Go to Content
Columbia College Chicago
On Our Shelves
Print this PageEmail this Page

On Our Shelves

On Our Shelves is a general interest and educational resource tool created by the CBMR staff as a way of sharing information about black music worldwide. Our staff members have wide-ranging interests and areas of expertise but all authors and artists discussed below are represented in the CBMR library and archival collections. Please follow the links for additional information. The ideas and opinions represented here are not formal institutional endorsements or reviews.

Filter Library Items By:

The Holmes Brothers. State of Grace. (Alligator Records ALCD 4912)
Click here to purchase.

Veteran bluesmen The Holmes Brothers' tenth album, State of Grace, intersperses original songs with unexpected covers (such as Cheap Trick's "I Want You to Want Me" and Nick Lowe's "What's So Funny 'Bout Peace, Love and Understanding?") and features guest artists such as Joan Osborne and Rosanne Cash. On this CD, they combine angelic gospel harmonies with earthy blues, some soul, and even a bit of country flavor. Alternately quiet and mournful and bluesy and raucous, State of Grace packs emotional resonance in every track. Particularly beautiful and awe-inspiring is their ballad interpretation of "I Want You to Want Me."

Laura Haefner
"I Want You to Want Me"

Sam Cooke. Greatest Hits. (RCA Records 07863 67605-2)
Click here to purchase.

Sam Cooke is a soul legend. Born in Chicago, he began his career in gospel as the successful lead singer for the Soul Stirrers. He soon reached his peak in gospel music and branched out into popular music with his first single "You Send Me." Released in 1957, it sold over one million copies. Examples of his unique vocal style, which combined R&B and blues influences, can be heard in the tracks "Bring It On Home To Me" and "Sad Mood." Many artists from soul and other genres have been influenced by Cooke's vocal style. Steve Perry (from the rock group Journey), sounds a lot like Sam Cooke to me. I really hear a resemblance in "Nothing Can Change This Love."

Linda Hunter
"Nothing Can Change This Love"

The CBMR Library and Archives also owns numerous other Sam Cooke recordings and information about Cooke. For more information about our collections, click here.

The Best of the Girl Groups Volumes 1 and 2. (Rhino R2 70988 and 70989)
Click here to purchase.

This Rhino collection offers a taste of well-known (and some lesser-known) girl groups as well as solo singers who were produced to match the classic girl group sound: rhythm and blues elements with a pop treatment, lead vocals with additional members singer loosely arranged harmonies in support, and, most important, lyrics that dealt with the many shades of teenage angst: morality and social constraint (“The Leader of the Pack” by the Shangri-las), partying (“Party Lights” by Claudine Clark and “The Loco-motion” by Little Eva), idealized young love (“Chapel of Love” by the Dixie Cups), and just general boy-craziness (my favorite track: “Baby It’s You” by the Shirelles). The two-volume set represents groups from the classic era—roughly between 1958 and 1966. These artists encouraged crossover audiences and paved the way for the more commercially successful girl groups of Motown like the Marvelettes, Martha and the Vandellas, and the Supremes. Their sound and look was also the template for popular beach party films of the period, so listening to this collection will bring the sounds of summer to cold Chicago winters!

Monica Hairston
"Baby It's You"

In addition to owning a copy of this recording, the CBMR Library and Archives also owns other items on girl groups including the box set One Kiss Can Lead to Another: Girl Group Sounds Lost and Found (Rhino R2 74645) and the book Girl Groups: Fabulous Females That Rocked the World by John Clemente.

Natalie Hinderas. Piano Music by African American Composers. (Originally recorded by Desto 7120/3. Reissued by Composers Recordings, Inc. CD 629)
Click here to purchase.

This pivotal, groundbreaking work was first recorded in 1970 (Desto) and reissued in 1992 (CRI). This recording is pivotal because it, along with recitals that featured the works of African-American composers, propelled Hinderas’s career. According to scholarly sources, the recitals started in 1968 and were primarily given at black colleges. Obviously, the recitals garnered even more acclaim and led to this recording. Nine composers are represented on this recording, and a number of the pieces have been programmed and recorded since the initial release. Among the composers who have received more attention since the initial release are William Grant Still, Hale Smith, Olly Wilson, Arthur Cunningham, and George Walker. But, there are also some gems by lesser-known composers, of which I'll only mention two here. Scuppernong, by John W. Work, III, is a charming piece that evokes themes of folk life. The first movement is especially provocative as quotes from a familiar hymn surface throughout and help give the piece a rounded form. Thomas Kerr's Easter Monday Swagger: Scherzino was composed for Hinderas in 1970. It is a tuneful and lively piece that shows the cleverness and wit of the composer, hence the subtitle, Scherzino. Aside from its historical significance, the recording displays Hinderas's technique and colorful touch. A variety of styles and influences are offered on this recording, from folk-inspired tunes to serial techniques to electronic media.

Horace Maxile
"Easter Monday Swagger: Scherzino"

In addition to owning a copy of this and other piano music recordings, the CBMR Library and Archives also owns a number of piano scores by black women composers in its Helen Walker-Hill Collection. For more information about this collection, click here.

Nueva España. Close Encounters in the New World, 1590–1690. (Erato Disques S.A. 2292-45677-2)
Click here to purchase.

The cover art (a detail from José C. Roza’s “La Mascarade Nuptiale”) for Joel Cohen’s recording of religious music in the New World during the sixteenth, seventeenth, and eighteenth centuries provides a hint of the music that the listener will find on this superb recording. The CD contains works composed both in the Old World (Spain and Portugal) and in the new (Mexico and Peru) and which range from a typical sixteenth-century polyphonic motet by Tomás Luis de Victoria to works composed in Mexico and Peru, including the oldest example of printed polyphony in the New World (Joel Cohen, Liner Notes).
Nueva España documents four things: the religious music of the Old World that was regularly performed in the New World; the active professional careers of eminent composers and musicians in the New World during the seventeenth and early eighteenth centuries; the sacred and secular musical influences that were transported both from the Old World to the new and from the New World to the old; and perhaps most important, the presence of African musical practices in both worlds. The latter is demonstrated by “Tarara, tarara” (Negro a 2 con acompañamiento), “Los coflades de la estleya” (Negritos a la Navidad), “Cumba,” and “Convidando esta la noche.” In the program notes, Cohen points out African dance rhythms and forms (guaracha, cumba, garumba, and Cameroun), as well as the presence of African linguistic practices in the Negrito “Dame albriçia,” about which Cohen writes “the resolutely non-tonal ‘harmonies’ and the delightful, percussive rhythms of this song set the action squarely in the ‘black’ ethos that was so much a part of life’s fabric in Nueva España.”
The performances by the Boston Camerata, the Boston Shawm and Sackbut Ensemble, the Schola Cantorum of Boston, and Les Amis de la Sagesse (a Haitian women’s choir from Dorchester, Massachusetts) are impeccable. One of the performers is counter-tenor Derek Lee Ragin, whose recording of Negro spirituals will be highlighted in another “On Our Shelves” profile.

Morris A. Phibbs
"Juan Garcia De Zéspiedes – Guaracha: Convidando Esta La Noche"

Sonny Rollins. Sonny Rollins Plus 4. (Prestige PRCD-30159-2)
(Originally issued in 1956.)
Click here to purchase.

Sonny Rollins Plus 4 is one of my favorite Sonny Rollins records. Despite its title, the band on the recording is actually the legendary Clifford Brown-Max Roach Quintet, in which Rollins served as a sideman. Recorded in a single session on March 22, 1956, Sonny Rollins Plus 4 was cut during an astonishingly prolific period in which it seems as though the young Rollins was unable to record anything but classics (his masterpiece Saxophone Colossus is among them). Performed by one of the greatest hard bop ensembles in the history of jazz, the music on Sonny Rollins Plus 4 is endlessly inventive and always exciting. While I love all the performances on the record, the real standout tracks for me are the jazz waltz “Valse Hot,” the up-tempo swinger “Kiss and Run,” and the unforgettable Rollins classic “Pent-Up House.” The solos by tenor saxophonist Rollins and the incomparable trumpeter Clifford Brown, both of whom are master improvisers, complement each other brilliantly, and the two musicians seem to continually push each other to greater heights. The solid rhythm section (pianist Richie Powell, bassist George Morrow, and the magnificent drummer Max Roach) also delivers superb performances throughout the record. Although a car accident would tragically take the lives of Brown and Powell just three months later, we can be thankful that recordings of this excellent band survive. Sonny Rollins Plus 4 is certainly one of the best.

Andrew Leach
"Pent-Up House"

In addition to owning a copy of this and numerous other Sonny Rollins recordings, the CBMR Library and Archives also owns archival materials relating to Rollins in its Sue Cassidy Clark Collection, including correspondence, original photographs taken by Clark, and other research materials collected by Clark. For more information about this collection, click here.

The Sun Records Story. (Charly SNAJ 713 CD)
(3-CD set)
Click here to purchase.

Until fairly recently, my conception of Sun Records was dominated by Elvis Presley. I had a vague idea that country greats such as Carl Perkins and Johnny Cash had their start there as well with Sam Phillips and company, but I didn't quite realize the fascinating stew of country, folk , and blues that Phillips was putting together. This collection features music from Sun's early days ("Roots"), chosen "to show the percolation of blues through every aspect of American music, including that of country perfomers" (Liner Notes). Performers on this disc include Howlin' Wolf and Rufus Thomas (both of whom went on to later fame, at Chess and Stax, respectively), as well as less famous musicians such as Little Junior Parker, cousin to soul singer Al Green and member of the Blue Flames, a group that played a "crucial role" in the development of Memphis music (Liner Notes). Disc 2, "Good Rockin' Daddies" documents the transition to rockabilly, and disc 3, "Hits and Then Some," delivers the music most easily identified as the Sun sound. For me, it's a rich and educational collection.

Laura Haefner
"Howlin' Wolf - Highway Man"

Miles Davis. Kind of Blue. (Columbia CK 40579)
Click here to purchase.

Miles Davis, one of the most influential and well known jazz trumpet players of our time, was always able to adapt to the times, from bebop to jazz fusion. I was aware early on of his significance in traditional jazz. I realized his versatility when he came out with a version of Michael Jackson's song "Human Nature" on You're Under Arrest, recorded in 1985. However, his most famous recording is the album Kind of Blue, which was originally released in 1959 on Columbia Records and features alto saxophonist Cannonball Adderley and tenor saxophonist John Coltrane. Two of my favorite songs on this album are "All Blues" and "Flamenco Sketches." To me, they're perfect examples of what jazz is at its best, smooth and engaging.

Linda Hunter
"All Blues"

In addition to owning a copy of this and other jazz recordings, the CBMR Library and Archives also owns books relating to the making of Kind of Blue, including The Making of Kind of Blue: Miles Davis and his Masterpiece by Eric Nisenson (New York: St. Martin's Press, 2000) and Kind of Blue: The Making of the Miles Davis Masterpiece by Ashley Kahn (New York: Da Capo Press, 2000).

George T. Nierenberg, director and producer. Say Amen, Somebody. (Xenon Pictures, 2001)
(Originally released as a motion picture in 1982)
Click here to purchase.

The year 2007 marked the twenty-fifth anniversary of the release of the gospel music documentary Say Amen, Somebody, in which the two of the pioneers of gospel music, Willie Mae Ford Smith (1904–1994) and Thomas Dorsey (1899–1993)—along with the Barrett Sisters, the O’Neal Twins, and Zella Jackson Price—tell their own stories through word and song. Filmed in Chicago, the movie offers a rare behind-the-scenes glimpse of gospel music by interspersing musical numbers with reminiscences and reflections.
Interactions of Smith with family members are chronicled in the film. One of my favorite scenes in the movie is of a conversation between Willie Mae Ford Smith and her grandson, who declares that he doesn’t believe that women should preach. Smith, a preacher, responds, “If God can make a jackass talk, why, God [can] make a woman preach.”
Many are familiar with Thomas Dorsey as the writer of the classic gospel song “Precious Lord, Take My Hand.” This song brings comfort to many who are bereaved, and the words have been used as text in sympathy cards. It’s worth watching this film just to see Dorsey give a moving, first-hand account of the sad chain of events that led to his penning the famous song, and later, directing a choir singing it.
Smith and Dorsey have died, but Nierenberg’s foresight in filming these two gospel legends allows them to continue telling the story of gospel music and the role that they played in it. Say amen, somebody!

Janet Harper

In addition to owning a copy of this DVD, the CBMR Library and Archives also owns a copy of the 1996 DVD The Story of Gospel Music: the Power in the Voice. (BBC Video).

The Rough Guide to the Music of Haiti. (World Music Network)
Click here to purchase.

I was a little surprised on a recent visit to Haiti to find and hear music everywhere. In spite of the extreme pressures and challenges of daily life, particularly for the rural poor, music remains a key cultural tool and mode of expression. To my ear, Haitian hip hop and compas vied for most popular genres. Reggae, specifically Bob Marley, seemed to be in a solid third place. This may have been because Legend was the only cassette our delegation’s truck drivers owned; the radio reigns supreme here. Compas—also called compas direct, konpas direk, or konpas—is a dance genre that originated in Haiti and features medium tempos, synthesizers, horn sections, and a rhythmic base modified from the Dominican Republic's meringue. The lyrics are in creole and speak of relationships, rivalries with other compas bands, and occasionally, social commentary.

Even though my trip occurred quite early in the Lenten season, I had the opportunity to join in with a rara procession in Mibale. Rara is the name for Lenten street processions that lead up to carnival as well as the music associated with them. The rara band I saw had three tin trumpets called kònè, which play in a hocketing style, several single-headed drums, maracas (called tcha-tcha), some other various hand-held percussion instruments, a few designated torch holders, and many skilled dancers. It was an exciting and rowdy but organized time. These processions often begin with a vodou ceremony; perhaps next time I will get to see this stage as well.

As a part of my trip, I got to witness several literacy and business classes being held by solidarity groups (women who enter a microfinance program together). Before and after these informal but important classes, the women sing hymns and traditional songs. All of these musical experiences illustrated the ways in which music marks rituals, adds structure to ceremonies and gatherings, and serves as an outlet and platform for critique. It remains a very powerful cultural force.

The Rough Guide to the Music of Haiti features fifteen tracks that testify to this force and highlight its African heritage. It includes songs by iconic Haitian artists such as Coupé Cloué, Mini All Stars, DP Express, Tabou Combo (who celebrate their fortieth anniversary this year), and the political Boukman Eksperyans. The liner notes are helpful, and all in all, this is a solid introduction to contemporary Haitian popular music.

Monica Hairston

In addition to owning a copy of this and other recordings on Haitian music, the CBMR Library and Archives also owns Caribbean Currents: Caribbean Music from Rumba to Reggae, revised and expanded edition by Peter Manuel with CBMR Director of Research Kenneth Bilby and Michael Largey (Temple University Press, 2006) and A Day For the Hunter, a Day for the Prey: Popular Music and Power in Haiti by Gage Averill (University of Chicago Press, 1997).

Ev’ry Time I Feel the Spirit: Spirituals. (Channel Classics Records CCS 2991)
Click here to purchase.

The Negro spiritual is perhaps the most ubiquitous black music in the United States, in performance practices including unaccompanied vocal and instrumental solos, art song and choral arrangements, jazz settings, gospel settings (both black and white), and chamber ensemble and orchestral settings. In fact, the Negro spiritual may be found in just about any vocal or instrumental combination that can be imagined. Performances are in both sacred and profane settings, including the home, clubs, concert venues, recording studios, and in the most humble country or storefront church and largest cathedrals. They are performed in both outdoor and indoor settings by amateur, professional, and student musicians alike and are used in settings ranging from the most private and intimate spiritual moment to the most public extravaganza. They are used within the context of genuine religious worship and as entertainment, as folk music and as the basis for composed concert music. And, of course, they were heard in their original settings of slavery, forced labor, imprisonment, and human degradation; provided the repertoire for the Fisk Jubilee Singers who took the music to Europe; and were set as art songs by Burleigh and arranged for choruses by Hairston, Burleigh, Johnson, and a host of others. During the 1970s, 1980s, and 1990s, it was nearly unthinkable to not include Negro spiritual settings on voice recitals and choral performances. Plus, who has not heard the recordings of Leontyne Price, Jessye Norman, and Kathleen Battle? And the number of works by composers both black and white that use a Negro spiritual as a cantus prius factus is nearly uncountable.

Performed by male alto Derek Lee Ragin and pianist Moses Hogan, this 1991 CD features arrangements by Hogan, Hal Johnson, H. T. Burleigh, and Edward Boatner. It is hard to imagine more deeply felt and intimate vocals than those offered by Ragin, and Hogan's accompaniments demonstrate his musical artistry.

Morris Phibbs
"Give Me Jesus (Derek Lee Ragin)"

In addition to owning a copy of this CD, the CBMR Library and Archives has a large collection of recordings, books, scores, sheet music, dissertations, concert programs and other ephemera that deal with the Negro spiritual.

William Chapman Nyaho. Senku: Piano Music by Composers of African Descent. (Musicians Showcase MS1091)
Click here to purchase.

William Chapman Nyaho is a classically trained pianist and educator who was born in Ghana. His CD Senku presents piano music by twentieth-century composers from throughout the diaspora. Included are works by Joshua Uzoigwe (Nigeria), Gyimah Labi (Ghana), Gamal Abdel-Rahim (Egypt), Oswald Russell (Jamaica), Samuel Coleridge-Taylor (England), and, from the United States, Margaret Bonds, R. Nathaniel Dett, and Coleridge-Taylor Perkinson. A variety of sonorities and styles are included. Bonds's "Troubled Water," Dett's suite "In the Bottoms," and Coleridge-Taylor's variations on "Deep River" (from his Twenty-Four Negro Melodies) exemplify late Romanticism. Folk styles are the basis for Russell's Three Jamaican Dances and Abdel-Rahim's "Variations on an Egyptian Folksong." The pieces by Uzoigwe and Labi represent the contemporary compositional school known as "African pianism," which translates African drum idioms to the piano. Sheer contemporary verve and virtuosity mark Perkinson's "Scherzo."

It is difficult to pick one favorite in this panoply of music. No matter how often I listen, I always hear something new and interesting. My sentimental favorite is probably Perkinson's "Scherzo," which has all the inventiveness and modal richness we came to expect from our friend and colleague Perk. However, the African pieces are also eye-opening in their rhythmic intensity (Uzoigwe's "Ukom" is a personal favorite) and the subtlety with which Nyaho treats Bonds's often-played "Troubled Water" and the virtuosity with which he handles the complexities of Dett's "Juba Dance" are equally entertaining and enlightening. The variety of this CD and the virtuosity displayed are wonderful to experience. Maybe it takes an African performer to bring out the similarities in these pieces from throughout the African Diaspora.

William Chapman Nyaho has also edited a two-volume collection of piano music for Oxford University Press titled Piano Music of Africa and the African Diaspora (2007), which can be found in the CBMR Library. Another excellent CD collection of contemporary piano music by African-American composers is Karen Walwyn's Dark Fires, a two-CD series from Albany Records (Troy 266 and Troy 384).

Suzanne Flandreau
"Scherzo (composed by Coleridge-Taylor Perkinson)"

Cedric Im Brooks and the Light of Saba. Cedric Im Brooks and the Light of Saba. (Honest Jons Records HJRCD4, 2003)
Click here to purchase.

Saxophonist and drummer Cedric Im Brooks is one of Jamaica's most unusual talents. After a stint playing ska, he moved to the United States in the late 1960s and studied the ideas and techniques of Sun Ra and other avant garde jazz luminaries while hanging out with members of the Arkestra in Philadelphia. He returned to Jamaica at the beginning of the 1970s and joined forces with Rastafarian master drummer Count Ossie to create the tremendously influential musical collective and performing group known as The Mystic Revelation of Rastafari. He also arranged horns at Clement "Coxsone" Dodd's legendary Studio One in Kingston, recorded albums and singles of his own, and on occasion arranged for and backed Bob Marley. During the Rastafarian cultural renaissance of the mid and late 70s, he led and recorded with his own band, The Light of Saba. This CD represents a selection of some of his more interesting work from this period, making it readily available for the first time to listeners outside of Jamaica. The collection roams over a broad territory, demonstrating Brooks's Pan Africanist convictions, drawing on elements of funk, Afrobeat, and traditional West African rhythms as well as specifically Jamaican genres such as mento; but at the core of most tracks is a jazz sensibility effectively blended with traditional Rastafarian Nyabinghi drum rhythms and/or bass-heavy "roots" reggae of the kind that came of age in Jamaica during the 1970s. Brooks remains active today as a jazz player and educator, moving between New York and Ethiopia, and often tours internationally with the current version of the Skatalites. Leading artists and intellectuals in Jamaica, such as Rex Nettleford, recognize him as one of the country’s cultural treasures.

Kenneth Bilby
"Rasta Lead On Version"

In addition to owning a copy of this and other recordings featuring Cedric Brooks, the CBMR Library and Archives also owns original interview material and unpublished recordings of Cedric Brooks in concert, as well as field recordings of traditional Jamaican genres tapped by Brooks on this CD (such as mento and Nyabinghi), in its Caribbean collections.

Gerhard Kubik. "How My Research Developed from 1959 to Now," Papers Presented at the 4th Symposium on Ethnomusicology, edited by Andrew Tracey. . (Grahamstown, South Africa: International Library of African Music, 1984)

In 1959, music ethnologist Gerhard Kubik (b. 1934) hitchhiked from his native Vienna to Uganda, marking the beginning of his search for the African roots of jazz. Coming of age in post-war Vienna, Kubik felt the presence of American culture and became fascinated with swing music and jazz. He formed his own jazz band, in which he played clarinet, and developed an interest in learning to play various kinds of African music.
This symposium paper, which was reprinted from a speech given in South Africa, is one of my favorite writings by Kubik for two reasons. First, the autobiographical content situates Kubik's inspiration, initiative, and ethnographic procedures in a historical and cultural context that no longer exists and that is difficult for a younger generation to imagine. Second, the publication date of this speech/paper is critical because it falls halfway between 1959 and today. Reading Kubik's mid-career reflection on his efforts lends insight to a reader's interpretation of his later contributions.
In this paper, he describes his initial difficulties in communicating with his African music instructors and how this impacted his perspective on African music. At first, it was almost impossible for him express in his field notes—which were in German—musical concepts specific to the amadinda music he was learning; yet, it was equally difficult for him to ask his Ugandan teacher about amadinda because it could not be explained using Western musicological analysis. Kubik's ability to navigate this and other situations serves as a model for students of anthropology and ethnomusicology; he is known world-wide for his work on music in the African diaspora.

Melanie Zeck

The CBMR Library and Archives maintains a collection of writings by Kubik and his research partner, Moya Malamusi. In addition, the CBMR also has six videocassettes that contain edited video footage of music and dance events in Namibia, Zambia, Angola, South Africa, and Malawi.

Love. Forever Changes. (Rhino R2 76717)
(Originally issued on Elektra Records in 1967)
Click here to purchase.

Love's Forever Changes is one of my all-time favorite rock albums. It's unlike anything else you'll ever hear, and, as with all great music, something new is always gained from repeated listenings no matter how many times you've heard it before.
Love was a racially integrated group that came out of the 1960s Los Angeles rock scene that also included bands such as The Byrds, Buffalo Springfield, and The Doors. While Love's self-titled debut album reflected the rock influence of The Byrds and The Rolling Stones and their second album, Da Capo, incorporated the sounds of jazz, classical, and Latin music, the band's sound on Forever Changes was pared down to a mostly nonelectric and orchestral instrumentation, creating a gorgeous blend of guitars, strings, and horns in a way that had not previously been achieved in rock music. The band's songwriting (primarily done by enigmatic leader Arthur Lee and guitarist Bryan McLean) had also matured considerably, resulting in miniature suites with several nonrepeating sections, complex arrangements, and strangely evocative melodies and lyrics. Recorded throughout the summer of 1967 and released in November of that year, Forever Changes is all at once gentle yet haunting, beautiful yet dark, charming yet eerie. The vaguely unsettling feel of the album is due not only to its musical character but also to its often inscrutable and ominous lyrics. Lee, who has stated that he had the feeling his death was imminent during the writing of this album, sings songs that often give a sense of paranoia and dread, in stark contrast to much of the feel-good music generally associated with the Summer of Love.

While Forever Changes didn't sell well upon its release (generally attributed to the band's reluctance to perform much outside Los Angeles), it has gained much critical acclaim since that time and is now widely considered a rock masterpiece. The praise is well deserved, and the album should be held in the same high regard as the most celebrated rock records of its era (The Beach Boys' Pet Sounds, The Beatles' Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band, Jimi Hendrix's Are You Experienced?, and Pink Floyd's The Piper at the Gates of Dawn).

Andrew Leach
"The Red Telephone"

The CBMR Library and Archives also owns other recordings of Love and other black rock musicians. For more information about our collections, click here.

Frederick Tillis. Freedom. (New World Records 80455-2)
Click here to purchase.

This recording, released in 1996, is the first devoted entirely to the music of Frederick Tillis. It includes works for a number of performance media including chorus, string quartet, and solo voice. Another highlight is the composer's personal rendering of "Motherless Child" (on soprano saxophone). Particularly striking are the other references to spirituals on this recording. All four movements of Spiritual Fantasy no. 12 feature treatments of African-American spiritual themes in varied compositional treatments. From highly developed motivic fragments to extended contrapuntal episodes, this piece further fortifies the viability of African-American spirituals and folk songs as strong sources for creative ingenuity. A slight contrast to the recognizable themes in Spiritual Fantasy no. 12 and the more folk-oriented pieces is the terse choral work, Freedom. Using the death of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. as inspiration, Tillis offers a highly personal statement that displays a modern compositional technique framed with an atonal (nonserial) palate. The final tracks on the recording present Tillis's poetry in colorful song settings that mildly stretch musical conventions of that idiom.

Horace Maxile

Sharon Jones and the Dap-Kings. 100 Days 100 Nights. (Daptone Records DAP-012)
Click here to purchase.

On a recommendation last year, I picked up the music issue of the Oxford American, an annual feature that includes essays on a wide variety of Southern musicians, plus a sampler disc containing tracks of their music. Among the artists featured was Sharon Jones and the Dap-Kings. As a fan of late-1960s and 1970s soul and funk, I loved their included track, “How Long Do I Have to Wait.” I was surprised to discover, however, that this wasn’t a band unearthed from the 1970s but one that was contemporary and still creating music. As Lindsey Miller (Oxford American, issue 54, 2006, p. 74) notes, “don’t call them retro-funk, and don’t slander them as revivalists. Jones and the Dap-Kings may be the funk-soul equivalent of Rip Van Winkle, passing by the last twenty years of music like it never existed but just as it was for Aretha [Franklin], J. B. [James Brown], Otis [Redding], George [Clinton], and Tina [Turner], their sound remains heart-thumpingly alive.”

Laura Haefner
"100 Days 100 Nights"

The CBMR Library and Archives owns materials pertaining to soul performers of the late-1960s and 1970s in its Sue Cassidy Clark Collection.

Burning Spear. Marcus Garvey. (Palm PALMCD 2122-2) (Originally issued on Island Records in 1975)
Click here to purchase.

Burning Spear was a renowned, politically charged reggae group that recorded their first single, "Door Peep," in 1969. They released their first album in 1973, and Marcus Garvey, their third album, was the first released by Island Records. The original lead singer, Winston Rodney, is now known himself as Burning Spear and won a Grammy for the album Calling Rastafari in 2000. If you love and appreciate reggae, you will appreciate Burning Spear. "Marcus Garvey" and "Red, Gold and Green" are two of my favorite tracks on this CD, both featuring beautiful bass and horn arrangements (by some of Jamaica's best studio musicians) behind Winston Rodney's emotional vocals.

Linda Hunter
"Marcus Garvey"

The CBMR Library and Archives also owns numerous other reggae recordings. For more information about our collections, click here.

Thomas Dorsey. Georgia Tom (Thomas A. Dorsey): Complete Recorded Works in Chronological Order. (RST Records BDCD-6022) (2 volume set) (Previously released recordings.)

Before Thomas Dorsey became the beloved father of gospel music, he was a famous blues artist, first performing with Ma Rainey and later performing on his own. With Ma Rainey, he played piano, arranged music, and assembled her touring band, Wildcats Jazz Band. They last recorded together in 1928 as a trio, with Ma Rainey on vocals, Dorsey on piano, and Tampa Red on guitar. On his own, Dorsey performed and recorded as Georgia Tom, often teaming with Tampa Red. The two had a hit single in 1928 with "It's Tight Like That." Dorsey's solo blues career lasted less than four years; he gave up performing blues soon after the death of his wife and infant son in 1932.
This two-volume set of recordings documents Dorsey's solo blues career and his transition from blues to gospel. It begins with a 1928 vocal duet by Ma Rainey's Boys, with Dorsey accompanying them on piano. It continues with Dorsey performing solo under the pseudonyms Georgia Tom and Memphis Mose, with accompanying guitarists Tampa Red, Scrapper Blackwell, and Big Bill Broonzy. It ends with Dorsey's last blues duet with Tampa Red, "If You Want Me to Love You," his last blues solo, "M & O Blues," which he recorded under the pseudonym Railroad Bill, and his famous gospel tune "How About You," all recorded in 1932. As a gospel artist, Dorsey seldom recorded.

Janet Harper
"Lonesome Man Blues"

Eileen M. Hayes and Linda F. Williams, eds. Black Women and Music: More Than the Blues. (Urbana and Chicago: University of Illinois Press, 2007)
Click here to purchase.

As the back cover states, Black Women and Music is the "first interdisciplinary volume to examine black women's negotiation of race and gender in African American music." Musicians represented work in the fields of classical, electric blues, hip hop, jazz, gospel, musical theater and the avant-garde. They are vocalists, instrumentalists, composers, conductors, emcees, and announcers; the essays draw from musicology and ethnomusicology as well as rhetoric and theater, English, women's studies, writing, and performance.This collection is not chronological, is not meant to be comprehensive, and does not invest in canon-building. However, it does present an impressively wide range of experiences, questions, genres, and approaches organized in three broadly thematic sections. The first, "Having Her Say: Power and Complication in Popular Music," considers gender and race issues in hip hop, electric blues, and musical theater, as well as how they are negotiated by artists and audiences. The second section, "When and Where She Enters: Black Women in Unsung Places," looks at black women's musicking in under-examined contexts such as those of the gospel announcer, the contemporary jazz musician, the jazz avant-garde, and "women's music" scenes. The third and final section, "Revisiting Musical Herstories," recovers black women's histories in concert music. Black Women in Music provides clear evidence for the fact that music making has historically been and continues to be an arena in which black American women explore and create identities that consider categories of race, gender, class, generation, and sexuality. Furthermore, black women put these experiences in the service of racial critique, spirituality, advocacy, sexual politics, racial uplift, and survival. This book is inspiring and necessary.

Monica Hairston

In addition to owning a copy of this and other books on black women musicians, the CBMR Library and Archives also houses the collection of Melba Liston, jazz composer, arranger, and trombonist.

Louis "Sabu" Martínez and Arsenio Rodríguez. Palo Congo. (Blue Note 22665)
Click here to purchase.

This peculiar but remarkable Blue Note release first caught my attention because of the title (referring to Kongo-related spiritual practices in Cuba) and the presence of the renowned Cuban musician and composer Arsenio Rodríguez ("El Ciego Maravilloso"). Given the label that issued it, I expected a Latin-inflected jazz outing of the kind that had become common in New York by the 1950s. Instead, I was surprised by a largely Afrocuban excursion. Although nominally Sabu Martínez's project, the album owes at least as much to Rodríguez. Martínez, a Harlem-born conguero and percussionist, was closely associated with jazz in his younger years, having played and recorded with some of the most important figures of his time, such as Art Blakey; but he was equally active in Latin popular music. This album shows how comfortable he was in both Afrocuban and broader Latin musical settings. It includes a version of Rafael Hernández's famous "El cumbanchero," a Puerto Rican-style plena, a number of pieces credited to Sabu Martínez himself, and an extended jam starting with a quote of Moisés Simons's iconic "El manisero" ("Peanut Vendor")-all of which allow Rodríguez to stretch out with impressive solos on the guitar-like Cuban tres, an instrument he helped make famous. Particularly noteworthy are "Billumba-Palo Congo," in which Arsenio plays the part of a palero (ritual specialist), engaging in a call-and-response exchange and oration partly in Cuban KiKongo (Congolese language); and "Aggo Elegua," a sacred chant in the Yoruba-related Lucumí (Santería) tradition. These suggest the depth of Arsenio Rodríguez's knowledge of the Afrocuban spiritual traditions that were an important part of his cultural heritage and strongly influenced his musical production. To me, this album speaks of the vitality and prominence of the Afrocuban cultural presence that intersected in interesting ways with the jazz scene in New York during the 1940s and 1950s. Although the session was recorded in stereo, the album was originally released on LP only in mono. This CD release makes it available in stereo for the first time, and the sound quality is unusually crisp and vivid for a recording made a half century ago.

Kenneth Bilby
"Tribilin Cantore"

In addition to owning a copy of this and other recordings featuring Arsenio Rodríguez, the CBMR Library and Archives also owns a copy of David F. García's M.A. thesis, "Arsenio Rodríguez and the Reevaluation of Afrocuban-influenced Popular Music: Linguistic and Musical Codeswitching in the Afro-son" (University of California-Santa Barbara, 1997) and his recently published book, Arsenio Rodríguez and the Transnational Flows of Latin Popular Music (Temple University Press, 2006). Both of these studies pay close attention to the strongly African-influenced cultural milieu from which Rodríguez emerged and are highly recommended.

Dena J. Epstein. Sinful Tunes and Spirituals: Black Folk Music to the Civil War. (Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 2003)
Click here to purchase.

Dena Epstein's Sinful Tunes and Spirituals was first published in 1977; in 2003 the University of Illinois Press issued a new paperback edition with an updated preface by the author. No further editing was required: Sinful Tunes is the product of exhaustive scholarship, and it has never been superseded. It appeared at a time when new attention was being paid to black music studies, and with her thorough and unassailable scholarship, Epstein was able to lay to rest, once and for all, the misconception that no African elements had been retained in black American culture.
Two things about Sinful Tunes make the book especially appealing: extensive quotes and Epstein's description of the earliest attempts to preserve the heritage of black music through publication of transcriptions. Epstein quotes extensively from her sources. She uses early published letters and diaries, reports, and descriptions, along with archival materials, to present slave music as it was perceived by contemporaries, even when the music is described unsympathetically or incompletely by people who had no idea what they were hearing. There is enough evidence presented to draw conclusions opposite from theirs, and the numerous quoted passages bring the times and the music to life.
The final chapters of Sinful Tunes are devoted to the collection and publication of slave music just after the Civil War, culminating in Slave Songs of the United States edited by William Francis Allen, Charles Pickard Ware, and Lucy McKim Garrison and published in New York in 1867. Slave Songs presents a collection of spirituals and a few secular songs from the time before popularization by the Jubilee Singers and other performers solidified the repertoire.
Sinful Tunes is a scholarly book but by no means a dry or boring one; in fact it's just the opposite. Epstein brings the music and its context vividly to life through lively writing and quotation of original sources.

Suzanne Flandreau

Related resources in the CBMR Library and Archives include the papers of Dena J. Epstein, which reflect her painstaking research in a time before e-mail, when everything was accomplished on-site or by letter. The Epstein collection also reflects the repercussions of Sinful Tunes in Epstein's own career (she became an authority on the banjo, among other things) and on her subsequent research publications. Also in the CBMR Library is an original 1867 edition of Slave Songs of the United States, from the estate of Robin Hough, as well as several reprint editions of this seminal book.

Roberta Flack. Killing Me Softly. (Atlantic 82793-2)
Click here to purchase.

Released in 1973 (Atlantic), this recording features the hit single "Killing Me Softly With His Song." That single won the 1974 Grammy award for Record of the Year and set Roberta Flack as the only artist to win this award for two consecutive years. She won the 1973 Grammy with her rendition of "The First Time Ever I Saw Your Face." Sonically situated between the small ensemble sound of her first album (First Take) and the more orchestrated arrangements of her second album (Chapter Two), Killing Me Softly features clean horn arrangements and solo cello amidst the rhythm section (piano, bass, guitar, drum) accompaniments. The horn arrangements help propel the soul-pop choruses of "No Tears (In The End)" and "River," both of which suggest a strong kinship to church influences. Eloquence is at the center of "I'm The Girl." This ballad features only Flack's voice, piano, and cello. Shifting from a semi-rubato introduction to the song's first refrain, this track revisits—in its own soulful way—the form of American popular song from the 1930s. The title track is the most popular on this recording, and it inspired the 1996 award-winning cover by the Fugees (on their album The Score). "Killing Me Softly With His Song" displays the depth of Flack's vocal quality and the inventiveness of her vocal and ensemble arrangements. The string and horn arrangements aside and accredited to collaborators, she is credited with the arrangements on this recording.

Horace J. Maxile Jr.
"Killing Me Softly With His Song"

Sones de México. ¡Que Florezca!. (Sones de México SM 1196)
Click here to purchase.

Sones de México Ensemble Chicago has been a friend of the Center's for many years. In 1995, the ensemble performed twice with the Center's Ensemble Kalinda Chicago, illustrating African influences on popular music in Mexico. Juan Díes and Victor Pichardo, the ensemble's artistic director, prepared a set of music drawn from the son tradition and that incorporates performance styles and forms found in Tabasco, Campeche, Veracruz, Guerrero, and Oaxaca, all coastal regions to which African people were brought. Foot tapping, percussion instruments such as the cajón, bells, shakers, and jawbone were featured, as were mimetic dances ("El Zopilote/La Iguana"). Much of this repertoire is included on the ¡Que Florezca! CD in Part IV-Negritud.
Sones de México is now a full-time and critically acclaimed professional ensemble that performs in Chicago and on tour (http://www.sonesdemexico.com). Their most recent recording, Esta Tierra Es Tuya (This Land Is Your Land), was nominated for a Grammy Award as Best Folk Album in 2007. The ensemble performed at the Center's 2008 National Conference on Black Music Research.

Morris A. Phibbs
"La Bamba"

In addition to owning a copy of this CD, the CBMR Library and Archives has a large collection of recordings, books, and dissertations that deal with the African presence in Latin America.

Gabriel Banat. The Chevalier de Saint-Georges: Virtuoso of the Sword and the Bow . ( Hillsdale, New York: Pendragon Press, 2006 )
Click here to purchase.

Last February, in preparation for writing a paper on Joseph Boulogne, the Chevalier de Saint-Georges, I read Gabriel Banat's 1990 Black Music Research Journal article "Le Chevalier de Saint-Georges, Man of Music and Gentleman-at-Arms: The Life and Times of an Eighteenth-Century Prodigy." The following month, I was staffing the registration table at the CBMR/SAM conference in Chicago. As I was talking to conference participants, I noticed a man holding a picture of a person who seemed familiar to me. I walked over to him, took a closer look at the picture and said, "Excuse me, sir, but are you by any chance holding a picture of the Chevalier de Saint-Georges in your hand?" He replied, with a grin, "Why, yes, I am!" I realized immediately that I was finally meeting Gabriel Banat in person.
Shortly thereafter, in the spring of 2006, Banat published his much-anticipated The Chevalier de Saint-Georges: Virtuoso of the Sword and Bow. A retired New York Philharmonic violinist and specialist on classical compositional techniques, Banat is ideally positioned to understand the significance of the Chevalier. To me, Banat's archival research is unparalleled; he includes facsimiles of numerous certificates, contracts, army files, and other documents that he used in order to chronicle the Chevalier's life. Many previous biographers have unknowingly perpetuated the myth that Alexandre Dumas based his The Three Musketeers character, D'Artagnan, on the Chevalier. Banat debunks this and other legends surrounding the famous French prodigy and replaces them with the most thorough account of the Chevalier's musical, athletic, and revolutionary contributions to date. Banat's enthusiasm and dedication are inspirational, and I applaud his truth-seeking attitude.

Melanie Zeck

Bloc Party. Weekend in the City . (Vice Music 94598-2)
Click here to purchase.

Influenced by such bands as Sonic Youth, the Cure, and Joy Division, and led by singer/guitarist Kele Okereke, the child of Nigerian immigrants, London-based band Bloc Party released its first album in the United States, Silent Alarm, in 2005 to much critical acclaim. The band's second album, Weekend in the City, released in 2007, features introspective dark lyrics about love, death, and urban living, as well as the band's previously displayed energetic dance music.

Laura Haefner
" Hunting for Witches "

Al Green. Gets Next to You . (Right Stuff/Hi Records 72435-42679-2-5)
(Originally issued on Hi Records in 1971.)
Click here to purchase.

Gets Next To You has always been one of my favorite Al Green albums. With this 1971 record, Green began a run of several classic albums for the Memphis label Hi Records released during the early 1970s. Although it wasn't his first Hi release, it's clear from listening to Gets Next To You that by this time Green had found his unique singing style, and producer Willie Mitchell had fully developed the legendary "Hi Records sound," with its tight rhythm section, funky horn bursts, sultry backing vocals, and innovative but often spare arrangements. Like many of Green's albums that came soon afterward, Gets Next To You showcases his brilliant songwriting (illustrated by the record's biggest hit, "Tired of Being Alone") as well as his astonishing ability to reinterpret (and even reinvent) other people's songs, particularly the Temptations' "I Can't Get Next to You," Freddie Scott's "Are You Lonely for Me Baby," and the Doors' "Light My Fire." Although the record has almost everything you might need (Southern soul, funk, gospel, and even blues and rock) in one place, it contains absolutely no filler, clocking in at less than thirty-four minutes and leaving you wanting more. Although perhaps not quite as celebrated as Green's later masterpieces (namely Let's Stay Together, I'm Still in Love With You, and Call Me), Gets Next To You certainly achieves the excellence of those records and is an indication of great things to come.

Andrew Leach
" Tired of Being Alone "

In addition to owning a copy of this and other Al Green recordings, the CBMR Library and Archives also owns several recorded interviews, original photographs, and other materials relating to Al Green in its Sue Cassidy Clark Collection.