rusq: Vol. 51 Issue 1: p. 72
Sources: Encyclopedia of African American Music
Kristina Lampe Shanton

Kristina Lampe Shanton, Music Librarian, Ithaca College, Ithaca, New York

The Encyclopedia of African American Music aims to present the music of the African Diaspora through the lens of its development and impact within the United States. The goal of Price and his associate editors is a “comprehensive reference source” that “extends beyond the traditional chronological and biographical approach that is common to works in this genre” (xxxi). They support that goal by taking a more encyclopedic approach, providing articles on broader musical topics in addition to biographical entries. For example, there are entries on African American concert music, Black-owned music publishing companies, and African American music and history specific to geographic regions.

The three-volume set is laid out as one would expect—over 400 entries on people, places, and concepts—with alphabetical and topical lists of entries at the beginning. Entry length varies by individual or topic, and often materials are provided for further listening, reading, or even viewing. Regrettably, biographical snapshots tend to be short, at times lacking a sense of uniformity. Basic information is not provided consistently: some entries provide the day, month, and year of birth and death, others only provide years. Some entries simply leave the reader wanting a bit more information, as with the entry on Marvin Gaye concludes with a passing mention of his “tragic death” (349), yet does not elaborate further; for information about his death or the tragedy surrounding it, the reader must go to another source to discover it.

Despite this, the biographical information provided is clearly the result of casting a wider net than in other standard reference sources. Eileen Southern’s Biographical Dictionary of Afro-American and African Musicians (Greenwood, 1982) is now thirty years old and focuses primarily on classical musicians. Samuel Floyd Jr.’s International Dictionary of Black Composers (Fitzroy Dearborn, 1999) provides longer, more comprehensive biographical entries, yet consequently cannot match the number of individuals covered here. Other resources, such as Mellonee Burnim’s African American Music: An Introduction (Routledge, 2006), provide more expansive discussions on topics and genres in African American music, but lack the biographical snapshots.

The Encyclopedia of African American Music includes several other sections of interest that should be mentioned: a) chronologies of significant events, compositions, and videos in African American music; b) a collection of relevant archives, research centers and websites; and c) two extensive bibliographies on African American music. These two bibliographies are extremely useful, particularly the second, which provides an account of books published within the last 20 years (1989–2010) that examine African American music by genre.

Although one could argue against labeling this a comprehensive resource, as more detailed resources exist, the grouping of the biographical, the topical, and the current bibliographies make this a useful (though expensive) source. Recommended for libraries with extensive music holdings, libraries needing to fill a gap in this area, and specialized collections dealing with African American traditions, folk, jazz, and/or popular music.

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