Week 3 already! Now that our whole crew is on set (campus), the wheels of our operation are turning as rapidly as ever; so, a summary of our work suffices. This summer, we’re attempting to tell stories of the lives of late-nineteenth and early-twentieth century black American musicians. While some may not have been revered as composers or performers like their famous contemporaries—consider those like Florence Price, William Grant Still, and Marian Anderson—we hope to reveal their unsung contributions and impact at the community level (like J. Cleveland Lemons, a musician who played organ for his church and taught organ, piano and voice throughout his life). Specifically, we’ll use ArcGIS—putting the “geography” in the Musical Geography Project—to recreate African American musicians’ musical worlds. Through considering musicians from the Washington Conservatory of Music, specifically from graduating classes spanning 1910-1914, we’ll seek to chronicle where they went and what they did after university, and then display this through an interactive digital map. We’re hopeful we can connect perspective gained from the map to connecting the graduates’ experiences to the social and racial realities of their era, in addition to exploring how HBCU music institutions more broadly impacted a wide range of black musicians’ societal contributions and trajectories.
Archival research through newspaper databases, census, and genealogical records will be our main methodologies in researching Washington conservatory graduates. Additionally, secondary research on other black musicians in American history will inform us regarding the historical context of our research focus. We’ve been (and will continue to) compiling our data into spreadsheets to prepare it for an eventual map. Maps are a useful tool to categorize this data since they assist us in conceptualizing “how musical styles and practices develop over time and space” (Epstein). They increase accessibility of musicological research and can function pedagogically to engage students.
We’ve kept track of our initial research through this blog—Lizzie made an ArcGIS map describing pivotal locations in The Music of Black Americans by Eileen Southern, and other team members have worked on similar preliminary maps (mine is linked below). Lizzie’s presented some earlier interactions between Americans and African music, in addition to how some slaves were IDed according to musicianship. Other preliminary research has centered around early graduates of the Washington Conservatory like Ruth Grimshaw. A lot of archival materials document her life, both musically and personally, including after her graduation in 1912—the very information we’re looking for. Still, not every graduate we’ve researched has as clear of a story to uncover, like Grace Evangeline Gibbs (while she’s mentioned in some newspapers, her post-grad life is unclear).
We’ll continue similar work compiling data on more Washington Conservatory graduates to map, and archival research will involve Ariana, Jack and Maeve going to Washington D.C. in July, while Lizzie and I will continue research back in Minnesota. Additionally, we’ll meet with scholars in similar fields throughout the summer to increase our understanding as we anticipate getting closer to making a comprehensive, interactive map in ArcGIS. Ultimately, we anticipate that our data will reveal the stories and contributions of previously overlooked black musicians from the early 20th century. Highlighting instances of African American racial uplift will be an important part of this understanding, and we hope to fill a gap in musicological scholarship. We expect to explore the impact HBCU music graduates had in innovative ways through this project. Our team’s clapboard has officially been snapped shut, and with the summer creeping onward like a roll of filmstrip, we’re eager to synchronize our work and goals—hopefully, bringing our project closer to success.