.

Levy, Beth E.  Frontier Figures: American Music and the Mythology of the American West. University of California Press, 2012. ProQuest Ebook Central, accessed 24 Sept. 2017.

 

Fillmore’s Study on “Out of Tune” Indian singers

     The text I am sharing today is a paper published in The Journal of American Folklore  in 1895, written by music educator and studier of Indian music John Comfort Fillmore, entitled “What Do Indians Mean to Do When They Sing, and How Far Do They Succeed?”. John Comfort Fillmore was originally a teacher and textbook writer, though was asked by Harvard’s Peabody Museum in 1888 to examine a collection of Omaha Indian songs, which lead to a long exploration of Indian music of various tribes. This extensive ethnographic research informed many articles he published after 1888, many containing theories about universal harmonic sense and placing Western music tradition onto unrelated cultures’ musics. (McNutt, 62)

    This particular article similarly seems to work under an assumption that Western music theory and harmony have a certain objective truth. The title itself shows a certain amount of cultural superiority as it seems to assume that American Indian singing has to follow Western music rules and if it doesn’t, then it must not be successful music. There seems to be a lack of understanding that the way the American Indians’ music is sung could possibly be correct within its own standards, or that there is no conscious intention to be correct at all. He makes the claim that “the Indian always intends to sing precisely the same harmonic intervals which are a staple of our own music, and that all aberrations from harmonic pitch are mere accidents” (Fillmore, 138), again showing an attempt to extend Western music theory onto a musical tradition that evolved independently from it. He further makes the point that these “accidents” are due to “imperfect training, or rather to the total lack of it” (Fillmore, 138). This claim seems to function under the belief that only those trained in Western practice are “correct” and that an American Indian training within their own cultural practice still is not viewed as having training.

    In this article, Fillmore does not appear to be a very trustworthy author. Though he makes frequent mention to having worked with Indian singers and transcribed and studied Indian music, he spends mostly all of his focus on his perception that Indian singers are not able to sing consistently in tune within the Western scale. Instead of leaving his own cultural background to the side in order to focus on Indian music and singing in its own respective context, he attempts to apply his understanding of Western practice onto it, which leads to his focus upon pitch accuracy. A possibly more open-minded conclusion that could be reached from his findings of inconsistency in pitch value would be that perhaps precise pitch accuracy is not much of a focus in certain Indian singing. These biases shown by Fillmore perhaps represent much of the academic world’s view on Indian music during the 19th century, one not jaded enough to ignore the importance of studying and preserving Indian music, but still bearing the belief that it is culturally inferior, primitive, or unevolved in comparison to Western practice.

Link to the article

Sources:

Fillmore, John Comfort. “What Do Indians Mean to Do When They Sing, and How Far Do They Succeed?” The Journal of American Folklore, vol. 8 no. 29, pp. 138-142. April 1895. Web.

McNutt, James C. “John Comfort Fillmore: A Student of Indian Music Reconsidered.” American Music, vol. 2 no. 1, pp. 61-70. Spring 1984. Web.

George Clutesi and a Nootka Farewell Song

The Nookta Native American tribe has its origins in modern day British Columbia. The Nootka Farewell Song performed by George Clutesi is not only a fine example of a conscious effort to preserve the Native cultures of the region but also it is an example of traditional Native American music being given some light in the mainstream culture of today. Clutesi was the first Tseshaht mainstream celebrity in Canada. He was a multitalented artist who acted, wrote, and was an expert on native cultures. As a child, Clutesi was forced into participating in an educational system where one’s native heritage and culture was seen as a negative attribute and whose goal was to erase it. Fortunately, even as a young child Clutesi knew that there was something fundamentally wrong with this ideology and rejected it completely through his artistic talents. The song I’ve linked below is a representation of what Nootka music sounded like during the 20th century. Notable features of the song include an ad libbed introduction sung as a solo, then when the main tune kicks in the drum beat starts pounding a steady beat that continues until the ad lib outro. At the same time, as the drum beat beings we hear a choir singing in unison quietly in the background. If it weren’t for Clutesi and his activist contributions to the preservation of Native societies’ cultures there would be many songs such as this one which would be lost in the universe, never to be heard again.