Letter From the Director

It is becoming increasingly important for students to not only know what they are doing, but also why they are doing it. Next to the making of music itself, the most important thing we can do is to understand the conditions, culture, and contexts through which the artistry, artists, and society connect.

The black cultural narrative in music symbolizes and exemplifies a high reach toward the measure and depth of artistic integrity, from the global view of black artistry dating from the 1790s and its embrace of ingenuity, innovation, and artistic impact, to the genius of such musicians as Louis Armstrong, Sydney Bechet, Fisk Jubilee Singers, Paul Robeson, and Bessie Smith.

These were the definitions of contemporary approaches to music, which manifested style and conceptions of music-making that became the quintessential aesthetic foundation for modern American and popular music as we know it today. This defined and shaped music culture globally, connecting within the black diaspora to Cuba, the Caribbean to Brazil, and back to Africa. From slavery's spirituals to Son House's blues-influenced sermons; Billie Holiday's offerings to William Grant Still's multilayered Afro-American Symphony and Ellington's lyrical elegance; Ornette Coleman’s free jazz to Coltrane's supreme mastery; Sam Cooke’s to Aretha Franklin's soul; Bob Marley's global peace offering to James Brown's manifesto for funk; and from Tupac’s "Keep Ya Head Up" to India.Arie’s "Brown Skin," it is this artistry that is the great study in modern music expression and culture.

Dr. William Banfield
Professor, Africana Studies/Music and Society
Liberal Arts
Berklee College of Music