Black Music in the Black Press: An Anthology






Black Music in the Black Press--An Anthology of Essays from the Heartland


Marc Rice


Missouri Folklore Society Journal Special Issue, Volume 35-36 (double volume)


Naciketas Press, an independent press with distribution by Ingram Content Group


ISBN 978-1-936135-64-6; 253 pp; $20.95; released December 2018






Black Music in the Black Press begins with Reconstruction and ends with the Great Depression.


Ethnomusicologist Marc Rice has combed huge collections of newspapers, from which he culled scores of editorial reviews, dozens of advertisements, and hundreds of articles, organizing them in ways which make clear the conflicts and changes. By keeping the focus on the articles themselves, he has brought readers first-hand accounts of the tastes and values black newswriters like William Kelly or music experts like Martha Broadus-Anderson debated and promulgated a century ago. And more, he has given current readers what they need to see the stars: McCabe & Young, Walker and Williams, Scott Joplin, Sissieretta Jones, Ada Brown, Billy Kersands, W.H. Handy, Bennie Moten, Count Basie, Bill Bojangles, Irene and Vernon Castle, Bessie Smith, Louis Armstrong--and many many more.




When Reconstruction ended in 1877, tens of thousands of African Americans migrated from the Old South to the Midwest. Within a decade, they had established dozens of towns with churches, halls, and musical groups--and dozens of weekly newspapers which recorded both musical performances and attitudes toward a complicated set of musical traditions.




From Witchita to Kansas City to Chicago, Indianapolis, Cleveland, and Detroit, black editors praised or excoriated minstrel shows, cakewalks, and "coon" songs. Later, they debated the value of "ragtime," blues, and jazz. Black performers won audiences with spectacular minstrel shows, created their own musical comedies and operas, modulated spirituals into sorrow songs, developed orchestras and dance clubs. Newsmen like George Knox of the Indianapolis Freeman, "an ex-slave with progressive ideas," balanced what they recognized as musical genius against the potentially demeaning effect of racist farce. Some saw "refined minstrelsy" in the McCabe & Young Minstrels, for example or praised the "droll humor" of Walker and Williams' Mr. Lode of Koal as "clean, hearty, romping mirth."




Yet, though black musicians proved their talents in a myriad ways, some reviewers seemed to value them insofar as they conformed to Eurocentric standards, reserving praise for "classically trained" black pianists and condemning popular comics for creating "noise" and "trash."




In eight chapters, organized chronologically and featuring articles from both large and smaller newspapers, Black Music in the Black Press presents these multiple perspectives, tracking the ways in which tastes changed over the half century between 1880 and 1935. As the decades passed, minstrel shows faded. Ragtime, blues, and "jass" blossomed. Venues grew, as well. The first World War brought further changes--including recognition that European audiences responded positively to black music. The Great Depression, and Prohibition further changed the ways in which black music was presented and evaluated. And finally, the impact of new technologies--of radio and studio recording--on black musicians was carefully assessed by writers in the black press. Black Music in the Black Press is a treasure trove.






Marc Rice is Professor of Musicology at Truman State University and Area Chair of the Perspectives of Music program.  He has published extensively on gender and race issues related to jazz in the Midwest.  Starting with his dissertation, he immersed himself in African American newspapers published between 1879 and 1935, sifting through hundreds of articles and editorials by Black writers about Black music and musicians. His work can be found in American MusicMusical Quarterly, the Encyclopedia of African American Music (forthcoming), and the Grove Encyclopedia of American Music.  He has conducted fieldwork in Louisiana, tracing the Cajun music revival, and is currently researching the implications of the New Media on musical production and consumption.  He teaches the music history sequence for music majors, courses on jazz history, the music of Louisiana, the music of political protest, and graduate courses on early music and on improvisation.


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