Songs of the soul: an exploration of music by African American composers

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University of Alabama Libraries

When considering the breadth of American song literature, the works of African American composers are not as commonly found within the standard repertoire. When songs by African American composers are performed in a recital, they are typically limited to arrangements of spirituals. While these pieces certainly deserve a place in song recitals, this limited programming leaves audiences unaware of the rich history of contributions made to the genre of art song by African American composers. Hopefully, by programming a collection of songs by African Americans on this recital, this repertoire might receive deserved exposure. The composers discussed in this document represent various time periods, educational backgrounds, and life experiences. More specifically, the five musicians on this program can be divided into two musical groups: Modernists and Traditionalists. The Modernists, Robert Owens and H. Leslie Adams, were born in the 1920s and 1930s, while the Traditionalists, Camille Nickerson, Hall Johnson, and Margaret Bonds, were born between 1888 and 1913. The pieces featured on this program by Modernist composers are original compositions, while the Traditionalist’s pieces are arrangements of American folk tradition. Together, they present a rich variety of African American classical music of the twentieth century. African Americans are not one-dimensional and neither is the music that emanates from these composers. The pieces performed on this recital contain elements of jazz, blues, and other musical idioms commonly found in the African American tradition. The poetry, much of it written by African Americans, presents a depiction of a culture not only filled with struggle, but rich in pride, music, and love. This document is designed for the musician who is dedicated to the teaching, performing, and preservation of American song literature. It is my hope that the music programmed on this recital will provide a glimpse into the wealth of art songs by African American composers and inspire others to explore this rich and multifaceted repertoire.

Electronic Thesis or Dissertation
Music, African American studies, Performing arts