Oct. 19-25, 2001
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Library exhibit explores music in American life
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Lift Every Voice Library exhibit explores music in American life

By Melissa Norris

When Walt Whitman wrote in Leaves of Grass, “I hear America singing,” he was not merely exercising poetic license. Song served in his day as the accompaniment to life’s daily activities, as it had for ages past. A new University Library exhibition, “Lift Every Voice: Music in American Life,” explores this vital component of national life and celebrates four centuries of popular vocal music in America.

“Americans have long lifted their voices in joy and sorrow, anticipation and anger, supplication and thanks,” said assistant music librarian Mary Prendergast, curator of the exhibit. “They’ve sung ballads and laments, ditties and anthems, hymns and spirituals. They’ve chronicled their crises and celebrated their successes, crafting music to cajole and console, to provoke and evoke, to incite and invite.”

In 1619, Africans first arrived in Virginia, bringing with them a rich oral tradition in which nearly every activity in life was accompanied by music. A year later, a group of white settlers landed at Plymouth, carrying with them a cherished book of psalms to help them sing the Lord’s praises in a strange land. Tracing the American vocal tradition from these early roots, the exhibition explores the influence of political events and social mores on music’s style and substance.
“Lift Every Voice” features patriotic songs, hymns and spirituals, minstrels and musicals, protest songs and 1960s rock and roll. Sheet music, songbooks, broadsides, posters, photos and recorded music help to tell the story of America’s triumphs and trials through the voices of its people. Some highlights of the exhibit include:

A Concert of American Songs

* * *
Oct. 19, 4 to 5 p.m.,
McGregor Room
Featuring U.Va. student groups: New Dominions, Virginia Women’s Chorus, First Year Players, The Sil’hooettes
and the Glee Club

• A signed handwritten copy of “The Battle Hymn of the Republic” by Julia Ward Howe. Originally a Southern camp-meeting song, “Say Brothers, Will You Meet Us on Canaan’s Happy Shore?” became one of the most popular Union ballads when members of the 12th Massachusetts Infantry in 1861 wrote new words. Howe transformed the lyrics once again, adding stirring patriotic verse, after hearing the song on a visit to the Army of the Potomac in 1861.

• A manuscript of “Dixie’s Land” by Daniel Decatur Emmett. Emmett had no intention of creating a Confederate anthem when he penned the 1859 minstrel show hit, “I Wish I Was in Dixie’s Land.”

• Jubilee Songs: Complete. As Sung by the Jubilee Singers, of Fisk University, edited by Theodore Seward. In 1871, the Fisk Jubilee Singers, including seven former slaves, embarked on a concert tour to help save their fledgling school from bankruptcy.

• A 1969 poster for the Woodstock Music and Art Fair by Arnold Skolnick.
• Legendary 1960s album covers: Bob Dylan, “The Times They Are A-Changin’” (1964); the Beatles, “Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band” (1967); and The Jimi Hendrix Experience, “Are You Experienced?” (1967).

An interactive Web site accompanies the exhibition at www.lib.virginia.edu/exhibits/music. Along with viewing and reading about the items on display, visitors to the Web site can listen to audio clips of some of the music featured in the “Lift Every Voice.”

The exhibit will be on display through Feb.11, 2002, in the McGregor Room of Alderman Library and open to the public Monday through Thursday, from 9 a.m. to 9 p.m., and Friday and Saturday, from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m.


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