Help! New Music Service Organizations Answer the Call

“African-American music emanates directly from the black experience in the United States, descended from the calls, cries, hollers, spirituals, ragtime, and blues of the slavery and post-slavery periods; it includes jazz, R&B, black gospel, and all the forms to which these genres have given birth. Black music, on the other hand, is any music composed or performed by people of African descent, including African-American music, African music, and European and European-derived concert-hall music by black composers.”

This is the online mission statement of the Center for Black Music Research (CBMR), based at Chicago‘s Columbia College, which “documents, collects, preserves, and disseminates information about black music in all parts of the world.” Founded by Dr. Samuel A. Floyd, Jr. in 1983, CBMR encompasses all styles of black music from all over the world, ranging from jazz to Caribbean to hip-hop to classical. The Center’s extensive archives are available to support to the work of scholars, journalists, writers, musicians, filmmakers, teachers, and students (offering post-doctoral fellowship opportunities).

Johann Buis, coordinator of education, believes the Center has “always been strongly supported by the body of composers who almost without exception applauded the existence of the Center. They have deposited their scores and in some cases their collections with us….They, of course, are also what we call our constituents, so in a real sense their music has been facilitated through our existence. We recommend and disseminate their scores, but also make it possible for others who come to us with inquiries to contact their agents and so forth, that their music might be performed. We’ve been probably the one place consistently where compositions by black composers have found a conduit.”

Education programming comes in all forms, including lecture/demonstrations by CBMR ensembles and courses at Columbia College. One of the Center’s biggest forms of outreach is the Black Music Repertory Ensemble (BMRE), which is currently undergoing some restructuring. Until now, the ensemble has existed with members from all over the country, an expensive and difficult way to present concerts. But now, headed by Coleridge-Taylor Perkinson, CMBR’s coordinator of performance programs, the New Black Music Repertory Ensemble has been developed.

Based in Chicago with a core of fifteen to twenty musicians, concerts will be easier to come by (the next being on November 11). Perkinson says, “I will as best I can be trying to do a lot of programming of contemporary music, and the music that has not been played from yesteryear, because we have found that there are a lot of black musicians or composers that date from the sixteenth century.” But he admits that “there are a host of composers I would love to give some flowers to while they’re still around, you know, I think they should have the opportunity to smell the roses.”

Publications are one of the CBMR’s primary ways of disseminating information throughout the world. Journals include Black Music Research Journal and Lenox Avenue: A Journal of Interart Inquiry. Other publications are the CBMR Monograph series, CBMR Digest, Stop-Time newsletter, the International Dictionary of Black Composers (Fitzroy Dearborn Publishers, 1999), and a series of books entitled Music of the African Diaspora (University of California Press).

The CBMR Web site offers a wealth of information on black music and what the Center offers. Links to definitions of the many types of black music with suggested further reading gives those interested a good basis from where to start. CBMR also has an online bookstore and posts job openings for black music studies positions throughout the country.

From Help! New Music Service Organizations Answer the Call
by Karissa Krenz
© 1999 NewMusicBox