The stereotype: Why is gospel music always played at Black funerals?

Hola a todos. There is only one race: The human race with many ethnicities or ethnic groups. One of the ethnic groups is Black people. To observe the funeral or memorial service of a Black person who died, one would come away with the strong impression that Black people only like one type of music: Gospel music. But I don’t believe that. Whenever I see a funeral or memorial on television where the person who died was Black, I see the Black “sistas” and “brothas” on a stage. (I especially relate to the “sistas” because when I worked in the District of Columbia, my former home City, I worked with mostly Black females and we had a very good rapport and enjoyed having lunch together. At that time, the District was known as “Chocolate City.”). At Black funerals, there’s — as always — the perfunctory and ubiquitous Gospel Chorus swaying, clapping and jiving to one piece of gospel music or another. It’s become quite the stereotype really. I think to myself: So it’s not possible to have an Orchestra and Chorus perform a symphonic choral work from the classical music repertoire at a Black funeral? I suspect that is never thought of by the organisers of the event.

I remember the memorial for the late talk show host Ray Taliaferro. His memorial was disrespectful of his own beliefs. It was if someone in his family wanted to desperately try to “save his soul” so that Ray would go to that mythical place called heaven. Yet it seems that most people who claim to have listened to Ray’s show never actually listened to what he said. They didn’t hear — or want to hear — what Ray said every Wednesday morning on his Prayer Meeting programme where he distinctly said that he wanted to go to hell where all the fun, great jazz musicians would be. People who claimed to have listened to his show these days write about how Ray is up in heaven with the jazz greats. Wrong! Did you people not listen to anything Ray said and just had your radio on for “background noise?” Because Ray specifically said he didn’t want to go to uptight heaven and swim in some gooey mess of a river of milk and honey. So what was the first piece performed by some gospel singers (Ray’s relatives) at Ray’s Memorial? It was about “Jesus” and other “religious bunk,” as Ray would have called it. Ray was an atheist/agnostic and couldn’t stand organised religion. He railed against it frequently on this show. So it was most disrespect of Ray’s beliefs for any gospel music about “Jesus” to be performed at his memorial. Ray had a regular jazz programme on his show — they could have played some of his favourite music from that — but he came from a symphonic choral background. He had his own Chorus at one time and was a classically-trained pianist. So why wasn’t a symphonic choral work or part of one performed at his memorial with a well-trained Chorus, such as one of the choral works that Ray mentioned on the air? (I think he once mentioned the Mozart Requiem). Well, the reason is because Ray was Black. And if you’re Black it seems that you are required to have gospel or jazz music at your funeral and, apparently, only gospel music because of one’s ethnicity. Period.

I read awhile back about this concert that was given in a mostly white town in the non-United States by a Gospel Chorus. The Chorus Director was Black and had to come to the defence of the programme chosen as well as his Chorus because he was heavily criticised by some Black people in the audience because of the white people on stage singing gospel music, and that should not be the case according to these Black people in the audience. The Chorus Director pointed out that the town was mostly white so he asked where was he supposed to “import” the Black choristers from if they chose not to willingly audition for his Chorus. Does it matter that there were white choristers on stage? No. There’s a church in San Francisco called Glide Memorial and their Choir performs — I think — entirely Gospel music every Sunday and they have white people in the Choir and no one screams “white people shouldn’t be singing OUR music.”

Personal experience: I remember when I played some pieces by a composer (Manuel Ponce) from México on one of my solo piano performances. The audience was very appreciative. Even though I’m not mexicano, one guy from the audience came up to me afterwards and said: That was great; you play like a real mexicano. That always makes me laugh, but it was very kind of him to say and I understood his point. He was not of the thinking that only los mexicanos should be playing “his” music. Fortunately no one approached me and said: How dare you play “our” music. “Our” music should only be played by “our”/”my” people who thoroughly understand “our” culture.

At the Conservatory where I trained, we were taught that the finest musicians in the world can play any music well as long as they like and enjoy the music. If a piece doesn’t do anything for a person, it’s hard to pretend that is does by playing it the best. I know from experience. So for example, if someone asked me to play the US national anthem, oh I could play it — or my version of it — while thinking to myself “this is one of the tackiest pieces celebrating war, violence and nationalism that there is.”

Most people fail to understand that music is the international language crossing all geographic, human-made borders and it speaks to people all over the world regardless of their ethnicity.

So why are Black funerals in this rut that they are to be limited to gospel and jazz music only? The same is not true for “white” funerals. I’ve heard gospel music played at “white” funerals along with some traditional classical choral repertoire. And in the Anglican tradition, there can be a mixture of both classical and gospel for funerals or the celebration of one’s life which is how many Anglicans view funerals. Rather than being utterly depressing events, Anglicans see funerals and memorials as a celebration. It’s a celebration of the person and his or her life.

Now granted, symphonic choral works are often performed in Concert Halls by mostly white choristers although that is changing fortunately. There is more “colour” in choral ensembles these days than in the past at least with the historically “white” Orchestra Choruses. The Washington Chorus and the Choral Arts Society of Washington come to mind. Both Orchestra Choruses perform with the National Symphony Orchestra by invitation in the Kennedy Center Concert Hall. The Choral Arts Society also celebrates Dr Martin Luther King Jr’s birthday each year with a programme of gospel music which feeds the stereotype I’m talking about regarding Black people. This Dr King Jr choral tradition was started by the late Norman Scribner. Has anyone whinged that the (mostly “white”?) Choral Arts Society should not be doing these performances of gospel music? Not that I’ve aware of.

I’m not at all suggesting that I know what’s best for Black people or their “community.” Black people don’t need me to give them such suggestions. They are highly intelligent, resourceful and creative like any other ethnicity. I’m just wondering when the Black community will catch up or is it written in stone somewhere that for a Black person’s funeral, one must have gospel music and or jazz repertoire chosen? So as to continue this unfortunate stereotype that Black people only like one type of music, which is the impression it gives. And the Latino community is not any better in this regard, so the same applies to them.

And I can’t stand the term “African-American” because there are three Americas: North, Central and South America. (And I’m tired of hearing the US referred to “America” — especially when used by fake-liberals and fake-progressives — when it’s only part of America).

I prefer the term Black — with a capital B denoting respect — because unless one really knows the person and his/her history, they are not “American.” A Black person in the UK, for example, has never been to the US or the Americas so they are not “African-American.” And not all Black people are of African ancestry.

And briefly on another peeve of mine (per the previous paragraph): As for the word “America,” I’m well aware that the non-United States never had the intelligence to choose a name for its country — as my Latino friends say, “It’s the country with no name” — so the US calls itself the states of a hemisphere, and arrogantly stole the name of the entire hemisphere (America) as the name of the country. The nation of Canada which is in North America has states (they’re called provinces) as well but they had the intelligence to choose a name for their country: Canada. They’re not called “America.” They’re called Canada. The same for México (which has 31 states along with La Ciudad de México) which is also in North America. These others countries got it right, but the US couldn’t seem to do it. And most recently the insane Village Idiot in the white house said that “the US is the envy of the world” and it was in reference to our being the world leader for coronavirus cases/deaths. Absolute insanity and lunacy. Propaganda and wishful-thinking. Chau.—el barrio rosa