New Website Explores the Origins of African American Music

dukeuniversitylogoScholars at Duke University in Durham, North Carolina, have debuted an interactive website that chronicles what is believed to be among the earliest examples of the music of the African diaspora. The website Musical Passage tells the story of an important, but little known record of early African diasporic music.

The project focuses on two pages of sheet music from Hans Sloane’s 1707 Voyage to the Islands of Madera, Barbados, Nieves, S. Christophers and Jamaica It is believed to be the first transcription of African music in the Caribbean, and possibly, in the Americas.

The project was created by Mary Caton Lingold a doctoral candidate in English at Duke, Laurent Dubois, a professor of Romance studies and history at Duke, and David K. Garner, a composer with Ph.D. from Duke who has been hired as an assistant professor of music at the University of South Carolina.

Lingold says that “you’d be hard pressed to name a living genre of music that enslaved musicians didn’t help to create or transform. Jazz, country, rock, blues, reggae and the list goes on. Turn on the radio and you are hearing these musicians’ story. But we don’t know a lot about their early music because it was not preserved in conventional ways. And that is why a little artifact like this is so important, because it helps us to know more about what their performances may have sounded like.”

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