Where are the black musicologists?

January 20, 2019



I post online and I blog because I care about this music. I’m not an expert, but I genuinely want people to be informed about the rich and broad heritage of black music. I am educating myself and at the same time I am educating others. 


I know it's provocative, but I ask the question, ‘where are the black musicologists’ not because there aren't any - but because in my opinion, there aren’t enough. Sam Floyd, Portia Maultsby, Guthrie Ramsey, Tammy Kernodle (and others) have and continue to pave the way in writing about black music. But we need even more scholarship, more people who are willing to put this history down on paper and document our heritage in musical form. In particular, to make informed comments on black music from a black perspective. All of us come to the discussion with our own biases, often affected by a unique black experience. There are many black performers, artists and spokespeople but there is a need for people who are wiling to become ambassadors for the music in the academic field and repeatedly tell the truth about its history and influence loud and clear. 


The idea of race is the result of a terrorising experience in which slaves were robbed of local identity. Cultural and ethnic differences between Africans were destroyed so that buying and selling humans as property became more easy to do. The idea of black people as a unified cultural unit or race was a European one which became popular between 1659 and 1750. Having said this, there were black writers even at that time who resisted this notion and used the idea of generically ‘black’ or ‘African’ as a badge of honour.  


Guthrie Ramsey said, "As intellectuals who understood full well the diversity of black people, writers such as Phyllis Wheatly and Ignatius Sancho wrote into existence a black kinship based on shared common interests and suffering not necessarily on mystical blood ties”.


For this reason, the idea of identifying as generically ‘black’ or ‘African’ is a reminder of the failed work of the oppressor to destroy black culture, but also a reminder of the resilience of the historically oppressed who moved towards prominence and prosperity in all areas of life especially music. 


But the fight is not over - as musicologists, it makes sense for us to follow the same pattern of Wheatley and Sancho and use the label 'black music’ with pride at every opportunity. As Sam Floyd said, "our purpose is not to pursue an “us too” or “we were first” or “ours is better” approach to documentation, but to place black music events in their proper musical and historical perspective”.




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About Black Music History

Matthew Williams MA, PGCE, LLB is a PhD research student at the University of Bristol. He began this initiative in February 2017 in order to aid his studies. It has since blossomed with an online following on Instagram of over 15,000 followers. He continues to document on social media when he is not studying or working.


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Based in UK