Skip to Main Content
It looks like you're using Internet Explorer 11 or older. This website works best with modern browsers such as the latest versions of Chrome, Firefox, Safari, and Edge. If you continue with this browser, you may see unexpected results.

Black Music History: Home

Music Librarian

Profile Photo
Laura Jacyna
Contact:
Email me to make a virtual appointment at your convenience using Teams, or Zoom, or whatever you prefer!
Subjects: Music

 

This guide is a collection of books that showcases the history of African American music and the influence and contributions of African Americans on other styles of music. 

 

Blackness in Opera

Blackness in Opera critically examines the intersections of race and music in the multifaceted genre of opera. A diverse cross-section of scholars places well-known operas (Porgy and Bess, Aida, Treemonisha) alongside lesser-known works such as Frederick Delius's Koanga, William Grant Still's Blue Steel, and Clarence Cameron White's Ouanga! to reveal a new historical context for re-imagining race and blackness in opera. The volume brings a wide-ranging, theoretically informed, interdisciplinary approach to questions about how blackness has been represented in these operas, issues surrounding characterization of blacks, interpretation of racialized roles by blacks and whites, controversies over race in the theatre and the use of blackface, and extensions of blackness along the spectrum from grand opera to musical theatre and film. In addition to essays by scholars, the book also features reflections by renowned American tenor George Shirley. Contributors are Naomi André, Melinda Boyd, Gwynne Kuhner Brown, Karen M. Bryan, Melissa J. de Graaf, Christopher R. Gauthier, Jennifer McFarlane-Harris, Gayle Murchison, Guthrie P. Ramsey Jr., Eric Saylor, Sarah Schmalenberger, Ann Sears, George Shirley, and Jonathan O. Wipplinger.

Blues Legacies and Black Feminism: Gertrude "Ma" Rainey, Bessie Smith, and Billie Holiday

om one of this country's most important intellectuals comes a brilliant analysis of the blues tradition that examines the careers of three crucial black women blues singers through a feminist lens. Angela Davis provides the historical, social, and political contexts with which to reinterpret the performances and lyrics of Gertrude "Ma" Rainey, Bessie Smith, and Billie Holiday as powerful articulations of an alternative consciousness profoundly at odds with mainstream American culture.
The works of Rainey, Smith, and Holiday have been largely misunderstood by critics. Overlooked, Davis shows, has been the way their candor and bravado laid the groundwork for an aesthetic that allowed for the celebration of social, moral, and sexual values outside the constraints imposed by middle-class respectability. Through meticulous transcriptions of all the extant lyrics of Rainey and Smith—published here in their entirety for the first time—Davis demonstrates how the roots of the blues extend beyond a musical tradition to serve as a conciousness-raising vehicle for American social memory. A stunning, indispensable contribution to American history, as boldly insightful as the women Davis praises, Blues Legacies and Black Feminism is a triumph.

Hidden in the Mix: the African American Presence in Country Music

Country music's debt to African American music has long been recognized. Black musicians have helped to shape the styles of many of the most important performers in the country canon. The partnership between Lesley Riddle and A. P. Carter produced much of the Carter Family's repertoire; the street musician Tee Tot Payne taught a young Hank Williams Sr.; the guitar playing of Arnold Schultz influenced western Kentuckians, including Bill Monroe and Ike Everly. Yet attention to how these and other African Americans enriched the music played by whites has obscured the achievements of black country-music performers and the enjoyment of black listeners. The contributors to Hidden in the Mix examine how country music became "white," how that fictive racialization has been maintained, and how African American artists and fans have used country music to elaborate their own identities. They investigate topics as diverse as the role of race in shaping old-time record catalogues, the transracial West of the hick-hopper Cowboy Troy, and the place of U.S. country music in postcolonial debates about race and resistance. Revealing how music mediates both the ideology and the lived experience of race, Hidden in the Mix challenges the status of country music as "the white man's blues." Contributors. Michael Awkward, Erika Brady, Barbara Ching, Adam Gussow, Patrick Huber, Charles Hughes, Jeffrey A. Keith, Kip Lornell, Diane Pecknold, David Sanjek, Tony Thomas, Jerry Wever

Hard Bop: Jazz and Black Music, 1955-1965

It's nineteen fifty-something, in a dark, cramped, smoke-filled room. Everyone's wearing black. And on-stage a tenor is blowing his heart out, a searching, jagged saxophone journey played out against a moody, walking bass and the swish of a drummer's brushes. To a great many listeners--from African American aficionados of the period to a whole new group of fans today--this is the very embodiment of jazz. It is also quintessential hard bop. In this, the first thorough study of the subject, jazz expert and enthusiast David H. Rosenthal vividly examines the roots, traditions, explorations and permutations, personalities and recordings of a climactic period in jazz history. Beginning with hard bop's origins as an amalgam of bebop and R&B, Rosenthal narrates the growth of a movement that embraced the heavy beat and bluesy phrasing of such popular artists as Horace Silver and Cannonball Adderley; the stark, astringent, tormented music of saxophonists Jackie McLean and Tina Brooks; the gentler, more lyrical contributions of trumpeter Art Farmer, pianists Hank Jones and Tommy Flanagan, composers Benny Golson and Gigi Gryce; and such consciously experimental and truly one-of-a-kind players and composers as Andrew Hill, Sonny Rollins, John Coltrane, Thelonious Monk, and Charles Mingus. Hard bop welcomed all influences--whether Gospel, the blues, Latin rhythms, or Debussy and Ravel--into its astonishingly creative, hard-swinging orbit. Although its emphasis on expression and downright "badness" over technical virtuosity was unappreciated by critics, hard bop was the music of black neighborhoods and the last jazz movement to attract the most talented young black musicians. Fortunately, records were there to catch it all. The years between 1955 and 1965 are unrivaled in jazz history for the number of milestones on vinyl. Miles Davis's Kind of Blue, Charles Mingus's Mingus Ah Um, Thelonious Monk's Brilliant Corners, Horace Silver's Further Explorations--Rosenthal gives a perceptive cut-by-cut analysis of these and other jazz masterpieces, supplying an essential discography as well. For knowledgeable jazz-lovers and novices alike, Hard Bop is a lively, multi-dimensional, much-needed examination of the artists, the milieus, and above all the sounds of one of America's great musical epochs.

Just Before Jazz: Black Musical Theatre in New York, 1890-1915

This book fills a gap in our understanding of the history of American musical theater by bringing to light the unique contributions of black composers, producers, and performers to the origin and development of popular song form. Immediately striking is the revelation that the composers and performers working in black musical theater were often well educated and classically trained--a revelation that adds a fresh complexity to the usual notions of the evolution of black music. Riis concentrates on a discussion of the shows and the songs, often in musicological terms that might prove daunting to lay readers. Careful documentation and exhaustive appendixes make this work a valuable addition to music collections; it is also recommended for black history and larger theater collections.
- Mark Woodhouse, Gannett-Tripp Learning Ctr., Elmira Coll., N.Y.

Move on Up: Chicago Soul Music and Black Cultural Power

A Chicago Tribune Book of 2019, Notable Chicago Reads A Booklist Top 10 Arts Book of 2019 A No Depression Top Music Book of 2019 Curtis Mayfield. The Chi-Lites. Chaka Khan. Chicago's place in the history of soul music is rock solid. But for Chicagoans, soul music in its heyday from the 1960s to the 1980s was more than just a series of hits: it was a marker and a source of black empowerment. In Move On Up, Aaron Cohen tells the remarkable story of the explosion of soul music in Chicago. Together, soul music and black-owned businesses thrived. Record producers and song-writers broadcast optimism for black America's future through their sophisticated, jazz-inspired productions for the Dells and many others. Curtis Mayfield boldly sang of uplift with unmistakable grooves like "We're a Winner" and "I Plan to Stay a Believer." Musicians like Phil Cohran and the Pharaohs used their music to voice Afrocentric philosophies that challenged racism and segregation, while Maurice White of Earth, Wind, and Fire and Chaka Khan created music that inspired black consciousness. Soul music also accompanied the rise of African American advertisers and the campaign of Chicago's first black mayor, Harold Washington, in 1983. This empowerment was set in stark relief by the social unrest roiling in Chicago and across the nation: as Chicago's homegrown record labels produced rising stars singing songs of progress and freedom, Chicago's black middle class faced limited economic opportunities and deep-seated segregation, all against a backdrop of nationwide deindustrialization. Drawing on more than one hundred interviews and a music critic's passion for the unmistakable Chicago soul sound, Cohen shows us how soul music became the voice of inspiration and change for a city in turmoil.

Black Music in the Harlem Renaissance: A Collection of Essays

By the mid-1920s, the Harlem Renaissance was underway. As an effort to secure economic, social, and cultural equality with white citizens, the Renaissance years were a proving period for black composers and performers. Black Music in the Harlem Renaissance explores black music in the United States and England during the 1920s and its relationship to other arts of the time. The first collection on the subject, Black Music in the Harlem Renaissance seeks to revise previous assumptions about music during this era. The book features essays on various subjects including musical theatre, Duke Ellington, black music and musicians in England, concert singers and the interrelationships between black painters and music. In addition, the book includes a music bibliography of works composed during the period.

Music of the Common Tongue: Survival and Celebration in Afro-American Music

In clear and elegant prose, Music of the Common Tongue, first published in 1987, argues that by any reasonable reckoning of the function of music in human life the African American tradition, that which stems from the collision between African and European ways of doing music which occurred in the Americas and the Caribbean during and after slavery, is the major western music of the twentieth century. In showing why this is so, the author presents not only an account of African American music from its origins but also a more general consideration of the nature of the music act and of its function in human life. The two streams of discussion occupy alternate chapters so that each casts light on the other. The author offers also an answer to what the Musical Times called the "seldom posed though glaringly obtrusive" question: "why is it that the music of an alienated, oppressed, often persecuted black minority should have made so powerful an impact on the entire industrialized world, whatever the color of its skin or economic status?"In clear and elegant prose, Music of the Common Tongue, first published in 1987, argues that by any reasonable reckoning of the function of music in human life the African American tradition, that which stems from the collision between African and European ways of doing music which occurred in the Americas and the Caribbean during and after slavery, is the major western music of the twentieth century. In showing why this is so, the author presents not only an account of African American music from its origins but also a more general consideration of the nature of the music act and of its function in human life. The two streams of discussion occupy alternate chapters so that each casts light on the other. The author offers also an answer to what the Musical Times called the "seldom posed though glaringly obtrusive" question: "why is it that the music of an alienated, oppressed, often persecuted black minority should have made so powerful an impact on the entire industrialized world, whatever the color of its skin or economic status?"

Black Popular Music: From the Spirituals, Minstrels, and Ragtime to Soul, Disco, and Hip-Hop

This volume presents not only the first comprehensive account of the growth of black popular music, but also that of American popular music, explored from the black perspective. Shaw believes that popular American music is neither white nor black, but a fusion, and the result of an interplay. Focusing on five key black styles--minstrelsy, spirituals, ragtime, jazz, and the blues, he analyzes their origins and development and their entry into popular white culture. He examines the precise nature of black contribution to American popular music, how the white commercialization of the black original has affected the black style as well as the white, the result of that relationship, and the dialectical character of the change. He concludes with a look at the contemporary scene.