Black Musicians Who Defied Musical Genres
The title of this chapter is an inadequate metaphor for the near total interweaving of black musical styles by the end of the nineteenth century. The documentary tours de force of Lynn Abbott and Doug Seroff establish the essential connection among all categories of African American music of the period: folk and school trained, sacred and secular, recreational and professional. By the 1890s, appreciation of African American music was widespread across race lines. White Kansans, for example, had ample opportunity to see rags performed by black piano professors years before Ben Harney put ragtime piano playing on the map in New York City in 1896. The seven-year period before the infamous Plessy v. Ferguson Supreme Court ruling of May 1896 is especially interesting for what it represents. Now over a century gone, the era from 1889 to 1895 saw a culmination of developments from the immediate post-Emancipation period. The Plessy decision did not end all progress, but it was one factor in keeping certain developments and crossovers safely “out of sight.”
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