“Dixie,” or “Dixieland,” are names used to refer to the American South. The song “(I Wish I Was In) Dixie’s Land,” more commonly known just as “Dixie,” was written in 1859 and published by a white blackface entertainer named Daniel Emmett. However, the book Way Up North in Dixie: A Black Family’s Claim to the Confederate Anthem (Howard and Judith Sacks) suggests, there is strong evidence that “Dixie” was written by a Black musician from Ohio, Thomas Snowden.
This is especially ironic since “Dixie,” with some additional lyrics, was adopted as the unofficial anthem of the Confederacy in the Civil War. There is a variety of viewpoints about whether the song should be performed today.
Nevertheless, some modern-day African American musicians are reclaiming the song’s Black roots. As jazz singer René Marie says:
And multimedia artist John Sims (above) has produced an album called “The AfroDixie Remixes” which he describes as “playing ‘Dixie’ in the key of black.”
Some Black artists are working to reclaim the music and instruments of minstrelsy. Rhiannon Giddens explains why she plays a replica of a minstrel banjo.
Rocker Gary Clark, Jr.’s 2020 song “This Land” is a response to and an argument against the kind of reclamation project that Giddens and other musicians are involved in. As Clark notes, this land belongs to African Americans.
The important 19th-century Black American guitarist and composer Justin Holland (1819-1887, above), who was also a civil rights activist, wrote “Variations on Dixie’s Land” for guitar. I can’t find any videos of it, but music professor Paul Sweeny has performed it.
Why do you think he did this?
Here’s a video of a performance of another of Holland’s arrangements, the Rochester Schottische, originally written for piano and about Rochester, New York, where Holland’s friend Frederick Douglass lived.
In the late 1960s and early 1970s, soul began to address the social and economic problems that faced Black Americans in the (mostly Northern) cities. The textual emphasis on this new wave of soul moved away from the genre’s earlier optimism, instead highlighting dystopian urban visions. This iteration of soul was, in a sense, a musical protest against the ambiguous legacy of the Great Migration and the dashed hopes of the Civil Rights era. Solomon Burke’s 1968 “I Wish I Knew (How It Would Feel to Be Free)” is a good example.
Isaac Hayes, the producer and songwriter who co-led Stax Records in Memphis, the center of Southern soul, performing his Academy Award-winning theme song from the 1971 blaxploitation film Shaft at the Oscars that year.
John Shaft is a private detective trying to combat the Mafia’s control of the drug trade in Harlem. In a scene in which Shaft is doing a door-to-door search for his nemesis, Isaac Hayes’s song “Soulsville” plays in the background — a tender ballad describing the hardships of Black urban life:
Black man, born free At least that’s the way it’s supposed to be Chains that binds him are hard to see Unless you take this walk with me
Place where he lives is got plenty of names Slums, ghetto and black belt, they are one and the same And I call it “Soulsville”
Any kind of job is hard to find That means an increase in the welfare line Crime rate is rising too If you are hungry, what would you do?
Rent is two months past due and the building is falling apart Little boy needs a pair of shoes and this is only a part of Soulsville
Some of the brothers got plenty of cash Tricks on the corner, gonna see to that Some like to smoke and some like to blow Some are even strung out on a fifty dollar Jones
Some are trying to ditch reality by getting so high Only to find out you can never touch the sky ‘Cause your hoods are in Soulsville
Every Sunday morning, I can hear the old sisters say Hallelujah, Hallelujah, trust in the Lord to make a way, oh yeah I hope that He hear their prayers ’cause deep in their souls they believe Someday He’ll put an end to all this misery that we have in Soulsville.
Isaac Hayes, a master of storytelling, was famous for setting up a mood in his songs using nothing but his evocative voice. Here he covers Jimmy Webb’s song “By the Time I Get to Phoenix” on the 1969 album Hot Buttered Soul with a 9-minute spoken intro. Do not miss a single one of those nine minutes.
Compare Isaac Hayes’s Oscar performance with H.E.R.’s 2021 Oscar-winning song, “Fight for You,” from Judas and the Black Messiah, about Chicago Black Panther Fred Hampton. In what ways does H.E.R. draw on the music and aesthetics of late 1960s and early 1970s soul?
Contemporary blues-folk singer Ruthie Foster singing the Staple Singers’ song “The Ghetto,” which addresses the same social issues.
Marlena Shaw’s 1969 “Woman of the Ghetto” is a direct appeal to lawmakers to improve the living conditions in the urban core.
How do we get rid of rats in the ghetto? Do we make one black and one white in the ghetto? Is that your answer legislator?
Stevie Wonder’s “Living for the City” is about a migrant from the rural South to the urban North, where he is unjustly arrested and imprisoned. In the last verse, Wonder implores would-be migrants to the city to stay in their home places and make them better. As such, it’s an anti-Great Migration song.
I hope you hear inside my voice of sorrow And that it motivates you to make a better tomorrow This place is cruel, nowhere could be much colder If we don’t change, the world will soon be over Living just enough, stop giving just enough for the city.
As I write this, the greatest gymnast of all time, Simone Biles, has withdrawn from the women’s gymnastics team finals in the Tokyo 2020 Olympics (delayed until 2021 due to the pandemic) because her mental health was suffering.
As someone wrote on Facebook:
If you need help, take a cue from the GOAT Simone Biles, and listen to your mind, body, and soul. If you’re struggling, please read the following.
The ways that each of us reacts to stress fall on a continuum.
You may feel little to no impact, or you may feel an increased stress response. When stress is ongoing or severe, this can lead to severe distress, burnout, or traumatic responses.
Personal experiences, support systems, coping mechanisms, external stressors, adverse childhood experiences, and the length of time we have felt increased stress can contribute to where we fall on the continuum.
Expect that where you are on this continuum can change. It’s also important to remember that people will react differently to the same situation, and that is ok.
What you are feeling and experiencing matters.
It’s likely that many people are feeling similar.
There are resources—and people—to help you.
Your professors care. Let us know if you need help, extensions on work, or a sympathetic ear.
This is a partial list of resources in our area. Remember: it’s not a sign of weakness to ask for help when you need it. It’s a sign of STRENGTH.
In 1893, Dvorak and his family traveled from New York to Chicago by train to visit the World’s Fair. From Chicago, they went to Spillville, Iowa, a farming community of Czech immigrants. While in Spillville, Dvorak met and heard the music of Native Americans for the first time. As his son described it, they were:
The songs the Iroquois sang for the composer may have sounded like this:
And, as you know, Dvorak was deeply influenced by Black American folk spirituals. If you listen carefully, you will hear this one in the first movement of the Symphony no. 9, played at a brisk tempo on the flute (Beyoncé in a scene from the movie The Fighting Temptations). Dvorak’s assistant Harry T. Burleigh had introduced him to the tune.
A beautiful analysis of the extra-musical program of Dvorak’s Symphony no. 9 by writer Joseph Horowitz.
Some of the sources Horowitz references:
Paintings of the American West
2. The Song of Hiawatha, a book-length poem by American poet Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, based on Ojibway legend. The full text can be found here.
British music educator Jonathan James makes the case for the Symphony no. 9 as a conflict between the old and new worlds — the old world of Dvorak’s longing for his Bohemian home is the world of nostalgia, that Romantic yearning for a home which was never the way memory pictures it.
What do you think?
While in Spillville, Dvorak wrote his “American” String Quartet, in which he drew on some of the Native American and African-American sounds he encountered. The fourth movement, here, also evokes the speed and dynamism of travel by steam train across the wide, flat open plains of the Midwest:
PUBLIQuartet improvising on Dvorak’s “American” Quartet, in answer to their question: What would the American Quartet sound like if Dvorak had come to the New World in 2019 rather than 1893?
The Stare’s Nest by my Window (William Butler Yeats)
The bees build in the crevices Of loosening masonry, and there The mother birds bring grubs and flies. My wall is loosening; honey-bees, Come build in the empty house of the stare.
We are closed in, and the key is turned On our uncertainty; somewhere A man is killed, or a house burned. Yet no clear fact to be discerned: Come build in the empty house of the stare.
A barricade of stone or of wood; Some fourteen days of civil war: Last night they trundled down the road That dead young soldier in his blood: Come build in the empty house of the stare.
We had fed the heart on fantasies, The heart’s grown brutal from the fare, More substance in our enmities Than in our love; O honey-bees, Come build in the empty house of the stare.
(From Meditations in Time of Civil War, 1928.)
This semester, as we study the riches of music and culture (both our own and others’), we will take up the poet’s invitation to “come build in the empty house of the stare.” Understanding music can help us create a more compassionate world.
Although crack sales and addiction were ramping up in 1983, when Grandmaster Flash and Melle Mel recorded this song, they’re referring to the powder cocaine of the 1970s, not to rock cocaine (crack). Note that Melle Mel portrays a Baron Samedi-like character in the video.
“Dopeman,” N.W.A., 1988
Too Short, “The Ghetto,” 1990, which draws on conscious soul music of the 1960s:
De La Soul, “My Brother’s A Basehead,” 1991.
Nas, “Represent,” 1994.
Jay Z, “Rap Game/ Crack Game,” 1997
50 Cent, “Ghetto Qu’ran,” 2000.
Immortal Technique, “Dance with the Devil,” 2001
The Clipse, “Virginia,” 2002
Kanye West, “Crack Music,” 2005: he argues that Ronald Reagan cooked crack in order to destroy black radical politics.
Jay-Z, “Blue Magic,” 2007: he takes up Kanye’s theme, above.
Ka, “Up Against Goliath,” 2012
Killer Mike, “Reagan,” 2012: Killer Mike charges that Reaganomics is the basis of the destructive whirlwind unleashed by crack, and that Reagan’s illegal Iran-Contra exchange brought crack into the black community.
The late Capital Steez, also 2012, “Free the Robots.” He also suggests that the policies of Ronald Reagan, as well as pressure from unseen forces, have destroyed the Black community through crack.
TW/CW: disturbing imagery of Transatlantic slave trade and police brutality.
After the murder of George Floyd in May 2020, Anthony McGill, the principal clarinetist of the New York Philharmonic (and the only African-American principal in that illustrious orchestra), recorded himself in his living room playing a mournful, mixed-tonality version of “America the Beautiful,” and posted the video on YouTube.
In the last 15 seconds of the video, McGill knelt down with his head bent, holding his clarinet behind his back. His posture evokes many conflicting images: not only prayer, but also bondage:
The great tenor Lawrence Brownlee responded by singing the spiritual “There’s a Man Going Round Taking Names” on both knees, both the song and his posture an allusion to the death of George Floyd.
Other classical musicians across race and ethnicity took up the hashtag #TakeTwoKnees in support of black lives and against police brutality.
Do you think classical music is an effective tool for protesting against injustice? Why or why not?
Season 3 of the Amazon Prime series Mozart in the Jungle featured an episode called “Not Yet Titled,” in which the fictional orchestra, based on the New York Philharmonic, plays a concert at Rikers Island under the direction of their charismatic Mexican conductor Rodrigo De Souza (Gael Bernal). The episode was filmed live at Rikers, and the audience was made up of real inmates. Watch it here. Do you agree with the inmates interviewed about the power of classical music?
[This post was written by student Zerin Jamal as her final project for this class in Spring 2020. All text (c) Zerin Jamal.]
William (referred to as Billy) Thomas Strayhorn was best recognized for being Duke Ellington’s collaborator and for working with Ellington to produce many classics, such as “Take The ‘A’ Train,” “Chelsea Bridge” and “Isfahan.” Although he had an aptitude for penning timeless pieces, by which he set some of the world’s most distinct jazz standards, and was a musical genius, Strayhorn spent most of his career in the shadow of Ellington. Ellington even encapsulated Strayhorn’s genius with, “Billy Strayhorn successfully married melody, words and harmony, equating the fitting with happiness.” Albeit primarily being recognized on pieces he collaborated with Ellington on, Strayhorn’s “Lush Life” was possibly his most soul-stirring and famous independent song. The song was impressibly composed by Strayhorn while he was in his teens. When he released it to the public, the song was instantaneously a hit as critics marveled at his capacity to compose a song of such caliber, one that also demonstrates maturity and a complex range of emotions that was explored by many after its release, at such a young age.
“Lush Life” was widely acclaimed for good reason as it had numerous valuable qualities. The song illustrates Strayhorn’s ability to interlink the elegant harmonies of classical music into the vibrant and strong swing of jazz. It also demonstrates his musical inclination as the lyrics and the melody of the song both simultaneously work together to evoke great emotional responses from the audience. The song ‘moves’ and amazes the listeners by communicating the level of depth and maturity Strayhorn possessed as a teenager. Strayhorn’s composition of this piece was also groundbreaking due to the time it was written in.
“Lush Life” was written during the Harlem Renaissance but was released after the renaissance began to fade away. The Harlem Renaissance was a critical period in black history; it was a time in which African Americans obtained jurisdiction over the depiction of black culture and experience, all while bestowing them a position in Western high culture. During this time, Harlem flourished with cultural and artistic expression; artists and writers strengthened the African American spirit by developing phenomenal literature and works of art that showcased the resilience, intelligence, and fortitude of their people. One of the defining arts of the Harlem Renaissance was jazz as it dominated the musical genre, enabling African Americans to communicate their difficulties, frustrations, pleasure, and pride — all of which came with being black in America. “Lush Life” was particularly valuable since Harlem provided a haven for gay African-Americans despite it being frowned upon. Although homophobia was prevalent, artists, such as Billy Strayhorn, were inspirational since they were uncloseted and extremely successful. Harlem as a community granted refuge for gay African Americans due to artists like Strayhorn having a massive influence; hence, their successes created a safe space for other gay African Americans.
The song opens with “I used to visit all the very gay places.” Although the word “gay” was commonly used to refer to “happy” during this period and did not signify homosexuality, jazz music, and especially the Harlem Renaissance, largely consisted of maintaining a sense of individuality and granted sexual freedom. Seeing as Strayhorn was publicly out-closeted and was in a long-term relationship with Aaron Bridgers, it is plausible that Strayhorn was aware of the both meanings of the term and intentionally incorporated it. Most likely, however, Strayhorn utilized the word to note places in which he felt cheerful, relaxed, carefree, and especially gay as well. “Lush Life” reflects Strayhorn’s ability to freely and openly be gay as a result of Harlem acting as a sanctuary for homosexuals.At this time, it would have been difficult to have sexual freedom and to openly display one’s sexual orientation if they were not straight. However, due to some blues singers already implying their homosexuality and his off-stage part in Ellington’s orchestra, it was possible for Strayhorn to openly display their sexual orientation due to both his absence in the limelight and Harlem’s tight-knit community looking out for one another.
Upon further analysis of the lyrics, Strayhorn describes night life as enervating after being unsuccessful at romance. He refers to a bar as a place, “where one relaxes… to get the feel of life from jazz and cocktails,” and narrates that he was familiar with dispirited women who had “been washed away by too many through the day twelve o’clock tales.” He details finding a lover that he believed was going to be a “great love” for him before unfolding,
The piece reflects how night life was and still is part of American culture. Strayhorn describes women feeling dejected as a result of their failed romances which led them to indulge in alcohol, just as the Strayhorn, for relief. The song describes how many live luxurious and lavish lives to mask their true loneliness. Oftentimes, many turn to drugs and alcohol to cope with their feelings of grief and sorrow. These social values still hold for our time seeing as many turn to substances as they believe it will help them better cope; however, they, ultimately, suffer more as a result of substance abuse. This song also highlights the dangers of the overly glorified nightlife scene as it can lead to individuals falling subject to peer pressure, resulting in many drinking and trying drugs they initially were against.
“Lush Life” reflects the contributions of Black Americans to national culture since jazz was heavily influenced by several African American musical forms. Jazz evolved from slave work songs, African American spirituals, blues, and also ragtime. When listened to carefully, one can hear the mixed influences of ragtime, blues, and the piano which was part of band music. People should listen to this piece of music as Billy Strayhorn was also responsible for making great contributions to jazz, alongside Ellington, with pieces of such caliber. When listening to “Lush Life,” people should attempt to hear the syncopated rhythm (influenced by ragtime), Strayhorn’s distinct musical structure, and his moving lyrics.
A collection of some of the musical examples referred to by Peter van der Merwe in your reading.
As you listen, think about the similarities in these musics from across cultures. What makes them blues or blues-like?
Charley Patton, “Tom Rushen Blues”.
You’ll be reading more about Charley Patton later. For the moment, pay attention not only to what van der Merwe calls his “shake” on the third scale degree, but also on his technique of doubling the vocal line with the guitar.
2. Bessie Smith, “Poor Man’s Blues”:
3. Traditional Mossi music from Burkina Faso, west Africa. Pay attention to the long, unmetered, chant-like vocal lines.
4. “Goin’ Home,” recorded by the Lomaxes at Parchman Farm, a notorious segregated prison in Mississippi. Note the chant-like, repetitive vocal line and the reverse-dotted rhythm.
4. “Show Pity, Lord,” a Protestant hymn by 18th-century English composer Isaac Watts. Why does van der Merwe include this example?
6. “Gwineter Harness in de Mornin’ Soon,” another song John Lomax collected from Dink on the banks of the Brazos River in Texas.
7. “Dance in the Place Congo” by 20th-century composer Henry Gilbert: it’s in 5/4 and is meant to evoke the dancing on Sunday in Congo Square, New Orleans, prior to Emancipation.
8. “The Maid Freed From the Gallows,” a traditional English ballad.
Led Zeppelin’s version of this ballad, “Gallows Pole”: