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Out of Sight

Out of Sight: The Rise of African American Popular Music, 1889-1895

Lynn Abbott
Doug Seroff
Copyright Date: 2002
Pages: 528
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  • Book Info
    Out of Sight
    Book Description:

    "A product of old-fashioned, back-wearying, foundational scholarship, yet very readable, this book is certain to feature importantly in future studies of early jazz and its prehistory. Highly recommended." --Library Journal

    "This volume makes possible the study of the rise of black music in the days that paved the way for the Harlem Renaissance--the brass bands, the banjo and mandolin clubs, the male quartets, and theatrical companies. Summing up: Essential." --ChoiceOutstanding Academic Title

    A landmark study, based on thousands of music-related references mined by the authors from a variety of contemporaneous sources, especially African American community newspapers,Out of Sightexamines musical personalities, issues, and events in context. It confronts the inescapable marketplace concessions musicians made to the period's prevailing racist sentiment. It describes the worldwide travels of jubilee singing companies, the plight of the great black prima donnas, and the evolution of "authentic" African American minstrels. Generously reproducing newspapers and photographs,Out of Sightputs a face on musical activity in the tightly knit black communities of the day.

    Drawing on hard-to-access archival sources and song collections, the book is of crucial importance for understanding the roots of ragtime, blues, jazz, and gospel. Essential for comprehending the evolution and dissemination of African American popular music from 1900 to the present,Out of Sightpaints a rich picture of musical variety, personalities, issues, and changes during the period that shaped American popular music and culture for the next hundred years.

    eISBN: 978-1-60473-039-5
    Subjects: Music, History

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. I-IV)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. V-VIII)
  3. Acknowledgments
    (pp. IX-X)
    Lynn Abbott and Doug Seroff
  4. Introduction
    (pp. XI-1)

    Between January 1889 and December 1895, at least one thousand lynchings of African Americans were perpetrated in the United States.¹ This was a terrible period in the history of American race relations, yet it witnessed the emergence of ragtime and the birth of an African American popular entertainment industry.Out of Sighttraces the events and developments, the contradictions and redemptive energies that characterized the rise of black popular music in the midst of an American racial cataclysm.

    Professional jubilee singing companies experienced wrenching changes. During 1889 and 1890 heroic jubilee troupes headed by Fred Loudin, Orpheus McAdoo, and Sissieretta...

  5. Chapter One 1889
    (pp. 2-71)

    The years 1889 and 1890 bore witness to a unique moment in the history of spiritual, or “jubilee,” singing, a zenith which was unfortunately shortlived. In 1889, through the dauntless agency of Loudin’s Fisk Jubilee Singers, the spiritual light from the slave cabins of the American Southland shone in a wild New Zealand gorge. The following year Loudin’s troupe gave a concert in the Taj Mahal. At the same time, McAdoo’s Virginia Jubilee Singers sang spirituals in the native schools and mission stations of Zululand, South Africa, and the Tennessee Jubilee Singers gathered golden encomiums throughout the Caribbean.

    The driving...

  6. Chapter Two 1890
    (pp. 72-143)

    In 1890 the foreign adventures of professional jubilee singers acquired mythic characteristics, as if a holy mission was reaching its culmination. The most farseeing jubilee pilgrim of the era was undoubtedly Frederick J. Loudin. Completing his three-year tour of Australia, New Zealand, and Tasmania in late 1889, Loudin directed his Fisk Jubilee Singers into even more exotic fields—Ceylon, India, Burma, Malaysia, China, and Japan. In these previously uncharted waters, Loudin’s Fisk Jubilee Singers rounded out their six-year-long world tour.

    Before they could begin the final leg of their odyssey, it was necessary to replace two singers who had resigned...

  7. Chapter Three 1891
    (pp. 144-203)

    The year 1891 witnessed a “new departure” on the professional stage, a more representative and progressive style of black entertainment which scored increasingly big with the public. Shrewd, progressive performers and open-minded producers set a course away from the traditional minstrel show format toward a variety program that was more like vaudeville. This new departure, though inexorably tied to minstrelsy, provided a platform for a much fuller expression and development of African American stage arts.

    The leaders of this new departure were William Foote’s Afro-American Specialty Company and Sam T. Jack’s Creole Burlesque Company. It could be said that neither...

  8. Chapter Four 1892
    (pp. 204-271)

    During the spring of 1892 a rash of cake-walk extravaganzas broke out in several big cities of the Northeast and Midwest. By some contemporaneous accounts, these cynically promoted cake walks were spectacles of the ridiculous, undermining and corrupting an African American tradition “for the amusement of the white people, who look down on them, in every sense of the word, from the galleries.” At their worst, these commercial cake-walk ventures served to “minstrelize” blackidentity, exploiting a rustic slave custom which, in some of its earliest manifestations, may have been provided on demand for the amusement of plantation masters and...

  9. Chapter Five 1893
    (pp. 272-323)

    The world renowned Bohemian composer came to the United States in 1892 to head the National Conservatory of Music in New York. His famous pronouncement about the future of African American music originally appeared in an article titled “The Real Value of Negro Melodies,” in the May 21, 1893, edition of the mainstream daily New YorkHerald. In the June 3, 1893, edition of theCleveland Gazetteit took the headline “Negro Melodies”:

    New York City—In a recent interview in regard to the opinion he had formed regarding a national school of musical composition in this country, Dr. Antonin...

  10. Chapter Six 1894
    (pp. 324-389)

    A major breakthrough occurred in the mid-1890s with what was identified in theFreemanas the “new fad of mixed minstrelsy,” offering African American performers in one portion of the show, and blackfaced whites in the other. This new “Black and White” minstrelsy appears to have foreshadowed the primacy of African American minstrel troupes during the ragtime era.

    Freemancritic Sylvester Russell noted in 1903, “While Primrose and West were not the originators of black and white minstrelsy, they nevertheless once had the largest and greatest company of its kind ever put on the road.”¹ Reports in theNew York...

  11. Chapter Seven 1895
    (pp. 390-462)

    “Black America” was an outdoor environmental theme-park extravaganza, a “Panorama of the Negro, from the Jungles of Africa to the Civilization of America.” Installed at Ambrose Park in Brooklyn, New York, during the summer of 1895, it created a mild sensation. Veteran African American road-show performer Tom Fletcher recalled it in his 1954 book,100 Years of the Negro in Show Business! “Ambrose Park. . . was transformed into the likeness of a southern plantation. Cotton bushes with buds blossoming, were transplanted. Bales of cotton were brought in and a cotton gin in working order set up. Poultry and livestock...

  12. Appendixes
    (pp. 463-466)
  13. Notes
    (pp. 467-484)
  14. Index
    (pp. 485-510)