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Collection African-American Band Music & Recordings, 1883 to 1923

About this Collection

The core of this presentation consists of "stock" arrangements for bands or small orchestras of popular songs written by African Americans. In addition, we offer a smaller selection of historic sound recordings illustrating these songs and many others by the same composers (the arrangements might not necessarily be the same as those on the stocks). Educational materials include short biographies of composers and performers of the time and historical essays.

Image captions: (background) My little belle Creole [flute part], Gussie Davis, composer. (clockwise from top) My little belle Creole [drums and bells part]; Bob Cole (1868-1911) and J. Rosamond Johnson (1873-1954); James Reese Europe's Clef Club, ca. 1914; [African American band posed on steps to brick building], [1899 or 1900]. Collected by W.E.B. Du Bois.


The Library of Congress presents these documents as part of the record of the past. These primary historical documents reflect the attitudes, perspectives, and beliefs of different times. Some of the music of this period, including that composed by African-Americans, features words, phrases, and "dialect" portrayals that can be considered offensive and demeaning. The Library of Congress does not endorse the views expressed in these collections, but is displaying this little-known facet of American history in order to draw attention to the struggles and triumphs of the great African-American musicians of a century ago.