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 welcome new version of a publication that is no less important now than it was in 1967.


A timely distilled version of the powerful report on racism in the U.S.

Created by Lyndon Johnson’s executive order in 1967, the Kerner Commission was convened in response to inner-city riots in cities like Newark and Detroit, and its findings have renewed relevance in the wake of the George Floyd verdict and other recent police brutality cases. The report, named for Otto Kerner, the chairman of the commission and then governor of Illinois, explored the systemic reasons why an “apocalyptic fury” broke out that summer even in the wake of the passage of significant civil rights and voting acts—a response with striking echoes in recent events across the country. In this edited and contextualized version, New Yorker staff writer Cobb, with the assistance of Guariglia, capably demonstrates the continued relevance and prescience of the commission’s findings on institutionalized discriminatory policies in housing, education, employment, and the media. The commission was not the first to address racial violence in the century, and it would not be the last, but the bipartisan group of 11 members—including two Blacks and one woman—was impressively thorough in its investigation of the complex overarching social and economic issues at play. “The members were not seeking to understand a singular incident of disorder,” writes Cobb, “but the phenomenon of rioting itself.” Johnson wanted to know what happened, why it happened, and what could be done so it doesn’t happen “again and again.” Of course, it has happened again and again, and many of the report’s recommendations remain unimplemented. This version of the landmark report features a superb introduction by Cobb and a closing section of frequently asked questions—e.g., “How come nothing has been done about these problems?” The book contains plenty of fodder for crucial national conversations and many excellent ideas for much-needed reforms that could be put into place now.

A welcome new version of a publication that is no less important now than it was in 1967.

Pub Date: July 27, 2021

ISBN: 978-1-63149-892-3

Page Count: 224

Publisher: Liveright/Norton

Review Posted Online: May 19, 2021

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 1, 2021

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