Paper Session
Nov 20, 2021 10:00 AM - 10:50 AM(America/Chicago)
20211120T1000 20211120T1050 America/Chicago Negotiating Respectability AMS 2021
“I Am Not an Entertainer”: Don Shirley, _Green Book_ Piano Style, and the Middlebrow Problem
Individual Paper 10:00 AM - 10:50 AM (America/Chicago) 2021/11/20 16:00:00 UTC - 2021/11/20 16:50:00 UTC

The 2018 film _Green Book_ reintroduced African American pianist-composer Don Shirley (1927-2013) to the general public, recounting his concert activity in the Deep South during the 1960s as he relied on the _Negro Motorist Green Book_, a life-saving travel guide. The film garnered polarized reception, with laurels for its "feel good" narrative and condemnations for reinscribing racial hierarchies. Missing from discussions have been direct considerations of Shirley's substantial music output and larger history. African Americans have consistently been pushed out of solo, classical instrumental performance. Despite Shirley's earlier, high-profile orchestral engagements and "virtuosity worthy of Gods" per Igor Stravinsky, noted impresario Sol Hurok advised Shirley that America was not ready for a "colored pianist" and denied him concert management. With no viable options for a career on the art music stage, Shirley turned to nightclubs, performing as a classical pianist cloaked in more popular music.

I consider "middlebrow" music as a workaround to antiblackness barring African Americans from the classical concert stage. Deriving from 19th-century phrenological concepts, notions of the "middlebrow" retain racial undertones. For a black performer, entering middlebrow space, while opening opportunities, was also devaluing, lessening the possibility of being taken seriously by listening audiences. Shirley's case study points to larger musical and cultural theorizations of middlebrow music, specifically considering how marginalized performers might find their way by navigating between their ideals and finding an audience. 

Considering selections from his 1955 debut album, _Tonal Expressions_, among others, this paper examines how Shirley, through developing what I term the "Green Book Style," inched as close as he could to the category of classical music while pushing against the limits of the sonic color line. Alongside classical inflections came evocations of the ecclesiastic, which he used as a gesture toward respectability. Despite his fusion approach, Shirley called upon aspects of the _Werktreue_ ideal, putting himself in line with "serious" music-making. Ultimately, Shirley's approach navigated race, art, and social station, establishing a unique niche along the intersections of segregated white-black audile spaces. This study signals the dangers of dismissing middlebrow music as inconsequential and trivial.

Pheaross Graham
University Of California, Los Angeles
Imaging Black Gentility in the Post-Civil War United States
Individual Paper 10:00 AM - 10:50 AM (America/Chicago) 2021/11/20 16:00:00 UTC - 2021/11/20 16:50:00 UTC

Among the items W.E.B. DuBois exhibited at the 1900 Paris Exposition Universelle is a gelatin silver print of a Black man and a young girl seated at a piano for a music lesson in Georgia. As a topos, this visualization of a music lesson invokes power relationships and social constructions that simultaneously follow cultural norms (men instructing women) and challenges them (the teacher is socially inferior). The elaborately carved upright piano has been situated in a luxurious parlor, most of which is a painted backdrop. The man gazes at the music on the piano desk with his hand beneath his chin, obviously engrossed in the printed page. His clothes are elegant, starched, subdued, and he is immaculately groomed: the vision he presents is taste, knowledge, and superior bearing. The student wears her long hair loose, stylishly curled. She, too, focuses entirely on the printed page. This is a serious lesson in one of the most important accomplishments that young women sought in the acquisition of cultural capital. Thus, the image confirms to expectations of music practice in the US during the nineteenth century.

The image, however, evokes much more. It introduces race into a space not traditionally interrogated through such a lens. The print inspires several questions that have yet to figure in the discourse surrounding music history in the US, and particularly in the post-Civil War South. Did the people in this print emerge after 1865 to become respected members of the community or were they part of an antebellum free-black society that has been ignored in musicological historiography? Is the image representative of real practice or was the creator attempting to make a statement of potential? The earnest focus of both historical actors conveys that they value the ability to read music notation, but to what end? This paper will examine the seen in the DuBois print (the visual signs of musical accomplishment as well as various forms of capital) in order to interpret the unseen (Black gentility in the former slave-holding states). Ultimately, it intervenes in the historical narrative through the interrogation of Black musicking.

Candace Bailey
NC Central University
Uplifting Black Music: The Contributions of Dr. Mildred Bryant-Jones to African American Culture
Individual Paper 10:00 AM - 10:50 AM (America/Chicago) 2021/11/20 16:00:00 UTC - 2021/11/20 16:50:00 UTC

Among cultural histories of Chicago's South Side, Captain Walter Dyett is often portrayed as the uncompromising music educator at DuSable High School who singlehandedly mentored his African American music students, many of whom went on to make substantial contributions to musical culture in the US. Although indisputably a crucial figure in African American culture, Dyett did not work alone. From 1931 to 1946 at both Wendell Phillips and DuSable high schools, he worked under Dr. Mildred Bryant-Jones, an African American pianist, choral conductor, vocal coach, activist, and music teacher who, in 1920, became director of music education at Wendell Phillips and, with Dyett in 1935, established the DuSable music program. Bryant-Jones taught theory and composition to students such as Von Freeman and coached singers such as Johnny Hartman. A dedicated teacher and conductor who programmed both European and African American composers for her high school ensembles, Bryant-Jones also performed classical piano concerts, served on the board of the National Association of Negro Musicians, wrote articles for Nora Douglas Holt's publications, and earned two doctoral degrees. During these years she navigated racist institutions to secure her teaching certificates and doctorates while being supported by W.E.B. Du Bois with whom she had a romantic relationship for over three decades. This paper examines Bryant-Jones's philosophy of music education and how racial uplift ideology informed her pedagogy by drawing from her publications, Du Bois's articles about her in _The Crisis_, 400-plus letters between her and Du Bois, and interviews with musicians who studied under her. This paper argues that through her teaching of European classical music, an important cultural value in racial uplift ideology, Bryant-Jones furnished important theoretical tools and performance skills for her students, thus providing a powerful example of the historical contributions of Black women educators in shaping Black music. Further, the Dyett-centered narrative that surrounds DuSable High School is challenged, calling for Dr. Bryant-Jones to be equally recognized as a consequential music educator who, alongside Captain Dyett, was a pivotal figure in twentieth century African American cultural history.

Michael Allemana
University Of Chicago
University of Chicago
NC Central University
University of California, Los Angeles
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