Field Recordings of Black Singers and Musicians: An Annotated Discography of Artists from West Africa, the Caribbean and the Eastern and Southern United States, 1901–1943. Compiled by Craig Martin Gibbs. Jefferson, NC: McFarland, 2018. 467 pages. $95 (ISBN 978-1-4766-7338-7). E-book available (978-1-4766-3187-5), call for pricing.

This last work of author/compiler Craig Martin Gibbs joins his other unique discographies from the same publisher—Black Recording Artists, 1877–1926: An Annotated Discography (2012) and Calypso and Other Music of Trinidad, 1912–1962: An Annotated Discography (2015)—to provide detailed access to the legacy of African American and African music from the earliest years of sound recording. As noted in the front matter, Craig Martin Gibbs died in October 2017.

Gibbs’s earlier compilations focused on commercially recorded musicians in the United States and in Trinidad, while this latest and final volume travels back to West Africa, the Caribbean, and the southeastern United States, providing detailed descriptions and access information for more than 2,600 field recordings of African and African American music dating from 1901 through 1943. In contrast to commercial records listed in other discographies, this work provides access to recordings made in rural areas, many collected by anthropologists and ethnographers. Technological advances during and after the war made commercially labeled recordings more numerous and thus more difficult to comprehensively cover in a printed discography. The earliest recordings documented in this work were made on wax cylinders, while later field collectors (including John and Alan Lomax, working for the Library of Congress) used a variety of machines and media to collect the music of people in Africa, the Caribbean and the American South.

Gibbs’s essay provides a snapshot of the early years of ethnomusicological field recording, especially the role of the Library of Congress in deploying well-equipped collectors and in preserving recordings. He discusses four centuries of European exploration and colonization in West Africa, the transatlantic slave trade, and the dispersal of African peoples and music: “Ultimately, this discography is a documentation of a musical Middle Passage, from Africa to the Caribbean and the Eastern and Southern United States. . . . [A]n invaluable source of information for the early history of blues and jazz music . . .” (7).

The discography is arranged by region—West Africa, Caribbean, and Southeastern United States—and chronologically within each region; a unique number (from 1 to 2674) identifies each recording. Other information includes the artist’s name, location, title of the songs and/or spoken word, the company, institution or collection, and where the entry can be heard, including web sources when those exist. (A few tests of URLs find broken links, but by knowing the repository—Library of Congress, for example—it is possible with a few keywords to find and hear the archived music.) An appendix lists commercially available collections, a bibliography, a name index, and a title index. Many entries include enigmatic notes, as in, for example, #2266, unaccompanied singer, Uncle Bradley Eberhard, Seabring, FL, 27 July 1940: “Eberhard was a work-crippled, 66-year-old African American; worked more than a quarter of a century in railroad work gangs and was still proud of his role as a singer when the men were laying track . . .”

Other than the works by the late author/compiler mentioned above, there are few recent reference sources of this kind. As the author notes, “it has become possible to create ‘designer’ collections via the Internet where individual tracks are downloaded from various sites” (16). The detailed notes provided for these rare recordings will be valuable to the blues and jazz roots devotees seeking access to the earliest and rarest creators of these genres.

Paired with online repositories of recorded sound such as the Alan Lomax Archive (http://www.culturalequity.org/), the American Folklife Center Online Collections (https://www.loc.gov/folklife/onlinecollections.html); the Archives of Traditional Music at Indiana University (http://www.indiana.edu/~libarchm/index.php) and others, the Field Recordings of Black Singers and Musicians is a useful guide for the scholar and aficionado. It would be a welcome addition to academic and public libraries serving serious students of traditional African and African American music.—Molly Molloy, Border and Latin American Specialist, New Mexico State University, Las Cruces, NM


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