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Celebrating Black Composers

In honor of Black History Month, this blog post will highlight materials in the music section that are written by or about African American composers. These composers wrote in many styles, including popular, Western classical, jazz, gospel, and more. Here is some music by three Black composers that we have available in our collection.

Photograph of Harry T. Burleigh, taken in 1936. Public Domain.

Photograph of Harry T. Burleigh, taken in 1936. Public Domain.

Harry T. Burleigh
Harry Burleigh was born in Pennsylvania in 1866. While growing up, his grandfather taught Harry and his brother spirituals and slave songs. At the age of 26, Burleigh was accepted into the National Conservatory of Music in New York, and while there, had played for and worked with the Conservatory director, Antonin Dvorak.

“I Got a Robe,” song for alto and piano (BRM06040)
“Steal Away,” song for alto and piano (BRM06041)
“Deep River,” arranged for SATB (BRM04676)
The Spirituals of Harry T. Burleigh for high voice and piano (BRM28522; Voice — volume 1, volume 2)
“Her Eyes Twin Pools,” for voice in G and piano (BRM03739)
“Little Child of Mary,” for SATB and tenor solo (BRM04694)

Robert Nathaniel Dett

R. Nathaniel Dett, head-and-shoulders portrait, facing front. 1 photographic print, [191-]. //hdl.loc.gov/loc.pnp/ppmsca.17487

R. Nathaniel Dett, head-and-shoulders portrait, facing front. 1 photographic print, [191-]. //hdl.loc.gov/loc.pnp/ppmsca.17487

Although born in Ontario, Canada, Robert Nathaniel Dett spent the majority of his life in the United States, growing up near Niagra Falls. He eventually enrolled in the Oberlin Conservatory, and graduated in 1907 with a Bachelor of Music in composition and piano. He became a music professor, and was well-known in the turn-of-the-century American music community for his teaching and compositions, later studying with Nadia Boulanger and earning a Master of Music degree from the Eastman School of Music.

Found in My Piano Bench: Selections of turn-of-the-century music including Robert Nathaniel Dett (DBM01005)
Barcarolle: Morning, for piano (BRM00166)
“Juba,” from the piano suite In the Bottoms, (BRM27832)
“Listen to The Lambs,” for SATB and piano, (BRM04462)
Magnolia, suite for piano (BRM00167)
“Rise up shepherd, and follow,” for TTBB chorus (BRM04013)

Photograph of Scott Joplin taken in approximately 1900. Public Domain.

Photograph of Scott Joplin taken in approximately 1900. Public Domain.

Scott Joplin

Perhaps one of the best-known African American composers of the 20th century, Scott Joplin is mainly remembered for his piano rags. However, he wrote much more than rags for the piano, including waltzes, ballads, and other styles. Joplin was most likely born in Northeast Texas (near Texarkana) in 1868, and he studied piano with Julius Weiss, a German music professor who moved to Texas in the 1860s. His influence on uniquely American music cannot be understated.

“Living a Ragtime Life”: a discussion of ragtime music, including Scott Joplin’s (DBM00961)
“Maple Leaf Rag,” for piano by Bill Brown (DBM02825)
“The Entertainer,” for piano by Bill Brown (DBM02310)
Collected Piano Works, 5 volumes by Scott Joplin (BRM32027: volume 1, volume 2, volume 3, volume 4, volume 5)
Complete Piano Rags, 3 volumes by Scott Joplin (BRM35569: volume 1, volume 2, volume 3)

Along with these fine African-American composers, we also have compositions by Duke Ellington, Samuel Coleridge-Taylor, William Grant Still, and others, available in the collection for our patrons.

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