Celebrate Black History Month with Music by Black Composers on Naxos

February 15, 2017 | Winona

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What's a celebration without music? Celebrate Black History Month with music by Black composers streamed directly to your computer or mobile device using Naxos Music Library.

Check out these selections from their Black Composers Playlist:

BlindTom cover Clayton cover

"Virginia Polka" from John Davis Plays Blind TomThomas "Blind Tom" Bethune (1849-1908) was born into slavery in Georgia, began playing the piano at age six, and by age nine was performing four shows a day. Bethune went on to play concerts around the world, earning fame and thousands of dollars, almost every penny kept by his white master.

"Gay Guerilla" from The Julius Eastman Memory Depot. Julius Eastman (1940-1990) was a composer, pianist, vocalist and dancer. His avant-garde classical compositions have been called "minimal in form but maximal in effect."

Dawson Ellington cover NewAmericanComposers cover

"Negro Folk Symphony - I. The Bond of Africa" from Negro Folk Symphony. William Levi Dawson (1899-1990) was born in Alabama and ran away from home at age 13 to study music at Tuskegee Institute, where he later ran the Music Department for 25 years. 

"Crystal Gazing" from The New American Scene II. This piece by composer and pianist Dolores White was commissioned by the Cleveland Chamber Symphony in 1994 and inspired by the poem "The Crystal Gazer" by Sara Teasdale.

Walker cover Tatum cover

"Violin Concerto - I. quarter note = 56" from Great American Orchestral Music Vol. 2. Composer George Walker (born 1922) has published more than 90 works, and was the first African-American composer to win the Pulitzer Prize for Music.

"Aunt Hagar's Blues" from Improvisations. Art Tatum (1909-1956) was a virtuoso jazz pianist, blind in one eye and with limited vision in the other, who helped develop the New York Harlem Stride school of jazz-playing. Tatum is widely regarded as the greatest jazz pianist of all time.

Treemonisha cover Price cover

"Treemonisha - Act II: Frolic of the Bears" from Scott Joplin's Treemonisha: Original Cast RecordingScott Joplin (1867/68-1917) was most famous for his sprightly ragtime compositions, particularly "Maple Leaf Rag," now considered the archetypal rag. His attempts at opera were less successful; Treemonisha was virtually unnoticed until being rediscovered in the 1970s.

"Lift Ev'ry Voice and Sing" from Songs. Composer James Rosamond Johnson (1873-1954) wrote this hymn with his brother, poet James Weldon Johnson (1871-1938). It was first performed in 1900 by 500 school children at a celebration for Abraham Lincoln's birthday, and in the 1960s was embraced as the official song of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP). Here it is performed by soprano Leontyne Price and the National Philharmonic Orchestra.

DJSpooky cover Mumford cover

"Rebirth of a Nation - Gus, Elsie, Silas and The Klan" from Rebirth of a NationDJ Spooky (Paul D. Miller aka That Subliminal Kid) (born 1970) is a turntablist and multimedia artist who has collaborated with artists as diverse as Yoko Ono to the Kronos Quartet - here performing his remix of The Birth of a Nation film score.

"a window of resonant light - I. that which remains" from The Promise of the Far HorizonJeffrey Mumford (born 1955) has stated that his music is "inspired by cloud imagery, light, and the unique aspects of the energy that characterize the various times of day." In this piece, there are eight movements: "that which remains; Blythe; the walls of my Saturday room; suspended brightness; the radiance of evening's interior; within a window of resonant light; the glimmering air that becomes; that which remains." (From the album liner notes.)

To listen to the entire Black Composers Playlist on Naxos Music Library, follow these steps:

  1. Go to Naxos on the library website, click "Access Online", then sign in with your library card number and PIN.
  2. Once you are signed-in to Naxos, select "Playlists" from the options across the top of the page, then "Themed Playlists", then "Diversity and Visibility Matter". This will give you a list of several playlists. 
  3. Click the play button next to "Black Composers, Pt 1" or "Black Composers, Pt 2" and an audio player will open in a new window. The music will begin right away. You can pause the track, go backward, forward, shuffle the playlist, or choose specific tracks to play.


Naxos Music Library currently contains over 1.8 million streaming audio tracks, with more added every month. Naxos specializes in classical music but also includes a massive selection of jazz, world, folk, blues, pop, gospel and spoken word. You can read biographical information, album liner notes and even work analyses while you listen. Naxos also offers educational resources including a pronunciation guide, a great section for kids, as well as eclectic themed playlists.

Streaming online music not your thing? Visit the Arts Department on the 5th Floor of Toronto Reference Library to listen to music recordings from our huge collection of vinyl and CD.