Origin of Classical

Classical music originated in the Medieval Time Period, but Black musicians began playing and composing during enslavement with the instruction of European immigrants.  Black classical composers used Western classical foundations and added rags to the background to create their own sound.

Pre-Emancipation

Newport Gardner from Rhode Island became the first Black classical music teacher and composer after winning a lottery that allowed him to purchase his freedom.  He taught music to both Black and White students. During the Antebellum period, Philadelphia was the metropolis for Black America, thus the first Black composers who could be compared with White composers came out of that city.  Some musicians taught themselves and others were taught by European immigrants, as very few were able to be formally educated on classical music. Because White people viewed Black musicians as a servant class for entertainment purposes only, they frequently hired Black musicians for events.

Notable composers:

  • Francis “Frank” Johnson
    Image result for francis johnson

Post-Emancipation

The music nationalism movement that spread throughout Europe and to the United States caused Black musicians to focus on their musical origins and develop a Black style of concert music.  Post-Emancipation, the Black community in America was very optimistic about the idea of freedom and the possibility of men being able to vote, which resulted in cultural uplifting music. Some composers during this time period received higher-level music education that prepared them to be recognized, including John Rosamond Johnson (co-author of Lift Every Voice and Sing).

Notable composers:

  • Harry T. Burleigh

Image result for harry t burleigh

  • Eva Jessye

Image result for eva jessye

  • Shirley Graham

Image result for shirley graham

Modern and Postmodern

Unlike previous Black classical composers, composers during this time period had easier access to more formal music education, had the ability to travel and perform their compositions, had the ability to publish and record their music, etc.

Notable composers:

  • Ulysses Kay

Image result for ulysses kay

  • George Walker

  • Hale Smith

Conclusory Opinions

I think that there are several different reasons explaining why there are not a lot of Black composers known in classical musical.  First, Black people did not originally create classical music, unlike the blues or jazz. Also, classical music is very different from the upbeat music our ancestors were developing and playing at that time.  Finally, I think Black Americans are sparse in classical music because it did not originate in the Americas.

Isoke Nelson

Isoke Nelson

Folk Music & Negro Spirituals

Origins of Negro Spirituals and Folk Music Negro Spirituals were Christian folk songs that were passed down orally that illustrated distress caused by enslavement.  The

Read More »

Jubilee Quartets

Origins of Jubilee Quartets Jubilee Quartets, a name obtained from the Fisk Jubilee Singers, emerged in the mid-1800s out of the African American university a

Read More »

This website uses cookies to ensure you get the best experience on our website.