Examining the Double-Consciousness: Portraits of Americana in the Works of Ulysses Kay
AuthorKnox, Grant Stephen
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PublisherThe University of Arizona.
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AbstractUlysses Simpson Kay, Jr. (1917–1995) was a distinguished American composer, conductor and professor. Having composed approximately 140 works throughout his lifetime, Kay established himself as a prominent figure within the scope of twentieth-century American composition. An African American composer, Kay often seemed to downplay the role of race in his music, an approach perhaps best articulated by his categorical definition of Black music as “music written or conceived by blacks.” Indeed, scholars have debated the role of Kay’s racial identity in his music. An examination of selected works by Ulysses Kay, and their contexts, reveals that his American and African American musical identities coexist. This finding suggests Kay’s music to be a case study in the musical expression of W.E.B. DuBois’s (1868–1963) term “double-consciousness.” DuBois’s writings, particularly his 1903 collection of essays The Souls of Black Folk offer a framework for understanding the role of racial identity in Kay’s music. This study will look at Kay’s Danse Calinda (1941), Lift Every Voice & Sing (1943), Harlem Children’s Dance Suite (1973), and Frederick Douglass (1991) as works that are evocative of the African American identity, while A Lincoln Letter (1953), FDR: From Third Term to Pearl Harbor (1958), Forever Free (1962), Presidential Suite (1965), Southern Harmony (1975) represent the broader American identity. Each of these compositions implies the duality of identities through its subjects, contexts, and/or specific musical details. As a result, we are able to arrive at a more nuanced understanding of the role of racial identity in Ulysses Kay’s music.
Degree ProgramGraduate College