Why is American Classical Music So White?

In the coming weeks we will present an article and a listening feature to further investigate and learn about systemic racism and classical music. We will present this entry next week as well to allow for adequate time to read and listen.

Have you ever wondered why American classical music is so white? This article delves into the history of “a series of missed opportunities” to have African American composers’ expressive music take root in America’s classical music. In 1890 Antonín Dvořák’s claimed that “Negro melodies” would be the future of American music. So, why weren’t they?


This article features William Dawson’s Negro Folk Symphony premiered by the Philadelphia Orchestra with conductor Leopold Stokowski in 1934 at Carnegie Hall. Listen to it in the article or here and ask why this became an undervalued work in the classical music world.

In reading about William L. Dawson, notice that the St. Olaf Choir produced an album of his spirituals in 1997!