Category: Uncategorized

  • The motto of this class: “Homo sum, humani nihil a me alienum puto”

    “I am a human being; nothing human can be alien to me” (Maya Angelou, 1928-2014, quoting the Roman African playwright Terence ).

  • Soul and the City

    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 […]

  • The Sadness of the New World

    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: […]

  • A Partial Crack Playlist

    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 […]

  • Classically Black: #TakeTwoKnees

    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 […]

  • Lush Life

    [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” […]

  • Gullah/Geechee Resources

    The coast of South Carolina was the port of entry for more than two-thirds of the Africans brought to America as slaves. The wealth of the state, and of its capitol city, Charleston, was built on slavery. Charleston was known as the “Cradle of the Confederacy,” and the first shots in the Civil War were […]

  • Blood Memory in Porgy and Bess

    Over the weekend, I saw the Metropolitan Opera’s wonderful new production of George Gershwin’s 1935 opera Porgy and Bess. Choreographer Camille A. Brown, below, was interviewed backstage about the dances she created for the production. She spoke about drawing on the performers’ “blood memory.” In a recent TED talk, Brown explained that: Movement has always […]

  • The Happy Heaven of Harlem

    Many artists moved to Harlem, where they were free to cultivate the inner life. Langston Hughes, the most famous poet of the Harlem Renaissance, reading his poem “I, Too”: The Harlem Renaissance was the artistic flowering of the Great Migration. As Duke Ellington wrote in “Drop Me Off in Harlem”: I don’t want your Dixie,You […]

  • Black Girls’ Handgames

    The D.C.-based arts organization Black Girls Handgames Project is dedicated to remixing and repurposing classic (pre-electronics) children’s games, many of which originated in communities of color. Cofounder OnRae LaTeal explains: The children’s handgame “Miss Mary Mack,” for instance, played here by the great folksinger Ella Jenkins (with some assistance from . . . Barney), dates […]