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Columbia College Chicago
James Furman papers

James Furman papers

Furman, James, 1937–1989

Papers, dated circa 1960 to 1990, including biographical materials, correspondence, musical compositions, and the manuscript for an unpublished book, “Black Gospel Music: A History and Performance Practice,” with some research materials used in the work.

12 boxes, 2 volumes (8 linear feet)

Received from Dominique-René de Lerma and Ruth Lanham, 1990–1991.


Biographical note:

James Furman was born in Louisville, Kentucky, in 1938. He earned a bachelor's degree in music and a master's degree in music education from the University of Louisville. After teaching for several years in public schools, he joined the faculty of Western Connecticut State University in Danbury, Connecticut, in 1965, where he remained until his death. He published several choral and chamber compositions and had major performances of others that remain unpublished, particularly his oratorio I Have a Dream. A complete biography can be found in the International Dictionary of Black Composers (Chicago: Fitzroy Dearborn, 1999) and in Eileen Southern's Biographical Dictionary of Afro-American and African Musicians (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1982).

Scope note:

The collection is in three parts: biographical information and personal papers, an unpublished book on gospel music, and copies of musical compositions. Most of the personal papers date from Furman's years at Western Connecticut. The correspondence includes a series of letters concerning AAMOA (Afro-American Music Opportunities Association) and a few letters from gospel artists, notably from Beverly Glenn. A speech, “My Development As a Composer,” and notes on some of his compositions may be of particular interest.

The manuscript of the book on gospel music shows the author's struggle to manage and make sense of such a large topic. His insights on performance practice may be of greatest use to researchers. The manuscript versions of the book were received in no discernible order. They have been arranged in the order indicated by the chapter outline prepared for interested publishers. Most chapters have typed versions with corrections and handwritten drafts; in some cases there are also miscellaneous fragments filed separately at the end of the chapter. Miscellaneous notes and fragments that could not be placed easily in any chapter are filed at the end of the series. A file on gospel performers contains both Furman's stylistic analysis of certain performers, particularly Andrae Crouch and Mahalia Jackson, and also some questionnaires completed by musicians. Along with the unsorted manuscript materials, three typescript versions of the book were also received. All are slightly different. The probable definitive version is bound in a looseleaf notebook with tabs indicating the chapters. Miscellaneous papers that were originally laid into the front and back of this notebook have been removed to folders in Box 2 to ensure their preservation.

The musical works consist mainly of photocopies of manuscripts, some original manuscripts, and parts prepared by the composer for performances of his works. Two boxes contain duplicate choral parts to his I Have a Dream, which was never published. The score (1970) and instrumental parts are present in the collection. The string parts are lacking. There is also a folder of published music.