THE NATIONAL MUSEUM OF AFRICAN AMERICAN MUSIC WELCOMED HONOREES, ARTISTS AND MUSIC INDUSTRY TO THE INAUGURAL CELEBRATE THE SOUL: BLACK MUSIC HONORS
New Event Honored Music Legends in Music City Through Tribute and Song
Nashville, Tenn. (August 23, 2016) – The National Museum of African American Music (NMAAM) was pleased to celebrate six acclaimed honorees and a foundational music label on August 18, 2016. Celebrate the Soul: Black Music Honors, NMAAM’s first branded show of this caliber, was a television taping co-hosted by GRAMMY® award winner, Malcolm-Jamal Warner and GRAMMY® nominated R&B Singer, Ledisi.
This star-studded celebration honored the following music legends:
• Pastor Shirley Caesar
• Jimmy Jam and Terry Lewis
• Big Daddy Kane
• Dionne Warwick
• Clarence Avant
• Stax Records
The night was filled with live, tribute performances featuring GRAMMY® winning recording artists Eddie Levert, Tina Campbell, Ann Nesby, Deborah Cox, and Andra Day as well as Chubb Rock, Cherelle, Gerald Alston and Stokley Williams. Legendary, GRAMMY® winning groups, The Temptations Review featuring Dennis Edwards and The SOS Band also performed. Presenters included Kirk Franklin, “Big Jim” Wright, Monie Love, Kathy Sledge, Ethiopia Habtemariam and H. Beecher Hicks, III (president and CEO of NMAAM), along with several others.
Black Music Honors will air in Nashville, on WTVF-NewsChannel 5 on Sunday, September 4, 2016 at 3:00pm (CST). The show will premiere nationally on the Bounce TV Network, Friday, September 23, 2016 at 9:00pm (EST) and will re-air on Sunday, September 25, 2016 at 11:00am (EST). The show will run in syndication on Bounce and Aspire between September 23 – October 9, 2016.
About the National Museum of African American Music
As the only museum dedicated to all dimensions of African American music, The National Museum of African American Music (NMAAM), opening in 2018, will showcase over 50 music genres created or impacted by African Americans, honor the legacy and legends of this diverse music and detail the impact music has on musicians and consumers around the world. NMAAM will draw upon a range of music and history enthusiasts to explore and celebrate American music and will tell a story never before told, until now.
“It’s ’88, time to set it straight, you know what I’m sayin’? It ain’t no half steppin’…”
In 1988, Big Daddy Kane finessed his way into the golden era of hip-hop with his debut classic album Long Live the Kane. From his early beginnings as a member of the legendary Juice Crew, Kane commanded attention like a vet in such a way that when I first saw his first video for “Ain’t No Half Steppin’”, I thought that perhaps he had been around for a minute and I was just late. 1988 was the year I really started paying attention to hip-hop. It has often been argued as being hip-hop’s best year and it’s a legitimate argument. Also dropping that year were classic albums by EMPD, Public Enemy, NWA, and MC Lyte. It was also the year that a brand new show called Yo! MTV Raps would take the world by storm and turn artists who were only seeing success underground into household names.
Big Daddy Kane (also known as Dark Gable as he goes by on Twitter), has always been one of the slickest emcees on the mic. However he’s never been too slick to the point where his flow doesn’t hit you right between the eyes. A “Smooth Operator” one minute but completely “Raw” the next, Kane hit a sweet spot pretty early in his career that doesn’t happen too easily: The fellas wanted to be like him and the ladies wanted to be with him. The fellas emulated his style by rocking high top fades and cuts in their eyebrows while trying to emulate his rapid-fire lyricism in songs like “Set It Off” and “Raw”. The women (and girls like me with posters of him in their school lockers) swooned over him when he showed his romantic Casanova side in songs like “Smooth Operator” and “I Get the Job Done”. And who can forget those dance routines he rocked with the best backup dancers ever in the game, Scoob and Scrap Lover holding him down in videos like “Lean On Me”?
Kane has always been and still is to this very day, the consummate entertainer. I should know. While ’88 was a very good year in hip hop, there are only a handful of artists from the Golden Era that have been able to still draw audiences and rock crowds with just as much energy as back in the day. Big Daddy Kane still wows his fans with the same rapid wordplay, grown man swag, and hi-energy dance moves that have made so many of us love him from the jump. He has influenced pretty much every emcee in the game like Common, Jay-Z, and too many others to name. He’s the standard for staying true to his craft, a true living legend, and in almost 30 years, has often been imitated but never, ever duplicated. Long Live the Kane indeed.
The global acceptance of African American music from classical music to popular music represents a historical journey full of challenges, adversity and political influence. Despite the impressive number of European composers that embraced Afro-American materials, many people still felt that Afro-American music, like its creators, was inferior, imitative and hardly a starting point for any art-music work.
The history of adverse race relations and hostility towards black music and black culture represents a journey that can be traced back to the beginning of the United States of America. The American founding father who was called the “Apostle of Americanism” wrote these persuasive words:
“[Negroes] astonish you with strokes of the most sublime oratory; such as prove their reason and sentiment strong, their imagination glowing and elevated. But never yet could I find that a black had uttered a thought above the level of plain narration; never saw even an elementary trait of painting or sculpture. In music they are more generally gifted than the whites with accurate ears fortune and time, and they have been found capable of imagining a small catch. Whether they will be equal to the composition of a more extensive run of melody, or of complicated harmony, is yet to be proved. Misery is often the parent of the most affecting touches in poetry. Among the blacks is misery enough, God knows, but no poetry. Love is the peculiar ostium of the poet. Their love is ardent, but it kindles the senses only, not the imagination. Religion, indeed has produced a Phillis Wheatley; but it could not produce a poet. The compositions published under her name are below the dignity of criticism.(Thomas Jefferson: “On Negro Ability.” In The Writings of Thomas Jefferson [ed. H. A. Washington]. Washington, D.C., 1854, pp. 380-87.)
It is important to note that while Jefferson was in France, he would witness black achievement in the arts that the American slavery institution could not produce. Jefferson witnessed the superstar black violinist, composer and conductor, Chevalier de Saint Georges, who was the musical director of the leading concert orchestra in Paris and he also attended the Paris, debut concert of the young black violin virtuoso, George Bridgetower. Jefferson would later amend his thoughts on black achievement in the arts with thoughts about the mix raced nature of the Negro genius he witnessed in France.”
Patrick Lee’s Explanation
In his 1782 book, Notes on Virginia, Jefferson made numerous observations about differences he saw or suspected in the Negro race, to the extent they were less endowed than the white race. He isn’t retracting that position now 27 years later, but he is open to that possibility. He states:
1. More than anyone else, he would be pleased to be proven wrong.
2. His observations were limited to his personal experience and only in his native state.
3. Blacks’ opportunities for education and expression in Virginia “were not favorable.”
4. He expressed those 1782 views “with great hesitation.”
5. They still possessed their measure of human rights regardless of their human talents.
6. Other nations were growing in their awareness of those rights.
7. Blacks were making “hopeful advances” toward “equal footing with the other colors of the human family.”
8. Gratitude to this letter’s recipient for:
a. the many opportunities given Jefferson to reconsider his earlier, limited opinions.
b. “hastening the day of their [blacks’] relief.”
Jefferson was always a product of the 18th century South. You can pluck some statements from his writings to make him look completely racist. Others could portray him as a near abolitionist. The issue is complicated, and the truth is between those extremes. In his autobiography, Colin Powell called Jefferson “an uneasy slaveholder.” I think that’s the best and most succinct description I’ve heard.
Are you eager to be proven wrong?
Be assured that no person living wishes more sincerely than I do, to see a complete refutation of the doubts I have myself entertained and expressed on the grade of understanding allotted to the Negroes by nature, and to find that in this respect they are on a par with ourselves. My doubts were the result of personal observation on the limited sphere of my own State, where the opportunities for the development of their genius were not favorable, and those of exercising it still less so. I expressed them, therefore, with great hesitation; but whatever be their degree of talent it is no measure of their rights. Because Sir Isaac Newton was superior to others in understanding, he was not therefore lord of the person or property of others. On this subject they are gaining daily in the opinions of nations, and hopeful advances are making towards their reestablishment on an equal footing with the other colors of the human family. I pray you, therefore, to accept my thanks for the many instances you have enabled me to observe of respectable intelligence in that race of men, which cannot fail to have effect in hastening the day of their relief.
Thomas Jefferson was indeed an “Apostle of Americanism” and his ideas represented a prevailing inferiority consensus about the true nature and value of black people so that before 1900 only a very few American composers sought to use any black American music sources. The most notable composer to do so was Louis Moreau Gottschalk, who successfully used Negro folk music almost fifty years before Antonin Dvorák issued his manifesto about the central importance of Negro melodies for classical music.
It was not until after the turn of the century that significant ideas to incorporate Black American folk materials into art music would resurface. This idea again became acceptable for respectable composers in the United States only after its legitimization by the European taste and acceptance of Black American music and culture.
During the 1920’s & despite all opposition, European composers continued their enduring love affair with Black American music from negro melodies and negro spirituals to the blues and jazz and a more sophisticated, symphonic jazz style began to emerge—
The emergence of the “symphonic jazz” movement celebrated American composers such as Duke Ellington, Charlie Parker and George Gershwin and reflected the enduring love affair between European classical music and American Jazz. In Europe, this style of composition became known as a “symphonic jazz” and the European Composers embracing this new sound were called “Jazz Symphonists.”
The Symphonic jazz movement was a continuation of the “New World Symphonists” use of black music and seemed to point to a bright new future of jazz influenced classical music… but people had different views on the matter: There were influential tastemakers who were horrified by the mixture of jazz and symphonic concert music and for them, this new jazz mixture represented a fatal blow to taste and high culture.
There were differences of opinion regarding the true jazz or the symphonic crossover. The polished trend of symphonic jazz, established a degree of esteem and respect for black music yet some, preferred the original sound of the authentic jazz. Many resented the dismissive stance that the symphonic style held for the original African-American features which were the roots of jazz. At the same time, many European composers recognized the only jazz music of technical importance in that small African American section of it that was genuinely negro music.
Many European composers felt that Americans were too “Jeffersonian” in their views about black culture and felt that Americans took their own true American music for granted. By being foreigners, these composers felt that Europe gave them the necessary aesthetic distance to embrace Black American music. The book “New World Symphonies” by Jack Sullivan on page 225 states a European composers view that…”The Americans seem to live too near Tin Pan Alley & they suffer from the immense disadvantage of being on the spot.”
Many European composers were not fully satisfied with Gershwin’s American use of black music and considered it “sophisticated trappings” …. and described it as “the hybrid child of a hybrid…ashamed of its parents and/while boasting of its French lessons.”
The book New World Symphonies states that some European “Jazz Symphonist” composers felt that “the hot negro records still have a genuine and not merely galvanic energy, while the blues have a certain austerity that places them far above the sweet nothings of George Gershwin.” Even though many composers allied themselves with the anti-Gershwin crowd, many Europeans including such unlikely composers such as Arnold Schoenberg, celebrated Gershwin’s genius.
While debates continued over the variety of contributions in the symphonic jazz movement –
The European composer Kurt Weill was happily obsessed with the darker, sexy and more dangerous aspects of jazz. He utilized sultry saxophone and percussion and slinky seductiveness in his compositions such as “The Bilbao Song” and “Surabaya-Johnny.” He composed a sexually provocative “commercial love” duet in “Mahagonny.”
Despite racial difficulties and differences of opinions, composers such as Ravel and Lambert insisted that jazz and symphonic jazz was destined to be an important wave of the future, that would endure the collapse of music into noise theories— the formula driven theories of serialism and backwards looking antique thinking of neoclassicism. For them, jazz held a bold future with rich and divergent sources of emotional resonance much broader than the rigid rules that regulated serialism or the antique romanticism of neoclassicism.
Jazz with its new rhythmic sophistication provided a new basis for the creative explorations of concert composers more so than any other folk music since the dances that inspired Bach, Mozart and Dvorak. Jazz represented an internationally comprehensible language that captured the spirit of the age and Ellington and other black artists surpassed the commercialized Tin Pan Alley jazz caricatures and became the main international inspirations
Black music and culture has outlived American slavery and racism & surpassed the low expectations of Thomas Jefferson, to become a national light house & source of inspiration, that guides a global audience to the sound of America.
In my next blog, I will continue (part 2 of my last 4 blogs) wrapping up my Classical music & Black History series.
“What is that dance that boy is doing? He looks like he’s having a fit.”
This was how my father described the popping and locking a little boy was doing in the barbershop one Saturday morning to New Edition’s new song “Candy Girl.” Much to the delight of this child eager to show us his new dance moves while waiting for his haircut, the song was blowing up on the radio. The break-dancing craze was EVERYTHING to us in the 80’s but to a lot of adults, our dancing just looked like we had been electrocuted. I remember loving “Candy Girl” instantly. How could you not love a song that reminded you of The Jackson Five? Although my dad made fun of our dancing, he did approve of New Edition’s music so not too long after that, New Edition’s second album made its way into our home. With songs like “Cool It Now” and “Mr. Telephone Man,” I quickly developed something that I believe is a rite of passage in almost every young girl’s life: the boy band crush.
The boy band crush is a serious thing as a pre-teen. You know every single member’s name, birthday, likes and dislikes. As with any girl with a boy band crush, I had a favorite member: Michael Bivins. To me he was just the flyest. He had to be. He was so smooth that he got to talk in all of the songs! I remember coming home after school waiting to see the new video for “Count Me Out” from their third album All for Love. I kept waiting for Bobby Brown to show up in the video. After all, if you’ve heard “Cool It Now,” you know the members including Ralph Tresvant were “Ronnie (DeVoe), Bobby (Brown), Ricky (Bell) and Mike (Bivins).” I couldn’t figure out what was going on but I did notice that Bobby’s vocals were noticeably minimal on the new record. Something was up. It turned out that my instincts were right. It was soon reported on my local radio station that Bobby Brown was out of the group and going solo. I was devastated! If you know anything about pre-teen boy band devastation, then you know it consist of adolescent tears, marathon listening of songs and longing looks at posters on the wall torn out of teen magazines, wondering where it all went wrong.
After a pretty lukewarm debut album, Bobby Brown blew up with his second album Don’t Be Cruel. Songs like “Don’t Be Cruel,” “My Prerogative” and “Every Little Step” from heavy hitters LA, Babyface and Teddy Riley soon made him a household name. I worried about what was going to happen to New Edition. Was Ralph Tresvant going to leave and go solo like when David Ruffin left The Temptations and Eddie Kendricks followed soon after? Because for all intents and purposes, New Edition really are my generation’s Temptations. I can’t think of a more fitting comparison than the dynamic between Ralph Tresvant and Bobby Brown to the dynamic of David Ruffin and Eddie Kendricks. To make the similarities even more intense, just like The Temptations replaced David Ruffin with a heavy hitting soul singer Dennis Edwards, New Edition found a similar replacement of their own: R&B teen sensation Johnny Gill.
I remember thinking Johnny Gill sang so maturely that he just had to be the same age as Dennis Edwards. Not kidding. There was no reason that a fourteen year old with a Jheri Curl should’ve had a voice so passionate and so gruff. Many questioned how the maturity of Johnny Gill’s voice was going to fit in with New Edition’s young, bubble gum R&B image. However, in what I think is one of the greatest comebacks in music history, New Edition burst back on the scene with their best and classic album, N.E. Heartbreak. New Edition was back with a new sound (God bless you, Jam and Lewis), new image and new signature hits like “If It Isn’t Love,” “N.E. Heartbreak” and the slow jam of all slow jams, “Can You Stand the Rain.” They were right back on top.
Even with their separate projects (solo albums and the 90’s birthed magnificence that is BBD), I have to hand it to them for one thing: there’s never been a “New Edition Revue” or a “New Edition featuring Ralph Tresvant” type split of the group. They have remained a unit through and through. Bobby Brown has rejoined them from time to time for an album and a few tours but there’s never been a split. Most notably, there are musical acts that came out at the same time they did, and even much later, that do not possess the flawless showmanship and the catalog of hits on top of hits that they have to this day. They are true legends in black music and the blueprint for every single boy band that has come after them. No one does it better than New Edition.
Check out some of my favorite New Edition songs on this month’s Spotify playlist.
Part Two of our Conversation with Black Music Month Co-Founder and NMAAM National Advisory Board Member Dyana Williams
NMAAM has the honor of having one of the co-founders of Black Music Month, entertainment industry veteran Dyana Williams, as a member of its National Advisory Board. Along with Philadelphia International Records label owner and renowned songwriter Kenny Gamble, she orchestrated the very first White House event to recognize Black Music Month in 1979 during President Carter’s administration.
In part one of our conversation with Dyana, the avid activist shared in this video how she later got a bill to the Senate floor in 2000 with the help of Congressman Chaka Fattah to make June officially nationally recognized as Black Music Month. Signed by President Clinton, this is now known as the African American Music Bill.
In part two of our conversation, Dyana reminisces about that very significant day in Black Music Month history in 1979, the importance of honoring black music’s creators, and NMAAM’s mission to provide music education programs that recognize black music year round.
NMAAM: Dyana, this is a picture from your personal collection taken on the day President Jimmy Carter hosted the first Black Music Month observance at the White House back in 1979. What do you think about when you see this picture now?
Dyana Williams: In the company of record mogul and Black Music Month co-founder, Kenny Gamble, it was my first time at the White House, and a most memorable and magical day. I feel a great sense of pride when I see some of the legendary people who attended this historic occasion for Black Music at the White House, hosted by President Carter and his wife. Legendary radio programmer, personality and my former boss, Frankie Crocker, Chuck Berry and many other notable figures in Black music and culture attended this first Black Music Month event.
NMAAM: What do you remember your hopes and aspirations being after getting President Carter’s approval of Black Music Month?
Dyana Williams: We were hoping to secure greater regard for Black music as a multi million dollar industry, as well as being one of America’s finest cultural and economic exports to the world.
NMAAM: Within the past year, black music has suffered a great loss of some of its most significant figures. Do you feel that this will affect Black Music Month this year and if so, how?
Dyana Williams: While we are still mourning the recent April transition of Prince’s life, his June 7th birth date will most certainly be recognized during Black Music Month in the United States and around Planet Earth. The impact and influence of recently deceased artists such as Natalie Cole, Maurice White, Nicholas Caldwell of The Whispers, and Marshall “Rock” Jones of the Ohio Players, among others in different aspects of Black music should never be forgotten and celebrated, during Black Music Month and beyond.
NMAAM: Should we have a particular perspective or focus for this year considering?
Dyana Williams: The perspective should always be on the recognition of the foundation artists, as well as this current aggregation of music creators and future generations of individuals who advance Black music.
“Black music is American music!
We should never forget that fact.”
NMAAM: You are also the Philadelphia GRAMMY chapter president, so I am sure you are well familiar with the GRAMMY in the Schools programs as well as other efforts within the industry to keep music programs in the schools. What would you like to see education wise regarding the history of the contribution of African Americans to American music?
Dyana Williams: I would like to see the contributions of those who have perpetuated Black music and culture, taught to all children starting in Pre K onwards. All genres including Gospel, the Blues, Rock, Jazz, Rhythm and Blues, Hip-Hop, EDM, Pop and any hybrid forms of these genres are significantly American. Black music is American music! We should never forget that fact.
NMAAM: As you well know, part of the vision for NMAAM is to provide music educational programming. What would you say about its importance to the mission of the institution?
Dyana Williams: NMAAM’s focus on music education is one of the most important components of the Museum’s endeavors. With the establishment of NMAAM, we should support this important museum on every possible level.
NMAAM would like to thank Dyana Williams for being a true pioneer and advocate for African American music throughout the years. As she mentioned, it is important to support the Museum in its many endeavors such as its educational programming. NMAAM is currently doing its part to inspire and educate the youth of the Nashville community, as well as other communities around the country, about the national treasure that is African American music through two of its music programs:
Choral Arts Link and the National Museum of African American Music present The MET Summer Academy, which kicks off June 20th and runs through July 1st. It is a two-week choral retreat for public, private, charter, and home-schooled children, as well as students who participate in the MET Singers. Singers encounter choral and vocal performance training, varieties of musical styles and tips from special guest artists from the National Museum of African American Music, Barbershop Harmony Society, the Nashville Symphony, Intersection CME and more! The registration deadline for this summer is June 20. Click here for more information.
From Nothing to Something (FN2S) is a series of one-hour programs consisting of one of six different musical presentations: Spoons, Harmonica, Cigar Box Guitars, Banjo, Innovation of Lyrics and Washtub Bass. Programs on each instrument, led by artists, explore the musical history, techniques and other interesting stories/facts behind the instrument.
FN2S is designed to educate young people about how a group of people, from different cultures, created instruments from memories and limited resources. Replicas of these instruments were literally made out of nothing (household items or natural materials), and were used to create something wonderful – music!
Participants will learn how these hand made instruments influenced the development of different musical genres like Blues, Jazz, Country, Rock & Roll, Hip-Hop and more, which created America’s music and culture.
FN2S is offered year round through summer camps as well as through classrooms and groups. For more information, click here.
NMAAM ANNOUNCES DIGITAL EXHIBITION FEATURING THE IMPACT AND INFLUENCE OF AFRICAN AMERICANS ON AMERICAN CULTURE AND MUSIC DURING BLACK MUSIC MONTH AND SIGNIFICANT DONATION FROM BELMONT UNIVERSITY
Museum announces new web-based application and additional financial progress.
Nashville, Tenn. – (June 13, 2016) – The National Museum of African American Music (NMAAM) announced its first-ever Rivers of Rhythm® Digital Exhibition (RofR) and significant financial support from Belmont University today. With June declared as Black Music Month (or African American Music Appreciation Month) by President Barack Obama, earlier this month, NMAAM was pleased to announce this key milestone during an important, month-long observance.
A first-of-its-kind digital exhibition, museum officials and award-winning Gospel artist, CeCe Winans (who was recently announced as one of NMAAM’s National Chairs) revealed the digital exhibition and a $250,000 donation from Belmont University.
“With over 50 genres identified as created or influenced by African Americans, RofR is an interactive tool that depicts the ebb and flow of music and genres using a web-based platform to tell the Museum’s story even before our doors open,” said H. Beecher Hicks, III, NMAAM’s president and CEO. “Music is more connected than we realize and the influence of genres and music is a true outline of the history and impact that American artists have around the world.”
Ms. Winans joined to help Belmont University’s president, Dr. Bob Fisher and H. Beecher Hicks, III, NMAAM’s president & CEO, unveil the digital exhibition and donation. As a National Chair, Ms. Winans will focus her work with NMAAM specifically around the Gospel genre and serve as an active ambassador. She will provide support and access to her professional network for the organization. She, along with Darius Rucker, Keb’ Mo’ and India.Arie were announced earlier this year and are actively engaged in the project. All are prominently featured in the Rivers of Rhythm® Digital Exhibition (RofR).
“This digital exhibition reflects another step in Belmont’s efforts to become increasingly more diverse and broadly reflective of our local and global communities,” said Dr. Fisher. “Having Henry and Cece Winans here to launch this new music resource is an honor and demonstrates our commitment to NMAAM’s success. Belmont has an outstanding reputation for fostering and nurturing top musical talent so supporting this project is a perfect fit for our campus.”
Announcing its first-ever digital exhibition, during the National observance of Black Music Month (or African American Music Appreciation Month) strategically connects NMAAM to a national conversation that honors the roots of American music.
“This June and every June, we celebrate Black Music as a vital part of our Nation’s proud heritage. African-American music exemplifies the creative spirit at the heart of American identity and is among the most innovative and powerful art the world has ever known,” said President Obama in presenting this year’s federal proclamation.
About CeCe Winans:
CeCe Winans is a multi-talented singer, who has won numerous awards, including ten GRAMMY® Awards and seven Stellar Awards. She has sold twelve million records worldwide. CeCe is also the best-selling female gospel artist of all time. CeCe’s collection of Top Ten R&B radio hits include “Count On Me,” her duet with Whitney Houston, from the Waiting to Exhale soundtrack. The single was certified Gold in the US and reached No. 8 on the Billboard Hot 100, No. 4 on the Adult Contemporary chart and No. 8 on the Billboard R&B Singles charts.
About Belmont University
Ranked No. 5 in the Regional Universities South category and named as a “Most Innovative” university by U.S. News & World Report, Belmont University is celebrating its 125th anniversary in academic year 2015-16. Founded in 1890, the University consists of more than 7,400 students who come from every state and more than 25 countries. Committed to being a leader among teaching universities, Belmont brings together the best of liberal arts and professional education in a Christian community of learning and service. The University’s purpose is to help students explore their passions and develop their talents to meet the world’s needs. With more than 80 areas of undergraduate study, 22 master’s programs and five doctoral degrees, there is no limit to the ways Belmont University can expand an individual’s horizon.
About the National Museum of African American Music:
As the only museum dedicated to all dimensions of African American music, The National Museum of African American Music (NMAAM) will showcase over 50 music genres created or impacted by African Americans, honor the legacy and legends of this diverse music and detail the impact music has on musicians and consumers around the world. NMAAM will draw upon a range of music and history enthusiasts to explore and celebrate American music and will tell a story never before told, until now. For more information, visit NMAAM.org or BlackMusicMonth.com, Facebook: TheNMAAM, Twitter/Instagram: @theNMAAM.
I want to begin wrapping up my blog series for Black Music Month 2016 by sharing insights to popular music, that were foreshadowed by the Bohemian composer Dr. Antonin Dvorak‘s written words about the importance of Negro melodies. When I reflect on the future arc of Dvorak’s views about the impact of black music I can see from hindsight that even though his viewpoints were shocking to a lot of classical music critics, Dvorak seemed to be speaking for the development of a modern American classical music with the same compelling national and international power of its popular music. When I listen to many of the modern popular music superstars around the world talk about their musical influences, their influential cross cultural inspirations reflect Dvorak’s revolutionary ideas about the importance of black music. Whether it is Elvis Presley, who would sing negro spirituals after his shows and would practice the blues on his guitar until his fingers bled and Bluegrass pioneer Bill Monroe‘s love for the Blues, Bonnie Raitt‘s love for Muddy Waters, Howlin’ Wolf for Black Bluesmen, The Beatles love for Chuck Berry and Little Richard…Dvorak’s statements reflect the hearts and minds of modern popular music even more so than modern classical music.
In a recent interview in regard to the opinions he has formed regarding a national school of musical composition in this country, Dvorak, who has been put at the head of the National Conservatory of Music in New York, and has given the music of this country especial study during his residence here, is quoted as expressing himself as follows:
“I am now satisfied that the future music of this country must be founded upon what are called the negro melodies. This must be the real foundation of any serious and original school of composition to be developed in the United States. When I first came here last year I was impressed with this idea, and it has developed into a settled conviction. These beautiful and varied themes are the product of the soil. They are American. I would like to trace out the individual authorship of the negro melodies, for it would throw a great deal of light upon the question I am most deeply interested in at present. These are the folk songs of America, and your composers must turn to them. All of the great musicians have borrowed from the songs of the common people. Beethoven’s most charming scherzo is based upon what might now be considered a skillfully handled negro melody. I have myself gone to the simple, half-forgotten tunes of the Bohemian peasants for hints in my most serious work. Only in this way can a musician express the true sentiment of his people.”
He gets into touch with the common humanity of his country:
“In the negro melodies of America, I discover all that is needed for a great and noble school of music. They are pathetic, tender, passionate, melancholy, solemn, religious, bold, merry, gay or what you will. It is music that suits itself to any mood or purpose. There is nothing in the whole range of composition that cannot be supplied with themes from this source. The American musician understands these tunes and they move sentiment in him. They appeal to his imagination because of their associations. When I was in England, one of the ablest musical critics in London complained to me that there was no distinctively English school of music, nothing that appealed particularly to the British mind and heart. I replied to him that the composers of England had turned their backs upon the fine melodies of Ireland and Scotland, instead of making them the essence of an English school. It is a great pity that English musicians have not profited out of this rich store. Somehow, the old Irish and Scotch ballads have not seized upon or appealed to them. I hope it will not be so in this country, and I intend to do all in my power to call attention to this splendid treasure of melody which you have. Among my pupils in the National Conservatory of Music, I have discovered strong talents, such as this one young man upon whom I am building strong expectations. His compositions are based upon negro melodies, and I have encouraged him in this direction. The other members of the composition class seem to think that it is not in good taste to get ideas from the old plantation songs, but they are wrong and I have tried to impress upon their minds the fact that the greatest composers have not considered it beneath their dignity to go to the humble folk songs for motifs. I did not come to America to interpret Beethoven or Wagner for the public. That is not my work, and I would not waste any time on it. I came to discover what young Americans had in them and to help them to express it. When the negro minstrels are here again I intend to take my young composers with me and have them comment on the melodies.”
And saying so, Dvorak sat down at his piano and ran his fingers lightly over the keys. It was his favorite pupil’s adaptation of a southern melody.
In my next blog, I will be wrapping up my insights surrounding this blog series in Black Music Month.
One night in the winter of 1951, Charlie Parker’s quintet was the featured attraction at “Birdland” and the house was packed even before pianist Billy Taylor‘s opening trio set. There was a good table near the front of the bandstand with a RESERVED sign for a very special guest which was very unusual for this small club.
After Billy Taylor’s opening set finished, four men and a woman came to the reserved table, as whispers of excitement ran through the crowd. One of the men was Igor Stravinsky, a great Russian Composer and classical celebrity who became an icon to jazz fans. This was because he had given the prestige of his name to compose new music for a jazz big band in his “Ebony Concerto” for the Woody Herman Orchestra in 1941.
In the early 20th century, when Stravinsky visited Birdland, a number of prominent European and American composers were becoming intensely interested in Jazz and Ragtime, and wrote works that created a fusion between Jazz and classical music. Maurice Ravel, Igor Stravinsky, Darius Milhaud and Ernst Krenek were among the most notable. The Austrian composer Ernst Krenek (1900 -1991), as a young composer in his 20’s, he wrote a popular Jazz-influenced opera called “Jonny Spielt Auf,” about an African American Jazz musician living and working in Europe. The opera ends with Johnny, on top of a globe on stage, celebrating the triumph of Jazz taking over Europe.
This opera, which translates in English as “Johnny Strikes Up” became the rage in Europe in the 1920’s until the Nazis took over and banned it as “degenerate music.” “Johnny” could be a metaphor for Charlie Parker who was also “striking up” as one of the leading lights of the African American jazz which was influencing all of Europe. London and Paris became foreign outposts for this new American jazz and many composers such as Ravel, Stravinsky & Darius Milhaud who were absorbing the influence of Jazz. They also came to America and worked directly with authentic sources of this American music -You can hear Jazz inflections in Ravel’s “Piano concerto in G” and Milhaud’s ballet score “La Création du Monde” (The creation of the world), Milhaud’s 1923 ballet, La Création du Monde was based on an African creation myth and is credited as the first full-length jazz-to-classical crossover piece. The influence of great European composers traveling to Harlem and throughout the United States in support of Jazz, bestowed respectability on black American music and culture which was at that time officially disdained in the US.
Stravinsky had already written a kind of Ragtime piece before he visited America and he would eventually follow Milhaud to the jazz clubs of Harlem, and continue on to hear more American jazz played by black musicians in Chicago and New Orleans. Stravinsky’s Ebony Concerto highlighted Europe’s love affair with American jazz and drew attention to an agreement made without prejudice between many of western Europe’s leading classical composers and conductors, who were eager to meet the rising stars of American jazz, regardless of their race and skin color. The classical love affair with American jazz inspired Stravinsky to compose the Ebony Concerto for Woody Herman Big Band, and he continued on to compose another work in 1949 called Prelude, Fugue and Riffs. This piece was premiered by Benny Goodman in 1955.
If any 20th century composer was likely to make significant use of jazz, it was Stravinsky: who became the composer of the most rhythmically complex piece of orchestral music in history to date: The Rite of Spring (1913).
It is important to note that Stravinsky was introduced to ragtime through reading sheet music and before he wrote his Ragtime and Piano Rag-Music, he had never actually heard this exciting new American music which was the precursor of jazz.
Not everyone agreed with the classical love affair with American jazz that continued to blossom at the turn of the century. One critic in a music magazine called the mixing of classical and jazz “a wave of vulgar, filthy and suggestive music” which has inundated the land.
The fact that Stravinsky was eager to attend a Charlie Parker jazz club performance highlighted the growing international acceptance of American jazz and its black superstars, such as Charlie Parker. Duke Ellington and Art Tatum. Parker’s nick name was “Yard Bird,” and he was often called “Bird” for short. The “Birdland” jazz club was a special New York jazz club that was named in Parker’s honor. On one particular night in “Birdland,” the trumpeter Red Rodney recognized Stravinsky in the club and informed Parker that the famous Russian Composer was in the audience. Parker did not look at Stravinsky, but instead of greeting the crowd, he immediately called the first tune “Koko” at a break neck speed.
Parker showcased his virtuoso saxophone technique on this daunting tune and at the beginning of the second chorus he injected the opening of Stravinsky’s “Firebird Suite” and made it fit perfectly inside Koko as if it was a natural part of the song.
Stravinsky recognized Parker’s use of his “Firebird” theme and roared with delight while pounding his glass on the table, spilling his liquor and ice cubes. People nearby threw up their hands or ducked. Stravinsky was visibly moved and hilarity of this scene did not distract Bird who clearly struck a nerve with the great composer.
Charlie Parker played for Igor Stravinsky at Birdland in 1951, enthusiasts circa 1950 often declared him the jazz equivalent of Stravinsky and Bartok, and asserted that he’d absorbed their music, though skeptics countered that there was no evidence he was even familiar with it. Parker himself clarified the issue for me one night in the winter of 1951, at New York’s premier modern jazz club, Birdland, at Broadway and Fifty-second Street.
It is important to note that in the early 20th century, a number of prominent European and American composers became intensely interested in Jazz and Ragtime, and wrote works attempting a fusion between Jazz and classical. Modern European composers such as Louis Andriessen and Mark-Anthony Turnage, regularly incorporate jazz idioms into their music and history shows that composers have been incorporating elements of vernacular music for centuries. Composers such as Bach, Mozart, Haydn and Beethoven often used the popular tunes of their day.
Maurice Ravel was an early admirer of Gershwin’s work and it has been researched to find that ‘Le Gibet‘ (The Gibbet) which is a part of Ravel’s piano suite Gaspard de la Nuit – contains 95% of all ‘modern’ jazz chords.
America’s own superstars George Gershwin, Aaron Copland, Leonard Bernstein and Gunther Schuller also came under the influence of the Jazz tradition. The love affair between jazz and classical music demonstrated mutual respect, with European Composers such as Debussy, Stravinsky and Ravel embracing the music called jazz and performers such as Art Tatum, Charlie Parker, Bill Evans and Miles Davis embracing classical music influences. Miles Davis, when asked about the inspiration behind one of his tunes, once remarked “Well, we were really into Rachmaninoff that week.” Ted Gioia tells the story (in his History of Jazz) about Charlie Parker, who heard Stravinsky’s ‘Song of the Nightingale’ in a blind fold listening test and declared, ‘Give that all the stars you’ve got’, before going on to talk further about Prokofiev, Hindemith, Debussy and Ravel.
Many people may think that classical music is far removed from black culture, “normal” music and the real world, but this is a myth and in my next blog I will continue to dig behind this myth.
The mirror of history reflects stories, like a mirror of glass reflects images. Eye sight is partially blind and can look only at others but cannot not look directly at itself, unless with the aid of a mirror. Thus, we may use history as a mirror that helps the present to see itself.
In this blog, want to continue reflecting on the collaborations between classical musicians and jazz musicians by showing examples of the mutual admiration between these seemingly separate styles of music. In my last blog, I wrote about conductor Michael Tilson Thomas, first hearing James Brown’s music on the radio and eventually travelling to Georgia to interview Brown and have him collaborate with the symphony orchestra. This meeting of minds between Michael Tilson Thomas and James Brown mirrors the collaboration between Stravinsky and the Woody Herman Band.
Igor Stravinsky wrote the “Ebony Concerto” in 1945 for the Woody Herman jazz band, also known as “the First Herd.” It is one of a series of compositions that was commissioned by Woody Herman who was the featured Clarinetist and band leader. Stravinsky dedicated the score to the featured soloist and band leader Woody Herman and even though Stravinsky conducted the rehearsals with the band, he chose the assistant conductor of the New York Philharmonic, Walter Hendi to conduct the March 25, 1945 Carnegie Hall premiere.
Stravinsky said that his title “Ebony Concerto” did not refer to the ebony colored clarinet as one might suppose, but rather he was referring to Africa. He said that this was because the blues meant African culture to him and the jazz performers he most admired at that time were Art Tatum, Charlie Parker and the guitarist Charlie Christian.
Although traces of the blues, boogie woogie and jazz can be found in Stravinsky’s music throughout the 1920’s and 1930’s, it was only with the Ebony Concerto that Stravinsky incorporated jazz on a far reaching scale of composition.
Stravinsky decided to create a jazz-based version of a Concerto Grosso, with a blues section for the slow movement and the horn and harp were additions outside of the normal Big Band Band line up.
Stravinsky and many of his European contemporaries found inspiration in the new forms of popular music coming from America. Between 1910 and 1920, ragtime jazz evolved into a more improvised ensemble oriented idiom. The music exhibited a fresh syncopated take on European dance and march rhythms that caught the ears of classical composers.
Through his distant European introduction to jazz, Stravinsky’s early writing evolved in a way that owed much to the idea of jazz, without actually reflecting the authentic jazz style.
He was quoted in 1916 to say “I know little about American music except that of the music halls…but I consider that unrivaled. It is veritable art and I can never get enough of it to satisfy me…I am convinced of the absolute truth in the utterance of that form of American art.”
Stravinsky’s early compositions featuring jazz -inspired works happened around the closing of the First World War when there was an economic need to write for smaller ensembles. L’histoire du soldat, is a (A Soldier’s Tale) Ragtime for eleven instruments that joins his “Piano-Rag-Music” as two of his early jazz based compositions.
Decades later, Stravinsky asserted that Jazz patterns and especially jazz instrumental combinations did influence his music and researchers identify three distinct categories of Jazz-influenced works when looking over Stravinsky’s entire career:
1) The initial explorations into the jazz style before the 1920’s
2) The commissioned works by jazz bands in the 1930’s and 40’s
…and 3) the “serious” works that contain elements of jazz that span his career from the 1920’s onward. Specific details of these works are related in the article titled “Stravinsky’s Jazz Influenced Music.”
This meeting between classical music and Jazz is one that could only happen with mutual respect that allowed different egos and talents to stretch beyond their normal comfort zones. Stravinsky almost backed out of the whole deal with Woody Herman after a publicity story published in September 1945 claimed that this was a collaboration between Stravinsky and Herman. Stravinsky withdrew from the agreement until his lawyer, Aaron Sapiro, convinced him that no offense was intended.
When they finally got together, Woody Herman found Stravinsky’s solo clarinet part so difficult that he did not feel that the composer had adapted his writing style to the jazz band idiom. Instead it seemed as Stravinsky “wrote pure Stravinsky” and the Herman band originally did not feel comfortable with the score. Stretched beyond their comfort zone, the band was disheartened, almost to the point of tears after the very first rehearsal because nobody could read the music and they were so embarrassed. Stravinsky reassured everyone by walking over to put his arm around the leader and said, “Ah, what a beautiful family you have.”
In my next blog I will share another Classical meets jazz encounter where a great Russian Composer comes to the New York Jazz Club “Birdland” to hear Charlie Parker.
For those interested in learning more about the deep historical connections between classical music and jazz, I recommend the book “New World Symphonies” by Jack Sullivan and I have posted multiple references below. Each one of the links is like another mirror that reflects the many images of Classical music meeting Black Culture. Enjoy!
Little Richard’s showmanship and hard rocking brand of boogie woogie jazz lead to the birth of Rock and Roll. James Brown’s own unique showmanship and blend of the black church, blues and soulful jazz connections led to the birth of an ultra-new, rhythmically-sophisticated, dance music called “Funk.”
Prince mastered both of their “Primitivism” styles. With his own touch of personal genius, Prince successfully blended Little Richards boogie woogie 2 count “Primitivism” called Rock & Roll and James Brown’s contagious back beat fueled jazz, Gospel and New (primitivism) Soul Music called funk.
The funky rhythms of James Brown have influenced all of popular music and continues to be “sampled” and used in the beats of present day popular hits including the beats that drive hip hop.” Both “Little Richard” and James Brown captured the fundamental spirit of musical “Primitivism” and sophistication that was shaped by the Black church, blues, jazz and the black experience.
Primitivism underscores the appreciation for black culture that crosses the trajectory from Art, to classical music and popular music. The interview between James Brown and a cutting edge classical conductor named Michael Tilson Thomas, sheds modern light on the continuing love affair between black music, culture and the classical arts.
Classical Conductor Michael Tilson Thomas did an extensive and unprecedented interview with James Brown that was recorded at Brown’s home in Georgia. During the interview, Thomas shared a story, that revealed that while he and other students were studying Boulez, Stravinsky and other composers on the leading edge of Classical music, they were also listening to the music of James Brown.
The conductor (Michael T. Thomas) said that one day while he was driving in LA, a song called “Cold Sweat” by James Brown came on the radio, which introduced him to the music of James Brown and forever changed his views about how to conduct and perform the music of Boulez, Stravinsky and others. Thomas was moved by the level of energy, precision, sense of time, and musical angularity that gave him and other young conductors a deeper insight into a new way to realize the classical music they were studying.
The rhythmic innovations of Stravinsky, reflect his love for the fascinating rhythms coming from American jazz, blues and the music of James Brown. The book “African Rhythm and African Sensibility” by John Miller Chernoff, tells the story of Hal Neely, concerning Igor Stravinsky and his deep admiration for James Brown.
Hal Neely was the former president of King Records, which was the most important record label in African American music for over twenty years.
The Author of the book (John Miller Chernoff) spent ten years studying African drumming and his research represents a proud link in the field of ethno-musicology that was started by composer Bela Bartok.
On page 199, of Chernoff’s book, it says that Stravinsky, answered an interviewer’s question about his favorite composers, by saying that they were the three B’s. The composer then clarified that the three B’s represented Bach, Beethoven and Brown… James Brown… and emphasized that Brown was composing a true American music with a great American heritage and should be considered one of the greatest composers of all time.
Stravinsky’s appreciation for the sophistication and “Primitivism” of James Brown mirrored Picasso’s appreciation for African art. Leonardo da Vinci: said that ‘simplicity is the ultimate sophistication’.
As I end this blog, I want to underscore that “primitivism” does not mean simple simplicity but represents an economy of creativity that can raise anything to an art form. In the art of fighting, the act of confrontation is raised to an art form by a creative economy of technique and skill.
Thus Primitivism in the arts and music was also respected as a creative sophistication of simple techniques and skills. . .
“Primitivism” is inspired from an INDIGENOUS style
of creativity and economy
that amplifies the meaning behind
the simple power of Rock & Roll,
that amplifies the meaning behind
the swing that moves to jazz,
that amplifies the meaning behind
the rhythm that moves Hip Hop,
that amplifies the meaning behind
the emotion that lifts the Black Church,
and amplifies the meaning behind the influence of “Primitivism”
and the soul that shines through the power of Black music.
In my next blog I want reflect on Stravinsky, the African Inspired Ebony Concerto…
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