Composing While Black presents unique new perspectives on Afrodiasporic contemporary composers active between 1960 and the present, a period that academic inquiry, concert programming, and journalistic accounts have largely ignored up to now, particularly in Europe. This interdisciplinary essay collection engages with opera, orchestral, chamber, instrumental, and electroacoustic music, as well as sound art, conceptual art, and digital intermedia, revealing Afrodiasporic new music as an intercultural, multigenerational space of innovation that offers new subjects, histories, and identities. Musicologist Guthrie P. Ramsey observed that, inspired by the mid-twentieth century civil rights movement’s call for transformation through self-determina- tion and collective action, “musicians of this time refused to limit themselves in any way… the resultant musical contributions represent a shared commitment to breaking rules and tearing down rules imposed by mainstream society on black expressive artists.”
Critically important in this regard was the May 1968 founding of the Society of Black Composers, a group of mostly New York-based African American composers from diverse musical backgrounds aiming “to provide a permanent forum for the exposure of Black Composers, their works and their thoughts; to collect and disseminate information related to Black Composers and their activities; and to enrich the cultural life of the community at large.” This association of over fifty composers was founded by composers Dorothy Rudd Moore and her husband, cellist Kermit Moore, Carman Moore (not related), Talib Rasul Hakim (then Stephen Chambers), and Fluxus composer and artist Ben Patterson. Other Society members included Ornette Coleman, Herbie Hancock, Archie Shepp, Olly Wilson, Alvin Singleton, Oliver Nelson, Marion Brown, Wendell Logan, Adolphus Hailstork, Coleridge-Taylor Perkinson, and Noel Da Costa
“Composing While Black is a brilliant collection of essays on the black presence in contemporary Classical music. From the poignant and richly resonant title through the editors‘ authoritative historical introduction to the mix of reflection, anecdote, analysis, and study of the compositional process across nine essays, the book illuminates black creativity on terrain previously figured as white. Timely, informative, and challenging, this bilingual text is a must-read for anyone interested not only in the work of Afrodiasporic composers but in the reach of the very notion of the contemporary itself.” KOFI AGAWU The Graduate Center, City University of New York
“What an essential book this is: an invigorating corrective packed with bright sounds, big musical personalities and astute social context. The introduction alone is a terrific primer; the chapters are vivid case studies written with fresh and authoritative clarity. Above all, the music of this book demands to be heard. Its pages will send you down countless avenues of discovery and fill whole notebooks with names, ideas and intersections to pursue – the greatest thrill.” KATE MOLLESON, author of Sound Within Sound: Opening Our Ears to the 20th Century.
“This brilliantly illuminating survey of twenty-first-century Afro-diasporic composition testifies to the countervailing powers of identity and difference. The modes of art-making that the editors place under the rubric “Composing While Black” are, in fact, a teeming, ever-expanding universe of musical possibility, one that resists, absorbs, and transmutes immense pressures. Composers are seen both as self-governing individuals and as figures within far-flung, intricately networked communities: the doubleness of vision honors the inward-outward ardor of human creativity.” Alex Ross