Performing Racial Uplift

Did you watch last night's Grammy Awards? This week's review highlights the work of Black activist and music teacher E. Azalia Hackley and the power of “musical social uplift.”

Performing Racial Uplift: E. Azalia Hackley and African American Activism in the Postbellum to Pre-Harlem Era

Karpf, Juanita. University Press of Mississippi, 2022
238p bibl index, 9781496836687 $99.00, 9781496836793 $30.00, 9781496836724

Performing Racial Uplift: E. Azalia Hackley and African American Activism in the Postbellum to Pre-Harlem Era book cover. Teal and black striped background with white music notes. In the middle right is an image of E. Azalia Hackley.

This book is a joy to read. A renowned scholar, Karpf is widely published and has taught music at many levels—from K–12 to respected colleges and universities. She brings a keen expertise to this critical inquiry into E. Azalia Hackley (1867–1922) and her remarkable life. An accomplished musician, educator, and activist, Hackley harnessed the energy of the postbellum, pre-Harlem years. The focus on racial equity generated a powerful initiative she called “musical social uplift.” Karpf addresses distinctive aspects of Hackley’s work to reveal the remarkably innovative perspectives informing her contributions. Although her early career as a classical soprano soloist followed established precedents, nothing comparable existed for music educators and certainly not for teaching Black students. The pedagogy Hackley assembled supported self-esteem and race pride, teaching music skills as a valuable community endeavor. Especially progressive was her incorporation of theological tenets of New Thought ideology. In the book’s seven chapters, Karpf illuminates the remarkable innovation, creativity, perseverance, and relevance of Hackley’s work, which can no longer be overlooked in historical narratives of music in the US. An exemplary model of research methods, this richly engaging book will appeal to and encourage readers across disciplines. Karpf argues for using Hackley’s contributions as viable strategies to implement in contemporary society.

Summing Up: Essential. Lower-division undergraduates through faculty and professionals.
S. Schmalenberger, University of St. Thomas
Interdisciplinary Subject: African and African American Studies
Subject: Humanities – Performing Arts – Music
Choice Issue: Jan 2023

Enjoy this week’s review? Check out more reviews of related titles: