In 1921 a group of Black music advocates helped form what is now remembered as Black Swan Records, which was the first widely distributed label to be owned, operated, and marketed to Afro-Americans. While there was plenty of blues and jazz to be recorded, the record label wanted to make sure that it was also engaging the classical side of things. So they called on a number of different musicians, arrangers, and composers to help build that side of their catalogue, including one of the most significant figures in Black music to ever live. My name is Loki Karuna, and on today’s edition of Noteworthy I’d like to honor Mr. Henry Thacker Burleigh.

Henry Thacker Burleigh, or Harry, as he was also known, believed whole heartedly in Black classical music – especially the Negro spiritual. Unfortunately many wanted to leave spirituals in the past due to their proximity to slavery, but Henry stood strong, creating a pathway for the spiritual tradition not only to survive, but to live forever, through recordings. Among those was this one titled, Sometimes I Feel Like a Motherless Child, recorded and produced by Black Swan Records.

This, and other recordings of spirituals produced by Black Swan represent the very first recordings made by Black classical performers – something that may have never happened without Henry Thacker Burleigh’s persistence and advocacy. May Henry live forever, as one of history’s most Noteworthy.

Noteworthy is a production of WDAV classical public radio.