The (Mis)Representation of African American Music: The Role of the Fiddle
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The (Mis)Representation of African American Music: The Role of the Fiddle


Abstract: During the early twentieth century, research on African American music focused primarily on spirituals and jazz. Investigations on the secular music of blacks living in rural areas were nonexistent except for the work of folklorists researching blues. Researchers and record companies avoided black fiddling because many viewed it not only as a relic of the past, but also a tradition identified with whites. In the second half of the twentieth century, rural-based musical traditions continued to be ignored because researchers tended to be music historians who relied almost exclusively on print or sound materials for analyses. Because rural black musicians who performed secular music rarely had an opportunity to record and few print data were available, sources were lacking. Thus, much of what we know about twentieth-century black secular music is based on styles created and performed by African Americans living in urban areas. And it is these styles that are often represented as the musical creations for all black people, in spite of the fact that other traditions were preferred and performed. This article explores how the (mis)representation of African American music has affected our understanding of black music generally and the development of black fiddling specifically.

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