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The Product of Our Souls

The Product of Our Souls: Ragtime, Race, and the Birth of the Manhattan Musical Marketplace

Copyright Date: 2015
Pages: 312
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  • Book Info
    The Product of Our Souls
    Book Description:

    In 1912 James Reese Europe made history by conducting his 125-member Clef Club Orchestra at Carnegie Hall. The first concert by an African American ensemble at the esteemed venue was more than just a concert--it was a political act of desegregation, a defiant challenge to the status quo in American music. In this book, David Gilbert explores how Europe and other African American performers, at the height of Jim Crow, transformed their racial difference into the mass-market commodity known as "black music." Gilbert shows how Europe and others used the rhythmic sounds of ragtime, blues, and jazz to construct new representations of black identity, challenging many of the nation's preconceived ideas about race, culture, and modernity and setting off a musical craze in the process.Gilbert sheds new light on the little-known era of African American music and culture between the heyday of minstrelsy and the Harlem Renaissance. He demonstrates how black performers played a pioneering role in establishing New York City as the center of American popular music, from Tin Pan Alley to Broadway, and shows how African Americans shaped American mass culture in their own image.

    eISBN: 978-1-4696-2271-2
    Subjects: Sociology, Music

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-x)
  3. Acknowledgments
    (pp. xi-xv)
  4. [MAP]
    (pp. xvi-xvi)
  5. INTRODUCTION A Kind of Symphony Music That… Lends Itself to the Playing of the Peculiar Compositions of Our Race
    (pp. 1-15)

    At 8:00 p.m. on May 2, 1912, an African American musician named James Reese Europe hurried along Manhattan sidewalks on his way to Carnegie Hall. His tuxedo tails trailing behind, Europe’s circular, wire-rimmed eyeglasses slid down his nose as he broke a sweat. The conductor of the Clef Club Symphony Orchestra, Europe was late for the biggest production of his life: the first African American concert at Carnegie, one of the nation’s premier performance spaces and an icon of a burgeoning U.S. culture of the arts. The concert was to be a political act of desegregation, a cultural intervention into...

  6. CHAPTER ONE A NEW MUSICAL RHYTHM WAS GIVEN TO THE PEOPLE Ragtime and Representation in Black Manhattan
    (pp. 16-46)

    At fifteen minutes before midnight on July 5, 1898, Will Marion Cook began conducting an orchestra of white musicians as his African American chorus pranced onto the rooftop stage above New York’s Casino Theatre, singing the jaunty introductory bars of Cook’s ragtime operettaClorindy; or, The Origin of the Cakewalk. Born in 1869, just six years after Abraham Lincoln delivered the Emancipation Proclamation, Cook was one of only a few African Americans of his generation trained in both an American music conservatory and a German one. He inaugurated the first theater performance by African Americans on Broadway Avenue, a street...

  7. CHAPTER TWO DO ALL WE COULD TO GET WHAT WE FELT BELONGED TO US BY THE LAWS OF NATURE Selling Real Negro Melodies and Marketing Authentic Black Rhythms
    (pp. 47-73)

    When the narrator in James Weldon Johnson’s anonymously published novel,The Autobiography of an Ex-Coloured Man, first entered the New York City neighborhood known as Black Bohemia, he was immediately struck by the sound of ragtime. “The barbaric harmonies, the audacious resolutions …the intricate rhythms in which the accents fell in the most unexpected places, but in which the beat was never lost, produced a most curious effect,” he exclaimed. “It was a music of a kind I had never heard before. It was a music that demanded physical response, patting of the feet, drumming of the fingers, or nodding...

    (pp. 74-98)

    Two years after Will Marion Cook’s success withClorindy; or, The Origin of the Cakewalkin 1898, just as he was beginning to solidify working relationships with Bert Williams, George Walker, and others at the Hotel Marshall, Cook produced his second black operetta on a New York stage. Another collaboration with Paul Laurence Dunbar,Jes Lak White Fo’kspresented an unusually critical view of uplift ideology and the black professionals W. E. B. Du Bois called the Talented Tenth. Anticipating by generations scholarly critiques of middle-class paternalism and classist segregation among blacks, Dunbar’s lyrics and libretto parodied the African American...

  9. CHAPTER FOUR THE PIANO MAN WAS IT! THE MAN IN CHARGE Black Nightclubs and Ragtime Identities in New York’s Tenderloin
    (pp. 99-131)

    Eubie Blake first came to New York City in 1901 from Baltimore as a teenaged member of a traveling medicine show. Already a remarkably seasoned pianist, Blake was immediately struck by the style and dress of black New Yorkers, especially that of the ragtime musicians and “classic pimps.” “I’d look at all of these fine people and I’d know that somewhere people had those diamonds and those high-class clothes, and I wanted some day to be like that. I’m not saying I wanted to be a pimp or nothin’ like that, but I wanted to be somebody who couldlive...

    (pp. 132-162)

    In 1903, a twenty-three-year-old African American musician named James Reese Europe moved from his home in Washington, D.C., to New York City to live with his older brother, John. The Black Manhattan that Europe discovered on his arrival contrasted sharply from the one that had greeted James Weldon Johnson two years earlier. Although both Europe and Johnson came from southern families of relative means, and both joined their musician brothers in Manhattan, their immediate impressions of the city differed quite markedly. Rosamond Johnson had studied at the New England Conservatory in Boston, traveled the country with vaudeville troupes, and established...

  11. CHAPTER SIX RHYTHM IS SOMETHING THAT IS BORN IN THE NEGRO The Clef Club Orchestra and the Consolidation of Negro Music
    (pp. 163-190)

    Two years before James Reese Europe desegregated Carnegie Hall with his 125-man Clef Club Symphony Orchestra, he established a concert series at the Manhattan Casino in the burgeoning black neighborhood of Harlem to demonstrate his progressive vision for the future of black music. On a Friday night in late May 1910, Europe conducted the Clef Club Orchestra, which, with one hundred musicians and only ten pianos, was a slightly smaller affair than the Carnegie concert. The orchestra captivated nearly one thousand African American ticket holders with the “Clef Club March” and a concert program combining European art music with dance...

  12. CHAPTER SEVEN A NEW TYPE OF NEGRO MUSICIAN Social Dance and Black Musical Value in Prewar America
    (pp. 191-216)

    In the fall of 1915, a white musician wrote what James Weldon Johnson called a “pitiful wail” to the editor of theGlobe, asking, “Sir—why does society prefer the Negro musician?”¹ Eugene De Bueris spoke for many as he expressed his dismay, comparing a “Negro ‘so-called’ musician, who hasn’t the slightest conception of music” to the “Caucasian musician, who has spent well nigh a fortune—aside from numerous years of painstaking study.” Without mentioning the performers by name, De Bueris asked why the popular and white social dancers, Irene and Vernon Castle, relied exclusively on James Reese Europe’s African...

  13. EPILOGUE From Ragtime Identities to the New Negro
    (pp. 217-230)

    On September 21, 1948, the former Clef Club member Noble Sissle introduced a new weekly column in theNew York Age. Entitled “Show Business,” Sissle excavated the history of black entertainment in the city to remind readers of African Americans’ struggles to enter the Manhattan musical marketplace before the 1920s. He began his first column by writing: “At last I am able…to publicly pay tribute to the great array of artists and musicians who have played such important roles in the development of American Negro idioms, folklore, rhythms, and original harmonies that today enjoy the distinction of being the very...

  14. Notes
    (pp. 231-260)
  15. Bibliography
    (pp. 261-280)
  16. Index
    (pp. 281-291)