OPEN STACKS | #38 Black Musics: Melanie Zeck, Adam Gussow, & Chief Wicked

February 11th, 2018


This week on Open Stacks, we're considering Black music genres, their transformations, tropes, tenets, and migrations. Joining us are Melanie Zeck on Transformations of Black Music, Adam Gussow on Beyond the Crossroads, and Chief Wicked on lyricism in rap music. 

We started this episode with words from Nathaniel Mackey and Splay Anthem, his National Book award winning collection. The book is comprised of pieces from two serial poems by Mackey, “Mu” and “Song of Andoumboulou,” which he's been working on (and continues to write) for over twenty years. In this clip, he reads from both with accompaniment from bassist Vattel Cherry:

 Zeck mentions Vicente Lusitano in her conversation with Colin.

Jeff Bowersox has this to offer about the composer's life:

 Vicente Lusitano was a sixteenth-century composer and musical theorist perhaps most famous for winning a public debate with Nicola Vicentino and for his important book on theory entitled Introdutione facilissima et novissima de canto ferma (1553). Although he has long been a well-known figure among musicologists, the fact that he was black has been almost entirely erased from memory. Described in contemporary sources as a “pardo” (Portuguese for mulatto), he was likely born to a white father and a black mother in Portugal around 1522. An ordained Catholic priest, he traveled to Italy, perhaps in the entourage of Portugal’s ambassador to Rome. There he made his name as a highly sought-after music teacher, although his challenging compositions and lack of a powerful patron made it difficult for him to advance his career. Somewhere around 1556, Lusitano converted to Protestantism and married before seeking refuge in 1561 at the court of the Protestant Duke Christoph of Württemberg and disappearing from the historical record.

If you were curious about the Florence Price piece Zeck discussed, Alex Ross recently wrote about the unearthing of her compositions for The New Yorker:

The reasons for the shocking neglect of Price’s legacy are not hard to find. In a 1943 letter to the conductor Serge Koussevitzky, she introduced herself thus: “My dear Dr. Koussevitzky, To begin with I have two handicaps—those of sex and race. I am a woman; and I have some Negro blood in my veins.” She plainly saw these factors as obstacles to her career, because she then spoke of Koussevitzky “knowing the worst.” Indeed, she had a difficult time making headway in a culture that defined composers as white, male, and dead. One prominent conductor took up her cause—Frederick Stock, the German-born music director of the Chicago Symphony—but most others ignored her, Koussevitzky included. Only in the past couple of decades have Price’s major works begun to receive recordings and performances, and these are still infrequent.

(full article here)

We included a portion of this song, by Ladysmith Black Mambazo, in the episode. Just in time, it seems! The group won their fifth award at this year's Grammy's.

 Check out this animation of Robert Johnson's storied encounter with the devil:

Chief Wicked, moniker of University of Chicago fourth year Ben Glover, spoke as part of TEDxUChicago last year, which you can watch here:

You can find more of Ben's music on his soundcloud, including his 2016 album Philosonegro: 

Glover also mentioned a number of rappers, including Earl Sweatshirt, also known as Thebe Kgositsile. Another South Africa connection here; Kgositsile's father, who passed away this past January, was reknowned South African poet Keorapetse Kgositsile, also known as Bra Willie:

Earl surely gets some of his lyrical talent from his father: