Singing Schubert, Hearing Race: Black Concert Singers and the German Lied in Interwar Central Europe

November 21, 5-6:30pm
Lecture at The Pacific Regional Office of the GHI, 201 Moses Hall
Speaker: Kira Thurman (University of Michigan, Ann Arbor)

Organized by Institute of European StudiesCenter for German and European StudiesDepartment of History, Pacific Regional Office of the German Historical Institute Washington

Kira Thurman explores the rise in popularity of African American classical musicians in interwar Germany and Austria. Singing Lieder by Schubert, Brahms, and others, they challenged audiences’ expectations of what a black performer looked and sounded like in the transatlantic “jazz age.” Audiences labeled singers such as Marian Anderson and Roland Hayes “negroes with white souls,” and marveled at their musical mastery. If the listener closed his or her eyes and listened, these African American musicians, many remarked, “sounded like Germans.” How had they managed to accomplish this feat? By exploring Austrian and German reception of black singers, this presentation finds a new way to answer the question, “Can someone be black and German?” by instead asking another: “What has it meant to be black and to perform German music?”

Kira Thurman is an assistant professor of History and Germanic Languages and Literatures at the University of Michigan, Ann Arbor.