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.

Bukka White and the Record Companies

In 1939, John and Ruby Lomax spent several months traveling the south and made literally hundreds of recordings for the Library of Congress’s Music Division. After spending a while aimlessly pouring through vast quantities of these recordings, I decided to read the Library of Congress site’s general overview of the entire expedition. Under the section chronicling the couple’s time recording in Mississippi, I came across the line “country blues artist Booker T. Washington (“Bukka”) White, known at this time as Washington “Barrel House” White”.1 The bit “country blues” stuck out to me because record companies in the 1920’s and 30’s were largely labeling white artists as “country” and black artists as “blues”. But the other thing that attracted me was the way in which White was referenced- as though I should know who he was. I didn’t.

Naturally, I set out to find out a little bit more about Mr. White and discovered that his story illustrates the role that recording played on the labeling of Southern “folk” music.

One of the first records White recorded with Victor in 1930. This is one of spirituals and released under the name Washington White.

Prior to meeting and recording for the Lomax’s, White had already recorded twice before. In 1930, several record companies were trying to tap into the “lucrative” market for “race records” and were trying to record whoever they could to create records.2 White ended up recording several sides for them, both blues and gospel songs, because the person who was supposed to record the gospel songs didn’t show up to the recording session.

In 1937, White was permitted to go to Chicago to record two sides before filling out his prison sentence in the Mississippi State Penitentiary.3 One side of this record was Shake ‘Em On Down, which became a rather popular song.

John and Ruby Lomax visited the penitentiary on their trip (this was the only place that they recorded in Mississippi) and it was there, in the hallway separating the white and black sections of the prison, that White recorded two songs for them.1 The interaction was described in the Lomax’s field notes as follows: “Po’ Boy and Sick ’em dogs on were sung and played by Washington (Barrel House White, with guitar. Barrel Houses were his hangout in the “free world”. Barrel House has made some commercial records.”4


Listening to White’s two recordings in the Lomax collection, it is intriguing to note that their “genre” is not clear. Instead of being either “country” or “blues”, White incorporates elements of both styles into his music, subtly giving testament to the false musical dichotomy of the time.5

Ultimately, it seems that White was a musician who mostly recorded because it is what would pay the bills. White’s career was mainly built on the blues, probably because that was what the recording companies wanted from him and would pay for. Additionally, White was apparently unhappy with the notion that he recorded for Lomax without receiving any pay; that was reportedly the only time he felt “exploited”.3

Booker T Washington “Bukka” White. In the 1960’s White experienced a second career as part of the folk movement.

Furthermore, it is interesting to note that in the fieldnotes, the Lomax’s note that it was initially difficult to convince prisoners to record for them because “one of the boys who had made some commercial records” had told others that the Lomax’s were only there to record to make money.4 Could this have been White, I wonder?

Overall, the story of Bukka White’s recording career demonstrates the fundamental way that the recordings shaped the ideas of music tied to race. White’s recordings for the Lomax’s reveal that music may not have been as black and white as the record companies wanted it to be.

 

1“The 1939 Recording Expedition”. The Library of Congress, https://www.loc.gov/collections/john-and-ruby-lomax/articles-and-essays/the-1939-recording-expedition/. Accessed: February 24, 2018.

2Manuel, Jeffery T. “The Sound of the Plain White Folk? Creating Country Music’s ‘Social Origins’.” Popular Music and Society 31, no. 4 (2008): 417-431.

3“Bukka White”. Mississippi Blues Commission. Mississippi Blues Trail: http://www.msbluestrail.org/blues-trail-markers/bukka-white. Accessed February 25, 2018.

Burton, Thomas G. Tom Ashley, Sam McGee, Bukka White: Tennessee Traditional Singers. Knoxville: The University of Tennessee Press, 1981.

4Lomax, John A, and Ruby T Lomax. Southern Recording Trip Fieldnotes. 1939. Manuscript/Mixed Material. Retrieved from the Library of Congress, https://www.loc.gov/item/lomaxbib000855/. Accessed February 24, 2018.

5Lomax, John A, Ruby T Lomax, and Bukka White. Po’ Boy. Parchman, Mississippi, 1939. Audio. Retrieved from The Library of Congress, https://www.loc.gov/item/lomaxbib000366/. Accessed February 24, 2018.

Lomax, John A, Ruby T Lomax, and Bukka White. Sick ’em Dogs On. Parchman, Mississippi, 1939. Audio. Retrieved from the Library of Congress, https://www.loc.gov/item/lomaxbib000365/. Accessed February 24, 2018.

Making Black Influence in Bluegrass Visible

Neil Rosenberg’s book Bluegrass: A History presents a greatly different idea of bluegrass history when being compared to Rhiannon Giddens’ keynote speech at the International Bluegrass Music Association Business Conference. I took particular interest to Giddens’ point that scholars and historians, which surely includes Rosenberg, have contributed the erasure of black history in bluegrass. This general lack of representation led me to wonder if there is anyone who has worked to include the black narrative into the history of country music and bluegrass. It is likely that some individuals, such as Rosenberg, would argue that there is a lack of written or recorded history of black people within these genres because they simply did not contribute a lot to this type of music. However, in searching for Black Appalachian music, I stumbled upon this album, titled Deep River of Song: Black Appalachia. Although it is unclear as to why the album specifically refers to Appalachia (which perhaps should be a topic of research in itself), the songs in the album are labeled as “Country”, with the sub-genres of “Old Time” and “String Band”. This album is from the Alan Lomax Collection, sparking my curiosity in Alan Lomax as an ethnomusicologist, since he seems to be one of the few people who has strived to record the history of black country music.

Something I find particularly interesting is a letter Lomax wrote to Joseph Hickerson at the Library of Congress, which is included in his manuscripts in A Recorded Treasury of Black Folk Song, 1978-1981, Black Appalachia. In this letter, Lomax describes his account of recording Murphy Gribble, a black banjo player, and his band. Lomax highlights characteristics of their music, including the presence of polyphony, and the instrumentation of banjo and fiddle, that are often described as traits of bluegrass. Lomax even acknowledges:

 

“If you listen carefully… you will hear the steady 3,3,2 complex measure of so-called Bluegrass. From before Earl Scruggs and his mentors were born.”

Here, Lomax clearly states the contradiction within the history of bluegrass. Earl Scruggs is the one credited with this core sonic marker of bluegrass, yet Lomax has recorded, physical proof that it existed before him. Not only that, but Lomax found it in music performed by individuals part of a group that is virtually nonexistent in dominant bluegrass history. Listening to other performances by Murphy Gribble and his other band members, the similarity with bluegrass is undeniable.

Lomax clearly greatly contributes to the documentation of black music/musicians and in conveying the role black music played in the creation of bluegrass. That being said, there is still a gap between his work and getting others, such as Rosenberg, to acknowledge it. It is unfortunate that this research and collection of black country music sets Lomax apart from others. He undoubtedly deserves credit because of his role in preserving the music and existence of black people in genres that generally ignore it. But it is precisely that failure of others in recognizing it that is disappointing. Appreciating black contribution within this type of music is something that should be done more widely. If it was, rather than Lomax being recognized for representing an underrepresented group within the world of country and bluegrass music, it would be the black musicians being recognized for their musical contributions to the world.

Sources:

  • Lomax, Alan. “Alan Lomax Collection, Manuscripts, A Recorded Treasury of Black Folk Song, -1981, Black Appalachia, to 1981, 1978”. Manuscript/Mixed Material. Retrieved from the Library of Congress, https://www.loc.gov/item/afc2004004.ms120226/
  • Murphy Gribble, Albert York, & John Lusk, Pateroller’ll Catch You, youtube, 2:33, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KfD_pkVRGbA
  • Niel Rosenberg, Bluegrass: A History (Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 1985).
  • Rhiannon Giddens, “2017 IBMA Business Conference Keynote Address” (presentation, IBMA Business Conference, Nashville, TN, September, 2017).
  • Various Artists. Deep River of Song: Black Appalachia. 1999. Rounder Records, CD.

Do you know any black, contemporary folk artists?

Contemporary folk is a broad genre, stretching out into indie folk, indie rock, americana, you name it. However, when I think of this genre and the especially famous artists that dominate it, I can’t think of any black artists or bands. There might be a couple Asian American artists, but the genre comes across as very white. Take the Avett Brothers, for instance: one member was born in South Korea, and the rest are white. And their audience is even whiter.

Described as a folk rock band, the Avett Brothers are seen here, playing guitars and singing in front of a picture of a tractor, which are common aspects of country music. Country and folk have similar sounds, so it would make sense for the folk of today to have adapted from the country of days gone by. If one listens to “Monterey” by the Milk Carton Kids, an indie folk duo, it’s possible to hear the calming guitar and harmony influences of songs like “Driftwood” by the talented Merle Haggard, who claims influence from the man deemed as the first famous singer in the genre, Jimmie Rodgers.1 People could assume folk and country are white today because it’s always been that way. However, that is not the truth.

Even Jimmie Rodgers mixed his voice and instrument with the beyond legendary Louis Armstrong and his wife Lil Hardin Armstrong, singing “Blue Yodel #9”, but it wasn’t as popular.2 When John and Ruby Lomax traveled around the South in 1939, they stopped in a jail and recorded Roger “Burn Down” Garnett singing “Eaton Clan”.3 He played guitar and sang, echoing previous country and folk artists, but he did not receive much recognition beyond the recordings conducted by the Lomaxes, as he was in prison. Yet, other folk artists, sometime between 1938 and 1950, were performing at the Mountain Music Festival, and they were white.

Five musicians and a singer performing at the Mountain Music Festival, Asheville, North Carolina. Between 1938 and 1950. Lomax Collection, Library of Congress, Washington, D.C.

So if country and folk artists have always been black and white, how come white artists are the ones to be recognized? Jeffrey T. Manuel explains the phenomenon as having been created by the music industry making a conscious effort to attribute the sound of folk and country to the social group of the white, Southern middle class. Rhiannon Giddens backs this up with the fact:

Occasionally black string bands were put on the Hillbilly label but with their name obscured, such as when Vocalion Records released a set of tunes under “The Tennessee Chocolate Drops” for their race records and the exact same set of tunes under “The Tennessee Trio” for the Hillbilly division. It rarely happened the other way around… (10)

The music industry made sure to keep race records separate. If music crossed color lines, segregation would be disregarded. Therefore, white artists rose to the top, and black artists faded into the background.

Although erasure of black artists has been a real issue for the longest time, music can’t help but be heard by anyone and everyone. The influences of country and folk music, black and white artists, continue to spread. Now, I can’t think of any famous, black, contemporary folk artists at the top of my head, but perhaps we should be able to think of some. Because black americana is real too.

Manuel, Jeffrey T. “The Sound of the Plain White Folk? Creating Country Music’s “Social Origins”.” In Popular Music and Society, 417-431. City: Taylor & Francis Group, 2008.

Railroad Songs and Gandy Dancers

Railroad songs were a genre created by laborers for the railroads in America. The origin of the genre is disputed and rather mysterious. We can all recall “I’ve been Working on the Railroad” (pre Civil War), but it is unclear if that is one example of the genres earliest pieces. Archie Green suggests in “Railroad Songs and Ballads: From the Archive of Folk Song” that “[the songs] welled directly out of the experiences of workers and were composed literally to the rhythm of the handcar. Others were born in Tin Pan Alley rooms or bars. But regardless of birthplace, songs moved up and down the main line or were shunted onto isolated spur tracks.”1 John Lomax had recorded many of these railroad songs. Here is an example of one: http://www.loc.gov/item/lomaxbib000326/  2

These songs were created by workers to entertain and convey stories up and down the rails. The subjects of the songs, that are recorded, range from the erotic, basic railroad construction, and common themes like love and loss. The creators of the railroads songs included African Americans and many immigrant people. Unfortunately there are little to no record of the songs created by immigrants in different languages and today there is no way of rediscovering those songs. These songs created by African Americans and immigrants created a new slang term for these people called “Gandy Dancers”.

In the article “Country Music and the Souls of White Folk” by Erich Nunn, we get a sense of the effect that the Gandy Dancer’s music has had on country music, we are told, In My Husband, Jimmie Rodgers, a biography of her late husband published in 1935, Carrie Williamson (“Mrs. Jimmie”) Rodgers presents Jimmie as a crucible in which the “darkey songs” he learned as a boy are transmuted by “the natural music in his Irish soul” into something distinctive and new.”3 The songs that Carrie writes on were created by the African American men that worked of the rails and influenced Jimmie Rodgers.

Gandy Dancers used their songs as a method of keeping rhythm for the laborers of the railroad and striking in time amongst the laborers. Here is a short snippet of a documentary done on Gandy Dancers: 4

  1.  Green, Archie. “Railroad Songs and Ballads.” Archive of Folk Song, 1968. Accessed February 26, 2018. https://www.loc.gov/folklife/LP/AFS_L61_opt.pdf.
  2. Lomax, John A, Ruby T Lomax, and Arthur Bell. John Henry. near Varner, Arkansas, 1939. Audio. Retrieved from the Library of Congress, https://www.loc.gov/item/lomaxbib000326/. (Accessed February 26, 2018.)
  3. Nunn, Erich. Country Music and the Souls of White Folk. Wayne State University Press.
  4. Folkstreamer. “Gandy Dancers.” YouTube. June 23, 2008. Accessed February 26, 2018. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=025QQwTwzdU.

 

 

Native American Music and a New Approach to Anthropology

In 1917, amid his career as the curator of the American Museum of Natural History in New York, psychologist and anthropologist Clark Wissler published a book entitled The American Indian. An attempt to fulfill the museum’s mandate for public education and to make the findings of anthropologists accessible, the book provides a general overview of anthropological discoveries pertaining to the “American Indian”.1 It includes information about various peoples, tribes, and cultures by covering a wide breath of subjects from food to social groupings to languages and origin stories. For a modern reader, the book contains all sorts of fascinating little tidbits, but what caught my eye was a curious little paragraph that opens “Chapter IX Fine Arts”:

No doubt many readers will object to the title we have given this chapter on the ground that no aboriginal production can rise to the level of an actual “fine art,” but we feel that the name is justified because the productions here considered occupy the same place in aboriginal life as do the fine arts in Europe. They may be comprehended under the familiar heads of sculpture, painting, literature, and music.2

Clark Wissler, (1870-1947)

Perhaps without really meaning to, in this paragraph Wissler encapsulates the tensions of evolving anthropological notions of the time. In the last part of the “Fine Arts” chapter, as Wissler discusses music, he seems to try to subvert the traditional belief of European superiority, but his prose in other ways seems to support such views.

Wissler was part of a dramatic shift in the field of anthropology from an evolutionary explanation of social development to a culturally-focused one. One of the key elements of this shift was the idea that social development of individuals could only be correctly understood when viewed from the context of their own culture.3 Wissler demonstrates this concept when he writes about song translations, explaining that important meanings and emotional significance are often lost because there are not perfect translations from Native American languages to English. Another example is the mention of “aboriginal singing” technique, which is different from European singing, and therefore is difficult to accurately notate using the “traditional” system.4

The title page and accompanying picture from The American Indian.

However, Wissler’s book and remarks remain bound by the ideas of the European culture’s superiority. This is evident in the constant superimpositions of European ideals of music onto Native American music-making. Wissler describes the “great effort” that has been made to discover the ideal scales which “native singers strive for”, and then states the importance of such a “discovery”. Additionally, Wissler points to what he explains as the lack of consistent rhythm between singer, drummer, and dancers in Native American Music. And, although he describes the difficulties in transcribing Native American music, he still purports that such a task is necessary.5 These topics all constitute an assumption that what is important to European musical understanding is what is also important to understanding other musical expressions.

Even though Wissler demonstrates rather forward-thinking for his time in some of the ways he discusses music, many of his ideas still carry the older Euro-centric biases. Perhaps intellectual progress is not so quick after all.

1 “Wissler, Clark (1870-1947).” In Biographical Dictionary of Anthropologists, by William Stewart. McFarland, 2009. https://ezproxy.stolaf.edu/login?url=https://search.credoreference.com/content/entry/mcfanthro/wissler_clark_1870_1947/0?institutionId=4959. Accessed February 19, 2018.

2 Wissler, Clark. The American Indian. New York: McMurtrie, Douglas C, 1917.  Available through: Adam Matthew, Marlborough, American Indian Histories and Cultures, http://www.aihc.amdigital.co.uk/Documents/Details/Ayer_10_W8_1917. Accessed February 19, 2018. Page 134.

3 Liss, Julia E. “Anthropology and Cultural Relativism.” In Encyclopedia of American Cultural and Intellectual History, edited by Mary Kupiec Cayton, and Peter W. Williams. Gale, 2001. https://ezproxy.stolaf.edu/login?url=https://search.credoreference.com/content/entry/galeacih/anthropology_and_cultural_relativism/0?institutionId=4959. Accessed February 19, 2018.

Gleach, Frederic W., and Regna Darnell. “Wissler, Clark.” In Biographical Dictionary of Social and Cultural Anthropology, edited by Vered Amit. Routledge, 2004. https://ezproxy.stolaf.edu/login?url=https://search.credoreference.com/content/entry/routsca/wissler_clark/0?institutionId=4959 Accessed February 19, 2018.

4 Wissler, Clark. The American Indian. Page 143,146.

5 Ibid. Page 146-148.

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].

Ute Bear Dances and Notched Sticks

Initially, I hoped to research the topic of symbolism in relation to Native American instruments, but that line of researching did not take me far, so I instead settled on looking at the scholarship on their instruments in general. In Clark Wissler’s informational text, The American Indian, there is a section on Native American music which turns to musical instruments, claiming that the two most common instruments are drums and rattles. His survey meanders across the Americas, discussing the cultural varieties of such instruments, emphasizing the dominance of calabash (gourd) rattles, the importance of which, he claims, is only approached by the notched stick1. The footnote attached to this observation, citing anthropologist Robert Lowie, led to where my research ultimately landed.

Lowie has a fair number of entries in another collection of anthropological papers on Native American societies edited by Wissler, one of which examines the “Dances and

Ute Musicians. From left to right: Brookus Sibello 1890, Dick Sibello 1882, Henry Myore, and two young boys. Using notched rasps and rubbing sticks, for music.

 

Societies of the Plains Shoshone,” within which he describes the Bear Dance, a prominent Ute ceremony. Although he has never seen a Bear Dance himself, Lowie draws upon several first hand accounts of the ceremony to explain the basic function and structure of Bear Dances: a social event lasting four days at the end of winter/beginning of spring in a circular enclosure of branches, where men and women form two lines designated by sex and the women approach whichever men they want to dance with, and the dancing commences2. Watch this video of a Southern Ute Indian tribe Bear Dance, recorded in 1988, to get a better idea. The music produced in the Bear Dance is what brought me to the ceremony, as the principle instrument used in the ceremony, besides singing, is the notched stick (or rattle) mentioned in The American Indian. 

Ute Indians perform the Bear Dance on at the Bear Dance Festival. The Bear Dance welcomes the Spring of the year. (1920)

The notched stick, pictured at right, has two parts. The first is a stick about a foot or

https://babel.hathitrust.org/cgi/pt?id=coo.31924012929372;view=1up;seq=868

Notched sticks and rasps used in Ute Bear Dances (Lowie)

more in length and “throughout its entire length it is whittled flat, and transverse notches or grooves are cut across this flattened portion.”3 The second part is a “rasp”, usually either a bone or rod. The notched stick is held against the ground or similar surface in one hand, while the other holds the rod and “is moved rapidly up and down the grooved portion so as to make a rattling sound.”4 Multiple sets of these are played alongside vocals, setting the dance into motion.

But why is it called the Bear Dance? According to Verner Reed, who in 1893 was invited to a Bear Dance by a Southern Ute tribe in Colorado (one of the first hand accounts Lowie cites), the Ute people “believe their primal ancestors were bears; after these came the race of Indians, who, on dying, were changed to bears” and the Bear Dances are meant to reinforce their friendship. The ceremony is held around the time bears awaken from hibernation and the dance is supposed to “cast the film of blindness from their eyes” when the bears wake.5

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

The Sioux Sun Dance and the Right to Reinterpretation

In August of 1970, an anonymous Sioux author wrote an article in the American Indian Leadership Council’s journal, The Indian, wondering about the claim that the modern Sioux have of over the Sun Dance.1 The ceremony, a celebration of the connection between the Sioux and the sun, was once an integral piece of Sioux culture. The eight-day event included ceremonies and dances that “reinforced ideals and customs of the Sioux society,” and a final day of physical pain as men danced while suspended from poles and looking directly into the sun. Although the Sun Dance was seen by the Sioux as the cornerstone of their culture and relationship with the sun, white Americans saw it as undesirable paganism. According to the author, once the Sun Dance was erased from Sioux culture, the other markers of Sioux life began to fade as well.

Sioux Sun Dance

The Sioux Sun Dance has been reinterpreted by white American society in many ways, from a 1980 article in the Michigan Farmer that described the “curious custom” almost exclusively as a violent act,2 to an orchestral interpretation composed by Leo Friedman, recorded by the Edison Symphony Orchestra in 1903.3 Friedman, whose other compositions ranged from the well known “Let Me Call You Sweetheart,” to the lesser known “Coon Coon Coon,” used horns and jingling bells to play a simple melody, while a heavy percussion kept beat beneath. The end of the piece is marked by vocalizations clearly meant to be “war cries.” These musical choices exemplify the barbarism and other-worldliness with which Friedman wanted to represent the Sioux ceremony, and show no indication that it is about the religious significance of the sun. Friedman’s piece is instead an invention of Sioux music and culture.

If Friedman’s music was not a respectful interpretation of a Sioux Sun Dance, then it would be assumed that it would be up to the modern Sioux to revive or reinterpret the ceremony and its music. The author of the article in The Indian, however, wondered if the Sioux were still entitled to performing the Sun Dance ceremony. They asked “are we worthy to perform the Sun Dance– our forefathers failed to retain a religion they revered, and can we in all sincerity and honesty adopt the Sun Dance into our present society as a religion.” They worried about whether a reinterpretation of the Sun Dance by the Sioux would be “a religion or a tourist package.” The author’s feelings of a right of the Sun Dance are complicated in the context of the appropriation and misrepresent

ation of the Sioux ceremony by Friedman and others, and “the purge” of Native culture by white Americans, and a reinterpretation of the Sun Dance will have to take these new factors into account.

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.

Chicago World Fair: Celebrating American Indian Culture or Erasing It?

Image

The World’s Columbian Exhibition, better known as the Chicago World Fair, in 1893 is often lauded as a premier exhibit of innovation and culture. However, the fair presented a stark contrast between what exhibition organizers deemed the civilized white culture and the uncivilized “Other”.

The Carlisle students served as an example to the American public of the “civilized” American Indian. (“Snatches from Comments of Various Prominent Papers on the Visit of the Carlisle School to the World’s Fair in October” in Ely Samuel Parker Scrapbooks, Vol 12, edited by Ely Samuel Parker. Accessed February 15, 2018.)

Ely Samuel Parker, collector of articles in the scrapbook (War Department, Office of the Chief Signal Caller. Col. Ely S. Parker, 1860-1865, National Archives at College Park)

Ely Samuel Parker, a Seneca-born American Indian and Commissioner of Indian Affairs under President Grant,1 included in his scrapbook collection quotes on the Carlisle School’s visit and performance at the World Fair. The Carlisle School, located in Pennsylvania, was a boarding school dedicated to erasing any semblance of Native American culture: language, clothing, hairstyle, and behavior, by taking young Native Americans away from their homes and families on the reservation. As the school’s founder, General Richard Pratt, famously said, the school sought to “kill the Indian, save the man”.1

The arrival of the students, as noted in Parker’s newspaper clippings, served as a stark contrast to the Native Americans in the Midway Plaisance. While in class, we discussed how the World’s Fair gave Native Americans in the Midway Plaisance more of an opportunity to present their culture, music, and dance from their own perspective, the Carlisle students demonstrate how the dominant American culture tried to stamp out Native American culture and treat it as “Other”. The newspaper clippings in Parker’s scrapbook serve as an example of how Americans believed that Native Americans could be civilized. They celebrate what they believed to be accomplished civilization. The article notes that the Carlisle School band of 32 instruments and choir, dressed in uniform, closed their performance with the playing of the American National Anthem at the time, “America” or “My Country Tis of Thee”.Leaving behind the drums and shakers as heard in the Native American music in class, the students picked up trumpets and trombones.Newspapers celebrated what they deemed a triumphant display of American Indian civilization. A passage from the Dubois, Pennsylvania Courier noted, “That it will be of use in showing us…that they are not outside the pale of civilizing influence, is also certain”.1

Members of the Carlisle School band in their uniforms. The school’s band served to erase Native American musical traditions and force the American/European musical tradition as a way of assimilating young Native Americans into the dominant American society (Choate, John N. “Carlisle School Band Members 1879”, 1879. National Anthropological Archive. Smithsonian Institution, Carlisle, Pennsylvania.).

Although some musicians tried to preserve or appropriate Native American music in the late 20th century, the Carlisle School’s performance at the World Fair demonstrates the dominant culture’s determination to stamp out what they considered the “savagery” of Native American culture, including music.

 

“A Biography of Ely S. Parker.” Galena-Jo Daviess County Historical Society. AccessedFebruary 19, 2018. http://www.galenahistory.org/researching/bio-sketches-of-famous-galenians/biography-of-ely-s-parker/.

 

King, C. Richard, “Indian Education” in Encyclopedia of American Studies, edited by Simon J. Bronner, Baltimore: John Hopkins University Press, 2017, eas-ref.press.jhu.edu/view?aid=325

“Snatches from Comments of Various Prominent Papers on the Visit of the Carlisle School to the World’s Fair in October” in Ely Samuel Parker Scrapbooks, Vol 12, edited by Ely Samuel Parker. Accessed February 15, 2018,

Trustworthiness of a Handwritten Recording

Looking through the papers of Eleazer Williams (1758-1858), I found sheet music written in the Iroquois language. The document was found amongst many other items within a scrapbook (1758-1846), and it most likely came from Williams’ time in New York and Green Bay, Wisconsin, as a missionary to the Oneida Indians.1 When it comes to determining the trustworthiness of this source, one might look to the plausible objectives of Eleazer Williams at the time.

“Notes on the Iroquois language”

Because the lyrics were written in the Iroquois language, it is possible he wrote down the music purely for his own benefit, rather than with the intentions of educating the white masses. Williams would have had to learn the language as a means to communicate with the American Indians and convert them, as was his mission. This personal endeavour of learning the language is evident by the “Notes on the Iroquois language” within the Papers, 1758-1858. Nevertheless, the objective of missionary work differs from the objectives of explorers and anthropologists/ethnographers, some of whose writings and recordings we have read and heard.

Book by Eleazer Williams

Anthropologists typically lived amongst a people to learn and understand their customs. Their recordings were intended for European readers/listeners, and they were unknowingly biased. It is likely Williams saw the Oneida Indians as ‘Other’ and inferior to himself, as did the European explorers of his time; however, he wrote sermons and translated religious texts into the language of the Oneida. This is evident by his book Prayers for families and for particular persons: selected from the Book of common prayer translated into the language of the Six Nations of Indians (1788-1858), which translates a selection from the Episcopal Book of Common Prayer into Oneida.2 Because of this text, it can be assumed that Williams wrote for foreign ears, and any notes on the foreign language were probably written for his own study. Researchers should take the intended audience into account when determining the trustworthiness of this document, despite any biases that may appear in his papers.

Fagnani, Giuseppe. Eleazer Williams. 1853. Oil on canvas. National Portrait Gallery, Smithsonian Institution, Washington, DC.

Furthermore, what makes Eleazer Williams especially unique in comparison to our previous readings are the facts that he “was of mixed Indian-white parentage”, and “he envisaged an Indian empire west of Lake Michigan under his rule”.3 After hearing the first fact, one could argue his intentions of recording this music on paper could have been to better understand and relate to the culture. However, knowing his true motives were to take control over the people, he is seen in a much more negative light. Granted, wanting to rule over the Oneida Indians doesn’t necessarily mean the music Williams wrote down was inaccurate/inauthentic. Considering the sheet music was found amongst other language materials, it could have been one of his sources for learning the Iroquois language. The scrapbook within which it was archived could have been a collection of Eleazer Williams’ personal mementos. Therefore, it is possible the music he recorded on paper is a trustworthy example of Oneida Indian music.

1 Williams, Eleazar. Papers, 1758-1858. Available through: Adam Matthew, Marlborough, American Indian Histories and Cultures, http://www.aihc.amdigital.co.uk/Documents/Details/Ayer_MS_999.

2 Williams, Eleazer. Prayers for Families and for Particular Persons Selected from the Book of Common Prayer. Albany: Printed by G.J. Loomis and Co, 1816. Available through: Wisconsin Historical Society, Digital Public Library of America, https://dp.la/item/d957d82e178a2376606b7cea19cb06a1?back_uri=https%3A%2F%2Fdp.la%2Fsearch%3Fq%3DWilliams%252C%2BEleazer%26subject%255B%255D%3DNative%2BAmericans%26utf8%3D%25E2%259C%2593&next=2&previous=0.

3 “Williams, Eleazer 1788-1858.” Wisconsin Historical Society. August 3, 2012. www.wisconsinhistory.org/Records/Article/CS1694.

(Mis)representation: The Westernization of Native American Music

It is difficult to determine exactly when influence from another culture turns into misrepresentation. Edward MacDowell, a white American composer wrote the piece Woodland Sketches, Op. 51: No. 5: From an Indian Lodge which was published in 1896. The piece begins with a fortissimo, perfect 5th interval, an interval which was often used to categorize “exotic” music. This is just one way in which MacDowell exhibits an inaccurate representation of Native American music. MacDowell’s composition undoubtedly brings up issues, both in his inaccurate, westernized representation of it, but also in his use of Native American culture without permission.

Chickasaw Composer, Jerod Tate

This conjures up the questions, is it always wrong to misrepresent a certain culture’s music by westernizing it? What if the composer is someone of that culture? Could that even be considered “misrepresentation”? Jerod Impichchaachaaha’ Tate is a self identified citizen of the Chickasaw Nation and works to make Native American music relevant within the classical music world. One of his pieces, “Oshta”, written for the solo violin is loosely based upon Choctaw hymn 53.

Choctaw Hymn 53 came into existence as a consequence of Christian missionary work done in Native American land. Work to evangelize Native Americans was done essentially since the first Europeans came to the Americas. Religion was one way in which Europeans felt superiority, which often lead to a desire to teach Native Americans about Christianity in order to help them escape their “savagery”. Missionary work and evangelization is what lead to the creation of things such as the Choctaw Hymn Book, a bigger collection of hymns with Choctaw Hymn 53 comes from. Composed by Native American citizens, these hymns were considered a type of “hybrid music”; a combination between western hymns and a Native American style of music.

Choctaw Hymn #53 (2/2)

Choctaw Hymn #53 (1/2)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

As seen in the images of Hymn #53, the words are all in Choctaw. Listening to this recording of the hymn, characteristics including the occasionally present dissonant harmonies distinguish it from traditional Christian hymnal music. The group singing is a characteristic which is also comparable to many other Native American music.

Listening to both Tate’s piece as well as the hymn it was inspired by, it is clear that they are vastly different, not only in their instrumentation, but in their melody and structure as well. Interestingly enough, Tate’s piece exhibits a perfect 5th double stop about 15 seconds in, making it possibly more similar to MacDowells’s intro than to the intro of the original hymn. Tate was clearly influenced by Native American music, much like MacDowell, but took it and made it his own.

To answer the questions I posed earlier, I would argue that no, a person like Jerod Tate cannot misrepresent his own culture, even if he is creating a sort of fusion between it and western culture. To argue with this, one might say that an implication of this fusion music is that it is a way of giving into assimilation by actively westernizing Native American culture. In reality, one cannot grow up in the United States without being exposed to western culture. I argue that even within one’s own identity, it is impossible to completely separate the western side from one’s ethnic and cultural heritage. Composers like Jerod Tate musically represent that dual identity within their work, thus making the Native American-Western fusion a presentation of pride of their culture and identity rather than a misrepresentation.

Sources:

  • Choctaw Hymn 53: Chahta vba isht taloa holisso. Choctaw Hymn Book, Richmond, Presbyterian committee of publication, 1872.
  • MacDowell, Edward. Woodland Sketches, Op. 51: No. 5: From an Indian Lodge. Barbagallo, James. Naxos 8.559010, 1994. CD.
  • Mill, Rodney, Frank Oteri, and Susan Feder. “Orchestral music.” In Grove Music Online. Oxford Music Online. Accessed February 18, 2018. http://www.oxfordmusiconline.com/grovemusic/view/10.1093/gmo/9781561592630.001.0001/omo-9781561592630-e-1002224888?rskey=tPlwS5&result=2
  • Stock, Harry. “A history of congregational missions among the North American Indians”. The Newberry Library, 1917. http://www.aihc.amdigital.co.uk/Documents/Details/Ayer_MS_835
  • Tate, Jerod. “About: Artist’s Biography.” Jerod Tate. Accessed February 18, 2018 http://jerodtate.com/about/
  • Vba isht Taloa #53, Choctaw Hymn Book. Chahta Anumpa Aiikhvana: School of Choctaw Language.

When Classical Music Was Cool – Mid-1900s America

Nowadays, and throughout much of history, highbrow classical music has typically been reserved for an estranged elite – an exclusive club that everyone could hypothetically join, but hardly anyone ever does. (Other than you of course, dearest Reader, who are most exceptional) The reason for this hierarchical cultural separation, both in music and other areas, is manifold, ranging from snarky snobbery to preposterous pretentiousness. However, this need not, and – perhaps more importantly – has not, always been the case. As noted in the March of Time database’s newsreel, Upbeat in Music1,

America’s serious composers are winning recognition from an ever-widening public, through performances by symphonic conductors like the New York Philharmonic’s Rodzinski…. The nation’s crowded concert halls testify to the new and growing enthusiasm of hundreds of thousands of everyday citizens for good music. The classics they have heard on records or on the radio, the moving artistry and musicianship of singers, who today are being heard by the whole country.  And, like Marian Anderson, are singing songs which are part of the native music of America.

The 3 Tenors – one of the strongest examples of classical musicians who became outrageously popular beyond the traditional classical sphere

As Karene Grad explains2, the divide between classical and popular music was much smaller in post-WWII America. She even goes so far as to say that “the years following World War II saw the popularization of high culture in America.” The arts at that time were a fundamental piece of the struggle to create an exceptional American identity. Unfortunately, arts are no longer such a valued piece of American culture and identity today. It seems as though new cuts are made in arts programs across the country every day, and that it is hopeless to try and fight against America’s modern STEM-centric worldview. However, we can take solace in the fact that there was a time when arts did play a central part in American culture, and perhaps, if we work at it hard enough, such a time might come again.

1 Upbeat in Music. Produced by Home Box Office. http://search.alexanderstreet.com/view/work/bibliographic_entity%7Cvideo_work%7C1792615. Accessed November 16, 2017.

2 Grad, Karene, Agnew, Jean-Christophe, and Cott, Nancy F. When High Culture Became Popular Culture: Classical Music in Postwar America, 1945–1965, 2006, ProQuest Dissertations and Theses. https://search.proquest.com/docview/304983472?accountid=351. Accessed November 16, 2017.

Brudder Bones and Minstrel Song

As we began our discussions this week on Minstrelsy, I became curious to what Minstrel songs were actually about. There is obviously plenty to talk about when it comes to blackface in Minstrelsy and the performance in general, but what we seemed to have missed was a study into the content of the Minstrel music beyond its entertainment value of inflating white perceptions African-Americans.

Lyrics to “Brudder Bones’ Trip” a Minstrel Song

As I searched, I found the minstrel song to the left, as sung by W. Chambers. The lyrics of the song tell of Brudder Bones going to the World’s Fair in London and getting called out of the crowd to perform on the bones. The lyrics “I mingled with the quality, I felt so awful proud” are striking as they display how Minstrel performers meant for African-Americans to feel in a crowd of “quality” people. The song also paints the image that Brudder Bones, and Minstrel performers in general, were valued primarily for their ability to put on a show, lending an eye to how performers were treated and how audiences got caught up in the pleasure of this entertainment.

Cover, Brudder Bones Book Stump Speeches

You may be wondering “who was Brudder Bones?” As I looked into the history of Minstrel performance, I found that Brudder Tambo and Brudder Bones were often the star characters of Minstrel shows. The publication below from 1868 includes a plethora of songs, skits, and speeches typical to the Brudder Bones Minstrel show.

When I think of Minstrelsy, I find it hard to appreciate it for what many claim it to be: the first indigenous, original form of American pop culture. Although there is no doubting that it was a force that brought folks together for entertainment and escape, I think raising it up as such puts a sense of pride behind an art so racially insensitive and offensive.

Sources:

Brudder Bones’ trip to the world’s fair: As sung by W. Chambers, the great bone player, (Philadelphia: G.S. Harris printer, Fourth & Vine, 1852).

Karen Halttunen, A Companion to American Cultural History, (Hoboken, NJ: John Wiley & Sons, Inc, 2008), 317-318.

John F. Scott, Brudder Bones’ book of stump speeches, and burlesque orations: also containing humorous lectures, Ethiopian dialogues, plantation scenes, Negro farces and burlesques, laughable interludes, and comic recitations. Interspersed with Dutch, Irish, French and Yankee stories, (New York: Dick & Fitzgerald Publications, 1868).

Samuel Coleridge-Taylor

Samuel Coleridge-Taylor

While less known today, Samuel Coleridge-Taylor was a prominent and influential English composer of the early 20th century. His works were so well received in both Europe and America that New York orchestral players described him as the “Black Mahler.” Although this comment is slightly problematic, the point it makes is easily understood. His most famous work, Longfellow’s Hiawatha’s Wedding Feast, has been described as “haunting melodic phrases, bold harmonic scheme, and vivid orchestration.”

However, how does an English Composer fit in with a class focused “American Music”? In part it has to do with his collection of African melodies entitled Twenty-four negro melodies transcribed for the piano by S. Coleridge-Taylor. Op. 59. The work also includes a preface written by Booker T. Washington, a prominent American Educator and Leader in the African American Community in the early 20th century. In Washington’s Preface, he talks extensively on how much of relates back to slave music of American, and in turn, to Africa.  In particular this quote stood out,

Negro music is essentially spontaneous. In Africa it sprang into life at war dance, at funerals, and at marriage festivals. Upon the African foundation the plantation songs of the South were built.

Not only does this sound very similar to jazz, but it is a spontaneous character that gave Coleridge-Taylor’s music its character.

His work, moreover, possess not only charm but distinction, the individual note. The genuineness, the depth and intensity of his feeling, coupled with his mastery of technique, spontaneity, and ability to think in his own way, explain the force of the appeal his compositions make.

While this can be applied to all of Coleridge-Taylor’s works, Washington is of course referring to the 24 melodies Transcribed for piano. Something we have talked extensively in our class has been issues with authenticity. Something unique to this book is that Coleridge-Taylor address this in his forward. Instead of maintaining their authentic forms and sounds, he states that he is simply trying to elaborate on already pretty melodies, and while doing so, he clearly states that they are not true representations of the music and do loos some of their value when being removed from their cultural context. However, again related to topics discussed in our class, he makes these transcriptions in order to elevate and celebrate African music. By treating the music in this manner, I would consider Coleridge-Taylor as American of a composer as any American-born composer.

 

Sources

Coleridge-Taylor, Washington, Tortolano, Washington, Booker T., and Tortolano, William. Twenty-four Negro Melodies. Da Capo Press Edition / New Introduction by William Tortolano. ed. Musicians Library (Boston, Mass.). New York: Da Capo, 1980.

Stephen Banfield and Jeremy Dibble. “Coleridge-Taylor, Samuel.” Grove Music Online. Oxford Music Online. Oxford University Press, accessed November 16, 2017, http://www.oxfordmusiconline.com/subscriber/article/grove/music/06083.

Minstrelsy and Jay-Z’s “The Story of O.J.”

This week I found some painfully real minstrel primary source material and just want to warn readers that I deal with some racist material in this blog post. I came across a minstrel song entitled “Isn’t it a Wonder?” which isn’t at all as innocent as the title sounds. Written in 1861 by Henry Wood, “Isn’t it a Wonder?” would have been performed at a minstrel show by Wood’s group, “Wood’s Minstrels.” It is written in a thick dialect, and is full of stereotypes. Blacks are compared to a variety of animals, and are portrayed as confused and unintelligent.

“Isn’t it a Wonder?”

The message of the song is made explicit in the last stanza. Wood encourages white audiences to adjust to the changing society and to stop trying to “kill the colored race.” It is important to note that this song was written in 1861 – marking the year Lincoln was inaugurated and the start of the Civil War. One possible interpretation of this song is that it highlights the fear and uncertainty that many whites felt about slavery coming to an end. Another interpretation is that it expresses the sick and twisted appreciation whites had for black culture, as it was useful for mockery, entertainment/minstrel shows, and to escape social norms.

Fast-forward 156 years. Jay-Z releases the music video for “The Story of O.J.” which uses many of the inaccurate techniques that minstrelsy did to portray black people. It is drawn in a black and white cartoon style, and presents the viewer with a flood of stereotypical images of black people — they are monkeys, slaves, jazz players, and football players just to name a few. The characters resemble old Disney cartoons, such as Steamboat Willie, which most likely had ties to minstrelsy. We understand this due to the white gloves, over exaggerated animalistic facial features, and caveman portrayal of a child playing the bones. So, why does Jay-Z use these stereotypes? And why now?

I believe Jay-Z’s use of these racist stereotypes found in minstrelsy highlights his message about race in America – we’re dealing with the same issues now. He also addresses the racism within the black community, and the struggle for financial freedom and responsibility. In this music video Jay-Z responds to one of the problems that minstrelsy and songs like “Isn’t it a Wonder?” pose– the comedic relief that blacks provide to white audiences. Jay-Z expresses that no matter what black people do they are still exploited for profit and treated as second class citizens.

Sources

Wood, Henry. Isn’t it a Wonder. 1961. http://infoweb.newsbank.com/iw-search/we/Evans/?p_product=EAIX&p_theme=eai&p_nbid=F59V55CJMTUxMDgwMTg5MC44MDEyOTQ6MToxMzoxMzAuNzEuMjI4Ljgy&p_action=doc&p_docnum=2000&p_queryname=2&p_docref=v2:10D2F64C960591AE@EAIX-10F453B3EBFA3590@925-@1

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.

Cafe Society: A Place to Hear Good Tunes, Mingle with Cohorts, and Establish Early 20th Century Institutional Racism

“Cafe Society,” a unique nightclub in New York City from 1938 to 1948, was always known as progressive and innovative. Deemed “the wrong place for the right people,” the club was an open place where black and white Americans could meet, mingle and socialize. The founder, Barney Josephson, sought to not only create the first racially integrated night club, but to hire and showcase primarily African American talents, including famous jazz musician Billie Holiday. While Josephson undeniably contributed to a broader interracial environment, some of the decisions he made, particularly in regards to Billie Holiday’s set, fostered an environment for “white guilt.”

In 1939, Holiday made her debut performance of Aber Meeropol’s “Strange Fruit,” a controversial song centered around the lynching of black slaves, at Josephson’s cafe. In order to create a liberal, interracial club, Josephson turned the song’s performance into an almost ritualistic process, stopping service, having the workers stand motionless and silent, and darkening the spotlight, lighting only Holiday’s face. While there is no question in regards to Holiday’s brilliant, soul-rendering, and enlightening performance of the violent track, there are a few concerns that are raised in the cafe’s setup of the piece.

John M. Carvalho, a professor of philosophy and musicology, addresses the true nature and result of Holiday’s regulated performances at the Cafe Society. In an article about the violent nature behind Meeropol’s text, Carvalho states that:

“Strange Fruit” became a means for white people to use a black woman’s body to absolve their guilt for the “civilizing” crimes of racism, to participate in those crimes, but from the outside and through the medium of one who had been and would continue to be the victim of those crimes.”

Essentially Carvalho is stating how early interracial clubs, such as Cafe Society, allowed for early 20th century white Americans to rid themselves of any past guilt and feel a sense of empowerment for exposing themselves to such raw and honest content. Holiday’s incredible rendition of such a tragic song has a time and a place to make an historic and powerful statement, but it may not have belonged in an early interracial club that had it’s first foot into the door of institutional racism. Carvalho even goes on to state how the sole portrayal of Holiday’s silhouetted face draws some parallels with the blackface performers of the same era. This disturbing connection makes it clear that even in communities that were taking steps forward in terms of equality, activists were unable to completely escape from the trends of the world around them.

As an extra source that dives into the unintended racism of early interracial night clubs can be seen in a CBS documentary entitled “Night Club Boom,” where Josephson is seen adapting a Guadeloupe-an performer’s (Moune de Rivel) performance to “better fit the American stage.” Rather than allowing a foreign musical act to perform in their desired medium, Josephson’s small, deliberate changes advocate a strong sense of appropriation, even in such a positive, forward-thinking environment.

WATCH HERE ->15:15 

http://search.alexanderstreet.com/view/work/bibliographic_entity%7Cvideo_work%7C1793020

Sources:

  • Carvalho, John M.. “”Strange Fruit”: Music between Violence and Death.” The Journal of Aesthetics and Art Criticism 71, no. 1 (2013): 111-19. http://www.jstor.org/stable/23597541.
  • Night Club Boom. Produced by Home Box Office. http://search.alexanderstreet.com/view/work/bibliographic_entity%7Cvideo_work%7C1793020. 

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.

 

Upbeat in Music

In a democracy at war, the cultural values of a young and vigorous nation can and must be preserved.

The closing lines of Upbeat in Music echo the rising nationalist sentiment that permeated America in the 1940s. This film, originally premiered in 1943 catalogues the musical year. And if one quote can sum up America’s musical life in the middle of World War II, it is certainly the one listed above. Upbeat in Music is a short documentary  put together by newsreel makers, the March of Time. This year, 1943, in particular is compelling. America was in the middle of World War II and the nation’s sole preoccupation was establishing a strong national identity. Music was not spared from this endeavor. In fact, music is perhaps one of the great definers on American musical identity. This short film while attempting to discuss only 1943 ended up encapsulating the spirit of American Music as a whole in a few key ways.

Committee determining “Hit-Kit” songs

First, the entire film is preoccupied with the definition of “American” sound. To be fair, the film was made during a time of increasing nationalist fervor. World War II was in full swing and music was not be be exempt from the military industrial complex.  In fact, the film points out throughout WWII the US Government printed in “hit kits” (books of five American songs and one song by an Allied Nation) that would be given to soldiers in the field. What got to go inside of the hit-kits was hotly contested. So much so that the government formed Music Committees of msuicians and impresarios like Benny Goodman, Tommy Dorsey, and Paul Whiteman to determine which pieces of music were “American” enough to be included. At this crucial time in history, it became incredibly important that America establish a cohesive musical identity. And the most American way to establsih and American musical identity is certainly through the formation of a government committee.

Even after the reel moves on from talking about World War 2, it continues to emphasize a true “American” sound. The reel describes the efforts of American composers to create Americna works, referring to the compositions of Duke Ellington, Virgil Thomson, and Aaron Copland. Later, the video goes on to describe the way the Jukebox is changing the music industry and discusses the way musicians are struggling to maintain credit for (and therefore profit from) their work. This struggle reflects a another aspect of American music as a whole: the duality of the musician both as an artist and businessperson. The film spends a great deal of time talking about Serge Koussevitsky and the BSO and acknowledging the Metropolitan Opera and several large symphony orchestras as both important business and important artistic forces.

The last section of the film focused heavily on popular music, pointing out that the American musical landscape is predominantly molded by the desires of a white, middle class market. This too is present throughout all of American music hisotry, the idea of capitalism and music coinciding. The presence of these sentiments from a documentary in the 1940s only proves that markets for music have been driving forces behind musical development in America long before the new millenium.

The film discusses the growing importance of jazz and recognizes the importance of Marion Anderson‘s recordings of spirituals as well, only briefly touching on the subject. While the film does discuss composers like Duke Ellington and performers like Anderson, it is also important to not the racist overtones that permeate the work. Nearly every person in the film is white, and when Ellington was brought up, through praised for his work in jazz, he was contrasted against “serious” composers like Copland and Thomson. Paul Whiteman was considered to be the standard bearer for jazz when it came to determining what should go into the “hit-kits” rather than someone like Duke Ellington who had a great deal of experience in the subject. In fact, no person of color was allowed on the “hit-kits” committee. As I said earlier, this film succeeds in painting a complete picture of American music history, and that history includes racism.

The film closes with the patriotic images of young soldiers giving recitals and the reminder that “In a democracy at war, the cultural values of a young and vigorous nation can and must be preserved”. For a nation at war, the preservation and definition of musical culture was of utmost importance. Upbeat in Music serves both as a time capsule and as an example of the major themes in American musical history. It is an invaluable insight into the ways music interacts with politics, culture, and economics as well as the way we talk about and research music.

 

Sources

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

March of Time Archive

 

Women in Music and Male Clothing…and Frankly Just Society in General

Before posting, I acknowledge that this post doesn’t directly relate to music, but I am also of the opinion that this topic can be spread to music among many other aspects of life.
The video that I kept getting drawn to was one that seemed as though it was going to discuss the act of being a man, or the requirements and limitations that society imposed on being male. Unfortunately, it seemed that I was wrong and that the video simply discussed the silly limitations that women placed on men in the form of clothes.
(Sarcasm warning) Of course, as the video stated, this was unreasonable as women had no idea what male fashion was and could not have chosen proper clothing to save their lives. In fact, it seems as though they are to be ridiculed for even attempted to aid in the choices that men made regarding their clothes.
As mothers, wives, grandmothers, sisters, etc… I find it tough to see how someone associated so much in the lives of the males in their families could have their opinions on such a small matter ignored, let alone ridiculed. The video seemed as though everyone agreed, presenting to the audience a completely disdainful commentary that looked down on women. This type of commentary cannot be flaunted on what believed to be a reputable program and it’s shameful to have been put forth at a time where such trivial disagreements such as clothing shouldn’t have been associated with sexism.
This type of argument can exist within music as well, spanning both women in music in the past as well as our learning now. The idea that women could be professionally involved in music was often disputed and, such as women choosing clothes for their husbands, laughed at. Even now, in learning about music history women are often ignored by what we consider to be the reputable sources, and their importance and involvement is still downplayed as we learn from curriculums that we trusted because we simply did not question them.
Overall, trivial matters such as clothes isn’t important, but rather an issue in the broader discussion of women’s opinions, ideas, and sheer existence in the public and male dominated sphere of being laughed at, downplayed, and downright ignored. It is in fact an issue that cannot be ignored and must be addressed, and we cannot perpetuate it within what some would consider to be reputable and trustworthy sources.
http://search.alexanderstreet.com/view/work/bibliographic_entity%7Cvideo_work%7C1792619

Celia Cruz

Celia Cruz, full-length portrait, facing front, on stage, 1962.

Celia Cruz, also known as the “Queen of Salsa”, was born on October 21, 1924 in Havana Cuba. She lived with her family father mother and three siblings and as many as fourteen other relatives. She would often sing her younger siblings to sleep. At this time, the career as a singer was unbecoming for a young woman so her parents insisted she get her education. After much persuading by Celia and her mother to her father, she enrolled at the National Conservatory of Music upon her high school graduation. There she studied music theory and voice and she continued to perform on Cuban radio stations such as: Radio Cadena, Radio Progreso, and Radio Unión.

Celia was recruited to be the lead singer of La Sonora Matancera. She joined the group and on their tour to Mexico, the never returned to Cuba in fear of Fidel Castro’s regimen. From Mexico, she moved to Los Angeles where she got a contract with a night club that made her eligible for American citizenship. She met Pedro Knight who became her husband and later her manager.

After a lull in demand for latin music in the 1960s in the United States, Celia relit the flame when she performed with the Tito Puente Orchestra. By the 1970s, SalsaTito Puente Orchestra. became very popular in the US. This kickstarted her career leading her to perform in performances such as:

“… Larry Harlow’s Latin opera Hommy at Carnegie Hall in 1973, performing with leading salsa interpreters such as Johnny Pacheco, Bobby Valentín, Andy Montañez, Willie Colón, Ray Barreto, Papo Lucca, Pete “El Conde” Rodríguez, and eventually recording with the most important group of the time, the Fania All Stars, Cruz was at the center of the salsa revolution and soon became one of the top interpreters of salsa in Latin America, the Caribbean, and the United States. Hits such as “Usted Abusó” (You Abused Me), “El Guabà” (Scorpion), and “Yerbero Moderno” (Modern Folk Healer) as uniquely interpreted by Cruz and her accomplished partners, have become salsa classics …” – Serafina Méndez

Celia Cruz is a strong, talent latina woman who has played a pivotal role in the world of salsa music in the United States. She held her title “Queen of Salsa” even though her recent passing on June 13th 2002.

Work Cited

Méndez, Serafina Méndez. “Celia Cruz.” The American Mosaic: The Latino American Experience, ABC-CLIO, 2017, latinoamerican2.abc-clio.com/Search/Display/1326499. Accessed 12 Nov. 2017.

[Celia Cruz, full-length portrait, facing front, on stage]. Photograph. Retrieved from the Library of Congress,

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.

A short foray

Over the course of these blog posts, my classmates and I have discussed an enormous range of subjects and, for the most part, usually tried to connect them back to race and identity in American music – the topic of the course. However, this week, I have decided to stray from said topic into something a little lighter: A composer renowned for his ideas about tonality that were later lauded as incredibly forward-thinking and were vital in forging an American modernist identity. A man whose music was written almost entirely for himself and close friends and then (figuratively) left in his desk for future musicians to discover. A figure who thought that classical music as he knew it was overly refined, feminine, and therefore emasculated. If you hadn’t figured it out already, today I will be talking about none other than Charles Ives. More specifically, I will be talking about Charles Ives’s correspondence1 with his fiance and eventual wife, Harmony Twitchell.

Charles Ives and Harmony Twitchell

I miss you all the time & feel how rich I was when I had you last week – to hear your voice & put my hand & feel you – never mind. I have your love and that is everything after all – I was quite wrong when I said that it was a year ago that I knew I loved you[.] It’s been all the time just the same but I never said it right out to myself until a year ago & gloried & rejoiced in it…

 

Harmony

How endearing! It can be so easy to forget the humanity of historic figures, (and modern day ones as well) but the act of reading someone’s correspondence with a loved one is one of the easiest ways to avoid such selective amnesia. In the blink of an eye, Ives goes from being a one-dimensional curmudgeon, to something a little more complex, a little more human. And that makes all the difference.

1 Ives, Owens, and Owens, Thomas Clarke. Selected Correspondence of Charles Ives. Roth Family Foundation Music in America Imprint. Berkeley: University of California Press, 2007.

Dvořák in Spillville

While not American in nationality, Antonín Dvořák represented much of what American music was about. Specifically, he saw the value of early African-American and Native American music as rich sources to establish an American national identity. Dvořák spent time in America from 1892 to 1895 as the director of the National Conservatory of Music in New York. During this time, many Americans wrote letters to Dvořák.

Of interest to me are two correspondences to Dvořák from Jan Josef Kovařík, the father of Dvořák’s secretary. Kovařík lived in Spillville, Iowa, where Dvořák spent some time in the summer of 1893. Both letters mention not his music, but instead offer a look into how Dvořák was treated by people of the towns he visited. The first letter was sent in May of 1893 before Dvořák’s arrival. In it, Dvořák is treated very cordially, and welcome with open arms.

“I would find you a cook; furnishings such as beds, pillows and blankets and bedsheets, all that we would have ready for you.”

Clearly, Kovařík saw value in having Dvořák visit Spillville, and wanted to ensure a pleasant stay. This one instance shows that Dvořák was not viewed as an imposter or someone swooping down to bring up a “lesser” culture. He was merely a visitor to a small town, and his host treated him with kindness and a certain level of familiarity.

The second letter was sent in December of 1894, well over a year after Dvořák had left Spillville. Kovařík seems to lament the fact the no one writes to him. He opens the letter by stating that “In vain I have been waiting to hear from you.” Despite not receiving responses from Dvořák, Kovařík continues in a friendly tone. He discusses the town’s going-ons as in a normal conversation.

“Your old friends Kumpal, Bily, Krnecek, Grandfather are all still alive—every day they trek to the little church to worship and then to gossip a little on the way back.”

Again, neither of these letters mention Dvořák’s music. However I think they still provide a valuable insight into how Dvořák was viewed as a person both before and after meeting someone. It seems that he left a positive mark on Spillville, and was gracious with his time while he was there. That speaks well to the music he might have gathered from the community there, as well as to his intentions in other areas of America.

Bibliography

Klaus Döge. “Dvořák, Antonín.” Grove Music OnlineOxford Music Online. Oxford University Press, accessed November 6, 2017, http://www.oxfordmusiconline.com/subscriber/article/grove/music/51222.

“Letters from Dvořák’s American Period: A Selection of Unpublished Correspondence Received by Dvořák in the United States.” In Dvorak and His World, edited by Beckerman Michael, 192-210. Princeton University Press, 1993. 

The Bromance of Carlos Chávez and Aaron Copland

Aaron Copland (back) and Carlos Chavez (front).

Aaron Copland and Carlos Chávez have an odd relationship, most notably in the similarities with their education and career paths. Robert L. Parker states in his article Copland and Chávez: Brothers-in-Arms, “there is no logical reason why their careers should have been so alike,”1 however alike they were and because of those similarities it seems they became each others best friend, at least in their respective music circles. After their initial meeting in the early 1930’s, the two exchanged many letters as well as promoted each others works in their respective  countries. It began with Copland through his ten concerts in the Copland-Sessions where Chávez’ works were performed in New York, London, and Paris. Soon after, Chavez accepted a post in Mexico as music director of the Orquesta Sinfónica de México where he was then in the position to return the favor to Copland.

However, for the purposes of this class, the importance of this friendship is about more than their similarities in character, education, and career. In 1934, Chávez wrote the following to Copland,

We had this summer a lot of Honegger, Hindemith, etc. etc. stuff here, and let me tell you that there are simple unbearable for me, that are artificial, full of literature, bad literature, and worse possible taste, I cannot stand them any more, they should shut up for ever, so much the better…

I find this personal comment on European literature rather funny. So much of our conversations in class contribute the sense of “high class” music to European culture and styles. Yet, here Copland and Chávez are seeing it as bad, almost grotesque by Chávez’ description. Chávez goes on to say the following:

… I got the Little Symphony [sic]; and let me tell you what I thought: well, here is the real thing, here is our music, my music, the music of our time, of my taste, of my culture, here it is as a simple and natural fact of my own self, as everything belonging to oneself is simple and natural.2

From this I was able to conclude on two things. One, that Coplands and Chávez’ musical tastes derive from their sense of “American Music.” (I am using this term to categorize both North and Central American Music) Although they live in two different countries, they both derive their music from folk traditions that are geographically very close to one-another. This likely contributed to their distaste in the aforementioned composers pieces.

Two, Chávez makes a very conniving argument on the authenticity of music. So much of our class is trying to define authentic music, understanding that we likely never can. However, when music is composed with respect to the origins of its inspiration, the music belongs to itself, simply and naturally. The physical, educational, or cultural background of the composer is less important when he or she is composing out of respect to their sources. If we can allow of that mindset, then the music begins to define itself, not the composer.

 

1 Robert L. Parker, Copland and Chávez: Brother-in-Arms (Illinois, University of Illinois Press, 1987), 433.

2 Howard Pollack, Aaron Copland: The Life and Works of an Uncommon Man (New York, Henry Holt and Company, 1999), 222.

Sources

  1. Parker, Robert L. “Copland and Chávez: Brothers-in-Arms.” American Music 5, no. 4 (1987): 433-44. doi:10.2307/3051451.
  2. Pollack, Howard. Aaron Copland : The Life and Work of an Uncommon Man. 1st ed. New York: Henry Holt, 1999.
  3. 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.)

Dvorak as an American Artist

In his book Dvorak and His World, Michael Beckerman provides a plethora of correspondences between Dvorak and other musicians and acquaintances. One spirit interaction is a letter written by William Smythe Babcock Matthews from Chicago on April 18th, 1893. This letter is written regarding some of Dvorak’s works, their meaning to America, as well as his connections to other musicians.

Matthews is requesting that Dvorak provide him with some details regarding what he feels towards America and music in general so that he may publish them alongside an image of Dvorak. In his letter, Matthews discusses some of the pieces he’d been listening to of Dvorak’s such as his Requiem.

Matthews describes Dvorak’s Requiem as “One of the purest musical works the Apollo club has done for years.” His admiration for Dvorak’s work is obvious, especially as he continues to praise it in context to the changing musical climate in America at the time.

In short it is a great work. Your orchestration pleased us all very much, and I was particularly gratified by the moderation of it, considering the temptation to let loose after the manner of Berlioz on the “Dies irae.”

Matthews holds great respect for Dvorak and his praise for his work in the transitional musical atmosphere of America at the time shows the importance that Dvorak held within American music. Many people wrote to him with praise and support but not many went into details regarding the climate in which Dvorak made his appearance. His music was something sublime within the times and were greatly appreciated across America, especially within those who were, as Matthews put it, “a real admirer of the composer, and a would-be friend to the man.”

 

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

 

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.

Percy Grainger and Henry Cowell: BFFs?

I was surprised when I first started reading about the friendship between Henry Cowell and Percy Grainger. My understanding of Cowell was that he was an abrasive, noisy ultra-modernist, while Grainger was a pleasant, folksongy writer of band music. It seemed like these men had nothing in common. I was surprised to learn that they had a remarkable amount in common. To begin with, both had a reputation for their treatment of the piano. Cowell’s for his use of extended technique, and Grainger for his wild virtuosity. Both were considered geniuses, each with a deep interest in researching and analyzing music of other cultures. Both men often taught classes or guest lectured, which is how they ended up meeting each other.

Grainger and Cowell in 1951

The two first met on January 17th of 1933, when Cowell was giving a lecture at NYU. Grainger was so impressed, he attended another lecture of his two weeks later. The two talked and agreed to meet to show each other their compositions and field recordings of folk music. After a successful ‘show and tell’ of sorts, they decided to remain in touch, marking the beginning of their correspondence. After their first meeting, Cowell wrote to Grainger

 “I am still in a rare state of excitement and delight at having contact with you today, and finding that you are so enthusiastic over the same things that I am!”

Grainger responded to this by writing

“The more I think about it the more I am amazed by the beauty , purity & charm of your epochmaking experi- ments as a composer, & the sanity & balance of yr attitude as a student of worldwide music”

The men continued writing letters for a year or so, and gave guest lectures at each other’s classes. The two temporarily lost communication in 1934 when Grainger moved to Australia for some time. From 1934 to 1937, there was no correspondence between the two. When Grainger mailed Cowell’s journal to receive Cowell’s mailing address, he was shocked to learn that Cowell had been sent to prison. In 1936, Cowell was sent to San Quentin Prison for having sex with an underage male. This did not stop the friendship between the two. Between 1937 and Cowell’s release in 1940, they exchanged over 100 letters with one another. Eventually, Grainger wrote to Cowell saying that once he got out of prison, he wanted Cowell to become his personal secretary, and the two men could research music together. Cowell joyfully accepted, writing

 “What a wonderful opportunity you and your wife offer me! I have no words to express myself with…To go to the islands to ‘get away from it all’ is one thing; but I should like to go there to get into it all”

Thanks to Grainger’s pressure on the Prison board, and for sponsoring Cowell’s parole, Cowell was released from prison in 1940 and moved to Grainger’s house in the Cook Islands. Once there, it was Cowell’s job to preserve Grainger’s archive of wax cylinders, scores, letters, manuscripts, pictures, drawings, and writings.

Grainger and Cowell having a jam session

During this time, Cowell was also experimenting with composition, and played with Grainger’s massive collection of exotic folk instruments. Because of financial strains, Cowell’s employment was mutually terminated in 1941. The two remained friends, occasionally exchanging letters until Grainger’s death in 1961.

 

Sources

Henry Cowell Web Site. Accessed November 07, 2017. http://www.henrycowell.org/hc/hcbiography.cfm

Music Division, The New York Public Library. “Henry Cowell and Percy Grainger” New York Public Library Digital Collections. Accessed November 7, 2017. http://digitalcollections.nypl.org/items/af9775e0-05fa-0132-27d3-58d385a7b928

Robinson, Suzanne. “Percy Grainger and Henry Cowell: Concurrences Between Two “Hyper-Moderns”.” The Musical Quarterly 94, no. 3 (2011): 278-324. http://www.jstor.org/stable/41289209.

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.)

Yaddo Festival Brings Music of Copland and Ives Together

During the 1930s, amidst the Great Depression and the American modernist movement, works by two of the most well-recognized American composers were performed in the same place in the same weekend. The First Festival of Contemporary American Music, held at the Yaddo estate in Saratoga Springs, NY featured a weekend of music programmed largely by Aaron Copland. Included in the Sunday afternoon concert were seven pieces from Charles Ives’ “114 Songs.”1

In this letter included in The Selected Correspondence of Aaron Copland, Copland writes to Ives to gain approval to perform these works as part of the festival and to obtain scores to begin work. Although Copland does not overtly mention why he has chosen to include Ives’ pieces in the festival, the editors propose that Copland included Ives’ pieces to provide historical background for the more contemporary pieces on the program.2

Ives’ art songs performed at Yaddo, a few of which are included here, marked a turning point in his reception among critics. Critic Paul Rosenfield wrote of sensing “the presence of a first-rate composer of Lieder in the ranks of American Music.”3 The festival, while giving voice to numerous contemporary composers of the time, also served as a chance for Copland to moderate a forum between critics and young composers, greatly benefiting the reputation of Ives’ compositions while simultaneously making Copland out to be exceedingly disapproving of the way journalists impacted contemporary music.4

Although Copland’s preferences for simple, easy-to-understand music which we discussed in class last week seemed in conflict with Ives’ ultra-modernist “push-the-envelope” styles, it’s enlightening to see that parts of both composers came together successfully in the Yaddo Festival. While there are many things that set these composers apart, it still is important to note that they were able to appreciate one another for the contributions they were making in a period of economic turmoil and financial hardship for a majority of the United States.

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.

 

Dvořák and Krehbiel

In DvorÃjk and His World,  Michael Beckerman collections of various correspondents between Dvořák and critics and fan. I found one letter that stood out to me in particular was from Henry Edward Krehbiel. He was writing with praise of Dvořák’s New World Symphony.

Second from the left: H.E. Krehbiel

We know from Simon Plum’s blog post titled Henry Edward Krehbiel published on October 10th, 2017. We know from Simon’s post that Krehbiel was a musicologist and author known for his work on bringing black folk music into the spotlight to be recognized. He was born on March 10, 1854 in Ann Arbor and passed March 20, 1923.

Correspondance from H.E. Krehbiel to A. Dvorak. From Berkerman’s collection.

In this letter, composed by Krehbiel on December 12th 1893 in New York invited Dvorak to attend a lecture he was giving at the “Women’s University Club” on “Folk Songs in America”. Krehbiel wanted to talk with Dvořák about his New World Symphony to write an article on it for the New York Tribune.

After doing some additional research, I was able to find a newspaper article published 5 days later after the correspondence. While there is no author listed, it fits the style and time frame of Krehbiel. It is a short article titled Dr. Dvorak’s Symphony located under the Music header of the Tribune.

Work Cited

Bain News Service, Publisher. Paderewski & wife and H.E. Krehbiel. Photograph. Retrieved from the Library of Congress, link.

Beckerman Michael, DvorÃjk and His World. Princeton University Press. Princeton, New Jersey. 1993.

Plum Simon, Henry Edward Krehbiel. Music 345: Race, Identity and Representation in American Music. Pages.StOlaf. link.

Why Nadia Boulanger is Kind of Like Master Yoda

You know that scene in Star Wars: The Empire Strikes Back, Episode V when Luke Skywalker visits Dagobah to learn from the great Master Yoda? And there’s an awesome training sequence where Luke learns all this awesome stuff about the Force and raises his ship from the swamp. Now imagine that Dagobah is 20th century Paris. And Master Yoda is Nadia Boulanger. And George Gershwin is Luke Skywalker.

Okay, so maybe Star Wars and Les Annes Folles Paris are two very different thigns, but the concept is the same. In June of 1928 George Gershwin went full Luke Skywalker and sent Nadia Boulanger this letter:

Letter from Gershwin to Boulanger

The text of this letter reads;

Dear Mademoiselle,

I am in Paris for a short visit and would like very much to meet you again. I believe we met when I was here two years ago, through the Kochanskis. I have a letter to you from Maurice Ravel.

Please be so good as to telephone me at the Hotel Majestic or write me a note letting me know when and where we could meet. With all good wishes I am,

Most sincerely, George Gershwin

When they met, Gershwin requested that Boulanger instruct him in composition. Boulanger (unlike Master Yoda) declined. She told Gershwin that she couldn’t give him anything he didn’t already have. When one takes into consideration Gerswin’s musical styles,this letter and Boulanger’s refusal to teach Gershwin represent a unique perspective on developing American musical identity. While Gershwin’s contemporaries were building on European idioms and attemping to legitimize American identity thorugh the adoption and adaptation of American Folk idioms. Gershwin, one could argue, was also doing this, but instead of Anglo Folk idioms, relied on Jazz. His brand of symphonic jazz, already popular in 1928, has a unique sound. I posit that Boulanger’s recognition of this unique sound represents the changing perceptions of American music on the European continent. Boulanger recognized that jazz was one of the most unique idioms to come out of American music. Her approval of Gershwin’s symphonic jazz mirrors the world’s tacit approval of the appropriation of jazz in a symphonic sense. While white American elites, and (as evidenced by this letter) white European elites applauded the “raising up” of jazz idioms, composers and performers of color were struggling to gain a tenth of recognition composers like Gershwin were able to achieve. This notion reveals that the source material from which Gershwin drew was stil considered by many, even those in Europe, to exist outside of Art Music as an exotic “other”. Perhaps Boulanger’s refusal to teach Gershwin and mold his composition to her “refined” (read white westernized) musical ideals, as she did Copland, Glass, and others, helped American music to continue its unabashed appropriation of musical idioms from marginalized people. Perhaps this is the true identity American music.

More on Boulanger

Nadia Boulanger is practically the undisputed master teacher of the 20th century. From Copland to Bernstein, her mark on American music is distinct and far reaching.

Boulanger

Boulanger was born on the 16th of September in 1887. She officially began studying composition at the Paris Conservatoire at the age of 9 working with masters of composition like Gabriel Fauré. Boulanger herself was a gifted composer, but nearly stopped composing completely after the devastating death of her sister, Lili, in 1920. While this personal tragedy blighted a promising compositional career, it opened the doors for her teaching to come through.

While you finish reading this post about Boulanger’s influence on American composers, listen to some of her compositions in this playlist.

Please take a minute to learn more about Nadia Boulanger here. As a teacher, composer, and scholar, Nadia Boualanger had an immense effect on our modern perceptions of American Music and deserves to be considered as a major facet of American Musical style along with her many pupils.

Sources

Spycket, Jérôme. Nadia Boulanger. Stuyvesant, N.Y.: Pendragon Press, 1992.

Potter, Caroline. “Boulanger, Nadia.” Grove Music Online. Oxford Music Online. Oxford University Press. Web. 15 Jun. 2017. <http://www.oxfordmusiconline.com/subscriber/article/grove/music/03705>.

Portrait of Nadia Boulanger from https://blog.edmodo.com/wp-content/uploads/2014/03/NadiaBoulanger_portrait.jpg.

Portrait of Yoda from https://vignette.wikia.nocookie.net/starwars/images/d/d6/Yoda_SWSB.png/revision/latest?cb=20150206140125

Porgy and Bess- A Fantasy to Racial Equality

Cover to a sheet music from Gershwin’s opera, Porgy and Bess

Porgy and Bess is as much of a serious, classical work as it is a political work. Porgy and Bess was created in collaboration with composer George Gershwin, and lyricists Ira Gershwin and DuBose Heyward. This cultural opera has been a prime example of the struggle of black and white relations and racial equality in art and performance. In his letter to Gershwin regarding Act II, Heyward writes to Gershwin explaining his ideas regarding a dance in the scene and the overall authenticity of it.

Letter from Hayward to Gershwin found in “George Gershwin: His Journey Towards Greatness”

Why is Porgy and Bess a popular topic when it comes to talking about the racial history of America? Firstly, it was composed, written, produced, directed, and critiqued by white people; yet it is about the behavior, beliefs and expressions of black people. This does not have to be problematic. However, as soon as people start making claims to authenticity, then it is problematic because people outside of a culture are adapting another culture without having experienced it or having fully understood it.

Many of the reviews that circulated when Porgy and Bess premiered praised the authentic of portrayals of black culture. The opera itself does not represent black culture and does not inform us of what was authentic (because that is always a moving target), but it informs us about the white perceptions of authentic black culture. Because most reviews addressed authenticity, this is a prime example of the fantasy that the journey to racial equality was “easy” and quick.

The making and remaking of Porgy and Bess is a case study in the ways that white Americans in the twentieth century craved stories about African Americans featuring earthy authenticity and frictionless progress toward racial equality. ~Ellen Noonan 

In DuBose’s letter to Gershwin, it is interesting that he used language like “primitive” yet the work was a prestigious and accepted genre: the opera. This seeming juxtaposition highlights the idea that people were willing to ignore the fact that this opera says more about white perceptions than authenticity of black culture. This omission mollified guilt and does not challenge any fantasized perceptions, making it the idealized path to racial equality.

Many of these critiques of Gershwin’s opera are also relevant today. It is important when performing works from other cultures to be conscious and well informed of personal perceptions and what is authentic.

Works Cited

Ewen, David. “A Giant Stride Towards Greatness.” George Gershwin His Journey Towards Greatness, Prentice-Hall Inc., 1970, pp. 220–222.

Noonan, Ellen. The Strange Career of Porgy and Bess: Race, Culture, and America’s Most Famous Opera. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2012. Accessed November 5, 2017. ProQuest Ebook Central.

Richard Crawford. “Porgy and Bess.” The New Grove Dictionary of OperaGrove Music OnlineOxford Music Online. Oxford University Press accessed November 5, 2017, http://www.oxfordmusiconline.com/subscriber/article/grove/music/O004106.

Chorus,Glyndebourne. “”Porgy & Bess “Summertime”. [July 1993]. 2:54. [July 2009]. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=O7-Qa92Rzbk

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.

Copland and Bernstein: two friends with diverging viewpoints on ‘American music’

 

Copland and Bernstein working together

It is no secret that Leonard Bernstein and Aaron Copland were great friends. Even though I had heard this going into my research, I had no idea to what extent the level of mutual investment and encouragement was! I was astounded and quite honestly touched to find the amount of loving correspondence that I did between the two composers. While there are extensive works devoted to both of their respective correspondences, I was particularly interested in a letter written by Copland to Bernstein that addresses their different viewpoints on American music.

In this letter, written December 7, 1938, Copland writes Bernstein with advice on Bernstein’s senior thesis at Harvard, which explores nationalism in American composition. His thesis, completed in 1939, is entitled “The Absorption of Race Elements into American Music,” in which he proposes a new American nationalism — one that is defined by the way in which the composer blends their own heritage with “Negro” and “New England” musical traditions, as these form the “sociological backbone of the country.”1

1938 correspondence from Copland to Bernstein

In all of the correspondence I’ve read between the two, Copland shows his affection for Bernstein while also giving “grandfatherly advice,” as he calls it in this particular letter. His advice regarding Bernstein’s thesis in the letter at hand is as follows:

Don’t make the mistake of thinking that just because a Gilbert used Negro material, there was therefore nothing American about it. There’s always a chance it might have an ‘American’ quality despite its material.

This comment made me curious — what was Bernstein’s assertion about Gilbert, and who was this Gilbert anyway?

It turns out Henry F. Gilbert (1868-1928) was a composition student of Mcdowell’s, and was particularly interested in African-American music. Bernstein cites Gilbert’s Comedy Overture on Negro Themes and The Dance in the Place Congo in his thesis to make claims about American music. He asserts that these pieces contribute to the nationalistic process beginning in 1900, a process inspired by Dvorak’s New World Symphony, by engaging in artificial representation where “new indigenous materials were merely imposed upon an otherwise neutral kind of musical scheme.” Bernstein writes that despite Gilbert being a “sensitive and sound musician,” the way in which he incorporates ‘Negro’ material in his works is not American. 1
Here is a recording of Gilbert’s Comedy Overture on Negro Themes:

He complicates the definition of American music further when he categorizes the slow and lyrical sections of  the Comedy Overture on Negro Themes as European. He even writes that “There is no consequential development emerging inevitably from the thematic ideas themselves; there is no basic American “feeling.””1
So he is in fact defining American music by its
sound, which leaves me rather confused. Copland rather encourages him to look beyond the material, demonstrating that Copland has a much broader view of American music. He remarks that:

Composing in this country is still pretty young no matter how you look at it.

Copland has open arms when it comes to American compositions — an attitude which Bernstein does not share at this point in his life.

Note: The two were 18 years apart but died just 2 months apart — Bernstein at 72 and Copland at 90.

Sources

  1. Bernstein, Findings. New York: Simon and Schuster, 1982.
  2. Copland, Aaron. Aaron Copland to Leonard Bernstein, December 7, 1938. In The Selected Correspondence of Aaron Copland, edited by Elizabeth B Crist and Wayne Shirley. New Haven & London: Yale University Press, 2006.

A Copland in Paris finds American sound

I grew up on a farm. I have a recognizable Minnesota accent. I only call it “duck duck grey duck.”

These are not things I would have described as distinctive about myself as I was growing up. This is because I was surrounded by it. I felt no need to assert it as part of my identity – everyone around me also possessed these factors of identity. However, when I came to St. Olaf, a school where I am often surrounded by students from Oregon, New Jersey, Texas, and even other countries, my friends and peers informed me just how identifying these things about me are. I went to a place where I was no longer surrounded by people from my same background, and people pointed out things about me that made me distinctive to them. That made me all the more aware of my identity.

Similarly, in post-WWI America, Copland found himself studying in a new place entirely surrounded by something different: Paris. He grew up in New York at the turn of the century, the son of Russian immigrants, and he was thoroughly surrounded by the American soundscape. When he arrived in Paris, excited and determined to learn and make a living, he began working with Nadia Boulanger, respected and revered composer at the time.

Image result for Aaron Copland nadia boulanger

Unlike Virgil Thomson, who pursued American music sound after being rejected from the Parisian music scene (saying it would be better to try and cultivate American sound than try to even break into the European scene), Copland turned to the American sound at the strong encouragement of his teacher, Nadia Boulanger.

One of the other students working in this class, Brandon Cash, also posted on this topic in 2015. Cash successfully outlines the strong relationship between Boulanger and Copland, especially highlighting the doors she opened for him in meeting other composers.

Compositionally, too, Boulanger’s abstract approach to jazz, which removed it from its cultural context and saw it as a purely compositional force, carried on into Copland’s work.

Image result for Aaron Copland nadia boulanger

Source: Library of Congress

However, it is important to understand her importance in Copland’s development not as a middle woman between him and Stravinsky, for example, but as a valuable contributor in her own right. She encouraged him to define his American sound – otherwise he would crash and burn. Her blunt, heavily honest advice drove him to really define what he was trying to achieve in creating “American” music. Most importantly, she helped him realize that he had a unique identity in being American and having American sound, so he needed to focus and cultivate that. Like me, he didn’t realize he had certain distinctive aspects of his identity until he was in an entirely different place and someone else told him.

It is ironic that the vessel through which he found his American sound is in a Western European country. However, this is not surprising, given that the outside view of American music can give valuable insight just as the view from within. Boulanger did, indeed, encourage him to listen to other composers’ works, and after he heard Milhaud, Stravinsky, Ravel, and Debussy dabble in Jazz, he incorporated it into several of his works. These include Rondino, Symphony for Organ and Orchestra, Music for the Theater, Dance Symphony, and Piano Concerto.

Below, these letters show Copland’s excitement at being in Paris and finding success and his correspondence with Nadia Boulanger.

Letter from Nadia Boulanger to Aaron Copland

Letter from Copland to Boulanger

Letter from Copland to his parents detailing his excitement at selling his first two compositions in Paris

Carole Jean Harris, “The French connection: The neoclassical influence of Stravinsky, through Boulanger, on the music of Copland, Talma and Piston.” State University of New York at Buffalo, ProQuest Dissertations Publishing, 2002.

Annegret Fauser, “Aaron Copland, Nadia Boulanger, and the Making of an “American” Composer.” The Musical Quarterly, Volume 89, Issue 4, 1 December 2006, Pages 524–554.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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

 

Oversimplification of Porgy and Bess

George Gershwin is credited with creating a truly American sound, through the fusion of jazz elements and concert elements. Too often, his works are taken for granted and placed on a pedestal by later listeners who seek to find what is “good” and what is “American”, or are simply repeating the mantra previously espoused. A simple example of this is a quote from the Manitou Messenger from 1950. In describing the music for a St. Olaf Band concert, the author states that “Concluding the program are some familiar selections from “Porgy and Bess” by George Gershwin who is credited with having best expressed the modern American idiom.”

This statement seems to be thrown out lightly, in order to draw in audiences to the concert. While not inherently wrong, this simple statement fails to capture the turmoil of American identity represented by Porgy and Bess. The Manitou Messenger is far from alone in ascribing blanket claims to music. As seen in the history of blues, jazz, and folk music, we have yet (if ever) to define categorical sounds for each of those topics. Gershwin has entered the vernacular as a truly American composer, but historical context is necessary to frame this claim.

Ellen Noonan presents a holistic take on the history of performances of Porgy and Bess, and the politics involved with them. Because the Manitou Messenger  article was written in the 1950, I will look at Noonan’s commentary on the state of Porgy and Bess in the 1950s. Noonan takes a strong stance on the political motives of Porgy and Bess.

“This Cold War Porgy and Bess was not just any opera; it engendered debate on a range of issues about race, representation, and politics. With the State Department briefing cast members to “keep in mind what you’d like your folks at home to read in the press about what you say” and U.S. newspapers covering the tour’s every move, Porgy and Bess was as much an intervention in the domestic politics of race as it was an exercise in creative foreign policy” (187)

Musical elements aside, Porgy and Bess became a driving force in pushing what it meant to be American. As such, the music became accepted into the realm and began to define American music. Noonan goes on to argue that Porgy and Bess mirrors the struggles of black people in the growing era of the Civil Rights movements. The U.S. government’s “propaganda efforts (like the Porgy and Bess tour) intended to convince the world that incidents of racial discrimination and violence were exceptional rather than typical” (189). If this is true, then perhaps Porgy and Bess does represent American music–that which is filled with rich history and suffers from a constant watering down and manipulation to fulfill a national identity.

Wether the identity is organic or fabricated, Porgy and Bess has certainly lent itself to an American musical identity, and it is clear that the message of American greatness trickled down into local college newspapers. A greater understanding of the history of any music is necessary in order to more fully inform a claim for an individual to express “the modern American idiom”.

Bibliography

Gershwin, Bennett, Shaw, Merrill, Stevens, Bennett, Robert Russell, . . . RCA Victor Orchestra, performer. (1950). Porgy and Bess.

Flaten, Anne. “Berglund Directs St. Olaf Band In Winter Concert This Evening”. The Manitou Messenger, No. 15, Vol. 063. February 17, 1950.

Noonan, Ellen. The Strange Career of Porgy and Bess : Race, Culture, and America’s Most Famous Opera. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2012. Accessed October 30, 2017. ProQuest Ebook Central.

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.

Bob Dylan – a Pop-culture Musician that Even Oles Liked

Bob Dylan – https://www.biography.com/people/bob-dylan-9283052

Bob Dylan was (and still is to some extent) a folk icon. He was born on May 24th, 1941 in Duluth Minnesota and went on to have a remarkably successful career as a musician in both performing and songwriting. Sarcastic blog-post titles aside, it makes sense that St. Olaf’s student-run newspaper, the Manitou Messenger, would have mentioned Bob Dylan at some point. Sure enough, Laurie Dion wrote a short piece in 2001 titled Bob Dylan rolls home like a rolling stone1In the piece, Dion does a post-concert write-up of Dylan’s performance at St. Paul’s Xcel Energy Center, where she says:

Dylan proved that his music remains “Forever Young.” And after 40 years in the music world, he’s still got what it takes to electrify an audience of retirees and teenagers alike. . . . Despite performing in his home state, Dylan didn’t mention a word of his Minnesota past. He didn’t even bother to introduce his songs — he just let the songs speak for themselves.”

Over the course of three sentences, Dion manages to allude three times to Dylan’s timelessness, which I believe is an important part of his appeal. The fact that multiple generations can enjoy hearing Dylan perform his music – which is itself a smorgasbord of different styles – is a testament to his timelessness, something which only a rare few musicians achieve. Does this mean that Dylan has secured his place in the pantheon of great musicians forever? Only time will tell. However, if one wanted to hear his music themselves, and in vinyl format no less, one need look no further than St. Olaf’s own Halvorson music library2.

The 20s and 30s: Dance bands not welcome at St. Olaf

Vinyls: “Big Bands and Territory Bands of the 20s and 30s”

As I sifted through the LPs in the Music Library’s vinyl collection, I was particularly drawn to a section on big bands. The two LPs that piqued my interest the most did not catch my eye because of their cover art, but rather their titles; “SWEET AND LOW BLUES: Big Bands and Territory Bands of the 20s,” and “JAMMIN’ FOR THE JACKPOT: Big Bands and Territory Bands of the 30s.” My first thoughts upon seeing these records were: 1. I know a little about big bands, right? and 2. What is a territory band?

“Jammin’ for the Jackpot”

These two vinyls are collections of popular territory band recordings from the 20s and 30, and inside each of them are extensive and informative essays on the history of territory/big bands. Today we are more familiar with the term big bands, but at the time these ensembles were called territory bands. Territory bands were regional dance bands in the Midwest, south, and southwestern states. Their principal function was to provide music for ballroom dancing, which was becoming increasingly popular in the 20s and 30s. From roughly the end of World War I until the Great Depression, dance orchestras in the United States grew in number, size, and popularity in response to this call for dance music. However, in the forward to “JAMMIN’ FOR THE JACKPOT: Big Bands and Territory Bands of the 30s,”J.R. Taylor writes that, during this period,

“Jazz musicians were in frequent creative tension with the dance band industry – exploiting and expanding its musical resources, learning its professional lessons, earning its wages, and chafing under its difficult working conditions and many artistic restrictions.

This complicated relationship existed vice versa as well, because jazz soloists served as a creative source for dance band – the innovative phrasing, rhythms, and “the adaptations and assimilations from classical music,” (Taylor). However, it is important to note that not all territory bands or big bands were strongly jazz oriented – a detail that gets overlooked now as we tend to blend the genres of jazz, big band, and swing (I myself am guilty of making that generalization without thinking.)

Here is a digitized recording of “Madhouse” performed by Earl Hines and His Orchestra —  one of the tracks found on “JAMMIN’ FOR THE JACKPOT: Big Bands and Territory Bands of the 30s,” so you can hear the style of music I am referencing.

Earl Hines and His Orchestra

By the time the Great Depression hit in the 30s the territory bands were failing to survive, as live music was replaced with the radio, and having a disposable income was no longer an option. While all of this was going on, back at St. Olaf a mysterious “L” was expressing their own opinion on jazz music and dancing in the Manitou Messenger. “L” calls the jazz band “contemptible,” “obnoxious,” and “profanity in music.” The author argues that the jazz band and jazz music do not correspond with the (Christian) spirit of St. Olaf College, and should thus be driven off the hill.

“L” does, however, recognize that jazz music naturally calls us to dance. They even pose the question “Why allow temptations such as this to exist?” if we know it’ll just make us want to get up and start dancing. Remember, dancing was forbidden at St. Olaf during this time. When you search the Manitou Messenger archives for “dancing” during this period it is consistently referred to as “folk-dancing” or “traditional-dancing” or “Norwegian-dancing” – safe forms of dancing that correspond with the mission of the college.

So, there’s quite a contrast between the popularity of ballroom dancing accompanied by touring territory bands in the 20s and 30s, and the nasty portrayal of jazz music and dancing by a student from St. Olaf. All I can do is wonder what “L” would think about our jazz bands and swing club.

Another example of taboo dancing in the Manitou Messenger. Taken from “Growing Pains,” published in 1935.

Sources

  1. “Territory Bands.” Encyclopedia of Popular Music, 4th ed.. Oxford Music Online. Oxford University Press, accessed October 31, 2017, http://www.oxfordmusiconline.com/subscriber/article/epm/49928.
  2. Bradford Robinson. “Territory band.” The New Grove Dictionary of Jazz, 2nd ed.. Grove Music Online. Oxford Music Online. Oxford University Press, accessed October 31, 2017, http://www.oxfordmusiconline.com/subscriber/article/grove/music/J445200.
  3. Marc Rice. “Territory band.” Grove Music Online. Oxford Music Online. Oxford University Press, accessed October 31, 2017, http://www.oxfordmusiconline.com/subscriber/article/grove/music/A2276655.
  4. Taylor, J.R. Jammin’ for the Jackpot: Big Bands and Territory Bands of the 30s.

Jazz as a Diversifier at St. Olaf

Benny Goodman

Knowing little about past artists St. Olaf has brought to campus, I set about my research seeing if any of the few jazz artists I know had ever performed on campus. One of my favorite being Benny Goodman, I began there. Although he never did perform on campus, and his name did not result in many articles, I did find a few important ones that expand on previous posts in this blog. In this post in particular, I will be adding to what Noah Livingston discussed this week as well on diversity within the music department at St. Olaf College.

Kristi McGee, a senior in 1989-90, wrote a strong letter explaining her reasoning for St. Olaf desperately needing a Jazz program in its curriculum. Whereas Noah’s found article seems to have a focus on the lack of diverse students at St. Olaf, McGee focuses on the musical and political benefits in relation to the college that a jazz program would bring.

Politically, McGee states that it is odd that the college does not have a jazz program implemented:

It seems ironic that an institution such as St. Olaf with high aspirations, and goals of diversification has not implemented a formal Jazz program. The emphasis on sacred and choral music and the disregard of other important musical genres, mainly Jazz, perpetuates St. Olaf’s image as a homogeneous, conservative, and conformists institution.

Any college cannot advocate for diverse student body while maintaining a conservative mindset on any matter, and although the college today is very open to dialogue, discussion, and change, it is evident through many of this blogs post that St. Olaf was not always accepting of opposing viewpoints. It appears that in the late 80’s and early 90’s, St. Olaf was in flux as it seeked to gather a larger diverse student body. Though it wished to accept new perspectives, it was not ready to let go of more traditional views on western music forms and what was considered art music and popular music.

To support her argument that jazz music is just as influential as other traditional musical genres, McGee list many influential artists and composers of jazz, and then proceeded to

Copland Clarinet Concerto, preformed by Benny Goodman, conducted by Aaron Copland, 1963.

explain how contemporary composers such as Ravel and Stravinsky had jazz influence their work. The example I will be using is Benny Goodman and how he influenced Aaron Copland’s Clarinet Concerto.

Goodman is a jazz and clarinet legend, and is considered the “king of swing.” His style and work as a clarinetist and as a band leader went on to influence a multitude of other artists and composers. This includes Aaron Copland and his Clarinet Concerto. Although it is now a standard of the classical clarinet repertoire, Copland’s Concerto was inspired by jazz techniques and Benny Goodman’s own playing.

McGee goes on to describe, in her own way, that to acknowledge jazz in an academic way would be to elevate it to a similar status that the school holds its coral and traditional western music to, which would then better acknowledge the work of the African American and other diverse American population that were instrument in creating and defining the one music style that is original to the United States, jazz.

Sources

Copland, Warfield, Goodman, Warfield, William, Goodman, Benny, Copland, Aaron, and Columbia Symphony Orchestra, Performer. Concerto for Clarinet and String Orchestra : With Harp and Piano. Old American Songs [sets 1 and 2]., 1963.

McGee, Kristi. “Jazz program desperately needed in music department.” Manitou Messenger, 06 Oct. 1989, pp. 5.

jazclarinetist. “Benny Goodman – Copland Concerto for Clarinet and String Orchestra.” YouTube, YouTube, 28 Mar. 2012, www.youtube.com/watch?v=PmMFL1zZ-tU.

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

 

 

Bitches Brew

Miles Davis is remembered today as one of the most influential figures in the development of jazz in the 20th century. Starting his career with a more conventional cool jazz sound, Davis pushed conventions by experimenting with his playing, compositions, and album instrumentation. I consider the pinnacle of his experimentation to be his 1970 album, Bitches Brew. This album is currently available to be checked out at the St. Olaf Music Library (you need to listen to this if you haven’t already). Unknown to a “Jazz” album at the time, Bitches Brew lacks typical jazz standards, song structures, and melodies in the conventional sense. Instead, Davis gives us a dense and chaotic musical landscapes. The music often sits on 1 chord for minutes, with the musicians improvising wildly over it. Also notable is its bizarre instrumentation of 2 drummers, 2 keyboardists, 2 bass players, 2 percussionists, and a distorted electric guitar. Davis fully embraces this new electric sound, which gives this album a bit of a psychedelic feel.

To me, Bitches Brew is Davis declaring war on all preconceived notions of what “jazz” ought to be. To me, this album is a revolution. I think much of Davis’ rejection of the status quo throughout his career stems from his infamous personality. He had a reputation for his bad temper, a large ego, and general rudeness. To get an idea of what he was like off the stage, I found an interview with Playboy Magazine from 1962. In this interview, Davis talks about his views on other musicians, critics, the creative process, and concerts. Race is a dominating theme throughout the conversation. Given his historical significance and the complex history of race within jazz, I find his comments to be especially impactful.

On prejudices he’s experienced

PLAYBOY: Did you grow up with any white boys?

DAVIS : I didn’t grow up with any, not as friends, to speak of. But I went to school with some. In high school, I was the best in the music class on the trumpet. I knew it and all the rest knew it — but all the contest first prizes went to the boys with blue eyes. It made me so mad I made up my mind to outdo anybody white on my horn. If I hadn’t met that prejudice, I probably wouldn’t have had as much drive in my work. I have thought about that a lot. I have thought that prejudice and curiosity have been responsible for what I have done in music.

On white jazz musicians

PLAYBOY: In your field, music, don’t some Negro jazzmen discriminate against white musicians?

DAVIS : Crow Jim is what they call that. Yeah. It’s a lot of the Negro musicians mad because most of the best-paying jobs go to the white musicians playing what the Negroes created. But I don’t go for this, because I think prejudice one way is just as bad as the other way. I wouldn’t have no other arranger but Gil Evans — we couldn’t be much closer if he was my brother. And I remember one time when I hired Lee Konitz, some colored cats bitched a lot about me hiring an ofay in my band when Negroes didn’t have work. I said if a cat could play like Lee, I would hire him, I didn’t give a damn if he was green and had red breath.

Interviews like these are a fantastic way to get a sense of an artist’s personality. I can see why some might have considered him to be rude or short tempered, but to me, I see an artist with very little care for anything besides his work. Davis was not interested in the superficiality of the entertainment industry. He was a man who simply lived his life and refused to conform. To me, his defiance is admirable.

Refrences

Erenkrantz, Justin. “Miles Davis. A Candid Conversation With the Jazz World’s Premier Iconoclast” Accessed October 30th 2017. http://www.erenkrantz.com/Music/MilesDavisInterview.shtml

Ruhlmann, William. “Miles Davis.” Allmusic. Accessed October 30th 2017. https://www.allmusic.com/artist/miles-davis-mn0000423829/biography

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.

 

 

“Sioux Indians (A Cowboy Chant)”… Oh the Irony

This week, amidst the vast shelves of St Olaf Libraries, I stumbled upon a track on the album Back in the Saddle Again: American Cowboy Songs. I was intrigued by the adjective “American” to describe the songs on that record. Does this album answer the question we’ve been asking all semester? Spoiler alert — No.

One song on the LP caught my eye. It was titled “Sioux Indians”. Nervously, I took a listen, only to hear more slander and racism which has been called-out in so many other blog posts.  The cowboy singing the song tells the story of the folklore and encounter with a tribe of Sioux Indians.

“We heard of Sioux Indians all out on the plains
A-killing poor drivers and burning their trains,–
A-killing poor drivers with arrows and bow,
When captured by Indians no mercy they show.”

These lyrics depict the Sioux Indians as savages! They are upset with that they are burning the trains and killing the drivers… but did do they remember who’s land they built the train tracks through in the first place? The song continues, and the cowboy himself encounters some Sioux Indians.

“While taking refreshment we heard a low yell,
The whoop of Sioux Indians coming up from the dell;
We sprang to our rifles with a flash in each eye,
‘Boys,’ says our brave leader, ‘we’ll fight till we die.'”

The complete other that the cowboys have created when describing. They limit the Native Americans to primitive sounds like a “yell” or “whoop”. When the song itself begins with the cowboy introducing himself and how he is going to “sing” you a song.

For me, the worst part is when the cowboys and the Indians duel.

“They made a bold dash and came near to our train
And the arrows fell around us like hail and like rain,
But with our long rifles we fed them cold lead
Till many a brave warrior around us lay dead.”

“Fed them cold led” is such a demeaning drastic image. The verb “fed” used as if it was a service or kindness. They also poke fun at the fallen Native Americans mockingly calling them “warriors”. This piece “Sioux Indians” by Marc Williams continues the racism behind turning Native Americans into others – in this case savages.

Citations

Recorded Anthology of American Music, Inc. (1983). Back in the Saddle Again : American Cowboy Songs. 

William, Marc. Sioux Indians (A Cowboy Chant). Spotify. link

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

Cows, Colleges, and Duke Ellington?

 

Duke Ellington at Carleton

Duke Ellington (born Edward Kennedy) became a prominent jazz musician throughout the mid 20th century. His name has become synonymous with jazz throughout households in the United States of America. As many jazz musicians, Duke Ellington toured across the United States with his orchestra playing the repertoire that would make the most money. In 1957, this orchestra and the esteemed composer himself made a visit to Carleton College on November 5th. And, in the tradition of great school newspapers, the Manitou Messenger advertised the concert. However, as intriguing as this article was, a little deeper digging revealed a more interesting resource: an article reviewing the concert from the Carletonian. To be fair, the Manitou Mess certainly wasn’t skimping on their coverage: the concert took place at Carleton, so it only makes sense for the more substantial review of the concert to appear in the Carletonian. The intriguing part of the article is the student’s opinion of the concert. The reviewer says that Ellington “proved once again, in Skinner memorial chapel, Tuesday night, that he is still one of the very best jazzmen around, with one of the very best bands.” The author goes on to praise Ellington’s jazz ability, but later in the article notes that despite Ellington’s status as a premier jazz musician, the concert was not “consistently good from a strictly musical standpoint”. The reviewer explains that the audiences more “sensitive ears” would have been repelled by the “exhibitionism” offered by some of the jazz soloists. Below is a recording of one of the pieces that were played at the concert:


As is often true of historical sources, this opinion on Ellington’s orchestra tells us more about the reviewer than the music itself. Duke Ellington’s career was on the decline by this point in the 1950s. He was focusing on writing sacred music and toured playing his most popular pieces. The author of the article points out that Ellington mainly played works that the audience knew and refers to Ellington as an “institution”. Even though the concert may not have been as musically perfect as the audience expected, they still knew that Ellington was an important part of history. Already, just a few decades into his career, Duke Ellington was a sacred relic.

Record titled “Jazz in the 1920s”

This quick institutionalization of jazz figures is also reflected in the records of the time. While searching through the St. Olaf Halvorson Music Library for records of Ellington’s made around the late 1950s, I found it difficult to find a single record of Ellington’s music alone. The early solo record of his on file is from the 1970s. One record I did find from around the time was part of a Library of Congress series on Jazz music. Ellington appeared once on the record. It seems as if the effort to collect jazz and codify it as a genre began at the same time as the art form itself. This tradition of feeling a need to preserve and codify art forms like jazz was passed down from Blues collectors who also felt a need to define their genre. These two artifacts, in particular, illustrate the incredible spread and popularity of jazz throughout the country. However, they also represent the way white audiences controlled what music became popular and marketable, as well as the way jazz musicians’ careers depended on the benevolence of a fickle American public.

Mostly, however, I chose to write about this particular Manitou Messenger article because Duke Ellington came to Northfield, and Carleton didn’t like it. What a story.

Sources

Hodeir, André and Gunther Schuller“Ellington, Duke.” Grove Music OnlineOxford Music OnlineOxford University Press, accessed October 30, 2017http://www.oxfordmusiconline.com/subscriber/article/grove/music/08731.

Manitou Messenger Archive

Carletonian Archive

MPR Article on Ellington’s Sacred Music

Jazz: America’s Music

Manitou Messenger article by Allan Townsend 1956

In this article is presented a very enthusiastic and nationalistic view of jazz, which aligns with popular opinions today. The history of jazz has been quite romanticized over the past decades, but it hasn’t always been championed as the emblem of American music.   Jazz was a music that first emphasized the performer over the composer. It featured improvisation over conventional structure and overall was a very rebellious art form, both musically and socially. Racism at the time created a deep-seated opposition to jazz because its racial associations and untraditional aspects. Jazz went from an unacceptable and rebellious art form to America’s music. How did this happen? First there was a time where many people, including Oles thought that Jazz was an inferior and unsophisticated from of music. And a few decades later, it was celebrated as truly American music revering its original composers and performers.

Manitou Messenger  article by Soren Lura 1930

Soren Lura ’31, for example had a pretty popular opinion in his time towards jazz. His opinions reflect the opposition towards Jazz for its supposed barbaric and unconventional characteristics. He states that jazz is primitive and compared it to the music and dance of cavemen.  Oscar Overby, a guest speaker in 1931, also had a similar opinion to Lura with one exception.

Guest Speaker Oscar Overby

“Music develops the whole man physically, mentally and spiritually, and jazz only develops the physical…. However not all jazz is to be condemned. Some of it has good qualities which are being used in the modern school of composition.” ~Oscar Overby

Overby had an exception that jazz was not all that bad because certain qualities were being used in modern composition. This opinion reflected the racial prejudices and divide amongst people. So how did opinions of Jazz change from Overby and Lura to Townsend’s popular view? One explanation is exactly what Overby expressed. Many people might have become more welcoming to jazz as legitimate music when it was adapted for the concert hall. This again suggests that people were only accepting to what they thought of as the most prestigious and cultivated music and that there was a clear hierarchy in music.

George Gershwin composing

George Gershwin was known for his compositions to include jazz and blues idioms, however it was composed for an orchestra, or a small band, both already being established genres of music. Many of his compositions were highly regarded and became the symbol of truly American music. Gershwin’s Rhapsody in Blue received much praise because if it’s unprecedented innovation in combining jazz and traditional styles, making it more palatable for white audiences. He of course received opposition as well, but over time, Rhapsody in Blue came to hold a permanent place in American music. It is interesting that as soon as a white man redefined black music for white audiences, it was celebrated.

Rhapsody Album Cover

In the recording of Gershwin’s Rhapsody in Blue, in the album, Rhapsody: Ferrante and Teiche and their Magic Pianos, there are elements of jazz and concert music. Firstly, the parts are written out, ignoring the improvisational aspect of jazz.  It was also meant to performed in a concert hall, instead of settings like speakeasies or rent parties, which ironically, Gershwin frequented. Based on its popularity and number of performances, Rhapsody in Blue popularized jazz for those who otherwise disapproved of it.

 

liner notes from album

Gershwin’s “cultivated” jazz also contributed to what people adopted as America’s sound. Gershwin’s work was so popular because he combined “low” music with modern music and provided America with a sound that was independent of European influence…even though we know it wasn’t.  This shows that even as people were struggling to define truly American music, they still turned to the belief that European styles were superior.  It is important to acknowledge these problematic issues because they contribute to the misrepresentation and erasure of a culture’s art and innovation.

Works Cited

ClassicFM. George Gershwin and the Art of America.

Ferrante and Teicher and their Magic Pianos. Rhapsody, Belleville, NJ. 1955.

Lura, Soren. “The Jazz Mania.” Manitou Messenger , 25 Nov. 1930, pp. 2.

“Oscar R. Overby Speaks on Jazz.” Manitou Messenger , 28 Apr. 1931, pp. 1.

“Rhapsody in Blue.” Nonesuch Records Inc. Nov. 1992.

Townsend, Allan. “An Introduction to Jazz.” Manitou Messenger , 3 Feb. 1956, pp. 3.

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.

Roberta Flack and Donny Hathaway: An Album That Deserves Attention

Over the summer of my freshman year, which consisted of using a large portion of my small paychecks on vinyl, I stumbled upon a Roberta Flack and Donny Hathaway record at a good old fashioned Maple Grove garage sale. Aptly named “Roberta Flack and Donny Hathaway” the 1972 album pins together two young R&B artists from Howard University and consists of an intimate and diverse collection of covered and original songs. While at the time of my purchase I didn’t think much of the record (besides the fact that I knew Hathaway’s famous cover of John Lennon’s “Jealous Guy” and a limited knowledge of Flack’s discography), I quickly fell in love with the ten sweet and sombre duets.

From the perspective of race, identity, and representation of “American music,” this album is a great representation of the assorted genres and influences that existed in the ever increasingly rich world of R&B, soul, and gospel in the ’70s. With a brief glance at the repertoire of covers, this notion immediately becomes apparent.

Track two, the initial recording by the pair, is a gospel tinged, lightly orchestrated cover of Carole King’s “You’ve Got A Friend.” Released around the same time as James Taylor’s sparse, singer songwriter version of the same piece, the song captures the initial spirit of the bohemian middle class that King set up, but extends it to the inner city, lower class communities, by use of the passionate call and response between chemically driven Hathaway and Flack, the driving wurlitzer electric piano base, and the tambourine infused percussion section. Similarly, “You’ve Lost that Lovin’ Feelin’,” a Righteous Brothers cover, replaces the standard Spector “wall of sound” orchestration with wild harmonica lines, funk bass, and ever-increasingly mellifluous harmonies, and adds an extra layer of genre bending licks and sections. With a moody ostinato bass-line  that melds into an exotic verse fully equipped with a traditional Indian sitar and an undeniable trope of Bach’s Toccato and Fugue in D Minor played on harmonica (around 5:40 in the track for all you musical nerds out there), this tune blends a fair amount of culture-crossing musical practices and influences.

You’ve Got A Friend: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7cOqfGPYc-E

You’ve Lost that Lovin’ Feelin’: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=c0m812CC4kg

Having only given two of the ten tracks a brief genre-based analysis, this blog post can’t conceivably capture the scope and range of this record. Whether it’s “Be Real Black for Me,” a song that served as an anthem for the 1960’s “black is beautiful movement,” “Come Ye Disconsolate”, a traditional sacred song-turned-gospel arrangement of a well known Thomas Moore hymn, or “Mood,” a breathtaking seven minute classically infused piano duet, Hathaway and Flack’s album of undeniable chemistry demonstrates the far-reaching influence and diversity found in R&B music of the 1970’s.

Sources

Flack, Roberta, Donny Hathaway, Eric Gale, and Billy Cobham, writers. Roberta Flack & Donny Hathaway. Recorded May 6, 1972. East West Records, Vinyl recording.

Koollatter. “Roberta Flack & Donny Hathaway – You’ve Got A Friend.” YouTube. February 01, 2014. Accessed October 30, 2017. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7cOqfGPYc-E.

“Music – Review of Roberta Flack & Donny Hathaway – Roberta Flack & Donny Hathaway.” BBC. Accessed October 28, 2017. http://www.bbc.co.uk/music/reviews/q6cg/.

77GhetooD. “Donny Hathaway & Roberta Flack – You’ve Lost That Loving Feeling (1972).” YouTube. April 3, 2011. Accessed October 29, 2017. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=c0m812CC4kg

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.

Theodore Thomas and the American Symphony Orchestra

When considering the rise of concert music in America, scholarship often directs its attention to the founding of the New York Philharmonic Society in 1842 as landmark in Americans coming together for orchestral symphonic concert music. According to Crawford, the ensemble was founded as a “cooperative venture whose playing members were less interested in financial gain than in the chance to play the best symphonic music.”1 The ensemble only played four concerts in the first year, however Crawford points to its survival as proof that it “filled a need on the local scene.”2

“Theodore Thomas” New York Philharmonic Biographies https://nyphil.org/about-us/artists/theodore-thomas

However, I do not think it is fair to focus only on the Philharmonic as the sole introduction of symphonic concert music to popular American taste. Another factor to consider is Mr. Theodore Thomas and his influence on the genre. Thomas started out playing in the first violin section of the New York Philharmonic Society before moving to a conductor position with the Brooklyn Philharmonic Society.3 During his time at the Brooklyn Philharmonic, Thomas “evolved a formula to please the public and yet challenge, educate and uplift it” through the programming of European classical music.Through his lens, concert music by European masters was exactly what Americans needed and deserved to hear.

Later in the 1860s, Thomas went on to develop the Theodore Thomas Orchestra as resident to the Brooklyn Society and also to travel on tour along what was deemed the “Thomas Highway.”5 Thomas’s motivation to tour was likely an extension of his desire to share and spread the music he loved to the people of the America. Thomas was also notable for his impresario skills which he used to not only conduct the music but also to coordinate the finances and management of his orchestras.

“Thomas viewed himself as an agent in the work of raising musical standards to secure the symphony orchestra’s place in the United States.”6

In this article from the New-York Tribune, the journalist describes the contrast between the Boston audience’s response and the critic’s opinion upon hearing a concert including “Vorspiel” from Wagner’s opera Lohengrin. “The audience evidently liked it” the writer says, but critics found issue with the inclusion of Wagner because of his political ideology.7 Ultimately though, the journalist takes sides with the audience who loved this piece for its musical quality.

“Its undulating harmonies have a dreamy beauty which proves that Wagner, despite his extravagance and barbarie fire, is really a poet.”8

This brings me to my final query, which is whether or not we can count the music performed by Thomas and the orchestras he led as “American.” Even though a great majority of the music he chose to perform was written by European composers, I pose it is possible we consider it “American Music” if we use the label to describe it as an essential part of American culture. This leaves room for extensively more detailed research as to what exactly this music provided to audiences of the time as well as whether or not the rise of orchestral symphonic concert music, starting out with European classics, led to a later rise of American composers in this genre.

Richard Crawford, America’s Musical Life: A History, (New York: W. W. Norton & Company, 2001), 304.

Tee-pee Blues?

Tee-Pee Blues sheet music cover1

Tee-pee Blues1 2 is not your average song title. In fact, to a reader such as yourself, who is taking time to read blog posts for an American Music class that focuses on race, identity, and representation, such a title is at least astoundingly crass, if not downright offensive. How did someone possibly think it would be a good idea to write lyrics such as “Red man, for his canoe lonely,” set them to music that doesn’t remotely resemble Blues form, and then call it a Blues song? The answer however, as far as I am aware, is quite unsatisfying, and certainly not redeeming. Simply put, early 20th-century Americans were obsessed with exoticism (though admittedly that’s not what they called it then) and Tin Pan Alley loved nothing better than trying to capture Americans’ obsessions in music that could be marketed to them. And so, musical fluff that is more memorable for the tastelessness of its title than for its notes on the page was born. However, not all music produced by Tin Pan Alley was bad – it also produced classics such as Take Me Out to The Ball Game3. (“Classic” in this sense means something that pervaded popular culture, not to be confused with something that has an especial musical merit.)

All of this raises the question: what do we, as diligent musicologists, do about the fact that tens, if not hundreds, of thousands of Americans enjoyed and bought music like this? Do we simply frame it as a relic of times gone by, and justify our fellow Americans’ behavior as such? No! It is our duty to work to fight the cultural and economic forces that led to the production of such derogatory music, as such forces still play an incredibly active role in our lives to this very day. Spoiler: we have a lot of work to do.

“Goin’ Home”

While scrolling through the sheet music consortium, I stumbled across a digitized piece of music of which I have a physical copy in my own personal library, “Goin’ Home,” an adaptation by William Arms Fisher of Anton Dvořák’s New World Symphony (No. 9, mvt II Largo, specifically). Personally, I love the symphony and have enjoyed listening to it for many years, but I can’t help but wonder now about the complicated philosophies of Dvořák and this adaptation of his work which place the work not just as a well-known music history class example to memorize, but a work that has juxtaposed good intention with possible misguided ideology.

The sheet music I found includes a detailed account of Dvořák’s intention behind the New World Symphony and the melody on which this vocal piece is based. This description, shown to the left, describes Dvořáks fascination with the native people of the US. In his own desire to see his home, he attempted to fully understand the Native American and black music traditions which showed the true roots of American culture.

I think, overall, the attempt of this work to show Dvorak’s intent shows in the written dialect on the words “I’m Jes’ goin home” and “Gwine to roam no more.” Clearly, Fisher’s adaptation attempts to look to Dvořák’s attempts to draw on black folk music. The music does say that the singer may omit the dialect, which shows that people of all backgrounds were encouraged to sing this music. We also know from the forward of this piece pictured above that Dvorak, while attempting to make an example of true American music, also drew on his own experiences. The spirit of his work was meant to be applicable to many people. In “Goin’ Home,” Fisher develops Dvořák’s yearning for his own home into a universal message of hope for anyone searching for home.

However, the message is pointedly not universal when it is directly associated with black folk music. Even more so, the white composer and arranger have not used an actual black folk tune but made one up – this causes confusion and leads people to believe that the song is originally a black folk tune. Instead of lifting up an already existing melody in the black folk tradition, Dvořák stereotyped his idealized version of folk music and missed an opportunity to showcase genuine, authentic folk music. While the attempt seemed earnest in its good intent, the execution remains slightly subpar.

We must also consider what it would have meant if he’d used a black folk melody. Would appropriating one have been much better? He was stuck between creating one on his own and using an existing one – both appropriation and creation would have contributed to the erasure of this culture in some form, though. As someone who was not part of the black folk tradition, it would have been impossible to find a way to authentically emulate these traditions without erasure. This brings up the question of whether or not he should have written this at all.

I hesitate to say he should not have. Whether that is simply because it is beautiful music or because there is some other argument that he contributed to American music in a way different than MacDowell (who contributed to a “vanishing Indians” idealogy), I cannot say.1 This piece, especially controversial given its dialect text, would be an excellent addition to our class exhibit, however. Since I own a personal copy, and we can give people a QR code that lets them access it online and peruse anytime, I think that it is an accessible source that many could use.

 

 

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

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.)

William Arms Fisher’s “Goin’ home”: somehow a “Negro spiritual”

This week while browsing the Sheet Music Consortium my eye was caught by a particular title: “Goin’ home: Negro spiritual from the largo of the New World Symphony, op. 95.” I was curious as to what this material could be – was the New World Symphony based on a spiritual?

William Arms Fisher

I was surprised to learn that this title was in fact invoking a song written to the music of the largo from Dvorak’s famous American symphony. The lyrics to “Goin’ home” were written and set to music by William Arms Fisher in 1922, after the premier of the “New World Symphony” in 1893. Fisher was a student of Dvorak’s at the National Conservatory, and later went on to become a music editor, historian, and songwriter. He wrote on the impact and importance of 18th and early 19th century American music, and also compiled anthologies of Irish songs and Negro spirituals. Fisher is however most well known for the setting of “Goin’ home” at hand.

In his forward to “Goin’ home,” Fisher writes about his inspiration for writing lyrics to go with the second movement of the New World Symphony:

“That the lyric opening theme of the Largo should spontaneously suggest the words “Goin’ home, Goin’ home” is natural enough, and that the lines that follow the melody should take the form of a negro spiritual accords with the genesis of the symphony.”

“Goin’ home” title page

In this statement by Fisher, as in the symphony as a whole, we see a blending of genres, a crossing of Dvorak’s European symphonic traditions with pastoral and folk-y American inspiration. Fisher believed that the homesick, almost tragic qualities of the English horn melody in the largo movement embodied Negro spirituals, which thus called him to interweave the spiritual with the symphony. However, is “Goin’ home” a Negro spiritual if Fisher wrote the lyrics and Dvorak wrote the music?

This brings up the question of authorship for me, and the author’s/composer’s intentions while writing the music. First of all, Fisher chose to write the lyrics in a dialect, which was a conscious decision on his part. It seems to me like an effort to be more authentic and true to the style in which he was writing, a style rooted in a tradition and experience he did not share. Fisher’s outsider and dangerously essentialized perspective of black people is shown here in the introduction to his anthology entitled “Negro spirituals.” He writes that black people were:

“Given an ingenuous native capacity for rhythmic musical expression, the gift of improvisation, a primitive but intense emotionalism, a condition of life that ranged from the most naïve light-heartedness to tragic somberness, and an utter dependence for consolation upon faith in invisible realities, often tinged with lingering elements from a barbaric past, and you have that truly unique product – the Spiritual with its background of torch-lit groves, swaying bodies and half-closed eyes.”

Sheet music to “Goin’ home”

In this quote Fisher throws one stereotype after another at his reader, while attempting to recognizing the greatness of the genre. So since the spiritual is, as Fisher asserts, “a truly unique product” then why did Fisher not have any qualms about writing music for this genre? Lastly, as I watch videos and listen to recordings of “Goin’ home” being performed, I am reminded of the commercial purposes that this setting of text to already established music serves. The vocal version of this piece increases its accessibility, and provides many more opportunities for performance and commercial consumption. Fisher builds on the success of Dvorak, in a time where it would’ve been prudent to expand the boundaries of this symphonic work.

Sources

  1. Beckerman, Michael. “The Real Value of Yellow Journalism: James Creelman and Antonín Dvorák.” Musical Quarterly 77, no. 4 (1993): 749. http://www.jstor.org/stable/pdf/742357.pdf?refreqid=excelsior%3A44e9b3926e7a50b8f624e4eafb225c8b
  2. Dvorak, Antonin and New W. Symphony. 95 Adelaide: Cawthornes Ltd, 1922. (retrieved October 23, 2017). http://nla.gov.au/nla.obj-166692271/view?partId=nla.obj-166692390#page/n1/mode/1up
  3. Karl Kroeger. “Fisher, William Arms.” Grove Music Online. Oxford Music Online. Oxford University Press, accessed October 24, 2017, http://www.oxfordmusiconline.com/subscriber/article/grove/music/0974
  4. “The Looking Glass.” The Crisis, February 1927, 210-11.
  5. “[Front Matter].” In Seventy Negro Spirituals, edited by William Arms Fisher, 1-42. Oropesa, Castilla-La Mancha: Oliver Ditson &, 1926. http://search.alexanderstreet.com/view/work/bibliographic_entity%7Cdocument%7C3399955

Sergei Rachmaninoff, an American Pop Influencer

I am, I believe, about to further complicate the question “what is American music?”

“Full Moon and Empty Arms,” 1946

Having just performed Rachmaninoff’s Second Symphony, I thought it would be interesting to look into how his music influenced popular music from the mid to late 20th century after being informed by my parents about Eric Carmen’s “Never Gonna Fall In Love Again” using Rachmaninoff’s theme from the third movement. There are, of course, many other songs that are based on works by other famous composers, but I wanted to focus on Rachmaninoff in particular.

Looking through UCLA’s Sheet Music Consortium, I was not able to find anything on Eric Carmen, however. But, I was able to find a work by Buddy Kaye and Ten Mossman titled “Full Moon and Empty Arms” (1945) that was popularized by Frank Sinatra. It is based on a theme from the third movement of Rachmaninoff’s Second Piano Concerto.

Returning to Eric Carmen, another popular American singer, he had two popular songs based on themes by Rachmaninoff; “All By Myself” (1976) and “Never Gonna Fall In Love Again” (1976). The first song is another piece that is based on a theme of Rachmaninoff’s Second Piano Concerto, while the second piece is based on the third movement of Rachmaninoff’s Second Symphony. I will focus on the second piece as I am more familiar with Rachmaninoff’s Second Symphony than his Second Piano Concerto.

Rachmaninoff’s theme from the third movement first shows up at 0:32 of the above recording of “Never Gonna Fall In Love Again.” The reason being that Eric was classically trained and was a fan of Rachmaninoff. Thinking his music was in the public domain, he used that theme to create his song.

Returning to the original question, “What is American Music?”, this crossover music helps identify what I consider to be “American Music.” Looking at Frank Sinatra and Eric Carmen’s careers, they are easily identifiable as Popular American Singers, with her music defining “American: popular music of their time. However they both drew on themes composed by a Russian composer, and on top of that, much of Carmen’s style is based on those of the British Invasion of the 1960’s, evident from his time with The Raspberries.

Finally, I will actually ask the question: What is American music?

Like many things regarding identity today, there is no singular answer as it lies on a spectrum. For me, it is the curation (appropriation could be another way of describing it) of cultural and racial identities into ones own “authentic” voice. America is known as the “melting pot”  or the “salad bowl,” and although today those references are often scene as a negative way of describing it, America is a center (not the only one) of culture and ethnic diversity. With regards to the music of Eric Carmen, Buddy Kaye, and Ten Mossman, credit is given to Sergei Rachmaninoff which sets an example for how one should borrow from other influences other than your own, while still creating a new and authentic form of that music.

 

Sources

Ankeny, Jason. “The Raspberries | Biography & History.” AllMusic. Accessed October 23, 2017. https://www.allmusic.com/artist/the-raspberries-mn0000416245/biography.

Kaye, Buddy and Mossman, Ted, “Full Moon And Empty Arms : Based on Rachmaninoff’s Piano Concerto No. 2” (1946). Vocal Popular Sheet Music Collection. Score 856.
http://digitalcommons.library.umaine.edu/mmb-vp-copyright/856

“Rachmaninoff: How Russian Romanticism Inspired 1970s Hits.” WDAV: Of Note. August 7, 2014. Accessed October 23, 2017. https://blogs.wdav.org/2014/08/rachmaninoff-the-composer-who-inspired-1970s-hits/.
“Sinatra meets Rachmaninoff.” Full moon blog. November 7, 2011. Accessed October 23, 2017. http://www.fullmoon.info/en/blog/sinatra-rachmaninoff.html.
“Thread: Modern popular songs based on classical music.” Magle International Music Forums RSS. August 14, 2005. Accessed October 23, 2017. http://www.magle.dk/music-forums/940-modern-popular-songs-based.html.

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)

 

The Privilege of Romanticizing

Louis Arden Schuch (1876-1944) was a composer. Born in Germany, immigrated with his parents to the United States and settled in Auburn New York. He composed his problematic work titled “Mineola” in 1904. “Mineola” which translates to “pleasant place” in the Algonquian language. The piece’s alternative title is “The Wedding of the Indian and the Coon”. The piece is subtitled: “A Characteristic Indian Serenade”. The text is as follows:

“Mineola or the Wedding of the Indian and the coon” cover art

Out near the town named the Needles
There lives a pretty Indian maid
She is the Pride of the Kickapoo Indian
and her skin of Navajo shade
While out way up on a vista
A Coon perchance the maid to meet
and to her he took a fancy
 … every night and day
this Coon to her would say,

[chorus]
Won’t you be my Indian baby?
Love you yes indeed I do
I will make you happy, happy
Babe, now that I’ll be true

On the Indian reservation
Say you’ll be mine, don’t decline
the wedding of the Indian and the Coon

Told him she hadn’t thought of marriage
although she loved him heap much so
And if he expected her to Marry
To the Big Chief he would have to go
….
The ask’d what shall I say to him
In reply says dear don’t worry
have nerve drink some Tom Gin
As he said good bye that day
… to her did say

Where to even begin? Right off the bat, we have the term “coon” used to describe an African American man. This term came from the Spanish word barracón which was a large building constructed to hold merchandise, where slaves were kept for sale. This word was later anglicized into “barracoon” then shortened into the slag: “coon”. The first verse sexualizes the Native American woman emphasizing her skin tone. In the chorus begins “Won’t you be my Indian baby? Love you yes indeed I do” to be followed later in the piece by “Told him she hadn’t thought of marriage” which leads me to question motives/consent. Last but not least, the final verse mentions how the gentleman caller would need to ask the “Big Chief” referencing the Chief of that Indian tribe. Additionally, this piece says the love interest was from the Kickapoo tribe. This tribe was believed to be located in the part of the country that is now Oklahoma and Texas. I find it hard to believe that Schuch had any contact with this tribe in Auburn, NY. This piece is a whole new level of problematic. Written by a  German immigrant, a love song between two people of cultures to whom the composer does not belong nor know enough about to compose a piece of music. This is just scratching the surface on how people can completely abuse traditions they are not educated on.

Work Cited

Schuch, Louis Arden. Mineola or the Wedding of the Indian and the coon. Sheet Music Consortium, Duke Music Libraries. Auburn, NY. 1904. link

Schuch, Louis Arden Jr., Find A Grave.com link

Swanton, John R. The Indian Tribes of North America. Bureau of American Ethnology, Bulletin 145. Washington DC: US Government Printing Office. 1953.

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.

 

Why don’t we talk about Arthur P. Schmidt?

While scrolling the archives of the Sheet Music Consortium to find fodder for this weeks blog post, I found myself a bit at a loss. For the past few classes we’ve begun to study early American art music and I was hoping to find some manuscript of Amy Beach’s or Edward MacDowell’s to put on display. While I did find scores from both composers, what I found more compelling was the name at the bottom of nearly every score I examined.

Canadian Boat Song by Amy Beach

No, not Mrs. H.H.A. Beach like you see on the right, but rather Arthur P. Schmidt. This name appeared on several scores of both Beach and MacDowell. Who was Arthur P. Schmidt? Why does his name get to be on an exorbitant amount of the music published in 19th-century America? And why should you care?

Musical scholarship often focuses on the narratives of performers and mostly of composers, but equally important to these artistic forces were the business people that helped create the music industry. Figures like Theodore Thomas helped define the idea of a duality between art and the free market. Arthur P. Schmidt, while not a conductor or music director, was a music publisher. The publishing side of the music industry became increasingly important as the 19th century marched on. Soon, the publishers of Tin Pan Alley would help define American musical tastes.Arthur P. Schmidt, too, became a taste-maker of sorts. In fact, Douglas Bomberger states in an article about Edward MacDowell and Arthur Schmidt that the later 19th century became known as the “Golden Age” of music publishing in America. Schmidt’s Boston based publishing company would come to publish nearly the entire compositional body of Edward MacDowell and feature several compositions by Amy Beach. In total, the Boston office had printed over 15 000 titles. The publisher Arthur P. Schmidt, when searched in the Sheet Music Consortium, comes up with over 4,000 results.

From the back page of an Edward MacDowell Composition

The guy was really popular. But why don’t we hear about him? In Richard Crawford’s American Musical Life, there is an entire chapter devoted to the music of Edward MacDowell, but it never once mentions the way MacDowell’s music got published. In the scholarship this class has read about the music industry of mid to late 19th-century American art music, there has been little discussion of the way music publishers shape the reception and transmission of famous musical works. Money and music have never been as separate as we want them to be. The influences of capitalist market demand have no doubt shaped the way we consume, study, and participate in music. According to the New Grove Dictionary of Music and Musicians, the Arthur P. Schmidt company grew so popular that it opened an office in Leipzig, Germany. What impact did the transmission of American composers like MacDowell and Beach have on American and German cultural interactions? How did these relationships develop during the first world war? How did music publishers influence understanding of American musical culture? Music publishing is still and must have been incredibly important. So why isn’t it talked about more?

Personally, I think that this hesitancy to acknowledge the codependency of music and capitalism results from our societies binary system of thinking. The notions of artists and business people are often seen as contradictory by most of the public. We don’t want our art to be infected by money. But, like everything in life, it most definitely is. A complete understanding of American musical life demands that we consider not only our beloved composers and performers,  but the hardened business people responsible for shaping our musical tastes. Including examples of music published by someone like Arthur P. Schmidt in an exhibit about America’s music, for example, could help prompt further questions about the codependent relationship between music, money, and American markets.

Sources

Bomberger, E. Douglas. “Edward Macdowell, Arthur P. Schmidt, and the Shakespeare Overtures of Joachim Raff: A Case Study in Nineteenth-Century Music Publishing.” Notes 54, no. 1 (1997): 11-26. doi:10.2307/899930.

Cipolla, Wilma Reid. “Schmidt, Arthur P..” Grove Music OnlineOxford Music OnlineOxford University Press, accessed October 24, 2017http://www.oxfordmusiconline.com/subscriber/article/grove/music/24937.

 

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.

Romanticizing Groups of People that We Slaughtered: American Music

Once white folk had finally finished settling in American, and only after they’d properly slaughtered thousands upon thousands of Native Americans, they could truly begin defining their musical compositions. Of course, per protocol, they began this by romanticizing those that they had previously eradicated and despised. Music has long since been composed through exoticism and romanticism of the “Other,” but it is brought to a new level when that “Other” is a group that was previously massacred in the place that this new music is now being composed.

My Indian Maiden, a beautiful piece composed by Edward Coleman in New York in 1904, is a prime example of this romanticism. He presents in the title a love story between a white man and his “Indian Maiden,” who is presented on the title page of the work as an exotic beauty of incomparable standards.
Coleman, Edward, Wilson, Harry H. My Indian maiden. New York: The American Advance Music Co., 1904.: Page 1 of 4

Not only is this in itself problematic, but the music also holds some truly “exotic” melodies and aspects.

Coleman, Edward, Wilson, Harry H. My Indian maiden. New York: The American Advance Music Co., 1904.: Page 2 of 4

The piece is written in Em and even in the first bar presents stereotypically Native American musical tones. The chromatic grace notes in the top part could be associated to a war cry or horn. The rhythmic bottom line can also be tied to drums or body percussion, as it doesn’t change often and is the baseline of the music. The grace notes continue throughout the piece in the accompaniment to the melody, as well as a repeated e f g f e, highlighting the minor key and the minor third.

The lyrics portray a man venturing into a forest glade where a young Native American maiden sits outside her teepee, wearing beautiful beads and awaiting him. He then presents her with trinkets abound in riches and sings his love to her. Eventually, they will be together and all of the tribes will rejoice as they exist in harmony with nature.

Of course, these lyrics present a slightly different truth from what truly happened. Music that romanticizes the “Other” has always been present in society, but the levels to which we accept it as entertainment without either knowing the proper story or respecting that it is extremely problematic must be addressed. In children’s books, in shows, and in society as a whole, exoticism and romanticism run amuck in a disrespectful manner, and it must be addressed and discussed, else it will never be changed.

 

Coleman, Edward. My Indian Maiden. New York, New York: The American Advance Music Co., 1904. Link

Was Alexander Reinagle even an “American” Composer?

Drawing of Alexander Reinagle by Joseph Muller

Alexander Reinagle is credited as being one of the first American composers to publish American music along with John Aitken. Reinagle was the first to “monopolize” the sheet music industry. He himself was able to teach, compose, publish and distribute music. We credit Reinagle’s work as American…but was it? Much of his work is simply a continuation of European music and styles.

It is first important to acknowledge reasons why Reinagle’s work is considered American. Firstly, Reinagle composed, published and distributed music in America. He resided in Philadelphia and wrote many works such as the Philadelphia sonatas and established himself as a composer of American piano works.  He also established himself as an important figure in the American sheet music business concentrating on the home music making. Publishing music that was appealing and accessible to many people was the goal.

Mrs. Madison’s Minuet.

Another reason he is considered an American composer is because of the songs and pieces that he wrote. For example, short piano pieces like Mrs. Madison’s Minuet and Madison’s March were written about President James Madison and Dolley Madison.  Madison’s March sounds especially militaristic and patriotic, suggesting that an American identity is associated with this song.  There are militaristic idioms like dotted rhythms and a feeling of cut time, which is very characteristic of American Marches.

Taking a closer look, it is clear that many of Reinagle’s pieces exhibited European elements. For example, both Madison’s March and Mrs. Madison’s Minuet were composed in a binary form, a precursor to sonata form, which was popular in European music.  The tonal organization and harmonies fit into the basic phrase model in European music as well. The phrases are balanced and end in with a dominant to tonic motion. CPE Bach influenced many of his pieces.  Reinagle draws on European musical styles, yet the subject of his works are very much American. Because Reinagle was an influential figure in the spread of music, the music he spread was inevitably labeled American. Using European music, he established and American sound by following the example of the European style, which he might have seen as superior.

Madison’s March

It is interesting that looking back, we see Reinagle as an American composer yet it is likely that he thought of himself as an advocate for European music.  Why was he considered an American composer? Was it simply because he was physically in America when he composed? Is it because the subject of his songs was American? Or is it the way he produced and sold music? Whatever the reasons may be, his intentions and where he received inspiration mark him as a continuation of the European tradition. Reinagle’s career was still very important to the history of American music. His music and ideals helped spread European music to America as well as setting a precedent for the publication and distribution in the sheet music industry. It also perpetuated a divide between the vernacular and cultivated music, which is relevant today.

Works Cited

Crawford, Richard. “Home Music Making and the Publishing Industry.” America’s Musical Life a History, Norton, 2001, pp. 221–226.

Frank Kidson, et al. “Reinagle.” Grove Music OnlineOxford Music Online. Oxford University Press, accessed October 23, 2017, http://www.oxfordmusiconline.com/subscriber/article/grove/music/23124pg2.

Madison’s March. Philadelphia.

Mrs. Madison’s Minuet. Philadelphia.

Muller, Joseph. Alexander Reinagle. Philadelphia.

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.

Kids These Days… and Their Music

Folk music underwent a major resurgence in the mid-1900s. In this time, folk music served as a major vehicle for spreading and reinforcing major social movements. Naturally however, wherever in history one finds an attempt to enact social change, one can just as easily find a backlash to said proposed social reform. As Sir Isaac Newton put it so eloquently: “To every action there is always opposed an equal reaction.” (Admittedly, Newton was referring to thermodynamic systems, not societal ones, but the statement holds nonetheless) This brings me neatly to today’s artifact – an opinion piece by Harry Golden from 1967 titled: Only in America… Democracy Hangup1. There is a certain irony present throughout the article, but it peaks when Golden, after spending more than one paragraph complaining about liberal college students, says:

“It is for that reason we have checks and balances written in the Constitution. Left to their own devices, the collegians would elect Bob Dylan President and Joan Baez Secretary of State.”

If only Golden could see America now – how the turntables have turned!

Historical irony and The Office aside, it is fascinating to see how some things really do seem to never change. The generation of which Golden refers to as “militant college students” representing “democracy at its entropy” is the very same generation that has turned around and started saying “kids these days this…” and “millennials that…” Granted, the statements I am making are overly generalized, there are certainly many members of older generations who are more than understanding of social issues today, and many so-called millennials who are much less so, but the existence of such sayings at all is reflective of an unfortunate underlying truth – a fundamental fear of relinquishing control and passing the baton to the next generation, and the distrust that goes alongside said fear.

Nonetheless, I digress, for the fascinating topic that this Golden article alludes to is that of music as a fundamental part of social movements. As Ray Telford says in his piece in Volume 3 – Issue 13 of Rock2: “[Sedaka] “felt the time was right” for a composer with something to say.” Whatever Sedaka’s motivation at the time may have been, it is worth noting that music, whether it be folk then, or rap now, has been a key part of social movements for a long time. Perhaps Newton could have said: To every action there is always an equal… piece of music?

1 Golden, H. (1967, Dec 09). Democracy hangup. The Chicago Defender (National Edition) (1921-1967) Retrieved from https://search.proquest.com/docview/493210749?accountid=351

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

Pete Seeger: American or Un-American

Seeger performing on banjo

Growing up, every first Friday of the month my mom and I would go to folk music sing-a-longs with groups of her folk music loving friends. It was always a lot of fun; we sang great tunes by Pete Seeger, Bill Staines, Bob Dylan, the Beatles and much more, accompanied by guitars, drums, and fiddles. As a kid I always thought Pete Seeger embodied what it meant to “be American.” My mom worked with the Madison Folk Music Society, and actually met Pete Seeger a couple of times. Upon finding this video entitled “Folk singers linked to alleged ‘Communist Conspiracy’” I was shocked to learn that Pete Seeger was accused of being a communist (and didn’t deny it,) mostly because I had heard such negative things about the ideology and such positive things about Pete Seeger from my mom. I was surprised that she never mentioned this to me.

Many consider Pete Seeger to be the father of the folk music revival, and it’s no wonder why. He was born into a musical and pacifist family in 1919, and spent his adolescence playing the ukulele and four-string banjo. After dropping out of Harvard at 19 to become a journalist in New York, Seeger discovered he was talented at playing the five-string banjo and knew he wanted to learn more about folk music. He then worked for Alan Lomax at the Archive of American Folksong at the Library of Congress. After meeting Woodie Guthrie in 1940 and traveling the country together playing music for gas money, Seeger and other folk musicians started Almanac Singers. This group aligned with left-wing social movements, as they specialized in anti-war and pro-union songs. A representative example of their political message is evident in the song “Which Side Are You On?” While this song was originally written as a union organizing song for miners enduring a violent struggle with mine owners, its lyrics fit very well with Seeger’s questioning of politics and his advocacy for radical social change. Here is a video with the original recording of the Almanac Singers “Which Side Are You On?”

This leads me to the video that challenges Pete Seeger’s folk ideals. In 1957 Seeger was cited on ten counts of contempt of Congress after he refused to testify before the House Committee on Un-American Activities (HUAC) in 1955. This video shows the original proposal to HUAC that Pete Seeger and his folk music were Un-American.

Screen shot 2015-03-07 at 11.01.37 AM

An article entitled “Congress Creates a Frankenstein” published in the Chicago Defender in 1953 argues that HUAC,

“began to destroy the freedom expression, freedom of speech, freedom of action and freedom of thought when it pulled in some of the country’s greatest artists, playrights, actors and producers to question them on their loyalty to their government.”

Seeger refusing to testify before HUAC

This committee was part of the second Red Scare, which refers to the fear of communism and its destruction of true American politics, culture, and society that spread across the country in the 40s and 50s. This critical opinion of the committee identifies fundamental problems with HUAC – it its pursuit of the “anti-American” it engaged in an essentially anti-American activity. Pete Seeger would certainly agree with this perspective. He refused to testify, as he believed that the questioning of his musical and political endeavors was his own business as an American, and the government had no right interfere.

So, how has Pete Seeger remained so “American” after all this time? Can we divorce a person and their art from their politics? Why do we still view communism as so distinctly at odds with Seeger’s message of peace? We often separate his communist ideology with his message of peace, but why can we not see these political views as an integral part of his message.

Sources

  1. Folk singers linked to alleged ‘Communist Conspiracy’. Popular Culture in Britain and America, 1950-1975. August 19, 1963. http://www.rockandroll.amdigital.co.uk.ezproxy.stolaf.edu/video/videodetails.aspx?documentId=664253&videoSearch=folk.
  2. “Notable & Quotable; the New York Sun Recalls Pete Seeger’s Soaring Music–and His Late-in-Life Confession about Failing to Confront Communism.” 2014.Wall Street Journal (Online), Jan 28. https://search.proquest.com/docview/1492135733?accountid=351.
  3. “Congress Creates A Frankenstein.” 1953.The Chicago Defender (National Edition) (1921-1967), Nov 21, 2. https://search-proquest-com.ezproxy.stolaf.edu/docview/493013412?accountid=351.
  4. Anne Dhu McLucas . “Seeger, Pete R..” Grove Music Online. Oxford Music Online. Oxford University Press, accessed October 15, 2017, http://www.oxfordmusiconline.com/subscriber/article/grove/music/A2259314.
  5. Bromberg, Minna and Gary Alan Fine. 2002. “Resurrecting the Red: Pete Seeger and the Purification of Difficult Reputations.” Social Forces 80 (4): 1135-1155. https://search-proquest-com.ezproxy.stolaf.edu/docview/229870616?accountid=351.

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.

Woodstock 1969

Woodstock poster, 1969. Artist: Arnold Skolnick

“The Woodstock Music & Art Fair” (aka, Woodstock) first debuted as a three day music festival in Bethel, White Lake, New York. The first event in in 1969 attached an audience of 400,000 people.2 Some of the artists that performed in the first Woodstock were: “The Grateful Dead”, “The Incredible String Band”, “Janis Joplin”, “The Who”, “Blood Sweat & Tears”, “Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young” and the headliner: Jimi Hendrix.

To many, Woodstock is remembered as a festival of “Love, Peace and Music”. To others, it was seen as a place for “hippies” and other social outcasts. A cartoon drawn by artist, “Bad Dog” shows the audience of Woodstock on a television screen being criticized by the television viewers. The cartoon serves as a cover for an article written with the intention of criticizing Woodstock. They refer to it as “The Music and Mud Fair”1. The article continues:

“The promoters didn’t try hard enough from the start. They planned enough for greasy-spoon food for 200,000 but the population exploded into into twice that many; there were very few doctors (later they flew them in, like in Vietnam)…” -LNS1

This quote equates flying in medical professionals to Woodstock to war-torn Vietnam, flying in supplies and medical help.The article continues to slam the promoters of the music festival saying that they were subjecting the audience to the elements thus forcing them to by tents when the article says the promotes could have “put up a few large circus tents just in case of rain”… the article continues to not only bash the promoters, but also the attendees:

“Each time the rain died down, the wet and bedraggled built fires out of trash, anything half-dry they could  find in the nearby woods, and even lumber limber liberated from concession stands, but so many were tripping or tired that the fires warmed only those heads were clearly focused on survival.” -LNS1

This ad hominem attack seems like a low blow from the author. I think that this tone comes from a writer who is fearful about the direction the music and the new generation is heading.

It is new.

It is different.

It is “other”

Work Cited:

1 “Planned Disaster LNS snarls” And I danced in the mud, the blood, and the beer. Ann Arbor Argus, Woodstock, n.d. © The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and Museum. link

2 ‘Woodstock,’ A fete of love peace and music relived in film set for the state-lake. (1970, Apr 22). Chicago Daily Defender (Daily Edition) (1960-1973) Retrieved from link

Skolnick, Arnold, Artist. An aquarian exposition in White Lake, N.Y.–3 days of peace & music / Skolnick. Bethel New York, 1969. [New York: Woodstock Music and Art Fair] Photograph. Retrieved from the Library of Congress, link (Accessed October 17, 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.

 

“Spider” John Koerner

“Spider” John Koerner, a prominent blues musician, was born in Rochester, New York in 1938. He grew up in New York, and eventually found himself studying for an engineering major at the University of Minnesota. This was short lived because it was there that he met the legendary Dave “Shaker” Ray.1

Koerner’s blues career was basically jumpstarted through this encounter. The two musicians jammed together often and formed a steadfast friendship. Koerner even wrote his most famous hit, “Good Time Charlie’s Back in Town Again,” after Ray stopped in to visit him once.

While visiting Ray in New York, Koerner also met harp player Tony Glover. The three of them formed what was arguably the most well known, yet unofficial, folk trios of the 1930s2. They played many gigs together, always providing a great time for their audiences as well as themselves.

Dave and Tony were kind of livin’ in Minneapolis cause that was home to them and they had things holdin’ ’em there. I had the chance to travel and I could get the work so I started travelin’ around. Then we’d just meet whenever we were in the same town together and play jobs whenever anybody was willin’ to put us together.3 ~Koerner

Their performances were well known to be enjoyable for both the audience and the performers. Koerner always made it a good time for everybody, and it was well appreciated by all those who saw and knew him. One of the last times the group got together was a prime example of this.

It was kind of weird. We played the Tyrone Guthrie Theater in Minneapolis. We played one night opposite the Who. We were very drunk and fairly well stoned and we had practiced together just a couple of hours. It was kind of shakey but we had a good time.4 ~Koerner

In his solo performances, Ray’s influence in his life could also be seen clearly. When he performed at the Quiet Knight in December 1968, he was introduced as having been influenced by Ray from a young age.5 He grew up listening to him from a young age, and this transitioned into his own playing. Another time, when he returned to perform at the Gaslight, his audience “remembered” and requested that he play “Good Time Charlie’s Back in Town Again” which he wrote for Ray. When describing his performance, Koerner said…

Tony Glover calls it the oatmeal shake, cause it looked like you dipped your hand in a bucket of oatmeal and tryin’ to get it off by shakin’ your hand6 around. ~Koerner

Koerner was an amazing performer who had both talent as well as a charismatic and fun presence. He was greatly influenced by Dave Ray, as well as Tony Glover. Ray’s influence especially could be seen throughout his entire life, and it goes to show you how a simple chance encounter can truly go a long way. Koerner never expected success to find him when he was planning on becoming an engineer, but it did just that.

1 Joe Klee. “Spider John’s Back in Town.” Rock, January 3, 1972 (henceforth Klee).

2 ibid. 

3 ibid. 

Klee, Joe. “Spider John’s Back in Town.” Rock, January 3, 1972. http://www.rockandroll.amdigital.co.uk.ezproxy.stolaf.edu/Contents/ImageViewer.aspx?imageid=988853&pi=1&prevpos=905675&vpath=searchresults

Chicago Daily Defender, “Quiet Knight Presents the Blues.” Chicago Daily Defender, December 31, 1968. https://search-proquest-com.ezproxy.stolaf.edu/hnpchicagodefender/docview/494406297/B715397467854A86PQ/1?accountid=351

Elton John, King of Pop?

Growing up, Elton John was a common name in my household while growing up and so made an easy, but interesting subject to search in both databases.

Elton John, 1974 North American Tour.

Born Reginald Kenneth Dwight, John has become one of the top-selling artists of his time, having Top 40 singles for 26 years, four years with 16 Top 20 hits, and seven consecutive No. 1 Albums. But his success was not immediate. John, Reginald at the time, first formed his band in 1961, and began touring

Elton John (left) and Bernie Taupin (right).

professionally in 1965 when acquired work opening for American artists. However, soon after Reginald was looking for more control in his performing life. He auditions for the groups King Crimson and Gentle Giant. And it was around this time that he started communicating with composer Bernie Taupin. It was during their initial communications that Reginald switched his name to Elton John. This pair is what eventually led John to his success that began in 1970 with the release of Johns second album titled Elton John.

In an article from the Chicago Defender, Elton explains their process from writing songs:

“‘People find it hard the way we work,’ John Commented, discussing his partnership with Taupin. ‘I don’t interfere with Bernie’s words because I couldn’t write them, and he won’t dream of writing a melody. It works, though, because we both dig what the other is doing.'”

At the time, their method seems unorthodox, being so separated, but for them it obviously proved successful. John goes on to say, “If it weren’t for Bernie, there wouldn’t be any songs.” He doesn’t attempt to interfere with Bernie’s process because his words “draw the melodies right out of me.”

Now why give John the title of Kong of Pop when it has been considered Michael Jackson’s for so long (I am, in no way trying to diminish Jackson’s influence or importance, only acknowledge someone else)? In part it is due to his success listed above, but it is also due to his theatrical stage presence in all of his concerts, his eccentric and flamboyant attitude, as well as his current position within pop culture. Alongside Rolling Stones and The Beatles, he is one of the top-selling British Artists of the 20th and 21st centuries. And still performing today, he is a testament to the growth and development of pop culture.

Another reason I find that John could be considered another King of Pop is because of the style of his music. In the same article linked above, John and Taupin’s music is described as “[looking] longingly back to an older America of Country Gospel songs… and of headliners of the thirties, fours, and fifties.” This musical connection to the past makes his music very accessible to older generations, the lyrics connect primarily with people of his and younger generations, and lastly his costumes, in ways, pay tribute to the flair of early musicals.

All in all, John’s stage presence, his music, and Taupin’s lyrics create a unique repertoire within the standards of Pop music that, like many of the great “classical” composers, have become timeless to me.

 

Sources

Adam Matthews Digital, 2011. “Elton John.” Popular Culture in Britain and America, 1950-1975. Accessed October 16, 2017. http://www.rockandroll.amdigital.co.uk.ezproxy.stolaf.edu/FurtherResources/MusicScene/67EltonJohn.aspx?searchmode=true&docref=Elton%20John&
“Elton Looks Back in Time.” 1975.Chicago Defender (Big Weekend Edition) (1973-1975), Aug 02, 1. https://search-proquest-com.ezproxy.stolaf.edu/docview/194083567?accountid=351.
Keno. “Elton John.” Elton John Bio. 2001. Accessed October 16, 2017. http://www.keno.org/classic_rock/elton_john_bio.htm.

Folk Music Music Meets Grunge

As a “wannabe” angsty, young 8th grade student, “MTV Unplugged in New York” by Nirvana was naturally one of my all time favorite albums. Whether it was the infectious bassline of “Come As You Are,” the absurdity of “Dumb,” or the haunting string arrangements found throughout “Man Who Sold the World,” each track managed to capture the various heartthrobs of a fourteen year old; but none hit me quite as hard as the show’s closing piece, “Where Did You Sleep At Night.” The song encapsulates a vague description of deceit, murder, and sorrow which is inspired and rooted in the 1944 recording by the equally soulful and troubled Huddie “Leadbelly” Ledbetter, a virtuosic 12-string blues and folk guitar player.

While there have been an endless supply of covers and renditions of this folk tune by artists of notable merit (including Dolly Parton, Pete Seeger, Joan Baez, and Chet Atkins), few have managed to achieve the emotional integrity and commercial success of Leadbelly and Nirvana’s recording, and I believe that, through the core elements of “folk” music, and the personal backgrounds of the artists, a connection can be made between the two interpretations.

NIRVANA:                       https://youtu.be/iUSW7dYZM9w 

LEADBELLY:                   https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PsfcUZBMSSg

From the work of the Lomax family to the later tunes of Bob Dylan, folk songs have transformed from a collection of songs that define a culture or generation to the production of individual songs that center around the sentiments and reactions of the performer. Both Nirvana’s 1994 and Leadbelly’s 1944 recording of “Where Did You Sleep At Night” embody the latter of the stages. Using a lyrically simplified version of the original tune, “In the Pines,” which dates back to the 1870’s Southern Appalachian region, Cobain and Ledbetter achieve impassive recording style that is rooted not in the story, but in the personal and stony mood behind the piece. While Leadbelly employs a simple acoustic guitar accompaniment, deadpan call-and-response, and free, vibrato filled vocals, Cobain implements a sparse, electric guitar-string arrangement, dry, hoarse vocals, and stark cadences that reach a similar aura of sheer misery and suffering. By delivering personal and unique renditions of the same folk tune, Leadbelly and Cobain successfully open themselves up to any and all listeners, accessing the bare human connection that lies at the heart of the American folk movement.

Additionally, in a musical genre that often undergoes revivalist movements, artists must consistently be able to deliver unique and intimate takes on “traditional folk tunes.” When analyzing the personal backgrounds of Leadbelly and Cobain, parallels can be drawn that inevitably contribute to their passionate and distinctive performances. Cobain, who lived a tragic life of depression and severe drug abuse, had consistent run-ins with the law, while Leadbelly was incarcerated multiple times, pleading guilty for charges of murder and attempted murder. After considering the half-century time gap and cultural differences between the two artists, it would be ridiculous to compare any background information, however, a common coping mechanism exists in both individual accounts: music. After receiving a guitar from his uncle at the age of twelve, Cobain used music throughout his life to combat and express himself through any personal, family, and drug related obstacles. Similarly, Leadbelly used music as a means to escape and assert his redefined self after years spent in various prisons. In a 1954 article for the Chicago Defender, Langston Hughes summarizes Leadbelly’s musical journey.

“Well, I guess you know there was once a singer named Leadbelly, and he was a penitentiary boy, and he sang his way free. I guess you know he got locked up again, but he got out singing. And he sang songs from here to yonder. He sang himself great. He sang himself famous.”

https://search-proquest-com.ezproxy.stolaf.edu/hnpchicagodefender/docview/492889401/fulltextPDF/586FDC9CDF9142A0PQ/1?accountid=351

Through these mental and life altering difficulties, Leadbelly and Cobain both created profound and unique music that inspired and touched the hearts of their respective audiences. One only needs to go as far as a Southern Appalachian tune such as “Where Did You Sleep Last Night” to see the emotional core that connects an entire community in a folk-based tradition.

 

SOURCES

Bibek Acharya. “Where did you sleep last night-Nirvana-MTV unplugged.” Youtube. Dec. 11, 2016. Accessed October 16, 2017. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=iUSW7dYZM9w

“Kurt Cobain.” Biography.com. April 28, 2017. Accessed October 16, 2017. https://www.biography.com/people/kurt-cobain-9542179.

Hughes, L. (1954, Sep 04). Slavery and leadbelly are gone, but the old songs go singing on. The Chicago Defender (National Edition) (1921-1967) Retrieved from https://search-proquest-com.ezproxy.stolaf.edu/docview/492889401?accountid=351

Sessionsinthedesert. “Leadbelly – house of the rising sun.” YouTube. March 08, 2008. Accessed October 16, 2017. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=y5tOpyipNJs.

Weisbard;, Eric. “A Simple Song That Lives Beyond Time.” The New York Times. November 12, 1994. Accessed October 16, 2017. http://www.nytimes.com/1994/11/13/arts/pop-music-a-simple-song-that-lives-beyond-time.html?pagewanted=all.

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/

Folk Music In Greenwich Village

The artifact I found was a poster advertising for a folk and blues music festival that took place on January 26th of 1952. This happened during what we now refer to as the American folk music revival. The festival took place at a concert hall called Loew’s Sheridan, located in Greenwich Village in New York City. The location of this event is significant. Many artists central to the Beat Generation, an important American literary movement, lived in Greenwich Village in the 50s and 60s. As the Beat movement expanded, other counter cultural movements, such as Hippies, adopted similar mentalities. Greenwich Village later became a major hub for folk musicians during the 60s, where many major acts got started in the music club scene. Fun Fact: The Greenwich Village folk music scene in the 60s is the primary subject of the Cohen Brother’s film, Inside Llewyn Davis.

“The evolution of rhythm and blues into rock and roll as a high art form, as evidenced by the Beatles, Bob Dylan, and other popular musicians influenced in the late fifties and sixties by Beat generation poets’ and writers’ works,” shows the Beat Movement’s pervasive effect on Western culture.    ~Allen Ginsberg

The Smoking Poets: Michael McClure, Bob Dylan, and Allen Ginsberg

The festival contained an unbelievable lineup, containing some of the most important musicians to the folk revival movement. Included were Woody Guthrie, Leadbelly, Pete Seeger, Sonny Terry, and Brownie McGhee.

This festival was organized by our familiar friend, Alan Lomax. The festival also featured narration by Alan Lomax, probably to provide context for these performances. It is often stated that without Lomax, we would have no knowledge of acts from this lineup. Lomax is credited for discovering such musicians giving them opportunities for performances to reach a larger audience, such as this one. One man who saw the importance of Alan Lomax, Bob Dylan, had this to say about him:

“There is a distinguished gentlemen here who came … I want to introduce him – named Alan Lomax. I don’t know if many of you have heard of him [Audience applause.] Yes, he’s here, he’s made a trip out to see me. I used to know him years ago. I learned a lot there and Alan … Alan was one of those who unlocked the secrets of this kind of music. So if we’ve got anybody to thank, it’s Alan. Thanks, Alan.”       ~Bob Dylan

Sources

D’Arcangelo, Gideon. “Alan Lomax and The Big Story Of Song.” Album Liner Notes. Accessed October 16, 2017. http://aln2.albumlinernotes.com/Popular_Songbook.html

“Guthrie, Woody with Leadbelly, Sonny Terry, Brownie McGhee, and Pete Seeger at Loew’s Sheridan, New York, New York.” Http://www.amdigital.co.uk/. Accessed October 16, 2017. http://www.rockandroll.amdigital.co.uk.ezproxy.stolaf.edu/Search/DocumentDetailsSearch.aspx?documentid=1065366&prevPos=1065366&vpath=searchresults&pi=1.
“Folk Music and the Beatniks.” Accessed October 16, 2017. https://folkmusicandthebeatniks.weebly.com/

 

 

Protest Music and Folk Revival

What is folk music? Is folk defined by the musical intentions of the musicians themselves, its political and social implications, or its consumption?  For artists like Woody Guthrie, Bob Dylan, Pete Seeger and so many others, folk was a political endeavor. Another notable artist was Joan Baez, who was known for her captivating soprano voice and her impressive guitar skills.  However, Baez was more than just a folk singer with talent; she was an adamant peace and civil rights activist and much of her music reflected her political ideals.  Baez was considered to be a part of the folk revival movement.  She performed at the Newport Folk Festival in 1959, launching a very successful career.

According to Bruce Jackson in his The Folksong Revival he claims that the folk revival movement was just a fad. This blog is an attempt to reflect on Jackson’s opinion by providing reasons in which I think the folk music revival was not just a fad, but it was a necessary movement to propel the ideas of activists a that time.

“I think the revival can be fairly categorized as romantic, naive, nostalgic and idealistic…much of the revival was a fad or fashion” ~Bruce Jackson

Joan Baez and Bob Dylan April 1965

So why folk revival?  Today, many of us view folk as a simple song associated with possibly nostalgia, home, or sentimental feelings.   Most people envision folk as a smaller communal setting, but the Newport Folk Festival of 1959 suggests otherwise.  Newport was one of the larger gatherings to celebrate folk music and it’s artists.  One reason the folk revival may have gained traction was because of the desire people had to reconnect with their American roots. What’s a better way to do that than through folk music?  But, folk music has more value than just for the enjoyment of old times sake.

“Women Peace Protestors of Northern Ireland on a March in London” November 1976

Artists like Baez used their skills and political views to highlight the flaws of the cultural and political environment. Not only did Baez seek to share her ideas through folk inspired music, she gained traction with these ideas and helped spread her political views. Because Baez and many artists infused folk music with messages of peace and equality, it is clear that folk had an extremely important purpose in our social and political history.  Protest music was music that would reject certain ideals of actions.  For example, “We Shall Overcome” became the anthem to the civil rights movement.  In Joan’s rendition, she combines folk and jazz elements, connecting this song to different styles of music and boring from other traditions therefore catering to many people.

In the Oct 4, 1971 issue of the Chicago Daily Defender, the article “Joan Baez has a Problem” was written criticizing her disrespect for the American Flag.

Article criticizing Baez’s political opinions regarding the American flag- “Joan Baez has a Problem” October 4, 1971 in the Chicago Defender

“This piece of cloth has become an obscenity.  We know how to protect and reverence that Flag. But we don’t know how to protect human life.” ~ Joan Baez

The Folk Revival movement was not just a fad.  It was a means to react to and process the political and social injustices that the world was faced with in the 60s and even today, proving folk musics’ relevance and importance not only then, but also now.  In a time of racial and international tension, it is not surprising that folk music became popular. It provided a sense of comfort and connection to one another when the country seemed in all other ways divided. Folk advocated for all people of all backgrounds, races and statuses.

Work Cited

Bob Dylan Singer Songwriter with Joan Baez American Folk Singer. 27 Apr. 1965.

“Joan Baez has a Problem.” 1971.Chicago Daily Defender (Daily Edition) (1960-1973), Oct 04, 4. https://search.proquest.com/docview/494322582?accountid=351.

Matthew, Adam. “Folk Protest.” Popular Culture in Britain and America, 1950-1975, 2017.

Rosenberg, Neil V. “The Folk Song Revival.” Transforming Tradition: Folk Music Revivals Examined, University of Illinois Press, 1993, pp. 73–79.

Women Peace Protestors of Northern Ireland on a March in London. 29 Nov. 1976.

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

Swing Along: Broadway Opens New Doors

In Dahomey, a musical comedy with music written by Will Marion Cook, was a landmark in the development of early 20th-century musical entertainment created and performed by African Americans. In fact, it was the first full-length black musical performed inside a Broadway theatre.1

Cook was a well-educated musician not only in popular song, but also in the classical realm. His skills as a classical performer stemmed out his studies at Oberlin College Conservatory, in Berlin under Joachim, and at the National Conservatory in New York.2 Nevertheless, Cook struggled to be accepted as a serious classical composer and performer because of racial prejudices in the field in the early 1900s.3

Cleveland Gazette Article regarding “In Dahomey”

“The terrible difficulty that composers of my race have to deal with, is the refusal of American people to accept serious things from us.”4

In Dahomey did not start out in a Broadway theatre; however, audiences of the first performances received it with great enjoyment. In this article from the Cleveland Gazette, great credit for the show’s success and trajectory toward Broadway is pointed toward the main stars of the show Bert Williams and George Walker.5 Both actors were African American ex-vaudeville performers who excelled in the realm of comedy.6 Cook was firm in his opposition towards minstrelsy and black face performance and held true to African Americans being played by African American actors.7

The significance of In Dahomey to our class is the incorporation of black folk elements that have risen in our discussions around the components of spirituals, blues, and jazz. What Cook did so brilliantly was draw from black folk songs while rejecting the exaggerated and stereotyped imagery of minstrel show songs.8 Such elements include syncopation, vernacular language, and even the inclusion of the cake walk.

“Swing Along: The Songs of Will Marion Cook” William Brown and Ann Sears, Will Marion Cook, In Dahomey: Swing Along, Naxos Music Library, 4:53, 2006.

“Swing Along” is a song our textbook pointed to as being demonstrative of the inclusion of black folk components. I have included a recording here where the listener can hear syncopation used to jump the end of the phrase into the next. Crawford attests that Cook uses such syncopation to relate back to coon song of black folk culture.9 In this recording made in 2006, William Brown sings with a boisterous tone that carries the intention of a musical comedy true to the musical itself. The setting with piano accompaniment and solo singer shows that Cook’s music was indeed part of the popular genre because such editions were published for performance by all people.

It seems pretty easy to get excited about In Dahomey and its success as the first in New York to be performed African Americans. However, it is also striking that Will Marion Cook, a key contributor to this success, was led to writing for popular song because he was kept away from his true aspiration and talents in classical music. This creates a tension that we as historians must be cognizant of. That is, we have to realize that while this musical was a step forward for black Broadway theatre, it is also linked to a demonstration of racial prejudice and social discrimination in the field of classical music.

Sister Rosetta Tharpe, Kay Starr, and the Relentless Rain (reign) of Systemic Racism

Let’s Save Negro Music1, written by John Henry in the Freedom periodical in New York, is interesting to me and relevant to our class discussion for a number of reasons. Primarily, it contains an interesting contemporary perspective on 1950s cultural appropriation. I can’t speak for my classmates, but it was news to me that cultural appropriation was discussed at all in that time. So, though the term ‘cultural appropriation’ itself may be a more recent invention, it is simultaneously refreshing and disheartening to know that it was discussed so long ago, relatively speaking. In the article itself, John Henry goes into detail on how white artists were capitalizing on America’s fascination with African American music, especially the Blues, and making significant capital in the process. One example that he uses is that of the popular singers Sister Rosetta Tharpe and Kay Starr. Henry says:

“[T]he country’s musical taste, shaped as it is by the hucksters, calls for denuding this music of its social meaning born in the struggles and hopes of Negro people. . . Hence you get Kay Starr’s best-selling “Didn’t it Rain.” But who remembers Sister Rosetta Tharpe’s great rendition of this exciting Biblical story? Get the two records and see which “moves” you more. That is, if you can find Sister Tharpe’s.”

Sister Rosetta Tharpe

Henry’s striking assessment of the situation is both refreshing and depressing. To elaborate, on the one hand it is good to know that the issue of cultural appropriation is not some passing millennial fad, (not that I thought it was in the first place) but has been talked about extensively before now, and is rightfully reaching a boiling point at last. However, on the other hand, it is disheartening that such an issue has been discussed for so long and still not have reached any sort of conclusion. Whether that is due simply to it’s complexity, or to society’s stubborn insistence to turn the other cheek, I cannot say, though I would hypothesize that it is some combination of the two. Regardless, for what it is worth, when looking for recordings of the aforementioned “Didn’t it Rain”, I made an encouraging discovery. Not only was Rosetta Tharpe’s rendition2 easy to find, but there were many different recordings of her singing it. As for Kay Starr’s? Even though I searched multiple databases, it was nowhere to be found.

Cooking with Crosby

Learned in the traditional Classical style, Will Marion Cook “brought the skills of a classically trained musician to an African-American musical theater” (Crawford, 534). Cook heavily inspired and popularized black theater productions, and made a name for himself by combining grand opera traditions with black folk culture.

Will Marion Cook, a heavy influencer in black theater

“I’m Coming Virginia” was written in 1926 by Donald Heywood with lyrics by Cook. The song has been adapted numerous times over the years and is now a staple in dixie-land repertoire. One recording of this song appears on an album by Bing Crosby and Louis Armstrong called “Havin Fun”. Recorded from 1949-1951, this two hour album features songs by Crosby and Armstrong recorded from Crosby’s radio program. What I find most intriguing is how the theatrical style of the album echoes that of Will Marion Cook’s original theatrical music and productions. 

Louis Armstrong and Bing Crosby, ca. 1950

The first track “Where the Blue of the Night” is all banter between the musicians as they settle in for the night. The first track helps to set the scene for what one can imagine was a program filled with laughter in and out of the music. I think it is a bit of stretch to say that Crosby and Armstrong were performing in this style as an homage to Cook, but I do think that Cook’s works heavily influenced the looser performance styles heard on this album. Crosby and Armstrong were close friends outside of the performance hall, and they both recognized the value created in sharing their friendship with others. Like Cook, Crosby and Armstrong did away with a traditional form of musical presentation. The constant banter mingled with the audience laughter adds a level of genuineness to the album, while the talent of singing and playing by Crosby and Armstrong respectively grounds the album in legitimacy.

As mentioned earlier, Will Marion Cook had a huge influence on the Broadway performance styles of his time. Crosby and Armstrong experienced similar success and influence on their industries. While Cook did not directly influence the duo, parallels in the theatrical performance style are evident. One thing that they also have in common? They were havin’ fun.

Works Cited

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

Dryden, Ken. “Havin’ Fun” AllMusic, accessed October 9, 2017.https://www.allmusic.com/album/havin-fun-2-cd-mw0000584963

Havin’ Fun. Recorded June 20, 2007. Storyville, 2007, Streaming Audio. Accessed October 9, 2017. http://search.alexanderstreet.com/view/work/bibliographic_entity%7Crecorded_cd%7C1023638.

Henry Edward Krehbiel

While browsing the African American Newspapers database, I came across a short article  talking about a Mr. Krehbiel’s recent lecture on “Folk Music. ” Published in 1897, this article caught my eye because the subject matter – folk music in general but occasionally discussed southern black folk music – present was described as “new.” The fact that Mr. Krehbiel was talking about African-American folk music in an educational setting (implied by the text of the article) prompted me to search for more about him.

Henry Edward Krehbiel.

Henry Edward Krehbiel was an American music critic and musicologist who lived from 1854 to 1923. Although he studied law, he went on to become a music critic with the New York Tribune, where he stayed until his passing. For more than forty-three years, he was considered the leading music critic in America, analyzing all facets of music composed in America, including works by Richard Wagner, Johannes Brahms, Antonín Dvořák, Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky (composers he supported before they became popular), and African-American Folk Music. This, in particular, is important as it indicates that Krehbiel was one of the earliest researchers to go beyond recording or transcribing Black folk music and study the characteristics in relation other folk music (Russian, Swedish, etc…).

Henry Krehbiel’s “Afro-American Folksongs.” St. Olaf Libraries call number: ML3556.K9 1914

In 1914, Krehbiel published a book entitled Afro-American Folksongs with the following intention:

 

“This book was written with the purpose of bringing a species of folksong into the field of study of scientific observation and presenting it as fit material for artistic treatment.”

In part, Krehbiel is acknowledging the lack of study on African American Folk Music and, by doing so, is giving it and the black community more credibility than what was not common in that era. When searching St. Olaf’s database, I was pleased to find that the school did own a copy of the (I believe) original book! As mentioned earlier, this book is one of the first scientific studies into African American Folk Music and sought to compare the characteristics (rhythm, intervals, and structure) of that music with folk music of other regions.

Returning back to the original article, Henry Krehbiel held lectures on “Folk Music” before and after the publication of this review in the New York Tribune. It is indicated in the text that this article followed the third installment of his “Folk Music” lecturesThe significance of thesis lectures, articles, and of Krehbiel’s book is it provides insight into how people first viewed African-American folk music as research began on it.

 

Citations

The Miriam and Ira D. Wallach Division of Art, Prints and Photographs: Print Collection, The New York Public Library. “Henry Edward Krehbiel, 1854-1923.” New York Public Library Digital Collections. Accessed October 10, 2017. http://digitalcollections.nypl.org/items/510d47e2-a83a-a3d9-e040-e00a18064a99

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

“Mr. Krehbiel On Folk Music.” New York Tribune. Mar 2, 1897: African American Newspapers, Readex. 9 Oct, 2017 <http://infoweb.newsbank.com/>

Music History and the Importance of “History”

From Bach to Beethoven to Mozart to Haydn, we learn many of music’s prominent historical figures in our music history courses. At the same time, we don’t hear some names such as Beach, Farrenc, or Lateef. In fact, some probably don’t know who any of the names I just mentioned are! It’s blatantly obvious that in learning about music history, there are many composers and musicians that we don’t touch on, and even more that we just don’t have the opportunity to learn about. It’s important to always expand on the knowledge we gain, and realize that there are infinite topics to cover, even if we don’t hear about them in a textbook.

One example would be instruments. One instrument that we don’t hear about today, but that is still fascinating is the Ocarina. More specifically, it’s ancestor the Xun. In this recording, the airy instrument we hear is the Xun, played by Yusef Lateef.1 The Xun is an aerophone that was created in China approximately seven thousand years ago. It is similar to the ocarina, without the flippant mouthpiece.2

This instrument is similar to the more well known relationship between the flute and the piccolo for example. While one instrument may seem more normal or be more well known, the other is just as important and still within the family of the first instrument. It’s fascinating to study both of them, and an example of something worth studying.

In Yusef Lateef’s autobiography, he touches on the importance of listening to multiple accounts regarding the origins of instruments and music itself. When discussing the origins of some jazz music and a group of white musicians, he states that “because they were among the first to be recorded it followed that they would be considered the inventors of the music. Nothing could be farther from the truth.”3

Yusef himself was an accomplished musician, and someone that we don’t learn about today. In newspaper articles, people referred to him as an “outstanding multi-reed man”4 with an “amazing certainty as a bass soloist.”5 They said his performances “take you on a specialized trip.”6 He was an extremely accomplished musician who was known to many, but not known by all.

It’s inconceivable that everyone learn everything about music history, but these are a couple examples of the broad world that is encompassed by music. The Xun is a beautiful sounding instrument, especially when played by such a talented and accomplished musician such as Yusef Lateef. For most of us, this instrument and performer were beforehand unknown to us, but with some time and research, fascinating and new things can be learned, and our knowledge can be broadened.

1 Yusef Lateef: Eastern Sounds, composed by Yusef Lateef, 1920-; performed by Yusef Lateef, 1920-, Barry Harris, 1929-, Ernie Farrow and Lex Humphries, 1936-1994 (Prestige, 1991), 40 mins, 9 page(s) 

2 https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Xun_(instrument) 

3 Yusef Lateef, “The Gentle Giant: The Autobiography of Yusef Lateef.” (Irvington, NJ. Morton Books Inc. 2006. Pages 2-3. 

4 “The Diverse Yusef Lateef.” Soul, April 6, 1970. 

5 “Music Whirl.” Tone, October 1, 1960. 

6 “Yusef Lateef’s Detroit.” Soul, June 30, 1969. 

“Music Whirl.” Tone, October 1, 1960.

“The Diverse Yusef Lateef.” Soul, April 6, 1970.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Xun_(instrument)

“Yusef Lateef’s Detroit.” Soul, June 30, 1969.

Yusef Lateef: Eastern Sounds, composed by Yusef Lateef, 1920-; performed by Yusef Lateef, 1920-, Barry Harris, 1929-, Ernie Farrow and Lex Humphries, 1936-1994 (Prestige, 1991), 40 mins, 9 page(s)

Yusef Lateef, “The Gentle Giant: The Autobiography of Yusef Lateef.” (Irvington, NJ. Morton Books Inc. 2006. Pages 2-3.

 

 

 

 

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.

Crazy Markets for Crazy Blues

Mamie Smith

Mamie Smith wasn’t a blues singer. Today, however, we know her as one of the most influential figures in the creation of the blues music industry. So what exactly happened?

Smith began as a cabaret singer, but one fateful day in 1920, Sophie Tucker, another singer, coudln’t make it into Okeh Record’s recording studio. Smith was givena chance to ake her first recording, That Thing Called Love, and after that was recruited to make an another recording of a song called Crazy Blues. Though Smith was not by trade a blues singer, she made the record anyway. After it was released, the record sold over 75 000 copies in just a few months. This success is especially notable, as this record was the first recording of a blues song by a black singer.

In addition to being widely commercially successful, Crazy Blues has greater economic and social implications. This recording  heralds the beginning of an entirely new music market. The popularity ofthe song caused the Okeh Records and several other labels to sign more black female blues singers to produce “race records”. Intially, these “race records” were sung by black musicians and were intended for black listeners, but soon the form of classic blues represented by these records became popular across racial lines. Mamie Smith’s record paved the way for countless black musicians to break into the blues market.  Take five minutes and listen to noted activist Angela Davis talk about Mamie Smith’s significant contribution to the music industry in this interview with NPR’s “All Things Considered”.

Article from Front Page of Washington Bee, December 18th, 1920

Further evidence of the new blues craze can be found in this article from the December 18th, 1920 issue of he Washington Bee, an African American historical newspaper based in Washington D.C.. Situated neatly on the front page, this small notice of an upcoming performance at the Howard Theater exemplifies the excitement stirring around the new musical possibilities illuminated by Smith and her record. The author of the article heralds Smith as “one of the most-talked-of women who ever parter her lips to pour forth melodies…”. Not only does this article encapsulate Smith’s increasing fanbase, but also the uniqueness of her position in society. Smith, as a woman of color, was the highest paid among Okeh Records singers. This newfound ability to turn blues into money and record sales was profitable not only for musicians, but also for record companies and theaters. Companies began to find out that if they could contract a blues singer they could make a quick buck . This recording, and the subsequent boom in “race records” ushered in a entirely new and relatively untapped musical market. Before this record, music wasn’t being marketed toward black audiences. Rather, black folk music was idealized to fit white musical standards. While this recording and these newspaper articles may still reflect the capitalist pandering that musicians are so often wont to do, they also reflect a change in the way the msuci industry looked at its consumers. Mamie Smith and her record Crazy Blues opened up an entirely new market to the music industry while simultaneously creating a pop-culture phenomenon. And I think that’s worth noting.

Works Cited

“At the Howard Theater.” Washington Bee (Washington D.C.), December 18, 1920. Accessed October 10, 2017. African American Historical Newspapers,.

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

Oliver, Paul. “Smith, Mamie.” Grove Music Online. Oxford Music Online. Oxford University Press, accessed October 10, 2017, http://www.oxfordmusiconline.com/subscriber/article/grove/music/41390.

“Mamie Smith and the Birth of the Blues Market.” NPR. November 11, 2006. Accessed October 10, 2017. http://www.npr.org/2006/11/11/6473116/mamie-smith-and-the-birth-of-the-blues-market.

Sultry Divas. Recorded September 30, 2008. Columbia River Entertainment, 2008, Streaming Audio. Accessed October 10, 2017. http://search.alexanderstreet.com/view/work/be%7Crecorded_cd%7Cli_upc_723723519221.

 

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.

What Makes the Blues So Doggone Hard to Define

In a quest to find the “bluesiest of blues” tracks, I recently took a deep dive into my ten-year-old iTunes library, and all that I found was sheer bewilderment. How can tracks along the lines of  “(I Can’t Get No) Satisfaction” by the Rolling Stones and “Layla” by Eric Clapton be on the same “bluesy” spectrum as Muddy Water’s “Mannish Boy” or Ray Charles “What’d I Say?” Or even more specifically: how can any of these songs be placed on a level playing field when they all contain elements of different genres ranging from rock-n-roll to folk to jazz.

I think that this can partly be understood through the notion that “blues” music has served largely as a marketing term over the years, and while it undoubtedly has certain roots in the oppressed African American community, it has since transformed into countless different forms and styles. In order to approach this broad claim, I think one doesn’t have to look any further than the headlines, advertisements, and recordings of one of the original “blues queens:” Mammie Smith.

http://search.alexanderstreet.com/view/work/be%7Crecorded_track%7Cli_isrc_723723519221USY9R0910356

Through her rendition of Perry Bradford’s “Crazy Blues”, Mammie Smith reached near-overnight stardom, becoming one of the first first recorded African-American “jazz-blues” singers. The song, which tells a somber story concerning unrequited love, may lyrically display a “romantically blue” atmosphere,” but the instrumentation and vocal performance tell otherwise. Rather than a rhythmically ambiguous, anguishing melody sparsely accompanied and improvised upon, the track contains a tight band, consisting of sweeping trombones and light, gliding clarinets, evoking more of a comical and polished sound. Along similar grounds, while Mammie Smith sings with great conviction and soul, she seems to performing in a relaxed, theatrical style with a masterful contralto voice. With an overall recording style leaning more towards a light-hearted and professional popular music medium, “Crazy Blues” demonstrated it’s marketing prowess by spreading across the U.S., earning both Smith and Bradford a fortune.

Smith’s “blues” act serving as a marketable genre can also be seen through her performances alongside her “Jazz Hounds Orchestra.” In the Savannah Tribune’s January 22, 1921 issue, an article is written in anticipation for Mammie Smith’s live performance at the Savannah Auditorium, describing her show as being

“…greeted by capacity audiences at every point, in one city alone she sang to an audience of over 11,000 paid admissions.”

 

Whether or not W.C. Handy’s famous stories of “discovering the blues” in the poor, rugged country is embellished and romanticized, serving audiences as large as these requires a hip, spirited, and theatrically expanded sound that is initially and popularly defined as “blues” in the music of Mammie Smith. The article even goes on to describe Smith’s shows as containing a wide set of acts, including a “well known juggler and a celebrated ventriloquist,” which only further emphasizes the performance-based, comical, and marketable basis of the early 1920’s “blues.”

Over the last century, different musical and social trends have led the blues market to a wide array of strains and styles, spanning from Jagger to Charles. While folklorists can still only speculate any folk-based or cultural roots of the “blues” that were picked up by early visionaries, the beginning of the 1920’s “blues”-mania is centered around the highly marketable and popular form of soulful and lively tunes, including Smith/Bradford’s “Crazy Blues.”

Link to news article:

http://infoweb.newsbank.com/iw-search/we/HistArchive/?p_product=EANX&p_theme=ahnp&p_nbid=J57Q58LNMTUwNzU5MTQwNi4yNzM1ODU6MToxMzoxMzAuNzEuMjQyLjUx&p_action=doc&s_lastnonissuequeryname=20&d_viewref=search&p_queryname=20&p_docnum=4&p_docref=v2:11CCCBEC43F62EDE@EANX-11E7581B13A079A0@2422712-11E7581B1F220C08@0-11E7581B4FA109A0@Mamie%20Smith%20and%20Her%20Jazz%20Hounds.%20Appear%20at%20Auditorium%20February%209th

Sources

Kernfeld, Barry Dean. The new Grove dictionary of jazz: Smith, Mammie. Vol. 3. London: Macmillan Reference Ltd., 1997.

The Savannah Tribune. “Mammie Smith and her Jazz Hounds. Appear at Auditorium February 9th.” The Savannah Tribune (Savannah, Georgia), January 22, 1921, 11E7581B13A079A0 ed.

Sultry Divas. Recorded September 30, 2008. Columbia River Entertainment, 2008, Streaming Audio. Accessed October 10, 2017. http://search.alexanderstreet.com/view/work/be%7Crecorded_cd%7Cli_upc_723723519221

Wald, Elijah. Escaping the delta: Robert Johnson and the invention of the blues. New York: Amistad, 2005.. 

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.

The Ever Changing Traditions of Folk Music

Woody Guthrie was a folk song singer and writer known for his honest and captivating works. Guthrie is considered to be one of the most influential people in the folk genre. He collaborated artists like Pete Seeger, Jack Elliot, Alan Lomax, Lead Belly etc.  He was known for his headstrong views about the world and in particular how he could share his views through music. He was very much interested in the idea of representing folk music as a “democratic force” and advocated for its recognition and appreciation over pop music and other genres.

In his letter to Lomax and Seeger, Guthrie’s political and social views on folk music overwhelmingly permeate through his writing. This sample is taken from Judith Tick’s Made in the USA: A Documentary Companion.

“Every pop song sings down into your brain and it asks your brain to quit its very thinking…What they see wrong with the world and how to fix it up by hard work, hard fight, and hard sweat, long visioning and tall talking, mixed in with a hatful of salty sweating, good funny joshing, kidding, topping and friendly competition in the affairs of work, love, etc., etc.” ~Woody Guthrie

It was Guthrie’s romantic idealism of democracy and his passionate advocacy for the American people that made him so appealing. Because Guthrie was so invested in the folk tradition, I decided to explore just how influential he was in folk music. Guthrie worked and sang with different people, but also composed many songs in the folk tradition.

Guthrie influenced many artists in his career including Ramblin’ Jack Elliot. In the January 1969 issue of The Minority Report, the newspaper article “Ramblin’ Jack tops ’em all” by Mike Hitchcock praises the album Young Brigham. Hitchcock periodically mentions Guthrie throughout his article portraying him as an influential, mentor-like figure to Elliot.

“At the beginning of the sixties, he had distilled down the essence of Woody’s vocal and instrumental style, added a liberal dose of Jimmy Rodgers, a touch of Leadbelly and Jesse Fuller, and a little bit of every down-home guitar picker that ever picked into a style that was, and still is, at once completely traditional and yet uniquely personal” (Hitchcock,7).

Elliot’s music is typically categorized as country yet Guthrie’s style and music unexpectedly influenced not only “traditional” folk, but also a popular county/folk artist.

Another unexpected way in which Guthrie exerted influence in American music was though his song writing. One of his songs, So Long, was performed by Big Joe Turner, a soul jazz and blues artist. Though Guthrie and Turner did not collaborate, Guthrie’s songs clearly found their way into the world of jazz and blues. How can we explain the fact that a folk artist was so influential in not only traditional folk music, but also in other genres that are not as outwardly similar to folk? One way to explain this connection is to consider the very nature of folk music itself.  Because Guthrie was influential in jazz, blues, country and other folk genres, it shows that folk music was always changing and was never confined to specific musical idioms or attitudes that are associated with other genres. Folk music always varies whether that is geographically, over time, or through different styles of music.  It is an inherently changing tradition because of its communal aspect.  Both folk and jazz reflect an honest human experience, and for Guthrie, the ideal folk song did just that.

Works Cited:

Hitchcock, Mike. “Ramblin’ Jack Elliot Tops ‘Em All.” The Minority Report, 1 Jan. 1969, p. 7.

James Lincoln Collier. “Jazz (i).” The New Grove Dictionary of Jazz, 2nd ed.. Grove Music OnlineOxford Music Online. Oxford University Press, accessed October 7, 2017, http://www.oxfordmusiconline.com/subscriber/article/grove/music/J223800.

Joe Turner: Have No Fear, Joe Turner Is Here. Recorded January 1, 1996. Pablo, 1996, Streaming Audio. Accessed October 10, 2017. http://search.alexanderstreet.com/view/work/bibliographic.

Stetson Kennedy and Ronald D. Cohen. “Guthrie, Woody.” Grove Music OnlineOxford Music Online. Oxford University Press, accessed October 7, 2017, http://www.oxfordmusiconline.com/subscriber/article/grove/music/A2241373.

Tick, Judith, and Beaudoin, Paul, eds. Music in the USA : A Documentary Companion. Cary: Oxford University Press, USA, 2008. Accessed October 7, 2017. ProQuest Ebook Central.

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  -

The Cakewalk

Black dancers perform the “Cakewalk” at the Pan Am Expo in Buffalo, New York, 1901.

The Cakewalk is an African American social and performance dance, derived from dances of corn-husking festivals. The Cakewalk was a traditional African American from of music and dance which emerged among southern slaves. Those who won the dancing contest would win a cake, from where the term is derived.1

Here’s where the history on the Cakewalk get’s a little fuzzy. Some sources say it began as a parody of the formal European dances of the white slave owners, but went on to become a popular attraction patronized by white landowners.2 Meanwhile other sources say “Black performers brought dances such as the cakewalk, the shimmy, and the Charleston to the American and European public, and in the process they challenged and redefined constructions of race, gender, and nationality.”3 Both very strong opinions on the same variety of music!

No Cakewalk On The Program For the State Convention of Afro-American Leagues–A Haytian Lecturer’s; “New York Age” (New York, New York) • 05-03-1890 • Page 2

I stumbled across an article that was published in Rochester NY on April 29th (c. 1890) praising the African American community, but bashing the Cakewalk. The article praises the African American women of Rochester saying “that in no city of New York are the Afro-Americans more thrifty then our people here… Our ladies [the African American “ladies” of Rochester] are educated and refined”4 Is this statement biased? Absolutely! I still was intrigued because this is perspective we don’t read don’t find very often — especially in the 1890s. The article continues, “Of course, Rochester, like other cities, has a few Afro Americans who can not appreciate a notable gathering of their own race at a banquet or a state convention as will take place in this city May 22. They will not be seen at the banquet because there is no cakewalk on the program”4 Ouch… This statement detracts from the compliment made towards the African American women of Rochester earlier in this newspaper article. This article praises the culture of African American women, as long as their culture is now one that appreciates “notable” things such as “banquets” or a “state convention”. They praise African American women for adopting white European ideals of sophistication and anything else is seen as “less than”. Problematic? Incredibly. The article is titled “No Cakewalk on the Program for the State Convention of Afro-American Leagues”. The author creates a division among the African American women of Rochester NY. It personifies naturalization which in this case I would define as: we’ll allow you to become part of our society, only if you become like “us” ( this “us” meaning white people). This author completely dismantles and discourages historically African American dances and ideals thus defining a superior and inferior culture.

Work Cited

1 Cakewalk. (2017). In The American Mosaic: The African American Experience. Retrieved from link

2 Dancers, New York, 1901: Getty Images link

3 Griffin, F. J. (2009). Cake Walk, Shimmy, and Charleston. Women’s Review Of Books, 26(4), 12-13. link

4 New York Age. “No Cakewalk On The Program For the State Convention of Afro-American Leagues–A Haytian Lecturer’s”. News/Opinion; New York, New York 05/03/1890 link

“Lift Every Voice and Sing”: a brief history

While browsing the African American Newspapers database, I came across an article/add for Miller Lite entitled “Miller Lite supports Black History Month.” The article encourages readers to buy Miller Lite beer by telling them that during the month of February, a donation will be made to the Thurgood Marshall Black Education Fund for every case of beer sold. This offer is also advertised by a radio commercial featuring an upbeat version of “Lift Every Voice and Sing,” featuring Deniece Williams, Al Green, Melba Moore, Roberta Flack, and Patti Austin. The Miller Brewing Company produced this recording in 1986, which the article states was the first recording of the song in 25 years.

We know this song today as the Black National Anthem. Personally, every time I sing or hear this song I am struck by the power of the lyrics, and the fact that the tune is so beautiful in its simplicity. Upon seeing this strange beer ad linked with “Lift Every Voice and Sing,” I became curious about the history of this song, and how it became Black National Anthem.

James Weldon Johnson writing at desk

Contrary to common belief, this song was originally a poem, and was not intended to be an anthem by its composer. James Weldon Johnson wrote the lyrics to “Lift Every Voice and Sing” in 1900, and his brother, John Rosamond Johnson, set the poem to music. James Weldon Johnson was a lyricist, poet, international diplomat, civil rights activist, and an important voice in the Harlem Renaissance of the 1920s. In February of 1900 he was asked to speak at President Lincoln’s birthday celebration, but instead wrote this song with his brother, which was performed at the celebration by 500 school children. While the Johnson brothers forgot about the song, the public did not. Children throughout the south continued to sing “Lift Every Voice and Sing,” and eventually it was sung all across the country. By the 1920s the song was so popular that the NAACP, with James Weldon Johnson as the chief executive officer, decided to make “Lift Every Voice and Sing” the official song. It is important to note that James Weldon Johnson called his song the “Negro National Hymn,” as he believed that a nation could have only one anthem, and didn’t want to further divide the country by separating the races.

Bob Cole, James, and Rosamond Johnson

While the song has been performed in many different genres including classical, jazz, R&B, and rap, I was surprised to see it used for commercial purposes to ultimately sell beer. This juxtaposition of capitalism with a song that calls us to never stop fighting for justice in the face of America’s racist past and present is fascinating to me. I understand that the Miller Brewing Company probably had great intentions for this project, as they committed to donate some proceeds to the Thurgood Marshall Black Education fund, which “provided scholarship support to the nations 35 historically Black public colleges.” Despite this aim, it is troubling to me that Miller Lite chose a song whose anti-racist message is in direct opposition with capitalism, a system built on the backs of enslaved Africans – a system that profits by exploiting and oppressing African Americans. The disconnect here leaves a pit in my stomach.
Here is a link to a video of the 1984 recording session of “Light Every Voice and Sing” sponsored by the Miller Brewing Company: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cwWhu8tw4nU

I would like to leave off with some additional recordings of this song. When I searched the Jazz Music Library for recordings of “Lift Every Voice and Sing,” all but one recording was instrumental, which invites us to make a comparison between renditions that include the lyrics and renditions that don’t. Here is a recording of Hank Crawford and Jimmy McGriff performing “Lift Every Voice and Sing” on saxophone and Hammond organ. To you, does the song still have the same effect without lyrics? Is it as moving or is there something lost? Personally, while the lyrics certainly indicate that the song is about an acknowledgement of the past and a confidence in the future, I am still moved by the instrumental versions. The tonal shift from major to minor is powerful in and of itself and somehow gives me a sense of determination without saying anything… is this simply because I already know the words? Here is a recording of the Manhattan Four singing “Lift Every Voice and Sing” for comparison.

I am including the lyrics to “Lift every voice and Sing” here, as I find it crucial to read and internalize the mobilizing message of the lyrics themselves, rather than learn about the history as a separate entity. These lyrics urge us to come together to strive for a better tomorrow, while always remembering the pain and struggle of the past. What would James Weldon Johnson say to us if he knew that the message of this song is still just as relevant and important 107 years later?

Sources

  1. Bond, Wilson, Bond, Julian, and Wilson, Sondra K. Lift Every Voice and Sing : A Celebration of the Negro National Anthem. 1st ed. New York: Random House, 2000.
  2. “Miller Lite supports Black History Month.” Chicago Metro News, February 25, 1989. Accessed October 6, 2017. http://infoweb.newsbank.com/iw-search/we/HistArchive/?p_product=EANX&p_theme=ahnp&p_nbid=H56G59ROMTUwNzM0OTExNC4yMTA3OTk6MToxNDoxMzAuNzEuMjI4LjIyMQ&p_action=doc&s_lastnonissuequeryname=2&d_viewref=search&p_queryname=2&p_docnum=7&p_docref=v2:12912DF42BF1884F@EANX-12A25FAB38AEF4B0@2447583-12A25FABD35A4110@10-12A25FB12096C218@Miller%20Lite%20Supports%20Black%20History%20Month3
  3. “Lift Every Voice and Sing.” In National Public Radio. http://www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=1137484
  4. Edward A. Berlin. “Johnson, James Weldon.” Grove Music Online. Oxford Music Online. Oxford University Press, accessed October 7, 2017, http://www.oxfordmusiconline.com/subscriber/article/grove/music/A2083946.
  5. The Best of Hank Crawford and Jimmy McGriff. Recorded January 1, 2001. Milestone, 2001, Streaming Audio. Accessed October 7, 2017. https://search.alexanderstreet.com/view/work/bibliographic_entity%7Crecorded_cd%7C532408
  6. The Earliest Negro Vocal Groups Vol. 5 (1911-1926). Recorded January 1, 2000. Document Records, 2000, Streaming Audio. Accessed October 7, 2017. http://search.alexanderstreet.com/view/work/bibliographic_entity%7Crecorded_cd%7C74556

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.

There is a Balm in Giliead

There Is a Balm in Gilead is a well-known African-American spiritual with a rich history. Its origins cannot be pinpointed, a fact common to folk songs; however, musicologists have traced back to the first print publication as a way of identifying their mark of beginning. Most musicologists agree that the first publication of this particular spiritual is found in “Folk Songs of the American Negro” published in Nashville in 1907 and written by John Wesley Work, II who I will discuss later.1

The Original Jubilee Singers. John Wesley Work, Folk Song of the American Negro (New York: Negro University Press, 1915), 102.

The track here, recorded in December 1909 by The Fisk University Jubilee Quartet, was integral in the dissemination of this spiritual, especially to predominantly white audiences in the early 20th century. The Jubilee Quartet was a smaller product of the original Fisk Jubilee Singers which was a larger ensemble that toured on behalf of Fisk University, a university for African-Americans which opened after the end of the Civil War. The Fisk Jubilee Singers are best known for their performance tours which featured numerous spirituals and brought financial profits to support the university.2 Because of financial burdens, the ensemble was forced to cut down to a quartet in the early 1900s.3

“In the early days it was looked upon as a curiosity in the world of song, beautiful, entertaining but transient, for the world never considered it more than a commodity, through which one or two Negro schools maintained themselves.”4

This quote from John Wesley Work II, the conductor, arranger, and lead tenor for the Jubilee Quartet communicates some dissonance between the performance of spirituals in concerts so heavily influenced by financial motivations and the root of spirituals in the hardships of African-American slaves. Work was a leading force in collecting spirituals from oral tradition and transcribing them for publication and performing them on tours, yet acknowledged the history behind them in his book, attempting to go beyond the simple “commodity” that he felt audiences were attuned to.

“The reason why the Negro songs are so full of scripture, quoted and implied, is that for centuries the Bible was the only book he was allowed to “study,” and it consumed all his time and attention.”5

Balm in Gilead first published in John Wesley Work II’s book “Folk Song of the American Negro” (Page 43).

As we have brought up in class, spirituals often make reference to biblical passages. Balm in Gilead, in particular, centers a