Is Classic Music Classist and Racist?

Classical Music is a style of music based on the long- established principles of composition. It is a style of music composed during the late 18th and early 19th centuries. This period is marked by the establishment of European traditions and composers such as Haydn, Beethoven and Mozart. Classical Music is also characterized by symphony, concerto, and sonata. In the Western culture, the Renaissance period defined musical style and the visual arts. While blacks played an integral role is pioneering genres such as jazz, gospel, R&B, hip-hop and other popular styles, hurdles remain in classical music. African-Americans in classical music offers a more complex picture. Composers such as Daniel Bernard Roumain, T. J. Anderson and George Walker have influenced classical music, some argue that their impact on the evolution of art music has been minimal.

Why do black composers remain on the outskirts of classical music?

“We’ve been invisible,” the composer T. J. Anderson declared in the New York Times article. Along with broader societal constructs, there are also factors exclusive to the classical world in general. Past musicians like Duke Ellington, who wrote symphonic works alongside playing stride piano and leading a big band, is typically confined to the jazz canon. Black composers have been criticized in both African-American and white intellectual circles for refusing to embrace mainstream “classical” trends.


I remember my piano teacher in high school mentioning how the vast majority of talented, serious musicians of color went into jazz and later pop, where there was at least a possibility of financial self-sufficiency. Cultural marginalization of classical music are legion: in television and films, people interested in classical music are depicted as rich, old, and always white.

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