Performing Negro Folk Culture, Performing America: Hall Johnson’s Choral and Dramatic Works (1925-1939)

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Performing Negro Folk Culture, Performing America: Hall Johnson’s Choral and Dramatic Works (1925-1939)

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Title: Performing Negro Folk Culture, Performing America: Hall Johnson’s Choral and Dramatic Works (1925-1939)
Author: Wittmer, Micah
Citation: Wittmer, Micah. 2016. Performing Negro Folk Culture, Performing America: Hall Johnson’s Choral and Dramatic Works (1925-1939). Doctoral dissertation, Harvard University, Graduate School of Arts & Sciences.
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Abstract: This dissertation explores the portrayal of Negro folk culture in concert performances of the Hall Johnson Choir and in Hall Johnson’s popular music drama, Run, Little Chillun. I contribute to existing scholarship on Negro spirituals by tracing the performances of these songs by the original Fisk Jubilee singers in 1867 to the Hall Johnson Choir’s performances in the 1920s-1930s, with a specific focus on the portrayal of Negro folk culture. By doing so, I show how the meaning and importance of performing Negro folk culture changed over time during this period. My dissertation also draws on Hall Johnson’s lectures, radio broadcasts, and published essays on Negro folk culture. By tracing the performance of the Negro spirituals to those of the original Fisk Jubilee Singers during the Reconstruction period, it becomes clear that without the path-breaking work of the original Fisk Jubilee Singers, there would be no Hall Johnson Choir.
Hall Johnson was devoted to composing works about African Americans that preserved and accurately portrayed Negro folk culture because he believed that Negro folk culture was an essential part of American cultural identity. I posit that Run, Little Chillun employs the ideals of the New Negro Renaissance, strategically capitalizing on what many white American cultural critics believed to be primitive—and therefore genuine—black culture while promoting a unique version of black empowerment through the speech of an Oxford Educated black male character who espoused an Afrofuturistic theology. With an interdisciplinary approach, I draw on musicology, African American studies, and sociology to place Hall Johnson’s writings on Negro spirituals within the context of the greater discussion of Negro spirituals during the 1920s-1940s. My primary methodology is historical and includes archival research, musical analysis, and reception history. The writings of black intellectuals and leaders of the New Negro Renaissance such as W.E.B Du Bois, Alain Locke, William Work, and John Rosamond Johnson provide the primary theoretical framework for this dissertation.
Terms of Use: This article is made available under the terms and conditions applicable to Other Posted Material, as set forth at http://nrs.harvard.edu/urn-3:HUL.InstRepos:dash.current.terms-of-use#LAA
Citable link to this page: http://nrs.harvard.edu/urn-3:HUL.InstRepos:26718725
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