Kira ThurmanJun 21, 2022
Singing Like Germans
Black Musicians in the Land of Bach, Beethoven, and Brahms
Cornell University Press 2021
Singing Like Germans: Black Musicians in the Land of Bach, Beethoven, and Brahms by Kira Thurman (Cornell University Press, 2021) is a truly interdisciplinary study. Dr. Thurman’s work sits at the intersection of German Studies, History, and Musicology. Beginning in the 1870s with concerts given by the Fisk Jubilee Singers, Singing Like Germans covers a century of Black musicians performing classical music in Germany and Austria. This sprawling book takes on how and why Black musicians came to Central Europe to perform classical music from their homes in North America, Africa, or the Caribbean, and what their reception reveals about German ideas of race, nationhood, and musical culture. She traces how the political tumult of one hundred years of war, Nazism, and the division between East and West Germany contributed to the changing circumstances of Black musicians in the area, but also how ideas of race remained remarkably consistent in all that time. Performers such as Roland Hayes, Marian Anderson, and Grace Bumbry, among many others, found opportunities in Central Europe denied them in other places, but audiences and critics understood their musicianship through racialized stereotypes and local political and cultural conditions. Given Singing Like German’s wide breadth—chronologically and as a work of scholarship—this conversation is in the form a roundtable rather than a traditional interview. Three hosts from the New Books Network have come together to interview Dr. Thurman.
Kristen Turner from New Books in Music is a lecturer in the music and honors departments at North Carolina State University. Her research centers on race and class in American popular entertainment at the turn of the twentieth century. Emily Allen (@emmyru91) is a host with New Books in Music and New Books in Celebration Studies. She holds a Ph.D. in musicology from Florida State University. Her current research focuses on parade musics in Mobile, Alabama’s carnival. Nicole Coleman from New Books in German Studies is Assistant Professor of German at Wayne State University. She tweets @drnicoleman.