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Black Composers: Duke Connections

This guide to Black composers offers a sampling of resources on their lives, works, and social contexts. Like Duke Libraries' "5 Titles" blog, this guide is meant to offer a selection of resources rather than serve as a comprehensive list.

Resources in the Duke Libraries

Some of the Duke Libraries' materials related to black composers have special ties to the University.  Read on to learn about these ties and how to access these materials.

William Grant Still (1895 - 1978)

Duke University Libraries' Special Collections includes a digitized collection of the papers of William Grant Still and his second wife Verna Arvey.

William Grant Still is considered the Dean of African American composers, and is the creator of more than 200 works in genres including opera, ballet, symphonic and chamber music, and works for solo instruments.  He took violin lessons in his native Little Rock, Arkansas, and taught himself to play viola, cello, double bass, clarinet, saxophone, and oboe.  He also played in prestigious clubs in Harlem and is said to have inspired George and Ira Gershwin's "I Got Rhythm."


Louis Armstrong (1901 - 1971)

Duke Music Department Professor Thomas Brothers is a world-renowned expert on the life and works of Louis Armstrong.  Below are some of the books Dr. Brothers has written and edited on "Satchmo" -- all available through Duke's Library Takeout Service.

Mary Lou Williams (1910 - 1981)

Mary Lou Williams was a 20th-century American jazz pianist, arranger and composer.  She worked with Duke Ellington, Benny Goodman, Thelonious Monk, Charlie Parker, and Miles Davis, among others.  Williams was an Artist in Residence at Duke from 1977 until her death in 1981.  In her honor, Duke established the Mary Lou Williams Center for Black Culture in 1983.

Linda Dahl published the first full-length biography of Mary Lou Williams in 1999, and later donated her research materials for that biography to the Duke University Libraries.  Mary Lou Williams' papers and other archival material are house at Rutgers University's Institute of Jazz Studies. Descriptions of the archives' contents are accessible online.

Darren Mueller

The Mixtape for Justice:  The Protest Music of Black America is a YouTube playlist compiled by Duke alumnus Dr. Darren Mueller, who is an Assistant Professor of Musicology and Affiliate Professor of Jazz Studies and Contemporary Media at the Eastman School of Music.