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Black Composers in Music Division Collections

This guide introduces performers, conductors, and researchers to resources from the Music Division of the Library Congress to help them discover concert music by Black composers.

Introduction

The Library of Congress Music Division is the nation's music library of record for American creativity. African American composers, songwriters, and arrangers comprise a rich part of these music collections, as well as international composers of the Black diaspora. This research guide features resources and search methods to find music by Black composers in the Library of Congress Music Division. Online resources, such as videos and digitized musical scores, are also highlighted in this guide.

Related research guides of interest include Early African-American Music: A Bibliography and Harry Thacker Burleigh: A Guide to Resources. For more information about Black creators of jazz, visit the research guides Jazz Research at the Library of Congress and Jazz Stock Arrangements: A Resource Guide.

The Music Division's scores, books, special collections, and rare materials are served in the Performing Arts Reading Room.

Did You Know...?

In addition to published musical scores, the Music Division holds a vast amount of rare and unique scores—like first editions and holograph scores in the composers' hand—by Black composers from the 18th century to the present.

For instance, did you know that the Music Division holds...

  • first editions of scores by 18th-century composer Joseph Bologne, Chevalier de Saint-Georges (1745-1799), including six string quartets, six violin sonatas, and a sonata for two violins
  • first edition of Twelve Country Dances for the Year 1779 for harpsichord by Ignatius Sancho (1729-1780), the earliest known composer of African descent to publish music in the West
  • the first piece of music printed in the United States by an African American composer—A Collection of New Cotillions by Francis Johnson (1792-1844), printed in Philadelphia, 1818 (call number M1.A1.J Case)
  • 2 holograph versions of the Afro-American Symphony by William Grant Still (1895-1978): the original circa 1931 version and a 1935 revised version (call number ML96.S915 Case)
  • original scores of contemporary Black composers commissioned by Library of Congress funds, such as The Focus of Blue Light (1987) by Jeffrey Mumford (b. 1955)

So much more is yours to discover!