Variations on Blackness: Black Concert Music in Early 20th-Century Britain

Saturday, January 6, 2018: 4:10 PM
Marriott Ballroom, Salon 1 (Marriott Wardman Park)
Marc Matera, University of California, Santa Cruz
Both the black-British composer Samuel Coleridge-Taylor and the African American musician behind the international success of the Fisk Jubilee Singers, Frederick Loudin, participated in the Pan-African Conference held in London on July 23, 1900, and the short-lived group that organized it, the African Association. Frederick and his wife, Harriett Johnson Loudin, were among the committee of six individuals who founded the African Association and directed its activities, while Coleridge-Taylor organized the musical program for the conference. Coleridge-Taylor and Loudin were (and remain) towering figures in two related strands of early black music in Britain, art music and Spirituals. Their presence at the conference captures the close ties between black activism and music, as well as the importance of those between African-American entertainers and the small community of black professionals and artists in London that would continue to shape both throughout the early twentieth century.

This paper examines the black presence on British concert stage during the first half of the twentieth century through the compositional politics of black musicians’ work and performance repertoires. During the decades after 1900, a steady stream of African American, Afro-Caribbean, and African musicians passed through or settled in London, while the city’s small black community produced homegrown talent for the concert stage. African-American entertainers and intellectuals traveled in the same circles, and due to the disproportionately high number of musicians and stage performers among African Americans there at any given time, the former often facilitated the latter’s entry into social and political life in the city. African-American visitors and expatriates regularly mixed with African, Afro-Caribbean, and black Britons as well—in private homes, churches, and London’s popular nightspots, at political meetings and rallies, dances, and concerts organized by black organizations. Such encounters altered both the politics and art of many black composers and performers.

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