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Black History Month 2020

Black History Month 2020

Published on February 29, 2020

In February, we celebrated Black History month with trivia on our Instagram Stories, which covered trailblazing black musicians through the years, as well as the contributions black history and culture has made on music. If you missed it, or would like to learn more, keep reading below!

Black Musicians of Yesteryear

Black musicians from past eras have often been overlooked, despite many of them being influential, talented, and note-worthy.


Widely known as "Black Mozart", this composer is best remembered as the first known classical composer of African ancestry.

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    Joseph Bologne, Chevalier de Saint-Georges

    Joseph Bologne


    He was also a champion fencer, virtuoso violinist, and conductor of the leading symphony orchestra in Paris. He composed numerous string quartets, other instrumental music, and opera! Learn more

 

This piano prodigy and composer of popular songs was blind from birth, and learned to play piano, by ear, at age four.

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    Thomas “Blind Tom” Wiggins

    Tom Wiggins

    Sadly, his talent was exploited by slave owners his entire life, who kept control of Wiggins and the huge income he made touring as a soloist. Some accounts say that he became the highest paid pianist of the 19th century at age 10! Learn More.

 

An American composer and pianist, this musician achieved fame for his compositions and was dubbed the "King of Ragtime”.

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    Scott Joplin

    Scott Joplin

    He wrote 44 original ragtime pieces, one ragtime ballet, and two operas during his career. His most famous piece, "Maple Leaf Rag", is now recognized as the archetype of the classic rag. Learn More.

 

This English composer cleverly combined African-American folk music with concert music in his works, and was referred to as the "African Mahler".

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    Samuel Coleridge-Taylor

    Samuel Coleridge-Taylor

    In 1904, he was even received by President Theodore Roosevelt at the White House – a rare event in those days for a black man! Learn More.

Black Musicians who Broke Barriers

The following musicians were the first in their category to achieve success, and helped paved the road for their successors.

This classical composer, pianist, organist, and music teacher was the first African-American woman to be recognized as a symphonic composer, and to have her music performed by a major symphony orchestra.

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    Florence Price

    Florence Price

    The Chicago Symphony Orchestra premiered her award-winning Symphony in E Minor in 1933! She also made considerable use of characteristic African-American melodies and rhythms in many of her works. Learn More.



This virtuoso violinist and bugle-player wrote more than 200 compositions and was the first black composer to have his works published as sheet music.
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    Francis "Frank" Johnson

     
    Francis Johnson

    His works encompassed various styles — operatic airs, Ethiopian minstrel songs, patriotic marches, ballads, cotillions, quadrilles, quicksteps, and more! Learn More.



This American composer, pianist, and organist was the first black musician to win a Pulitzer Prize for Music.
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    George Theophilus Walker
    George Walker
    Photo: George Walker

    He won the award for his work, Lilacs for voice and orchestra, which was premiered by the Boston Symphony. Washington D.C. Mayor Marion Barry even proclaimed June 17, 1997 as "George Walker Day" in the nation's capital! Learn More.



This musician was dubbed "The Dean" of African-American composers, as he was the first black composer to conduct a major American symphony orchestra as well as have an opera produced by a major opera company.
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    William Grant Still

    William Still
    Photo: Carl Van Vechten

    He composed nearly 200 works, including five symphonies and nine operas. His most famous symphony, Afro-American Symphony, composed in 1930, was the most widely performed symphony composed by an American until 1950! Learn More.


Black Contributions to Music Genres

African-American history and culture are also the root of many of the genres of music we enjoy today.

 


This genre is a blend of African-American music and European music tradition, and was born when slaves were brought to America and were forced to convert to Christianity.

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    Spiritual

    Historians also considered it a genre of folk music, and it not only served as an expression of sorrow, but was also used as a code to orchestrate escapes and rebellions!

     



This dynamic and diverse genre of music flourished in the early 1920s, in the south, and offered the black community escape from the harsh reality of violent racism.

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    Blues

    This music follows no strict rules and was created using readily available instruments – even ones that were made at home! This is what made it accessible to all people, regardless of status or race, allowing African Americans to create their own musical culture.


This genre is perhaps the most well-known American musical export, and was born from a fusion of musical styles in New Orleans, where Africans, Europeans, and Creoles lived in the same community.

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    Jazz


    Segregation laws in 1894 divided dark-skinned and lighter-skinned Creoles, which gave black Creole musicians more incentive to associate with African Americans, resulting in a mixing of their musical traditions.



This genre of music is what is often the first thing that comes to mind when "black culture" is mentioned, and stems from the urban black experience.

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    Hip-Hop

    Born in the black communities of 1970s New York City, hip-hop was heavily influenced by Caribbean immigrants and encompasses a larger movement of expression than just rap music, such as graffiti and breakdancing.

     

To learn more about African influences on music culture and genres, click here.

Black Classical Musicians Making Their Mark Today

Last but not least, there are many talented black musicians who are making history today!
 

This British cello prodigy was the first black contestant to win the BBC Young Musician competition.

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    Sheku Kanneh-Mason

    Sheku
    Picture: Decca Classics


    Kanneh-Mason began to play the cello at age six, and grew up in a family with seven kids who all studied at London's Royal Academy of Music. In 2018, he even performed at Prince Harry and Meghan Markle's wedding! Learn More.


This talented Los Angeles-based violist is a Juilliard School graduate and is one of the biggest classical music influencers on social media, using his reach to inspire and spread positivity.

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    Drew Forde

    Drew Forde
    Photo: That Viola Kid

    Also known as That Viola Kid online, this artist wants to make classical music more accessible to everyone and creates gorgeous classical covers of pop music. Check out his YouTube channel for his covers, vlogs about Juilliard, and more! Learn More.


This South African soprano rose to fame after making her debut at the Latvian National Theatre as Micaela in Carmen, and has since been seen at nearly all of the major theatres of the world including the Royal Opera House and the Met.

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    Pretty Yende

    Pretty Yende
    Photo: Sony Music Masterworks

    Not only has she appeared as the musical guest on "The Late Show", "Good Morning America", and more, Yende was the first artist in the history of the Belvedere Singing Competition to win top prize in every category! Learn More.


This Canadian engineer, entrepreneur, violinist, and philanthropist studied violin at The Royal Conservatory, and has performed with some of the biggest names in pop music, including Mary J Blige, Sting, Justin Bieber, Akon, and more.

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    Andrew Forde

    Andrew Forde

    He has even composed original pieces for various television and commercial projects, as well as a composition inspired by Glenn Gould called The Idea of North, which premiered in Koerner Hall in 2018. Learn More.



We hope that you learned more about the significant contributions made by black musicians, and we look forward to celebrating them and their impact throughout the year!