Tag Archives: Native Americans

Frances Densmore’s legacy

In Frances Densmore’s broad sweep through Native American communities, practicing what is now considered salvage anthropology, she worked with more Native American cultures than any anthropologist of her time.

After Densmore’s passing in 1957, others found it difficult to assess the results of her decades of work or to fit them into histories of various types. She had participated actively in communities of musicologists, anthropologists, and other professional women, as well as with Native communities as she pursued her social science. These communities were historically imbricated.

Densmore saw her work as the single focus of a lifetime. That work, over time, became but one part of a larger cultural context within which musicologists and anthropologists as a whole, as well as women anthropologists in particular and Native American writers, examined her work.

This according to “Gone but not quite forgotten” by Joan M. Jensen, an essay included in Travels with Frances Densmore: Her life, work, and legacy in Native American studies (Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 2015, pp. 242–83).

Today is Densmore’s 150th birthday! Above, with Susan Windgrow (Maka Waste’ Win/Good Earth Woman), ca. 1930; below, Sitting Bull’s favorite song, recorded by Densmore from a man who had learned it by hearing it sung repeatedly by Sitting Bull himself.

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Filed under Ethnomusicology, North America

Mildred Bailey’s Native American roots

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Despite living in a racially stratified 1930s U.S., Mildred Bailey never sought to hide the fact that she was born into the Coeur d’Alene tribe of Idaho. Rather, it was a source of personal pride that she readily shared with her associates.

Cast within a jazz narrative that left no room for Native Americans, the public image of Bailey as a “white” jazz singer mattered for many reasons—not least, because she exerted considerable influence within the jazz and pop world, pioneering the vocal swing style that countless singers sought to emulate.

Bailey pointed to the Coeur d’Alene songs of her youth as a major factor in shaping her style:

“I don’t know whether this music compares with jazz or the classics, but I do know that it offers a young singer a remarkable background and training. It takes a squeaky soprano and straightens out the clinkers that made it squeak; it removes the boom from the contralto voice, this Indian singing does, because you have to sing a lot of notes to get by, and you’ve got to cover an awful range.”

This according to “American Indian jazz: Mildred Bailey and the origins of America’s most musical art form” by Chad Hamill, an essay included in Indigenous pop: Native American music from jazz to hip hop (Tucson: University of Arizona Press, 2016, pp. 33–46).

Today is Bailey’s 110th birthday! Below, Thanks for the memory from 1938.

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Filed under Jazz and blues, Performers, Popular music

Rameau’s American dancers

Rameau by J.-J.Caffieri, 1760

The 1725 account in Mercure de France of two Native Americans dancing at a Paris theater provides a detailed link between the large corpus of earlier European descriptions of New World music and the composition of Rameau’s harpsichord piece Les sauvages.

The account and the composition constitute a significant episode in the prehistory of ethnomusicology. Rameau’s detailed characterization of the Indians’ performance in the piece develops initiatives by 17th-century French musicians, and his later operatic use of Les sauvages in Les Indes galantes mirrors the ambiguities of Europe’s response to the Americas in the 18th century.

This according to “Rameau’s American dancers” by Roger Savage (Early music XI/4 [October 1983] pp. 441–52).

Today is Rameau’s 330th birthday! Above, the 1760 bust of the composer by Jean-Jacques Caffieri (click to enlarge); below, his Rondeau des Indes Galantes, which is based on Les sauvages.

Related article: Ballet and sauvagerie

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Filed under Baroque era, Curiosities

Ballet and sauvagerie

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A semiotics of sex roles in French society was played out in 18th- and 19th-century ballet by projecting it onto imaginary Native American societies.

In the 18th century, sauvage culture became a canvas for the projection of utopian sentiment with subtle social texturing, allowing the expression of fantasies of less restrictive sexual roles; in the 19th century, sauvagerie became grotesque and increasingly unrefined, shifting the emphasis from cultural to racial difference and affirming the status quo.

This according to “Sauvages, sex roles, and semiotics: Representations of Native Americans in the French ballet, 1736–1837” by Joellen A. Meglen (Dance chronicle XXIII/2 [2000] pp. 87–132; XXIII/3 [2000] pp. 275–320).

Above and below, Rameau’s Les Indes galantes (1735).

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Filed under Baroque era, Curiosities, Dance