Soundtrack to Black History
“Soundtrack to Black History”, the Department of Music and Theatre’s 2016 Black History presentation, uses the performing arts to chronicle the lives of Prairie View A&M students throughout the history of the campus and links the “Prairie View Story” to wider events in the Black American experience. Below are links and additional materials for further exploration of people, places, and events which I hope will enlighten, entertain and deepen the connective threads running through Prairie View and out into the wider world. Many thanks to archivists Lisa Stafford and Phyllis Earles at the John B. Coleman library for their expertise and assistance in the research for this project. Special thanks also to Jeff Freeman, instructor of low brass instruments and music department webmaster.
Dr. Vicki Seldon | Associate Professor of Music | PVAMU
*Click on photos for a clearer image*
- Galveston native, pianist Maud Cuney- Hare ( Maud Cuney Mckinley at that time), taught music at”Prairie View State Normal and Industrial College” from 1903-1904. After leaving Texas and moving to Boston, she made significant contributions in performance, composition (She was a playwright as well as a musical arranger) and was a pioneering researcher of various genres of Black music in the United States and abroad. She also became a close friend of W.E.B. DuBois and for many years wrote a regular column on music for the Crisis, the journal of the NAACP. In 1926, she returned to the PVAMU campus and played a guest artist recital. Her seminal book of musicological research was Negro Musicians and their Music, published in 1936 by the Associated Press.
- In the early decades of the 20th century, official commencement activities at Prairie View comprised three days of both joyous and serious ceremony and celebration which featured many instrumental and vocal performances from soloists and ensembles of graduating seniors, alumni, and special guests. Musical performances were a much larger part of the ceremony on graduation day during those early years than is the current practice.
- In 1912, Music instructor A.D. Ewell formed both the College Band and the College Orchestra. Below is an example of the kind of light-classical repertoire the ensemble might have played in those days for important occasions such as commencement.
Composition: “Carnival of Venice” arranged for cornet solo and band by Herbert L. Clarke
- Male vocal quartets were popular on campus from the college’s earliest days. Some of these groups were comprised of music students from the College Choir, as well as other talented singers on campus. Much of their repertoire centered around arrangements of spirituals and popular gospel songs.
- Prairie View College Band and Orchestra in 1926
- In 2012, bass-baritone Leon Turner, instructor of voice, along with three other Houston singers, performed some of these “old timey “songs in live concert broadcast for Houston Public Media at the Gehry Performance Studio at the University of Houston. Here is the vocal quartet, singing the spiritual “By and By”.
- Dr. Oscar Anderson Fuller, Jr., penned the lyrics and arranged the music for the beloved alma mater, “Dear Prairie View” while a member of the music faculty in the late 1930’s. Dr. Fuller adapted the melody of “Dear Prairie View” from a portion of the orchestral tone poem, Finlandia, by Jean Sibelius. After leaving Prairie View, he earned a doctorate in music from the University of Iowa and is credited with being the first African-American to earn the PhD in music. Here is the original, orchestral version of the melody from the Sibelius tone poem. (The melody used by Dr. Fuller, begins at approximately 6:09)
- During WWII, while the male students served the war effort, female jazz musicians at the college had greater opportunities to perform and tour, gaining national recognition. In recent years, scholars have rediscovered the work of the musicians in female jazz orchestras such as the “Prairie View Coeds” and others.http://www.nytimes.com/2000/08/10/books/when-women-called-tunes-rediscovering-players-who-kept-things-swinging-after-men.html?pagewanted=all&_r=0
- Blues singer and pianist, Charles “Mose” Brown (1922-1999 )was born in Texas City. He earned a Bachelors Degree in Chemistry from Prairie View in 1942. After moving to Los Angeles to join the burgeoning “supper club” scene, Brown became the pianist and lead singer for the jazz/blues trio the Blazers. Recordings of their smooth, mellow style of jazz-tinged R&B became very popular on the national charts. Charles Brown also had a highly successful solo career after leaving the group. He received the W. C. Handy blues award in 1997 and was inducted into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame in 1999. Here is “Driftin Blues” sung by Charles Brown and the Blazers:
For a very personal account of what it meant to be a “PVK” (Prairie View Kid), I highly recommend the 2009 memoir by Jimmie Poindexter: Campus Children -Wonderland in Pantherland published by XLibris Press, Bloomington, Indiana. Mrs. Poindexter grew up on the campus in the 1940’s as well as graduating from the university with her Bachelors Degree. The book includes her recollections of campus life as well as the recollections of many of her contemporaries.
The history of Prairie View A&M University is an important part of a larger narrative of the spread of higher education in this country as part of the Morrill Act of 1862, the Land-Grant College Act . As well, Prairie View shares a legacy with the other proud Historically Black Colleges and Universities. My final two recommendations explore this history. One is a recent public radio broadcast about the history of HBCU’s http://www.americanradioworks.org/segments/hbcu-history/. I also highly recommend the excellent, one-volume history of HBCU’s by Juan Williams and Dwayne Ashley, I’ll Find A Way Or Make One: A Tribute to Historically Black Colleges and Universities published by Amistad/Harper Collins in 2004