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Black Composers: A Guide to Resources at the Library of Congress

Search Strategies

Use this page to learn how to find music with composer or call number class searches. The Library of Congress Music Classification Schedule determines call numbers by instrumentation and composer. Call numbers for printed music begin with M (Music).

Search by composer in the Library of Congress Online Catalog or Performing Arts Reading Room card catalog (only available on site). Then, determine if that composer wrote music for the instrumentation you seek.

The example search results below for individual composers link to fuller bibliographic information in the Library of Congress Online Catalog:

For suggested resources available in the Music Division for you to find names of Black composers, go to the Resources for Finding Composers section of this guide.

Examples by Name

Look for music composed by George Walker (1922-2018), the first African American composer to win the Pulitzer Prize for Music.

  • Using the online catalog's Advanced Search mode, type his name into the empty text bar as, "Walker, George" or "George Walker" - the same results will appear.
  • In the dropdown menu after the word "within," select "Name: Personal (KPNC)." This search option will narrow results to items with him as the author or composer.
  • If you are interested only in Music Division holdings—musical scores, biographies, and autobiographies—click the "Add Limits" button. Under "Location in the Library," select Performing Arts. If you are looking for recordings of his music, select "Recorded Sound." Then, select "Search."

Search results for George Walker include individual published scores, manuscripts from Library of Congress commissions, and his autobiography, such as:

  • published score Five Fancies for clarinet and piano four hands (Call number M342.W34 F3)
  • holograph score of Wind Set for woodwind quintet, commissioned by the Koussevitzky Music Foundation in the Library of Congress (Call number ML30.3c.W32 no. 2 CASE)
  • Walker's autobiography Reminiscences of an American Composer and Pianist (Call number ML410.W278 A3 2009)

Examples by Call Number

If you have a particular instrumentation in mind, you can search the Library of Congress Online Catalog in Browse Mode by call number class.

  • Use the online catalog's Browse mode
  • In the left-hand dropdown menu, select "CALL NUMBERS (LC Class No.)"
  • In the right-hand text box, type a call number class

Examples of call number classes include:

  • M231 for cello and piano sonatas
    • Sample result: Sonata by Hale Smith (Call number M231.S655 1984)
  • M1503 for opera scores in piano-vocal reduction
  • M1670 for collections of African American vocal works, including spirituals
  • M1671 for separate works of African American vocal works, including spirituals
  • M2131.S5 for sacred vocal hymn collections of African American Spiritual churches

For more information about searching by call numbers, Ask a Librarian or consult the Class M outline [PDF].

Subject Headings

Useful Library of Congress Subject Headings to find biographies, autobiographies, bibliographies, sound recordings, and other reference sources include:

These subject headings are not used in the catalog records of individual musical scores.