The Paragon Ragtime Orchestra
Rick Benjamin, director
Janai Brugger, soprano*; Andrea Jones, soprano;
Chauncey Packer, tenor**; Edward Pleasant, baritone***
This is the third volume of Paragon Ragtime Orchestra recordings documenting the music of important African-American composers from late 19th- and early 20th-century New York City. The inspiration for this effort came about twenty-five years ago, when I read James Weldon Johnson’s Black Manhattan (1930), a fascinating chronicle of the city’s black artistic life from the Victorian era to the Harlem Renaissance. I came to Johnson’s volume after finishing Eileen Southern’s The Music of Black Americans (1971), a wider-ranging academic work, but a no less revealing one. After reading these books I was excited to listen to the music they had described. But this was problematic: I discovered remarkably few available recordings of historic African-American music, and even fewer to represent New York’s pioneering black composers. This inability to actually experience a considerable span of our musical heritage was a void that needed to be filled. Clearly it was time for a carefully curated new recording of first-rate performances played from authentic scores.
Fifteen years and three Black Manhattan volumes later [the first was issued in 2003], we have recorded three and a half hours of this previously neglected music: sixty pieces by thirty-two outstanding African-American composers, spanning the seminal years of the 1870s to the early 1920s. It is our hope that these efforts have started to close this gap in America’s cultural memory. Our even greater hope is that these recordings will enable the world to rediscover this is magnificent music and the gifted, spirited, and persevering people who gave it to us. —Rick Benjamin, conductor, PRO
Pork and Beans Rag (1913) (C. Luckeyth “Luckey” Roberts), I’m Just Wild About Harry (one-step from Shuffle Along, 1922) (Eubie Blake), The Dancing Deacon: Clef Club Fox-Trot (1915) (Frederick M. Bryan), Jewel of the Big Blue Nile* (song from the Harlem Lafayette Theatre musical Baby Blues, 1919) (C. Luckeyth “Luckey” Roberts), We’ll Raise the Roof To-Night (cakewalk, 1904) (Sidney Perrin), “Chant” from The Bandana Sketches (Op. 12, 1919) (Clarence Cameron White), Dear Old Southland (from the black Broadway musical Strut, Miss Lizzie, 1921) (J. Turner Layton), Wall Street ‘Rag’ (1909) (Scott Joplin), Oh Dem Golden Slippers***(minstrel song, 1879) (James Bland), In the Baggage Coach Ahead ** (ballad, 1896) (Augustus L. Davis), Love Will Find A Way* (song from Shuffle Along, 1921) (Eubie Blake), Overture to My Friend from Kentucky (from the Harlem Lafayette Theatre production, 1913) (J. Leubrie Hill), Royal Garden Blues (fox trot, 1919) (Clarence Williams & Spencer Williams), The Tremolo Trot (one-step, 1914) (C. Luckeyth “Luckey” Roberts), Just One Word of Consolation** (ballad, 1905) (Tom Lemonier), After You’ve Gone (one step, 1918) (J. Turner Layton), Delicioso: Tango Aristocratico (1914) (Will H. Dixon), The Zoo-Step (dance from the Smart Set Co. production How Newtown Prepared, 1916) (Clarence G. Wilson), The Slow Drag Blues [arr. William Grant Still] (1919) (Q. Roscoe Snowden), Ianthia March (1902) (Al. Johns), I’m Goin’ Home (spiritual setting, 1921) (Clarence Cameron White), Lift Every Voice and Sing: National Negro Hymn (original 1900 score) [vocal quartet] (James Weldon Johnson & J. Rosamond Johnson)