African American Musicians


Much of American music really started out as African American music. Gospel, spirituals, ragtime, blues, jazz, rock and roll, and hip-hop-all were born in black neighborhoods, created by African Americans who drew on their culture, their aspirations, and their talent. In this spirited collection, you'll meet more than thirty African Americans who have forever changed America's musical landscape. Jazz composers and stride pianists, concert singers and horn players, gospel and rap artists-all overcame obstacles of ...

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Much of American music really started out as African American music. Gospel, spirituals, ragtime, blues, jazz, rock and roll, and hip-hop-all were born in black neighborhoods, created by African Americans who drew on their culture, their aspirations, and their talent. In this spirited collection, you'll meet more than thirty African Americans who have forever changed America's musical landscape. Jazz composers and stride pianists, concert singers and horn players, gospel and rap artists-all overcame obstacles of racism, segregation, and personal tragedy to lead the evolution of American music. Their inspirational stories, from before the Civil War to the present, reveal how:
Elizabeth Taylor Greenfield, born a slave, became the first black concert singer. She was known around the world as the "African Nightingale" and the "Black Swan" for her amazing voice.W. C. Handy conquered poverty to become a great cornet player and the composer of the "Memphis Blues", the first popular blues song to be published.
Paul Robeson, a son of a former slave, became an All-American football player, his class valedictorian, a Columbia law graduate, a human rights activist, and a world-famous interpreter of spirituals. Duke Ellington, elegant painter turned pianist, composed thousands of songs, led an award-winning orchestra, and influenced every major jazz, blues, and big band musician today. Aretha Franklin, the "Queen of Soul," survived personal tragedy to win more Grammies than any other woman and became the first woman to be inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. Full of tales of courage, talent, and determination, this information-packed book illuminates these and other unforgettable musical stars, including Marian Anderson, Ray Charles, Stevie Wonder, Michael Jackson, and Queen Latifah.

Presents biographical profiles of African Americans, both legendary and less well-known, who have made significant contributions to music in the United States over the past 200 years.

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Editorial Reviews

Children's Literature - Children's Literature
This collection portrays the struggles of talented African American musicians against racism and segregation in order to pursue their art. Included are pre-civil war musicians, musicians during the Civil War and Reconstruction era, the early 20th century and modern day musicians, including rap artists. Some are singers, others are composers or play instruments but they all draw on their culture and environment to present their artistic talent. One of the early, less known artists, was Millie-Christine McCoy, Siamese twins, who performed before Queen Victoria. She was so impressed with them that she gave each a pair of matching diamond brooches. A recent book Millie-Christine Fearfully and Wonderfully Made covers the exploitation of her life rather than the musical talent that she had. (They considered themselves as one being.) The author of this book focuses on the contribution that she made through her talent rather than how she was physically different. Besides many of the well-known musicians such as Duke Ellington, Louis Armstrong, Marian Anderson and Aretha Franklin there are lesser-known talents included. Thomas Andrew Dorsey, a gospel song writer, Doug and Frankie Quimby of the "Hambone Song," Francis Hall Johnson of the Hall Johnson Choir and Elizabeth Taylor Greenfield, one of the earliest African American to enter the American scene as a classical singer. 2000, John Wiley & Sons Inc., Ages 10 to 14, $22.95. Reviewer: Leila Toledo—Children's Literature
From The Critics
This book showcases twenty-seven African American musicians from the early nineteenth to the late twentieth centuries. In addition to familiar names such as Scott Joplin, Duke Ellington, Ella Fitzgerald, Aretha Franklin, and Michael Jackson, several lesser known but significant figures are featured, including Millie-Christine McCoy, Francis Hall Johnson, and Doug and Frankie Quimby. Numerous sidebars highlight other important musicians. An interesting and readable survey of how great musicians shaped popular American music. Part of the "Black Stars" series. 2000, John Wiley & Sons, Inc., $22.95. Ages 10 to 12. Reviewer: G. Henebry SOURCE: Parent Council Volume 8
School Library Journal
Gr 6-9-This collective biography presents performers from the early 1800s (Elizabeth Taylor Greenfield) to the present day (Queen Latifah). Many genres and skills are represented from spirituals, gospel, ragtime, blues, jazz, and soul. Scott Joplin, Marian Anderson, Duke Ellington, and Aretha Franklin are here as well as Michael Jackson and a few lesser-known individuals. Each entry includes a black-and-white photo or reproduction and sidebars on pertinent topics. This is a good overview that gives enough information to inspire further study on individual musicians.-Janet Woodward, Garfield High School, Seattle, WA Copyright 2000 Cahners Business Information.|
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780471253563
  • Publisher: Wiley
  • Publication date: 5/28/2000
  • Series: Black Stars Series, #11
  • Edition number: 1
  • Pages: 176
  • Age range: 10 - 14 Years
  • Lexile: 1130L (what's this?)
  • Product dimensions: 7.66 (w) x 9.59 (h) x 0.65 (d)

Meet the Author

ELEANORA E. TATE is a children's book author who has won numerous awards, including a CBC/NCSS Notable Childrenís Trade Book in the field of social studies for Thank You, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.! and a Parent's Choice Gold Seal Award for The Secret of Gumbo Grove.

JIM HASKINS has written more than 100 nonfiction books for young readers. A professor of English at the University of Florida, Gainesville, Haskins has won numerous awards, including the Washington Post Childrenís Book Guild Award.

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Table of Contents


Elizabeth Taylor Greenfield.

Edmund Dede.


Thomas "Blind Tom" Greene Bethune.

Millie-Christine McCoy.


Scott Joplin.

W. C. Handy.

Gertrude "Ma" Rainey.

Eubie Blake and Noble Sissle.

Francis Hall Johnson.

Bessie Smith.

Marian Anderson.

Paul Robeson.

Duke Ellington.

Thomas Andrew Dorsey.


Louis "Satchmo" Armstrong.

Mahalia Jackson.

Ella Fitzgerald.

B. B. King.

Chuck Berry.

Ray Charles.

James Brown.

Doug and Frankie Quimby.

Aretha Franklin.

Jessye Norman.

Stevie Wonder.

Michael Jackson.

Queen Latifah.




Picture Credits.


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First Chapter


(1 8 0 9 - 1 8 7 6 )

Among the earliest African Americans to make a splash in American music was Elizabeth Taylor Greenfield. Despite the absence of a black role model in concert music, this dedicated black star became known around the world as an "African nightingale" for her remarkable singing voice.

Elizabeth Greenfield was born in Natchez, Mississippi, in 1809 to an enslaved couple named Taylor. Elizabeth's father was a native African. He and Elizabeth's mother lived on the homestead of Mrs. Holliday Greenfield, a wealthy woman from Philadelphia, Pennsylvania Although Mrs. Greenfield was a Quaker, she owned slaves. When she decided to move back to Pennsylvania, she freed Elizabeth's parents and sent them to Liberia, but she kept baby Elizabeth. The child lived with Mrs. Greenfield for several years, then moved in with one of her own relatives, Mary Parker.

At a young age Elizabeth showed "a propensity for singing and probably did so at her local church." By the time Elizabeth was in her late teens, she had a basic understanding of music and was probably amazing her friends with her songs. In the meantime, Mrs. Greenfield had grown old. At Mrs. Greenfield's request, Elizabeth became her companion and live-in housekeeper, but she never stopped singing.

One of Mrs. Greenfield's neighbors, Miss Price, heard Elizabeth singing and was so impressed that she gave Elizabeth music lessons. Miss Price's interest in Elizabeth was valuable because it introduced Elizabeth to other whites who encouraged her with her music. With Mrs. Greenfield's support, Elizabeth began singing at private parties in the Philadelphia area. Mrs. Greenfield died in the mid-1840s. Her will stated that $1,500 was to be set aside for the return of Elizabeth's mother from Liberia, and that $100 was to be given annually to Elizabeth throughout her lifetime. Mrs. Greenfield's relatives and attorneys, however, contested the will so vigorously that Elizabeth never received any money.

But the young songstress persevered. In 1849, Elizabeth received her first "break." A prominent Philadelphia musician and bandmaster hired her to sing in Baltimore. While in Baltimore, she also looked for jobs as a music teacher. When she heard that the "Swedish nightingale" Jenny Lind was scheduled to sing in Buffalo, New York, in 1851, Greenfield began saving her money to pay for her travel there. While on a boat en route to Buffalo, she met and sang for Buffalo resident Mrs. H. B. Potter, who invited her to sing for her friends at her Buffalo mansion.

A group of Buffalo residents sponsored Elizabeth in a series of concerts for the Buffalo Music Association. The first concert was held October 22, 1851. The concerts were so successful that Elizabeth was nicknamed the "Black Swan" after Jenny Lind. Greenfield went on to sing in nonslaveholding states and in Canada. She was a soprano whose range was over three and one-fourth octaves. She often amazed her audiences by singing the song "Old Folks at Home" first as a soprano, and then as a baritone.

Despite her popularity, Greenfield suffered many instances of racism in the North. On March 31, 1853, for example, she was scheduled to sing at the Metropolitan Hall in New York before 4,000 people. No other black people were allowed. Someone threatened to "burn the house" if a "colored woman sang" there. Police had to be brought in to protect the building. Greenfield sang, even though she was frightened. Mindful of the exclusion of her own people, she gave a follow-up concert to help the Home of Aged Colored Persons and the Colored Orphan Asylum.

That same year, she went to London, England, to sing, but had problems with the promoter over money. Author Harriet Beecher Stowe, who was in town at the same time to publicize her book Uncle Tom's Cabin, went to hear her sing. Stowe helped introduce Greenfield to the Duchess of Sutherland and to Sir George Smart, the Queen of England's musician. This led to more concerts, and Greenfield also received musical training from Sir George. On May 10, 1854, she gave a command performance at Buckingham Palace for England's Queen Victoria.

Queen Victoria said that Greenfield had "a most wonderful compass of voice, ranging over fully three octaves with fine, clear high notes. . . ."

Upon Greenfield's return to the United States, she continued ttouring sang again in Canada, and completed another tour of the northern United States in 1856. Between tours, she taught music to other rising stars in Philadelphia. She stopped touring when anti-black sentiment rose over the Dred Scott decision and the Civil War began. Her last extended tour was in 1863.

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