Essential cultural history.



Why is American classical music so White?

In 1893, visiting Bohemian composer Antonin Dvořák predicted that a “great and noble school” of American classical music would build upon the nation’s “negro melodies.” Instead, writes music historian Horowitz, classical music in America became “a Eurocentric subsidiary,” while African American melodies and rhythms were segregated in popular music. Yet Dvořák’s prophecy encouraged Black composers, including his assistant, Harry Burleigh, and mixed-race Englishman Samuel Coleridge-Taylor, to compose classical works steeped in African American folk music that were widely performed and discussed at the turn of the 20th century. The villains in Horowitz’s indictment are modernists Aaron Copland, Leonard Bernstein, and Virgil Thomson, who all “maintained that there was no American music of consequence before 1910.” White outliers such as Charles Ives, who unabashedly quoted from popular songs in his symphonies and sonatas, and George Gershwin, who wrote an opera with African American protagonists, were dismissed as eccentrics or sentimentalists. At the same time, African American composers William Grant Still, Florence Price, and William Levi Dawson, though taken seriously in the years between the world wars, plunged into obscurity because they didn’t fit into the modernist narrative. Horowitz is unafraid to tackle the third-rail issue of cultural appropriation, coming down firmly on the side of artists’ freedom to draw on any traditions that speak to them. He covers his back by enlisting African American tenor George Shirley to make the most forceful defense in a foreword: “I have no right to tell anyone they cannot perform the music of Black folk if they have the desire and ability to do so with proper respect for its content and distinctiveness.” Horowitz closes with a clarion call for American classical music to “acquire a viable future, at last buoyed and directed by a proper past.” His chronicle of “a failure of historical memory” is feisty and opinionated but always backed by solid evidence.

Essential cultural history.

Pub Date: Nov. 9, 2021

ISBN: 978-0-393-88124-0

Page Count: 256

Publisher: Norton

Review Posted Online: July 22, 2021

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 15, 2021

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A virtuoso performance and an ode to an undervalued medium created by two talented artists.



The veteran actor, comedian, and banjo player teams up with the acclaimed illustrator to create a unique book of cartoons that communicates their personalities.

Martin, also a prolific author, has always been intrigued by the cartoons strewn throughout the pages of the New Yorker. So when he was presented with the opportunity to work with Bliss, who has been a staff cartoonist at the magazine since 1997, he seized the moment. “The idea of a one-panel image with or without a caption mystified me,” he writes. “I felt like, yeah, sometimes I’m funny, but there are these other weird freaks who are actually funny.” Once the duo agreed to work together, they established their creative process, which consisted of working forward and backward: “Forwards was me conceiving of several cartoon images and captions, and Harry would select his favorites; backwards was Harry sending me sketched or fully drawn cartoons for dialogue or banners.” Sometimes, he writes, “the perfect joke occurs two seconds before deadline.” There are several cartoons depicting this method, including a humorous multipanel piece highlighting their first meeting called “They Meet,” in which Martin thinks to himself, “He’ll never be able to translate my delicate and finely honed droll notions.” In the next panel, Bliss thinks, “I’m sure he won’t understand that the comic art form is way more subtle than his blunt-force humor.” The team collaborated for a year and created 150 cartoons featuring an array of topics, “from dogs and cats to outer space and art museums.” A witty creation of a bovine family sitting down to a gourmet meal and one of Dumbo getting his comeuppance highlight the duo’s comedic talent. What also makes this project successful is the team’s keen understanding of human behavior as viewed through their unconventional comedic minds.

A virtuoso performance and an ode to an undervalued medium created by two talented artists.

Pub Date: Nov. 17, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-250-26289-9

Page Count: 272

Publisher: Celadon Books

Review Posted Online: Aug. 31, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 15, 2020

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A concise personal and scholarly history that avoids academic jargon as it illuminates emotional truths.

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The Harvard historian and Texas native demonstrates what the holiday means to her and to the rest of the nation.

Initially celebrated primarily by Black Texans, Juneteenth refers to June 19, 1865, when a Union general arrived in Galveston to proclaim the end of slavery with the defeat of the Confederacy. If only history were that simple. In her latest, Gordon-Reed, winner of the Pulitzer Prize, National Book Award, Anisfield-Wolf Book Award, and numerous other honors, describes how Whites raged and committed violence against celebratory Blacks as racism in Texas and across the country continued to spread through segregation, Jim Crow laws, and separate-but-equal rationalizations. As Gordon-Reed amply shows in this smooth combination of memoir, essay, and history, such racism is by no means a thing of the past, even as Juneteenth has come to be celebrated by all of Texas and throughout the U.S. The Galveston announcement, notes the author, came well after the Emancipation Proclamation but before the ratification of the 13th Amendment. Though Gordon-Reed writes fondly of her native state, especially the strong familial ties and sense of community, she acknowledges her challenges as a woman of color in a state where “the image of Texas has a gender and a race: “Texas is a White man.” The author astutely explores “what that means for everyone who lives in Texas and is not a White man.” With all of its diversity and geographic expanse, Texas also has a singular history—as part of Mexico, as its own republic from 1836 to 1846, and as a place that “has connections to people of African descent that go back centuries.” All of this provides context for the uniqueness of this historical moment, which Gordon-Reed explores with her characteristic rigor and insight.

A concise personal and scholarly history that avoids academic jargon as it illuminates emotional truths.

Pub Date: May 4, 2021

ISBN: 978-1-63149-883-1

Page Count: 128

Publisher: Liveright/Norton

Review Posted Online: Feb. 24, 2021

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 15, 2021

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