There has been a recent trend in books that explore one year in detail: 1914, 1927, and 1968 have all received this treatment. E. Douglas Bomberger
’s new book Making Music American: 1917 and the Transformation of Culture
from Oxford University Press (2018) is new twist on this phenomenon. Rather than primarily trace historical events while touching on cultural matters as many of these books do, Bomberger follows the events in jazz and classical music during this crucial year while framing them within America’s entry into World War One.
Written for the general public as well as a scholarly audience, each chapter puts the events of one month in conversation with each other, allowing readers to grasp the busy cultural landscape in the period. Bomberger focuses on eight key figures. Classical musicians Fritz Kreisler, Karl Muck, Walter Damrosch, Olga Samaroff, and Ernestine Schumann-Heink contended with the fallout from mounting anti-German feeling within the United States in different ways as audiences turned against the German music which was the core of their repertory, and viewed German musicians with suspicion. Only Olga Samaroff was born in the US. The others were German-speaking, and some were not U.S. citizens. Through canny marketing and patriotic concerts, Ernestine Schumann-Heink maintained her singing career even though she had sons fighting on both sides of the conflict, while conductor Karl Muck ended up in an internment camp.
Meanwhile popular musicians Freddie Keppard, Dominc LaRocca, and James Reese Europe worked to establish their careers and popularize the fledging musical style of jazz. James Reese Europe spent most of the year staffing and then training the band for the Fifteenth Regiment (Colored) of the New York National Guard, an all-black unit that went on to distinguish itself in battle, but not before encountering racism at home. Bomberger also explains the legal and recording challenges jazz musicians faced in 1917. Over the course of the book, Bomberger skillfully makes the case that 1917 saw crucial developments in American music that changed the cultural landscape in the United States forever.
E. Douglas Bomberger is Professor of Musicology at Elizabethtown College in Pennsylvania. A prolific author, Bomberger has published six books and over one hundred articles on subjects ranging from the medieval origins of keyboard instruments to mid-twentieth century American music. His primary research areas are in the piano literature, nineteenth-century American music, and transatlantic musical connections. He received the Elizabethtown College 2018–2019 Ranck Prize for Research Excellence.
Kristen M. Turner, Ph.D. is a lecturer at North Carolina State University in the music department. Her work centers on American musical culture at the turn of the twentieth century and has been published in several journals and essay collections.