This is the fifth and final post in The Junto’s roundtable on the Black Atlantic. The first was by Marley-Vincent Lindsey, the second was by Mark J. Dixon, the third was by Kristin O’Brassill-Kulfan, and the fourth was by D. S. Battistoli. Ryan Reft is a Historian of Modern America in the Manuscript Division at the Library of Congress. He also writes for KCET in Los Angeles. His work has appeared in journals such as Souls, Southern California Quarterly, California History, and theJournal of Urban History, and the anthologies, Barack Obama and African American Empowerment and Asian American Sporting Culture.
When A Tribe Called Quest (ATCQ) dropped its final album We Got It From Here . . . Thanks 4 Your Service, for a generation of Americans who attended college in the 1990s, it hearkened back to Clintonian multiculturalism, Afrocentric rap groups of the Native Tongues movement (De La Soul, Black Sheep, Jungle Brothers, and ATCQ), and hazy apartment parties carried by the rhythms of hip hop and its variants. Though a thoroughly modern creation, hip hop like that of ATCQ results from the accretion of political, social, and cultural forms arising from the Black Atlantic; the transnational culture created by the intersection of European empires, slavery, and colonization from the 1600s forward. Birthed and nurtured by the Black Atlantic, hip hop is our countermemory to American exceptionalism and chauvinistic nationalism. Continue reading →
1966 was a transformative year in popular music. The Beatles released Revolver; Dylan put out Blonde on Blonde; and the Beach Boys dropped Pet Sounds. Even fifty years later, those three albums sit atop many respectable lists of the best all time albums. 1966 was also a transformative year in early American history. Fifty years later, it gets my vote for one of the top 5 most historiographically innovative years the field ever had. Continue reading →
Pete David is a songwriter from Sheffield, who performs with the band, The Payroll Union. They have produced two EPs—Underfed & Underpaid and Your Obedient Servant—and have two albums: The Mule & The Elephant and their most recent, Paris of America.
Andrew Heath (@andrewdheath) is a lecturer in American History at the University of Sheffield in the UK. He spent several years in grad school in Philadelphia, where he became fascinated by the city’s nineteenth-century past.
The album cover of Paris of America.
Paris of America, a new album by the Sheffield U.K.-based band The Payroll Union, is the product of a two-year collaboration between songwriter Pete David and historian Andrew Heath. With the help of funding from Sheffield University, Pete and the band explored the turbulent history of antebellum Philadelphia: a city in which racial, religious, and social strife earned it the title of “mob town” of the Union. Here, they reflect on the project, and the possibilities of exploring the history of the Early Republic beyond the more familiar routes of text and film. Continue reading →
It is well known that Lowell Mason (1792-1872) was a major figure in 19th-century American music education. He pioneered the first public school music curriculum in Boston in the 1830s, and thanks, in part, to his efforts music was a integral part of public education for the next 150+ years. If you studied music in grade school, you can thank (or blame) Mason. My own career as an educator and a musician is indebted to Mason’s innovations. With the fall semester about to begin, I find myself wondering about the intellectual, pedagogical, and personal lineages between teachers and students. What can I learn from Lowell Mason’s “family tree” of teachers? Can tracing our own lineages help us understand what kind of teachers we are? Continue reading →
The Watkinson Library at Trinity College has an impressive collection of manuscript music from the late eighteenth century. Thanks to a grant from the Bibliographical Society of America, I spent a few weeks in June on a research road trip in New England, and Trinity was my first stop. Although I was focusing on musical commonplace books and copybooks, at the suggestion of librarian Sally Dickinson I also worked with their collection of annotated hymnals. It was while perusing these volumes that I came across something I hadn’t seen before: a hymnal in which every reference to Britain had been crossed out and replaced with the word “America” or related terms (New England, Western States, United States, etc.) As the assiduous penman noted at the bottom of one page, the entire volume had been “translated to America.”
Recently I’ve been taken by the music of Jean-Philippe Rameau, a French Baroque composer and Enlightenment-era music theorist. Rameau was a divisive figure in his day because he broke from the supremely elegant and nuanced style that had made the court of Louis XIV the center of late-17th-century musical life in Europe. This excerpt from Jean-Baptiste Lully’s 1676 opera Atys gives a sense of the sensitivity and sophistication of 17th-c. French music. Compared to Lully, Rameau’s music was daring and experimental. He turned the orchestra into a powerful beast and wrote music that more dense, more harmonically adventuresome, and more aggressive. He was Frank Sinatra to Lully’s Bing Crosby, the Rolling Stones to Herman’s Hermits, N.W.A. to De La Soul; etc. (making analogies is curiously addictive). Continue reading →