An Urban Humanities Initiative

Music and Segregation in St. Louis

Patrick Burke, Angela Deitz, Emily Jaycox, Molly Kodner, Vernon Mitchell, Douglas Knox and Brad Short

Music is one of the primary means by which racial and ethnic categories are maintained and understood. As Ronald Radano and Philip Bohlman put it in their foundational 2000 book Music and the Racial Imagination, music both “contributes substantially to the vocabularies used to construct race” and “fills in the spaces between racial distinctiveness”—in other words, music sometimes enables and reinforces racial barriers and sometimes challenges and undermines them. This fundamental connection between music and race is especially notable in urban areas, where music often informs neighborhood identities and where musical institutions, both formal and informal, reflect and shape racial inclusion and exclusion.

St. Louis, notorious for its history of racial segregation but also widely celebrated for its vibrant musical heritage, provides a significant test case for questions about the connections between music and segregation in urban life. An approach to the city’s musical history focused on venues and institutions reveals the deep interrelationship of music with racial policies and ideologies.

The archives of both Washington University (WUSTL) and the Missouri History Museum (MHM) hold many materials related to this rich history. At present, however, their catalogs vary in the degree to which they signal content related to music, and no formal means of coordination allows students and researchers to view or search these resources as a unit. Such coordination is necessary if researchers are to thoroughly address the role of music in the divided city that is St. Louis.

This project 1. developed an inventory of archival materials related to music and racial segregation in St. Louis in the collections of WUSTL and MHM and 2. created a publicly accessible website that highlights these resources and enables searches within them.

Patrick Burke is worked with two undergraduate interns (Logan Busch and Courtney Kolberg) during Fall 2016 to identify and inventory relevant archival material. The search focuses currently on Burke’s area of specialization, popular music and jazz between 1920 and 1970, with emphasis on sources that shed light on the connections between musical institutions and racial segregation. Librarians and archivists who are lending their expertise in guiding the research include, Emily Jaycox, Molly Kodner, Brad Short, and Vernon Mitchell.

The website both enables searches within relevant collections and features particular collections in online exhibits. We hope to increase public interest in both the history of music in St. Louis and the rich collections of WUSTL and MHM. The website and archive is available here.

Patrick Burke is associate professor of Music at Washington University in St. Louis.

Angela Dietz is Director of Digital Initiatives at Missouri History Museum.

Emily Jaycox is a librarian at Missouri History Museum.

Molly Kodner is associate archivist at Missouri History Museum.

Vernon Mitchell is Curator of Popular American Arts for University Libraries at Washington University in St. Louis.

Douglas Knox is Assistant Director for the Humanities Digital Workshop at Washington University in St. Louis.

Brad Short is Associate University Librarian for Collections at Washington University in St. Louis.