Explore the Book cover image.

What is The Music of Black Americans?

Eileen Southern’s book The Music of Black Americans: A History represents a monumental achievement for its author. Prior to its publication in 1971, American musicology had focused on European music, and studies of American music had not considered Black composers and performers. The book's research was the work of a lifetime for Professor Southern, who had scarcely any existing bibliography to draw on and thus conducted most of her research from primary sources. It is important, deeply appreciated and rich in detail. But it was intended for a wide readership, and so offers few direct citations for its many musical excerpts. It obliges replication of Professor Southern's research process, following titles or composers to library catalogs or search engines.

The book was an international sensation and was followed by a second edition in 1983 and a third (which covered the early hip-hop era) in 1997. It has never been out of print. Its appearance in 1971 was greeted with a deluge of praise from all over the world, and its author was invited to speak in Europe, Asia and Africa. Professor Southern's correspondence is preserved in the Harvard University Archives, and the impact of her work on other scholars and performers can be explored in the digital exhibition Eileen Southern and The Music of Black Americans.

By establishing a historical framework for the study and performance of Black American music, Professor Southern made possible a wealth of scholarship from the 1970s onward. This site builds on her work by making the music in The Music of Black Americans available to a global audience of scholars, performers, and composers.

Navigate the Site

To access different parts of the book, click on the section titles in the right-hand side menu or use the section titles you see at the bottom of each page. Excerpts of quotations from the first edition of The Music of Black Americans (1971) introduce each section.