The Dialectics and Aesthetics
of Freedom: Hegel, Slavery and
19th Century African American Music

by Greg Harrison


This study examines the role of music in the development of African American culture. It focuses in particular on the slave states of the American South during the late eighteenth and nineteenth century and on a number of musical genres and styles of performance. Music and dance are examined in terms of their central location in the unfolding social and historical relationship between white and black Americans.

The thesis takes as a principal theme aspects of Hegelís master-slave dialectic as they bear on a reading of African American musical practices within the context of antebellum and immediate post-bellum history. Specifically, it develops a view of slave musical practice as both a form of praxis and as an exemplary instance of Labour (Arbeit) in the Hegelian sense. Aspects of Hegelís allegory are used to frame a number of questions in regard to both the slavesí musical tradition and the function of music within the historical process.

This should not be seen to suggest, however, that the music of the slaves existed purely in a utilitarian sense. Rather, in addition to its expressive and reflective potential, music also served other functions not normally encompassed within European ideas of aesthetics. The music of the slaves is therefore considered firstly in relation to traditional West African forms and practices and subsequently is examined in its syncretized development in the New World. Even within this extensive syncretism, it appears that the music of the slaves and their descendants continued to perform a number of integral and active functions within the cultural and historical relationship that developed between the slaves and their masters, and then later, between white and black America.

In addition, this study briefly explores the work of W.E.B. Du Bois and focuses particularly on his concept of double-consciousness and on the role of the Sorrow Songs as they appear in The Souls of Black Folks. Correlations between the work of Du Bois and Hegel are examined both in regard to the dialectic, concepts of syncretism and African American cultural self-consciousness.

The final section focuses on a study of New Orleans leading up to the emergence of jazz in the early part of the twentieth century. This involves a more detailed analysis of a number of themes previously considered as well as presenting a discussion of the unique musical, social and political relationships that developed in the city between the various social and ethnic groups that made up the metropolitan population.

© 1999, 2002 Gregory Michael Harrison. All rights reserved.


To the many people who assisted me in the completion of this work, I would like to offer my heartfelt appreciation for their time and efforts. First and foremost, I would like to acknowledge the extensive contribution of my supervisor, Dr. Michael Carter, who patiently and generously assisted me in all aspects of this study. His comments and suggestions throughout the course of this work were invaluable. I would also like to thank my entire family whose support and tolerance of my activities over the past few years has been unbounded. In particular, heartfelt thanks must go to my mother, Maureen for reading and editing, and to my sister Eris, for her many suggestions for the improvement of the text. Thanks also to my father Geoffrey for his generosity and assistance at all times and most especially during occasions of computer crisis. My thanks also go to my sister Lisa, for using her refined talents at the computer on my behalf; to Jo, for assistance with referencing and comments; and to Kate, Amanda and Cliff for reading, input and encouragement.

To the many esteemed scholars and individuals who responded to a strangerís letter, email or phone call, and who graciously offered me their time, knowledge and advice, I am greatly indebted. A special mention must go to Ralph Dumain and Jim Murray of The C.L.R. James Institute in New York for their ideas and input, a host of invaluable references, their efforts on my behalf and their generous hospitality.

My debt to numerous librarians, who patiently answered my questions and requests, cannot be overstated. For their time and expertise, I would like to thank: Judith Gray and staff at the Folklife and Performing Arts Reading Rooms at the Library of Congress; Bruce Boyd Raeburn, Alma D. Williams, Diane Rose, Charles, Dirk, Kevin and Tola at The William Ransom Hogan Jazz Archives, New Orleans; Niani Kilkenny at the National Museum of American History, Smithsonian Institution; Jeff Place at the Folkways Archive, Office of Folklife Program and Cultural Studies, Smithsonian: Suzanne Flandreau at the Center for Black Music Research, Chicago; Rebecca Hankins and staff at the Amistad Research Center, Tulane University, New Orleans; Charlene Bonnette at the State Library of Louisiana, Baton Rouge; and Matthew Barton, staff editor of the Alan Lomax Collection at The Association for Cultural Equity, Hunter College, New York.

A special thanks must also go to Professor John H. Baron and the administrative staff in the Music Department at Tulane University for arranging my affiliation with the university. Their efforts on my behalf helped to make my time there both more productive and more enjoyable.

I am grateful to all my friends, especially Ben, Tony, Fernando and Andrew... for their support. Finally, I would like to thank Rie for her patience and forbearance and understanding throughout many years of work.


© 1999, 2002 Gregory Michael Harrison. All rights reserved.


Introduction 1

1. Lordship and Bondage 7

2. Music as Praxis Ė African Traditions and the New World 56

3. The Peculiar Institution - Slavery and Thinghood 105

4. Race, Recognition and Becoming 163

5. Sorrow Songs and The Great Awakening 193

6. The Unhappy Consciousness 259

7. Antebellum New Orleans (1803-1865) 314

8. Post-Bellum New Orleans (1865-1900) 355

9. New Orleans and Jazz 377

Conclusion 433

Bibliography 442


© 1999, 2002 Gregory Michael Harrison. All rights reserved

Perhaps in the swift change of American society in which the meanings of oneís origin are so quickly lost, one of the chief values of living with music lies in its power to give us an orientation in time. In doing so, it gives significance to all those indefinable aspects of experience which nevertheless help to make us what we are. In the swift whirl of time music is a constant, reminding us of what we were and of that toward which we aspired. Art thou troubled? Music will not only calm, it will ennoble thee.

— Ralph Ellison

SOURCE: Harrison, Greg. The Dialectics and Aesthetics of Freedom: Hegel, Slavery, and African American Music . PhD dissertation. Dept. of Art History, University of Sydney, March 1999, iv + 463 pp. This front matter comprises pp. i-iv. Introduction by Ralph Dumain added for this web site only.

© 1999, 2002, 2014 Gregory Michael Harrison. All rights reserved. Published by The Autodidact Project with permission of the author.

CONTACT Greg Harrison

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