Tuesday, February 8, 2011

Government Book Talk: 'The Remarkable Story of Black Swan Records,' where William Grant Still directed classical division

[Humanities, publication of the National Endowment of the Humanities]

Feb. 7, 2011
“Government publications go beyond books and pamphlets – there are some great magazines out there, like Humanities, published by the National Endowment for the Humanities. Every time I pick up an issue, I mentally kick myself for not doing so more often.

“Take the November - December 2010 issue, for example. It’s just coincidence that I looked at this issue at the beginning of Black History Month, but I’m glad I did. The cover article, 'Black Swan Rising,' tells the remarkable story of Black Swan Records, which from 1921 to 1924 was the first major black-owned record label, and one that recorded black classical music and spirituals as well as jazz and blues. It was conceived by Harry Pace, a protégé of W.E.B. Du Bois, who also sat on Black Swan’s board of directors. William Grant Still, later an important composer, was the label’s in-house arranger and the great Fletcher Henderson, who contributed so much to jazz in the 1920s and 1930s, was the recording manager.

“Named after Elizabeth Taylor Greenfield, also known as 'the Black Swan,' the 19th century’s most accomplished African American concert singer, Black Swan Records was established to display the broad scope of contemporary black music of all kinds while demonstrating the entrepreneurial skills of African American businessmen. In its brief history, the label issued recordings of spirituals, arias, Christmas carols, and the first recorded performance of 'Lift Every Voice and Sing.' Black Swan also had hit blues records by Ethel Waters, Alberta Hunter, and Trixie Smith.”

William Grant Still (1895-1978) is profiled at AfriClassical.com, where biographical research and a complete Works List by Prof. Dominique-René de Lerma is found. Section 11 of the page on William Grant Still notes: “Still became a classical composer while working in the record business. Black Swan Records was a label owned by African Americans. Prof. De Lerma tells us that Still was the director of Black Swan's classical division from 1921-1922, and was the label's music director from 1922-1924.”

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