September 11, 2020
Greetings! Just taking a second to share a brief clip (below) of a recent rendition of the standard “Summertime.” Apart from offering this bit of music for your listening pleasure and as a way to share some current developments with regard to my skills and knowledge, I thought I might tie in a little cultural context from the era of this tune’s publication with current events. So often one takes a seemingly American classic such as “Summertime” for granted as a representative and wholesome example of popular culture, but this music’s history, as in many other cases, may just change the course of its performers.
I have alluded to this idea in the past (“My Man’s Gone Now”), though now it finds special relevance given a strengthened movement for real racial justice in BLM—strengthened by force and under outrageous duress, a critical and urgent civil-rights issue: George Gershwin’s “Porgy and Bess” (lyrics by DuBose Heyward) is an important reminder of how history has time and again witnessed Black and/or African music [Edited 10/20/2020 from “Black African music.” Thank you, Ayden Isam Bradley for your comments.] brought into a more mainstream and White space (related article from Smithsonian Magazine.) [The intentions behind the original phrasing Black African was to bring awareness to how native African musical stylings might be represented within a Black American musical context. For further reading see The Other Classical Musics: Fifteen Great Traditions, p. 201. Also, as I understand it, Dr. Anthony Brown wrote his dissertation on the transmission of native African drum stylings into Jazz music. I have not gained access to the text, but its author would be a great source for further inquiry.]
The at-times obscured Black and/or African centrality to American Folk Music as a general topic must be brought to the fore. Southern fiddle-tune stylings so often associated with the more politically dominant White cultures owe much to Black musicians. It has been proposed that so quintessentially American an instrument as the steel-string guitar is, at its roots, a cross between the Spanish guitar and the African banjo. Prevalent are the indelible and indispensable contributions of Black and/or African rhythmic sensibility to the regional musics of North and South America, particularly in the US and in Brazil. Should this and other non-Anglo traditions really be treated as such Others? How independent of non-Anglo traditions can American popular music really be, and which are the commonalities with regard to other phases in Western music?
One hopes the popularization (commodification?) of Black and/or African music has not in all cases been malevolent or otherwise an instance of plagiaristic opportunism. The potential inquiries into this topic are many and varied, though one thing is certain: today’s global moral climate invites a more prevalent awareness of the sociology behind Black and/or African music in so far as the latter has shaped the musical tastes of White-European America(s). [I invite you all to contribute discussion on the topic of sociological diversity in Music to the SF State Music Majors Facebook Group.]