Thursday, January 20, 2011

Music to Cheer You Up :-D

Winter getting you down?  The Music Collection has humorous songs to tickle your funny bone.  Check some of these out:

Old-Time Comedians
Still funny after all these years!

Tom Lehrer, math professor and hilarious songwriter
   An Evening Wasted With Tom Lehrer
   That was the Year that Was

Homer and Jethro, America's Song Butchers
Best of Allan Sherman
   Includes his hit, "Hello Mudda, Hello Fadda" (Camp Grenada)

Stan Freberg
   Host of a 1950s TV show that aired many parodies of music of the time.       His "Christmas Dragnet" is still heard during the holidays.

Mickey Katz, Greatest Schticks
   Borscht Belt takes on hits of the 1950s

Not-so-Old Comedians:
Ray Stevens Laughter is the Best Medicine
   Includes "The Streak," his biggest hit

Dr. Demento 20th Anniversary Collection

"Weird Al" Yankovic, master of the rock/pop song parody
   Greatest Hits
   Greatest Hits, Volume II

Current Musical Humorists
Stephen Lynch 3 Balloons and A Little Bit Special
  (Parental Advisory, explicit content)

Garrison Keillor Songs of the Cat
  The star of A Prairie Home Companion with Philip Brunelle

Classical Music Humorists
(You don't have to know classical music to get the humor, but it helps!)

Victor Borge, pianist famous for pratfalls and wrong-note humor

Anna Russell, a soprano famous for "How to Write Your Own Gilbert and Sullivan Operetta" and describing Wagner's Ring Cycle with wry commentary.

P.D.Q. Bach (Peter Schickele), serious composer under his real name, humorous composer as "P.D.Q. Bach.  He is best known for narrating Beethoven's Fifth Symphony as if it were a sporting event, and for punnily titled instrumentals, such as the 1712 Overture.

The Educational Resources Collection has many of these artists' live performances on DVD, too!

Thursday, January 13, 2011

Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.: His Favorite Music

In My Life with Martin Luther King, Jr. , Dr. King's wife, Coretta Scott King, a classical singer, gives a personal account of the Civil Rights Movement and as the title says, her life with Dr. King.  Perhaps because she was a singer, she seems to have made a point of naming some of Dr. King's favorite songs, and songs sung at important events.  Her own role in the Civil Rights Movement included singing at special concerts, and her book describes the program in some detail.

Mrs. King earned an undergraduate degree in music from Antioch College, in Ohio.  While there one of her jobs was working in the music library.  She went on to graduate study in Boston, and that's where she met Martin Luther King Jr., who was working toward his doctorate in theology.  Although motherhood and the civil rights movement steered Mrs. King away from music, she used her talent in Dr. King's Ebenezer Baptist Church, a 1956 concert on the anniversary of the Montgomery boycott, and the "Freedom Concerts" of 1965.

Dr. King was especially fond of spirituals.  In the 19th Century, spirituals linked stories from the Bible to experiences of slaves.  In the 20th Century, these same songs resonated in the Civil Rights Movement.  "Balm in Gilead" was one of Dr. King's favorites, though he knew and sang many.  Mrs. King quoted his favorite verses from this song (p. 10):

Sometimes I feel discouraged
And think my work's in vain
But then the Holy Spirit
Revives my soul again.

There is a Balm in Gilead
To make the wounded whole,
There is a Balm in Gilead
To heal the sinsick soul.
Mrs. King sang at a concert commemorating the first anniversary of the Montgomery bus boycott.  She alternated stories from the struggle for equal rights with songs drawn mainly from the repertoire of spirituals. Later, the Freedom Concerts of 1965 were a series of fund-raising events, narrated and sung by Mrs. King along the same lines.  Many of the songs were sprituals, including "Hold On," "Honor, Honor," "Witness," and "Seeking for a City."  She also sang songs composed by a family friend.

Just seconds before his assassination, Dr. King was making a musical request for the evening's entertainment:  "Be sure to sing 'Precious Lord, Take My Hand' for me tonight," he called down to Ben Branch, the evening's performer.

His funeral was held at Morehouse College, his alma mater.   Mahalia Jackson sang Precious Lord, the song that had been his last wish.  Also sung that day were the Hymn "O God, Our Help in Ages Past," the spirituals "Balm in Gilead" and "Ain't Got Time to Die," and the Morehouse College Hymn.  The organist opened the service with improvisations on spirituals and "We Shall Overcome," followed by Cortege by Dupre.  The Recessional was "Largo" from Dvorak's New World Symphony.

For scores and recordings of spirituals in the Music Collection, select "Subject" in Cardcat and type: "Spirituals (Songs) and African Americans."  You can also see early sheet music editions on the Library of Congress's American Memory site.

Tuesday, January 4, 2011

Music & The Civil Rights Movement: Books and Scores (Sheet Music)

Every revolution has its music, but the Civil Rights Movement was special in being the first to benefit from sound recording and broadcasting. This meant that people on the fringes of the movement, non-participants, and even the antagonists could learn and sing the same songs that the active participants sang.  Television showed marches, rallies, and sit-ins, and the songs that went with them. This gave music a special role in spreading the message and sentiment of the movement.

A few authors have written about this connection, either within the context of African-American music, or the context of protest music.  Check out some of these titles to learn more about the central role of music in conveying emotion and meaning:

Unofficial Anthems of the Civil Rights Movement

When remembering Dr. Martin Luther King in music, the two songs that come to mind most readily are We Shall Overcome and Lift Ev'ry Voice and Sing the two songs most associated with demonstrations and the civil rights movement in general.  But the movement also infused popular culture, inspiring some now-classic R & B hits, such as:

Say it Loud (I'm Black and I'm Proud) by James Brown

Respect Yourself, and I'll Take you There by The Staple Singers

Think and R-E-S-P-E-C-T by Aretha Franklin

What's Goin' On? by Marvin Gaye

Ball of Confusion, by The Temptations

Smiling Faces Sometimes, by The Undisputed Truth

One of the most iconic topical songs of the era was "The Revolution Will Not be Televised," by Gil Scott-Heron.  Though its style is still unclassifiable, it is sometimes credited as the "first rap song."

Other songs had socially conscious lyrics while not specifically addressing the Movement.  A common theme was a noble family or individual living in poverty as portrayed in such songs as "Patches" by Clarence Carter, "In the Ghetto" by Elvis Presley, and Stevie Wonder's "Living for the City" and "Uptight" (Everything's Alright).