Black Germans and music in past and present

Hello all,

And a warm welcome to first-time visitors, especially those of you I met in Finland (looking forward to the next conference!).

As promised in my last post, let me give you a quick update on what we’ve been up to with the website.The earlier timer periods are nearing a version of completion for the time being, and the more recent periods remain far less complete. But frequent visitors will notice that I’ve given more order to all of the source pages with more precise themes. Do let me know what you think of these, and if you have suggestions for topics that should be included or even particular sources then by all means send them my way.

Here are some of the new pages that I’ve added since I last posted, as well as some oldies that I’d like to draw your attention to.The loose theme here is music, which is one medium through which Black people have been able to secure a place for themselves even as they have sometimes found themselves confined by preconceptions of their abilities

  • One of the challenges of studying Black Germans in the distant past is the lack of detailed records. But one seventeenth-century figure we know a little bit about thanks to the research of Rashid-S. Pegah, is Christian Ferdinand. He was a timpanist who served the margraves of Brandenburg-Culmbach-Bayreuth. In their service he enjoyed a relatively ocmfortable life, married and had four children.
  • We know much less about the musicians at the courts of the Hohenstaufen emperors Henry VI and Frederick II, but we do know that they had a special place for black trumpeters, as this portrait demonstrates.
  • After the Nazis came to power in 1933, it quickly became difficult for Black Germans to find regular employment. The German Africa Show, a project set up by Kwassi Bruce and Adolph Hillerkus, was one innovative response. They performed in a sort of updated “people show,” but they could not maintain their autonomy from Nazi officials for long. Incidentally, if you want to know more about the ideas behind Nazi policy toward Blacks, then check out this order from Heinrich Himmler requiring the registration of all “Neger” in 1942. It shows that there were overarching principles pointing to the ultimate aim of Nazi policy.
  • In The Magic Flute, Mozart dipped deep into prejudicial stereotypes against “Moors” with his character Monostatos. Even today, companies struggle to figure out how to depict this character.
  • In the spirit of drawing attention to famous figures who have slipped from historical consciousness, here is the tale of Vicente Lusitano, who was a well-known composer and musical theorist in sixteenth century Italy who ended up converting to Protestantism and seeking refuge in Württemberg before disappearing from the historical record.
  • One of the striking features of the later nineteenth century was the spread of African-American musical forms and entertainers around the globe, and Germany was no exception to this. The Fisk Jubilee Singers were among the best known touring groups, and their combination of folk songs, spirituals, and concert pieces made them very popular if also somewhat confusing to German audiences, who were not always able to reconcile their racialized preconceptions with the skilled performances they enjoyed.
  • Finally, if you haven’t seen this Deutsche Welle documentary hosted by Jana Pareigis, by all means put down what you’re doing and watch it! It’s a poignant look at the wide variety of experiences of being black in Germany, featuring interviews with, among others, the rapper Samy Deluxe, as well as activists, artists, academics, and recent arrivals to Germany.

I also have some exciting things in store for you, including a number of pages providing more detail on the black members of Frederick II Hohenstaufen’s medieval court–I’m just awaiting a Latin translator! I will also have a fascinating page on depictions of Parsival‘s Feirefiz in the Age of Empire, which is being written by a student of mine named Isobel Sanders. So keep an eye out for those.

As always, you can get in touch with us at blackcentraleurope@gmail.com or on Twitter @bcesn.

Happy surfing,

Jeff

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