Ella Fitzgerald: The Voice that Shattered Glass

How Ella Fitzgerald’s cassette campaign fueled a late-career renaissance. It’s the stuff of legends: an urban legend and a jazz legend combining into a legendary advertising campaign. In 1970, the Leo Burnett ad agency in Chicago had an imaginative idea for selling Memorex’s new line of blank cassette tapes. They’d prove the old myth that[…]

Jazz, Chicago, and the Great Migration

How did the Great Migration of African-Americans in the twentieth century affect the development of jazz music in Chicago? Introduction During the period known as the Great Migration (1915-1970), six million African-Americans moved from southern states to urban areas in the North and West. In 1900, ninety percent of black people in the United States[…]

Harper’s Songs of Ancient Egypt

Harper’s songs were lyrics composed in ancient Egypt to be sung at funeral feasts and inscribed on monuments. Introduction Harper’s songs were lyrics composed in ancient Egypt to be sung at funeral feasts and inscribed on monuments. They derive their name from the image which accompanies the text on tomb or chapel walls, stelae, and papyri in which a[…]

Listening to the Past: An African-American Lullaby

Both during slavery and after, the power structures of American society confined many black women to the role of caretakers of white families. My research tries to capture the sounds of the past before the advent of recorded music. I’m curious about ideas that were spoken and sung and shouted and strummed, focusing particularly on[…]

Why We Keep Rediscovering the Flamboyant Godmother of Rock

Sister Rosetta Tharpe was buried in an unmarked grave, but now she’s a YouTube sensation. More than 40 years after her burial in an unmarked Philadelphia grave, Sister Rosetta Tharpe, gospel’s first superstar and its most celebrated crossover figure, is enjoying a burst of Internet celebrity. A video of her playing one of her signature[…]

Luther’s Musical Legacy is the Reformation’s Unsung Achievement

In the great reformer’s eyes, if you didn’t love a rousing tune you deserved only “the music of the pigs”. Five hundred years ago, Martin Luther triggered what would become the Protestant Reformation with a document protesting corruption in the Catholic Church. At its heart, his Reformation was a movement about the nature of sin[…]

Inside Poor Monkey’s: One of the Last Jook Joints

Transformed in the 1950s from a sharecropper shack that was built probably in the 1920s, Poor Monkey’s Lounge is the one of the last rural jook joints in the Mississippi Delta. Overview Transformed in the 1950s from a sharecropper shack that was built probably in the 1920s, Poor Monkey’s Lounge is the one of the[…]

Rules of the Tribe: Hardcore Punks and Hair Metal in the 1980s

A new scene was taking root, composed of bands that combined punk’s politics and attitude with the complexity and weight of metal. The chant began less than two minutes into the first song. An undercurrent at first, just a few hecklers. But it got louder with repetition, each wave building on the last. Soon the[…]

Hearing, Sensing, Feeling Sound: On Music and Physiology in Victorian England, 1857-1894

Acoustical science fundamentally transformed the ways that Victorians conceptualized the relations between aesthetics and the body. This article focuses on new developments in the burgeoning field of acoustical science that emerged in the mid-to-late-nineteenth century. During this time, sound science began to flourish in England, particularly through lectures by Hermann von Helmholtz and John Tyndall[…]