Deep River

Music and Memory in Harlem Renaissance Thought

Deep River

New Americanists

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Book Pages: 352 Illustrations: 8 b&w photographs Published: July 2001

African American Studies and Black Diaspora, American Studies, Music > Popular Music

“The American Negro,” Arthur Schomburg wrote in 1925, “must remake his past in order to make his future.” Many Harlem Renaissance figures agreed that reframing the black folk inheritance could play a major role in imagining a new future of racial equality and artistic freedom. In Deep River Paul Allen Anderson focuses on the role of African American folk music in the Renaissance aesthetic and in political debates about racial performance, social memory, and national identity.
Deep River elucidates how spirituals, African American concert music, the blues, and jazz became symbolic sites of social memory and anticipation during the Harlem Renaissance. Anderson traces the roots of this period’s debates about music to the American and European tours of the Fisk Jubilee Singers in the 1870s and to W. E. B. Du Bois’s influential writings at the turn of the century about folk culture and its bearing on racial progress and national identity. He details how musical idioms spoke to contrasting visions of New Negro art, folk authenticity, and modernist cosmopolitanism in the works of Du Bois, Alain Locke, Zora Neale Hurston, Langston Hughes, Jean Toomer, Sterling Brown, Roland Hayes, Paul Robeson, Carl Van Vechten, and others. In addition to revisiting the place of music in the culture wars of the 1920s, Deep River provides fresh perspectives on the aesthetics of race and the politics of music in Popular Front and Swing Era music criticism, African American critical theory, and contemporary musicology.
Deep River offers a sophisticated historical account of American racial ideologies and their function in music criticism and modernist thought. It will interest general readers as well as students of African American studies, American studies, intellectual history, musicology, and literature.


Deep River contains many . . . crafted and carefully wrought ‘intellectual portraits,’ including insightful discussions of such Harlem Renaissance patrons as Carl Van Vechten and John Hammond. The book is an admirable and thoughtful contribution that considerably enlarges our ideas of music, memory, and identity in the first half of the ‘American century.’” — Amy Henderson , History: Reviews of New Books

“[A]dds important depth to our understanding of black intellectual history. . . . [H]is discussion adds depth and detail . . . .” — Ed Pavli´c, Modernism/Modernity

“[C]arefully researched and convincingly rendered. . . . Anderson’s book marvelously expands our understanding of some of the most important African American literary figures; anyone interested in American literary history will find it valuable.” — Rachel Rubin , Against the Current

“Richly informed, Anderson . . . penetrates the conflicting philosophies of the era that produced Duke Ellington, Bessie Smith, and Billie Holiday.” — D. R. de Lerma, Choice

"Deep River add[s] to the public discourse on the historical importance of elevating spirituals." — Ingrid Sturgis , Black Issues Book Review

"[H]ighly informative and superbly crafted . . . . Anderson’s book rehearses, amplifies, and extends other recent scholarship . . . . [An] exemplary book that is certain to enrich and deepen Harlem Renaissance and African American cultural studies."

— John Gennari , American Literature

"Anderson's book is well-researched, carefully documented, and reads well. . . . Ultimately, this book identifies a point of origin for many vexing questions that continue to drive research on music today, while simultaneously providing a point of departure for what we can only hope will be equally sophisticated work on other moments in the development of black music criticism." — Eric Porter, African American Review

"Anderson's well-documented, theoretically challenging study is a useful reminder of the complex cross currents of the black musical river." — Joseph McLaren , Research in African Literatures

"Paul Allen Anderson’s rich and dense study carefully analyzes ideas about African American music from 1900-1940. . . . Anderson’s study is full of intensely thoughtful and extremely close readings of intellectuals’ musical thought. . . . Anderson’s study broadens and deepens our understanding of the philosophical significance of African American music in twentieth-century United States and transatlantic culture." — Burton W. Peretti , Journal of American History

“Paul Anderson’s Deep River is the best, most convincing, and most richly textured work on black socio-musical criticism in print. In examining the views of twelve commentators on black music, ranging from W. E. B. DuBois and his ‘sorrow songs’ theory to Wynton Marsalis and his jazz neoclassicism, Anderson builds his interpretations and critiques on that of previous and current critics to develop a sophisticated examination and treatment of important ideas about social and cultural positioning of black music in America. I recommend this book to anyone interested in black music as a field of study or inquiry.” — Samuel A. Floyd Jr., Columbia College

“While many scholars have attempted histories of the early years of jazz—and even more have examined Du Bois’s appeals to the musical in his social and cultural criticism—few have attempted the kind of sustained examination of the critical debates about black music that Anderson does. Deep River places these long-standing debates in a crucial new context.” — Aldon L. Nielsen, author of Black Chant: Languages of African American Postmodernism


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Author/Editor Bios Back to Top

Paul Allen Anderson is Assistant Professor of American Culture and African American Studies at the University of Michigan, Ann Arbor.

Table of Contents Back to Top


1. “Unvoiced Longings”: Du Bois and the Sorrow Songs

2. Swan Songs and Art Songs: The Spirituals and the “New Negro” in the 1920s

3. “The Twilight of Aestheticism”: Locke on Cosmopolitanism and Musical Evolution

4. “Beneath the Seeming Informality”: Hughes, Hurston, and the Politics of Form

5. Saving Jazz From Its Friends: The Predicament of Jazz Criticism in the Swing Era



Selected Bibliography

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Additional InformationBack to Top
Paper ISBN: 978-0-8223-2591-8 / Cloth ISBN: 978-0-8223-2577-2
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