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CDs: Anthologies about African American Music and Performers

Dona Got a Ramblin Mind. Carolina Chocolate Drops. Music Maker, 2006. Read more at

When most of people think of fiddle and banjo music, they think of the southern Appalachian Mountains as the source of this music. While the mountains of Virginia, Tennessee, North and South Carolina are great strongholds of traditional music today, they are certainly not the source, and stringband music has deep roots in African American traditions, particularly of the Carolina piedmont. The Carolina Chocolate Drops (Rhiannon Giddens, Justin Robinson and Dom Flemons) are breathing new life into the old music, having studied with the masters. This CD is a joy from beginning to end!

Mercy, Mercy! A benefit album for church musicians affected by natural disasters. 100% of the retail price of this CD will be split evenly between the AGO Hurricane Relief Fund and the NPM Hurricane Assistance Fund. GIA Publications

This album will touch your heart. Best of all, your purchase will help rebuild the lives of church musicians. Both the American Guild of Organists (AGO) and the National Association of Pastoral Musicians (NPM) have set up funds to help church musicians affected by these tragic storms. The composers represented on this recording have donated their royalties; GIA Publications, Inc., has donated all production costs; KRT Select has donated the cover art for the CD; and CRT Custom Products has donated the manufacturing expenses.

Black Manhattan: Members of the Legendary Cleff Club. New World Records, 2004. CD plus booklet with extensive notes. Read more at

This CD captures all the energy and optimism of the early Harlem'll think you've been transported back in time. The "Clef Club" was founded toward the end of 1909 in New York by James Reese Europe and his associates. Their mission to highlight the value, dignity, and professionalism of African-American performers was a great success and did much to change racial attitudes at all levels of white society. It quickly became a "who's who" of early twentieth-century black music and show business. Here the Paragon Ragtime Orchestra faithfully interprets original orchestral scores of composers like Europe and Will Marion Cook so if, like me, you're used to hearing this music on scratchy old mono recordings, you're in for a real treat.

It's easy to see why this music took the country by storm at the turn of the century...I played this CD three times the first night I got it, because it captivated me. There's not a song here I don't like and there's such a good mixture of styles that it doesn't become repetitive. As with all releases from New World Records, this one includes a booklet packed with historical and biographical information. HIGHLY RECOMMENDED!

Every Tone a Testimony: A Smithsonian Folkways African American Aural History. Smithsonian Folkways Recordings, 2001. 2 CDs, plus booklet with extensive notes. Read more at

Highly Recommended! 59 tracks (nearly two and a half hours) of material drawn from the Smithsonian Folkways archive, organized to create a history of African American life and culture in sound. Music, poetry, oratory and prose by historically renowned African American musicians, writers and activists spanning two centuries.

Includes Langston Hughes, Booker T. Washington, W.E.B.Du Bois, Margaret Walker, the Fisk Jubliee Singers, Gwendolyn Brooks, Paul Robeson, Muddy Waters, the SNCC Freedom Singers , Martin Luther King, Jr, Angela Davis, Nikki Giovanni, and Arrested Development. Writers who predate recorded sound are also represented by historical recordings; for example, Arna Bontemps reads writings of Lucy Terry, Ruby Dee reads Sojourner Truth and Ida B. Wells-Barnett. (I was impressed with the equal representation of women throughout the project.)

Folk tracks trace the development of African American music: for example, there's a "field call" by Annie Grace Horn Dodson, and a "complaint call" by Enoch Brown. Percy Randolph performs a shoe shining song, and the Inmates Of Ramsey Retrieve State Farms perform a work song.

As if that's not enough for under $25, it also includes an extensive booklet with supplemental material. See also link to Smithsonian Folkways Recordings

The Long Road to Freedom: An Anthology of Black Music. Harry Belafonte (and 50 other musicians!) 80 tracks on 5 CDs, a bonus DVD, and a 140 page hard-bound book. New and used copies also available at

What a gift this is to all of us! Researched and recorded between 1961 and 1971, this collection traces the history of black music from the late 1600's to the 20th Century. It covers the roots of African music, chants, shouts and early spirituals, Louisiana Creole music and a re-creation of a slave Christmas, songs from the Underground Railroad and Civil War era, rural and urban roots music, game and children's songs, work songs, minstrel name it, it's here.

The story behind the collection is almost as fascinating and instructive as the collection itself. It was lost for nearly 30 years in the archives of BMG Entertainment until rediscovered by archivists two years ago. Belafonte had been inspired by old field recordings in the Library of Congress and, deciding that the quality of some of the recordings left a lot to be desired, he decided to retell the black musical experience in new recordings...which is what you will hear here.

As one who has spent innumerable hours straining to decipher those old recordings myself, I must say that Belafonte and crew have done a fantastic job of bringing the music to life, creating a sound that is both satisfying to the modern ear, yet authentic and respectful to the original material. (The music has NOT, for example, been modernized stylistically. Hurrah for that!) Belafonte simply captured in a modern era what might have been captured in, say, 1866 had modern recording equipment been available. And he prepared himself for this task by speaking with the then modern practitioners of the art: sharecroppers, men in chain gangs, blacks whose parents had been slaves.

The Sounds of Slavery: Discovering African American History through Songs, Sermons and Speech. White, Shane and Graham White. Beacon Press, 2005. Includes 18-track CD. Read more and Order at (See my full review under Books)

Say It Loud: A Celebration of Black Music in America. Various Artists. 6 discs with notes. Rhino Records, 2001. New and used copies also available at where you can also see all the tracks and listen to samples of many.

Roughly chronological, this collection covers many genres and includes sound bites from luminaries such as Booker T. Washington and Paul Robeson. Ragtime, pop ballads, big bands, bop, gospel, doo-wop, rock & roll, soul from Motown, Memphis, and Philly, civil-rights-era jazz, funk, and's all here. My one gripe is the same with every collection of African American music: no representation by classical composers such as William Grant Still. To address this omission, I've devoted and entire page in my web site to the topic.

American Negro Slave Songs : Sung by Michel LaRue. Smithsonian/Folkways.

The African American folk music artists Alex Foster & Michel Larue recorded this historic in depth collection of authentic slave songs originating from pre Civil War days to the plantations of the South from the turn of the 20th century. Recorded in 1958, the album includes the first recording by black performers of "Follow The Drinking Gourd" which was later covered by Taj Mahal, John Coltrane and many others. All selections newly remastered.

I Believe in Angels Singing: Songs from the Underground Railroad Era. Produced by Michael & Carrie Nobel Kline, 2004. CD Read more at

An anthology of twenty-five songs (a cappella field recordings) remembered from the era of the Underground Railroad and recorded on site at churches and homes in eastern Ohio, and at the Augusta Heritage Arts Center in Elkins, WV. The singers and narrators reflect on the music in the accompanying liner notes. $10 plus shipping.

Harris, Kim & Reggie. Steal Away: Music of the Underground Railroad. Appleseed, 1998.

Sixteen songs, most from the era but some contemporary songs about the era. Contemporary, studio sound.

Voices of the Civil Rights Movement: Black America Freedom Songs 1960-1966 Listen or order at

A 2-CD set and 40 page booklet includes annotation by Bernice Johnson Reagon and historic photos. Many of the songs were recorded live in mass meetings held in churches, where people from different life experiences, predominantly Black, with a few White supporters, came together in a common struggle. These freedom songs draw from spirituals, gospel, rhythm and blues, football chants, blues and calypso forms.

Singing in the African American Tradition - Ysaye Barnwell (CDs or Cassettes)

You'll learn how to sing multiple parts-melodies, harmonies, rhythms and counter-melodies-to more than 20 inspiring songs: African chants, spirituals, gospel songs and anthems of the American civil rights and South African freedom movements. Ysaye Barnwell, of Sweet Honey In The Rock, teaches the vocal parts one at a time. Then, you can choose whether to sing along with the melody or one of five or six distinct harmony parts. These lessons are wonderful for individuals, choirs, church, camp and community groups who want to participate in this powerful and uplifting singing tradition.

Wade in the Water: African American Sacred Music Traditions (4 CD Boxed Set) Order at

This four CD set of 19th- and 20th- century African American sacred music was initially released as a companion to the 1995 Peabody Award-winning radio series of the same name produced by National Public Radio and the Smithsonian Institution. With extensive notes by Bernice Johnson Reagon, who conceived and compiled the series, these recordings honor the rich sacred music tradition created and sustained within the African American community.

Mali to Memphis: An African-American Odyssey Putumayo World Music,1999. 1 CD with extensive notes. Read more and listen at

Drawing on a wide variety of contemporary sounds as well as old recordings (lovingly remastered to sound as if they were recorded yesterday) this CD illustrates the connection between the roots of African music and American blues. This is an indispensible CD for any serious student of African American music...or anyone who just enjoys listening to great blues. As with all Putumayo releases, excellent program notes are included. See More Putumayo titles

The Kwanzaa Album. Women of the Calabash. Bermuda Reefs Records, 1998. Madeleine Yayodale Nelson, Marsha Perry Starkes, and Mayra Casales, all vocalists and percussionists. Order or listen at

This album is the premier authentic collection of music inspired by and based upon the ideals, stories and history of Kwanzaa. In addition to a wide range of instrumental pieces, the album features eight specifically chosen vocal performances, ranging from traditional African songs to contemporary composed pieces. A standout for me is "Mya Si Grei", a traditional song which originated in Guyana, sung by enslaved Africans and passed down to their children. The lyrics roughly translate into "Even though we are here in these terrible conditoins, we are still the same proud, noble people we always were." I also enjoyed Jody Gray's a capella arrangement of "Lift Every Voice" performed with the Free Voices of Praise Choir. This is a dynamic, beautiful CD, one I highly recommend to celebrate Black History any time of year.

Women of Africa. Putumayo Presents, 2004. CD plus booklet. Listen and order at

I'm glad there are sound samples available at , because there is really no way to describe this CD in words other than "fantastic!" I was expecting it to be mostly Ladysmith Black Mambazo sort of music (and there is such a cut from "Women of Mambazo) but mostly, it's an eclectic celebration of musical cross cultural in the case of Judith Sephuma, a rising star on the South African music scene who studied jazz in Cape Town. Or Angelique Kidjo whose song "Bahia" throbs with Afro-Brazilian soul. Cape Verde's Afro-Portuguese rhythms influence Maria de Barros from Senegal. Though trained in opera, Sibongile Khumalo focused on the traditional music of South Africa.I usually include "my favorite song" in my reviews but I can't pick just one. Every single song on this CD is a winner.As always with Putumayo, there are extensive notes (in English, Spanish and French.)

Shout, Sister, Shout! A Tribute to Sister Rosetta Tharpe. M.C. Records, 2003. Read more, listen or order at

My first introduction to Tharpe was back on an LP entitled "Sister Rosetta Tharpe" (Foremothers Volume 8, Rosetta Records.) I listened before reading the liner notes and at several points thought, "Is that Chuck Berry or somebody backing her up?" To my surprise it wasn't Chuck Berry, it was Sister Rosetta herself. Lord, how that woman could swing a song! As a singer, guitarist and composer, she was the first real gospel superstar.

With performances by Phoebe Snow, Janis Ian, Odetta and others, this CD is a fitting and stellar tribute to Tharp's compositional skills, and it even includes an MPEG video of Tharpe's live performance of "Down By the Riverside" back in the 1960's from TV Gospel Time. The liner notes include a 4-page bio by Gayle Wald, author of a forthcoming biography.

Afro-American Folk Music from Tate and Panola Counties, Mississippi. CD Rounder Records 2000 Order at

" amazing array of African American folk music from the small farms and traditional rural communities in the Mississippi Hill Country, just east of the more famous Delta region. The album features two generations of African American music-making, recorded by Alan Lomax in 1942 and by David Evans in 1969-71. Included are rare recordings of African American fife and drum bands, quills (panpipes), the one-stringed "bow diddley," fiddle, banjo, and other rare vocal and instrumental combinations. Complete with extensive background information and annotations, this is a must album for a broader understanding of African American musical traditions."

The Early Minstrel Show. New World Records, 1998. Includes program notes. Instrumentalists: Vincent Tufo (fiddle) Percy Danforth (bones) Matthew Heumann (tambourine) Roger Smith (bass). Singers: David Van Veersbilck (tenor) Peter DiSante (lead) Brian Mark (baritone) Roger Smith (bass). Order or listen at

Ethiopian minstrelsy was the most popular form of theatrical entertainment in the U.S. from the late 1820's until well after the Civil War, having a huge cultural impact and creating racial stereotypes that linger today. A minstrel show featured stories, songs and skits which tried to imitate the culture of blacks, as interpreted by white performers with blackened faces. The music was usually inspired by black folk songs, which became "composed" pieces by folks like Stephen Foster, and then ended up back in the oral tradition once more...I was surprised that the very first song on the CD was the original version of a song we used to sing at Girl Scout camp, "The Boatman!" This CD re-creates the music based upon sheet music, instrumental instruction books, and manuscript musical materials. (Please note: the recreations are historically accurate, meaning derogatory terms have not been eliminated.)

Euphonic Sounds: Nineteen Rag-Time Piano Performances. Reginald R. Robinson. Delmark Records, 1998. Program notes enclosed. Available at

Reginald Robinson has a passion for ragtime music, and it shows. This CD is sheer delight from beginning to end! He performs works by his major inspirations (Scott Joplin, Louis Chauvin) and also his own original works. I especially enjoyed "Lift Every Voice and Sing" which is performed in a very singable key, and which probably sounds much as the song would have been performed back in 1900.

Violin, Sing the Blues for Me: African-American Fiddlers, 1926-1949 - Various Artists, CD, Old Hat Enterprises 1999. Available at

As early as colonial times, free and enslaved blacks were widely known for their virtuosity on the fiddle, so it was only natural that the instrument would eventually find a home in the blues...even though most people probably don't tend to think of it there. And that's the beauty of this CD. It contains samples of the blues and many of the traditions that preceded it: country dances, rags and stomps, folks songs and medicine show music, all lovingly remastered from early recordings to create 73 minutes of vintage fiddle music. The 32-page full-color booklet alone is worth the price. This is a must-have for any student of African American culture in general, or anyone who just enjoys good music.

Songs, Rhythms & Chants for the Dance. Ella Jenkins. CD. Smithsonian Folkways 2000. Includes booklet with lyrics. Recommended for ages 6-11. Available at

I guarantee your feet won't be still! For more than forty years Ella Jenkins has brought traditional music of all kinds to children and adults. This is a reissue of the historic 1977 recording celebrating all forms of dance - a tribute to Ella's own childhood fascination with music, rhythm and movement. It features 21 tracks of spirituals, chants, blues, and folk songs, plus 9 interview segments with members of Chicago's dance community, including a choreographer and Afro-Cuban dance specialist, a dance therapist and a dance student.

African American Folk Rhythms. Ella Jenkins and the Goodwill Spiritual Choir of Monumental Baptist Church. Smithsonian Folkways 1998. Reissue of Scholastic Records Album No SC7654 1960. Includes booklet with lyrics, notes, and Jenkins' discography. Available at

Though she is perhaps best known for her recordings of folk music for children, this CD presents songs that highlight the hardship, struggle, work and religious experience of African Americans. Some are new songs with traditional arrangements, others are very old but newly arranged (such as Maya Angelou's two arrangements of familiar children's songs.) My favorite is the presentation of "Old Time Religion" in three different versions: traditional, classic, and gospel styles.

Still the Same Me. Sweet Honey in the Rock. Rounder Kids, 2000. Available at and also at Rounder Records.

I'm always skeptical about music billed "especially for kids." It can either be so banal it drives adults insane (you know who you are, Barney) or it is so healthy/wholesome/correct and over produced that parents just KNOW their kids SHOULD love it...but they don't. Fortunately, this extraordinary collection of soulful, uplifting and entertaining songs for children is the real deal, with Sweet Honey using only their voices and percussion instruments to create an amazing and compelling sound. I especially like the four segments of "Improv Time!" which encourage kids (and adults) to make their own music. In fact, the whole CD is participatory. The liner notes provide background information about the music, but also personal interviews with the artists,who answered questions about their childhood ranging from "Do you remember your favorite hairstyle?" to "Have you had an experience that was a disaster (embarrassing, painful, etc) that you feel is all right for you to share?" The cover art is a special treat for any Sweet Honey features childhood photos of the six performers on front, mirrored by contemporary photos on the back. If I had such a list, I'd rank this in my Top Ten of the year, for adults or kids.

The Women Gather. Sweet Honey in the Rock. EarthBeat! 2003. Available at

Sweet Honey delivers message of love, struggle and social resonsibility through their rich, stirring a capella vocals, and celebrate 30 years together with this new CD. This one presents a wide range of styles and vocalizations of mostly contemporary songs written by the group, or new arrangements of old songs, such as Isaac Watts' "That Awful Day Will Surely Come." They address everything from addition to voter rights (or lack thereof) in the District of Columbia. A lush and thought-provoking CD as only Sweet Honey can create.

Handel's Messiah: A Soulful Celebration - Various Artists, CD, Warner Bros. 1995 Order at

Soulful, joyful - gosh, there aren't too many CDs in my collection I love as much (nor play as often) as this one! The overture offers "A partial history of black music" and sets the stage for the various interpretations of Handel's masterpiece created by a veritable Who's Who of contemporary black artists from all genres: Stevie Wonder, Al Jarreau, Patti Austin, Tramaine Hawkins, Dianne Reeves, the Harlem Boys Choir, just to name a few. If the "Hallelujah Chorus" (with Stephanie Mills, Johnny Mathis, Joe Sample, Gladys Knight, Linda Hopkins, Andrae Crouch, Clifton Davis, and Chaka Khan and more) doesn't bring you to your feet, nothing can. Quincy Jones is the masterful producer of this classic.

Odetta - Absolutely the Best
Odetta - Best of the Vanguard Years

Odetta - Best of the Ballads and Blues

A dynamic force in the American folk music scene for decades, Odetta was born in Birmingham in 1930. The songs that have become identified with her are the chants and cries that have risen out of the long travail of African Americans in the United States. She is truly the "Queen of Folk." More music from Odetta at

Paul Robeson - The Peace Arch Concerts, Freedom Train and more! at (takes you to CDs, books, posters, videos and more)

Paul Robeson (1898-1976) was the first Black man to present a concert program consisting entirely of African-American spirituals. Joseph Kern wrote "Old Man River" for him to sing, and he was the first Black man to portray Othello on Broadway. Both albums feature extensive liner notes telling Robeson's story, and the story behind the music on the albums. "These albums are more than just music. They are living, singing history."

Ida Cox - Complete Recorded Works at

Bessie Smith - The Complete Recordings at

Also from Putumayo:

American Blues. Putumayo World Music, 2003. 1 CD plus booklet with extensive notes. Read more or listen at

Congress has designated 2003 as the Year of the Blues, and both PBS and Public Radio are producing related series'. This CD is the perfect complement, featuring blues tracks by some of the legends (e.g. B.B. King, Taj Mahal, Ruth Brown, Henry Gray) and some of the rising stars (e.g. Keb' Mo', Robert Cray, Eric Bibb, Susan Tedeschi) who keep the blues alive and thriving. Whether you're a student of the art, or just like to listen to great music, this CD is for you.

Afro-Latin Party. Putumayo World Music, 2005. Read more and listen at

What started out as an effort to provide the perfect soundtract to a Latin dance party becamse a tribute to the musical ricochet between Cuba and Africa. Wear your dancing shoes! This CD arrived in my mailbox on a dark winter day when I was engaged in the dreary task of cleaning my kitchen. By the third song sunlight seemed to have flooded the room, and I was dancing around with my scrub rag in hand! I guarantee it will transport you. This is my favorite new CD of the year.

New Orleans. Various Artists. Putumayo World Music, 2005. Read more and listen at

Wow! What an irresistible collection this is. It celebrates New Orleans' ever-evolving musical forms by intermingling the legends (like Louis Armstrong, Topsy Chapman and Doc Cheatham) with current local favorites who are injecting new energy and new ideas (like Kermit Ruffins and Dr. Michael White.)

Unlike most CDs, where I skip around to my favorites, I play this one straight through because there's not a single cut I don't love. But if I had to pick a favorite, it would be Dr. Michael White's "Give it Up (Gypsy Second Line)" with its Klezmer influenced clarinet. Highly recommended!

Also new from Putumayo Presents in 2005:
Kermit Ruffins : "Trumpeter and new Orleans legend Kermit Ruffins performs classic jazz and swing in the tradition of Louis Armstrong."
Acoustic Brazil : "The gentle rhythms of acoustic samba, bossa nova and more by legendary artists and fresh new voices."Blues Lounge. Various Artists. 2004 : "A unique collection of modern electronica blended with classic acoustic blues." Read more and listen at

Sing Along With Putumayo. Putumayo Kids, 2004. Read more and listen at

This delightful romp through American folk styles is the perfect CD for those long family car trips, because there's something on here to please everybody regardless of age or musical preference. What an eclectic blend: blues great Taj Mahal sings Woody Guthrie's "Don't You Push Me Down," funk master Rufus Thomas breathes new life into "Old MacDonald" and Eric Bibb's bluesy "Michael Row the Boat Ashore" reclaims this classic African-American spiritual. Rosie Flores' rockabilly version of "Red Red Robin" is fact, there's not a single song on this CD I DIDN'T like! Includes lyrics, and the background information on the songs and singers is presented in English, Spanish and French.

Also from Putumayo Kids 2004
Caribbean Playground: "a joyous celebration of Caribbean music and culture that will delight children and adults."

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Books, Hymnals & Sheet Music
See more African American Sacred Music Resources in the Toolkit
See also GIA Publications African American Church Series

Southern, Eileen. The Music of Black Americans: A History, 3rd edition. New York: W.W. North, 1997. First written in 1971 and now in it's 3rd edition, this is a wonderful, readable textbook on all aspects of African American music. Order at

Barkley, Elizabeth. Crossroads: The Multicultural Roots of America's Popular Music with Audio CD (2nd Edition). Prentice Hall, 2006. (High School - Adult)

This lively and accessible book explores the musical traditions of five broad groups - Native Americans, European Americans, African Americans, Latino Americans, and Asian Americans - with particular interest in how those multicultural roots have intermingled to create contemporary American music. Along the way, author Elizabeth Barkley achieves a near impossible feat: presenting concise and candid histories of each cultural group, in addition to equally concise and clear explanations of the stylistic elements of their music. These elements are reinforced by the companion CD, which provides 18 listening examples with commentary.My only criticism is that the book suffers from inattentive editing. For example, the first citation in Chapter One is "Ibid." Several photo captions apparently include layout notations not intended for readers' eyes, sometimes to a mildly humorous effect. The content deserves better.

Though designed for college students with no prior musical training, this book will be invaluable to high school and college music teachers wanting to infuse more diversity into their coursework, or for social studies teachers wanting to infuse more popular culture. I would also recommend it to those specifically interested in African American music since - not surprisingly - about half the chapters touch on it in one way or another. Highly recommended!

White, Shane and Graham White. The Sounds of Slavery: Discovering African American History through Songs, Sermons and Speech. Beacon Press, 2005. Includes 18-track CD. Read more and Order at

In West African tradition, sound making is functional, part and parcel of daily life, integral to most activities: working,, celebrating, praying, mourning, placating, criticizing or just passing time. It's a tradition that was carried to the New World on slave ships, a tradition which enthralled, amused, repelled or even terrified white listeners...often simultaneously. This book goes beyond the music created by enslaved Africans/African Americans (such as work songs and spirituals) to explore other forms of sound expression (including sermons, drumming, field hollers and storytelling) placed within a historical context to create a soundscape of African American slave life from the 1700's to the 1850's.

The written sources generally fall into two broad categories: the written observations of whites (letters, journal entries, and newspaper articles by travelers, missionaries, even slave owners themselves) and the testimony of former slaves collected by the WPA Federal Writer's Project during the 1930's. With only three exceptions, the sound sources on the 18-track CD are field recordings by John, Ruby and/or Alan Lomax from the late 1930's. By that point, the sounds had been "tainted" by pop culture (many are the times I have tracked down one of my father's rural childhood favorites from the 1920's, only to discover that this "old folk song" his grandma sang was actually an 1890's parlor tune) but alas, this is as close as we're going to get to listening in on a time which preceded sound reproduction devices. And as there are few things more frustrating than trying to understand sound by reading about it, the CD alone would be worth the price of the book.

The book is written in a nonlinear style, perhaps reflecting the subject matter which is itself quilt-like: slaves were constantly creating and recreating from the sound materials at hand, materials which often were not even recognized as such by white listeners. This nonlinear style could make the book a bit difficult to use for reference purposes, but fortunately it is well indexed. This fascinating soundscape is recommended for anyone interested in African American music in general, or the era of slavery in particular.

Brooks, Tim. Lost Sounds: Blacks and the Birth of the Recording Industry 1890-1919. University of Illinois Press, 2004. Read more and Order at

A few pages into this book, one realizes the title is a double entendre. The recorded sounds documented here - which include popular music, ragtime, jazz, cabaret, classical, spoken word, politics, poetry, and more - are not merely "lost" in the sense that their existence has been uncelebrated. They are also in danger of being lost to us forever if immediate steps are not taken to preserve the fragile materials upon which they live.

Additionally, U.S. copyright laws have made it nearly impossible for anyone to reissue them as CDs. According to the author, there were approximately 800 recordings made by African Americans prior to 1920, the majority of which are still intact but half of which are owned by successor corporations like Sony and BMG who will neither reissue them nor allow anyone else to do so. Which explains why the majority of this material ends up being released overseas.

The book documents more than 40 artists chronologically, assessing their work and skillfully placing their biographies within the context of a complex and tumultuous era. It covers the famous (Bert Williams, Eubie Blake, Fisk Jubilee Singers) and a host of lesser-knows. The Discography provides a listing of CD reissues (if available) for each chapter, plus web sites where you'll most likely find them.

While seemingly an exhaustive tome, the author himself reminds us it's intended to stimulate preservation and future research: the final chapter "Miscellaneous Recordings" examines unissued recordings, "custom" noncommercial recordings, rumored but unconfirmed recordings, records by artists sometimes misidentified as black and more, in the hopes that future research will turn up more information.

Though massive at 656 pages, the book is highly readable and entertaining, very well organized and indexed making it easy to zoom in on particular aspects of interest. I highly recommend it to anyone interested in the era of early recording in general, or African American studies in particular, and feel no library shelf should be without it. It's a wonderful resource for interdisciplinary studies.

When the Church Becomes Your Party. Deborah Smith Pollard. Wayne State University Press, 2008. Read more and Order at

From its birth, gospel music has occupied a unique realm straddling the sacred and the secular. While it is God's word expressed in song, no other genre of sacred music reaches out to - and is enjoyed by - millions of people who may not even be believers. Perhaps it is because gospel music has been inextricably tied to media since the early days of radio, since both were born at about the same time. It can be an uneasy realm in which to dwell. Just as early 20th Century church goers heard the "devil's music" in the blues influenced works of Thomas A. Dorsey, many today are disconcerted by the concept of "Holy Hip Hop" and rapping preachers.

Pollard covers a lot of ground in under 200 pages, including among other things a history of gospel music, the influence and activism of female gospel announcers (who, to my surprise, have been around since the 1940's), the gospel musical stage play, the rise of praise and worship music, debates concerning what rightly belongs to Caesar and what belongs to God, and emerging trends like those rapping preachers.

This is unlike any other book about gospel music I've read. The fact that it is so readable and fascinating is probably due the background of author Deborah Smith Pollard. As an associate professor of English literature and humanities, she brings the requisite academic credentials. But she's not a scholar looking in from the outside; she also has a deep personal knowledge of the subject as a long time gospel announcer, church goer, choir member, concert producer and fan.

I'd recommend this book to anyone interested in music, religion, or African American culture.

Walker, Wyatt Tee. Spirits That Dwell in Deep Woods. Chicago, IL: GIA Publications, 2004 Read more at

The title of this book is a phrase used by Booker T. Washington to describe evenings in his slave childhood, when families sat around the fire discussing spiritual mysteries and paradoxes. These "prayer and praise hymns" (or "neo-spirituals," as Zora Neale Hurston called them) are born of such mysteries, created by men and women of the rural South from approximately 1885 to 1925, navigating their way through the paradoxical time following emancipation, when they were no longer slaves, yet not really free.

This genre is not well known and, were it not for Dr. Walker's work, might have passed into obscurity. This awe-inspiring collection (originally published in three volumes under the same title) presents the music and lyrics for 24 songs, arranged for four part harmony. Each song includes an introduction, brief discussion of its Biblical basis, theological mooring, lyric and form analysis, and contemporary significance.

A CD and songbook are also available from GIA Publications.

Abbington, James ed. Readings in African American Church Music and Worship. GIA Publications, 2002. Order at

This collection is required reading for anyone interested in the development and current status of music in the African American church. In one volume, it presents forty chapters, essays, articles and previously unpublished papers on music and worship, representing some of the greatest writings, musical comment and discourse, from W.E.B. DuBois in 1903 ("Of the Faith of our Fathers," from the SOULS OF BLACK FOLK) to Obery M. Hendricks Jr's "I Am the Holy Dope Dealer: The Problem with Gospel Music Today" written in 2000. It's divided into 7 major categories: Historical Perspectives, Surveys of Hymnals and Hymnody, Liturgical Hymnody, Worship, Composers, the Organ, and Contemporary Perspectives. A wonderful college text or resource book!

Jones, Arthur C. Wade in the Water: The Wisdom of the Spirituals. New York: Orbis Books, 1993. Dr. Jones is both a practicing psychologist and a musician who brings a Jungian interpretation to the spirituals as archetypes with transformative value for all of us today. This book got me thinking about the spirituals in a new light! Order at

Songs of Zion, Edited by Verolga Nix and Jefferson Cleveland. Nashville: Abingdon Press 1981.
Order at

This hymnal of Black religious music was commissioned by the United Methodist Church. But it is much more than just a dry book of 250 songs. It includes keys to musical interpretation, historical accounts of the Black worship experience, from spirituals and hymns through contemporary gospel music. It's an indispensible resource!

Caldwell, Hansonia L. African American Music: A Chronology 1619-1995. Culver City, CA: IKORO Communications, 1995. Provides a good clear timeline, handy for finding a quick fact, but for the best in-depth study, use Eileen Southern's book. Order at

Quinn, Eithne. Nuthin' But a G Thang: The culture and commerce of gangsta rap. Columbia University Press, 2005 Read more and Order at

The author explores the genesis and maturation of Los Angeles-based gangsta music and culture during the post-Civil Rights era. She ties the genesis of gangsta to the time when the U.S. manufacturing economy shifted to a service based economy, urban areas were neglected and the neoconservative policies of the Reagan/Bush era redistributed the nation's wealth to a small group at the top. Theoretically this wealth would then "trickle down" and I suppose it did, though in the form of low paying, dead end service jobs for those who used to be skilled and semiskilled laborers. Her study ends in 1996, where the centrist policies of the Clinton administration did little to ameliorate the problems of which gangstas rap, and classic gangsta artists are mellowing. (And not coincidentally, the year Tupac Shakur, a child of Black Power parents, died in a drive-by shooting.)

The generation of young black men coming of age in places like Compton during this time saw only social immobility in the Land of Opportunity, so they created their own opportunities on their own terms. The irony, as she points out, is that gangsta is both a commentary on and child of the rampant free-market 1980's and `90s: ruthless, exploitative, unabashedly commercial, individualistic, hustling. (So is it really any surprise that here in the 21st century, Lee Iacocca gets jiggy with Snoop Dog for Chrysler commercials?)

This is an interesting interdisciplinary study of gangsta's texts and contexts, its academic commentators and its diverse opponents. While neither defending nor dismissing gangsta as the latest incarnation of the minstrel show stereotypes (like Stanley Crouch and others ) she demonstrates that it is rife with black archetypes which participate in some very old expressive repertoires. And she looks forward beyond 1996 by mentioning "Barbershop" in which Ice Cube's character has learned the value of community and non-materialism.

Those unfamiliar with the jargon of cultural studies might find themselves confused on occasion (I admit I did) but will also find that things clarify themselves with further reading. I recommend this for anyone interested in African American music and cultural studies.

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Video & DVD
See also Educational Video and Black TV on DVD

Sweet Honey in the Rock: Raise Your Voice (American Masters) Stanley Nelson, Director. PBS 2005 Purchase at PBS

This Grammy Award-winning, all-women, African-American a capella group has been spreading joy, hope, and inspiration through harmonious performances for the past 30 years. Capturing the complex sounds of spirituals, gospel hymns, African chants, and jazz, six accomplished singers combine their voices in heartfelt song. Rooted in the Civil Rights movement, Sweet Honey's music is stepped in the call for justice and messages of peace. More about the show at PBS

Aida's Brothers and Sisters: Black Voices in Opera. Kultar, 2000. Amazon .com
PBS website with related resources

A fascinating look at the history and present situation of African-American opera singers in America. Combines rare and contemporary footage of some of the greatest performers of the century and includes interview with many notable black singers, as well as musicologists, directors and historians.

American Roots Music. Produced by The Ginger Group for PBS, 2001. (4 hours)

This series explores the development of uniquely American music genres during the 19th and 20th centuries. Though not strictly about African American music, it covers that genre and also looks at how the various streams of roots music merged into new forms.

You can order it or get more information at You will find related material (including more history and teachers' guides) at the PBS website.

Hollywood Rhythm Vol. 01: The Best of Jazz & Blues Kino Video, 2001. Amazon .com

Back in the early days of cinema, "musical shorts" were created to round out film programs. Fortunately, these extra features have been preserved, and watching this DVD is like time traveling. If those brief clips in Ken Burns' "Jazz" leave you wanting more, this is just what the doctor ordered.

"A Rhapsody in Black and Blue" (1932, with Louis Armstrong), "A Bundle of Blues" (1933, with Duke Ellington and Ivie Anderson), "Cab Calloway's Hi-De-Ho" (1933, with Cab Calloway), "Ain't Misbehavin'" (1941, with Fats Waller), "Symphony in Black" (1935, with Duke Ellington and Billie Holiday), "Jitterbug Party" (1934, with Cab Calloway), "St. Louis Blues" (1929, with Bessie Smith), "Hoagy Carmichael" (1939, with Jack Teagarden), "Ol' King Cotton" (1930, with George Dewey Washington), "Black and Tan Fantasy" (1929, with Duke Ellington, Fredi Washington, Arthur Whetsol), and "Those Blues" (1932, with Vincent Lopez). Bonus Short: Jazz a la Cuba (1933, with Don Aspiazu and His Famous Cuban Orchestra)

Jazz: A Film by Ken Burns (19 hours)

Wow...I enjoyed this series! I particularly enjoyed the historical aspects woven into the piece, and I appreciated the way Wynton Marsalis kept dropping in to demonstrate a musical term with his horn. There has been much discussion in the media about everything that Burns left out, and criticism about whether he (or even Marsalis) was the right man to establish what will surely become The Canon. But somebody had to make the film, and judging from the lack of agreement among the critics, I doubt any film about jazz would make everyone happy. That being said, my own pet peeve is Burns' insistence upon declaring "inventors" and "firsts" in a musical form which is mostly a collective development. But still, this was a wonderful effort. For those who can't get enough, or want to listen to the music in its entirety, you'll find a complete jazz store and episode guide when you visit

Jubilee Singers: Sacrifice and Glory Amazon .com PBS Home Video, 2000.

"In the chaotic decade following the Civil War, a group of young ex-slaves in Nashville, Tennessee, set out on a mission to save their financially troubled school by giving concerts. Traveling first through cities in the North, then on to venues across Europe, the Jubilee Singers introduced audiences to the power of spirituals, the religious anthems of slavery." Also: Explore their history and music at this PBS site.

Roots of Rhythm, hosted by Harry Belafonte. Produced for KCET/Los Angelos, 1994. 3 Volume set at

Long before there was "World Music" Americans danced the Mambo and Conga. This series provides a fascinating, in-depth look at how Latin music has roots in Africa rhythms and Spanish melodies, and came to the U.S. in the early 20th century via Cuba. Host Harry Belafonte is delightfully informal and shares personal experiences along the way, such as how his contract was cancelled by the mob who ran the Copacabana because he'd married interracially. One of the aspects I particularly enjoyed was the look at everyday life in Cuba, and the discussion of the U.S. role in that country's history. Without hammering away at the fact, Belafonte discusses our government's unwillingness to recognize Cuba's sovereignty, and expresses his hope that music will break down the barriers. But politics aside, this video series is a must-see for any student of African American music.

Say Amen, Somebody. 1982 Documentary.

A joyful film about the roots of gospel music. Focusing on the aging but still vigorous "Professor" Thomas A. Dorsey and "Mother" Willie Mae Ford, it also offers musical moments by such gospel stalwarts as Sallie Martin and the Barrett Sisters. Live performances are mixed with telling, sometimes touching reminiscences by these pioneers of a musical style. One scene in particular never fails to bring me to tears...when Dorsey and Ford sit together listening to the original recording of "If You See My Saviour."

Standing in the Shadows of Motown. Artisan (Fox Video) 2003 110 minutes. Available on video and DVD at

The Funk Brothers played on more hit records than the Beatles and Elvis combined, and they created the Motown sound which carried us through the 60's and continues to inspire musicians today. Yet this studio band labored in relative obscurity compared to the stars they backed, such as the Supremes and the Temptations. This moving documentary reunites them and finally pays them the R-E-S-P-E-C-T they deserve. It's warm, humorous, poignant and a great way to get a better understanding of the Motown sound and times.

Stormy Weather. Twentieth Century Fox, 1943. 78 minutes. Available on video at

This is a rare big studio film which featured an all-black cast. Like any hollywood musical of the era, the plot is paper thin and primarily serves as an excuse to showcase song and dance numbers. But what a fantastic show it is! Lena Horne, Bill "Bojangles" Robinson, Cab Calloway, Fats Waller, Ada Brown, the incomparable Nicholas Brothers...they're all here and more in a script that doesn't reduce them to stereotypes. Since the story begins right after WWI, a special treat is the incorporation of actual rare footage of Jim Europe's 369th "Hell Fighters" Infantry Band marching triumphantly in New York City.

BET Journeys in Black: Jamie Foxx (2001) Read more or order at

This versatile actor comedian has taken the entertainment business by storm. His irreverent brand of comedy was launched on the popular 90's variety show "In Living Color" where he "rocked your world" as Wanda the masseuse. From television and film to stand-up, Jamie Foxx has proven that he is truly an entertainment renaissance man. He starred in his own television sitcom "The Jamie Foxx Show" and has appeared in over a dozen major motion pictures including Ali, The Players Club and Any Given Sunday. BET's Journeys In Black gives you a glimpse into the life of Jamie Foxx, one of the most popular and hard working entertainers of our time.

BET Journeys in Black: Master P (2001) Read more or order at

Take an inside look at the rapper/CEO/business mastermind from his days in the housing projects of New Orleans to corporate CEO .

BET Journeys in Black: CeCe Winans (2001) Read more or order at

There are singers and then, there's CeCe Winans. CeCe not only possesses an awesome vocal talent, but more importantly, she exudes an overwhelming warmth and a genuine affection for her fans that separates her from many celebrities. Her fans have returned the love with a staggering array of accolades. CeCe has collected six Grammies, ten Dove Awards, five Stellar Awards, several gold and platinum albums, a host of Top Ten R&B hits and eight #1 contemporary Christian music singles.

BET Journeys in Black: Luther Vandross (2001) Read more or order at

Luther Vandross' sound has virtually been the soundtrack of R&B over the past 20 years. The veteran R&B singer first realized his love of music as a youngster going to the legendary Apollo Theater in his native Harlem, N.Y. He listened to the radio constantly and developed a love for the classic soul of the sixties and seventies. Since then Luther has gone on to develop a smooth classic soul sound that is his alone, when you hear one of his songs there is no question that the voice behind the music is Luther.

BET Journeys in Black: Patti LaBelle (2001) Read more or order at

Truly one of the most the most prolific singers in the history of recorded music, Patti LaBelle's career is still going strong after five decades. From the 1960s with Patti LaBelle and the Blue Belles, the seventies with LaBelle and from the eighties to the present as the premiere female Soul singer, Patti has set the bar too high for most to reach. Her uninhibited stage performances are legendary; when she performs live she gives the audience her all. BET's Journeys In Black Presents Patti LaBelle in all her glory, featuring performance footage, interviews and testimonials from Whitney Houston, Whoopi Goldberg, former President Bill Clinton and more.

BET Journeys in Black: Kirk Franklin (2001) Read more or order at

Musical original Kirk Franklin carved his own niche in the world of gospel music by adding elements of hip-hip to traditional choir arrangements with his groups The Family, God's Property, and The Nu Nation.

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Smithsonian Folkways
Browse by African American titles

Folkways Records was founded in 1948 and run by Moses Asch for almost 40 years. His goal was straightforward: to record and preserve the culture and heritage of as many peoples and societies as he possibly could. At the time of his death in 1986, Folkways had released over 2200 albums, and had many more hours of reel-to-reel tape yet unreleased. The entire collection was acquired by the Smithsonian Institution in 1987, which has been making the music available in a variety of formats, from reissues of old albums to new thematic collections such as Every Tone A Testimony. reviewed in the CD section. For a history of Folkways, visit the Old Time Herald.

Archives of African American Music

"Established in 1991, the Archives of African American Music and Culture (AAAMC) is a repository of materials covering musical idioms and cultural expressions from the post-World War II era. The AAAMC supports the research of scholars, students, and the general public from around the world by providing access to oral histories, photographs, musical and print manuscripts, audio and video recordings, and educational broadcast programs, among other holdings."

Black Gospel Music Restoration Project At Baylor University

"The purpose of this project is to identify, acquire, preserve, record and catalogue the most at-risk music from the black gospel music tradition. This collection will primarily contain 78s, 45s, LPs, and the various tape formats issued in the United States and abroad between the 1940s and the 1980s. Additionally, any ephemera that may be of use to scholars – including PR photos and press packets, taped interviews, informal photographs, tour books and programs, newspaper and magazine clippings, and sheet music – will also be acquired as it becomes available. The ultimate goal is to have a copy of every song released by every black gospel artist or group during that time period."

Center for Black Music Research

"The CBMR is devoted to research, preservation, and dissemination of information about the history of black music on a global scale." It includes a musician's database and information about research fellowships, events and more.

Document Records

This site is more than just the world's largest (800 titles) catalogue for Vintage Blues, Gospel, Spirituals, Jazz and Country Music, with a little bit of World Music and Soul thrown in. It's also one of the biggest blues (and related music) projects around, with articles, search facilities and more.

Gospel Truth Magazine Online

This faith-based magazine is your #1 source for information about the Gospel music industry, with Breaking News, Upcoming Events, artist demos and much more.

N-Time Music

This is a great site for singers of gospel music. If you're looking for CDs, songbooks, sheet music, accompanyment tapes, this is the first place to stop. If they don't have it, they can probably find it for you.

Stax Museum of American Soul Music

"Stax Records is critical in American music history as it is one of the most popular soul music record labels ever-second only to Motown in sales and influence but first in gritty, raw, stripped-down soul music. In 15 years Stax placed over 167 hit songs in the top 100 on the pop charts and an astounding 243 hits in the top 100 R & B charts. Stax launched the careers of major pop soul stars Otis Redding, Sam & Dave, Carla & Rufus Thomas, Booker T. & the MGs, and '70s soul superstar Isaac Hayes." The site provides history, news, and information about the museum and Soulsville area.

Darnell's Black Radio Online: All Webcasting Stations

Music Maker Relief Foundation

Music Maker Relief Foundation, Inc. helps the true pioneers and forgotten heroes of Southern music gain recognition and meet their day to day needs. They present these musical traditions to the world so American culture will flourish and be preserved for future generations. Criterion for recipients is they be rooted in a Southern musical tradition, be 55 years or older and have an annual income less than $18,000. Grants are available for emergency relief, professional development, preservation and proliferation. You can learn more about the artists, download MP3s and watch videos at their website.

Black Banjo Gathering (Association of Black Traditional String Players, Inc)

Though today the banjo is associated with white Appalachian performers, the instrument was born in Africa, and Africans were it's primary performers until the dawn of white minstrel shows in the 1840's. Black Banjo Then and Now (originally Black Banjo Players Now and Then) was founded in March, 2004 as an online list group in Yahoo to unite Black banjo with scholars, pickers, lovers, and builders of the banjo and related instrument concerned with preserving the heritage of past Black banjo players and encouraging contemporary Black banjo players. They host an annual gathering at Appalachian State University in Boone, NC. You'll find information about the group, the gathering and the banjo at their website.

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