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  • A Black History Sound Collage, Documenting The Progression of Black American History

    The 2021 Smithsonian Folkways Black History Month playlist presents a provocative sound collage of the African American experience that captures the groups earliest history on the African continent into the Black Power period of the 1970s. This collection features three cultural streams that document the progression of Black American history – music, poetry, and the words of Black Freedom Fighters, through six chronological time periods. Playlist curation and essay by Maya Cunningham. Find the playlist here.


    African Beginnings/African Continuances shows how West and West Central African drum, string, flute, and vocal traditions continued in African American music forms, like the blues, fife and drum ensembles and the strong vocal tradition of the Black church. Langston Hughes work is featured in this first section, and throughout this playlist/sound collage because he uses his poetry to document and comment on the Black experience.

    1. "New Orleans Street Drumming" from Roots of Black Music in America
    2. Baby Dodds - "New Orleans/Chicago Jazz Drumming" from Roots of Black Music in America
    3. "New York Jazz Contemporary Drumming from Roots of Black Music in America
    4. Wolof gewel - "Samba Gilajagi" from Roots of Black Music in America
    5. Fula flutist - "Bengsimbe" from African Flutes (Gambia)
    6. Napoleon Strickland with The Como Drum Band - "Back Water Rising" from Mississippi Delta Blues Jam in Memphis, Vol. 1
    7. Women singing - "Mende Song" from Music of the Mende of Sierra Leone"
    8. Langston Hughes - "The Struggle" from The Voice of Langston Hughes
    9. Reaching for Freedom: Survival and Resiliency During Slavery Time is a soundscape of African American music traditions, including ringshouts, spirituals, and other internal music traditions that were central to African American survival during slavery. These songs were passed down from enslaved African Americans to free generations that continue their performance. This section also integrates poetry about Harriet Tubman, and prose and speeches by Frederick Douglass. Both were born into slavery in the Maryland Eastern shore, manumitted themselves through bold escapes, and became prominent abolitionists.

    10. Ossie Davis - "Slave Life" from Autobiography of Frederick Douglass, Vol.1
    11. The McIntosh County Shouters - "Lay Down Body" from Wade in the Water, Vol. 2: African-American Congregational Singing
    12. The Seniorlites - "Lady Down Body" from Wade in the Water, Vol. 2: African-American Congregational Singing
    13. The Seniorlites - "You Got a Right to the Tree of Life" from Wade in the Water, Vol. 2: African-American Congregational Singing
    14. Langston Hughes - "Breath of a Spiritual" from The Voice of Langston Hughes
    15. The Princely Players - "Steal Away" from Wade in the Water, Vol. 1: African-American Spirituals: The Concert Tradition
    16. Ossie Davis - "Singing Slaves" from Autobiography of Frederick Douglass, Vol.1
    17. Kehembe Eichelberger - "Sometimes I Feel Like a Motherless Child" from Wade in the Water, Vol. 1: African-American Spirituals: The Concert Tradition
    18. Ella Jenkins - "Wade in the Water" from African-American Folk Rhythms
    19. Ella Jenkins - "No More Auction Block" from African-American Folk Rhythms
    20. Ossie Davis - "Learning to Read and Write" from Autobiography of Frederick Douglass, Vol.1
    21. Ossie Davis - "The Dredd Scott Decision" from Frederick Douglass' Speeches inc. The Dred Scott Decision
    22. Margaret Walker - "Harriet Tubman" from The Poetry of Margaret Walker
    23. Hilda Haynes - "Part I - The Struggle: Steal Away" from The Glory of Negro History
    24. Hilda Haynes - "Part I - The Struggle: Harriet Tubman" from The Glory of Negro History
    25. Hilda Haynes - "Part I - The Struggle: Harriet Tubman, Pt. 2" from The Glory of Negro History
    26. The Princely Players - "Swing Low Sweet Chariot" from Wade in the Water, Vol. 1: African-American Spirituals: The Concert Tradition
    27. Dorothy Washington - "Harriet Tubman (1829-1913)" from The Negro Woman
    28. The Princely Players - "Go in the Wilderness" from Wade in the Water, Vol. 1: African-American Spirituals: The Concert Tradition
    29. Building a People/Birthing the Blues: Late 1800s to Early 1900s. The blues unilaterally developed throughout African America in the late 1800s after emancipation, which led to the rise of African American popular forms like ragtime and the vocals of Blues Queens like Ma Rainey. In the same way, after the Reconstruction period in the South ended, and Jim Crow was instituted all over the country, Black leaders rose to prominence who were dedicated to the cause of African American progress and freedom. This section captures not only the ‘sound stories’ of working-class Black folks in the blues, but the thoughts and ideas leaders like Booker T. Washington, WEB Dubois and Mary McLeod Bethune, who each had distinct (and sometimes conflicting) visions for how African Americans should move forward in the oppressive period of racial apartheid.

    30. Robert Pete Williams - "My Mind Wandering Around" from Poor Bob's Blues
    31. Dorothy Washington - "Ida B. Wells (1862-1931)" from The Negro Woman
    32. Langston Hughes - "The Story of the Blues" from The Voice of Langston Hughes
    33. Daddy Hotcakes - "Strange Woman Blues" from The Blues in St. Louis, Vol. 1: Daddy Hotcakes
    34. Langston Hughes - "Part II - The Glory: Reconstruction" from The Glory of Negro History
    35. Robert Pete Williams - "No More Sweet Potatoes" from Poor Bob's Blues
    36. Booker T. Washington - "Atlanta Exposition Address: Excerpt"
    37. Langston Hughes - "Part II - The Glory: George Washington Carver" from The Glory of Negro History
    38. W.E.B. DuBois - "N.A.A.C.P." from W.E.B. DuBois: A Recorded Autobiography
    39. W.E.B. DuBois - "The Crisis" from W.E.B. DuBois: A Recorded Autobiography
    40. Margaret Walker - "When Melindy Sings" from Margaret Walker Alexander Reads Langston Hughes, P.L. Dunbar, J.W. Johnson and Langston Hughes
    41. Dorothy Washington - "Mary McLeod Bethune (1874-1955) Last Will and Testament" from The Negro Woman
    42. Robert Johnson - "Honeymoon Blues"
    43. Scott Joplin - "Something Doing"
    44. Sidney Bechet and His New Orleans Feetwarmers - "Maple Leaf Rag"
    45. Sterling A. Brown - "Ma Rainey" from The Poetry of Sterling Brown
    46. Ma Rainey - "Traveling Blues"
    47. Migration Years: African America in Renaissance (1920s to 1940s). The Great Migration, beginning just after World War One, led to major cultural shifts in African America because millions of Black folks moved from the South into urban cities in the North, Mid-West, and West Coast. Their music traditions, like the blues and jazz, traveled with them and took on new forms. Harlem became the center of the New Negro Renaissance that was sparked by the Migration. The ideals of this identity movement, that celebrated African American heritage and cultural forms, are embodied in the poetry of Langston Hughes, Countee Cullen, Sterling Brown. The music of the jazz musicians that rose to prominence in this time period provides the soundtrack for Black American urban life during the twenties, thirties, and forties.

    48. Children of East York School - "I'm Goin' Up North Satisfied" from Music Down Home: An Introduction to Negro Folk Music, U.S.A.
    49. Langston Hughes - "The Negro Speaks of Rivers" from The Voice of Langston Hughes
    50. James P. Johnson - "Aunt Hagar's Blues" from The Original James P. Johnson: 1942-1945, Piano Solos
    51. Sterling A. Brown - "Strong Men" from Sixteen Poems of Sterling Brown
    52. King Oliver Jazz Band - "Sweet Lovin' Man"
    53. Countee Cullen - "Heritage" from Anthology of Negro Poetry
    54. Duke Elllington & His Washingtonians - "Black and Tan Fantasy"
    55. Fletcher Henderson & His Orchestra - "The Stampede"
    56. Bessie Smith and James P. Johnson - "Back Water Blues"
    57. Louis Armstrong & His Hot Five - "West End Blues"
    58. Claude McKay - "If We Must Die" from Anthology of Negro Poetry
    59. Coleman Hawkins - "Body and Soul"
    60. Art Tatum - "Tiger Rag"
    61. Oscar Peterson - "Ol' Man River"
    62. Billie Holiday with Teddy Wilson - "Mean to Me"
    63. Charlie Parker and the Dizzy Gillespie All-Stars - "Shaw 'Nuff"
    64. Charlie Parker - "Embraceable You"
    65. Tadd Dameron Septet - "Lady Bird"
    66. The Civil Rights Movement: Prayer, Protest & Power of the People (1950s to 1960s). The Civil Rights Movement was a watershed moment in African American history. Smithsonian Folkways rich collection of Freedom Songs, protest rallies, and speeches by leaders like Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, provide a rich sonic immersion of this period of the Black American experience. Special treasures featured in this section are the word and songs of Fannie Lou Hamer, who served as a powerful activist leader with SNCC (Student Non-Violent Coordinating Committee) in Mississippi during the 1960s.

    67. Mass-meeting participants in Hattiesburg, Mississippi - "Freedom Now Chant" from Classic Protest Songs from Smithsonian Folkways
    68. Fannie Lou Hamer - "On Being a Sharecropper" from Songs My Mother Taught Me
    69. Fannie Lou Hamer - "Run Mourner, Run" from Songs My Mother Taught Me
    70. Martin Luther King, Jr. - "Martin Luther King, Jr. speaking" from Lest We Forget, Vol. 2: Birmingham, Alabama, 1963 - Mass Meeting
    71. Carlton Reese - "Ninety-Nine and a Half Won't Do" from Sing For Freedom: The Story of the Civil Rights Movement Through Its Songs
    72. Sweet Honey In The Rock - "Ain' Gonna Let Nobody Turn Me 'Round"
    73. Fannie Lou Hamer - "Walk with Me" from Songs My Mother Taught Me
    74. Fannie Lou Hamer - "This Little Light of Mine" from Songs My Mother Taught Me
    75. A New Black America: Soul and Self Determination (Late 1960s to early 1970s). The Civil Rights Movement gave birth to the Black Power and Black Arts Movements, the African American identity and political activism of the late 1960s and 1970s. The activist focus of this time was on Black self-determination, pride in African heritage and building the community on the foundation of hope laid by the social and policy changes instigated by the Civil Rights Movement. The Black history soundscape of this period is captured in the poetry of Sonia Sanchez, speeches of Black power leaders like Angela Davis and Huey P Newton, and the soul jazz sounds of Herbie Hancock, John Coltrane, and the Art Ensemble of Chicago. This time in Black American history has dictated the groups collective focus in successive generations – from the Anti-apartheid struggle of the 1980s to the Black Lives Matter/Anti -Racist Movement in the contemporary.

    76. Herbie Hancock - "Watermelon Man"
    77. Angela Davis - "Angela Davis Statement" from Angela Davis Speaks
    78. Art Ensemble of Chicago - "Bush Magic"
    79. Angela Davis - "Street Interviews" from Angela Davis Speaks
    80. Huey Newton - "Revolutionary Culture" from Huey Newton Speaks
    81. John Coltrane Quartet - "A Love Supreme Part I: Acknowledgement"
    82. Sonia Sanchez - "Black Magic" from A Sun Lady for All Seasons Reads Her Poetry
    83. Sonia Sanchez - "For My Children" from A Sun Lady for All Seasons Reads Her Poetry
    84. Sonia Sanchez - "We Can Be" from A Sun Lady for All Seasons Reads Her Poetry

    85. Maya Cunningham is an ethnomusicologist, an Africanist/African Americanist scholar, a jazz vocalist, and a cultural activist. She is completing a PhD at the University of Massachusetts, Amherst in Afro American studies with a concentration in ethnomusicology. Cunningham received a MA in ethnomusicology from the University of Maryland, College Park in 2019, a MA in jazz performance from Aaron Copland School of Music at Queens College and a Bachelor of Music in jazz studies from Howard University. Her research focus is on intersections between African/African American identities and traditional Black musics, like jazz, as well as ethnomusicological approaches to culturally responsive music education for African descendant students. In 2017, Cunningham received a Fulbright fellowship to research traditional music and national identity in Botswana. She also received two National Endowment for the Humanities Summer Scholar fellowships to study African American Gullah music, and Black culture and blues traditions in the Mississippi Delta. She has presented her research at conferences nationally and internationally. In 2017, Cunningham launched Ethnomusicology In Action, a project of Themba Arts and Culture, Inc., that uses educational programs, professional development for teachers, music and broadcast media to advance heritage education about Afro descendant expressive cultures, music, and other arts. More information about Cunningham’s work is available at EthnomusicologyInAction.org