Remembering Black classical musicians from a century ago on “Black Swans” recordings

Posted on: December 23, 2021

“A century ago, Black musicians in the classical music space were rare, as were recordings of their work. That is why the survival of more than two dozen of those recordings was so noteworthy,” reports Audie Cornish on Wednesday’s (12/22) National Public Radio. “They’ve been restored and released as a collection called ‘Black Swans.’ … Professor Sais Kamalidiin of Howard University … says, … ‘We’re talking about a time period when Jim Crow in a lot of the states was in full effect—absolute segregation. So the idea that these people would take on the mantle of being a culture carrier for Western European art music was very, very unusual [when] if you had musical talent, you’d be pushed into the jazz or blues direction and, in some cases, discouraged from doing Western European art music because, you know, who was going to be there to support your career? … We owe primarily what we have in these recordings today to … George W. Broome from Massachusetts … and Harry Pace with the Black Swan Label.” Among composers and performers on the recording are Harry Burleigh, Florence Cole-Talbert, R. Nathaniel Dett, Roland Hayes, Antoinette Garnes, William Leonard King, Hattie King Reavis, Clarence Cameron White, and G. Sumner Wormley.