Black Composers College's Research Center for Music Expands Knowledge and Horizons of `Forgotten' Names

St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO), August 2, 1993 | Go to article overview

Black Composers College's Research Center for Music Expands Knowledge and Horizons of `Forgotten' Names


Like old clothes hanging unused in closets for years, the music of Noble Sissle, Marion Cook and Frank Johnson is being pulled out, dusted off, and given new life.

Their names may not be as recognizable as Dizzy Gillespie, James Brown or Ice-T. But decades earlier these and other black composers were creating music that helped shape American pop culture: show tunes, concert hall music, polkas and even waltzes from the 19th and early 20th centuries.

Since 1983, the Center for Black Music Research at Chicago's Columbia College has helped to rescue the work of black composers from the obscurity of history's closet.

"It is something other people aren't doing," said Robert Walser, a professor of music history at Dartmouth College. "Black music has been the most important music in America this century," and most of it has been ignored by scholars, he said.

Center founder and director Samuel A. Floyd said the idea came to him in the early 1970s while he was trying to dig up material on black music.

"I couldn't get my hands on anything," Floyd said.

Floyd, then teaching at Fiske University in Nashville, Tenn., received a grant to research black composers.

Floyd started a newsletter to share what he was finding with other interested music scholars; that led him to start the center in 1983.

The center's library at Columbia College contains scores, books, periodicals, records, tapes and reviews, including those of famed Downbeat Magazine critic Martin Williams. The center also has two publications, the Black Music Research Journal and the CBMR Digest. …

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