Feature: A History of Black Music


Well, a very partial one, anyway.  There's far more to African-American and Afro-European music than the MOBO Awards might suggest.  Here are several African-American composers, one Afro-Cuban composer, some examples of how Africans and African-Americans were depicted via European and European-American music, and a surprise or two! Play now 



William Grant Still: Symphony No.1 (Afro-American Symphony)
Still is a landmark figure in African-American composition; this fine work is an excellent example of his style. 

Adolphus Hailstork: Organ Music

Hailstork's music is elegant but also cleverly subversive; this album includes some extraordinarily inventive organ arrangements of traditional spirituals. 

Leo Brouwer: The Black Decameron
Like Henze, Brouwer is one of the few composers to have arrived at a modern compositional language for the guitar which is both approachable and musically rigorous.  Despite his European associations, Brouwer is in fact of Afro-Cuban descent. 

Duke Ellington: C Jam Blues
Ellington remains unique in his inventive approach to jazz.  This standard uses a traditional form to display a kaleidoscope of variations. 

Verdi: Otello
Like the Shakespearian tragedy which inspired it, this triumphant opera presents its Moorish protagonist as a complex, powerful character. 

Gershwin: Porgy and Bess
This opera remains controversial, with frequent accusations of racial stereotyping.  On the other hand, Gershwin insisted that the entire cast of the work's 1935 premier should comprise classically-trained African-American singers - a very radical idea at the time. 

Scott Joplin: The Entertainer
The precursor of jazz, ragtime is in fact a highly inventive and sophisticated form. 

Traditional Egyptian: Music of the Nile Valley
Egyptian music?  Certainly.  One area of scholarship maintains that ancient Egypt was in fact a black culture, which would have interesting implications for the Eurocentric view of 'civilisation'.