Eileen Southern

Eileen Jackson Southern (February 19, 1920 – October 13, 2002) was an American musicologist, researcher, author, and teacher.[1][2] Southern's research focused on black American musical styles, musicians, and composers; she also published on early music.

Eileen Southern
Eileen Southern.jpg
Eileen Stanza Jackson

February 19, 1920
Died(2002-10-13)October 13, 2002

Early lifeEdit

Eileen Jackson grew up around many musicians in her family; her father was a violinist; an uncle, a trumpetist; and her mother, a choir singer.[3] According to music scholar Samuel A. Floyd, Jr., "In childhood, as she developed as a pianist, young Eileen was introduced to and became partial to the music of those she calls the 'piano composers,' including Johann Sebastian Bach, Ludwig van Beethoven, and Claude Debussy. In addition, her piano teachers, mostly white, were concerned that she wouldn't know music by black composers and introduced her to R. Nathaniel Dett's In the Bottoms, among other such compositions."[4]

Jackson attended public schools in her hometown, Minneapolis, Minnesota, in Sioux Falls, South Dakota, and in Chicago, Illinois. She majored in commercial art at Lindblom High School in Chicago. During the same period, she won piano-performance and essay competitions, taught piano lessons, and directed musical activities at the Lincoln Community Center. She gave her first piano recital at the age of twelve and made her debut in Chicago Orchestra Hall at age eighteen, playing a Mozart concerto with the symphony orchestra of the Chicago Musical College.

She attended and received degrees from the University of Chicago (B.A., 1940, and M. A., 1941). Her relationship with Cecil Smith, her master thesis advisor, encouraged her to further develop her interest in Negro folk music. In 1942, she married Joseph Southern, a professor of business administration.[5]

She continued her studies and became the first African American to receive a PhD in musicology from an American institution (New York University, 1961). At NYU, she studied with Gustave Reese, Curt Sachs, and Martin Bernstein.[3] She also studied piano privately at Chicago Musical College, Juilliard, and Boston University.


Throughout her career, Southern taught at various institutions across the United States. From 1941 to 1942, she was an instructor at Prairie View University in Texas. From 1943 to 1945 and 1949 to 1951, she was an assistant professor at Southern University in Louisiana. From 1954 to 1960, she worked as a teacher for the New York City Public School district. She returned to higher education from 1960 to 1968 as an assistant professor at Brooklyn College, CUNY, and then as an associate and full professor at York College, CUNY, from 1968 to 1975, where she established the music program.

In 1974, she became a lecturer at Harvard University. Two years later, she became the first black woman to be appointed a tenured full professor at Harvard University, where she taught until 1987. While at Harvard, she served as the chair of the department of Afro-American Studies from 1975 to 1979.

Her best-known book is the seminal history The Music of Black Americans (1971). Her other work is Biographical Dictionary of Afro-American and African Musicians (1982). She founded The Black Perspective in Music in 1973, with her husband, Prof. Joseph Southern. It was the first musicological journal on the study of black music, and she was its editor until it ceased publication in 1990.

Through her academic work, she raised the profile of Frank Johnson, a black bandleader from Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, who rose to fame at the end of the eighteenth century, beginning of the nineteenth century. He led Frank Johnson's Colored Band, and by 1818, he had taken his band as far south as Richmond, Virginia, playing dances for white southerners. Johnson had played a command performance at Buckingham Palace, where he received a silver bugle in appreciation.

Throughout her career, Southern worked with various professional societies. From 1974 to 1976, she served on the Board of Directors and then Editorial Board from 1976 to 1978 for the American Musicological Society. She was a member of the International Musicological Society, College Music Society, and Association for the Study of Negro Life and History. From 1980 to her retirement, she served on the Editorial Board for the Sonneck Society for American Music and as a member of the Board of Directors from 1986 to 1988.

In 1987, she retired as a professor emeritus to live in St. Albans, New York.


Southern's professional achievements were much lauded in the academic and artistic communities. Southern received a National Humanities Medal in 2001 for having "helped transform the study and understanding of American music."[6] She also received a Lifetime Achievement Award from the Society for American Music in 2000.[7] Her portrait, by artist Stephen E. Coit was commissioned by the Harvard Foundation at Harvard University.[8]

Selected publicationsEdit

  • The Buxheim Organ Book (2 Vols.), PhD dissertation, New York University, (New York: Institute of Medieval Music, 1963). OCLC 38257123, 11709711, 641975830, 923463274
  • The Music of Black Americans: A History (New York: W. W. Norton & Company, 1971)
  1. 1st ed., 1971. OCLC 1106838813; ISBNs 0-3930-2156-4, 978-0-3930-2156-1, 0-3930-9899-0, 978-0-3930-9899-0
  2. French ed., 1976. OCLC 26120461, 1009422604
  3. Chinese ed., 1983. OCLC 122734029
  4. 1992 French ed. of the 1976 ed. OCLC 885606514, 1032405470; ISBNs 2-7020-1562-X, 978-2-7020-1562-9
  5. 3rd ed., English, 1997. OCLC 1113507545; ISBNs 9780393971415, 0393971414
  6. 2002 Spanish ed. of the 1997 3rd ed. OCLC 46470506, 807719178; ISBNs 8-4460-1066-6, 978-8-4460-1066-1


  1. ^ "Eileen Jackson Southern 1920–2002," The Journal of Blacks in Higher Education, No. 38, Winter 2002–2003, p. 26 (accessible via JSTOR at www.jstor.org/stable/3134178; subscription required)
  2. ^ "Eileen Southern," by David Horn, Popular Music (Cambridge University Press), Vol. 22, No. 3, October 2003, pps. 378–379; OCLC 363293074 (article); ISSN 0261-1430 (journal) (accessible via JSTOR at www.jstor.org/stable/3877582; subscription required)
  3. ^ a b "Eileen Southern," Biographical Dictionary of Afro-American and American Studies, 353–354    (check: can't verify publication)
  4. ^ Floyd, Jr., Samuel A. (1992). "Eileen Jackson Southern: Quiet Revolutionary". In Josephine Wright (ed.). New Perspectives on Music: Essays in Honor of Eileen Southern. Michigan: Harmonie Park Press. pp. 3–4.
  5. ^ "Eileen Southern Biography, 1920–2002", Brief Biographies (online: biography.jrank.org
  6. ^ University of Chicago alumni accolades website, "Eileen Jackson Southern (1920–2002), AB'40; AM'41," National Humanities Medal, 2001, National Endowment for the Humanities (2001)
  7. ^ Society for American Music, "Life Time Achievement Awards" (re: "2000: Billy Taylor & Eileen Southern"
  8. ^ "Portrait of Eileen Southern," by Stephen E. Coit, Harvard Art Museums (portrait link)

Further readingEdit

External linksEdit