Volume XLVI, No. 3
(Fall 2020)

Contents

Frances Broads Greene: Silent Sentinel and George Gershwin’s Early Piano Teacher

From the President: Pressing Our Way

SAM2020: Minutes from the Business Meeting

Upcoming JSAM Contents

JSAM Colloquy Guidelines

JSAM Editor's Updates

Call for Bulletin Contributions

Book Reviews

Bulletin Board

Frances Broads Greene: Silent Sentinel and George Gershwin’s Early Piano Teacher

Caleb T. Boyd

Photograph of Frances Broad Greene

Frances Broads Greene in 1943 

Her name is Frances Broads Greene (1889-1972). Until now, historians have neglected the full name of the woman who provided George Gershwin with early piano instruction, calling her “a lady teacher,” or “Miss Green,” or “Mrs. Louis A. Greene.” This oversight has obscured a fascinating life in music and activism, one which a consultation of contemporary sources and material provided by her family helps uncover. The purpose of this article is twofold: to place Greene’s correct name within Gershwin scholarship, and to reveal and emphasize her more important role as an enthusiastic suffragist who helped affect the passage of the Nineteenth Amendment.

According to a 1953 New York Times obituary, a Louis A. Greene left behind a widow named Frances.1 Melanie Melia, one of their granddaughters, confirms her grandmother did indeed teach Gershwin. Through our correspondence and interview, Melia supplied additional information and family artifacts, including photographs and personal letters. The first section of this article details Greene’s early life as a music student and Gershwin’s teacher. The second section discusses her work with the Silent Sentinels, a group organized by Alice Paul in 1917 that protested for women’s suffrage directly outside Woodrow Wilson’s White House. In fact, that same year, Greene participated in an Independence Day demonstration that resulted in her arrest and incarceration. Her letters from a Washington, D.C. jail to her family (featured here) disclose her joy and resolute belief in women’s rights.

Fannie Broads: Early Life in New York and Gershwin’s “First” Piano Teacher

Frances and her mother, Pauline

Born to Russian Jewish immigrants Morris and Pauline Brodsky, Frances lived her entire life in New York City and received early training as a pianist. According to Melia, the Brodskys came to the United States from Lithuania, landing at Ellis Island in 1885.2 Morris Brodsky married Pauline Bloch in Manhattan on 22 December 1887. Two years later, Pauline gave birth to Frances, affectionately called Fannie. The 1900 U.S. Census lists Morris, Pauline, and “Francis Brodsky” living at 72 Pike St., a building in Lower Manhattan near the East River where many other Russian Jewish families resided.3 As a young girl, Fannie studied piano with Leopold Wolfsohn (d. 1966), who according to Howard Pollack taught the “standard pedagogical fare,” like Chopin waltzes and the sonatas of Mozart and Beethoven.4 Following an unknown duration of training, she participated in a student recital at Brooklyn’s Wissner Hall on the evening of 7 January 1903, where she performed Godard’s Valse Chromatique.5 At a later recital in December, she offered Reinhold’s Impromptu in C-sharp Minor.6 Finally, on 30 November 1904 at Brooklyn’s Apollo Hall, she and three other students presented an eight-hand arrangement of a Schubert “Military March.”7

Her training with Wolfsohn concluded, Fannie probably adopted Gershwin as a pupil shortly after the death of her father. Around 1905, Morris moved his family to a Harlem residence at 73 East 119th Street.8 In 1907, Fannie worked as a pianist with a Kindergarten teacher at the vacation playground located at York and Bridge Streets in Brooklyn.9 By 1909, the Broads (as they now identified themselves) had moved again to 80 E 116th Street.10 The 1910–1911 Manhattan directory lists Pauline Broads as a widow living at the same address.11 While Pauline found work as a teacher, Fannie probably began tutoring George for additional needed income.12

At this time, the Gershwins lived eight miles away at Seventh Street and Second Avenue, above Saul Birns’s record store.13 According to George, his instruction in piano began shortly after his family purchased a used upright piano. The Gershwins originally acquired the instrument for his brother Ira. George, however, shocked his family when he demonstrated he could play adequately with both hands. Supposedly, George had been experimenting with a neighbor’s player piano, while also stealing some practice time at a local piano store (possibly Birns’s).14 In his 1931 Gershwin biography, Isaac Goldberg quotes George: “No sooner had it [the piano] come through the window and been backed up against the wall than I was at the keys. I must have crowded out Ira very soon.”15

Following George’s brief instruction with two neighborhood musicians, Rose Gershwin hired Fannie Broads, who assigned George technical exercises and easy material like Schumann’s piano works for children. Perhaps she selected for him Schumann’s “Traumerei,” which George would reimagine around this time as the short syncopated piano composition “Ragging the Traumerei” (1912 or 1913). Eventually, Broads realized that George’s progress exceeded her qualifications. Melia noted, “She [Broads] went to his mother and said, ‘You need to hire somebody much better than I am to teach him.’”16 Gershwin may have referred to Broads when he purportedly told his mother, “Mom, if I could read the notes, I could play better than she does.”17

Perhaps since pupil outpaced tutor, Broads’s role in Gershwin’s early life quickly became obscured, due in no small part to Gershwin himself. His reported recollections of his education often conflict, and I have found no interview where he refers to Fannie Broads by name. In March 1920, shortly after Al Jolson released his immensely successful recording of Gershwin’s “Swanee,” the composer told Billboard that he had “learned the rudiments of the instrument from a young lady teacher” at the age of fourteen. He mentions no other instructors .18 Here, Gershwin nonchalantly consigns Broads’ name to oblivion and devalues her role in his progress. In a 1924 interview with Edward Cushing of the Brooklyn Daily Eagle, Gershwin altered the timing of his story: “I started out to be a pianist nothing sensational about that taking my first lessons at the age of twelve and half years. My memory is good on that point.”19 This revised dating places the beginning of his instruction in late 1910 or early 1911. In his biography, Pollack seems to agree, arguing convincingly that Morris and Rose Gershwin purchased the family piano in late 1910, when George would have been twelve.20

According to early profiles, George studied with Broads for only a few months, a span of time left largely unchallenged by Gershwin scholars. In July 1925, Katharan McCommon of the Brooklyn Daily Eagle reported that George initially studied “with obscure teachers for a while and made such rapid progress that after a few months his parents were advised to send him to Europe.”21 This recommendation for study abroad certainly came from Broads. Goldberg wrote that Broads (not identified by name) quickly weakened as a teacher “within a short period.”22 Only in 1959, through Hy Gardner’s weekly column, did Frances Godowsky (George and Ira’s sister) finally offer a name, saying that a “Mrs. Green” coached George for only three months.23

Frances Broads Greene herself responded in the same column a week later, offering her only known comments concerning George’s tutelage. She claimed to have taught Gershwin longer than three months. Greene wrote: “I was engaged to teach George by his mother, traveling from my home on East 116th St. [to Second Avenue]. He was nine years old at the time and studied with me for three years.…After leaving me George never took another piano lesson.”24 Two of her claims can be refuted. First, Gershwin had two later piano teachers: Hungarian pianist and composer Lajos Serly (1855-1939) for about six months, and Waldorf-Astoria Orchestra musician Charles Hambitzer (1878–1918) from about 1913 to 1918.25 Second, Greene must be mistaken about George’s age. If he were nine years old, then his studies began before his family lived above Birns’s store on Second Avenue.26 Nevertheless, she very well could have taught Gershwin for “three years,” from early or mid-1911 to either late 1912 or early 1913. Although Melia said her grandmother taught Gershwin “for a very short period of time,” she never directly discussed Gershwin with her grandmother, but rather knew the story through her mother. Concerning the discrepancy in “months” or “years,” Melia suggested, “Perhaps my grandmother thought ‘three years’ was a ‘short time.’”27 In any case, Greene wrote fondly of her former pupil: “He always introduced me as his piano teacher … always extended himself to make me feel important. … He was a most warm and gracious individual.”28 Thus, her relationship with the Gershwins continued beyond her employment. Since Godowsky remembers her as “Mrs. Green,” the family clearly remained in contact with her through her marriage to Louis A. Greene in 1916.29

Frances Broads Greene: Activist and Silent Sentinel

Following her stint as Gershwin’s piano teacher, Greene became an activist for birth control and suffrage at a moment when women, in increasing numbers, demanded greater agency over their own lives and equal recognition with men in the public sphere. For example, she and her husband joined the National Birth Control League; Louis became treasurer when the group ousted Margaret Sanger in 1918.30 Furthermore, Frances joined the National Woman’s Party (NWP), formed in 1916 to fight for women’s suffrage nationwide. On 3 March 1913, the eve of Woodrow Wilson’s inauguration, suffragists Lucy Burns and Alice Paul organized in Washington, D.C. the first national women’s suffrage parade. The marchers attracted hostile counterprotestors who accosted the women, spat on them, and threw lit cigarettes.31 Greene faced a similar crowd when she and many more Silent Sentinels protested in a 1917 Independence Day march. Her participation in this event led to her arrest and imprisonment. From jail, she documented her experience in letters to her family.

While Wilson supported the arrest and sentencing of White House picketers and tried to silence the resultant press reports, the Sentinels increased pressure on the president to pass a suffrage bill. After the United States’ entrance into the world war, antisuffragist reactionaries grew angrier at White House protests, which they viewed as despicable.32 Greene considered her activism thoroughly patriotic and necessary. On 4 July 1917, she joined fellow Sentinels in a march down Madison Place to the White House east gate (see Figure 1). Greene wrote to her husband about her experience:

Fig. 1. Frances Broads Greene holding an issue of The Suffragist. Clipping from an unknown newspaper, courtesy of Melanie Melia.

The 4th of July dawned bright and happy for it was the day to celebrate Independence. We celebrated by marching and carrying banners. We were in two squads. I marched in the second and so I walked with the banner flying. It seems to me as though for the first time in my life I was truly free, as though a heavy cloak has fallen from my shoulders, and I am perfectly sure that I will never feel the same again, a slave to conventions. We walked opposite the White House until the upper gate, the crowds were both cheering and jeering and that was the time I felt as though I had conquered the entire world. We tried to get past the police and they caught our banners, we wouldn’t let go, and several men tried to tear our banners. We were all arrested. The men and us.33

In addition to Greene, those detained by police included Lucy Burns and Vida Milholland, the younger sister of prominent activist Inez Milholland.34

Through the ordeal of sentencing and imprisonment, Greene continued to write letters to her family; she describes her experience with gratitude and exhilaration, as if she were on summer holiday. Following her arrest, she wrote to her mother: “I have had the most wonderful experience. I would do it again for the cause. [...] Don’t worry darling. Feel that you are standing in back of me for Women’s rights and that someday we will be able to live as we should.”35 The following day, charged with unlawful assemblage, Greene and twelve other Sentinels entered the court of Judge Alexander Mullowny, who pleaded with them to pay a $25 fine, return to their husbands, and promise to remain away from the White House.36 Greene responded defiantly. Later, she wrote to Louis about her courtroom “maiden speech”:

The girls said it rang so full of sincerity and truth, that it helped make the sentence shorter than it probably [would have been]. The room was very quiet and it seemed to me that as so much depended on what I had to say, I tried to speak, as I am sure I have never tried before.37

In her speech, she excoriated the police for their bullying and failure to protect her friends. Her letter continues:

[The judge] gave us many ways to get out of the sentence, but as he didn’t dismiss the case, for our plea was not guilty, we decided to be sentenced [for three days], so here I am in jail. It is a great big building and very clean, we are all together and perfectly happy. [...] There is an organ which we will use this evening, at least I will try to. Vida Milholland has a beautiful voice, so we will pass a pleasant evening.

Greene's letter from jail

We got a big box of almost everything, eatables, drinks, papers and almost everything we could think of. The cells face great big windows and the view from the windows is beautiful. I never knew Washington could boast of such beautiful scenery. There isn’t a house in sight for miles, and the hills, just covered with grass, and trees make a magnificent picture.”38

Greene experienced a much less horrifying incarceration than that of other suffragists, who went on hunger strikes, prompting jailers to insert tubes down their throats and force feed them milk and raw eggs. Nevertheless, she certainly intended her letter’s bucolic tone to assuage her family’s fears. In fact, giant rats walked the jailhouse floors and the prison served the women undercooked pork, quickly supplemented by NWP headquarters with a basket of sandwiches, fruit and grape juice. Despite dangerously unsanitary conditions that July weekend in 1917, Greene and her fellow Sentinels celebrated their determination and defiance with a jail cell repast, merriment, musicmaking, and singing. Indeed, they ignored the rats and entertained fellow prisoners with a concert of “old plantation songs and hymns,” including “America the Beautiful.” 39

Although she should be recognized by name as Gershwin’s early piano teacher, Frances Broads Greene’s greater and astronomically more important work lies with her advocacy for women’s rights. Due to the persistence of women like Greene, Wilson finally capitulated and the states ratified the Nineteenth Amendment in 1920. Greene continued her advocacy throughout her life. She served as president of the Women of the Bronx Division of the American Jewish Congress from 1938 to 1941. She also tutored all nine of her grandchildren in piano.40 Greene died on 11 June 1972. She lies next to her husband at the Free Synagogue’s Westchester Hills Cemetery in Hastings-on-Hudson, New York. Gershwin’s mausoleum stands at the ground’s entrance.


[1] Obituary, “Louis A. Greene,” New York Times, 26 January 1953.
[2] Melia, interview with author, 20 May 2019.
[3] U.S. Census Bureau (1900), “Twelfth Census of the United States,” Borough of Manhattan, Election District 8, New York City Ward 4, last accessed 31 July 2020.
[4] Wolfsohn also trained a young Aaron Copland from 1913 to 1917. Howard Pollack, Aaron Copland: The Life and Work of an Uncommon Man (New York: Henry Holt and Company, 1999), 32.
[5] “Yesterday’s Music,” Brooklyn Standard Union, 8 January 1903.
[6] “Music in Brooklyn,” Musical Courier 47, no. 26 (23 December 1903): 11.
[7] “Pupils’ Piano Recital,” Brooklyn Citizen, 1 December 1904.
[8]New York State Census (1905),“ Borough of Manhattan, Assembly District 31, Election District 26, last accessed 2 August 2020.
[9] The City Record 35, no. 10407, supplement, Officials and Employees of the Departments, Bureaus and Offices of the City of New York and of the Counties Therein Contained (31 July 1907): 226. For more on vacation playgrounds, see Lissa Rivera, “It’s a Hard Knock Life: The City as Playground,” MCNY Blog: New York Stories, last accessed 31 Jul 2020.
[10] Trow’s General Directory of the Boroughs of Manhattan and Bronx, City of New York [Trow’s], vol. 123 (Manhattan: Trow Directory, Print and Bookbinding Co.), 174.
[11] Trow’s, 124: 178.
[12] Trow’s, 125: 186.
[13] Howard Pollack, George Gershwin: His Life and Work (Berkeley: University of California Press, 2006), 711.
[14] Ibid., 24.
[15] I interpret this statement as a colorful exaggeration of a short amount of time. Isaac Goldberg, George Gershwin: A Study in American Music (New York: Simon and Schuster, 1931), 56.
[16] Melia, interview with author, 20 May 2019.
[17] Quoted in Pollack, George Gershwin, 25.
[18] “Melody the Thing: Young Composer Declares,” Billboard 32, no. 11 (13 March 1920): 26.
[19] Edward Cushing, “George Gershwin - Brooklyn Boy Composer,” Brooklyn Daily Eagle, 18 May 1924.
[20] Pollack, George Gershwin, 711–12.
[21] Katharan McCommon, “Gershwin, King of the Jazz Composers at 26, Says Piano Made Good Boy of Him,” Brooklyn Daily Eagle, 19 July 1925.
[22] Goldberg, 59.
[23] Hy Gardner, “Hy Gardner Calling: Music’s Sad Day,” Oakland Tribune, 13 July 1959.
[24] Quoted in Hy Gardner, “Night Letter,” North Hollywood Valley Times, 21 July 1959.
[25] Pollack, George Gershwin, 25–27.
[26] However, I find it highly unusual that she would mistake a twelve-year-old for a nine-year-old.
[27] Melia, e-mail correspondence with author, 6 July 2020.
[28] Quoted in Gardner, “Night Letter.”
[29] From the Garment District’s Mitchell Building (41 W 25th St.), Louis operated a business that imported notions, sequins, embroidery, lace, and other materials. Melia, interview; and Trow’s, 125; 606.
[30] For more, see “Mrs. Sanger is Ousted by Birth Control League,” New York Tribune, 8 Jul 1918. I have been unable to uncover further information about the Greenes’ association with this group.
[31] Linda J. Lumsden, Inez: The Life and Times of Inez Milholland (2004; Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 2016), 81–87.
[32] Ibid., 177–180.
[33] Frances Greene to Louis Greene, [4 July 1917], courtesy of Melania Melia.
[34] “White House ‘Riot’ Broken Up By Police,” New York Times, 5 July 1917.
[35] Frances Greene to Pauline Broads, [5 July 1917], courtesy of Melania Melia.
[36] “Militants Go to Jail,” Washington Post, 7 July 1917.
[37] Frances Greene to Louis A. Greene, 11 July 1917, courtesy of Melania Melia.
[38] Ibid.
[39] ”Suffragists Freed after Night of Rats,” Boston Globe, 9 July 1917; ”Chunks of Pork, Hunks of Bread for ’Martyrs’,” Paducah Sun-Democrat, 9 July 1917; and ”Defiant ’Pickets’ Plan New Drive,” Washington Post, 9 July 1917.
[40] Melia, interview.

From the President: Pressing our Way

Tammy L. Kernodle

In my opening remarks during the business meeting at the SAM 2020 Virtual Conference I quoted the words of Brazilian songwriter, author, and activist Paulo Coelho, who wrote, “when we least expect it, life sets us a challenge to test our courage and willingness to change; at such a moment, there is no point in pretending that nothing has happened or in saying that we are not yet ready. The challenge will not wait. Life does not look back.”

These words personify not only the uncertainty that our current world is navigating, but what SAM and our other professional music societies are facing. The challenge is more than what any of us could have imagined when this year started, but we are going to press our way forward empowered by a new vision, a reminder of our core organizational mission and human ingenuity that is birthed during these moments. In pressing forward, it is clear that we must chart new ways in which to strengthen our connection as an organizational body and expand the ways in which we promote scholarship (in the broadest sense of the word). Later this fall, I will to provide more information about how this will be accomplished through some new initiatives.

Like many of you, I was emotionally lifted and inspired by SAM 2020 or “The Conference Formerly Known as Minneapolis.” The presentations were visually and intellectually stimulating!! We should have given awards for the best backgrounds or special effects used in the production of conference videos. Some were quite impressive.

While it will never replace the camaraderie, networking, and socializing that takes place at the face-to-face conference, SAM 2020 reminded me that focused intellectual exchange is at the center of why we gather annually. The virtual receptions provided us new and exciting ways in which to reconnect with the people we know and to welcome new individuals into the collective.

I’ve heard from so many over the past month about how they enjoyed being able to access more of the conference program than usual in the virtual format. Thank you to all who have emailed, texted, and called with your personal congratulations and assessments of the conference. They are much appreciated. We widened the intellectual footprint of our conference, as evidenced by the 460 plus registrants and participants!! We welcomed a little over 100 first-time attendees! It is exciting to think that our conference garnered this much attention and activity. Thank you so much for your support of this unprecedented event!

The SAM 2020 conference also revealed what we as an organization can accomplish when circumstances dictate that we think beyond the status quo and also draw on the talents and gifts that each brings to this community. I don’t believe that I can fully articulate my appreciation to all who made this conference come to fruition, but I will give it a try.

Special thanks to our conference co-chairs, Joice Gibson and Paula Bishop, and Executive Director Megan McDonald for their ingenuity and vision. The virtual conference was birthed out of their commitment to the spirit of the annual meeting and a recognition of its importance in the life of our membership. As we prepared for the cancellation of the in-person conference, these three were already putting in place the infrastructure for a virtual conference.

I want to acknowledge the labor, resilience, and commitment of Marian Wilson Kimber (Program Committee Chair) and the Program Committee, who shaped and reshaped the conference program. Much gratitude is given to the resourcefulness, fortitude, and imagination of Andy Flory (Local Arrangements Chair) and the Local Arrangements Committee. This committee had constructed an exciting program of activities that were designed to provide us a musical, cultural, and culinary perspective of Minneapolis and the state of Minnesota. When faced with the shift to the virtual format, this committee responded in one of the most creative ways I’ve witnessed in relation to a professional conference. The social media takeover instigated by Louis and Dan brought Minneapolis to us in a manner that was musical, educational, and highly entertaining!! Thank you all so much!!!

One important but unseen part of the conference infrastructure was the conference producers who launched presentation videos and worked through the technical issues in real time during each session. These individuals kept the conference machine moving! Special thanks to Christina Baade, Birgitta Johnson, Eduardo Herrera, John McClusky, Eric Hung, Jake Cohen, Gwynne K. Brown, Naomi André, Benjamin Safran, and Ellen George. Thanks to all of our session chairs who facilitated the live Q&A.

It is impossible in this forum to capture the full range of the conference program, but participants were treated to presentations that reflected a diversity of topics and a number of specialized sessions, such as one that included personnel from the Walker Art Center as well as the President’s Plenary Session, which explored ways to foster inclusivity in academic and non-academic settings.

Thanks to the publishers who participated in our virtual exhibit hall. I apologize to those publishers and vendors who generally exhibit with our conference that were not included. This was not intentional, but a by-product of the virtual exhibit hall developing much later in our planning process.

Our business meeting, which marked the official end of the conference, was much more abbreviated than usual. It featured a memorial to SAM members who transitioned since our last conference and the announcement that the Student Travel Fund has been renamed in honor of Michael Pisani, who was a dear friend to so many and a strong supporter of our students.

The 2020 Honorary member, acclaimed choral conductor and organist Phillip Brunelle, also attended the meeting and briefly addressed attendees. I have spoken with Mr. Brunelle several times since the conference and he asked that I reiterate to you his appreciation for this recognition.

I would like to extend a hearty congratulations to all of our award winners and fellowship recipients. Normally, a major portion of the formal business meeting is devoted the announcement of our awards and fellowships. This did not take place in the more expansive manner that generally takes place during the business meeting. It is my hope that we can honor each award recipient in person during the opening reception in Tacoma next year. In the meantime, I urge you all to take a look at the Spring issue of the Bulletin, which is accessible through the SAM website, as each award winner and fellowship recipient is profiled. Special thanks to Ryan Ebright and his editorial team for this wonderful, more expansive tribute.

Personal thanks to all of the outgoing committee chairs, committee members, and Board members. This organization’s mission in promoting American music scholarship through our fellowships and awards would not be possible without your service and dedication.

During the virtual conference I had the pleasure of welcoming two new Board members, Birgitta Johnson and Kristen Turner, as well as our President-Elect, Daniel Goldmark. I’m excited to work with them over the course of the next few months.

There are also two new individuals joining the JSAM editorial team. Emily Abrams Ansari has agreed to be the next editor of JSAMand has already transitioned into the role of Associate Editor. For the next year, she will work alongside our current Editor-in-Chief, David Garcia before transitioning into that role. Please join me in congratulating and welcoming them to the Publications Council.

Even though our world remains in a state of uncertainty regarding the pandemic, travel, and institutional support, we will continue to monitor the situation in hopes that we can reunite face-to-face next March in Tacoma.

The SAM 2021 conference will be March 17-21, 2021 at the Hotel Murano in Tacoma, Washington. The Local Arrangements chair is Gwynne K. Brown and the Program chair is Nancy Rao. Each of their respective committees have begun their work and the preliminary conference program will be announced later this fall. There are a number of well-known musicians, composers, and educators associated with the area, but I am very happy to announce that the 2021 Honorary Member will be guitarist, Riot Grrl movement pioneer, and actress Carrie Brownstein.

In pressing forward as an organization, I am conscious of the emotional, financial, and physical toll that our current crises have prompted. These are difficult times! And the sense of stability and normalcy we have known has been disrupted. The loss prompted by COVID-19, violence, natural disasters, institutional racism, and the insecurity we currently face is unprecedented! This is an important time in which we all collectively and individually have the ability to precipitate real substantive change. We as an organization will find a way to engage in this work in a manner that examines our history and considers who we want to be going forward. I will speak more on this later in the year.

I urge each of you to be cognizant of how difficult this time is for so many. It is more important than ever that we are transparent about our feelings. Too often we suffer in silence, afraid that we will be read as insecure and weak because we cannot continue certain levels of productivity. Mental and physical survival are more important than anything else during this period! So, speak up! Seek help! Shift your mode of operation! This is an important time for us individually to assess what we do, why we do it, and how can we do it differently—in a more balanced and healthy way.

In closing, I want to leave you with the words of gospel artist Hezekiah Walker’s song “I Need You to Survive,” which ends each verse with the statement “You are important to me! I need you to survive!!!” You are indeed important to me and I believe that together we can find the strength to press forward and survive this moment of uncertainty.

Tammy

Minutes of the 2020 SAM Business Meeting (online): July 18, 2020

President Tammy Kernodle called the meeting to order at 3:36 Central time, and opened with a number of remarks. She began by naming the victims of police violence and asking for a moment of silence to memorialize them. She then commended the conference team and board, who have worked hard to bring this virtual conference to fruition. She also noted that 138 people had logged into the meeting. The society is discussing how to move forward in the midst of a virtual pandemic. Kernodle also recalled the 1999 meeting, and how SAM’s first African American president, Rae Linda Brown, handled difficult, angry, and unsettling meeting in which the society changed its name from Sonneck to SAM. But ultimately the name change broadened the public’s understanding of our organization, and SAM has since grown in membership and mission. Kernodle remarked that our history is important. History allows us to measure our growth and areas where we have remained static. We haven’t always done everything right; have not always been on the right side of history; some voices have been muted and some shrill voices have been allowed to continue. She cited the Grove Online article on SAM by Carol Oja and Glenda Goodman. With the online conference, Kernodle said, we are starting a new history. This platform will not replace our in-person conference, but we have found a way to pursue our conference options. We plan and hope to be in Tacoma, and we are continuing to operate on the assumption that we will be there. The finances of the organization and the health of the membership are at the forefront of our concerns, and Kernodle asked our members to please be patient and understanding. She invited all to contact her at with any ideas.

Program Committee Report

Marian Wilson Kimber reported that, for the 2020 Conference, 301 proposals were submitted, and 178 were accepted (a 59% acceptance rate). 50% of student proposals were accepted. In transitioning to an online format, the conference retained 70% of the program. Although we lost lecture recitals, we added a virtual tour of the Walker Center. All other formats continued, including some interest groups. In total, 109 papers and posters were presented during the online conference. Wilson Kimber thanked everyone for their cooperation, participation, and understanding.

Local Arrangements Committee Report

Andrew Flory reviewed the tours that had been planned for Minneapolis. One of them was converted into a virtual session on the Walker Center. Flory thanked Carleton College for its support and commended the social media “take-over” by Louis Epstein and Dan Groll, who even composed a theme song.

Treasurer’s Report

Maribeth Clark directed the society to a handout posted on the conference page that can be downloaded. Of note: The expensive conference in New Orleans and search for new Executive Director added to expenses, but the endowment kept SAM from being in the red for the year. On the new website, people can renew their memberships at any time of the year. Overall, 2019 was okay financially; Megan MacDonald has been successful in keeping expenses down. Clark appealed to members to support SAM, and was cautiously optimistic about 2020. She also announced that an anonymous donor gave $12,000 to SAM to help with operating costs.

Memorials

President Kernodle offered a short presentation highlighting the memory of those who passed since the previous meeting: Vivian Perlis (1928–2019), who made extensive contributions to American music history and is commemorated by the annual Perlis concert; Robert Judd (1956–2019), executive director of AMS who was not officially a member of SAM, but a good friend and supporter; Art Neville (1937–2019), our 2019 honorary member; and Michael Pisani (1954–2019), an exemplary scholar and mentor whose family and friends have initiated the Michael Pisani student engagement fund. This will be augmented by proceeds from the silent auction. The fund will support student participation in the society, especially travel to the annual conference.

Honorary Membership: Phillip Brunelle

President Kernodle recognized Phillip Brunelle as an honorary member of SAM with the following citation: “Phillip Brunelle was born in Austin, Minnesota in 1943. His love for music was displayed at an early age beginning first with piano lessons at the age of four. I think it’s easy to say that his career as a choral director began at the age of six when he requested and received a vocal score of Handel’s “Messiah” as a Christmas gift. What followed is a celebrated career in music. His study of the piano led him to the University of Minnesota. But he also studied organ with Arthur B. Jennings, whom he would succeed as organist and choir director at the Plymouth Congregational Church in Minneapolis. In 1969 he became musical director of the Minnesota Opera and formed the Plymouth Music Series, which in 2002 changed its name to VocalEssence. As one of the premiere choral music organizations, VocalEssence has performed all around the world and produced many noteworthy recordings including “Dance Like the Wind: Music of Today’s Black Composers,” “Land of the Sky Blue Waters” which celebrated the music of Minnesota born or based musicians, and “Got the St. Louis Blues: Classical Music in the Jazz Age.” In addition to conducting a number of different ensembles and orchestras, for over forty years Brunell was the guest pianist and conductor on American Public Radio’s “A Prairie Home’s Companion.” I urge each of you to tune into his daily series of mini lecture-performances called Musical Moments with Phillip Brunelle. Before the cancellation of the conference, Mr. Brunelle was the featured guest for the Vivian Perlis Concert. He had planned an exciting evening featuring organ and vocal music. He has so graciously provided a video clip of a performance that will be added to our website. Phillip Brunelle, for your enduring commitment to the preservation and promotion of American music through your scholarship and performances locally, nationally and internationally, it is my pleasure to bestow upon you the highest honor given by the Society for American Music and welcome you as our newest Honorary Member.”

Brunelle spoke briefly about VocalEssence, now in its 52nd year of existence. Its goal is to encourage living composers. He mentioned in particular their work with black composers and also Mexican composers (22 have come to the US so far), and thanked the Society for the honor.

Award Winners

Due to the on-line format and the need to keep the meeting length to one hour, we did not announce the names of all of the winners, but they are detailed in the Spring 2020 Bulletin, which is longer than normal and features all of them. Kernodle did, however, name particular award-winners at the meeting: Lifetime achievement: Marva Carter; Distinguished Service: Kitty Preston; Lowens Book Award: Naomi André; Lowens Article Award: Will Cheng; Honorable mention for Lowens Article Award: Bridget Cohen; and Mark Tucker winner: April Morris.

Acknowledgments

President Kernodle expressed thanks to the SAM Conference Team: Joice Gibson, conference manager; Paula Bishop, Co-conference manager; and Megan McDonald, Executive director. She also thanked to Marian Wilson Kimber (program committee) and Andy Flory (local arrangements), as well as the SAM board, the conference producers, session chairs, and presenters.

Tacoma Conference Information

Gwynn Brown, Local Arrangements Chair, shared a Tacoma SAM welcome song. Nancy Rao, Program Chair, announced that the committee will contact submitters in late August. The conference is schedule for March 17–21, 2021. The Hotel Marano is booked at this time. The 2021 Honorary member will be actress, singer, and band leader Kerry Brownstein.

Transitions

President Kernodle thanked outgoing committee chairs and board members Eduardo Herrera and Glenda Goodman, and past president Sandy Graham. She then welcomed new board members Birgitta Johnson, liaison for outreach committees; and Kristen Turner, liaison for fellowship and award committees; and President elect Daniel Goldmark, who will take over at meeting in 2021.

The meeting adjourned at 4:29 p.m.

Respectfully submitted,

Leta Miller

Upcoming JSAM Contents

Journal of the Society for American Music
Volume 14, Number 4 (November 2020)

Articles

“For Thee America! For Thee Syria?”: Alexander Maloof, Orientalist Music, and the Politics of the Syrian Mahjar
Beau Bothwell

Negotiating Convention: Pop-Ups and Populism at the San Francisco Opera
Megan Steigerwald Ille

Finding Florence Mills: The Voice of the Harlem Jazz Queen in the Compositions of William Grant Still and Edmund Thornton Jenkins
Stephanie Doktor

Club Petroushka, Émigré Performance, and New York’s Russian Nightclubs of the Roaring Twenties
Natalie K. Zelensky

Reviews

Books

Angela K. Ahlgren, Drumming Asian America: Taiko, Performance, and Cultural Politics
Jennifer Milioto Matsue

Emily Abrams Ansari, The Sound of a Superpower: Musical Americanism and the Cold War
Cadra Peterson McDaniel

E. Douglas Bomberger, Making Music American: 1917 and the Transformation of Culture
William Brooks

Mary Caton Lingold, Darren Muellwer, and Whitney Trettien, eds. Digital Sound Studies
Kimberly Williams

Media

Silent Film Sound & Music Archive: A Digital Repository
Erin M. Brooks

Rodrigo Brandão, Outros Barato
James McNally

JSAM Colloquy Guidelines

David F. Garcia

JSAM is pleased to announce that it will begin publishing colloquies and roundtables regularly in its issues. These formats, which are new to the journal, will complement its ongoing publication of articles and reviews. Colloquy topics may be announced by the Editor or submitted as a proposal by a convener to the Editor. In either case, proposed topics of inquiry will be approved by JSAM’s Editorial Board. A proposed deadline for contributions (2,000–3,000 words maximum) may be set at six to eight weeks from the call’s announcement. The Editor will review and anonymize submissions before forwarding them to the Editorial Board, which will blind review and select three to four of the most engaging and effective essays pertaining to the call’s subject matter. For authors whose contributions are selected by the Editorial Board, credit on their C.V. should equate with a peer-reviewed publication. After those contributions have been selected, the Editorial Board will consult with the Editor in selecting potential respondents.

The goals of these new JSAM colloquies and roundtables include: 1) fostering transformative dialogue about current issues in scholarship and pedagogy; and 2) providing a platform for a demographically diverse range of voices.

For JSAM’s inaugural colloquy (approved by the Editorial Board), the Editor invites contributions (2,000–3,000 words maximum) that address Anti-Racism in reforming undergraduate music curricula in departments and schools of music. We invite contributions that collectively address this question from varying methodological approaches. We especially encourage Black and Indigenous contributors and contributors of color—particularly, early career scholars working in and outside of the academy—to submit contributions. We hope Anti-Racism and other themes related to music and social justice will be an ongoing theme for follow-up colloquies in JSAM. Contributions should be sent to the Editor at jsameditor@gmail.com following JSAM submission guidelines. The deadline for contributions is January 15, 2021.

Return to Top

 

Updates from the Editor of JSAM

David F. Garcia

It is my pleasure to announce that Cambridge University Press has resumed issuing print copies of JSAM. We thank you for your patience while the press navigated the challenges presented to it by the ongoing pandemic.

I am also pleased to announce JSAM’s new assistant editor Amanda Black. Amanda’s dissertation, “Sonic Gentrification: Tourism, Periphery, and Privilege in San Miguel de Allende, Mexico,” examines the ways in which the combined forces of tourism, U.S. immigration, and gentrification shape the musical, cultural, and sonic boundaries of the city of San Miguel. Welcome, Amanda! Many thanks to Dr. Stephen Stacks for his work as assistant editor of volume 14, nos. 1–3.

 

Call for Bulletin Contributions

The Bulletin editorial board invites members to contribute feature articles, reviews, and news, as well as ideas for future Bulletin segments or series. We welcome essays and opinion pieces on current issues in American music (broadly conceived) and music scholarship; reports on concerts and conferences of interest to our membership; transcriptions of interviews with prominent persons in American musical life; reviews of recent books, online resources, media (including albums and documentaries) pertaining to American music; and updates on our members’ scholarly, creative, and professional activities. You can contact members of the editorial board via the SAM website or via the email addresses listed at the bottom of the Bulletin issue.

 

Book Reviews

Korngold and His World. Daniel Goldmark and Kevin C. Karnes, eds. Princeton University Press, 2019. 329pp. ISBN: 978-0-691-19829-3. Paperback.

Samantha M. Cooper, New York University, Jewish Music Forum, A Project of the American Society for Jewish Music

Though he is widely believed to be the last child prodigy trained in the Austro-German musical tradition, Jewish émigré film composer Erich Wolfgang Korngold (1897–1957) has long remained an understudied figure. The son of noted Viennese music critic Julius Korngold, the talented Erich spent his early years in Brno and then Vienna under his father’s exacting influence, crafting chamber music, operas, and operettas for an appreciative listening public and the adulation of several prestigious musical figures. In spite of simmering anti-Semitic tensions, Korngold experienced an enormously successful career in Vienna, with critics frequently comparing him to the likes of fellow musical wunderkind, Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart. Korngold’s gradual entrance into Hollywood as a film scorer eased his family’s escape to Los Angeles following the Anschluss of 1938. Despite his lack of enduring iconicity, Korngold invented musical techniques for scoring films that are now considered indispensable to the sound of American cinema; in particular, Korngold’s theatrical reliance on colorful, rich, and grandiose symphonic orchestrations, Wagnerian leitmotivs, and solo instrumentation to foreshadow, accompany, and reflect onscreen action solidified his place within the American public consciousness. Today, Captain Blood (1935), Anthony Adverse (1936), The Adventures of Robin Hood (1938), and The Sea Hawk (1940) remain some of his most famous and award-winning film scores. Following the war, Korngold spent much of his adulthood in Los Angeles, continuing to compose while navigating the challenges of existence as a resettled émigré in America. In part due to his idealization of, nostalgia for, and faith in Vienna’s prewar musical idioms, Korngold acutely struggled to reconcile the musical language of his European childhood with the expectations of the modern American music industry.

Korngold and His World, an edited collection expertly curated by musicologists Daniel Goldmark and Kevin C. Karnes, reassesses its subject’s experiences and contributions. Published last year in conjunction with the Bard Music Festival’s celebration of Korngold, it arrived just in time for the 125th anniversary of the composer’s birth. In order to fully represent many of the relevant subfields of contemporary musicological research, the collection features eight scholarly articles by nine authors, including David Brodbeck, Charles Youmans, Sherry Lee, Sadie Menicanin, Lily E. Hirsch, Ben Winters, Neil Lerner, Amy Lynn Wlodarski, and Leon Botstein. Seven re-discovered primary source documents related to diverse aspects of Korngold’s life, career, and legacy round out the edited volume, with introductions, edits, annotations, and translations by David Brodbeck, Kevin C. Karnes, Daniel Goldmark, Bryan Gilliam, and Elisabeth Staak.1 The scholarly articles and primary source documents lead the reader on two semi-chronological forays through Korngold’s life by first evaluating his adolescence in prewar Vienna, then attending to his adulthood in postwar Los Angeles. The articles and archival documents work together to help the reader reflect on the major themes of Korngold’s life, such as navigating narratives of the prewar (Old and traditional) and postwar (New or modern) worlds, and the tenuous divisions between high and low art (xi).

One of this volume’s major successes is its investigation of how immigration impacted Korngold’s compositional palette and output. To this end, articles by Brodbeck, Youmans, Lerner, Wlodarski, and Botstein investigate not only Korngold’s triumphs, but also bring to light his struggles and failures to please critics and gain the recognition he deserved. In diversely focused meditations, these authors revisit how Korngold’s childhood in Vienna, his complex relationship with his father, the political and social leanings of prewar European music critics, and his fraught position as an exiled Viennese Jew in postwar America conspicuously impacted his music’s development and mixed reception. Lerner, for instance, reveals how Korngold’s score for Kings Row (1942) reinforced unpalatably ableist perspectives on physical and mental disability that were more products of circulating fears about wartime casualties than actual reflections of reality (155–57). Wlodarski, meanwhile, makes the compelling case that Korngold’s Symphony in F-sharp failed to generate anticipated support because audiences were not equipped to handle the discernable presence of “a particular traumatic mode of modernism—the ruin—in which recognizable fragments from the past recall[ed] an uncomfortable or contested history of decay and destruction” in his music (169). Botstein’s lengthy coda to the volume probes why “condescension” and “disregard” dogged Korngold’s experiences, in spite of his undeniable compositional brilliance (263). He eventually accepts that Korngold remained somewhat “out of touch” with contemporary sensibilities and “appeared to resist the challenge of the historical moment,” in ways that detrimentally rendered him an outsider (263, 266, 268, 271). By embracing the very human ways in which Korngold experienced failure, these essays exemplify new possibilities for future scholars interested in the successful writing of biography.

The enthusiasm of certain authors to experiment with newer modes of analysis in their considerations of Korngold should be commended. In particular, Lee and Menicanin creatively unpack how Korngold’s literary source text and music for his opera Die tote Stadt (1919), as well as his audiences’ listening experiences, were inextricably shaped by the acoustic circumstances of twentieth-century urban life. “Sonic modernity,” they claim, inevitably resonates “within the spaces of modern identity” (69). Taken as a whole, their chapter offers an accomplished demonstration of how contemporary sound studies can proffer a useful analytical frame for consideration of how historic places influence the creations that emerge from them. Hirsch, too, employs an especially novel framework; she divides and structures her analysis according to her answers to the four questions posed by musicologist Howard Pollack during the “Jews, Music, and Biography” panel held at the 2017 American Musicological Society meeting to aid those in researching composers with complex connections to their Jewish identities (90).2 The ensuing article presents a nuanced, self-conscious consideration of how a scholar can successfully circumnavigate issues of bias so as to accept their subject’s preferences for certain kinds of ethnic association and recognition.

Ultimately, Korngold and His World provides a set of vibrant articles and documents that deepen our understanding of this oft-overlooked musical figure. The decision to include images from private collections throughout the volume, in addition to a selection of primary sources from archival collections, is a particularly perspicacious one. It serves to make Korngold himself, as well as his family members and key critics, more readily accessible to readers who are unable to access institutional archives like the Korngold collection at the Library of Congress or the Warner Bros. Archives at the University of Southern California. In light of the diverse scholarly approaches it represents and the accessible nature of its content, this edited collection will surely appeal to readers interested in the study of music, sound, film, émigré experience, biography, and the Holocaust, as well as European and American Jewish history.


[1] The 30th Annual Bard Festival included the North American premiere of Korngold’s opera Das Wunder der Heliane (1927), as well as two weekends of concerts, film screenings, and seminars.

[2] In his presentation, Pollack invited such scholars to consider (1) the subject’s relationship to Judaism and Jewish culture, (2) the evaluations of others regarding the subject or his work’s relationship with Jewishness, (3) the subject’s own perspective on the presence of Judaism in their life and/or work, and (4) the biographer’s assessment of the subject’s personal and professional connections with Judaism. I attended this presentation, and was thus especially invested in seeing how Hirsch would apply Pollack’s framework in her chapter. See Howard Pollack, “Jews, Music, and Biography,” paper presented at the American Musicological Society National Conference, co-organized by Lily E. Hirsch and Amy Wlodarski, Rochester, N.Y., 9 November 2017, forthcoming in Musica Judaica.

 

The Blackface Minstrel Show in Mass Media: 20th Century Performance on Radio, Records, Film and Television. Tim Brooks. McFarland, 2019. 290pp. ISBN: 9781476676760. Paperback.

Samuel Golter, University of Virginia

Tim Brooks’s The Blackface Minstrel Show in Mass Media: 20th Century Performances on Radio, Records, Film and Television gives an account of minstrelsy’s life beyond the stage. Whereas most of the existing scholarship on blackface minstrelsy focuses on its rise and fall as staged entertainment between the 1820s and1890s, Brooks shows how the format was adapted and given new life by the mass media industry. By tracing minstrelsy’s presence in the recording industry, radio, film, and television up through the middle of the 20th century and beyond, Brooks asks us to reconsider what we know about minstrelsy in American, and to a lesser extent British, mass culture.

Brooks is best known for his groundbreaking and award-winning work, Lost Sounds: Blacks and the Birth of the Recording Industry, 1890–1919 (University of Illinois Press, 2005), which is largely considered a masterpiece of cultural reclamation. Like that book, The Blackface Minstrel Show in Mass Media uncovers a vast and heretofore unrecognized archive of recorded media. This new project, however, takes a much more expansive approach that runs up to the present day and includes chapters on multiple mass media formats. It also makes a rather different intervention. Instead of pushing against the erasure of African Americans in the music industry, The Blackface Minstrel Show in Mass Media focuses on blackface minstrelsy’s refusal to disappear, only becoming de-platformed in the late 1940s due primarily to the withdrawal of support from sponsors in the face of organized opposition. More exposition than reclamation, it’s a sobering reminder of how deeply racial mockery is woven into the cultural fabric of the United States. However, these observations are more implied than explicitly developed. Readers should be aware that Brooks positions himself as a documentarian rather than a cultural theorist, and he mostly avoids wading in the waters of minstrelsy’s vexed politics.

The Blackface Minstrel Show in Mass Media contains six chapters, each devoted to a different mass media format. The first chapter sets the stage by giving a familiar account of the minstrel stage show’s rise and fall from prominence over the course of the 19th century, building on histories by Robert C. Toll, W.T. Lhamon, Jr., Hans Nathan, and Dale Cockrell.1 Brooks gives a helpful overview of the minstrel stage show’s standard three-act structure, its formal and representational conventions, and a business model based on touring stage troupes that lasted until the 1920s.

The next four chapters comprise Brooks’s most original research, providing a chronological history of minstrelsy on records, radio, motion pictures, and television, respectively. Brooks shows us that minstrelsy accompanied the introduction and proliferation of every major mass media format and only disappeared when the format became outmoded or political backlash made sponsors uncomfortable associating with it. Brooks alternates between biographical accounts of key figures, discussions of the state of the industry, and close readings of certain minstrel texts. In Chapter 2, we learn, for example, of minstrel performer Len Spencer’s role in abbreviating the roughly hour-long minstrel show into three-minute recordings, the use of minstrelsy by early record companies fighting for a competitive advantage in a developing market, and the emergence of a small minstrel celebrity star system following the best-known minstrel celebrity, Lew Dockstader.

Chapter 3 covers minstrelsy on the radio, which exploded—due largely to the efforts of producer Dailey Paskman—right as the popularity of staged minstrelsy was fading by the end of the 1920s. Touring radio minstrel troupes staged live reproductions of radio shows, with microphones and speakers joining men in blackface on the stage. Networks and advertisers produced radio minstrel programs that featured stars like Al Bernard and music by the likes of Benny Goodman. It wasn’t until the end of World War II that minstrel radio shows began to face organized backlash. Its death knell was a protest effort led by the NAACP against NBC’s The National Minstrel Show in 1948, causing it to be delayed and eventually renamed Swingtime at the Savoy. Though the show was hosted by black bandleader Lucky Millinder and featured African American talent, the word ‘minstrel show’ itself was enough to elicit opposition and make controversy-averse sponsors pressure the network to change its name.

This historical trajectory is reproduced in the next two chapters on minstrelsy in film and television, respectively. One of the first films was a minstrel show released by Edison in 1894; this was followed by a steady stream of filmed minstrel sketches. At the same time that minstrelsy was experiencing a revival on the radio in the late 1920s and early ’30s, talkies like Paramount’s The Rainbow Man, Pathé’s The Grand Parade, Fox’s Happy Days, and most famously, Warner Bros. Pictures’ The Jazz Singer featured minstrel shows. Brooks shows us that minstrelsy’s presence on television predates the commercialization of the medium in 1940, when NBC broadcast an amateur show performed by the network’s young male pages. As with radio minstrelsy, minstrelsy on both television and film faced a backlash by the end of the 1940s. Though the last minstrel series on network television, ABC-TV’s American Minstrels of 1949, was canceled after two weeks following protests, individual minstrel skits and performances continued to be folded into other programs in the first few years of the 1950s on shows like The Fred Waring Show and Ed Sullivan’s Toast of the Town. Even though character archetypes and humor derived from minstrelsy persist on both mediums to this day, such explicit minstrel productions were virtually eradicated from television thereafter and were only rarely depicted in major motion pictures.

Brooks has made a significant contribution to the history of minstrelsy and American mass media with this book. However, I’m reminded of Saidiya Hartman’s important intervention into minstrelsy’s archives in her seminal Scenes of Subjection (1997). Because archives remain entangled in the politics of domination that frame their assembly, she insists that it takes more work to “brush history against the grain” than to let archives speak for themselves.2 Brooks often asks the reader to suspend judgement and let the archive of minstrel media do just that. Though he occasionally takes strong and unequivocal stances against the outright degradation of Black people proffered by coon songs in the late 19th century and in demeaning cartoons that were popular in the 1930s and 1940s, he balances most criticisms with appeals for the reader not to apply contemporary standards of morality to what he calls “mockery that today seems cruel” (5). In a telling passage where he reviews secondary literature, he has little more to say of cornerstones in critical minstrel scholarship like Eric Lott’s Love & Theft (1993) and Katrina Dyonne Thompson’s Ring Shout, Wheel About (2014) than that they are both “highly opinionated” interpretations of the meaning of minstrelsy (5). Yet it is in these critical texts where we find a response to his historicizing plea—minstrelsy has always been cruel, even when it isn’t baring its teeth.

In lieu of critique, Brooks handles the politics of minstrelsy by balancing the stances of its critics and defenders. For example, most mentions of African American activists who fought to boycott minstrelsy are followed by an observation about how the activists misunderstood something about what they were organizing against. An example is Brooks’ discussion of the controversy surrounding NBC’s The National Minstrel Show in 1948. He frames the show as caught between a battle between “the Negro intelligentsia,” represented by the NAACP, whom he calls “quick to complain about anything they deemed offensive,” and “working actors and musicians [who] just wanted to get on air and showcase their talent” (133). Brooks questions the integrity of the critics of The National Minstrel Show/Swingtime at the Savoy, which he notes was uncontroversial “even applying today’s standards” (133). However, as the NAACP was primarily objecting to the title, it’s unclear why Brooks defends the show in terms of its content. The framing technique that Brooks employs whenever discussing the politics of minstrelsy occasionally slips in and out of focus.

Underlying this balancing act between critics and the critics’ critics seems to be a desire to navigate the politics of writing about minstrelsy in 2020 without alienating anyone. However, doing this means abstracting the chronology of minstrelsy from the history and techniques of white supremacy. Brooks lays out what seems to be his understanding of the stakes of writing historically about minstrelsy in a discussion of the self-censorship of Disney’s Song of the South (1946), calling the controversy the film generated “emblematic of the conflict between acknowledging history and the fear that acknowledging it might perpetuate its evils” (173). Yet he cites Jason Sperb’s Disney’s Most Notorious Film: Race, Convergence, and the Hidden Histories of Song of the South (2012) as an example of scholarship in the latter camp, despite the fact that Sperb uses the book to examine history, not to repress it. It is indeed important to distinguish criticism from censorship; criticism at its best is about the desire to understand, not obliterate, its object. What is really at stake, then, seems to be a conflict between two notions of what historical work ought to be—a faithful compilation of facts, or a critical excavation that gives insight into questions about power.

Brooks’s The Blackface Minstrel Show in Mass Media is a useful book for those who wish to learn more about the minstrel stage show’s afterlife. The archival work he has done is invaluable. I hope that it will provide the groundwork for future scholarship that explores mass-mediated minstrelsy’s political economy with more critical incision.


[1] Robert C. Toll, Blacking Up: The Minstrel Show in Nineteenth Century America (Oxford University Press, 1977); W.T. Lhamon, Jr., Raising Cain: Blackface Performance from Jim Crow to Hip Hop (Harvard University Press, 1998); Hans Nathan, Dan Emmett and the Rise of Early Negro Minstrelsy (University of Oklahoma Press, 1977);  Dale Cockrell, Demons of Disorder: Early Blackface Minstrels and Their World (Cambridge University Press, 1997).

[2] Saidiya Hartman, Scenes of Subjection: Terror, Slavery, and Self-Making in Nineteenth-Century America (Oxford University Press, 1997): 11.

 

I Hear A Symphony: Motown and Crossover R&B. Andrew Flory. University of Michigan Press, 2017. 334 pp. ISBN: 9780472036868. Paperback.

Whitney Henderson, University of Washington

Motown’s pervasive popularity has been the subject of many books targeted at both fans and scholars. Formed in 1959 as an independent or “indie” Rhythm & Blues (R&B) label, Motown aimed to reach similarly broad audiences by making records that could “crossover,” or move between “music markets that had once been mostly self-contained” (1), such as the R&B and mainstream markets. As Andrew Flory shows in I Hear a Symphony: Motown and Crossover R&B, Motown’s penchant for crossover into different music markets, geographic regions, and media was the key driver of its enduring success.

In its sixty-plus years of operation, Motown has been many things, often simultaneously: a business, a production method, a collective agent, a musical style, a beat, a brand, a cultural signifier, a publishing house, a movie studio, and more recently, a playlist category tag, to name a few. Previous works about Motown have focused on cataloging the vast amount of information about its history, often at the expense of critical discussions of its music. Informed by his own immersion into Motown’s recording vaults as a consultant with Motown’s parent company, Universal Music, Flory’s I Hear a Symphony combines insightful musical analysis with robust research. The result is a compelling and comprehensive account of Motown’s journey from local R&B record company to international mainstream cultural force.

As the co-author of popular music textbook What’s That Sound?: An Introduction to Rock Music and Its History (Norton, with popular music theorist John Covach), Flory may have imagined his Motown tome (shall we call it his MoTome?) as a course reader at some point as well, and it could certainly serve as one, with each chapter conveniently encompassing a “unit.” Like other books in the University of Michigan Press’s Tracking Pop series, I Hear a Symphony also appeals to both academic and general readership audiences. Music fans have many points of entry into the material covered in I Hear a Symphony, whether seeking a general history of Motown, more information about specific artists or groups (such as the Temptations, the Supremes, Marvin Gaye, or Stevie Wonder, among many other recognizable names), or Motown's relationship to other “indies” such as Stax. And thanks to Motown’s ubiquity within American popular culture and its forays into film and other industries, researchers and scholars in a variety of disciplines will find this book invaluable.

There is a lot of information in this book, and Flory helpfully provides structure, themes, and visuals to help the reader navigate. Attesting to its scholarly rigor, I Hear a Symphony has substantial back matter, including valuable endnotes, an extensive bibliography of multimedia sources, and a useful index. The end matter’s depth and breadth lend itself well to “rabbit holes” of niche topics or rare recordings that avid music fans often pursue. The main text offers instructive visuals (with helpful explanations) of rare but pertinent production materials, such as tape file cards and tracking sheets for reels, as well as newspaper and trade magazine clippings, musical examples, photographs, album covers, fanzine excerpts, commercial screenshots, and advertisements—all crucial pieces of the multifaceted Motown. These are so insightful that a list of figures would be useful in future print editions, though the searchable eBook makes locating these artifacts easy to find.

The book’s Introduction is best read thoroughly, as it outlines important concepts that are explored in the rest of the work. These include the African American tradition of musical dialogue in the form of answer songs and call-and-response, the dialogic relationship between the music mainstream and peripheral markets like R&B, the inexorable link between Motown and the representation of post-World War II black middle class, and the various agents simultaneously at work that made up Motown, such as producer, musician, and composer. Flory draws from prior firsthand accounts, textual studies, archival repositories and private collections, and his analysis of musical recordings in various stages of the recording process.

The six main chapters unfold largely chronologically, and each covers its own music or market-themed unit. The book also falls into two halves that parallel Motown’s own relationship with the concept of crossover. The first half, Chapters 1 through 3, traces the development of the crossover-friendly Motown sound and the various dialogues between and within the R&B and mainstream markets. This covers the timeframe from Motown’s 1959 founding by Berry Gordy Jr. through the mid-1960s. Here, Flory’s immersive research and musical analysis shine. Chapter 1, “Searching for Motown,” discusses the pre-Motown R&B market and Motown’s establishment in Detroit, including an overview of the large business-minded Gordy family and early key Motown figures. The focus of the second chapter, “The Rise of the Motown Sound,” is self-evident. Flory cites Motown’s assembly-line business structure, with multivalent figures such as Holland-Dozier-Holland and Smokey Robinson operating within, as a catalyst for codifying a cohesive Motown sound by 1963. The third chapter, “Motown and Soul,” shows how Motown navigated the differences between soul music—seen as spontaneous, earthy, and authentic—and the Motown brand—highly cultivated images and sounds of a polished middle class—by creating a new Soul imprint in 1964. By utilizing elements of soul music, Motown achieved even greater crossover into mainstream markets with soul-oriented hits.

The second half of I Hear a Symphony plots Motown’s geographical and media crossovers, as Motown gained international popularity, moved its headquarters from Detroit to Los Angeles (“MoWest”), successfully entered the film industry, and was later used commercially as a nostalgic signifier to sell things like raisins. Chapter 4, “Motown International,” begins with a quick look backward. Here, Flory provides background on the international market for African American musicians, focusing on the relationship between the US and UK markets in the post-WWII era through the start of Motown’s international voyage, around 1964. “From Motown to the MoWest,” the book’s fifth chapter, chronicles Motown’s late 1960s trickle into the Los Angeles area, punctuated by the formal move of its headquarters from Detroit in 1973. Flory importantly demonstrates how this move was not just geographical, but also representative of sonic, production-method, and media shifts. In now-typical fashion, Motown approached visual media production and music from many angles, from TV performances to movies and movie scores, and even a brief cartoon run (Jackson 5ive in the early 1970s). The book’s final chapter, “The 1980s and Beyond,” features some of Motown’s long-standing artists who were entering their third decade of recording music, such as Smokey Robinson and Stevie Wonder, attesting to Motown’s cultivation of lasting talent. It also introduces some of Motown’s more recent hitmakers, such as Rick James and Lionel Ritchie, who Flory notes were the most successful Motown recording artists of the 1980s and 1990s, and traces Motown to the neo-soul movement starting in the mid-1990s. Significantly, Flory notes how during this time, Motown also became little-m motown, a set of loose musical and visual signifiers that invoke either Motown specifically or a broader, milky-lensed nostalgia for the 1960s era, often to sell a product. And finally, Flory revisits the song that inspired the book’s title, the 1965 hit “I Hear a Symphony” by emblematic Motown group the Supremes. Though Flory outlines in the book’s Introduction his choice of “title track,” the richness of its significance is most impactful at the end of the MoTome journey, and Flory adeptly closes the final chapter with a short section called “Hearing the Symphony.” He unravels what seems like a simple Motown reference, reminding the reader that while the Motown Sound may now feel synonymous with mainstream American popular music, when the song became a hit, “it may have been odd to hear three black girls from Detroit’s Brewster-Douglass Housing Projects singing about one of the most important cultural institutions in the history of Western music” (193).

It is clear by the end of I Hear a Symphony what a complex subject Motown is. Flory’s account is extensive, but it is apparently not completely exhaustive, as Flory continues to unpack and illuminate more exciting facets of Motown with recent projects such as “Mapping Marvin [Gaye]” (presented at the recent 2020 SAM conference). It is fun to imagine what Flory will weave next into Motown’s story, or what interactive tools may be included in a reprint of this book, as Motown’s (and motown’s) influence continues into its seventh decade.

 

Bulletin Board

Reva Marin is pleased to announce that her book, Outside and Inside: Race and Identity in White Jazz Autobiography , is now available for pre-order and will be published on October 15, 2020 by University Press of Mississippi. Outside and Inside is the first full-length study of autobiographies and memoirs of white American jazz musicians, whose accounts reveal attitudes toward race, ethnicity, and gender across a wide range of twentieth-century jazz communities. These autobiographers highlight their experiences in African American jazz environments as central to establishing their legitimacy as jazz musicians, claiming versions of masculinity shaped by these immersion experiences and positioning themselves in relation to colorblind or essentialist arguments that have dominated twentieth-century jazz discourse. Their accounts illustrate the triumphs and failures of jazz interracialism, displaying the contradictory attitudes of reverence and entitlement, deference and insensitivity that remain part of the white response to black culture to the present day.

The Society for Christian Scholarship in Music is inviting the submission of abstracts for essays to be included in a scholarly volume titled Sacred Contexts in Secular Music of the Long Nineteenth Century, edited by Markus Rathey and Effie Papanikolaou. Whereas tropes of cross-fertilization of the sacred and the secular are evident in a variety of repertories and genres from the western art tradition, and have been the focus of specialized studies, this volume aims to address instances where religious contexts (of diverse traditions) have influenced secular compositions of the long nineteenth century. Religious features may not be limited to those of Christian traditions only or of sacred music per se; in fact, studies that emphasize the inclusion of or allusion to non-Christian religious elements in secular music are particularly welcome. This project provides timely musical and ideological intersections by engaging with genres, narratives, religions, and ideologies that have traditionally been left out of similar studies of western art music. Abstracts no longer than 350 words are due by October 15, 2020. Further details are available at https://www.scsmusic.org/publications/sacred-contexts-in-secular-music/ .

The University of Pennsylvania Libraries has completed the digitization of more than 2,500 items from the collection of Marian Anderson, one of the most celebrated singers of the twentieth century. The body of primary sources in the collection—including letters, diaries, journals, interviews, recital programs, and private recordings—spans the Philadelphia-born contralto’s six-decade career as a concert singer and advocate for social justice. The digitization project was funded in 2018 by a $110,000 grant from the Council on Library and Information Resources. The newly digitized materials complement a significant collection of four thousand photographs, which are also publicly accessible. Further details are available at https://www.library.upenn.edu/blogs/libraries-news/marian-anderson-collection-newly-digitized-penn-libraries-now-accessible.

 

The Bulletin of the Society for American Music

The Bulletin is published in the Winter (January), Spring (May), and Fall (September) by the Society for American Music. Copyright 2020 by the Society for American Music, ISSN 0196-7967.

Editorial Board
Editor:
Ryan Ebright
Reviews Editor: Katie Hollenbach
Media Editor: Alfredo Colman
Design and Layout: Jessica Getman

Items for submission should be submitted via the Bulletin's information page. Photographs or other graphic materials should be accompanied by captions and desired location in the text. Deadlines for submission of materials are 15 December, 15 April, and 15 August.