Highlights from the UCLA Ethnomusicology Archive: Black Music and Musicians

"Black Music and Musicians in Los Angeles" is a collection of oral history interviews with Bette Yarbrough Cox, Richard Anthony Dedeaux, Margaret Pleasant Douroux, Albert McNeil, Evelyn Freeman Roberts, and Don L. White.  The project, originally titled, "Documenting Black Music in Los Angeles," was funded by the UCLA School of the Arts and Architecture Artsforum and the Office of the Chancellor (a collaborative project between the UCLA Center for Oral History Research, the Department of Ethnomusicology, and the Ralph J. Bunche Center for African American Studies) in 2006-2007.  Professor Jacqueline Cogdell DjeDje was the Principal Investigator and then graduate student Karin Patterson was the Interviewer.



Bette Yarbrough Cox was a music educator in Los Angeles for more than 30 years, the founder of the BEEM (Black Experience as Expressed through Music) Foundation for the Advancement of Music, a Commissioner of Cultural Affairs for the City of Los Angeles, and a longtime friend of former Mayor Tom Bradley. As she recalled to the Los Angeles Times in 1995, the school district first accepted the teaching of black history in the late 1960s, a seismic shift from her UCLA undergraduate days in 1938.  To enhance her classroom curriculum, Cox looked for books about the black history of music in Southern California.  Her search through the usual channels – library shelves, newspaper clippings, etc. – came up mostly empty.  Cox decided to do something about this lacuna and spent the next 20 years unearthing the untold history behind the music of black Los Angeles.  Her publications include "Central Avenue--its rise and fall, 1890-c. 1955: including the musical renaissance of Black Los Angeles."



 Richard Anthony Dedeaux (1940-2013), Otis O'Solomon, and Amde Hamilton were the founding members of the spoken word poetry group the Watts Prophets. Formed in 1967, the Watts Prophets® is a group of poets and musicians from Watts, Los Angeles, California. Like their contemporaries, The Last Poets, the group combined elements of jazz music and spoken word performance, making the trio one that is often seen as a forerunner of contemporary hip hop music.



Margaret Pleasant Douroux, the founder of The Heritage Music Foundation, is an internationally acclaimed author, educator, and the composer of such Gospel classics as "We're Blessed," "Rivers of Joy," "If It Had Not Been For The Lord On My Side," and "What Shall I Render."



Albert McNeil (1922-) is a native Californian, born in Los Angeles. He earned Bachelor and Master degrees at the University of California, Los Angeles, and did his doctoral studies at the University of Southern California, the Westminster Choir College of Princeton, and the University of Lausanne, Switzerland. He is currently Professor Emeritus of Music at the University of California at Davis, where he was Director of Choral Activities for 21 years and headed the Music Education Program. Simultaneous with the Davis period, he taught Ethnomusicology at the University of Southern California for 12 years. The McNeil Jubilee Singers ensemble is his creation, and he has dedicated himself to upholding a choral tradition of excellence with the presentation of the concert spiritual and the ever-increasing contributions of African American Composers of Concert Music, Opera, and theatre music. Under his direction, the group, now in its 50th year, has performed in over 70 countries, including Eastern and Western Europe, the Middle East, and North and West Africa.



Evelyn Freeman Roberts (1919-2017) and her husband Tommy were the founders and directors of the Young Saints Academy of Performing Arts and Skills at Second Baptist Church (Los Angeles), a children's group that showcased the music and dance routines of American jazz and gospel composers. In 1970, the Young Saints performed for Richard Nixon in the White House. She was also one of the original members of the "Wings Over Jordan" which was featured on CBS radio from 1939 to 1950. In the late 1950s, the Evelyn Freeman Orchestra released "Let’s Make a Little Motion."  In 1960, she released "Sky High," a new album, and in 1962 released "Didn't It Rain."



Don Lee White (1926-2010) was born in Los Angeles and attended Los Angeles City College, California State University, Los Angeles, the University of Southern California and completed additional graduate work at Stanford University. For over 38 years he was organist/director at Grant African Methodist Episcopal Church, Los Angeles. For 27 years he was also a professor of music at California State University, Los Angeles, teaching organ, piano and choral music, conducting and music appreciation.


June is African American Music Appreciation Month.  As the Presidential Proclamation (2014) explains in part: 

Our country is home to a proud legacy of African-American musicians whose songs transcend genre. They make us move, make us think, and make us feel the full range of emotion -- from the pain of isolation to the power of human connection. During African-American Music Appreciation Month, we celebrate artists whose works both tell and shape our Nation's story ... The influence of African-American artists resounds each day through symphony halls, church sanctuaries, music studios, and vast arenas. It fills us with inspiration and calls us to action. This month, as we honor the history of African-American music, let it continue to give us hope and carry us forward -- as one people and one Nation.



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