ON JAMES MONROE TROTTER AND HIS “MUSIC AND SOME HIGHLY MUSICAL PEOPLE” (Part 2)
[This is the second in a series of posts of “blogified” short entries from the forthcoming second, enlarged edition of my Historical Dictionary of Romantic Music [Lanham, Maryland] — i.e., entries whose style is lightly adapted to make them more blog-friendly. For an explanation of where this little series of posts comes from and why I’m doing it, see here. Let me reiterate here that because of the size/space restrictions of the book — it’s a one-volume dictionary, not an encyclopedia, or even book chapter — every entry is brief. My hope is that the entries will be “appetizers,” jumping-off points for further exploration by interested readers. If the entry leaves you wanting more, that is by design.
Today’s entry is a sequel to yesterday’s on the remarkable James M. Trotter and hi influential treatise Music and Some Highly Musical People. Enjoy!]
(Boldface text will be cross-referenced in the book itself.)
TROTTER, JAMES MONROE (1842–92). American music historian, educator, and civil servant; author of the first comprehensive history of U.S. music. The son of a White slaveowner and an enslaved American named Leticia (Letitia), he and his mother had either escaped or been freed by 1852, when they were in Cincinnati. There Trotter studied music with William F. Colburn, an indirect associate of Lowell Mason, in the well-known Gilmore School for Blacks. His access to cultivated music and printed knowledge was facilitated also by Cincinnati’s cooperative library for Black Americans, and he gained further musical exposure through the School’s concert tours and his intersession work as a cabin boy aboard a steamer that ran between New Orleans and Cincinnati. He attended Ohio’s Albany Manual Labor University from 1857 to 1862 and upon graduation worked as a schoolteacher prior to enlisting in the Union Army in 1863; in the Army he continued his work as a teacher, educating Union soldiers in reading, writing, and singing. Moving to Boston, in 1866 he became the first Black American hired by the Post Office Department of the U.S. government. He served there until 1883, when he realized that he would be unable to advance further because of his race. He resigned and entered politics, switching to the Democratic Party in order to work for Grover Cleveland’s gubernatorial and first presidential campaigns. His organizational acumen in this regard resulted in his being named postmaster of Hyde Park (Boston), and his advancement continued in 1887, when U.S. President Grover Cleveland appointed him Recorder of Deeds — the U.S.’s highest position customarily reserved for Blacks. He died of tuberculosis in 1892.
Trotter was criticized in his later years as insufficiently aggressive in championing the rights and stature of Black Americans, but this perspective seems to have been born of rivalry and partisan politics on the side of Republicans who resented his having left the Republican Party to support a Democrat; it carries no weight to detract from his greatest achievement: the monumental Music and Some Highly Musical People: Containing . . . Sketches of the Lives of Remarkable Musicians of the Colored Race(Boston: Lee and Shepard, 1878). His legacy also includes his son, William Monroe Trotter (1872–1934), Harvard University’s first Black American elected to Phi Beta Kappa, a close ally of the young W.E.B. Du Bois, founding member of the Niagara Movement, civil-rights activist, and prominent newspaper editor.
Originally published at https://cooperm55.wixsite.com on May 18, 2022.