Dr. Samuel A. Floyd Jr.: Man with a Mission; His Center for Black Music Research Is Turning Up Long-Neglected Works by Black Composers

Ebony, May 1989 | Go to article overview

Dr. Samuel A. Floyd Jr.: Man with a Mission; His Center for Black Music Research Is Turning Up Long-Neglected Works by Black Composers


DR. SAMUEL A FLOYD JR. Man With A Mission

His Center For Black Music Research is turning up long-neglected works by Black composers

SAM Floyd Jr. is a man with a mission --to uncover, document and share with everyone a vast body of Black music that has been hidden far too long. It is music that has grown out of the unique experiences of Black Americans, and ranges from simple "hollers" to very complex symphonic works.

Working out of a small office in an annex of Columbia College in Chicago, Dr. Floyd has gathered countless music manuscripts, recordings, concert programs, memorabilia and other items that make his Center For Black Music Research perhaps the most important such facility in the world. The Center publishes several scholarly periodicals, including Black Music Research Journal, Black Music Research Digest and Black Music Research Bulletin, and issues once-a-year monographs.

One of Dr. Floyd's proudest achievements is the Black Music Repertory Ensemble, a small orchestra he organized to perform some of the works he discovers as well as music by living Black composers such as Olly Wilson, a professor of music at Tufts University, and Hale Smith, the distinguished composer who orchestrates all of the early music the 14-member Ensemble performs. A recent concert was praised by Chicago music critics. It included such little-known compositions as "St. Louis Grey's Quick Step," written in 1852 by J. W. Postlewaite; "Rescue Polka Mazurka," written in 1869 by Sidney Lambert; "On Emancipation Day," written in 1903 by Will Marion Cook, and "Three African Dances," written in 1913 by Montague Ring, the pseudonym of Amanda Aldridge, daughter of the famous actor Ira Aldridge. Also heard at the concert were Olly Wilson's "Sometimes," an arrangement for tenor soloist and electronic instruments of the spiritual "Sometimes I Feel Like A Motherless Child," and the final movement "Duet" from Hale Smith's Meditations In Passage.

DR. Floyd began his work nearly 20 years ago while a professor of music at Southern Illinois University. He was fascinated by a book, The Music Of Black Americans, by Eileen Southern, and began looking for some of the music he had read about.

"I wanted to perform it in my classes and have the students become familiar with it," he says, "but all I could find were pieces here and there; there was no body of work available anywhere, so I began my research. …

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