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This is How We End the Myth That Black Musicians are Jazz Musicians

Updated: Mar 23, 2020

Are you frustrated because of the stereotype that you are only proficient at jazz music? Here is the solution.

I was reading this article recently, and I began to think...

Why Do Black Classical Artists get Pigeonholed as Jazz Artists?

Lets dig deeper...

In the late 19th century, African Americans were instrumental in the development of a new style of music in New Orleans called jazz.

There is a ton of material online dealing with this period of American history, but if you're looking for a concise summary,

I would recommend an article by Ian McNulty found here. According to McNulty, it was the proficiency of African Americans with early New Orleans Jazz and the resulting national attention that caused what now seems to be an unbreakable association between black musicians, composers, arrangers, and the jazz genre; an association which has lasted for over 100 years.

It's not just the association, however, but the restriction from other genres that's damaging.

Obviously, racial stereotypes are unfair and do a great deal of harm to those who are denied opportunity because of them.

Also, I believe that stereotypes are designed not only to confine people within a box, but to restrict them from others.

Let's face it, despite festivals like the Colour of Music, there has been very little publicity regarding African Americans in classical music despite their existence in abundance.

The question is... Why??

One Possible Reason...

According to this Joseph Horowitz interview, racism played a major role in the exclusion of African Americans from the classical music scene and consequently kept America from developing its own unique tradition of American classical music.

Further, it was Antonín Dvořák (perhaps not fully understanding the race culture in America) who predicted this ultimately unrealized evolution of American classical music.

This unique style of music would have been rooted in African American musical traditions. Unfortunately, because of the marginalization of black composers, classical music in America has managed to maintain its European traditions, allowing the black/jazz stereotype to endure.

So now we have more information about why this has happened. The next question is, can we do anything about it?

I believe that stereotypes are designed not only to confine people within a box, but to restrict them from others.

Solutions to a Complex Problem

Let's talk about some solutions. There are two ways I know of to dismantle stereotypes.

  1. education

  2. exposure

Educating people that African Americans are excelling in classical music as conductors, composers, and musicians can break down the myths about black Americans and jazz music.

Exposing the public to the great number of existing African American classical works can demonstrate the potential of diversity in the classical arts. And the classical world would be better for it.

There are many people out there who are both educating the public and exposing excellent artists. Marlon Daniel and the Colour of Music festival is just one example of the great work being done in this area.

So, if genuine inclusion is the goal, we still have a long road to travel. What else can we do to eliminate the jazz stereotype? Please let me know in the comments...


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