The Origin and Historical Development of Prominent Professional Black Choirs in the United States
The history, culture, and tradition of professional black choirs have had a great influence on choral music through the twenty-first century. During its 80 year history, professional black choirs have gained both a national and international reputation performing a wide array of choral music, both accompanied and a cappella with emphasis on the Negro Spiritual. Although there are a number of professional black choirs that have emerged in the U.S. over the past eighty years, the author selected the choirs based on their national reputation along with those that fall within two time periods. The choirs that were selected were founded, active and highly visible between 1) 1925 -1960 and 2) 1960-1998. Scholarly research on the development of professional choirs in the United States is limited. Even less was found in terms of academic resources on black professional choirs. Information about the origin, development, success, reputation, unique style and repertoire of these selected professional black choirs does not exist in any one place, and where it does exist, it is not in a scholarly format. This study marks the first time such information has been brought together in one source. In order to preserve the history of professional black choirs and, in particular, their unique contribution to the broader phenomena of professional choirs, this historical paper documents the origin and development of prominent professional black choirs' in the United States: the Hall Johnson Choir, the Eva Jessye Singers, the Wings Over Jordan Choir, the Leonard de Paur Infantry Choir, the Albert McNeil Jubilee Singers, the Brazeal Dennard Chorale, and the Moses Hogan Singers. This study found that the selected black professional choirs were created primarily to preserve one of America's oldest music genres, the spiritual. One way these choirs sought to do this was by programming Negro spirituals consistently in their performances; Hall Johnson, Eva Jessye, and Rev. Glenn T. Settle exclusively programmed Negro spirituals. Because most of the conductors arranged the Negro spirituals which they performed, audiences and researchers alike can now know and see what the leaders of these choirs pictured as the ideal representation of the spiritual. Hall Johnson and Moses Hogan set out with the specific intent of recording the work of their ensembles to maintain authenticity of this genre of music. While preservation of the spiritual was the shared principal mission and purpose of these choirs, there were different events and trends that attributed to their beginnings. Each conductor saw him or herself as filling a need, whether it was for the community or for the preservation of the Negro spiritual as art. In addition, the leaders of these black professional choirs shared similar backgrounds; all of them studied music at some point in their lives with several of the conductors studying music at the college level, and they all wanted to re-create the music they heard at a young age. Business practices were compared and variation in practice was noted. However, most of the choirs that came into existence in the latter part of the twentieth century have been professionally managed. The impact of their work is not limited to the celebration and preservation of the Negro spiritual. The creation of these ensembles also has led to many opportunities for African-Americans in the world of music and beyond. These conductors have also supported world peace by being ambassadors for the United States in foreign countries.
Professional Choir, Choir, Black Music, African-American Music, Black Choirs
August 30, 2007.
A Dissertation submitted to the College of Music in partial fulfillment of the requirements for the degree of Doctor of Philosophy.
Includes bibliographical references.
André J. Thomas, Professor Directing Dissertation; Michelle Stebleton, Outside Committee Member; Kevin Fenton, Committee Member; Judy Bowers, Committee Member.
Florida State University
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