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Black Music Month: The Beat Goes On

On June 7, 1979, President Jimmy Carter decreed that June would be Black Music Month, and all the United States presidents since then have acknowledged the month-long observance.

We have much to celebrate in the rich history of African Americans’ contributions to this art form. As the creators of spirituals, work songs, blues, ragtime, jazz, gospel, rock ‘n roll and rhythm & blues, black Americans have left a legacy that is ripe for exploration and scholarship. has numerous offerings on the various facets of black music, among them are:

Black Diva of the Thirties: The Life of Ruby Elzy, by David E. Weaver, $25.20 (List Price: $28) University of Mississippi Press, ISBN 9781578066513, pp. 208.

The story of Ruby Elzy, (1908-1943), might be better known today if she had not died at the age of 35 as a result of a routine surgery as she was preparing her grand opera debut in “Aida.” Millions knew her soprano voice and her signature song, “My Man’s Gone Now” from her radio performances. She also created the role of Serena for George Gershwin in his opera “Porgy and Bess” and co-starred with Paul Robeson in the movie version of “The Emperor Jones” and with Bing Crosby and Mary Martin in “Birth of the Blues.” She sang at the White House for Eleanor Roosevelt, at the Apollo Theater and the Hollywood Bowl. She studied at Rust College in Mississippi, Ohio State University and the Juilliard School in New York City.

The Color of Jazz: Race and Representation in Postwar American Culture, by Jon Panish, $19.80 (List price: $22), University of Mississippi Press, ISBN 9781578060337, pp. 192.

This book presents the long view of American attitudes toward jazz as it emerged out of the African American experience and journeyed toward widespread acceptance and appreciation in post-World War II America. The author explores how this music form was depicted in popular culture and especially how black and white writers write about it through different prisms. While black texts tend to emphasize history and common experience in discussions of jazz and jazz artists, the book argues, white writers tend to focus on musicianship, performance, and improvisation, stressing the individual over collective experience and ignoring history.

 Nobody Knows Where the Blues Come From: Lyrics and History
, by Robert Springer, $22.50 (List price: $25), University of Mississippi Press, ISBN 1934110299, pp. 248.

The sound of the blues and the legendary characters who created it and keep it alive have attracted their share of popular attention and scholarship. Less studied are the words, the lyrics that make the blues uniquely rich and that constitute an oral history of a people.
In this volume, an international cast of contributors explores the stories and themes that run through blues songs and cover the range of human experience—love, loss, violence, imprisonment and disasters, natural and manmade.

The Pilgrim Jubilees, by Alan Young, $45 (List price: $50), University of Mississippi Press, ISBN 1578064155, pp. 304.

Fifty years after making a groundbreaking recording that revolutionized and set the standard for modern gospel music, the Pilgrim Jubilees are still performing. This book by a New Zealand researcher is the first to tell their story, from their roots in rural Mississippi to their worldwide travels. They remain one of the finest examples of male gospel quartet singers ever to sing harmony. They reveal not only the hardships of their journey but also the joys of spreading the Gospel through such songs as “Jesus Got Me Off,” “Somebody Touched Me” and “I’ll Fly Away.”

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