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Tuesday, November 17, 2009

One of the First Interracial Recording Sessions

As I was slogging through this evening's rush hour, I heard a very interesting report on National Public Radio (NPR). Apparently a CD reissue of one of the first interracial recording sessions has been recently reproduced and re-released. The reissue is of a recording by Polk Miller’s Old South Quartette made by the Edison Company in 1909. Read the full report from NPR: Polk Miller: An Unlikely African-American Music Historian.

I find this absolutely fascinating for a number of reasons.

1. The American Ethnomusicology Significance
The blending of music traditionally associated with the culture of White people and music traditionally associated with the culture of Black people has given rise to some of our best loved music as a multi-cultural nation, most notably: rock and roll. This is one of the earliest aural documentations of such collaboration, and it is now available in a format that can be played with technology the average American actually owns.

2. The Power of Music to Unite
Another interesting aspect of this story is Polk Miller, himself. According to the report, Miller actually was a vocal supporter of slavery and the Confederacy. However, he had a love for Black music, and was willing to perform seriously with Black musicians at a time when blackface was very popular. While I wish that this love of music had been enough to overcome all his bigotry, I still find it remarkable and inspiring that a common love of music was able to bridge a gaping racial barrier enough to form an interracial musical group.

3. Recorded Music and American History
Barring any serious accidents or illnesses, I will live to see many early music recordings become part of the public domain. As this happens I am hopeful that we will see more and more early recordings reissued in current record formats. Sure it’s old, but it’s also a window in cultural history of America, a past that has led directly to our present, and will continue to lead into our future. For more on the impact recorded music has had on America, I recommend reading Recorded music in American life: the phonograph and popular memory, 1890-1945 by William Howland Kenney.

You can find out more information about Polk Miller and this reissue, as well as how to buy the reissue at PolkMiller.com.

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