(Not) Finding Female Musicians in Mountain Music

Growing up in the twenty first century, my first exposure to fiddle and bluegrass music was through the white female musicians I knew. My view of women’s involvement in country, bluegrass, and “hillbilly” music, however, is different from the commonly known history of this music, which is almost entirely white and male. This difference between how I was introduced to country music and bluegrass and the earlier Appalachian styles, and how the genres, are primarily documented prompted me to search for evidence of women’s participation in country and bluegrass around the turn of the twentieth century.

Fiddling Bill Hensley, playing the fiddle, and an unidentified woman, at the Mountain Music Festival, Asheville, North Carolina. Taken sometime between 1938 and 1950.

My searches on the database “Prints and Photographs: Lomax Collection” unsurprisingly resulted in very few images of woman in a musical setting. Lomax was concerned with documenting “hillbilly” music as he saw it: white and male. The one image that appeared to be of a woman involved with some sort of mountain music is of a white woman standing near a man playing a fiddle.1 Her stance indicates that she might be dancing. Despite the active part that many women played in making the instrumental music, this woman goes as “unidentified,” next to the named male fiddler, an example of how white women were not always written into their own history.

Jumping forward to the 1990s, we can gain a better sense of how some women viewed their participation in the early stages of bluegrass and country music from oral histories. In one interview, Barbara Greenlief recounts her grandmother’s relationship with the music of the Appalachians.2 Although her grandmother played in a local band, she hated bring that music home. In fact, “the fiddle has a real bad reputation among women in the mountains, as going along with drinking and carousing and all that.” She loved to sing gospel music and “felt a real influence of black music,” but she received little support for her musical career from her husband. While this reluctance and inability to fully embrace the mountain music she was surrounded by may be a reason that I did not find many photographs of women in music, but I suspect that it has more to do with the men who documented the music, namely white men like who wanted to create of certain image of music from the mountains.

Images of black women playing music were even harder to find in these collections. While white women were marginally documented, black female country and bluegrass musicians seem to be all but absent from the early documented history. Searching the general Library of Congress database, I came across a comic from 1886 that, represents the caliber of representation in documented Appalachian music history that black women have received. The comic, part of “Darktown Comic” series depicts two black women playing the banjo alongside three black men.3 While the inclusion of these women alongside men might be encouraging in some situations, in the context of the cartoon, a crude caricature of black musicians, in this case their inclusion is only being used to further “demonstrate” black musicianship deemed unworthy of praise or attention. The cartoon depicts black characters who are not musicians because of their own instrumental abilities, but because of their “ability” to not think and let some sort of primal instinct for such music take over. It is not depiction of black female musicians, but rather a white cartoonists idea of southern mountain music.

Comic from the “Darktown Comic” series, printed in 1886 by Currier and Ives.

These images and documentation, or lack thereof, confirmed my suspicions that my personal experience of bluegrass, early documentary evidence of country, bluegrass, and “hillbilly” music, and the actual participation of black and white women in this music may not all be the same. While the lack of visual documentation of white, and especially black female musicians is not unexpected, it opens the door to new avenues of research. After all, there must be a better way to demonstrate black female musicianship than by using a cartoon.

1 “Fiddling Bill Hensley, playing fiddle and unidentified woman, at the Mountain Music Festival, Asheville, North Carolina.” Lomax Collection. Library of Congress. Accessed February 25, 2018. http://www.loc.gov/pictures/collection/lomax/item/2007660156/.

2 Yarger, Lisa. “Coon Creek Girls and John Lair’s control over their image.” Oral History Interview with Barbara Greenlief, April 27, 1996. Interview R-0020. Documenting the American South. Accessed February 25, 2018. http://docsouth.unc.edu/sohp/playback.html?base_file=R-0020&duration=02:03:20.

3 Currier & Ives. “The darktown banjo class-off the key: ‘If yous can’t play de music, jes leff de banjo go!.’ 1886. Library of Congress. Accessed February 25, 2018. https://www.loc.gov/item/91724113/.

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

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.

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

It’s Musical Theater! So it’s ok… right?

Screen Shot 2015-04-21 at 3.41.47 PMThis week we have the great opportunity to delve into the history of our community at St. Olaf by looking through the well preserved archives of the college’s student newspaper, the Manitou Messenger. The “Mess” as it is often referred to by current students captures events on campus and student news ranging from academia to athletics and yes, music. From our class discussion on American musical theater, I thought it would be interesting to look into the history of our theater department and it’s musical productions and my search yielded an article about the St. Olaf performance of Gypsy in 1987.

gypsy merm Gypsy, a 1959 musical with book written by Arthur Laurents, music by Jule Styne, andlyrics by Stephen Sondheim, is based on the life of Gypsy Rose Lee (1914-1970). Rose Lee was an entertainer who specialized in burlesque, a style of dramatization intended to cause laughter.  The musical centers of Gypsy’s mother who attempts to turn one of her daughters into a Vaudville star.  Rose, Gypsy’s mother, eventually convinces her younger daughter Louise to do a striptease on stage which catapults her into fame. Louise soon becomes known as “Gypsy Rose Lee” and eventually rejects her mother’s assistance in her ascent to stardom.

Our course this semester we have talked about a wide array of political and societal issues concerning American music and musical theater is no exception. Setting a story to music and then putting that story on stage adds multiple layers for contention.  Women in music has been a common point of interest for the course and Gypsy puts a controversial topic at center stage. Director Patrick Quade stated that “the production has accepted the responsibility of trying to avoid offending people” when asked about the musical’s touchy subject. The arts often provide the opportunity to push the envelope and Quade certainly took that opportunity.  My favorite quotation from Professor Quade addresses the controversy directly as he states: “why are we doing a play that treats women as sexual objects?… This aspect of the musical is part of American history, and you don’t wipe out history.” For Patrick Quade, the purpose of putting on a production of the musical Gypsy was not to spark an uproar, but to spark a conversation. Examining musical theater and the progression of musicals as a form of entertainment provides a hefty amount of insight into not only the musical style of the time period, but also the issues of the era. These conflicts are preserved though the musical work and provide the unique opportunity to serve as entertainment and as an educational tool with each production.

References

Brown, Dave. “Musical Comedy “Gypsy” Opens Thursday.” Manitou Messenger, November 6, 1987, Lifestyle/Arts sec. Accessed April 21, 2015.

The Runaways Planted a Cherry Bomb in the Rock Industry

The Runaways

The Runaways in the 1970s.

The Runaways were one of the first all-female rock bands in the 1970s. They recorded and performed from 1975 to 1979. The band was formed in 1975 by Joan Jett and Sandy West (rhythm guitarist/songwriter and drummer, respectively) with the help of producer Kim Fowley. After several arrangements of members, the “original” five were completed by Lita Ford on lead guitar, Cherie Currie on vocals and Jackie Fox on bass.

Best known for their single, “Cherry Bomb,” The Runaways were not well-known in the United States during the time that they were active, achieving greater success in Japan due to that single and a successful 1977 tour.

“Cherry Bomb,” inspired by Currie’s “cherry-blonde looks and name,” was written on the fly at her audition to be the lead singer of the band after she had shown up planning to sing Peggy Lee’s “Fever.” Combined with Currie’s choice to don a pink coset she bought from a small lingerie shop, the success of the song impounded as Currie’s sexual appearance added to her stage presence, increasing the appeal of the song to their audiences. The song became the Runaway’s anthem and fight song, and by blatantly using Currie’s sexuality and sexual appeal, they inspired many people to divert from societal expectations and become more daring in their dress and expression.1

In an interview for a 2010 issue of Goldmine magazine, Currie said that she is “proud of what The Runaways did [. . .] That we went from just kids in the Valley – and Huntington Beach and Long Beach – to following our dreams and standing up there for the rights of girls and women everywhere, that [showed that] hey, we can do this and we can do it as well as [men] can.”

Shortly after their tour of Japan came to a close before 1978, the band’s lineup as followers commonly know it disbanded with Currie leaving. Throughout the band’s existence, the group has had five different bassists (Micki Steele, Peggy Foster, Jackie Fox, Vicki Blue and Laurie McAllister). Three members remained relatively unchanged: Joan Jett on vocals and guitar, Lita Ford on guitar and Sandy West on drums. The “original five” appear on their first three albums together, and for the final two, West, Blue, Ford and Jett performed as a quartet. Due to disagreements over which direction the band should go in musically, the band split up in 1979.

After their breakup, each member went on to pursue their own projects. Joan Jett went on to found Blackheart Records, through which she wrote and performed music as Joan Jett and the Blackhearts as well as helping other artists with furthering their work. Currie is under contract on Jett’s Blackhearts label and spends the majority of her time chainsaw carving after spending years as a drug counselor for addicted and at-risk teens. Ford and West worked on music together for a time that did not come to much fruition and are now involved with their own projects.

The Runaways were important to the rock genre because they were one of the pioneering all-female groups in the 1970s. Continuing in the vein of all-female musical acts prior to the 1970s, The Runaways trod into the unfamiliar territory of the male-dominated rock genre, using their sexuality as a mode for making their music accessible and appearing “less threatening” to male listeners as they sang songs about female liberation and rebellion to the pulse of heavy rock. The Runaways were a truly subversive, producing music that fit into an already rebellious genre, they achieved international success in a field that was not immediately welcoming to them while deconstructing the stereotypes the rock music industry had for women breaking into the genre.

Bibliography

1. Lindblad, Peter. “The Runaways’ ‘Cherry Bomb’ gets a chainsaw.” Goldmine (10552685) 36, no. 8 (April 9, 2010): 44-46. Music Index, EBSCOhost(accessed April 21, 2015).

2. The Runaways. Cherry Bomb: Live in Japan. Concert excerpt, Japan 1977.

Joan Baez and the Rise of the Folk Protest

Joan Baez with her guitar

Joan Baez with her guitar

The 1960s were a decade of political development and social unrest. American folk music became a method of conveying political ideas and protest, and the singer-songwriter fell into the important role as the purveyor and curator of civil disobedience. This style of folk music was adopted by college students who saw it as a meaningful vehicle for bringing about positive, humane change to the world. “Like Zen Buddhism and organic foods, folk music swept the colleges as a hip fad. Indeed, since the 1930s folk music had a close connection to the radical left in America (especially communists and socialists), and had increasingly been taken seriously by folklore scholars as a guide to past social mores.”

The prevalence of protest folk did not exist without criticism. Folk purists believed that protest songs were “pretentious, portentous and ponderous” and that folk-protest writers were “political hacks who wouldn’t recognize either folk music or folk style if it were walking along beside them in a peace march.”

Joan Baez was a folk singer-songwriter who made a name for herself in the 1960s (and then on) performing folk ballads. As the social and political climate heated up in the United States and around the world, Baez became a civil rights and universal nonviolence activist. “As the child of a decade of agitation, her attitudes and life-style evolved so smoothly that she seemed not to have changed at all. Joan blended into the protest tradition, into pacifism, into activism, into a publicized marriage and motherhood, into a vicarious martyrdom, . . . and finally into a national symbol for nonviolence.”1 She had a very appealing voice, which served her well in attracting audiences to her music.

Joan Baez wrote many songs of political and social protest, utilizing her distinct voice that became associated with the folk singer-songwriter genre. Saigon Bride is one of the songs she wrote, which appears on her 1967 album Joan. The following are the lyrics to Saigon Bride:

Farewell my wistful Saigon bride
I’m going out to stem the tide
A tide that never saw the seas
It flows through jungles, round the trees
Some say it’s yellow, some say red
It will not matter when we’re dead

How many dead men will it take
To build a dike that will not break?
How many children must we kill
Before we make the waves stand still?

Though miracles come high today
We have the wherewithal to pay
It takes them off the streets you know
To places they would never go alone
It gives them useful trades
The lucky boys are even paid

Men die to build their Pharoah’s tombs
And still and still the teeming wombs
How many men to conquer Mars
How many dead to reach the stars?

Farewell my wistful Saigon bride
I’m going out to stem the tide
A tide that never saw the seas
It flows through jungles, round the trees
Some say it’s yellow, some say red
It will not matter when we’re dead

Starting out on a local scale in California, Baez ended up playing at the Newport Folk Festival in 1960 and then signing onto Vanguard Records for the next 12 years. Baez played many shows internationally and during the Vietnam War, she began playing internationally, including a show in Tokyo, Japan in January 1967. At this show, the translator later admitted that he left out all of Baez’s political comments after being instructed to do so by a man who identified himself as a CIA agent.

Instead of interpreting her subtle antiwar sentiments in Saigon Bride, the interpreter told the audience that it was a song about the Vietnam War. It is interesting to see how time and again, governments have feared the strength of a song or piece of art. Instead of listening to something and learning about its meaning and background, we are told to move past that and consume something topically or refrain from interpreting and consuming it altogether.

Joan Baez is one of the first recognized folk protest singer-songwriters and someone who has really affected the style of political song today. With singer-songwriters pioneering the political song, it has moved through rock, country, to rap and hip hop. Political protest today takes its form in many ways and the efficacy of that art is dependent on the audience it reaches out to.

1. Rodnitzky, Jerome L. Minstrels of the dawn : the folk-protest singer as a cultural hero. Chicago: Nelson-Hall, 1976. x-87. Print.

2. Baez, Joan. Saigon Bride. Joan, CD, 1967.

Beach’s Variations and the Success of the American Female Composer

Amy Beach (September 5, 1867–December 27, 1944) was an American composer and pianist. She was primarily self-taught in composition and was the first successful female composer of large works as well as the first president of the Society of American WomenComposers. She worked to further the works of young composers and was also known as “Mrs. H. H. A. Beach” at many of her concert piano performances.

This is the cover of a manuscript being held in the Amy Cheney Beach Collection, which is housed in the Dr. Kenneth J. LaBudde Department of Special Collections of the University of Missouri - Kansas City.

This is the cover of a manuscript being held in the Amy Cheney Beach Collection, which is housed in the Dr. Kenneth J. LaBudde Department of Special Collections of the University of Missouri – Kansas City.

Amy Beach’s Variations on Balkan Themes, op. 60 was one of many great works she composed for piano. Based on songs “of unknown origin” collected by Reverend and Mrs. William W. Sleeper during their time living as missionaries in the Balkan region, the variations play upon “O Maiko Moya,” “Stara Planina,” and “Nasadil e Dado,” among other Balkan folk tunes. (Beach did not collect any of the folksongs her works were based on.) The variations employ switches between different themes to make up their complex texture.

The following is a loose translation of the text of “O Maiko Moya,” which is the first theme introduced in the work. Although there is no text to be sung or read with this work (this is a piano work, after all) this is important to the structure of the work and is suggestive of the overall tone of the variations and the cultural background that they were based on.

“O my poor country, to thy sons so dear,

Why art thou weeping, why this sadness drear?

Alas! thou raven, messenger of woe,

Over those fresh grave moanest thou so?”

The different folk songs do not all have to deal with Balkan nationalistic pride, rather, some texts relate to the mountains, or a story of a grandfather planting a small garden. As is the case in any piece written as a theme with variations, the variations gradually move away from the original motivic elements and provide new context for different themes.

In her analysis of Beach’s Variations on Balkan Themes, Dr. Adrienne Fried Block suggested that Beach borrowed from Beethoven’s tonal scheme for his Six Variations, op. 34. Beethoven’s Variations was one of the pieces that Beach regularly performed in her solo piano performances and one of the few variations that she regularly played throughout her career. It makes sense then, that this piece had such an effect on her own music. The Balkan Themes were in minor, which affected the tonal adjustments she made to the piece and prevented her from using Beethoven’s Variations structure exactly as it is (it should be noted that the speculation that Beach borrowed from Beethoven is a part of Dr. Block’s correspondence to a E. Douglas Bomberger).

Overall, Beach’s Variations are lively, yet melancholy in mood. Beach was known to incorporate romanticism and delayed resolution into her work, later on moving away from tonality. It is no surprise that Beach has been declared the first successful American female composer of large-scale music, although I think it would be interesting to explore the published music of other female composers and try to understand where they “fell short” of the success of their male counterparts, causing America to have to wait until the late 1800s for a female composer of Beach’s accomplishment.

 

Beach, Amy. Variations on Balkan Themes, op. 60. Boston: Arthur P. Schmidt, 1906. http://javanese.imslp.info/files/imglnks/usimg/0/0f/IMSLP08550-Beach_-_Op.60__Variations_on_Balkan_Themes.pdf.

Beach, Amy. Variations on Balkan Themes, op. 60. Performed by Virginia Eskin. Composed 1904.

Bomberger, E. Douglas, and Adrienne Fried Block. “On Beach’s Variations on Balkan Themes, op. 60.” American Music 11, no. 3 (1993): 368-71. http://www.jstor.org/stable/3052509.

What the folk is going on with the youths of America?

An article written about the Mariposa music festival featured in Rock Magazine. 1972, Vol. 3, Issue 10

An article written about the Mariposa music festival featured in Rock Magazine. 1972, Vol. 3, Issue 10

The folk music revival was carried by and largely served the young men and women who were raised to volunteer, organize civil rights protests  and activist groups and work with political powers (at least at the start) to effect the change they envisioned for the world. These college-age individuals rejected commercial mass culture while they favored borrowing and adapting older music from previous generations to serve their own purposes.

During the 1970s, there was a boom in music festivals. Occurring over the span of 3-12 days, festivals became the best place to discover new artists, interact with new like-minded people and share new ideas about politics and the world. (They were also associated with drug use, but that’s not the focus of this article.) Festivals were generally grassroots efforts, organized by local communities, regionally or nationally and could have an educational focus. “The Mariposa Folk Festival in Toronto, Canada is one of the biggest in North America. [In the summer of 1972] it broke even and its organizers were happy.”1

Many different artists came to the festival to perform the music that was shaping the mentality and ethos of the college-attending generation in 1972. Old folk tunes were repurposed, given new life with new words about the ideas and emotions of the heartbroken and those downtrodden by society.2

“In 1965, a young folk singer named Joni Anderson hitchhiked to Mariposa from Calgary and in 1970 she drew 12,000 to a night concert because she was the famous Joni Mitchell[James] Taylor was asked to Mariposa because ‘he has a lot of roots in folk’ not because he would draw people. Taylor came because he wanted to, not for the money, which amounted to $75. That is the most any performer is paid, along with his traveling and accommodation expenses. Why? Because Mariposa is an annual gathering of balladeers, not a rock festival.”

Today, we still see (or hear of) people borrowing from other musical ideas and traditions. What they borrow leads to commercial success––in the case of Amy Winehouse and Iggy Azalea. Artists borrow ideas for several reasons: they identify with some aspect of the idea or culture, to make money, necessity demands that they adapt their music to today’s pop standards by updating the sounds or affect they use, or, to make a statement. We are in a never ending cycle of cultural repetition. Everything we produce and consume will reoccur in another form some time (shortly or long after) the “original” was produced. However, the questions have not changed from the 1970s when the folk music revival was in full swing, nor from when bluegrass was in its developmental stage as a musical genre. What is the intent behind artist’s borrowing ideas from others and how many alterations must the new work undergo before it is something original? Is there a way to respectfully reproduce or change something when you yourself have not been around to experience the genesis of that idea or have little to no connection with that cultural movement, people, or idea? And what is the significance of festivals? What role do they play with the appropriation, adaptation and spread of ideas and are they important cultural hub or a temporary collection of society’s social outcasts and wannabe reshapers?

The Mariposa music festival still is around today. This year, the festival’s dates are July 3-5, 2015.

 

1. Musgrave, Corinne. “Mariposa: The Festival That Never Fails.” Rock, 1972 3, no. 10 (1972): 20-21.

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

The good book says you’ve got to reap just what you sow

The blues tradition started with emotion. Albert Murray, a black novelist, commented that the blues were a way for one to “[Confront, acknowledge, and contend] with the infernal absurdities and ever-impending frustrations inherent in the nature of all experience.”Drawing from the oral music traditions of “field hollers” and call and response, the blues had a strong presence and role of importance in black American communities starting during the Reconstruction period before segregation laws.

One of the early recordings of Alberta Hunter and Lovie Austin’s Down-hearted blues was done in 1923(the YouTube recording below is from 1939). It follows the typical AABA structure the blues would follow and makes use of call and response primarily between the singer and a clarinet. One thing that can be noted is the inflections Hunter uses as she sings. Many of the accents and emotive inflections she uses in her phrasing would not be written down in the music––such as shortening a note at the end of a phrase, sliding into or between notes and adding accented vibrato to a sustained note.

The subject matter deals with the singer being unhappy in the romantic situation she’s in. Hunter specifically sings about “the man that wrecked her life,” but beyond the relationship, the man could be extended to representing her job or position in society (especially important given the time this piece was written in). In the first verse, Hunter sings that “the good book says you’ve got to reap just what you sow,” which is acceptance for the situation that she’s in––something she could have arguably had very much or very little control over to begin with.

 

1. Hogue, W. Lawrence. Discourse and the Other: The Production of the Afro-American Text. Durham, North Carolina, NC: Duke University Press, 1986.

2. Hunter, Alberta and Austin Love. Tennessee Ten: Down-hearted blues. Victor, 1923, audio recording, http://www.loc.gov/jukebox/recordings/detail/id/9323.

From Blues to Jazz: Handy to Vaughan

Jazz is a musical style native to the United States, that emerged in the early Twentieth century. Jazz was influenced from Blues music, which was established most notably by W.C. Handy in 1917. Jazz has new sound that incorporates both the African American musical stylings and the European American form of music. This hybridization of the two heritages created a unique style of music which we now call under a big genre “umbrella,” Jazz. In the Library of Congress photo archives, a photo of the reputable Sarah Vaughan was present among many photos of white jazz singers. She became popular in the late 40s and early 50s when Jazz was really hitting it’s stride as popular music, with the likes of Frank Sinatra.

sarah vaughn

Vaughan was highly influenced by the early blues style, of W.C. Handy. Handy’s invention or development of the Memphis Blues, drew on the folk style of the old southern plantation music. The emotional context of this music is heard in the vocal stylings of the renowned Sarah Vaughan. The memphis blues eventually took shape to the 12-bar blues, which also led to the development of Jazz.

While Vaughan represents a big part of the Jazz era, more commonly was the presence of white artists, such as Doris Day, Peggy Lee, and Sinatra. They emulated the sounds of a soulful Vaughan, singing on topics that go back to the days of slavery.

http://www.loc.gov/jukebox/recordings/detail/id/7948/autoplay/true/

“St. Louis Blues” is a great example of an old dixieland jazz band song that evolved over the years. In the recording provided in the above link, the instrumentation, while has elements of a traditional jazz band also still has southern sounds to it… likely from New Orleans. In the video below, the song is presented in a different style of blues and jazz, one that emerged later with artists like Bessie Smith, Louis Armstrong, and Sarah Vaughan.

 

Bibliography

Gottlieb, William, photographer. “Portrait of Sarah Vaughan in Café Society (Downtown).” Photograph. New York, N.Y.: Library of Congress Prints & Photographs. Aug. 1946. Online.

http://www.loc.gov/jukebox/recordings/detail/id/7948/autoplay/true/

 

“A novel sight”: Women and Southern Singing Conventions

A prominent event in Southern music making of the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries was the singing convention. In rural areas of the South, families from neighboring farms would gather to sing sacred Christian music from shape note singing books such as The Sacred Harp. The singers used this type of musical notation because its utilization of only four solfege syllables and corresponding symbols made reading music easier (than traditional Western notation), and most people were able to learn the notation by attending local singing schools. In the excerpt below, a journalist from the Atlanta Constitution reports his observations from the 1892 Chattahoochee Musical Convention near Carrollton, Georgia:

Screen shot 2015-02-22 at 10.21.04 PM   Screen shot 2015-02-22 at 10.21.25 PM Figure 1

The journalist seems to be writing for an urban audience that would not be familiar with such a singing tradition. By referencing how a mother might sing these songs “as a lullaby for her babe,” he emphasizes the music’s importance as a transmitter of culture for rural folk.

The shape note singing described above ensured that anyone could participate after little practice. The singing style at singing conventions reflected this inclusive attitude as well as valued the individual spirit. Singers were not expected to blend with one another; rather, they sang at full volume in order to praise God at their highest capacity. The ability of individuals to worship depended on their zeal as they sang, not their wealth, community standing, or musical sophistication. The clip below from the 2010 Chattahoochee Musical Convention shows that this atmosphere remains today.

Figure 2

As documents from the nineteenth century reveal, gender also carried less importance at singing conventions, which made them significant events in the lives of women. The Atlanta Constitution article states that women were allowed unusual freedoms like being permitted to lead songs at singing conventions.

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Figure 3  and Figure 4

While female leadership seems to shock the journalist observing the convention, Mrs. Denson’s leadership makes sense in the context of the convention’s democratic ethos.

Singing conventions also held importance for women because they provided a venue at which members of the opposite sex could mingle. In the following short story excerpt, published in Arthur’s Home Magazine (a magazine marketed toward women), the author describes a young couple who attends a singing convention together not because they enjoy the singing but because the young woman’s parents allowed her to leave the house with young man only because they would be attending a singing convention.

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Figure 5 and Figure 6

The women who read Arthur’s Home Magazine would have been interested in a story about a singing convention because the singing convention represented an arena in which a woman could participate in social activities without much attention paid to her gender.

Singing conventions were important in the lives of women for three main reasons: 1) they were integral to the transmission of culture, which has traditionally been the role of women,  2) they gave women leadership opportunities in worship, and 3) they provided social venues in which women had more freedom. However, while the democratic nature of the singing convention allowed for more equal treatment in regard to gender, it should not be overstated, considering that the spirit of inclusiveness did not extend to African-Americans. The tradition I have described above refers to white Southerners. Whether or not a similar treatment of gender occurred in separate African-American singing conventions remains a question for another blog.

Footnotes

A.B.F., “Old Time Singing: Devotees of the Old ‘Sacred Harp’ System of Melody,” The Atlanta Constitution (Atlanta, GA), Aug. 9, 1892, accessed Feb. 22, 2015, http://search.proquest.com/americanperiodicals/docview/194108303/fulltextPDF/1485C5C5DBB94281PQ/8?accountid=351

“Sacred Harp Chattahoochee Convention 2010,” Youtube video, posted by THEbubbleskid, September 9, 2010, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=FQkYnRdkbqM 

A.B.F., “Old Time Singing: Devotees of the Old ‘Sacred Harp’ System of Melody,” The Atlanta Constitution (Atlanta, GA), Aug. 9, 1892, accessed Feb. 22, 2015 http://search.proquest.com/americanperiodicals/docview/194108303/fulltextPDF/1485C5C5DBB94281PQ/8?accountid=351

Sacred Harp Singers. Available from http://marfapublicradio.org/blog/talk-at-ten/ryan-p-young-on-sacred-harp-singing/ (accessed Feb. 22, 2015)

Hester Grey. “At the Singing Convention,” Arthur’s Home Magazine (1880-1897) 65, no. 6 (1895): 570, accessed Feb. 22 2015, http://search.proquest.com/americanperiodicals/docview/124515702/fulltextPDF/$N/1?accountid=351

Arthur’s Home Magazine, 1867. Available from http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Arthur%27s_Lady%27s_Home_Magazine#mediaviewer/File:1867_Arthurs_Home_Magazine_v29_no4.png