Welcome to Musical Practices of Early Black Americans!

This is a collection of references to music making by black individuals, and almost all references come from texts published in the United States before the Civil War. We set out to build a database that built upon previous work, particularly that of Dena Epstein and Eileen Southern, in order to give scholars access to more data from which to create nuanced and more complete pictures of eighteenth- and nineteenth-century music making on American shores.

More than that, we wanted to create a platform where the richness of that sound landscape is evident on the page itself: hundreds of entries here document a diversity of types of music making, from violin ensembles to song in several contexts to drumming. Because the goal is to leave interpretation of these selections up to scholars and readers, we have included longer passages when possible and left them unedited.

This database will be always growing and changing. With that adaptability in mind, feedback and contributions are welcome! Please email egreen10@gmu.edu.

How to use the database

Our sorting parameters are meant to give users some direction when desired: you can sort entries by various instruments mentioned, types of voices, genres (if known), and geographical locations. Other readers may wish simply to read entries in chronological order, and for that we recommend the browsing function. And of course full-text searching is possible as well.

The team

Content development

  • Crystal Williams (GMU)
  • L. Carrington OBrion (UVA)
  • Sergio Silva (UVA)
  • Jaelin Mitchell (GMU)


  • Emily H. Green (GMU)           
  • Bonnie Gordon (UVA)            
  • Mary Caton Lingold (VCU)
  • Michael Nickens (GMU)

Omeka maintenance

  • Alyssa Fahringer (GMU)