Richard Crawford to Deliver Inaugural Plenary Lecture

Richard CrawfordThis year's Annual Meeting in Pittsburgh will inaugurate the AMS President's Endowed Plenary Lecture, which will be held at the Wyndham Grand Hotel, 600 Commonwealth Place, on Thursday 7 November at 5:30 p.m., immediately preceding the traditional opening reception. This year's speaker is Richard Crawford. The lecture is free and open to the public.

Crawford, a native of Detroit, attended public schools there, learning to play both the alto and tenor saxophone in an attempt to emulate Lester Young on the latter and Paul Desmond on the former. He attended the University of Michigan, receiving a bachelor’s degree in music education (1958), a master’s in music history and literature (1959), and a Ph.D. in musicology (1965). From 1962 until his retirement in 2003, he taught at the University of Michigan School of Music, with stints as a visitor at Brooklyn College, CUNY (1974) and the University of California, Berkeley (1985). During that time he supervised more than two dozen Ph.D. dissertations.

A founding member of the Sonneck Society for American Music (now Society for American Music) in 1974, he twice won that group’s Irving Lowens Book Award, for The Core Repertory of Early American Psalmody (1984) and America’s Musical Life: A History (2001). The latter spawned a textbook version, An Introduction to America’s Music (2001), republished in 2013 in an expanded and revised second edition with Larry Hamberlin. Serving the AMS as President from 1982 to ’84, he has chaired the Society’s Committee for the Publication of American Music since 1985, and since 1993 he has also served as editor-in-chief of the Society’s national series of scholarly editions, Music of the United States of America (MUSA), which now has twenty-five volumes in print. Reflecting his youthful interest in early American sacred music, he co-authored with David P. McKay William Billings of Boston, which won the AMS’s Kinkeldey Award in 1975. He also completed American Sacred Music Imprints 1698–1810: A Bibliography (1990), begun by Allen P. Britton and Irving Lowens. His year as Bloch lecturer at Berkeley helped to direct his attention to the broader sweep of American music-making, the result being The American Musical Landscape (1993/2000). He is now writing a biographical study entitled Summertime: George Gershwin’s Life in Music.

The lecture he will give in Pittsburgh is entitled “Mr. Gershwin’s Catfish Row Spirituals.” Set in an African American neighborhood of Charleston, South Carolina, the opera Porgy and Bess has a libretto by DuBose Heyward, song lyrics by Heyward and Ira Gershwin, and music by George Gershwin. On 20 October 1935, shortly after the Theatre Guild mounted the opera’s first New York production at the Alvin Theatre on Broadway, the composer declared in a New York Times article that he had called his work a folk opera because he considered it a folk tale, meaning that the people in it “naturally would sing folk music.” Noting a crucial choice he had faced, Gershwin explained that “when I first began work on the music I decided against the use of original folk material because I wanted the music to be all of one piece. Therefore I wrote my own spirituals and folksongs.” The lecture, centered upon selected numbers and moments in Porgy and Bess, will explore the artistic impact of Gershwin’s decision to write his own spirituals rather than selecting them from preexistent oral and written sources.

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