Celebration Edition #408:
"Negro Musicians and Their Music"
By Maud Cuney-Hare, 1874-1936.
Washington, D.C.: The Associated Publishers, Inc., 1936, 1943. Copyright not renewed.
Maud Cuney Hare (1874-1936) was, by all accounts, a fascinating woman. Described by W. E. B. DuBois as "a tall, imperious brunette, with gold-bronze skin, brilliant eyes and coils of black hair", she was the daughter of Texas politician and civil rights leader Norris Wright Cuney and Adelina (Dowdy) Cuney. Cuney Hare studied at the New England Conservatory of Music in Boston. She lived in Boston for much of her adult life, but she also travelled widely, in Mexico, Cuba, the Virgin Islands, and Puerto Rico, studying folklore and music.
In "Negro Musicians and Their Music", Maud Cuney Hare documents the development of African-American music, nationally and internationally, from its beginnings in Africa to the newly evolving forms of blues and jazz in the 1930s. She was the first music scholar to write about African American music.
Many of her discussions directly address racial issues. She defends both African Americans who choose not to perform ethnic material, and those who do:
"Just as we find musicians of other races without any particular concern regarding the folk material of their nation or race, so are there many Negro lovers of music who have no special interest in the folk songs. This sentiment prevails among laymen as well as among musicians. On the other hand, there has arisen a group of serious men and women, who have not only shown a willingness to accept plantation songs as a heritage, but in doing so, lose no time in brooding over the cruel past or the unjust present."
Her discussions of white appropriation of Negro spirituals and dance forms are biting. At one point she quotes a summary of the issue written by Eugene Kinckle Jones:
"It seems a little odd that until the Spirituals became accepted by music authorities abroad as the only original American music, Americans with few exceptions were not concerned with their origin, and still less their preservation. For two hundred years these songs had come up from the cotton fields and cabins . . . They were just "nigger songs" until the great world of music acclaimed them as the only music indigenous to America. Then it was that 'diligent scholars' started the painstaking and laborious task of finding their source, of collecting and amassing voluminous data by which ultimately they were enabled to announce that the Spirituals are not the creation of the enslaved black but rather the creation of the rural white."
Cuney Hare asserts that "The rich fund of folklore and folk-song has certainly been the vivifying source whence have sprung the modern art cultures of the world." She also acknowledges that "The syncopation of the African song is the fore-runner of American Ragtime and the more reprehensible Jazz and Blues." However, with her classical training, she disliked the new forms, associating Jazz with "monkeyish antics on the part of the performers, and the grotesque use of the instruments". It was her opinion that "Not until the past two or three years has Jazz arisen to the dignity of a subject for serious discussion by white and Negro students of music." She preferred the "vision and high ideals" of African Americans working within the traditions of symphony, opera and ballet.
The book is full of details about individuals, groups, and performances in the 1910s, 20s and early 30s. I strongly recommend that you read the footnotes -- some of them cover multiple pages, quoting hard-to-find sources and expanding on themes of the main text. Her footnoted discussions of the Negro Symphony Orchestra, for example, are fascinating both in describing the organization and instrumentation of the "orchestra" and public responses to it.
"Negro Musicians and Their Music" has been acclaimed as "a priceless legacy of accomplished documentation" and scholarship. Sadly, Cuney Hare never saw the book in published form. She died of cancer soon after she finished proof-reading the manuscript. The copyright of the work was not renewed. A second edition, with added photographs (many of Jazz musicians) was published in 1943. There were almost no changes to the text in the second edition, and both variants of the text and photographs are included in this online edition. I hope you will enjoy reading it.