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Just before jazz : Black musical theater in New York, 1890-1915 /

Main Author: Riis, Thomas Laurence.
Format: Book
Language: English
Published: Washington : Smithsonian Institution Press, 1989
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Review by Choice Review

Riis's book about early black musicals is well researched, written, and illustrated. It is focused on a relatively short period, 1890-1915, in New York City. (For a broader survey, see Allen Woll's Black Musical Theater: from "Coontown" to "Dreamgirls", CH, Sep'89.) The fact that Riis is a musicologist informs this first-rate study but does not make it in any way inaccessible to the general reader. Brief examples of musical scores are woven invitingly into the text, and 68 pages of sheet music facsimiles are reproduced at the back of the book. No more than a rudimentary knowledge of music is needed to receive the melodies in the mind's ear, and the songs are chosen for socially significant, period lyrics. Williams and Walker, Will Marion Cook, Cole and Johnson, and Ernest Hogan are among the performers and performing teams considered in depth, within a social and cultural context. (It is interesting to be reminded that early black musicals had their heyday at the same time as the spectacular Viennese musicals.) Chapter 9 gives a composite picture of the shows discussed earlier and supplies a useful formula for musicals as varied as A Trip to Coontown, Sons of Ham, and Bandanna Land. Appendixes provide listings of shows and songs; there are excellent notes and a useful bibliography. Both public and academic libraries. -D. E. Abramson, emeritus, University of Massachusetts at Amherst

Copyright American Library Association, used with permission.
Review by Library Journal Review

This book fills a gap in our understanding of the history of American musical theater by bringing to light the unique contributions of black composers, producers, and performers to the origin and development of popular song form. Immediately striking is the revelation that the composers and performers working in black musical theater were often well educated and classically trained--a revelation that adds a fresh complexity to the usual notions of the evolution of black music. Riis concentrates on a discussion of the shows and the songs, often in musicological terms that might prove daunting to lay readers. Careful documentation and exhaustive appendixes make this work a valuable addition to music collections; it is also recommended for black history and larger theater collections.-- Mark Woodhouse, Gannett-Tripp Learning Ctr., Elmira Coll., N.Y. (c) Copyright 2010. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.

(c) Copyright 2010. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.