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Southern, Eileen, 1972 September 26

 Item — Multiple Containers

Scope and Contents

Eileen Jackson Southern (February 19, 1920 – October 13, 2002) was an American musicologist, researcher, author, and teacher. Southern's research focused on black American musical styles, musicians, and composers; she also published on early music. She lectured on 9/26/1972 (2015-0002/RR272).


  • 1972 September 26


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Links to digitized content are included in the finding aid.

Biographical / Historical

Eileen Jackson, born February 19, 1920, grew up around many musicians in her family; her father was a violinist; an uncle, a trumpetist; and her mother, a choir singer. Jackson attended public schools in her hometown, Minneapolis, Minnesota, in Sioux Falls, South Dakota, and in Chicago, Illinois. She majored in commercial art at Lindblom High School in Chicago. During the same period, she won piano-performance and essay competitions, taught piano lessons, and directed musical activities at the Lincoln Community Center. She gave her first piano recital at the age of twelve and made her debut in Chicago Orchestra Hall at age eighteen, playing a Mozart concerto with the symphony orchestra of the Chicago Musical College.

She attended and received degrees from the University of Chicago (B.A., 1940, and M. A., 1941). Her relationship with Cecil Smith, her master thesis advisor, encouraged her to further develop her interest in Negro folk music. In 1942, she married Joseph Southern, a professor of business administration. She continued her studies and received a Ph.0.D in musicology from New York University (1961). At NYU, she studied with Gustave Reese, Curt Sachs, and Martin Bernstein. She also studied piano privately at Chicago Musical College, Juilliard, and Boston University.

Throughout her career, Southern taught at various institutions across the United States: she was an instructor at Prairie View University in Texas (1941-1942); assistant professor, Southern University in Louisiana (1943-1945, 1949-1951); teacher for the New York City Public School district (1954-1960). She returned to higher education from 1960 to 1968 as an assistant professor at Brooklyn College, CUNY, and then as an associate and full professor at York College, CUNY, from 1968 to 1975, where she established the music program.

In 1974, she became a lecturer at Harvard University. Two years later, she became the first black woman to be appointed a tenured full professor at Harvard University, where she taught until 1987. While at Harvard, she served as the chair of the department of Afro-American Studies from 1975 to 1979.

Her best-known book is the seminal history The Music of Black Americans (1971). Her other work is Biographical Dictionary of Afro-American and African Musicians (1982). She founded The Black Perspective in Music in 1973, with her husband, Prof. Joseph Southern. It was the first musicological journal on the study of black music, and she was its editor until it ceased publication in 1990.

Through her academic work, she raised the profile of Frank Johnson, a black bandleader from Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, who rose to fame at the end of the eighteenth century, beginning of the nineteenth century. He led Frank Johnson's Colored Band, and by 1818, he had taken his band as far south as Richmond, Virginia, playing dances for white southerners. Johnson had played a command performance at Buckingham Palace, where he received a silver bugle in appreciation.

Throughout her career, Southern worked with various professional societies. From 1974 to 1976, she served on the board of directors and then editorial board from 1976 to 1978 for the American Musicological Society. She was a member of the International Musicological Society, College Music Society, and Association for the Study of Negro Life and History. From 1980 to her retirement, she served on the editorial board for the Sonneck Society for American Music and as a member of the Board of Directors from 1986 to 1988. Southern's professional achievements were much lauded in the academic and artistic communities. Southern received a National Humanities Medal in 2001 for having "helped transform the study and understanding of American music. She also received a Lifetime Achievement Award from the Society for American Music in 2000. Her portrait, by artist Stephen E. Coit was commissioned by the Harvard Foundation at Harvard University.

In 1987, she retired as a professor emeritus and died at her home in Port Charlotte, Florida, on 13 October 2002 at the age of 82.

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1 Reels (Magnetic tape audio recording) : RR 272 1 reel, 1:03:00; tape speed 3¾ IPS; track position ½-Track Mono; Substrate: Polyester.

Language of Materials

From the Series: English

Repository Details

Part of the Archives and Special Collections, University of Connecticut Library Repository

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