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4 Composers of Color of Nineteenth-Century New Orleans The History Behind the Music LESTER SULLIVAN Perhaps the least noted of the many kinds of music that New Orleans has produced is its nineteenth-century popular sheet music. Essentially genteel entertainment music on the European model, it is now sometimes called "concert" music, but a person was as likely to encounter this music at the theater as at the concert hall. Likewise, the term "salon" music does not always apply, because some of it was dance music, frequently heard in the ballroom. The genteel sheet music repertoire in New Orleans in the 18oos consisted almost entirely of dances for piano, piano scores of marches with occasional instrumental indications, and songs with piano accompaniment. The emphasis was on dance. To call the music "classical," as is now sometimes done, is misleading because it suggests a separation between popular and art music that was certainly less evident then than now. Nevertheless, in this repertoire, unlike in minstrelsy, Negro spirituals, or even Louisiana's own Creole slave songs, European models remain preeminent. The least-known category within this relatively unknown repertoire is the music composed by people of color, of which quite a bit survives. Between 1848 and the end of the century, people of African descent 71 72 LESTERSULLIVAN wrote at least fifty pieces of music of this sort that found their way into print through a then-thriving local sheet-music industry. By the 19205 this industry was virtually dead. The purpose of the present essay is to survey all such black music imprints in New Orleans. A few of the city's composers of color became expatriates in their search for wider opportunity ; the essay also attempts to treat that subject. Most New Orleans composers of color were French-speaking free people, and nearly all of the previous research has focused on them. This study, however, discusses an American (that is to say, English-speaking), free black composer , and offers new evidence that a second composer was a slave. The study also uncovered a piece by a woman, another phenomenon treated for the first time. Today, nearly a century after most of these black composers penned their last notes, relatively little is known about them. The present survey draws on three sources: the pioneering efforts of such authors as Trotter (1878), Desdunes (1911), Cuney-Hare (1936), and Christian (1982); new leads from recent research by scholars in New Orleans black history, most of whom are not working directly on music; and a fresh look at local and other archival holdings. What emerges is clearer biographical data about the handful of black composers who managed to get their music published.1 Composers of color in antebellum New Orleans found themselves in a unique situation. Notwithstanding its crucial role in commerce in the slavocracy, the city had one of the largest free black populations in the country, North or South, and by far the wealthiest. This free black population , like the white population, was divided by language, religion, and i. James Monroe Trotter, Music and Some Highly Musical People (Boston: Lee & Shepard, 1878); Rodolphe Lucien Desdunes, Nos hommes et notre histoire (Montreal : Arbour et Dupont, 1911); Maude Cuney-Hare, Negro Musicians and Their Music (Washington, D.C.: AssociatedPublishers, 1936); Marcus B. Christian, Marcus B. Christian Collection, Archives and Special Collections, Earl K. Long Library , University of New Orleans. Many archivists, civil servants, and historians have contributed information for this paper, but special thanks are due Lawrence Gushee, whose work on the transition from this music to jazz was presented at the Southern Historical Association convention in New Orleans, and Sonya McCarthy , great-granddaughter of one of the nineteenth-century New Orleans black composers treated in this paper. COMPOSERS OF COLOR OF 19TH-CENTURYNEW ORLEANS 73 custom into two groups, Creole and American. The depth of the division may be measured by the fact that between 1836 and 1852 the city was separated into three almost autonomous municipalities: the French Quarter, or the original city, where Creoles predominated; the American city upriver from Canal Street; and the Creole suburbs downriver from Esplanade Avenue, which then were receiving a big influx of European immigrants.2 The word Creole has its origins in the Portuguese slave trade. It has been used in Louisiana since the Spanish colonial period to identify native-born Louisianians descended from the original French-speaking, Roman Catholic population. Apparently the oldest Louisiana manuscript to use Creole is a document that dates...


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