A Kind of Symphony Music That … Lends Itself to the Playing of the Peculiar Compositions of Our Race
This introductory chapter reflects on the implications of the 1912 Carnegie Hall concert held by the Clef Club Orchestra, as black musicians skirted the color line in appealing to the broader cultural sensibilities of their audiences—be they black or white. The Clef Club concert was memorable because it disrupted so many basic assumptions that Americans had about the pressing issues of race, culture, modernity, and nation in the early years of the twentieth century. It transcended the commonly accepted distinctions between art and entertainment, folk and modern, African American identity and American national character. Conductor James Reese Europe's ensemble called attention to these opposing poles of cultural value, seeming to identify them as social constructs even as he undermined them.
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