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Black History & Classical Music

Black History & Classical Music

February is Black History Month in Jamaica and the United States, and African Heritage Month in Canada.  October is Black History Month in the United Kingdom. The annual observance was founded in 1926 by the American historian Dr. Carter Godwin Woodson (1875-1950). He also founded the Association for the Study of African American Life and History (ASALH),

The 2012 National Black History Theme is “Black Women in American History and Culture”.
“From the American Revolution to the present, African American women have played a myriad of critical roles in the making of our nation. Their labor and leadership, their motherhood and patriotism, and their intellect and artistic expression have all enriched both the African American community and the nation at large. In slavery and freedom, their struggles have been at the heart of the human experience, and their triumphs over racism and sexism are a testimonial to our common human spirit.

“In American culture today, many know of the accomplishments of a few prominent figures. From Phillis Wheatley, the unlikely American patriot during the Revolutionary War, to Harriet Tubman, the leader of the Underground Railroad from slavery, to Ida B. Wells, the unyielding opponent of lynching, to Rosa Parks, the mother of the modern Civil Rights Movement, black women have been notable for standing against oppression.  From Gwendolyn Brooks to Toni Morrison to Rita Dove, they have distinguished themselves in American letters, and in recent years they have been recognized as actors and recording artists with Academy Awards and Grammys.”

Black History is part of the common record of humanity.  It proves that people of African heritage have made enduring contributions to society throughout history.  Classical music has been enriched by such contributions as long as it has existed.  This page includes a link to a Black History Quiz comprised of 52 questions about composers and musicians of African descent.   The Composers page leads to 41 individual biographies of composers.  The Musicians page leads to 11 profiles on conductors and instrumentalists.  Over 100 sound samples can be heard on the Audio page and at the pages of individual artists.

The primary emphasis of the Web site is on composers of instrumental music, but composers of opera, choral music and songs are also represented.  The site does not sell CDs, but catalog numbers are included with CD titles, to help in finding recordings at music stores or at Web sites such as  or

For purposes of this site, African Americans are considered to be people of African descent who are born anywhere in the Americas.  People born in Europe of African descent are called Afro-Europeans.

AfriClassical Blog is a companion to  Visit often to learn of current issues involving Black composers and musicians.  For a free subscription, leave your E-mail address in the Subscription box in the right column of the blog’s home page.

Listen to audio of an 8-minute interview (mp3) from December 28, 2005:  “WDET’S Craig Fahle recently spoke with Bill Zick, Webmaster for  His website has become one of the premiere resources for those interested in Black composers of Classical Music”

Africana Encyclopedia, Third Edition, has been an indispensable resource for the Web site and is probably quoted more often than any other reference work.  The Center for Black Music Research is a research unit of Columbia College Chicago which publishes the International Dictionary of Black Composers.  CBMR is devoted to research, preservation, and dissemination of information about the history of Black music on a global scale.  Its Web address is:

The African American conductor Paul Freeman is Founding Musical Director and in his final year with the Chicago Sinfonietta, an unusually inclusive orchestra whose mission is “Musical Excellence Through Diversity”.  Its Web site is:  Dr. Freeman is profiled among the Musicians of African Descent, as is violinist Aaron P. Dworkin. He founded the Sphinx Organization to introduce Black  and Latino string players to classical music and the classical music profession.  Its principal Web site is   The group also operates an interactive educational site for children at   The Sphinx Virtuosi (formerly the Sphinx Chamber Orchestra), the Harlem Quartet and the Catalyst Quartet make a performance tour of the United States each October.

A decision to publish  The String Students Library of Music by Black Composers  has been announced by the Rachel Elizabeth Barton Foundation, whose Web site is

Henry: A Ballad for Piano Quintet
, was composed by George Augustus Polgreen Bridgetower and arranged for piano quintet by Prof. Dominique-René de Lerma.  It has been returned from the former MMB Music of St. Louis, and will now be issued by Casa Musicale de Lerma.

Curriculum Standards

The following information is an example of the relevance of to curriculum standards.
  The assessment was made by the Michigan Teacher Network, relative to curriculum standards in Michigan, and can be found at:

Relevant Michigan Curriculum Standards:
(‘bullet’ symbols differ from original)

* Middle School
* Standard ART.4 (Music)
Arts in Context
* Benchmark ART.4.M.MS.1
* Standard SOC.I.2
Historical Perspective: Comprehending the Past
* Benchmark SOC.I.2.MS.4
* High School
* Standard ART.4 (Music)
Arts in Context
* Benchmark ART.4.M.HS.3
* Standard SOC.I.1
Historical Perspective: Time and Chronology
* Benchmark SOC.I.1.HS.3
* Standard SOC.I.2
Historical Perspective: Comprehending the Past
* Benchmark SOC.I.2.HS.3
* Standard SOC.I.4
Historical Perspective: Judging Decisions from
the Past
* Benchmark SOC.I.4.HS.2

Banat, Gabriel.  The Chevalier de Saint-Georges: Virtuoso of the Sword and the Bow.  Hillsdale, New York: Pendragon Press, 2006.

Departmental Archives of Guadeloupe.  Le Fleuret et l’Archet : Le Chevalier de Saint-George, Crèole dans le Siècle des Lumières [Foil & Bow: Chevalier de Saint-Georges, Creole in the Century of the Enlightenment].  Bisdary – Gourbeyre, 2001.

Everyman’s Dictionary of Music; Compiled by Eric Blom; Revised by Jack Westrup, Professor of Music, Oxford University.  New York: New American Library, 1971.

Guédé, Alain. Monsieur de Saint-George: Virtuoso, Swordsman, Revolutionary.  New York: Picador, 2003.

Heddle-Roboth, Robert and Marciano, Daniel.  De L’Epée à La Scène: A Book on Theatrical Fencing.  Preface: Marcel Marceau.  France: Thespis, 2005.

Harvard Biographical Dictionary of Music; Edited by Don Michael Randel.  Cambridge, Massachusetts & London, England: Belknap Press of Harvard University Press, 1996.

King, Reyahn et al. Ignatius Sancho: An African Man of Letters.  London: National Portrait Gallery, 1997.

Marciano, Daniel.  Le chevalier de Saint-Georges, Le Fils de Noémie.  France: Thespis, 2005.

Microsoft Encarta Africana Encyclopedia, on CD-ROM and in a book published by Basic Civitas Books.  Kwame Anthony Appiah and Henry Louis Gates, Jr., Editors.

Nemeth, Luc.  Un État-Civil Chargé D’Enjeux: Saint-George, 1745-1799.  Annales historiques de la Révolution française, No. 339, January, 2005, pp. 79-97.

Ribbe, Claude.  Le chevalier de Saint-George.  France: Perrin, 2004.

Smidak, Emil F.  Joseph Boulogne called Chevalier de Saint-Georges.  Lucerne: Avenira, 1996.


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