Music News

Black Women Composers of Classical Music: Too Many Songs Unsung

Submitted by: Gerald J. Blanchard, DMA

“The influence of women on the music and the culture in the life of the Black community, while known and applauded, was rarely, if ever, documented in any written form”
-Undine Smith Moore, composer


The classical art music of the African American composer has been continually over-looked in the music anthologies, reference books, periodicals and other such resources, therefore limiting valuable exposure to student and teacher alike. The rare exception is in the repertoire of the spiritual, which is often misidentified as a “traditional” spiritual rather than an art song “arrangement” of a spiritual. To date, there are a mere four (4) song anthologies devoted exclusively to the repertoire of the African American classical composer that includes legitimate art song compositions. Of the aforementioned, only two (2) include a significant (5 or more) representation by the African American female composer.


The key objective of this lecture recital program is to examine and perform a small sampling of the vast collections of art songs composed by the African American female composer. Many will be recognized while others may be less familiar. Such works will include Night by Florence Price, a musical setting of the poem originally penned by Louise Wallace, The song cycle Seven Days by Mable Bailey, and The Negro Speaks of Rivers, as composed by Margaret Bonds, a work which sets the text of noted African American poet and author, Langston Hughes. Also featured on the recital is a powerful musical setting of a speech given by the former slave, abolitionist and author Frederick Douglas entitled Fourth of July Speech, as composed by Dorothy Rudd Moore. Fourth of July Speech had its world premier in 1985.

Through this presentation of art songs, it is my desire to inspire performers, teachers and students of the voice to actively seek out the wealth of Black art music which exits with the same level of scholarship used in searching for European art music.


Abdul, Raoul, Blacks in Classical Music. New York: Dodd, Mead & Company, 1977. Ammer, Christine, UNSUNG. Westport, Connecticut: Greenwood Press, 1980.

Baker, David N., Belt, Lida M., editor, The Black Composer Speaks. London: The Scarecrow Press Inc., 1978.

Berry, Lemuel, Biographical Dictionary of Black Musicians and Music Educators. Guthrie, Oklahoma: Midwest Publishing Company, 1978.

Charters, Samuel, A Language of Song: Journeys in the Musical World of the African Diaspora. London: Duke University Press, 2009.

Hibbard, Sara, “Selected Anthology of Vocal Music by Women Composers” (DMA diss., Michigan State University, 2000),1-5, 13-17, 105-114.

Green, Mildred D., Black Women Composers: A Genesis. Boston: Twayne Publishers, 1983.

Hare, Maud Cuney, Negro Musicians and Their Music. New York: G. K. Hall & CO., 1996.

Hill, Helen Walker, From Spirituals to Symphonies: African American Women Composers and their Music. West Port, Connecticut: Greenwood Press, 2002. Southern, Eileen, Readings in Black American Music. New York: W.W. Norton & Company, 1971.

Southern, Eileen, Biographical Dictionary of Afro-American and African Musicians. Westport, Connecticut: Greenwood Press, 1982.

Wright, Josephine, ed., New Perspectives on Music: Essays in Honor of Eileen Southern. Warren, Michigan: Harmonie Park Press, 1992.


African American Heritage Hymnal. Chicago: GIA Publications, INC., 2001.

Anthology of Art Songs by Black American Composers. New York: Edward B. Marks Music Company, 1977.

A New Anthology of American Song: 25 Songs by Native American Composers. New York: G. Schirmer, Inc., 1942.

Handy, William C., editor, Unsung Americans Sung. New York: Handy Brothers Music Co., Inc., 1946.

Simmons, Margaret R., Wagner, Jeanine, A New Anthology of Art Songs by African American Composers. Carbondale: Southern Illinois University Press, 2004.

BOOKING INFORMATION: For inquiries, send e-mail

Comments (9)

  1. Nights (Florence Price) – 0:03
    The Negro… (Margaret Bonds) – 1:58
    Minstrel Man (Margaret Bonds) – 3:50
    Birthday Song (Mable Bailey) – 5:30
    Seasons (Mable Bailey) – 6:37
    Unknown Song (Phyllis Wheatley) – 9:30
    Fourth of July Speech (Dorothy Rudd Moore) –10:10

  2. Super informative and important! Thanks so much 🙂

  3. BRAVO !!! (clap clap clap clap clap clap clap clap clap clap) !!!

  4. taking music as an elective…this has helped greatly

  5. I can't agree more! Which is why I'm focusing on recording more of this repertoire for all to hear on Cdbaby and Itunes.

  6. Biggie Smalls sung opera?

  7. Thank you Gerald Blanchard. We need to hear so much more from Black composers in the classical realm.

  8. Thank you so much for putting this on youtube and thus, exposing such heartfelt music to the world.

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