Ruminations on the Center for Black Music Research

October 1, 2008

The Society’s invitation to speak about relationships between the Center for Black Music Research and the profession at-large is a distinct honor. I am delighted today to have the opportunity to outline a scholarly and musical journey that has taken place over the course of nearly four decades. In 1972, the Music Educators National Conference failed effectively to support diversity within its organization. This led composer T.J. Anderson to found the National Black Music Caucus within the organization. The purpose of this caucus was to preserve and advance black music study and performance in the field of music education. Later, still finding little support within the MENC, the Caucus removed itself and changed its name to the National Association for the Study and Performance of African American Music (NASPAAM). It focused its attention on the support of teaching and learning black music in pre-college, college, and university curricula. Black music and black music scholarship was still, to a very large extent, functioning outside the academy and outside the mainstream of the professional societies.

In 1990, in an article that appeared in the Chronicle of Higher Education,1 I focused on the national shortage of trained black musicologists and black music librarians. I also identified the professional societies as main sources of solutions to that deficiency. Following the appearance of that article, I sat for an interview with Carol Oja and Mark Tucker. Subsequently, that interview was published in the Newsletter of the Institute for Studies in American Music, where Oja was director.2 Later, Oja became the president of the Society for American Music. In those capacities, Carol worked diligently to put into place a program that would rise above the anemic and unproductive solutions that prevailed during the late 1980s and the early 1990s. Within a few years, she and some of her colleagues were responsible for the establishment of American Musicological Society’s Committee on Cultural Diversity, a project that continues to flourish today. She was also responsible for the first and only truly joint conference between the CBMR and the AMS, which took place in 1995. In these ways, unintentionally and even unknowingly at first, I.S.A.M. worked in tandem with The College Music Society, to advance the mission and reputation of the Center for Black Music Research. Today, Carol still supports the Center, as a contributor to the Mark Tucker Fund for Jazz Research Materials,3 which she conceived and established there. This support from I.S.A.M. is indicative of how the profession and its individuals have contributed to the support and development of the Center for Black Music Research and to diversity at-large.

The MENC fiasco, whereby that organization failed to meet the needs of its African-American constituents up through the early 1970s, is just one example of why black music scholarship had to work, for so long, outside the academy and the profession. But the story of black music scholarship has turned out to be more positive than negative, and today, I will try to demonstrate how one corner of such work has almost completely overcome the negative, by revealing much about the positive. First, however: some preliminaries.

The foundations of what we now know as black music research and scholarship was laid between one hundred and thirty and one hundred and forty years ago by two books that were published eleven years apart. Slave Songs of the United States,4 the world’s first book-length document about black music, was compiled and published by a trio of white scholars in 1867. It is a scholarly edition of what was then called “Negro music." Eleven years later, in 1878, James Monroe Trotter, a black Boston newspaper editor, published his Music and Some Highly Musical People,5 which was the first comprehensive survey in the field of American music history. Its focus was entirely on black music.6 Not until 1936 did another landmark publication appear in the form of Alain Locke’s The Negro and His Music: Negro Art Past and Present.7 It is an outline history of black music that embraces types and styles, periods, and musical genres, which, at that time, constituted the entire spectrum of black music in the United States. Another milestone, also published in 1936, was Maud Cuney-Hare’s even broader and more comprehensive Negro Musicians and Their Music,8 in which the author begins with the African legacy and ends with discussions about past and contemporaneous concert music. Twenty-seven years later, in 1963, another seminal work appeared: Leroi Jones’s influential Blues People: Negro Music in White America,9 which covers the blues, primarily, from the perspective of sociology and identity politics. Eight years later came the blockbuster—Eileen Southern’s The Music of Black Americans: A History (MOBA),10 the most complete and comprehensive musicological study of African-American music yet written, covering African-American music-making in the United States to 1970. Southern’s work was followed by another bombshell, Dena Epstein’s Sinful Tunes and Spirituals: Black Folk Music to the Civil War11 of 1977. It covered black folk music in the United States and parts of the Caribbean from the year 1691 to 1867.

A different kind of landmark had staked a claim two years before Eileen Southern’s book was published—a group of events, this time, that was led by a symposium. This symposium took place in 1969 at Indiana University. Conceived, planned, and executed by musicologist Dominique-René de Lerma and some of his colleagues, this conference was the vanguard of black music studies. The other items in the group were two books. The first, de Lerma’s Black Music in Our Culture,12 was published in 1970 and provided the foundation for future national dialogue on the subject. Three years later, in 1973, de Lerma published another anthology, Reflections on Afro-American Music,13 which chronicled and led to further advancements in curriculum, performance, and research. These three events—the conference and the two books—signaled the beginning of significant change within a corner of musical academe. Together they represent and document the first five years of the history and the defining of serious international research on black music. In 1972, a new resource in music education entered the field: the Source Book of African and Afro-American Materials for Music Educators. This book was prepared by James Standifer and Barbara Reeder and was published by the Contemporary Music Project (CMP). Early founders of and participants in the CMP, as it was called, were stalwarts in The College Music Society—individuals such as David Willoughby, Robert Werner, Robert Trotter, and others. The College Music Society’s support was, as usual, correct and in the forefront. CMP doctrine called for open-ended, student-centered teaching and was, therefore, perfect for the kind of teaching and learning that some aspects of black music required.

The life of the Source Book’s usefulness for research purposes was, however, extremely brief, because of the rapid development of the field due to the influence of de Lerma’s two books and Southern’s MOBA, and also to the appearance in 1973 of her journal, the Black Perspective in Music (BPIM). In the early 1980s, Southern and de Lerma continued their good work, now focusing on reference materials. De Lerma’s Bibliography of Black Music,14 which was published in four single volumes that appeared annually between 1981 and 1984, and Southern’s one-volume Biographical Dictionary of Afro-American and African Musicians15 which was released in 1982. I joined the rush in 1983 with Black Music in the United States: An Annotated Bibliography of Selected Reference and Research Materials.16 As the years passed, black music publications accelerated as the field gained viability and more acceptance as a legitimate discipline.

Why and how did the Center’s publications and other initiatives come about? The answer lies in how the Center itself came about. During the years 1971 and 1977, I had acquired several grants to further my research. Support came from the Newberry Library in Chicago, the National Endowment for the Humanities, the National Endowment for the Arts, and the Illinois Arts Council. When I received the first of two Newberry Library Fellowships, my project was to research the J. Francis Driscoll Collection of American Sheet Music.17 At the time, this collection consisted of more than 84,000 items, every one of which I touched, as I sought the presence of music by black composers. A 1975 grant from the National Endowment for the Humanities supported the beginning of the compilation and editing of a four-volume anthology of music by black composers. The manuscript stage of that ambitious project was completed in 1982, but its publication was thwarted by a lack of money to pay permission fees. Even so, the energy, thought, and work that I had put into the project would not be lost, as will be apparent later.

These grants, in addition to funding my research, made it possible to bring before the public items of black music that most people, including members of the profession, had not heard before. To pull this off, I recruited talented graduate students to participate in a recital series that consisted solely of music by black composers. The purpose of this series, hosted by Southern Illinois University at Carbondale, was two-fold: to introduce students, faculty, and townspeople to music they had not heard before and to test the value of some of the music I had been collecting. Meanwhile, the MENC fiasco, on the one hand, and the success of the recital series and the grants that I had received, on the other hand, in addition to the relationship between them, had led me to take another step publicly: the conception and editing of Black Music Research Newsletter.18 That publication, currently titled CBMR Digest, would serve as a vehicle for the exchange of information and ideas among interested individuals across the United States. That was all that I had intended to do, because my goal was two-fold: to gather information and material for my own work and to stimulate a national dialogue among researchers, teachers, composers, and performers.

In 1976, I met Eileen Southern at that year’s AMS meeting in Washington, D.C. I had never met her in person, although by then she had published some of my work in her journal and I had spoken with her by telephone. During our conversation, she suggested that I needed to, in her words, “institutionalize your work.” That caught me off guard: I had not expected such a comment from her, nor was I interested in doing what she was suggesting. Eventually, however, I found myself working in that direction. For, otherwise, with the inevitable ending of grant funds, I would soon be making a retreat to the classroom. Ideas came quickly for “institutionalizing my work,” and my plan was to use my growing collection of scores, the newsletter, and the performance series as vehicles for the eventual development of a full-fledged research center.

The synergy of the recital series and the newsletter did not last long, however. In the fall of 1978, I began what was to be a five-year stay at Fisk University, where I had moved in order to plan and establish a black music institute. I took with me to Fisk the newsletter and my collection of musical scores and sheet music. Remnants of my grants continued to fund my ongoing research. There was not to be a recital series at Fisk, however, so I decided to establish a journal. In 1980, Black Music Research Journal became a reality. It joined the Newsletter as an effort to encourage, disseminate, and advance knowledge about black music. BMRJ, as it became known, was oriented toward philosophical and speculative topics, so as not to infringe too much on the territory of Southern’s BPIM.

During its short life, the Institute planned and executed two national conferences, one each, in 1980 and 1981, and commissioned works from two black composers: Hale Smith (Meditations and Passage for soprano, baritone, and piano, in 1980), and George Walker (in 1982). All the while, I continued to collect printed music that would become the foundation for a research library. But those efforts would not be fully realized at Fisk. For in 1983, I moved to Chicago to found and establish the Center for Black Music Research, where, as Eileen Southern had encouraged me to do, I would thoroughly institutionalize my research. My inspiration and my models were Southern’s MOBA and BPIM and all the work of Dominique-René de Lerma.

One of the most important things about de Lerma’s early work in the field was its geographical span, which embraced the United States, South America, Europe, and Africa. His influence, therefore, has been second to none when it comes to the breadth of his research and his writing about black music and its important figures in all parts of the world. It was this influence that became the initial model for the CBMR’s research and programming agendas.

The inaugural conference of Columbia College’s Center for Black Music Research (in Chicago) was held in 1985 in Washington, D.C. Session topics included “Black Music Biography,” “Oral History,” “Black Music Lexicography,” and “Analysis and Criticism of Performance." Following this conference, The College Music Society’s Executive Director, Robby Gunstream, who had attended our conference, proposed a series of three joint conferences with the CBMR, to span six years, with a conference held every other year.

The first of these conferences was held in New Orleans in 1987. It introduced the Center’s programming, for the first time, to a large and diverse congregation of scholars, musicians, teachers, and interested persons. Moreover, a large part of the profession became acquainted with the work of the Center, since the American Musicological Society, for example, was holding its meeting there at the same time and in the same location. The proximity of that conglomeration of meetings boosted the Center’s membership and broadened its constituency. The second joint conference with the CMS, which was held in 1989 in St. Louis, paid tribute to the music of that city with papers and music that ranged from ragtime and jazz to Blind Boone and other St. Louis black composers, and to the city’s relationship to Kansas City and to Chicago. In conjunction with the conference, the Center’s Black Music Repertory Ensemble gave a concert at that meeting at the Sheldon Concert Hall. The year 1991 saw the final conference in the CMS/CBMR series, with the CBMR’s side of the event treating black women composers in Chicago, piano roll research, Chicago’s AACM phenomenon, and ten other provocative topics. Other organizations holding meetings there, aside from the CBMR and the CMS, were SEM, IASPM, ATMI, and CMSNA.19 In 1993, the CBMR revisited New Orleans with another conference, this time alone and with many more sessions, many more paper presentations, and also a Sunday morning Second Line led by the venerable Olympia Brass Band.

In 1989, I was invited to serve on the AMS’s Committee on the Publication of American Music (COPAM), the purpose of which was to plan, produce, and publish a 41—volume national series of scores by American composers, which we now know as Music of the United States of America (MUSA).20 In one of the committee meetings, I was re-visited by an idea that I had nurtured since 1983: the production of a “Black Music Lexicon.” Little did I know that, eight years later, an opportunity to pursue a similar project would drop in the Center’s proverbial lap. The year 1995 brought more good fortune,when Fitzroy Dearborn Publishers invited the Center, “out of the blue,” to submit a proposal to produce an International Dictionary of Black Composers. Our proposal was approved, and over the five years of the project, scholars worldwide contributed essays. We engaged graduate students from Northwestern University and the University of Chicago to serve as bibliographic and discographic researchers; a few served as editorial assistants, and still fewer contributed essays. We editors begged the participation of the authors and edited the submissions of authors and researchers. The result was a two-volume, 1273-page research tool that won seven national awards in the first two years of its life. The year 1995 witnessed the implementation of the Center’s Rockefeller Fellows Program, which hosted eighteen scholars over an eleven-year period. Participating in colloquia with the fellows-in-residence were more than forty other scholars. In addition, researchers from numerous countries, including Austria, Brazil, England, France, Ghana, Germany, Italy, Malawi, Mongolia, Nigeria, Russia, St. Lucia, Thailand, and Trinidad, came to do research at the CBMR Library and Archives.

Also connected to the Center’s Fellows program was its institute in the Caribbean. That Institute, which included a workplace and living quarters, supported CBMR Fellows whose work focused on the Caribbean. During their residencies, these researchers spent half of their time at CBMR’s Chicago Center and the other half at the Institute, which was located on the island of St. Thomas, in the U.S. Virgin Islands. Named after the first black bandmaster of the United States Navy, who was a Virgin Islander, the Alton Augustus Adams Music Research Institute was founded in 1999 and operated through 2006. Its quick demise was due to lack of funds, but its goals are still being pursued by the CBMR, in a project designed to map the musical and related resources of the Caribbean. Although the planned Caribbean link was thwarted by the closing of AMRI, as we called in the Institute, a European connection became a reality, without requiring funding from the Center. Located at the Università del Salento, in Lecce, Italy, CBMR/Europe carries out the CBMR’s mission in the Mediterranean and in selected other locations in Europe. The CBMR in Chicago plays advisory and collaborative roles.

Between 1990 and 1999, both of the CBMR’s journals21 carried articles related to New Musicology,22 which had begun to invade the field in the 1980s and began in the 1990s to sweep musical academia. The Center’s first belated foray into the movement was a special issue of Black Music Research Journal (Volume 11, no.2, Fall 1991), which was edited by Bruce Tucker and carried ten articles. Later, in 1994, Susan McClary and Robert Walser’s “Theorizing the Body in African-American Music”23 appeared in Black Music Research Journal (Volume 14, no. 1, Spring 1994).

Research and publication have been the Center’s operative intellectual core, and performance has been its face to the public. The Black Music Repertory Ensemble was founded in 1987 and made its first recording live in St. Louis’s Sheldon Concert Hall during the CMS/CBMR 1989 joint conference. The resulting LP record, Black Music: The Written Tradition, was distributed by the CMS and the CBMR. In 1994, Ensemble Kalinda Chicago was born. It consisted of eight professional musicians who hailed from Brazil, Colombia, Cuba, the Dominican Republic, Haiti, Jamaica, and the United States, and were now U.S. citizens. The musicians taught each other in the musics of their various homelands, and through dedicated practice were able to make everything they played sound authentic.

In 1998, Ensemble Stop-Time made its debut. Its focus was on African-American popular musical traditions of the twentieth century, with a particular emphasis on Chicago musicians and musical culture. The next year, 1999, all three groups, past and present, were merged into a single performing aggregation named the New Black Music Repertory Ensemble. Its purpose was to perform black music that ranged from small ensemble works to symphonic pieces that required up to eighty musicians. This undertaking meant engaging more musicians, of course, black and white, but we had no money to support such an undertaking. FOUNDATIONS TO THE RESCUE! The McArthur Foundation and the Chicago Community Trust came through, and so did the National Endowment for the Arts and the Illinois Arts Council.

I would like to add here that the 1989 performance of the original Black Music Repertory Ensemble and its recording might have been the inspiration and impetus for Robby Gunstream's later suggestion that the CBMR join the CMS in approaching the Ford Foundation for a grant to design and re-release the CBS Records’ Black Composers Series of recordings. These recordings had been released by Columbia Records between 1974 and 1978 on single LPs, but the CMS/CBMR collaboration produced and released the LPs in a boxed set, with new liner notes written by de Lerma. It was distributed by the CBMR and the CMS.

As we approached the new millennium, with the New Black Music Repertory Ensemble going full force and the IDBC winning awards, the Center was flourishing. I had begun to feel that the CBMR had accomplished all of the programmatic goals that had been set for it, and I wanted to expand its reach by making its concern not just black music but all the music of all the Americas, although from the perspective of black music history. Between 1998 and 2003 I introduced the idea to four of Columbia College’s top administrators, but they did not share my excitement about such a change. They did not approve the change for pragmatic reasons such as, “If it isn’t broke, don’t fix it,” and “what would the black community think?” Although, for me, these were not good reasons for denial. I understood that my administrative colleagues were proud of the CBMR’s status and wanted to protect its image and maintain its reputation. That desire and commitment on the part of the college’s administration still drives its support of the Center. A later administration allowed, instead of a complete restructuring, a tweaking of the operation, primarily in personnel, programming, and technology. This move has ensured that the Center will remain viable for many years to come.

One of those reasons that were given to me for not expanding the Center’s vision and mission—“What would the black community think?”—reminds me, somewhat ironically, that over the years, race has occasionally raised its head—sometimes in ugly ways, and sometimes even amusingly. For example, there was the very wealthy white political and social progressive who declined to contribute funds to the Center because, as she put it, “I just can’t bring myself to support segregation”; there was the African-American woman who visited the Center, and after seeing a staff that was mostly white, went akimbo and asked, “Where the folks?!”; another person telephoned and asked if the Center had a recording by a certain blues musician, and when told by one of CBMR’s white librarians that the musician in question had not made any recordings, paused and asked, indignantly, “Are you black?!” Then there was the white South African man who stepped timidly into the Center’s lobby while the receptionist was away from her desk, saw me working in my office, spotted a black student worker, looked away hurriedly, and walked down to our library; when he saw our head librarian, he exhaled with relief, and said to her, “Am I glad to see you, because I didn’t want to deal with any of these incompetent blacks.” And there were two unusual incidents, not necessarily negative, at the 1991 AMS conference that was held in Chicago. During a session that addressed minority issues, on which I shared the podium with a prominent Renaissance scholar, a relatively large number of conference attendees of the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, and Queer (LGBTQ) community filed into the room, quietly and respectfully delaying the proceedings. It was apparent that they were not pleased that they were not represented on a session that had been advertised as “minority.” Later during that session, my elder co-presenter, in a statement that he truly meant to be factual and innocent, said, at an appropriate place in the discussion, that “Sam,” meaning me, “could be a descendant of Thomas Jefferson.” I found that comment shocking yet amusing, and I could not help but chuckle with my belly shaking. Such incidents as these were not frequent, but did occur occasionally from the mid-1980s to the mid-1990s. I always regarded them as part of the growing pains of the profession. By the way, when the Center was founded in 1983, I estimated that its life would be ten years, “knowing” that at that end of that time, black music would be fully integrated in higher education curricula and there would be no reason for operations like the CBMR to exist. I was off by about, perhaps, thirty years. But things are still moving along.

I hope my remarks today have left you with some idea of the excitement that has been a part of the Center’s quest during the twenty-five years that I directed it, and in the end, an idea of possibilities for the future. I want to thank The College Music Society, warmly and ardently, for the occasional but very important role that it played in that quest. My final thanks go to Robby Gunstream, especially, and to the CMS Board for bestowing upon me the honor of giving this year’s Trotter Lecture.



Allen, William Francis, Charles Pickard Ware, and Lucy McKim Garrison. Slave Songs of the United States. Bedford, MA: Applewood Books, 1995.

Baraka, Imamu Amiri. Blues People: Negro Music in White America. New York: Morrow, 1963.

Cuney-Hare, Maud. Negro Musicians and Their Music. Da Capo Press Music Reprint Series. New York: Da Capo, 1974.

De Lerma, Dominique-René. Bibliography of Black Music. The Greenwood Encyclopedia of Black Music. Westport, CT: Greenwood, 1981.

_____. Black Music in Our Culture: Curricular Ideas on the Subjects, Materials and Problems. Kent, Ohio: Kent State University Press, 1970.

Epstein, Dena J. Polacheck. Sinful Tunes and Spirituals: Black Folk Music to the Civil War. Music in American Life. Urbana, IL: University of Illinois Press, 1977.

Floyd, Jr., Samuel A. “Black Music in the Driscoll Collection.” The Black Perspective in Music 2, no. 2 (1974): 158-171.

_____. “The Failure of Academic Institutions to Nurture Black Musical Talent is Shameful.” Chronicle of Higher Education (May 9, 1990): B2.

Floyd, Jr., Samuel A. and Marsha Reisser. Black Music in the United States: An Annotated Bibliography of Selected Reference and Research Materials. Millwood, NY: Kraus, 1983.

Locke, Alain LeRoy. The Negro and His Music. Negro Art: Past and Present. The American Negro, His History and Literature; Afro-American Culture Series. New York: Arno, 1969.

McClary, Susan, and Robert Walser. “Theorizing the Body in African-American Music.” Black Music Research Journal 14, no. 1 (1994): 75-84.

Oja, Carol J., and Mark Tucker. “Mapping the Future of Black Music Research: A Talk with Samuel A. Floyd, Jr.” I.S.A.M. Newsletter (1990): 8-9.

Southern, Eileen. Biographical Dictionary of Afro-American and African Musicians. Greenwood Encyclopedia of Black Music. Westport, CT: Greenwood, 1982.

_____. The Music of Black Americans: A History. New York: Norton, 1971.

Stevenson, Robert. “America’s First Black Music Historian.” Journal of the American Musicological Society 26, no. 3 (1973): 383-404.

Trotter, James M. Music and Some Highly Musical People; Containing Brief Chap- ters on I. A Description of Music. II. The Music of Nature. III. A Glance at the History of Music. IV. The Power, Beauty, and Uses of Music. Following Which Are Given Sketches of the Lives of Remarkable Musicians of the Colored Race. With Portraits, and an Appendix Containing Copies of Music Composed by Colored Men. Boston: Lee and Shepard; New York: C.T. Dillingham, 1878.



1Samuel A Floyd, Jr, “The Failure.” .

2Carol J. Oja and Mark Tucker, “Mapping the Future,” 8-9.

3See the Mark Tucker Fund for Jazz Research Materials: (, accessed July 6, 2008).

4William Francis Allen, Charles Pickard Ware, and Lucy McKim Garrison, Slave Songs.

5James M Trotter, Music.

6Robert Stevenson, “America’s First,” 383, 384.

7Alain LeRoy Locke, The Negro.

8Maud Cuney-Hare, Negro Musicians.

9Imamu Amiri Baraka, Blues People.

10Eileen Southern, The Music.

11Dena J. Polacheck Epstein, Sinful Tunes.

12Dominique-René de Lerma, Black Music.

13Black Music in Our Culture is an anthology of essays by educators, musicians, composers, performers, and prominent figures including William Grant Still, Portia Maultsby, John Hammond, David Baker, and others who had a stake in the success of the revolution, with appendices for “Black Elements in European Music,” a list of black performing artists, “Black Music in History Texts,” and a list of musical works. Reflections had a similar format, similar but quite different essays, and different appendices with identical names.

14Dominique-René de Lerma, Bibliography.

15Eileen Southern, Biographical Dictionary.

16Samuel A. Floyd, Jr. and Marsha J. Reisser, Black Music.

17Samuel A. Floyd, Jr., “Black Music.”

18The first issue of Black Music Research Newsletter was published in the summer of 1977. The first issue that was published at Fisk University (volume 2, number 2) appeared in 1978. The last issue published at Fisk alone was volume 6, number 1 (Fall 1983), but volume 6, number 2 (Spring 1984) was a transitional issue that was published jointly by Fisk and Columbia College, Chicago. In the fall of 1988, the name was changed from Newsletter to Bulletin, and there were other names subsequently. In 1990, all the substantive articles, which number 29, were published as a special issue of Black Music Research Journal volume 10, number 1 (Spring 1990).

19IASPM (International Association for the Study of Popular Music); ATMI (Association for Technology in Music Instruction); CMSNA (Chinese Music Society of North America).

20COPAM now has fifteen volumes of its Music of the United States of America in print. See MUSA,, accessed September 10, 2008.

21Lenox Avenue: A Journal of Interartistic Inquiry was an annual publication of the Center for Black Music Research; a total of five issues were published from 1995-2002.

22See Oxford Music Online, “The Nature of Musicology, 5. New Trends." (, accessed July 14, 2008), 4-6.

23Susan McClary and Robert Walser, “Theorizing.”

5490 Last modified on October 1, 2018