Du Bois, W(illiam) E(dward) B(urghardt) )
- Lawrence Schenbeck
(b Great Barrington, MA, Feb 23, 1868; d Accra, Ghana, Aug 27, 1963). American writer and social activist. He attended Fisk University (BA 1888), Harvard University (BA 1890, PhD 1895), and the University of Berlin, cultivating music enthusiastically as a choral singer and concertgoer. Beginning with The Souls of Black Folk (1903) and continuing well into the century in essays published in The Crisis and other periodicals, Du Bois synthesized European artistic values with insightful affirmations of African American culture, including music; this approach both informed and typified the New Negro aesthetic of the early 20th century. His chapter in Souls on “The Sorrow Songs” reveals a profound understanding of the beauty and social significance of black music. Influenced here by the folk art theories of Johann Gottfried von Herder (1744–1803), Du Bois refashioned them to create a foundation for African American cultural consciousness. Elsewhere he referenced Lohengrin to illustrate the dilemma of racial double consciousness. In later essays Du Bois advocated freedom for black artists from constraining racial stereotypes (“Our Music,” 1933) and asserted that although “all Art is propaganda and ever must be,” the most effective tool of the propagandist is honesty (“Criteria of Negro Art,” 1926). Du Bois exercised direct control over choice and presentation of music for his historical pageant The Star of Ethiopia, presented in various cities between 1913 and 1925 and featuring music by Charles Young, Samuel Coleridge-Taylor, J. Rosamond Johnson, Will Marion Cook, and others.