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Black Composers: Want to Dig Deeper?

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.

Beyond the Bios

Are you interested in contextual issues related to the life stories and the music of Black composers?  Try some of the following resources for ideas.

Databases, Collaborations, and Other Online Resources

Here's a selection of online resources that may inspire your research, pique your interest, or lead you to another research topic.

To mark Black History Month in February 2021, the Library of Congress published this blog, which includes links to three research guides to collections in the Library's holdings.  Highlighted in these guides are African-American composer, arranger, and singer Harry Thacker Burleigh, the work of Dr. Samuel Floyd on Early African-American Music, and a guide to Black Composers in Music Division Collections.

The website of the newly-opened National Museum of African American Music includes information on physical visits to the Nashville museum, as well as a link to its events platform, Museum Without Walls.  

The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame has curated a physical exhibit with an accompanying virtual walk-through called It's Been Said All Along:  Voices of Rage, Hope and Empowerment.  This virtual exhibit includes narration, images from the exhibit at the Hall of Fame, and excerpts from musical selections of many genres that are pertinent to the topics of social justice and equality.

Indiana University houses the Archives of African American Music and Culture, which covers a wide range of musical genres and social issues, mostly post-dating World War II.  The Archives also includes a link to Black Grooves, a collection of reviews of new music releases. Notable online offerings include AAAMC's Classical composers and History of Black Radio collections.

The African Diaspora Music Project sponsors a searchable database of classical music scores, recordings, and programmatic information about works written by composers of Central and West African Heritage.  The database currently houses information on art songs, but the Project plans to expand to other musical forms.

More Databases, Collaborations, and Online Resources

The Expanding the Music Theory Canon website provides illustrative materials to support instruction of undergraduate scholars in core Western music theory.  All examples are written by composers who are women, Black, Indigenous, or People of Color (BIPOC).  Each example includes a musical excerpt to illustrate the theory concept being taught; a public-domain link to the full score of the work from which the excerpt came; when available, a public-domain link to a recording of the work; and a link to a biography of the composer.

A Seat at the Piano and the African American Art Song Alliance each serves as a platform to encourage communication and collaboration among musicians and composers of diverse heritages, and to promote inclusion in piano and art song repertoire, respectively.  Each website includes a composer index; the Art Song Alliance also includes a performer index among its resources.  A Seat at the Piano's website includes a searchable database of piano works.

Similarly, the Chamber Music America Composers' Equity Project includes a database of resources by and about chamber music composers who identify as female, gender-non-conforming, African/Black, Latinx, Asian/South Asian, Arab/Middle Eastern, or Native American.

The HistoryMakers Digital Archive includes video oral history interviews with over 2,000 Black Americans of historical significance.  Among these interviews are recollections of, references to, and interviews with notable Black composers.

Note:  access to this website requires Duke login credentials.

Darren Scott Rumsey has created a website called No Broken Links, which includes instrument-specific directories of solo and chamber repertoire written by underrepresented composers.  The website currently includes repertoire directories for flute, oboe, and clarinet, with plans to add directories of repertoire for bassoon, horn, and saxophone.

The Institute for Composer Diversity promotes music written by composers who identify with traditionally underrepresented groups.  The Institute's website includes databases of composers and musical works, as well as a page with links to other resources with similar missions.