Livingston, Carolyn, and Dawn Elizabeth Smith, Eds. Rhode Island's Music Heritage: An Exploration

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Livingston, Carolyn, and Dawn Elizabeth Smith, eds. Rhode Island's Music Heritage: An Exploration. Harmonie Park Press, Sterling Heights, Michigan, 2008, xx +311 pp. Index, paperback, ISBN 978-0899901435, $26.60.

"Biography is the essence of history," says George Heller in the foreword to this series of biographies and other essays assembled and edited by Carolyn Livingston and Dawn Elizabeth Smith. Anyone who is a researcher of history knows this to be true. Heller articulates that people are the key to a rich and interesting approach to studying our vast history of American music. This book adds to that body of knowledge about our unique musical heritage.

Why would someone want to read a book about music and musicians of Rhode Island? Could the smallest state in the United States have provided major contributions to our American cultural history? The answer is an emphatic yes! In this case, the size of the state does not matter at all. What does matter is the uniqueness of Rhode Island's history based on its importance to colonial America and its close proximity to Boston. And despite the state's prominence in the colonial history of our country, the editors realized (unfortunately many other historians do not) that the history of music in Rhode Island did not begin with the pilgrims but with native Rhode Islanders who were there creating music long before 1620. It also includes contributions of often under-researched African American musicians and music educators.

The book is divided into two main sections. Part I is titled "People and Events Before the Twentieth Century" and begins the series of essays with a focus on the traditional music of the Native Americans of Rhode Island. The title may be a bit deceiving, however, because it seems to be more of a look at Native American percussion instruments. Some readers may want more information about the music of these early New Englanders.

The following twelve chapters in Part I tell the stories (in a variety of styles and with a variety of writing skills) of Charles Theodore Pachelbel (son of Johann), William Billings, Newport Gardner, Andrew Law, and Oliver Shaw. Part I also includes essays on Scottish music in Rhode Island, the American Band of Providence, the Lusitana Portuguese American Band, Eben Tourjee, David Wallace Reeves, Sissieretta Jones, and the well-known George M. …