Remembering and honoring musicologist Eileen Southern’s landmark 1971 “The Music of Black Americans”

Posted on: September 30, 2021

“In the late 1960s, music historian and Brooklyn College professor Eileen Southern [1920-2002] was tasked with developing a course that would incorporate Black Studies into the field of musicology,” writes Ashawanta Jackson in last Thursday’s (9/23) JSTOR digital library. “One of her colleagues in the department found the idea absurd…. Southern set out not just to prove him wrong, but to design a course that showcased the scope and range of Black music through the years. The result turned out to be so rich, and so thorough, that another colleague suggested she turn the work into a book. The Music of Black Americans, published in 1971, was a landmark in music studies, and is just part of Southern’s influence in the field. Southern and her husband, fellow academic Joseph Southern, founded The Black Perspective in Music in 1973 [spotlighting] contributions of Black musicians … ranging from spirituals filling Black churches, to the songs of the enslaved, to the compositions of modern jazz and classical composers…. Her achievements are now being honored with a new project based at Harvard called The Eileen Southern Initiative, celebrating her scholarship and the 50th anniversary of The Music of Black Americans’ release.”