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African American Women's Studies

Books /// Music/Spoken Word /// Video & DVD /// Links

You will find many more resources related to black women throughout the various subject categories of my African American Studies Toolkit. Though it's designed for grades 6-12, most of the resources are appropriate for adults.

An open statement to fans of THE HELP from the Association of Black Women Historians

Suggested Reading List

This list is by no means exhaustive. I simply provide a list of what I think are basic texts for black women's history, followed by books on specific topics that interest me. For your convenience, I have provided a link to for each title that's still in print. (You'll find reviews and additional information there.)

Hands on the Freedom Plow: Personal Accounts by Women in SNCC Available at
Editors: Faith S. Holsaert, Martha Prescod Norman Noonan, Judy Richardson, Betty Garman Robinson, Jean Smith Young, Dorothy M. Zellner
University of Illinois Press, 2010

The Student Non-Violent Coordinating Committee (SNCC) was the cutting edge of the Civil Rights Movement. Born out of the student sit-ins that erupted on February 1, 1960 in Greensboro North Carolina, within months thousands of students across the south were engaged in similar non-violent protests against racial segregation, risking their lives in the process. But it was far from a spontaneous uprising; the organizers (though mostly college age) were well trained and deeply committed to building a grassroots movement within the communities of the Deep South, working with local people to bring about change.

This well-organized book shares the personal narratives of 52 women - northern and southern, young and old, urban and rural, black, white and Latina - who served on the front lines of freedom. The narratives are grouped by regional movements, and also by themes such as issues of personal identity.

There are similarities found in some of the narratives - for example, many relate terrifying encounters with the Klan and the public authorities who were supposed to protect them, beatings and deprivations in jail, but also love and overwhelming support from local people who lifted them up, fed them, and sheltered them to the best of their ability in the Jim Crow south. One recurring theme that touched me deeply was how many of these women were just girls, often the first in their family to attend college, terrified not only of being murdered in the Deep South but equally terrified about disappointing their parents by postponing (or sometimes being expelled from) college. Some recount having broken bonds with family which were never mended.

But beyond these similarities each woman’s story is related through a very personal lens. In fact, they are so intensely personal and compelling that at times I couldn’t stop reading, and at other times I had to look away because I was overwhelmed. I especially appreciated the biographical notes, and was heartened by how many of these women continued to work for freedom and peace in some capacity throughout their lives, many as teachers, organizers and activists.

As I write this review, Memorial Day is just around the corner. I hope I live to see the day that veterans of the Civil Rights Movement are honored for their valiant service to this country in the cause of true freedom and democracy. They are heroes and deserve to be honored as such, but it’s now over 50 years later, and time is running out. This book should be on every public library shelf, and I think it would make an inspiring gift for a daughter heading off to college.

Related: American Experience: Freedom Riders Available at
120 minutes
PBS 2011

The powerful harrowing and ultimately inspirational story of six months in 1961 that changed America forever. From May until November 1961 more than 400 black and white Americans risked their lives for simply traveling together on buses and trains as they journeyed through the Deep South.

Hine, Darlene Clark and Kathleen Thompson. A Shining Thread of Hope: History of Black Women in America. New York: Broadway Books, 1999. Read more about it or order at

If I had my way, this book would be required reading in every U.S. History Survey course. It's an exceptionally readable text and quite a page-turner...I found it difficult to put down! The first comprehensive history of black women in America written by a trained historian, it's a celebration of the strength, determination and creativity of black women throughout America's history, as told through the stories (and often, the very words) of hundreds of individual women from all eras and all classes. Give this one to your daughter...or to your mom.

Giddings, Paula. When and Where I Enter: The Impact of Black Women on Race and Sex in America. 2nd Ed. Morrow, 1996. Read more about it or order at

When the first edition was published in 1984, this book provided the first cohesive history of black women in America, and a startling new interpretation to American history. It's a testimionial to the profound influence black women have had on race and gender issues; for example, in 1892 Anna Julia Cooper told a group of black clergymen, "Only the black woman can say 'when and where I enter, in the quiet, undisputed dignity of my womanhood, without violence and without suing or special patronage, then and there the whole . . . race enters with me."

Walker-Hill, Helen. From Spirituals to Symphonies: African American Women Composers and the Music. Now in Paperback! University of Illinois Press, 2007.

This is an essential work providing a historical overview plus a closer look at the life and works of Undine Smith Moore (1904-1989) Julia Perry (1924-1979) Margaret Bonds (1913-1972) Irene Britton Smith (1907-1999) Dorothy Rudd Moore (b.1940) Valerie Capers (b.1935) Mary Watkins (b. 1939) and Regina Harris Baiocchi (b. 1956). Despite having gained national and international recognitoin during their lifetimes, the contributions of many of these women are forgotten today. Includes a selected list of composers and a selected Bibliography/Discography. While the scholarship here is top notch, the writing is compelling and fluid.

Hine, Darlene Clark, Elsa Barkley Brown and Rosalyn Terborg-Penn, eds. Black Women in America: An Historical Encyclopedia. Indiana University Press, 1993. Read more about it or order at

Originally published in hardcover at about $200, the paperback version is more affordable (around $40) yet has all the same information, including all the illustrations and over 800 entries and 400 signed essays by scholars. Each entry includes bibliographical information. It should be on every library shelf.

Smith, Jesse Carne, ed. Notable Black American Women, Third Edition. Gale, 2002. Read more about it or order at

500 biographical entries, 425 of which are contemporary women.

Facts on File Encyclopedia of Black Women in America. Edited by Darlene C. Hine and Kathleen Thompson. Facts on File 1997.

Designed for grades six and up, this series builds upon Black Women in America, with more than 1000 entries profiling 950 women. The writing is clear, lively and accessible. The set is organized by topic, with individual volumes focusing on areas such as literature, business and professions, music, theater and the arts, social activism and politics, and education. Each section also includes an introduction and brief history of the topic.

This can be purchased at as an eleven-volume set for under $400, or individually:
Volume I: The Early Years, 1619-1899.
Volume II: Literature.
Volume III: Dance, Sports and Visual Arts.
Volume IV: Business & Professions.
Volume V: Music .
Volume VI: Education
Volume VII: Religion & Community.
Volume VIII: Law & Government.
Volume IX: Theater Arts and Entertainment.
Volume X: Social Activitism.
Volume XI: Science, Health & Medicine.

Hine, Darlene Clark, Wilma King and Linda Reed, eds. We Specialize in the Wholly Impossible: A Reader in Black Women's History. Brooklyn, NY: Carlson 1995. Read more about it or order at

For its title, this book of thirty-two essays borrows the motto of Nannie Helen Burroughs and her National Trade and Professional School for Women and Girls. It provides an introduction to some of the most recent scholarship in the field. The essays are organized within six sections: General theoretical essays; Africa; Caribbean and Canada; US--18th century; US--19th century; and US--20th century.

Topics & Biographies

Several years back I was watching a documentary on Harriet Tubman in which one of her relatives was interviewed. I suddenly realized I had never thought of Tubman as a real person, with actual living relatives! Her legend looms so much larger than life that she hovers somewhere in the realm of Paul Bunyan. After a wait of nearly 60 years for an adult biography, 2004 brought us THREE:

Larson, Kate Clifford. Bound for the Promised Land: Harriet Tubman, Portrait of an American Hero. New York, NY: Ballatine Books 2004. Read more about it or order at

In her introduction, Larson says "We all believe we know Harriet Tubman" yet this knowledge is limited to the heroic myth of children's books. She does not seem real flesh and blood to us. Larson sets out to rectify this, and does so admirably. She spent years combing through primary sources such as court records and private letters to recreate for us a Harriet Tubman who lives and breathes. There's even a family tree. Along the way, some treasured myths are debunked. For example, there was never a $40,000 bounty on her head. Nor (as every school child can quote) did she make 19 trips and rescue 300 people; it's closer to 13 trips and 70 people, and she perhaps provided aid and instructions to another 50. None of which diminishes her heroism, of course. It simply makes her more accessible as a human being by setting the record straight. And what Larson adds to the record far outweighs what she takes away. 

This book can be challenging to read at times, because rather than stating her own conclusions as fact (e.g.Tubman's birth date, which she places in February or March of 1822) Larson sometimes presents several possibilities and provides evidence to support each; we are left to draw our own conclusions. But this provides groundwork for future researchers and, I feel, is a more honest than presuming finality where none is present.  Larsen maintains an outstanding website Harriet Tubman.

Humez, Jean M. Harriet Tubman: The Life and the Life Stories. Madison, WI: UW Press, 2004. Read more about it or order at

This book begins with a traditional biography, presenting the bare bones of Tubman's life. The section called 'Stories and Sayings' puts meat on those bones, breathing life into someone who has nearly been lost to us in legend. It's a fascinating concept, and I think it works. Equally amazing is the Documents section, reflecting 10 years of research and which will be required reading for any future Tubman scholars because, as Humez herself says, ' retelling of her life story cannot be definitive.' Highly recommended.

Clinton, Catherine. Harriet Tubman - The Road to Freedom. New York, NY, Little Brown. Read more about it or order at

Clinton's style is highly readable, and she navigates smoothly through complex material. But she does not take advantage of the most current research in the field. For example, she recycles the myth about the $40,000 bounty. While I'd recommend this book for general readers, I feel academics and anyone with a deeper interest in the subject are better served by Kate Clifford Larson's Bound for the Promised Land or Jean Humez's Harriet Tubman: The Life and the Life Stories.

Bolden, Tonya. Maritcha: A Nineteenth-Century American Girl. Abrams, 2005. Ages 9-12. Read more and Order at

Maritcha Remond Lyon was one of the lucky few black children born not into slavery but as a free citizen. Her parents were educated, well-respected and hardworking people who, in addition to creating a comfortable life for their children, quietly assisted in the efforts of the Underground Railroad. Maritcha overcame illness, segregation and the New York Draft Riots of 1863 to continue her education, becoming the first black woman ever to graduate high school in Rhode Island. She become an educator herself, teaching for nearly 50 years.

This book about her childhood is based upon her unpublished memoir completed shortly before her death in 1929. Delving further into that memoir, other family archives and documents of the time, author Tonya Bolden has recreated the era in which Maritcha lived and thrived. The book is filled with period photographs, maps, illustrations and even documents which bring Maritcha to life: for example, her father's handwritten inventory of property the family lost during the Draft Riots.

This is a marvelous book, thoroughly researched, engagingly written and lavishly illustrated. Though the reading level is for ages 9-12, I think older students would benefit greatly from reading this book to younger children because it offers an exciting window into a period of U.S. history rarely covered: What was it like to be a free black person during the era of slavery?

Boyd, Valerie. Wrapped in Rainbows: The Life of Zora Neale Hurston. New York: Scribner, 2003. Read more about it or order at

It's been 25 years since the last biography, and this complex portrait is well worth the wait. Boyd is an excellent storyteller, and her narrative seamlessly weaves together Hurston's personal and professional life and work. There are surprises and revelations around every corner...for example, the author says that according to Alan Lomax, the most famous picture of Hurston (big floppy hat, head tossed back in a toothy grin) is actually not her at all. But the book is also fascinating for what it reveals about the Harlem Renaissance in general. Highly recommended.

Giddings, Paula J. Ida: A Sword Among Lions: Ida B. Wells and the Campaign Against Lynching New York: Amistad, 2008. Read more at

Ida B. Wells (1862-1931) was born to slaves in Mississippi and began her activist career by refusing to leave a first-class ladies’ car on a Memphis railway. This sweeping biography explores her activism in many arenas - including suffrage - but she is perhaps primarily remembered as the leader of the nation's first campaign against lynching. "History at its best-clear, intelligent, moving. Paula Giddings has written a book as priceless as its subject." (Toni Morrison )

Higgenbotham, Evelyn Brooks. Righteous Discontent: The Women's Movement in the Black Baptist Church, 1880-1920. Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1994. Read more about it or order at

Hull, Gloria T., Patricia Bell Scott and Barbara Smith, Eds. All the Women are White, All the Blacks Are Men, But Some of Us Are Brave: Black Women's Studies. Feminist Press, 1986. Essays, bibliographies and more. This is a classic, ground-breaking work. Read more about it or order at

Jacobs, Harriet. Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl. Harvard University Press, 2000. Edited with annotation and authentification by Jean Fagan Yellin. Read more about it or order at

First published in 1861, this book is much more than a narrative about slavery; it addresses many issues of gender as well. To escape the philandering intentions of her master, and to try to win freedom for her children, Harriet Jacobs spent seven years hidden away in an uninsulated garret, three feet high at its tallest point with almost no air or light, with only glimpses of her children to sustain her courage. Until the 1980's, this book was presumed by most scholars to be a work of fiction created by a white abolitionist, but Jean Yellin's groundbreaking research brought the real Harriet Jacobs to life. The book has been published many times since the 1960's, often in inexpensive paperback versions that are much cheaper than the edition I've linked. However, I'd recommend either this edition (which includes the short slave narrative published by Harriet's brother John, "A True Tale of Slavery") or an earlier edition edited by Yellin if you want the full historical background on the book itself.

Knupfer, Anne Meis. The Chicago Black Renaissance and Women's Activitism. Univeristy of Illinois Press, 2006. Read more and Order at

The Chicago Black Renaissance was a revitalization of black expressive arts and community activism rooted in a pan-African identity which blossomed during the 1930's to the 1960's in Chicago's "Black Belt" - or, as residents preferred, "Bronzeville." It was also a tumultuous period in which longtime urban black Chicagoans were faced with assimilating thousands of rural migrants from the South.

The lens through which Knupfer examines the Renaissance is women's activism: as club members and individuals, as reformers of schools and libraries, builders of art and community centers, ministers, writers, politicians and more. They were highly successful in some areas; for example, the nation's oldest WPA arts center, South Side Community Art Center, continues to offer classes and host exhibitions, while the "Special Negro Section" begun in 1932 by the first black librarian in the Chicago Public Library system has evolved in the Vivian G. Harsh Research Collection of Afro-American History & Literature, one of the largest collections of African American historical documents in the nation. But the book also explores the failures and disappointments, which can be instructive to contemporary activists.

One of the most fascinating chapters for me was "Women's Activism in Public Housing" which explores the neglected topic of women's involvement in tenant associations and other public housing groups. This is a groundbreaking book, but as the author asserts, there is much more research yet to be done. In aid of this she suggests dissertation topics and provides two resources in the appendices: an annotated list of more than 200 women whose names are found in local black newspapers, archives and bibliographic sources, and a list of Chicago Black Southside community organizations and their addresses, 1930-1960. I'd recommend this engaging and highly readable book to those interested in Chicago history in general, and Women's or African American studies in particular.

Terborg-Penn, Rosalyn . African-American Women in the Struggle for the Vote, 1850-1920. Bloomington and Indianapolis: University of Indiana Press, 1998. Read more about it or order at

Wesley, Charles H. The History of the National Association of Colored Women's Clubs: A Legacy of Service. Washington, DC: The Association, 1984. (This book is out of print. Try your Interlibrary Loan or one of the used book search services mentioned above.)

Yee, Shirley J. Black Women Abolitionists: A Study in Activism. Knoxville: University of Tennessee Press, 1992. Read more about it or order at


Video & DVD

Zora Neale Hurston: Jump At the Sun (American Masters) PBS 2008.

"The first definitive feature-length biography about Zora Neale Hurston was broadcast on PBS' American Masters series to wide acclaim across America." (I haven't seen it yet.) Teacher resources at PBS.

Standing on my Sisters' Shoulders. Directed by Laura J. Lipson. Produced by Joan Sadoff, Dr. Robert Sadoff, Laura J. Lipson. Women Make Movies, 2003. 61 minutes, Color and B/W, Video, Documentary. More information about the movie /// Ordering info from Women Make Movies

This award-winning documentary takes on the Civil Rights movement in Mississippi in the 1950's and 60's from the point of view of the courageous women who lived it ­ and emerged as its grassroots leaders. These women stood up and fought for the right to vote and the right to an equal education. They not only brought about change in Mississippi, but they altered the course of American history. While the historical footage is a stirring reminder, contemporary interviews of the activists show how active and vital many of these women still are. This film will have an impact on high school and college students who think of the Civil Rights Movement as ancient history, since these women could be their grandmothers. Highy Recommended!

Women Make Movies was established in 1972 to address the under representation and misrepresentation of women in the media industry. Women Make Movies provides services to women film and video makers through their Distribution Service and the Production Assistance Program. You'll find several other excellent documentaries and films in their catalog.

Daughters of the Dust. Written, directed and produced by Julie Dash. Geechee Girls, 1991. 113 minutes, Not Rated. Available at
Also: Dash, Julie. Daughters of the Dust: The Making of an African American Woman's Film. NY: Norton, 1992.

A visual feast, this film defies traditional film narrative style to take the viewer into another time, place and culture. The time is 1902, the place is the Georgia Sea Islands where the Gullah people, descendents of slaves, have lived in relative isolation and therefore developed a rich culture deeply rooted in Africa. Some members of a large family are preparing to leave for the north. This film is for advanced students, and should not be shown without some preparation. I recommend you first visit the Daughters of the Dust Project created by students at The College of New Jersey.

A Woman Called Moses (200 minutes)

This classic is now on DVD! Starting with her "early years of midnight" on a Maryland plantation, this 1978 epic drama re-creates the life of Harriet Ross Tubman: her escape from slavery at age 29, her service on the Underground Railroad conducting hundreds of slaves to freedom, her perilous spying for the Union, and her post-war leadership of the suffragette movement. Based on the novel by Marcy Heidish, the program gives viewers a vivid portrait of this courageous and remarkable woman. Stars Cicely Tyson, Robert Hooks, and Will Geer. Narrated by Orson Welles. Grades 5 and up. Color. Total time: 200 minutes.

Aida's Brothers and Sisters: Black Voices in Opera. Kultar, 2000. Amazon .com
PBS website with related resources

A fascinating look at the history and present situation of African-American opera singers in America. Combines rare and contemporary footage of some of the greatest performers of the century and includes interview with many notable black singers, as well as musicologists, directors and historians. (This was the first time I saw complete footage of Marian Anderson singing "My Country 'Tis of Thee" at the Lincoln will send chills down your spine!)

Ella Fitzgerald: Something to Live For. American Masters/PBS 2000. 86 minutes.

In addition to historical narrative that places Fitzgerald within the context of her times, this DVD provides lots of archival footage of her performing, a fitting tribute to the First Lady of Song. There are resources for teachers at the PBS website.

Sweet Honey in the Rock: Raise Your Voice (American Masters) Stanley Nelson, Director. PBS 2005 Purchase at PBS

This Grammy Award-winning, all-women, African-American a capella group has been spreading joy, hope, and inspiration through harmonious performances for the past 30 years. Capturing the complex sounds of spirituals, gospel hymns, African chants, and jazz, six accomplished singers combine their voices in heartfelt song. Rooted in the Civil Rights movement, Sweet Honey's music is stepped in the call for justice and messages of peace. More about the show at PBS



American Women's History: A Research Guide: African-American Women

Annotated guide to bibliographies, biographical sources, historical overviews, journals, digital collections and more.

Association of Black Women Historians

The ABWH was founded in 1979 to promote the study of black women's history, and also the professional development of women in the field. They support black women in the
historical profession, disseminate information by, for and about black women and promote scholarship by and about black women. The newsletter, Truth, is available at their web site.

National Black Herstory Task Force, Inc. (Facebook)

The National Black Herstory Task Force, Inc. is a non-profit educational and cultural organization founded to provide vehicles to collect, research, authenticate, document, archive and celebrate the legacy and lives of women of African descent and their alliances. They sponsor an annual conference at Emory University.

African American Women Writers of the 19th Century

"...a digital collection of some 52 published works by 19th-century black women writers. A part of the Digital Schomburg, this collection provides access to the thought, perspectives and creative abilities of black women as captured in books and pamphlets published prior to 1920."

Charlotte Hawkins Brown Museum

"What One Young African American Woman Could Do." Dr. Charlotte Hawkins Brown founded the Palmer Memorial Institute in 1902, and transformed the lives of more than 1,000 African American Students. This websitelinks Dr Brown and the Palmer Institute to larger themes of African American women, education, and social history.

Fanny Lou Townsend Hamer Statue Committee

As Henry Kirksey, one of Mississippi's first black senators, told Hamer's biographer Kay Mills, "If Fannie Lou Hamer had had the same opportunities that Martin Luther King had, then we would have had a female Martin Luther King." This site has the biography of this courageous civil rights leader, who became one of the first Black delegates to the Democratic National Convention, and many related resources.

Harriet Tubman

The website is maintained by Kate Clifford Larson, author of Bound for the Promised Land: Harriet Tubman, Portrait of an American Hero. Many photos of the places associated with Tubman's life, and newly discovered information on Harriet Tubman. Sample some of her Underground Railroad success stories, family pain and sorrow, her life in slavery and freedom, and personal triumphs. Discover the real life story behind this most remarkable American woman.

Harriet Tubman (Elementary level)

A site by kids, for kids about Harriet Tubman and the Underground Railroad! It has a timeline, character sketches, quiz and a crossword puzzle, all created by the students in Mrs. Taverna's second grade class at Pocantico Hills School in Sleepy Hollow, NY.

Mary McLeod Bethune Council House National Historic Site

Mary McLeod Bethune founded Bethune-Cookman College in Daytona Beach, Florida and served as an advisor on African American affairs to four presidents. The site features the three story Victorian town house which was her home when she was in Washington, DC and housed the offices of the National Council of Negro Women and a carriage house in which the National Archives for Black Women's History is located.

Sojourner Truth

This website of the Sojourner Truth Institute provides detailed biographical information, lesson plans and more.

Madame CJ Walker

Entrepreneur, hair care industry pioneer, philanthropist and social activist. This site is owned and maintained by A'Lelia P. Bundles the great-great-granddaughter and biographer of Madam C.J. Walker.


Music and Spoken Word

Watch and Pray: Spiritual and Art Songs by African-American Women Composers

This album appears to be available only in digital format. Twenty-one songs by Florence Price, Margaret Bonds, Betty Jackson King and Julia Perry.

Shout, Sister, Shout! A Tribute to Sister Rosetta Tharpe. M.C. Records, 2003. Read more, listen or order at

My first introduction to Tharpe was back on an LP entitled "Sister Rosetta Tharpe" (Foremothers Volume 8, Rosetta Records.) I listened before reading the liner notes and at several points thought, "Is that Chuck Berry or somebody backing her up?" To my surprise it wasn't Chuck Berry, it was Sister Rosetta herself. Lord, how that woman could swing a song! As a singer, guitarist and composer, she was the first real gospel superstar.

With performances by Phoebe Snow, Janis Ian, Odetta and others, this CD is a fitting and stellar tribute to Tharp's compositional skills, and it even includes an MPEG video of Tharpe's live performance of "Down By the Riverside" back in the 1960's from TV Gospel Time. The liner notes include a 4-page bio by Gayle Wald, author of a forthcoming biography.

Every Tone a Testimony: A Smithsonian Folkways African American Aural History. .Smithsonian Folkways Recordings, 2001. 2 CDs, plus booklet with extensive notes. Available at

This is without a doubt the most exciting American History resource to cross my desk in years! It contains 59 tracks (nearly two and a half hours) of material drawn from the Smithsonian Folkways archive, organized to create a history of African American life and culture in sound. It presents music, poetry, oratory and prose by historically renowned African American musicians, writers and activists spanning two centuries.

Just a sampling of the diverse voices you'll hear include Langston Hughes, Booker T. Washington, W.E.B.Du Bois, Margaret Walker, the Fisk Jubliee Singers, Gwendolyn Brooks, Paul Robeson, Muddy Waters, the SNCC Freedom Singers , Martin Luther King, Jr, Angela Davis, Nikki Giovanni, and Arrested Development. Writers who predate recorded sound are also represented by historical recordings; for example, Arna Bontemps reads writings of Lucy Terry, Ruby Dee reads Sojourner Truth and Ida B. Wells-Barnett. (I was impressed with the equal representation of women throughout the project.) Folk tracks trace the development of African American music: for example, there's a "field call" by Annie Grace Horn Dodson, a "complaint call" by Enoch Brown. Percy Randolph performs a shoe shining song, and the Inmates Of Ramsey Retrieve State Farms perform a work song.

As if that's not enough for under $25, it also includes an extensive booklet with supplemental material. Anyone who teaches American History or African American Studies cannot afford to be without this CD, and anyone who loves aural history will want it in their collection. It's invaluable.

Ah! Love, But a Day: Songs and Spirituals of American Women. Albany Records, 2000. Louise Toppin (soprano) Jay A. Pierson (baritone) John B. O'Brien (piano). Order or listen at

Includes works by African American composers Margaret Bonds (1913 - 1972), Undine Smith Moore (1905 - 1988), Florence Price (1887 - 1953) and Betty Jackson King (1928 - 1994). Biographies of composers and artists enclosed. Many of the works on this CD were previously unpublished. They cover the parlor songs of Amy Beach to the jazzy accompaniments and lush tunes of Margaret Bonds, presenting exciting contributions to the art song repertoire.

The Unknown Flower: Song Cycles by American Women Composers of the 20th Century. Calvin College Alumni Association, 1999. Program notes, biographies and text enclosed. Performed by Charsie Randolph Sawyer, Soprano, with Susan Keith Gray and Hyesook Kim (piano) Jacqueline Sellers (french horn) Karen Krummel (cello) and Linda Hoisington (bells).

Includes works by these African American composers: Lettie Beckon Alston (b. 1953); Betty Jackson King (1928 - 1994); and Lena McLin (b. 1928) a niece of Thomas A. Dorsey. Throughout history, women composers have achieved very little recognition for their accomplishments. This CD project is part of an ongoing process of researching and bringing to the forefront artists who have contributed to the great body of classical music that is primarily dominated by European male composers due to historical prejudice. The women composers lovingly presented here by Charsie Randolph Sawyer range in compositional styles from atonality to romantic consonant harmonies, with the texts ranging from Paul Laurence Dunbar to Calamity Jane.

Florence Price. The Women's Philharmonic. KOCH International Classics, 2001. Program notes enclosed. Ap Hsu, Artistic Director & Conductor. Features premier recordings of "The Oak," Mississippi River Suite" and "Symphony No. 3." Order at

Florence Price (1888-1953) was American's first black woman composer to achieve international recognition, and she was highly celebrated in her lifetime. She was a neoromanticist who drew freely on African American folk idioms and fortunately, through work by those such as The Women's Philharmonic, she is being restored to her rightful "place among those important composers of the 1930's and 1940's who helped define America's voice in music."

Born in Little Rock, Arkansas barely a generation after the Emancipation Proclamation, she graduated from high school at the age of fourteen and entered the New England Conservatory of Music. She began her career as a music educator in the South at age nineteen, teaching at several colleges over the years before eventually moving to Chicago in 1927 to take advantage of wider opportunities available for blacks in the North. She won prizes in Holstein competitions in 1925 and 1927, and began to achieve fame in the early 1930's when her "Symphony in e minor" won the Rodman Wanamaker Foundation Award. This symphony was performed by the Chicago Symphony Orchestra at the Chicago World's Fair of 1933 and on several subsequent occasions.

"Symphony No. 3 in c minor," which is found on this CD, was premiered in 1940 by the WPA Symphony Orchestra in Detroit. It is solemn and lyrical in places, jubilant in others. It is everywhere rich and beautiful, drawing on European traditions such as French Impressionism but inspired by African American dance rhythms and folk melodies.

I especially enjoyed the haunting "Mississippi River Suite," which sweeps one down the river through various subtle arrangements of spirituals floating in and out of the piece. Simply gorgeous!

Kaleidoscope: Music by African-American Women. Leonarda Productions, 1995. Helen Walker-Hill, Piano, Gregory Walker, Violin. Program notes enclosed. Celebrates the lives and work of fourteen African-American women composers: Irene Britton Smith; Dorothy Rudd Moore (b. 1940); Julia Perry (1924 - 1979); Betty Jackson King (1928 - 1994); Margaret Bonds (1913 - 1972); Lettie Beckon Alston (b. 1953); Undine Smith Moore (1904 - 1989); Rachel Eubanks; Valerie Capers (b. 1935); Lena Johnson McLin (b. 1929); Regina Harris Baiocchi (b. 1956); Dorores White; Nora Douglas Holt (1885 - 1974); and Florence Price (1887 - 1953.)

I enjoyed this CD from beginning to end! It provides a wide and dazzling array of styles, from lush romanticism to pulsing atonal. The first work, Irene Britton Smith's 1947 Sonata, bowled me over with its haunting lyricism. Negro Dance by Nora Douglas Holt is a wonderful piece of classical ragtime composition that rivals anything I've heard by Joplin. (Holt was the first black in U.S. history to receive a master's degree in music.) Sadly, it is the only piece that survived out of some 200 works which were stolen from storage, and only because it had been published in her short-lived journal Music and Poetry (1921.) Margaret Bond's Troubled Water is a concert piece incorporating jazz idioms, based on the spiritual "Wade in the Water." Florence Smith Price's Fantasie Negre (1929), inspired by the spiritual "Sinner, Please Don't Let This Harvest Pass" is dedicated to Bonds, and is an ambitious work combining African-American melodic and rhythmic idoms with classical European forms.

The works are wonderfully performed by Helen Walker-Hill and her son, Gregory Walker, who have been performing as the Walker Duo since 1983. Walker-Hill is the author of a book, Piano Music by Black Women Composers: A Catalog of Solo and Ensemble Works, the editor of an anthology, Black Women Composers: A Century of Piano Music 1893 - 1990, and editor of the Vivace Press series, Music by African-American Women.

You Can Tell The World: Songs by African-American Women Composers. Senrab Records, 2000. Sebronette Barnes, Soprano, Elise Auerbach, Piano. Order or listen at

Nineteen compositions gorgeously sung. Alas, no program notes or biographical material on the composers (though there are performer bios) so you'll need to supplement this with other resources. Works by Florence Price (1888-1953), Julia Perry (1924 - 1979) , Zenobia Powell Perry (1908 - ) , Betty Jackson King (1928 - 1994), Jeraldine Saunders Herbison (1941 - ) , Sharon J. Willis, Lena J. McLin (1928 - ), Margaret Bonds (1913 - 1972) , Jackie Hairston.