Preservers of the Heritage
Among community leaders, educators, and writers, there were those who understood that the precious folk-music heritage of the African-American should be preserved. Beginning in the late nineteenth century with the publication of collections of spirituals, the process of preservation gained impetus through the performance and recognition of the Fisk Jubilee Singers. Further impetus was provided by organizations such as the Society for the Collection of Negro Folklore, founded in 1890 by blacks in Boston. One of the founders was a black woman, Florida Ruffin Ridley (dates unknown).
The New Negro Movement of the 1920s and early 1930s, or, as it was later called, the Harlem Renaissance, infused energy into the thrust to preserve the black heritage in music. Some theorists valued the folk genres in their original state and wished to preserve, in a form as close to the original as possible, what they saw as genuine, albeit vanishing, cultural expressions. Others, devoted to the concept of concert music in the classical sense, promoted the trained composer and valued folk music for its use in concert pieces written in European style. Harriet Gibbs Marshall established a National Center for Negro Music, which she envisioned as a repository for both folk music and the published compositions of black composers. Maud Cuney-Hare and Camille Nickerson collected and made arrangements of Creole folk songs and used the recital to make them known. Nickerson dramatized her concerts by adopting the sobriquet "Louisiana Lady" and performing in Creole costume as she toured in the United States and France.
In the movement to preserve the black heritage in music, Emma Azalia Hackley again looms large. Pursuing her purpose of stimulating interest in the Negro spiritual with characteristic vigor, she lectured and conducted community cho-
In the notes to this essay, the Moorland-Spingarn Research Center at Howard University is referred to as MSRC, and the National Negro Opera Company as NNOC.
ruses from 1910 to 1921, the year before her death, in the United States and other countries, including Japan (1920). "Wherever she has been the results have been surprising, not only in arousing interest among the colored people, but also among the white population," a writer for Musical America said with reference to a program in Montgomery, Alabama. Citing features of a typical Hackley Folk Song Festival, the article notes that the aggregation of around 200 mixed voices aroused tremendous enthusiasm in the audience. Hackley's dedicated activity caused her to be known among black writers on music as "Our National Voice Teacher."
The first half of the twentieth century was a period of growth for the black classical musician and, at the beginning, outlets for musical activity were to be found mainly within the black community. The careers of black women activists who worked to develop interest in music of the cultivated tradition among African-Americans reflect a common struggle against racism and sexism and also demonstrate the impossibility of separating personal ambition from the desire to enhance the status of black Americans. Whether working as individuals or as groups, on a local or national scale, black women activists sought and found ways to expand the "sphere" not only of black women, but also that of blacks generally, in music, until it was indeed "just as large as [they could] make it."