On Saturday, March 4, 2006, Dr. Knibbs lectured and performed Afro-Americana in Cary, North Carolina, at the Eighth Annual African-American Celebration, at the Community Center, 404 North Academy Street, North Academy & Chapel Hill Road. This event was organized by Lester Thomas of the Ujima Group Inc., who can be reached at (919) 380-7020 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
Watch this space for announcements of future performances.
|Seventy-five years ago, the white bandleader Paul Whiteman (1890-1967) billed himself as The King of Jazz. A few years later, Benny Goodman (1909-1986) was named the King of Swing. Twenty years after that, Elvis Presley (1935-1977) was called the King of Rock and Roll. And a year or two ago, it seemed as though Eminem (Marshall Bruce Mathers III, b. 1972) was about to be pronounced the King of Rap.
It was Alain Locke (1886-1954), African American scholar, who in his The Negro and His Music affirmed the African American achievements in jazz and saved the jazz tradition from being co-opted as a "white" musical form.
Rarely, however, do African Americans as a people work to preserve their own heritage. The music of yesterday is forgotten, out-of-style, unless and until white people pick it up. And if white people fail to acknowledge the African American contribution, then it is forgotten.
White people have forgotten that the music of George Gershwin (1898-1937) is African American music – assuming (hopefully) that the fact was ever acknowledged.
That white people are forgetful or ungrateful is no excuse for African Americans, who have an obligation to preserve their own history.
Nowadays, jazz and various popular styles are generally acknowledged to be of African American origin. What is not known is how historic and widespread the African American musical contribution is, particularly in the European classical tradition.
The African influence on European music dates, at least, to the Egyptian influence on the ancient Greeks. Pythagoras (582 BC – 496 BC), is called the Father of Mathematics and the Father of Musical Theory, but he was neither. Nor was he a Greek philosopher, as he is commonly called. He was an Arab (more precisely, a Phoenician) who studied for 22 years at the Royal Academy of Music in Egypt, which at the time (2,500 years ago) was already a thousand years old. The word "music" itself comes from the Egyptian word "muse" which means "messenger".
European classical music did not begin to evolve until many centuries later. In 711, the African influence on European classical music began in earnest. In that year, the Moors (Black African Muslims) conquered Spain. For several centuries, until the expulsion of the Moors beginning in 1492, Africans were a crucial influence on the development of European music and European life in general. It was the Moors who brought Europe out of its Dark Ages. This is documented in Julian Ribera's Music in Ancient Arabia and Spain, Henry George Farmer's Historical Evidence for the Arabian Influence, R. Montgomery Watt's The Influence of Islam on Medieval Europe, and Stanley Lane-Poole's The Moors in Spain, and other sources. (Arabic was the language of scholarly discourse among both the Arabian and the African Muslims in Spain.)
Even before the expulsion of the Moors in 1492 and Columbus' voyage of discovery that same year, the European capture and enslavement of Africans had begun. By 1450, the Portuguese had already kidnapped Africans for slavery in Portugal.
Despite the unbearable hardships of the Middle Passage and of slavery itself, Africans in the New World continued to stimulate the advancement of European music. In the 16th century, the musical form known as the chaconne was brought by returning Spaniards from Cuba to Spain. The chaconne – originally called la chacona – was an African dance. (See Muntu, by Jahnheinz Jahn.)
As a musical form, the passage of the chaconne through Spain and France before reaching Germany made its African features unrecognizable. A chaconne by Bach hardly sounds like an African American musical form, but that's what it is.
In the nineteenth century, a Latin American dance craze swept Europe. The habanera (from Havana, Cuba) and the tango (from Argentina), among others, penetrated into the inner precincts of European classical music. Astonishingly, it is still necessary to remind people (even African Americans) that Latin American music is African music. When African American diva Leontyne Price sang the Habanera from Bizet's opera Carmen at the Metropolitan Opera House, she was an African American singing an African American musical form. Debussy wrote piano pieces in the style of the habanera. Cesar Franck's Symphonic Variations for piano and orchestra breaks into a tango as it winds up to its conclusion. The second theme in the first movement of Brahms' fourth symphony is a tango (and the last movement is a chaconne).
It is doubtful that Europeans had any idea that these musical expressions had anything to do with Black People.
On the other hand, other nineteenth century developments were well known African American incursions into the musical world of Europe. The Fisk Jubilee Singers toured Europe and acquainted Europeans with the African American spirituals. Antonin Dvorak (1841-1904), the great Czech composer, came to the United States, wrote his New World Symphony (his ninth symphony) based on African American music, advised Americans to use the African American spirituals as the basis for developing an American classical tradition, and took on several African Americans as composition students. The cakewalk (precursor to ragtime) and the minstrels eventually invaded Europe. These divergent influences – spirituals, cakewalk, minstrels -- can be heard in the music of the French composer, Claude Debussy (1862-1918). Divergent, because the white, black-faced minstrels were a cruel parody of African American musical genius, such cruel mockery reflected in Debussy's piano composition, Golliwog's cake walk.
By the early twentieth century, ragtime and jazz made their mark on Europe. Such European composers as Igor Stravinsky (Russian, 1882-1971), Darius Milhaud (French, 1892-1974), and Paul Hindemith (German, 1895-1963), among others, were influenced by African American music.
In the United States, the situation is simple: American music is African American music. Popular standards, country and western, jazz, blues, rock, rock and roll, rhythm and blues, rap – you name it, it's African American. Gershwin included.
If you consider the global spread of jazz, rock and rap, then if it can be said that the Europeans (white people) have come to dominate the world militarily, politically, and economically, then African Americans have come to dominate the world musically.
Afro-Americana: Preserving African American History
Unitary & Binary Structures
Linear & Periodic Structures
|Dr. Knibbs performs Afro-Americana, piano music in African American styles drawn from the classical repertoire, including music by George Gershwin (American), Ernesto Lecuona (Cuban), R. Nathaniel Dett (African American), Louis Moreau Gottschalk (Louisana Creole), Scott Joplin (African American), Claude Debussy (French), and Dr. Knibbs himself. Dr. Knibbs is an Adjunct Professor of Music at Fayetteville State University in Fayetteville, North Carolina.|
Dr. Knibbs inaugurated Fayetteville State University's 2005-06 Fine Arts Series on Sunday, October 23, 2005, performing Gershwin's Three Preludes, Lecuona's Danzas Afro-Cubanas, Dett's In the Bottoms suite, Debussy's Evening in Granada and Golliwog's Cake Walk, and Gottschalk's The Banjo.
Lester Allyson Knibbs, Ph.D.
(updated, August 15, 2006)