Skip to main content

African American Women Play Musical Instruments: HOME

Names, Links, and Lists of African American women who play or played musical instruments.

How to Search for African American Women Who Play(ed) Musical Instruments

For the most effective search in locating the names and biographies of African American women who play or played musical instruments professionally, the search strategy must include the basics:

1. race ["African American" with the quotation marks, or Black, or Colored, or Slave] 

2. woman [singular for individual name]  

3. banjo [the name of a musical instrument].

The search terminology is still evolving along with the recognition and respect. In his 1889 book title Music and Action, J. Donovan's analysis of musical impression was that the creation of music is the product of an active masculine psychological state.  If a woman was a musician, the idea was that she came from a family of means and played a piano or violin or some other instrument that was not put into the mouth--though having sex appeal was thought to be a big plus. 

"If a pleasing manner accompanies attractiveness, the woman musician especially has the greater chance of a career as a public artist."  ~ Elson, L.C. Modern Music and Musicians: famous compositions for the piano. Philharmonic Edition, part two: Encyclopedia, p. 131. The University Society, Inc.: New York. [available at U of KY, call number M22 .M65 1919]

The attempt to place limitations on women musicians carried over into the world of indexing, tagging, and classification. Searching with Google and other search engines, using the term "women musicians" will result in a listing of the names of many women singers.  Adding the term "African American" to the search will refine the results to a list of African American women singers.

Searching in academic databases and online catalogs will provide more hits and include such things as the analysis of women as musicians; the names of more well-known composers and singers; the use of music for causes such as feminist rights; history & criticism of an era; the names of bands & orchestras; fiction titles; and the influence and education of women musicians.  The search will not result in a representative listing of women who play or played musical instruments professionally, though in reality, there are thousands of names.

Adding the term "African American" to the search in academic databases will result in fewer hits, and those hits will probably include articles about the playing of jazz and the blues, especially during WWII when it was thought that women had more opportunities as musicians while the male musicians were overseas fighting in the war.   

Given the hundreds of academic databases, searching for "musicians" by race ("African American") or gender ("women") will get results, but putting all three terms together as a single search string will too often cancel out the search with no results.  There are extremely few comprehensive works on the subject of African American women who play or played musical instruments professionally.

Much of the history will be found in bits and pieces within a few books, in music magazines and lesser known serials, as well as African American newspapers and the few authoritative free websites. Choice periodicals include Billboard, Jet, and Ebony, and there are the website databases African American Registry and BlackPast.org.  The U.S. Census is another source for locating names with the occupation "musician," though the name of the instrument that the woman played is not specified. There is also a good deal of information found on websites, blogs, and individual home pages.  The key to a more successful search is to be creative in developing search strategies, such as using genre terms like rock, rap, jazz, country, reggae, etc.  Do not rely solely on the subject headings of "musicians" or "instrumentalists" or "performers."  Be sure to add the name of a musical instrument to the search. 

LIBRARY OF CONGRESS SUBJECT HEADINGS:

Women musicians, Black

African American women musicians

African American women rock musicians

Women jazz musicians

Women blues musicians

SEARCH STRING EXAMPLES

"African American" women guitarists

Black woman cellist

Negro woman drummer

Slave woman fiddler

Black woman jazz saxophonist

Colored women orchestra

"African American" women musicians -singers [the minus sign means "don't show results that include this word"]

Books & Articles

Librarian

Reinette F. Jones
Contact:
Rm 403, King Library Building

Lexington, Kentucky 40506-0456

(859) 257-6042

Online Sources