Date of Degree


Document Type


Degree Name





Stephen Blum


Jeff Nichols

Subject Categories

African American Studies | American Studies | Music


Celan, Paul, Gershwin, George, Johnson, James P., Mayfield, Curtis, Parker, William, Roberts, Marcus


This dissertation examines two recent projects by African American musicians that enact critical and historiographic agency by reconstructing the music of the past: William Parker's project The Inside Songs of Curtis Mayfield, dedicated to re-imagining the works of the soul music icon with an ensemble featuring the poetic recitation of Amiri Baraka; and Marcus Roberts's reinvention of the Jazz Age rhapsodies of George Gershwin and James P. Johnson, Rhapsody in Blue and Yamekraw: A Negro Rhapsody. Rooted in African American interpretive traditions, and working both within and against such discursive categories as "jazz," "black music," and "American music," these artists use musical reinvention not only to articulate their identities and forebears, but to construct broader narratives of musical history and genre. Moreover, because they revisit works preoccupied with questions of racial, cultural, and national identity, these revisionist musical projects can also be read as revisionist cultural histories. Through my analyses I argue that Parker's project responds to the collapse of radical movement politics since the 1970s, and that his musical practices become the site of their own spiritual-political liberation, while Roberts's project serves to revise and realign the histories of American art music and political identity with African American cultural production, in dialogue with the writings of Albert Murray.


This essay and the composition, "Todesfuge," together constitute the author's dissertation but are otherwise unrelated.