Black Quotidian: Everyday History in African-American Newspapers

November 22, 1912

On November 22, 1912, the Pittsburgh Courier ran a front-page article highlighting African-American accomplishments in music. “Everybody who has taken the trouble to investigate the matter knows that one of the most beautiful songs ever written, “Listen to the Mocking Bird,” was composed by a wandering Negro street minstrel, George Milburn of Philadelphia, over fifty years ago,” John Bruce wrote. “It was set to music by a white man, Septimus Winner, who got all the credit for it and whatever financial profit there was in it. Milburn got something like a dozen copies of the song after it was published, and many people told him he was a genius.” In addition to Milburn, the article highlighted several other composers and musicians, including James Hemmenway, A. J. Conner, Robert Murray, and Frank Johnson.  Johnson, for example, toured Europe in the 1830s, played before Queen Victoria, and was the author of over sixty musical compositions in a variety of styles. The article concluded by noting, “The Society for Historical Research has quite an extensive list of these earlier Negro musical composers. That the Negro is highly musical is attested by the many creditable evidences of his genius as a composer which have been handed down to us by a past generation. These are hopeful signs of promise for the future of the Negro in music and should furnish inspiration to the rising generation.”

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