Tuesday, November 2, 2010

African Diaspora Tourism: 'Black Music Myth De-Bunked: African Heritage in Classical Music'

[William Levi Dawson http://marbl.library.emory.edu/african-american-collections.html]

Kitty J. Pope, Executive Director of the International Association of Black Travel Writers, invited us to write an article on African Heritage in Classical Music. It is now online, and what follows is an excerpt:

Written by William J. Zick

Many people are surprised to learn that musicians of African descent have written and performed classical music for centuries. I was one of them. For 33 years after starting college, I enjoyed classical music on library recordings and on FM radio. In 1995, I happened to see two 1993 CDs of the Detroit Symphony in a music store. I bought both and entered a beautiful new world of classical music: William Grant Still's Symphony No. 1 (Afro-American) and No. 2 (Song of a New Race); the Negro Folk Symphony of William Levi Dawson; Duke Ellington's Harlem and Suite from The River.

Dawson's Negro Folk Symphony (28:26) was recorded on Chandos 9226 (1993). Michael Fleming's liner notes tell us: “The three movements of the symphony are entitled: The Bond of Africa, Hope in the Night and O, le' me shine, shine like a Morning Star!” The symphony was first performed by the Philadelphia Orchestra, conducted by Leopold Stokowski, in 1934. Michael Fleming points out it was revised after the composer visited Africa: “After a trip to West Africa in 1952, however, the composer revised it to embody authentic African rhythmic patterns, and it was in this form that Stokowski recorded it, and it is most frequently played today.

I had considered myself quite familiar with classical music. Now I realized my listening had been segregated without my knowledge for more than three decades. I had previously worked for the Michigan Department of Civil Rights for 7 years; I resolved to wage a personal Civil Rights campaign to increase awareness of the rich African Heritage in Classical Music. The website which evolved into AfriClassical.com was launched in 2000. It is highly selective by design.

From thousands of potential artists, I selected 52 classical composers, performers and conductors, African, African American and Afro-European. Over 100 brief music samples are featured at the website, which also includes a 52-question Black History Quiz. The comprehensive Work Lists and Bibliographies, and many of the biographies, were provided by Prof. Dominique-René de Lerma of Lawrence University Conservatory in Appleton, Wisconsin. He signed the Guest Book in 2002, and he eventually became principal advisor to the website. Prof. De Lerma's 40 years of research were made available to AfriClassical.com.

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