In collaboration with the University of Michigan via the Classic Song Research Initiative, we present this living resource on African American (Vocal) Music to amplify the expertise of our colleagues and simplify their process of responding to questions and requests regarding this repertoire.
- This resource was created by:
- Dr. Caroline Helton, Associate Professor of Music (University of Michigan)
- Dr. Scott Piper, Associate Professor of Music; Norma L. Heyde Faculty Development Professor; Chair of Voice (University of Michigan)
- Dr. Emery Stephens, Assistant Professor of Music (St. Olaf College) & Alum of the University of Michigan
- Dr. Louise Toppin, Professor of Music, Voice (University of Michigan)
With the assistance of Christie Finn, Managing Director of the Hampsong Foundation
A special thanks to Dr. Darryl Taylor (University of California, Irvine) and artist/scholar Randye Jones
- Art Song vs. Spiritual
- Sheet Music
- Resources for Non-BIPOC Vocalists
- BIPOC Organizations
- Online Databases
Important publications relating to African American classic song are featured throughout this page.
The hallmark of African-American art songs is that they serve as soulful expressions of the experiences of the people. Projected through many of these musical expressions are important narratives on the emotional, cultural, and spiritual history of African Americans. Though these art songs are used most often as a means of artistic/aesthetic vocal expression, their lyrics and musical structure contain much valuable and useful information on the cultural and historical circumstances and the development of African Americans as a people in this land. ...Willis C. Patterson, "The African-American Art Song: A Musical Means for Special Teaching and Learning," Black Music Research Journal 16, no. 2 (1996): 303-10. doi:10.2307/779333
Honoring the Legacy of...
Willis C. Patterson
Professor Emeritus of Voice & Former Associate Dean (University of Michigan)
Willis C. Patterson joined the faculty of the University of Michigan in 1968 after having taught at Southern University (Louisiana) and Virginia State College. Mr. Patterson has concertized extensively in the U.S. and Europe and has appeared as bass soloist with major American orchestras. He has served as president of the National Association of Negro Musicians and as executive secretary of the National Black Music Caucus.Website
Frequently Asked Questions: Art Song vs. Spiritual
Text from Louise?
Frequently Asked Questions: Sheet Music
I am looking for the sheet music of [INSERT COMPOSER NAME HERE]. Where can I go to find this music?
If you are not sure of the publisher of a composer, please check one of the following websites:
A useful option for historic scores is to search the world’s largest library catalog, WorldCat (https://www.worldcat.org/) to learn more about the publisher of a specific score, and if a copy of that score resides in a library near you. This is recommended for scores that are currently out-of-print.
Glendower Jones, the owner of Classical Vocal Reprints (https://www.classicalvocalrep.com/), also has a wealth of knowledge when it comes to vocal music, and has been an important ally in the publication of the music of BIPOC and women composers. He is easy to contact via Get It From Glendower.
In the case of living composers, do not hesitate to reach out to a composer directly; many composers today self-publish and are more than happy to provide music to interested performers.
Frequently Asked Questions: Resources for Non-BIPOC Vocalists
Diversifying the Playing Field: Solo Performance of African American Spirituals and Art Songs by Voice Students from All Racial Backgrounds
To further promote the performance of African American spirituals and art songs, this article offers a different perspective -- direct response from collegiate voice students, voice teachers, vocal coaches, and professional singers. In the spring of 2005, “The African American Art Song Survey” was developed and disseminated through the Internet to collect data from 220 voice teachers, coaches, and singers regarding their attitudes on performing African American classical vocal repertoire across racial backgrounds, receiving a response rate of 44% from 500 distributed surveys.
Part I dealt with general demographic questions (gender, age, ethnic background, religious affiliation), and Part II addressed specific questions about musical training and exposure to art songs and spirituals by African Americans. Part III dealt with preferences of vocal performance style, and Part IV posed two questions regarding attitudes toward the performance of this repertoire by singers of all racial backgrounds (i.e., questions regarding perceptions of authenticity), in which the respondents were invited to explain their ratings with comments.
Copyright © 2013 National Association of Teachers of Singing
Co-author: Dr. Caroline Helton (University of Michigan)
Co-author: Dr. Emery Stephens (St. Olaf College)
Frequently Asked Questions: BIPOC Organizations
How can I stay up-to-date on performances and publications of African American vocal music and composers, as well as the scholarship surrounding their work?
Consider joining the African American Art Song Alliance Facebook group, which (thanks to the organization’s founder Darryl Taylor) has created a community of over 5,000 members and is updated daily with news, events, and current information.
Please also follow and support organizations run by BIPOC artists, scholars, and administrators, who are at the forefront of research and performance in this field. Some organizations include:
- Castle of Our Skins
- George Shirley Vocal Competition, for the next generation of vocalists and composer
More organizations are listed here.
The Heart of a Woman: The Life and Music of Florence B. Price
By Rae Linda Brown
The Heart of a Woman offers the first-ever biography of Florence B. Price, a composer whose career spanned both the Harlem and Chicago Renaissances, and the first African American woman to gain national recognition for her works.
Price's twenty-five years in Chicago formed the core of a working life that saw her create three hundred works in diverse genres, including symphonies and orchestral suites, art songs, vocal and choral music, and arrangements of spirituals. Through interviews and a wealth of material from public and private archives, Rae Linda Brown illuminates Price's major works while exploring the considerable depth of her achievement. Brown also traces the life of the extremely private individual from her childhood in Little Rock through her time at the New England Conservatory, her extensive teaching, and her struggles with racism, poverty, and professional jealousies. In addition, Brown provides musicians and scholars with dozens of musical examples.
Date of Publication: June 2020
African Diaspora Music Project
Dr. Louise Toppin's African Diaspora Music Project aims to create a repository for the concert works (those intended for the concert stage; aka classical works) of composers of the African Diaspora. (The African Diaspora in this context is defined as those composers throughout the world descended from people of West and Central Africa). This database also seeks to provide access to scores, recordings, and programmatic information about these composers and their extant works for students, teachers, professionals and presenters.Visit site
The African American Art Song Alliance
Founded in 1997 by Dr. Darryl Taylor (University of California - Irvine and alum of the University of Michigan), this is the home of interchange between performers and scholars interested in art song by African-American composers. Here you will find information and links to assist with your discovery of the contributions of African Americans to song.Visit site
The Spirituals Database
The Spirituals Database offers searchable access to recorded track information for concert Negro Spiritual settings performed by solo Classical vocalists. The resource contains a selection from a century of historic and contemporary concert spiritual recordings produced on compact discs, long-playing (33 1/3 rpm) albums, 78 rpm records, 45 rpm discs, audio cassettes and streamed audio files, as well as demonstration recordings from musical score collections.Visit site
Afrocentric Voices in "Classical" Music
Afrocentric Voices in “Classical” Music was launched in February 1998 by soprano and researcher Randye Jones. The site started small, with a handful of biographies on musicians as well as a bibliography of relevant music resources. However, since 1999, it has seen the addition of several features, including the addition of a chronology of achievements by African American vocalists, composers and publishers, and a gallery of pictures of internationally renowned African American singers and composers of vocal music.Visit site
So You Want to Sing Spirituals
With their rich and complicated history, Spirituals hold a special place in the American musical tradition. This soul-stirring musical form is irresistible to singers seeking to diversify their performance repertoire, but it is also riddled with controversy, especially for singers of non-African descent. Singer and historian Randye Jones welcomes singers of all backgrounds into the style while she explores its folk song roots and transformation into choral and solo vocal concert repertoire. Profiling key composers and pioneers of the genre, Jones also discusses the use of dialect and other controversial performance considerations. Contributed chapters address elements of collaborative piano, studio teaching, choral arrangement, voice science, and vocal health as they apply to the performance of Spirituals.
Author: Randye Jones
Date of Publication: Oct. 2019
The Black Music History Library: Classical (2020)
The Black Music History Library was born out of a need to make resources about Black music history as comprehensive and accessible as possible. It contains well over one thousand entries (and counting) in the form of books, articles, documentaries, series, radio segments, and podcasts about the Black origins of popular and traditional music, dating from the 18th century to the present day. These materials range from informal to scholarly, meaning there is something in the library for everyone. The Black Music History Library is curated by Jenzia Burgos, a Puerto Rican-Dominican writer and music journalist from the South Bronx, NY.Visit site
The Online Books Page: African American Music (2020)
The Online Books Page is a website that facilitates access to books that are freely readable over the Internet. It also aims to encourage the development of such online books, for the benefit and edification of all. The Online Books Page was founded, and is edited, by John Mark Ockerbloom, a digital library planner and researcher at the University of Pennsylvania; the site is hosted by the University of Pennsylvania Libraries.Visit site
African American Art Song Resource List (2019)
Compiled by Dr. Caroline Helton and Dr. Emery Stephens for Randye Jones's So You Want to Sing Spirituals: A Guide for Performers, this bibliographic appendix collects important books, sheet music collections, articles and more for the study and performance of African American song.Visit site
African American Bibliography: The Arts (1993)
The bibliography lists selected resources of the New York State Library that document the achievements of African-Americans in the arts, as well as the historical and cultural contexts of these achievements. In addition to primary sources and significant historical and critical works, the bibliography contains references to bibliographies and research aids. Works dealing with such major African-American collections in the United States as the Schomburg Collection of Negro Literature and History and the Black Culture Collection are also included. The bibliography highlights many of the New York State Library's collections, including the U.S. and New York State government documents collections, the microform collections, the play collection and the rare books collection.Visit site
Contact for this Web Resource
If you would like to add information to this page, please contact:
Managing Director of the Hampsong Foundation
Research Administrator for the Classic Song Research Initiative