National Association of Negro Musicians

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National Association of Negro Musicians

The National Association of Negro Musicians (NANM) was established in Chicago on July 29, 1919. The foundation was laid for this event nearly three months earlier in Washington, D.C., at a meeting inspired by an idea first voiced in 1906 by Harriet G. Marshall, founder of the Washington Conservatory of Music and School of Expression. Designated as the Temporary Organization of Musicians and Artists, the Washington meeting was held under the leadership of public school teacher Henry L. Grant. Officers were elected and a July meeting in Chicago with other interested musicians was planned. These officersHenry L. Grant (Washington, D.C.), president; Nora D. Holt (Chicago), vice president; Alice Carter Simmons (Tuskegee, Alabama), secretary; Fred ("Deacon") Johnson (New York)were installed at the Chicago meeting, which was the first NANM convention.

Parallel efforts by other nationally recognized musicians were associated with NANM's founding, including attempts by composers Clarence Cameron White in 1916 and R. Nathaniel Dett in 1918, to initiate a national meeting and vigorous promotion of the idea by music critic Holt in Chicago Defender newspaper columns.

NANM's purpose as stated by Holt (1974, pp. 234235) was that of "furthering and coordinating the musical forces of the Negro race for the promotion of economic, educational, and fraternal betterment." To that end NANM sponsored young music students in recital, gave scholarships, attempted to gather information regarding the employment status of the black music teacher, encouraged performance of works by black composers, and promoted concerts by its members. The membership, composed mainly of public-school and private-studio music teachers, representatives from conservatories, concert artists, and students, participated in the local branches of their home cities and also enjoyed much-needed opportunities for fellowship in the annual conventions held in a different city each year.

The annual conventions offered an abundance of music, including performances by eminent musicians, workshops, lectures, and clinics as well as unusual events, such as the presentation of Aida by the National Negro Opera Company in 1941 at Pittsburgh in a fully staged production prior to the official opening of the company, and the presentation of Scott Joplin's opera Treemonisha in 1979 at St. Louis under the direction of Kenneth Billups, choral director and college and public-school music teacher.

Scholarship winners frequently achieved national and international prominence as did Marian Anderson, the first scholarship recipient (1921), composer and pianist Margaret Bonds, composer Julia Perry, mezzo-soprano Grace Bumbry, conductor James Frazier, and concert pianists Leon Bates and Awadagin Pratt.

While NANM at first promoted classical music and musicians almost exclusively, the focus broadened around 1940 to include gospel, jazz, and the blues. NANM honored established musicians in various areas of performance such as Harriet Gibbs Marshall, R. Augustus Lawson (pianist), Lulu V. Childers (founder, School of Music at Howard University), Thomas Dorsey (gospel music composer and performer), Duke Ellington (jazz musician), and Jessye Norman (soprano). The organization was the first of its kind in the United States and continues to function in the twenty-first century.

See also Joplin, Scott; Music in the United States; Professional Organizations


Allen, Clarence G. "Negro Musicians Urge Against Perversion of Their Songs, at Second Convention." Musical America (August 7, 1920): 4.

Holt, Nora. "The Chronological History of the NANM." Music and Poetry (July 1921); reprinted in Black Perspective in Music 2, no. 1 (fall 1974): 234235.

McGinty, Doris Evans, ed. A Documentary History of the National Association of Negro Musicians. Chicago: Center for Black Music Research, 2004.

doris evans mcginty (1996)
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National Association of Negro Musicians