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A folksy, low-key history of Afro-American music from the kingdom of Dahomey where musicians were ""the playboys of the world. . . the pampered darlings of society,"" to the plantation Jubilee, to the cool jazz of Ornette Coleman. Rublowsky traces the washtub bass to its African ancestor, points up the premium price on the ""orderly Negro or mulatto who can play the violin,"" and demonstrates African survivals in children's ring and line games. Very nice, but it is a far cry from the blanket conclusion that ""African culture was not that different from the European."" Background, in broad brush strokes, sometimes swamps foreground detail and the author spends as much time on the social history of slavery and the progress of the Civil War as he does on musicology; even so, as an introductory guide this is far more accessible and synthesized than Eileen Southern's encyclopedic The Music of Black Americans (1970). Interpretations tend to be short and facile: spirituals were born in the United States rather than the West Indies because slavery was more onerous here; ""part of the popularity of the minstrel show must be attributed to guilt."" Black artists who chose non-indigenous 'classical' genres are omitted and the author has little time for individual artists and entertainers -- Scott Joplin and Buddy Bolden are included but you do wish jazz did not ""grow and flower"" without Satchmo and W. C. Handy. There is some startling and misleading dating (""the New Orleans period of jazz ended in 1913"") and the on-going story is cut short with no mention of the New Jazz and only the most cursory glance at rock 'n' roll and the pop explosion of the '60's. (We never get to Motown.) Some pleasant interludes but it's too sparse with too many discordant notes.

Pub Date: June 24th, 1971
Publisher: Basic Books