The opening chapters of Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass, an American Slave (1845) attribute uncanny documentary power to spirituals. “I have sometimes thought that the mere hearing of those songs would do more to impress some minds with the horrible character of slavery, than the reading of whole volumes of philosophy on the subject could do,” wrote Douglass, who substantiated these horrors through his gruesome description of the sadistic torture of his Aunt Hester by their master. “It was a most terrible spectacle. I wish I could commit to paper the feelings with which I beheld it.” But where the written word proved inarticulate, slave songs bore stirring witness....
Spirituals and the Birth of a Black Entertainment Industry, by Sandra Jean Graham
MARK BURFORD is Associate Professor of Music at Reed College. His scholarship focuses on twentieth-century popular music in the United States, particularly African American music, and nineteenth-century Austro-German concert music. His article “Sam Cooke as Pop Album Artist—A Reinvention in Three Songs” received the Society for American Music's 2012 Irving Lowens Award. He is the author of Mahalia Jackson and the Black Gospel Field (Oxford University Press, 2019) and editor of The Mahalia Jackson Reader (Oxford University Press, forthcoming).
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Mark Burford; Spirituals and the Birth of a Black Entertainment Industry, by Sandra Jean Graham. Journal of the American Musicological Society 1 April 2020; 73 (1): 187–192. doi: https://doi.org/10.1525/jams.2020.73.1.187
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