Kumbaya: Stories of an African American Spiritual (podcast)

With the help of AFC archivists, Stephen Winick and John Fenn reveal the history of a great work of African American folk creativity: the spiritual “Kumbaya” or “Come By Here.” You’ll hear how it was collected from oral tradition in Georgia and North Carolina in the 1920s, and hear it become the first State Historical Song of Georgia on the floor of the Georgia State Senate. You’ll find out how the words “come by here,” sung in a regional dialect, came to be spelled “Kumbaya” around the world. Listen here

Langston Hughes and Howard Swanson

joy41Spearman, Rawn Wardell. “The ‘Joy’ of Langston Hughes and Howard Swanson.” Black Perspective in Music 9, no. 2 (1981): 121–38.

In excerpts from an interview conducted on July 22, 1972, Spearman and Swanson discuss Swanson’s lifestyle and musical values and his setting of Langston Hughes’s poem “Joy.” In a musical analysis of the song, Swanson discusses its blues and jazz influences: the handling of polyrhythms and the inspirations for some of the motives. The work of current African American composers draws less on the spirituals and oral tradition of African American music than did the work of earlier generations. (Journal’s abstract, revised)

E. Azalia Smith Hackley (1867–1922)

Azalia Smith Hackley an African American singer and Denver political activist born in Murfreesboro, Tennessee in 1867.  Her parents, business owners Henry and Corilla Smith, moved to Detroit where she attended Washington Normal School, graduating in 1886.  Smith, a child prodigy learned to play the piano at three and later took private voice, violin and French lessons. Emma Smith worked as an elementary school teacher for eighteen years.  Despite her stellar training, Hackley did not pursue a professional career.  Instead she spent much of the rest of her life training a younger generation of singers including Marian Anderson, Roland Hayes and R. Nathaniel Dett.

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