Racial Uplift and American Music, 1878-1943

Racial Uplift and American Music, 1878-1943

Lawrence Schenbeck
Copyright Date: 2012
Pages: 304
https://www.jstor.org/stable/j.ctt24hx5v
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    Racial Uplift and American Music, 1878-1943
    Book Description:

    Racial Uplift and American Music 1878-1943 traces the career of racial uplift ideology as a factor in elite African Americans' embrace of classical music around the turn of the previous century, from the collapse of Reconstruction to the death of composer/conductor R. Nathaniel Dett, whose music epitomized "uplift."

    After Reconstruction many black leaders had retreated from emphasizing "inalienable rights" to a narrower rationale for equality and inclusion: they now sought to rehabilitate the Race's image by stressing class distinctions, respectable middle-class behavior, and service to the masses. Musically, the black intelligentsia resorted to European models as vehicles for cultural vindication. Their response to racism was to create and promote morally positive, politically inoffensive art that represented the Race in idealized terms.

    By incorporating black folk elements into the dignified genres of art song, symphony, and opera, "uplifters" demonstrated worthiness through high achievement in acknowledged arenas. Their efforts were variously opposed, tolerated, or supported by a range of white elites with their own notions about black culture. The resulting conversation--more a stew of arguments than a dialogue--occupied the pages of black newspapers and informed the work of white philanthropists. Women also played crucial roles. Racial Uplift and American Music 1878-1943 examines the lives and thought of personalities central to musical uplift-- Dett, Sears CEO Julius Rosenwald, author James Monroe Trotter, sociologist W. E. B. Du Bois, journalist Nora Douglas Holt, and others--with an eye to recognizing their contributions and restoring their stature.

    eISBN: 978-1-61703-230-1
    Subjects: Music

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. ACKNOWLEDGMENTS AND CREDITS
    (pp. ix-2)
  4. INTRODUCTION
    (pp. 3-14)

    I began working on this material about twelve years ago, after a student in an introductory music class asked a simple question: just what is black about the music of Florence Price (1888–1953)? My student explained that she had been raised on Jimi Hendrix and James Brown, and found herself unable to conceive of one of Price’s piano miniatures as coming from the same universe. In that moment, I realized that I could not respond to her question without dragging in a half-ton of American history: Reconstruction, Jim Crow laws, lynchings, the Talented Tenth, the sacralization of classical music...

  5. CHAPTER 1 JAMES MONROE TROTTER AND HIS FOREBEARS
    (pp. 15-70)

    The end of the Civil War ushered in a half-century of unprecedented change in American life. Virtually every aspect of the nation’s identity, its sense of community and shared values, underwent sweeping transformations in the period between 1865 and 1918. No single factor could have accounted for this; rather it was a confluence of forces that led to the momentous recasting of the American experience during those years. For many of the key players in our narrative, the institution and relatively quick collapse of Reconstruction, setting in motion a long series of reactionary political and social measures in the South,...

  6. CHAPTER 2 W. E. B. DU BOIS AND THE USES OF BLACK MUSIC
    (pp. 71-107)

    James Monroe Trotter, a member of the first generation of free African Americans, welcomed what he foresaw as the inevitable falling away of the old slave culture and its song-making values. Given the opportunity, black citizens would henceforth find new means of expressing themselves, means more in keeping with their status as fully franchised participants in American life.

    W. E. B. Du Bois (1868–1963) was born five months before the Fourteenth Amendment was ratified and grew up in an America that saw the increasing rejection of equal opportunities and even the most basic exercises of freedom for people of...

  7. CHAPTER 3 NATHANIEL DETT AND ROMANTIC NATIONALISM
    (pp. 108-138)

    Robert Nathaniel Dett (1882–1943) is remembered today as one of several pioneering African American composers who championed the use of black folk song, especially the Negro spiritual, as the basis for Western classical compositions in the romantic-nationalist vein. Few figures of the early twentieth century better illustrate the opportunities and obstacles that awaited “uplift” composers than Dett. Born in Canada as a descendant of escaped slaves and educated at Oberlin (1903–8), Columbia (1915), Harvard (1919–20), at Fontainebleau with Boulanger (1929), and at Eastman (1931–32), he spent most of his career teaching at black colleges, meanwhile contributing...

  8. CHAPTER 4 DETT AGAINST THE MODERNISTS
    (pp. 139-170)

    George Pullen Jackson’s interest in black song “as it really was,” implicitly embracing belief in culture as a fixed entity that could be situated (i.e., confined) temporally, geographically, and socially, reflected prevailing contemporary ideologies of ethnicity and nationality. White intellectuals caught up in the quest for authenticity could scarcely avoid flirting with restrictive preconceptions about Negro music, since virtually any definition of the former was necessarily grounded in the latter. Even the most supportive white individuals usually subscribed to some variant of the race-authenticity trope, whereas composers like Dett faced the dual challenges of honoring their racial heritage while fighting...

  9. CHAPTER 5 NORA DOUGLAS HOLT AND HER WORLD
    (pp. 171-208)

    James Monroe Trotter’sMusic and Some Highly Musical Peoplestood very nearly alone, in 1878, as a written testament to black achievements in cultivated musical genres. Yet by the end of the century Trotter’s effort had been echoed by a few more hardy souls who sought to chronicle the activities of their communities’ musicians. To an overwhelming degree these chroniclers were female and addressed a readership based in the black churches and women’s clubs, which also served as a major source of musical activity—and news about musical activity—in the community. For that reason, this chapter begins with a...

  10. CHAPTER 6 MUSIC, RACE, AND THE ROSENWALDS
    (pp. 209-242)

    American philanthropy is a comparatively recent phenomenon; the great pioneering organizations in the field were established largely at the turn of the twentieth century, when an unprecedented wave of national prosperity and industrial expansion created fortunes so vast that their owners could scarcely keep track of them. Yet a few men—Rockefeller, Carnegie, Guggenheim, and others—felt a common duty to invest in America, to apply to this country’s pressing social needs their talent for division of labor, for organizing great enterprises, for delegating responsibility to management teams, as they had done so successfully in the business world. Thus the...

  11. Afterword
    (pp. 243-253)

    When I embarked on this research I had little idea where it would lead. Now it has become difficult to put aside; much more could be said. Attention might also be paid to the processes by which racial uplift as a social strategy—including the sort of work described in this volume—slowly lost its potency in American culture after World War II . I have speculated in these pages about possible reasons for that decline. To flesh out even those little arguments would take half of another book.

    To some extent that book has already been written. As the...

  12. NOTES
    (pp. 254-289)
  13. WORKS CITED
    (pp. 290-304)
  14. INDEX
    (pp. 305-317)