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.

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.

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

Bluer Than Blue: Michael Johnson and Folk Music at St. Olaf

If you search through St. Olaf’s Manitou Messenger, in the 1970s and 1980s, you will notice a trend: St. Olaf College loved folk music, especially the music of Michael Johnson.

He performed on campus in the spring of 1973, on May 11, 1974, on October 24, 1975, and November 20, 1981:

Michael Johnson in 1975.

Playing for large audiences in Skoglund Gymnasium and in the Women’s Gym (now Kelsey Theater), Johnson performed hits from his albums There Is a Breeze and For All You Mad Musicians (the 1975 concert) like the songs “Bluer Than Blue” and “On the Road” (1981 and 1974 concerts, respectively). The popularity of Johnson was perhaps his ability to not only perform ballads/love songs and classic folk tunes, but also jazz and classical arrangements (and rearrangements) of his own and other peoples’ music.

That’s not to say everyone desired to hear a variety of music when Johnson came to town. In 1981, Johnson shared a concert with Simon and Bard, a fusion jazz group (many people left at 10pm when the band began their set). As the Manitou Messenger article from that event relates, that whole night was a fiasco: the doors opened 30 minutes late, Eastern Airlines sent Johnson’s guitar to Atlanta, and, the greatest crime of all, Simon and Bard was supposed to play first, but instead, Johnson opened. Many diehard Michael Johnson fans arrived late only to hear the end of Johnson’s set and the entire Simon and Bard set. Oops.

Michael Johnson in 1981.

St. Olaf’s affinity for Michael Johnson and his folk music showed the college’s continued participation in the folk revival, which began in the 1940s, peaked in the 1960s, and after that began to lose steam in the face of the British Invasion and the rise of rock. It also demonstrates the tastes of Oles, perhaps the unchanging tastes of Oles: to this day, one of the most-discussed concerts is Ingrid Michaelson’s visit to St. Olaf in 2012 (Michaelson is a singer-songwriter especially associated with the indie pop/folk movement).

Folk music in general has a strong following at St. Olaf. It could be the hipster-ish aspect of campus and folk music (“Have you heard of this person? They’re SO refreshing”) or maybe it’s the more rural origins of most of our students. Whatever the reason, in both the 1970s and the 2010s, folk music is alive and well at St. Olaf College.


“Calendar: Coming.” Manitou Messenger (St. Olaf College, Northfield, MN), April 26, 1974.

Lemke, Brenda. “Johnson steps up slow start.” Manitou Messenger (St. Olaf College, Northfield, MN), December 3, 1981.

Schrader, Beth. “Johnson and Johnson, pigskins and alumni.” Manitou Messenger (St. Olaf College, Northfield, MN), October 24, 1975.

Selma – A Musical March

Headings
Various front page article headings from the Chicago Defender in March of 1965.

 50 years ago this month, Dr. King called hundreds of people to join him in a march from Selma, Alabama to the state’s capital in Montgomery to protest voter registration. The protestors were to gather in the small community of Selma and take the 50 mile trek to address the current governor, George Wallace, and demand change. According to The Chicago Defender and as one would expect, the march was greeted with opposition. On the day of the march in 1965, there was a “tenseness” that covered the town of Selma. City officials contacted citizens urging them to “stay away from the demonstrations” and Gov. Wallace issued an order that said the march was prohibited and that state troopers were to use “all force necessary” to stop the procession.1 You could say things were not going well… The march was attacked with force and people were beaten and tear-gassed in the streets for fighting for their own rights.

This protest rocked the country and today serves as a key point in the civil rights movement. The effects of this march even hit close to  home. James Reeb, a white man of the church and St. Olaf graduate, died in this fight for freedom on March 11, 1965, 50 years ago from this Wednesday who is being memorialized this week on campus.  Why do we memorialize people and events?  Well one reason would be to remember what occurred and how it has shaped the way we live today.  Maybe a better question is HOW do we memorialize the events of the Selma march. Photographs and statues, plaques and books, all are great options, but what about memorializing through song?

The Smithsonian has a Screen Shot 2015-03-09 at 5.22.01 PMunique collection of recordings in their Smithsonian Folkways collection called “Freedom Songs: Selma, Alabama” which capture the emotional content of the march. Referred to as a “Documentary Recording,” Carl Benkert set out to preserve this moment in our nation’s history through sound. The liner notes confirm that “through all the events of those days, music was an essential element” and that the music expressed “hope and sorrow” while being able to “excite and pacify.”2  One aScreen Shot 2015-03-09 at 5.23.50 PMarticle even specifically states that the police arrested “hymn-singing Negroes.”sup>3 Songs such as “Nobody Knows the Trouble I’ve Seen” and “We Shall Over Come” were lead by march leaders to establish a sense of unity among the protestors and calm the participants as the marched along their path. For the full list of recordings and to listen to excerpts of these march songs, check out the Smithsonian Folkways webpage.

Or listen here:

 

Resources

1 Leon, Daniel. “Prepare for Today’s Big March in Selma.” Chicago Daily Defender (Daily Edition) (1960-1973), Mar 09, 1965. http://search.proquest.com/docview/494135915?accountid=351.

2 Carl Benkert. Freedom Songs: Selma, Alabama.  © 1965, 12004 Smithsonian Folkways Recordings / 1965 Folkways Records. FH 5594. Compact disc.

3 Lynch, John. “Arrest 218 in Selma; Protest to Continue.” Chicago Daily Defender (Daily Edition) (1960-1973), Jan 21, 1965. http://search.proquest.com/docview/494121982?accountid=351.

One for the Money, Two for the Show – The Fisk University Jubilee Singers

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Founded in 1866 by the American Missionary Association, Fisk University in Nashville, TN became the United States’ first “black” university.  Formed in the Reconstruction era of America, Fisk was a school that would “offer a liberal arts education to young men and women irrespective of color.” Fisk University, however, did not avoid hardships as the institution struggled to survive past its infancy. Within five years, the school found itself in dire need for financial support. So what does any university do when they need to make money?  They form a touring ensemble.

Screen-Shot-2013-06-20-at-10.51.07-AMGeorge L. White was originally hired to serve as Fisk’s treasurer, but also found his way into the music classroom. Noticing the institution’s need for income, the treasurer turned music professor also became the school’s first director of choirs.  In 1871, White established a choir of freed slaves that he later named the Jubilee Singers. The choir’s purpose was to go and tour the country to raise money for the university.  Ella Shepard, the ensemble’s pianist, described the intentions and drive of White was “to sing the money out of the hearts and pockets of the people,” and with that, on October 6, 1871, the choir left Nashville on their first benefit concert tour of the Midwest.

Long story short, the seven month tour was a resounding success. The ensemble wasFisk_University,_Jubilee_Hall,_Seventeenth_Avenue,_North,_Nashville_(Davidson_County,_Tennessee) able to return to Nashville with $20,000 to be put into the institution.  With the profit of their first tour, Fisk University was able to build it’s first permanent campus building, which was named Jubilee Hall and still serves the university to this day. So what exactly did the Jubilee Singers do to make their tour so successful? Simply put, they sang what they knew and what the people wanted to hear.

According to an article published in the Oneida Circular, the praise of the ensemble is simply “remarkable.” The singers did not have “superior talent” and though “they Screen Shot 2015-02-21 at 10.30.10 AMare capable of singing ‘popular music’,” that had nothing to do with their success. What consistently worked for the ensemble was to defer to their “native, religious songs.” Described in one concert advertisement as the “simple melodies and spiritual songs which sustained the slaves during their long years of bondage,” the music of the Jubilee Singers captivated audiences with their novel sound and religious messages. When asked about their music by members of the public, the singers would respond that “it was never written down” and that is passed down “from generation to generation” within their families. This repertoire, coined “slave songs” would not only carry the ensemble through a successful tour, but also skyrocket them to the national and international stage.

getimageThe concept of a touring ensemble is not exactly new. Here at St. Olaf College, we too have a touring choral ensemble of our own. Under the direction of Dr. Anton Armstrong, the St. Olaf Choir tours annually across the country and occasionally around the globe. Known for their refined tone and lyric sense of line, the St. Olaf Choir is a night-and-day comparison to the Jubilee Singers. Even though their musical styles contrast greatly, their underlying reasonings for going on national and international tours are quite similar: to spread their music and to collect revenue for their sponsoring institutions. Founded 40 years after the Jubilee Singers in 1912, the St. Olaf Choir and their director F. Melius Christiansen took their first major tour in 1920 to the East coast and had a similar result to the Fisk musicians, bringing in a healthy sum of revenue for the college and even established a fund to construct the first official music hall on campus. What is particularly interesting is that both choirs had similar repertoire at the commencement of their tours. Classical choral music was to be the highlight of the Jubilee Singers program, but the hesitantly had to switch to singing their people’s history on stage in order to raise the necessary funds. Both ensembles had hugely successful tours singing what the audience wanted to hear, but is that necessarily right?

Screen Shot 2015-02-21 at 11.42.40 AMRegardless of your viewpoint on the ethics of choral repertoire when it comes to “selling” sound, the Fisk University Jubilee Singers have surely made their mark on our country’s history. More than 75 years after the Jubilee Singers inaugural tour, G. Robert Tipton wrote an article for The Missionary Herald in 1947, which was later re-published in Reader’s Digest in 1949, titled “Our Debt to the Jubilee Singers.” The article goes through a brief history of the ensemble from their establishment through their first European tour, but what I found most interesting was the summary sentence provided on the front page of the article.  Tipton writes that the Jubilee Singers are “a group of impoverished ex-slaves who took the old Negro spirituals on the road – and enriched America’s musical heritage.” There is no doubt that the work of the Fisk University Jubilee Singers has not only  enriched our nation’s musical antiquity, but quite possibly assisted in the preservation of the “slave song” genre that is so deeply rooted in America’s history.

 Sources:

TIPTON, G. Robert. 1949. “Our debt to the Jubilee singers.” Reader’s Digest 54, 95-97. Readers’ Guide Retrospective: 1890-1982 (H.W. Wilson), EBSCOhost (accessed February 19, 2015).

Advertisement 18 — no title. 1872. Zion’s Herald (1868-1910). Mar 14, http://search.proquest.com/docview/127336562?accountid=351 (accessed February 20, 2015).

H, W. B. 1872. THE JUBILEE SINGERS. Oneida Circular (1871-1876). Apr 15, http://search.proquest.com/docview/137675405?accountid=351 (accessed February 20, 2015).

“Fisk Jubilee Singers – Our History.” Fisk Jubilee Singers. Accessed February 24, 2015. http://www.fiskjubileesingers.org/our_history.html.
Shaw, Joseph M. The St. Olaf Choir: A Narrative. Northfield, Minn.: St. Olaf College, 1997.